A “HIP” Experience: Building Relationships in Kenya
This January, Open World had the opportunity to send a volunteer to one of the schools we support, HIP Academy, in Kimilili, Kenya (on the border of Uganda and Kenya). Jeremy Gulley served as an adviser and supported the students and teachers in the classroom for an entire month, and plans to return for a three month stay this summer. Read on to learn more about Jeremy’s experience at HIP.
Q: What’s something that always surprises you about HIP Academy? How happy everyone is despite how hard their lives are. The students, especially, are so full of joy and eagerness to learn that it makes me pause . . . they don’t seem to realize how hard they have it. They just seem full of joy.
Do you think that the joy they express supports an idea that suffering is relative in regard to different ways of life around the globe? Yes, for sure. They have what they need and don’t realize what they don’t have. They don’t have a choice or many options, so they are happy with what they have. However, it’s also a magical place to be a child -- lots of nature, not many rules or restrictions, not much (if any) crime, and lots of things to explore and people to explore with.
What are the main differences between teaching at HIP Academy and teaching in the US? The big difference is the motivation of the students. They want to learn, they seem to love to learn, and don’t seem to take it for granted like some students in the US. The teachers at HIP don’t fight to motivate students like teachers in the US. It’s hard to explain . . . the students at HIP make some in the US seem so ungrateful. The other big difference is how many resources the US has in comparison to Kenya.
What kinds of resources specifically? Well . . . like electricity for one. Wifi, smart boards, white boards, school supplies like paper and pencils, computers . . . resources that we all take for granted in the US.
What challenges do you think are most pressing for the HIP Academy? Money is the big one. Then teaching resources which falls under money, of course. HIP has had 2 turnovers of their entire teaching staff over the last two years, so providing consistent funding for HIP’s teachers has to be a top priority. This would also go a long way to allow HIP to stay in good standing with Kenya’s ministry of education. They also need opportunities for further education, family and village support. In the US we have so many opportunities that they don’t have in Kimilili.
Any particularly interesting days you remember? Every day was interesting, especially when compared to a day in the US. In the US I teach, but don’t have to fetch water after school so I can shower and eat. However, one of the most interesting days was when I took a 5 hour walk on a Sunday and met with a few families from the school and LOTS of people from the community. One of my goals was to give HIP some credibility by showing how a visitor was there to be part of the village/community rather than an all mighty, all knowing savior. That walk, and also my carrying water every day, showed that I’m there to help and that I’m no better than anyone.
What will stick with you forever about your experience at HIP Academy? How much love the students showed me. The best thing that happened was them calling me Mr. Jeremy instead of Mzungu. They would correct each other, actually —He’s not Mzungu, He’s Mr. Jeremy.
What does Mzungu mean? And what connotations go with that word? Interesting you should ask — it means “white person” and it simply is used to indicate a foreign person. It isn’t mean spirited at all, just as a “hey, there’s a different person of there . . .” But, in my stay this time, like I said above, I became “Mr. Jeremy” instead of mzungu, and the students would even correct people who called me that -- they’d say “no . . . that’s Mr. Jeremy.” Also, Fred, one of the founders of HIP, told me at dinner one night that he can see that mzungu is offensive and asked how I put up with it. I told him that I understand why it’s used and that it isn’t mean spirited, so it’s okay. But he told me he, and HIP, would continue educating their students to not use it and instead find out the names of new people to use instead of mzungu.
Editor’s Note: Professors Jeremy and Beth Gulley traveled to HIPAfrica in May 2018 for the grand opening of the new classrooms and in January 2019 to research how to implement an ELL curriculum, provide solutions to clean water issues at HIP, and how to bring medical supplies to the Kimilili community. They were are main points of contact for our work with HIP from January 2019 until our final donation to HIPAfrica in April of that year.
— Deanna Ambrose is a recent graduate from KU’s School of Journalism and a volunteer writer for the Open World Cause