WC ag students learn, serve during 12-day visit to Kenya


Paige Teeters fondly recalls her grandparents telling stories about their visits to Kenya on Quaker mission trips. This summer, the senior agricultural education major traveled to Africa with 10 fellow ag majors — seven of whom had never before left the United States — and their agriculture professor, Dr. Javonne Mullins, with her family.

There, they learned about agriculture in Kenya by touring farms and industry-related businesses, while also visiting schools and engaging in service projects at an orphanage. The group also went on an African safari during which they saw the “big four”: lions, hippos, elephants and cape buffaloes, as well as leopards, crocodiles and the wildebeest migration.

“It’s very fulfilling to live up to your grandparents’ experiences. I feel very proud.” Teeters said, adding she believes the WC contingent tapped into the same mantra as her grandparents did during their visits to Africa. “No matter where you go, there’s a lot you can give. Find those opportunities when you can be a light in somebody’s world.”

Mullins said the group’s journey added to the students’ cultural awareness. “Agriculture is such a global industry,” she added. “They may end up in business opportunities where they travel throughout the world.”

Also, being aware of world cultures and how others approach similar agricultural challenges to those faced in America offers valuable perspectives that will no doubt help inform these students’ eventual roles in the industry.

One of the most pleasant and startling revelations was dispelling a preconceived notion of the developing world. “My vision of Africa was it was a poor country where everyone is sad — it was the opposite,” said Maci Haitz, a sophomore majoring in agronomy. “They are very happy and content — and they were so appreciative of us being there. I learned a lot. It was a culture shock in a good way!”

Morgan Thompson, a senior majoring in animal science, agreed, “It’s completely different than what you’d expect from our perception of that part of the world.” Indeed, Teeters added, “As Americans, we felt very welcomed. Visitors are considered as blessings there. They always waved at us and, once, 2,000 kids even sang to us.”

The typical farm in Kenya is one to three acres and produces such crops as maize, sugar cane, kale and coffee. Also, fresh bananas, watermelon and pineapple were prevalent and sold along the roadside. Much is harvested by hand and the tractors and other power equipment they saw dated back more than 50 years.

Aubrey Schwartz, a junior majoring in agricultural education, said the basics of agriculture are shared by both Kenyan and American farmers. “We all have the same goal to grow healthy products.” Also, Thompson noted, “They may not have the same technology we have, but the basics are still there.” Teeters shared their experience of meeting a farmer who greeted them with two live chickens on his lap. “He was so proud when, an hour later, he was able to serve us (a chicken) dinner.”

The group visited several schools and even had an opportunity to speak to students about agriculture in America, but possibly the most profound experience was their time at the orphanage, the Precious Kids Center in Kitale. There they tore down an old shed (“We only had hammers!”) to make way for a new one to house laundry machines. They also participated in a movie night as they interacted with the children.

“These kids didn’t ask for anything. They just wanted to be with you,” Teeters said.

Mullins is planning another trip abroad for WC’s agriculture students while hoping to return to Kenya after several years. This spring, she voluntarily assisted with an agricultural education project by consulting remotely on sustainable horticulture practices in the West African nation of Benin. Her agriculture faculty colleague, Dr. Tania Burgos-Hernandez, spent her spring break assisting farmers in Rwanda.

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