Tomorrow (July 31) I will be joining six other folks from Eastern University and Builda Bridge International on a trip to Nairobi, Kenya. While there, we will working with Moses and Celmali Okonji, who have a school in Kibera, a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, reputedly the largest slum in Africa. Celmali is a graduate of the Urban Studies program, and was introduced to Kenya several years ago on just a trip. While there, we will be meeting with artists in that community and training them in the trauma-informed integrated arts approach developed by BuildaBridge. The second week of our visit we will then work alongside these local artists in sponsoring an arts camp for children. We will be staying in a guest house near the community, and as much as is feasible embed ourselves in the community during our time there.
This is my first trip to any country in Africa and in that way is a dream come true. What I particularly appreciate is that we will not be on the “tourist track,” but seeking to interact with people in their environment. What I also appreciate is that BuildaBridge, which has sponsored these sorts of trips to countries all over the world, does not seek to come in a “do a program” for a local community, but rather seeks to empower, train and encourage local folks to take the lead in whatever program is developed. While I will still be viewed as an “outsider” and an “American,” at least it will be done with a more humble approach.
On a trip of this sort there are all sorts of unknowns. So while we have a sort of plan, we expect that we will have to adapt once we get there. For me this is definitely the case. Since I do not identify myself as an “artist,” my role is more of support and helping out as needed. Also I may have the opportunity to speak with the artists or local leaders on leadership issues such as ethics, servant leadership and leadership ethics. I actually won’t know what if any of that I will do until I arrive.
However, the most anxiety-producing aspect of the trip at this point is the flight itself to Nairobi (by way of Dubai), which I calculate altogether will take about 21-22 hours. Not only don’t I dislike long flights (planes are not designed with my 6’1″ frame in mind), but also with all the violence occurring around the world, I realize I have fears of what could happen at any point in our trip. I realize the recent events in Orlando, Nice, Munich, Kabul and elsewhere have invaded my psyche. Fifteen years ago, a few weeks after 9/11, I took a plane trip, and I had similar fears. At that time I just decided to focus on what I could control and leave the rest to God; I am trying to take the same approach now, but I am admittedly finding it harder to do. Once I get to Nairobi, I am sure all sorts of other issues will crop up for me, but at the moment, that’s where my anxiety lies.
While on this trip I hope to occasionally journal and reflect on my experiences and share them in this blog. I don’t know what sort of Internet access I will have, and pictures and that sort of thing may not be possible. However, I hope to share my reflections and insights on what I hope and expect will be a life-changing experience. So look for further postings as we move along.