by Ksenia Kravtchenko, a member of the SkillCorps team currently in Kenya
During orientation, our group spent some time talking about our responsibilities and expectations on the upcoming trip. One of the sections in the orientation packet was the importance of unplugging while abroad and about being present in the moment. I learned the value of this before even stepping foot in Nairobi.
The second leg of our flight itinerary started off the same as most of my flights – cheating in Candy Crush to get unlimited lives, passing out in awkward positions, and watching the same in-flight movie over and over again. In other words, my flights are typically spent very much “plugged,” and this flight from Zurich to Nairobi began no differently. Five minutes into starting Silver Linings Playbook for the third or fourth time, for whatever reason, I decided to take my headphones out.
Immediately, my neighbor greeted me and asked if this was my first time traveling to Kenya. At first, I instantly regretted unplugging. I had been either on a plane or at an airport for the previous 15 hours and was starting to feel a little stir crazy. Socializing with a random stranger was the last thing on my mind. I politely replied “yes” and proceeded to explain the purpose of my trip. I explained that I was a behavior analyst and that I was traveling to Nairobi to collaborate with a team of behavior therapists and the only Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in all of East Africa. I took the time to explain how the Global Autism Project’s vision and model differed from many other organizations and how much emphasis they placed on sustainability.
Bernard, as I later learned was his name, began asking me about autism in the United States – How are kids diagnosed? Who typically diagnoses them? You use psychotherapy with them, right? Are the kids you work with in a facility separated from their family’s homes? After Bernard and I finished talking about my experiences back home, I turned to him and asked what he did for work. His answer struck me – “I was afraid you were going to ask…I am a doctor in Tanzania.”
Although Bernard and I spent the next two hours talking about everything from autism to the conference in Austria he was flying home from to relationships, this one part of our conversation stuck out the most. Despite years of medical school, being the father of two young kids, and having traveled the world as a doctor, Bernard admittedly knew very little about autism, let alone how it’s diagnosed and treated. This part of his story is unfortunately all too common all throughout the world.
All in all, my conversation with Bernard solidified not only the importance of the mission of the Global Autism Project but also the importance of living in the moment and remembering to unplug every once in a while.