By Carmen Alban '16
Over Academic Travel, thirteen students traveled to Muhuru Bay, Kenya to learn about the lives of girls attending the Women’s Institute of Secondary Education and Research (WISER). We discovered what life is like in a small Kenyan town through conversations with the girls at the school and experiences outside of the WISER campus. I know it’s cheesy, but it was undoubtedly a life-changing experience that I will never forget.
When we finally arrived at WISER after two days of traveling, we were greeted with 130 girls singing “Welcome, TASIS, to WISER” with huge smiles on their faces. They had an entire show prepared for us with singing and dancing in English and Kiswahili. I remember my face actually hurting after the assembly from smiling so much. Then we had our tour of the WISER campus where I met Billiah. She ran up and hugged me, thanked me for coming, grabbed my hand, and said “I want to show you something cool.” She walked me to the water tower they have on campus and the entire group of TASIS and WISER students climbed to the top. It was our first real interaction with the girls and it was so fun! They told us about their day-to-day lives and about how the school had changed their lives. They asked us questions and we asked them millions of questions. One of my favorite pictures from the trip is of everyone at the top of the water tower because when we took it, I didn’t know the names of the WISER girls or their stories, but now looking back at it I remember each one and everyone conversation I had with them and how they changed my life.
That same day I heard the WISER song "Life is a Journey", another unforgettable moment (the trip was full of them). I felt so inspired hearing the girls sing “Don’t tell me I can’t succeed I can make my dreams a reality” and “I won’t stop no matter what, I will reach the top.” It was the perfect beginning to a remarkable week.
Our second Day at WISER was by far my favorite day. We shadowed a girl for an afternoon to see what their lives are like outside of the WISER compound. I was honored to spend the afternoon with Christine, her cousin, her mother, and her two nephews. Before that day, I was aware of poverty and people having less than I do, but walking with Christine to her house really changed my view of the world. Her family of six lives in a one-room clay hut. When I walked into the home, Christine’s mother ran up to me with her eyes wide, thanking me for spending time with them and allowing them to show me their lives. At that moment, I was still in shock from their living conditions, but that soon wore off when Christine plopped onto a chair, sighed, and said smiling, “Ah, this is home.” Even with the little they had, the entire family was laughing and smiling. After an hour I had completely forgotten where I was; I felt like I was back at home talking with family friends I had known for years. I will never forget Christine’s family because even though they had nothing, they were willing to give me everything. They offered me bread and soda and tea, rarities in their home. When I pulled out the box of chocolate I had brought for them, Christine’s mother started crying, telling me that I had just give them dinner for the week. I couldn’t believe it. When I had to say goodbye, Christine’s nephews, who spoke very little English, whispered to me, “Please never forget us, because we will never forget you.” That moment made the long trip out to Kenya completely worth it.
Outside of the WISER campus, we took two days to visit Muhuru primary schools. I had no idea what to expect because the only school I had seen was WISER, but I soon found out that WISER was the pride of Muhuru, with its clean water and electricity. The schools I visited had no floors, no lights, no water, and most classrooms didn’t even have desks. At the first school, we asked their 8th graders what challenges they face in their lives. Their answers broke my heart. They have to endure horrifying things that I don’t even like to think about. But at the end of our few hours there, all of the kids were smiling and taking pictures with us, happy as ever. They are some of the strongest people I have ever met.
Our next visit had a more academic focus, but was equally amazing. We played Jeopardy with them to help practice for their national exams. Most of the time I didn’t even know what they were asking, but their hands shot into the air because they knew exactly the right answers. I was so impressed with how smart all of them are. They sat in a classroom with no door or floor, but still managed to take advantage of every day there and learn. It really motivated me to take advantage of all that I have at school (which is again cheesy, but true).
Finally, after a week, our last night at WISER was again, unforgettable. I had formed amazing friendships, and saying goodbye to them was the hardest part of the trip. The WISER senior class sang a song that said “we will never ever forget you” and I couldn’t help but cry. We all walked in a circle with our hands around each other, singing about our experiences and the ever-lasting friendships we had made. After that song, the night became a little more upbeat. It included a TASIS rendition of "Waka Waka" WISER-style and Mr. Mulert dancing the wobble. After a night of singing, laughing, and crying, I had to say goodbye to the WISER girls.
They are all so inspiring that now I want to be a better person so I could maybe begin to measure up to the amazing girls they are.
Our trip, unlike some of the other service trips TASIS offers, doesn’t have a physical service component, but I don’t think that makes what we did at WISER any less meaningful. Us visiting shows the girls that there are people out there who care about them and are trying to make their lives better. When talking to WISER graduates, we asked them what they missed most about WISER, and one of the answers proves this. She said that she misses the international interactions WISER offered her because talking with the TASIS students gave her hope and inspired her to work harder. Even though we didn’t build a house or provide laptops, I think we gave the girls something better than that. We formed relationships that will never end and had conversations that I think changed both ours and the girls’ perspectives on a lot of things. They were able to learn about our lives, and we were completelyenlightened about theirs.
The WISER-TASIS relationship changes a lot of lives for the better. Our fundraising is (hopefully) going to reach an amount where we can have a TASIS scholarship that pays for all four years of a girl’s WISER experience. This is really amazing! There is so much more I want to do for Muhuru and WISER, but I think what we are doing in the group is meaningful and it definitely has changed my life. Even though the trip was only ten days, it was one of the best experiences of my entire life. I learned so much from the girls at WISER and everyone in Muhuru Bay, and I have made friendships that I hope will last a lifetime. I have even already planned a phone-date with Christine in April!
TASIS Global Service Program
The Global Service Program was envisioned by Jan Opsahl ’68, who became the first international student at TASIS when he came from Norway in 1965. The pioneering program was launched in 2013 with major support from a most generous donation from Mr. Opsahl and his family to set up the Global Service Trust. This Trust, along with support from the TASIS Foundation, make this incredible, life-changing experience for our students possible.
The Global Service Program transforms lives by providing every High School student a unique opportunity to connect across borders through comprehensive experiences that build empathy and encourage personal responsibility. Participation in the program—which is designed to awaken students to humanitarian needs, inspire them to build enduring, mutually beneficial relationships, and lead them toward a life of active citizenship and committed service—is a graduation requirement.