Observations From Afar, by Juanita Love Davis


February 21, 2010: Just a Thought

Every Kenyan has a home. Unlike in America, a Kenyan's home is not his current place of residence or where he was born. A Kenyan's home is the base location of his tribe.

While an undergraduate student I wrote a vehement opposition paper addressing the unjustified and inappropriate use of the word tribe, the concept of tribalism, and the roots of its development during colonization. To come to Kenya and find that this identification process is institutionalized, accepted, and an integral part of every Kenyan's heart and mind is somewhat unsettling.

Without ancestral or spiritual background, tribalism continues to penetrate the hearts of all Kenyans. Though the tribal connections and differences are not nearly as actively repressive as apartheid in South Africa, or racism in America, it is still a divisive and charged area of everyone’s life. It’s so charged that tribalism was at the heart of the post election violence in 2007.

Though I considered myself enlightened when writing that paper, I was ignorant up until the moment I began to observe Kenyans. This reality check about tribalism helped me to gain prospective on the gap between academic studies and international observation. Yes, I emphasize observation because one must immerse herself in an environment without motive and goals in order to witness and understand people in their natural lifestyles and habits.

Nonetheless, as an outsider merely looking in, does my opinion hold any weight? I am not Kenyan, so how can I possibly harbor any overwhelming feeling of opposition to what is accepted by the Kenyan people?

Just a thought…


January 31, 2010: Karibuni Rush Academy

I'm overjoyed to feel the excitement and energy of the students each time I walk into a classroom. It's traditional Kenyan culture to develop and instill a strong sense of respect and obedience in each child and student. Because of this, I know that I shouldn't be surprised when the students jump to their feet in unison to greet me, "Good Morning, Madam. How are you today?" I could never imagine such a thing happening in America, where many students regularly skip class or work hard to appear less intelligent than their peers. At RUSH Academy, it would be a disgraceful act to do such a thing.

I've just completed my first week of work at RUSH Academy, a small private primary school founded by my host organization, RUSH (Reaching the Unreached through Self Help). Much of my time has been spent bonding with the administrative staff, the teachers and the students; observing the regular practices of the school; and teaching a few math classes. I must admit, I was just as nervous on my first day of work at RUSH Academy as I've been when starting any new job or position. One the first day, the head teacher, or principal, gave me a tour of the campus and introduced me to all of the staff, students, and teachers. As a generally self sufficient private school, RUSH Academy seems to have abundant resources, efficient staff, and of course the most important element, eager students. I immediately felt uneasy.

As an intern with the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) I must develop and implement a capacity-building project that will be sustained by the staff long after my departure. What can I possibly do to enhance this school that is seemingly already ahead of the others? Our FSD site team prepared us for this moment of feeling lost and out of place within our host organizations during orientation. I just took a deep breath and spoke to everyone who was available. The secretary, teachers, bus driver, gate keepers and cooks all gave me important information about how they felt the school needed to improve.

As the week flew by, I was able to absorb and synthesize all of the information I had received. As I enter into the next phase of developing my project I will evaluate the assets and needs of the school. During FSD orientation we were trained in the skill of Asset Based Community Development. This method of development offers a positive perspective of RUSH and the resources and abilities which are currently available to use as I develop and implement my project. This process matched with the needs assessment will enable me to fully leverage the resources of RUSH to address the needs of RUSH academy.

Though I haven't solidified my project, I know I'm working on the path towards developing a resource center and small library for the academy. I will keep you posted on my progress!