How A Trip with KULE Changed My Life: Humanitarian Education Done RightBy Emmy Chahal | 10th April, 2019
When I left for Kenya in 2011 on a trip with KULE Foundation International, I had no idea what to expect. I was 19 years old, idealistic and bright-eyed after graduating from two magical years at Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific. My impactful experience with KULE irreversibly shaped how I view the world, the work I do, and continues to inform the causes I am passionate about now – nearly eight years later. When I reflect back to that summer and the time I spent in Kenya, I remember the beautiful friends I made and the heartfelt conversations we had while traveling. I remember the elephants, the giraffes, the lions, the hippos, and witnessing an incredible scene of a crocodile eating a wildebeest. I remember climbing Mount Longonot and being stunned by the view, sitting on the edge of a breathtakingly beautiful crater at the top of the mountain. I remember dancing with a circle of amazing Kenyan girls. I remember standing at the front of a classroom having no idea what I wanted to share with my Kenyan peers -they knew everything we were taught in Canadian schools, and in three languages! I remember how the children were fascinated with our hair, wanting to touch it. I remember the different gender role expectations and belief systems. I remember attempting to plant trees at the library and all of the young people laughing at my shaking hands that had never planted trees or done anything remotely agricultural. I remember feeling betrayed by an education that taught me how to analyze complex thoughts and argue persuasively in my head, but neglected to instruct me on how to properly initiate a new plant into the ground. My experiences with women in Kenya were particularly impacting. Getting to know women in different parts of Kenya and hearing about their stories was instrumental in developing deep empathy, understanding, insight and vision into the challenges of gender based violence in East Africa and the unfathomable resilience of women there. I learned a lot about inner strength, resourcefulness, courage and determination from my Kenyan friends. The girls and women I met in Kenya continue to inspire me and my work. Getting to know what life was like for women in Kenya, our similarities and our differences, inspired me to study Gender and Women’s Studies and Cultural Studies for my degree at UBC. I now work as a youth empowerment facilitator teaching violence prevention to girls in schools around Vancouver, as well as being self-employed as a wellness entrepreneur. I believe in building community and bridges of understanding across cultures, because I have seen what the benefits are for both participants like myself and the community members of the places I had the honour of visiting. Due to my experiences with Kule, I began to understand what authentic community is, and how that generosity of spirit and warm-hearted Kenyan hospitality is desperately lacking in our societies at home. We have loneliness epidemics here in Canada – huge swaths of society suffering from mental illness and a greed oriented capitalist economy. We don’t know how to truly live collectively and harmoniously here, we can often feel so isolated. There is so much that we, as people from the Global North, can learn and gain from exploring places like Kenya – where community living is a fundamental societal value and skill. I hope we were also able to bring something valuable to the places we visited in Kenya. Perhaps we had the chance to bring them a piece of our corner of the world – new perspectives and stories, the realization it is possible to find common ground with people who seem so different, and create unexpected friendships. While I was in Kenya with KULE, I had the opportunity to experience people, places and adventures that never would have been possible if I had stayed home. I know that those experiences I was blessed to have in East Africa changed me deeply and continue to inform my choices and mission in the world, especially in regards to being an advocate for women. I feel forever thankful to have had that opportunity to travel in the summer of 2011 with KULE – it left me a more whole, loving and community-oriented person who strives to be of true service however and wherever I am humanly able.