Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Rainy Day and Some Leadership

Hello! Hope everyone is having a lovely Wednesday. The weather here is unpredictable today (I should know better) and is punishing me for this morning’s poor shoe choice. So, with some raisin looking toes and a squeaky theme song, I trekked over to meet A for our weekly meeting to discuss our lesson on Leadership. I figured I’d write a little about this one, as it has been, by far, the most challenging lesson for us to create. Such an important issue that integrates so many of the concepts we have been working to teach throughout the entirety of the curriculum! Initially, this lesson was overwhelming. How could we possibly narrow down the vast topic of leadership?! We discussed the many angles we could take and the many vital ideas we wanted to share. We decided, after admittedly procrastinating for a little while, to essentially just start anywhere.

We narrowed it down to the basics of what core components comprise leadership. Over a span of two weeks and some “aha” insight from L, we came up with three integral points of focus: communication, active listening, and responsible decision-making. We decided that the best way to teach leadership is to practice leadership. Another challenge we face with this topic, in fact, among all the lesson topics, is that there is a fine line between “teaching” and “inflicting” ideas. We need to consistently maintain awareness and sensitivity to cultural differences. Additionally, this knowledge needs to be invited by the CYEC, the staff, and these children for it to be absorbed and maximally beneficial. So, needless to say, we have some work to do regarding indigenous knowledge (upon our arrival, we will be working closely with the staff to gain this knowledge and appropriately mold the curriculum to embrace it).

Ultimately, like much of our work, we will be relying on the views of these children shape our approach to this topic of leadership We have prepared a variety of activities, related to communication and active listening (everyone enjoys a good game of “telephone” don’t they?), and understanding the importance of taking responsibility as a leader to influence positive decision making. This lesson also discusses leadership characteristics each of us possesses, how to better develop these qualities, and whom we look to as inspiration for the development of our “inner leader.” In this lesson, we included the distinction between “hearing” and “listening,” hoping to influence an appreciation of “listening” as being essential to “good” leadership. Active listening is also a fundamental technique valuable in the maintenance of any healthy relationship.

Historically, political corruption has been such a predominant struggle afflicting Kenya. With a primarily positive focus and through guided discussion and insight from the students, in this lesson we hope to distinguish between what makes someone a “good/positive” leader versus a “negative” leader. Maintaining belief that much of Kenya’s future and potential leadership lies in the hands of these children, we wanted to be sure to include the importance of how a “good” leader acts as an admirable representative and makes decisions for the good of the group. A and I thought it was vital to explain that a leader is responsible for being a good example, as leaders are often individuals many look up to. Most importantly, we wanted these children to strive to be kind of leaders THEY would look up to.

As we will be ending each of our lessons with a reflection and goal setting assignment, I will challenge you to participate in this lesson’s reflection exercise.

        - Reflect on your past experiences and think about the following questions:
o      When have I been a leader in the past?
o      What characteristics enable me to be a leader?
o      What characteristics would I like to further develop?
o      How could I accomplish this?
o      How would I like to use these leadership characteristics in the future?

To conclude this post, I also wanted to share that I received an email from L unveiling a potential title to our curriculum! I was so excited to finally change the folder on my computer’s desktop from the very ambiguous “OUR CURRICULUM” to something with actual meaning. As of now, the title of our curriculum will be…

Nafsi ya Maendeleo: Akili ni Mali Curriculum
(Self Development: Knowledge is Power Curriculum)

How fitting! Now… if I only knew how to correctly pronounce it. Already added to the “to do” list :). Well, I’m off to class for the afternoon – have a wonderful Wednesday!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Beginning

So… aside from hello!! let’s start with the fact that this is my first blogging experience, so thank you in advance for bearing with me! I am currently ignoring the fact that I should really be studying for a quickly approaching exam... I can already tell that this blog is going to take priority over questionably more important things for a while. But for today, my inspiration for this project and to start finally sharing about it will take precedence over learning about the gastrointestinal abnormalities possible in pediatrics. Yes, I am a nursing student. I am in my third year of nursing school at Penn State University and am loving the challenge it brings, even if I don’t admit it sometimes. I love the interaction I am able to have with all different kinds of people. I love that I am able to understand the physiology behind a patient’s ailment, evaluate and implement a treatment/care plan, while all the while being a trusted stranger in his/her state of vulnerability. This responsibility awes me and I will never fail to respect it. I have always been fascinated by the inner workings of the human body. However, more specifically, I continue to be both baffled and inspired by the complexities of the brain, and behavior driven by human thought. This brings me to share that I am also a psychology minor, with a predominant neuroscience focus.

Anyway, so we can come back to more about my background later… I have to try to stay on task, as I know this is already getting to be a novel… thinking I probably should have started on this blogging a while ago, oops. What brings me to the creation of this blog is my participation as a student in the Global Leadership Initiative, a program just started this year at Penn State. Through this program, we learned in our discussion-based two-credit course this Fall semester about the components of leadership and the characteristics and perspective necessary to be successful in such a role. Much of our discussion stemmed from five elements deemed essential to the success of a global leader. These required contributors to leadership in addressing global issues included Reflective Practice, Ethics, Appreciative Inquiry, Indigenous Knowledge, Intercultural Competence, and Interdisciplinary Perspective or Disciplinary Expertise. Acceptance to this program requires you to have an “international experience” of some sort. I didn’t know what to do. I knew that I wanted to travel to Africa, to see another side of the world that I could only picture based on the little information I had from minimal research, other’s experiences in conjunction, essentially, with National Geographic. Other than my inkling to ship myself to Africa, I was clueless. I wanted to make a sustainable impact, to learn from another culture, and to embrace an experience so different from those I’ve had thus far.

Taking a shot in the dark, I found myself in L’s office. L has been my professor for GLI, my guidance, inspiration, and an incredible source of enthusiasm for my international and often confused aspirations. (Thank you :)). I essentially sat down with a mix of emotions including incredible excitement (for what? I had no idea), anxiety (I hate not knowing), and hope that I would leave with a direction and focus to channel all this pent up excitement and energy. I didn’t want to just go somewhere, I wanted to BE somewhere. 

Lucky for me, after patiently listening to all my goals for what I hoped to get out of the GLI and my international experience, L had the perfect direction for me. She spoke fondly of a place in Nyeri, Kenya called the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre. The CYEC is a place for street children in the surrounding area to call home. This centre is a place where they can learn and grow and be safe. According to the CYEC website,, “The CYEC is an initiative of the national program for street dwelling persons and is intended to play a central role in the innovation of holistic and sustainable solutions for the population of street dwelling young people in Kenya.” The centre has been a focus point for several groups of students and faculty at Penn State. There have been many projects working primarily from the fields of engineering, agriculture, and business. The idea for the center, again, as described by the website, “The Children and Youth Empowerment Centre is conceived as a convergence point for people of different backgrounds to share experience, debate, research, experiment and consolidate knowledge concerning the empowerment of young people. Street dwelling children and youth are the central focus of the Centre’s activities by virtue of being one of the least empowered categories of young people in society.”

Much progress has been made regarding the creation of sustainable products to create and maintain energy, agricultural fertility, and maximizing profits for the centre. However, until this point, no real moves have been made towards nurturing the psychological developmental aspects affecting these children. L’s proposal was essentially to have me, along with another undergraduate student, A, work on creating a curriculum to teach these street children life skills to aid in their empowerment. We would be combining components from L’s already published and functioning curriculum (a curriculum which dedicates a large portion as a focus on recreation, leisure, and the development of interests and limiting risk behavior), HealthWise, with Aflatoun and other varying inspirations. These curriculums would of course function in conjunction with our original input as through this cohesion, we would create a curriculum of our own, customized to benefit this particular centre in Nyeri, Kenya. Without further adieu, I said SIGN ME UP.

So, since the beginning of this semester in January, A and I have been working together each week, meeting with L once a week to discuss our progress and to absorb any advice/ideas she has to enhance our project. We have made many changes already as we have been working, however, now we have essentially finalized (almost) the lineup for our lessons. If you are at all familiar with global work, surely you know that upon our arrival to the CYEC to implement our “finished product” on May 5, we will probably start all over as we gain the insight and guidance of the staff of the centre. When we spend our time at the CYEC (May 3 – May 29), we will act in a supportive role for the implementation of our curriculum as it would most benefit the children of the centre. We will not actually be teaching our lessons, instead will be working with the staff to share our intentions for the curriculum, working together to tweak it to the point of greatest impact and benefit for the kids. The underlying themes of our curriculum seem to have become the ideas of self-awareness, goal setting, leadership, and empowerment. Our curriculum currently includes lessons on self-awareness focusing on emotion, anxiety and anger management, conflict resolution, Identity awareness, time management, avoiding boredom and developing interests, decision making, and lastly leadership. I’ll get into the specifics in another post as I’m starting to run out of steam...

The other component of our work is that we are going to be doing research… I’m PUMPED. A and I will each be doing a separate research project, the end products of which will potentially include a paper and a short video. Our data collection will be through these videos of interviews we will be conducting with the street children of the CYEC, the staff, and hopefully members of the surrounding community. A will be doing some research on leadership, which, if I understand correctly, will be looking into “what leadership means to you.” The general basis will be to increase indigenous knowledge, gaining increased insight into the culture and individual views of this unique population. I, coming from the more psych/healthcare background, will be addressing the question, “what makes you happy?” or “what brings joy to your life?” Now… my brain is completely scattered on this topic and I really need to work on roping it in, but for now I’ll just give you the VERY broad picture.

Happiness is a universally understood and accepted component of human life. While the inspiration of or basis for happiness may vary from culture to culture, the feeling is very real and a "common ground" concept. By interviewing participants, I believe we can gain insight into cultural differences in conceptual and emotional thought, social norms and interactions, recreation and leisure, and overall well-being as impacted by frequency of experiencing happiness. By choosing the umbrella concept of happiness, I anticipate recreation and leisure activities will be revealed as factors influencing happiness. I foresee social interactions will also be discussed, thus delving into cultural differences and social trends. This social interaction also contributes to psychosocial health, emotional/mental health, and ultimately physical health and overall well-being. Thus, I predict happiness to have a significant impact on total health and overall well-being. Furthermore, potentially to be targeted later in my research/psych/nursing/who knows career, I think it would be interesting to compare and contrast cultures (i.e. Kenya versus USA) regarding the influences of happiness in each society and how the presence or lack of happiness affects general health. I anticipate that compared to many other societies, the American society is rather "unhappy" considering the vast availability of resources, healthcare, technology, etc. that we have to "enhance" our existence. This being compared to a variety of other societies who experience the sought emotion of "happiness" far more frequently, even without all of our said "enhancements."

Anyway... I know it is clear I have some MAJOR work to do, but I am ecstatic at the prospect of gaining such valuable insight. I am honored to have the opportunity to conduct this research and potentially see some of my ideas come alive! So excited. L and I decided the best way to approach this project is to allow the key focus components to emerge from the interviews. To allow these individuals and their stories to dictate what are the most influential and culturally telling aspects of “happiness.” So… we will see!! Any ideas are welcome!

So, as I come to a close (finally… sorry for the length of this first post!!), I wanted to explain the significance of the title of this blog, “kenya believe?” I thought a long while on what would be the most telling and appropriate name for what I wanted to convey in this blog. I thought of what I wanted these children, who have been through things unimaginable to the majority of those in our society, to take away from our curriculum. I want to challenge this group, and all children, to believe. I want them to grow and to flourish and to make their ideas and dreams come alive. So, I pose this question to all people living and constantly evolving as individuals “can you” or “kenya” believe?

Kenya believe in yourself? Kenya believe in your ability to influence change? Kenya believe in your own strength? Kenya believe in the viability of your ideas? Kenya believe in your independence? Kenya believe in the importance of your happiness? Kenya believe in people? Kenya believe in a community? Kenya believe that above all else, YOU can? I do.