By Abigail Larkin, a member of the SkillCorps Kenya February 2018 team
Today is the first Friday of my first week in Nairobi. There are so many things going through my mind, so many questions, so many thoughts, so many smiles, and a couple of tears. It was a beautiful week, a hard week, a challenging week. To say that I was mentally unprepared was an understatement. I came into this a country a privileged white woman, full of knowledge, but also naiveté. I assumed I would walk into the center, full of expertise and experience, and teach these behavior therapists a thing or two. I could not have been more wrong. Today as I reflect on my past week working at Kaizora, I ask myself “who is teaching who?”
My first day at Kaizora was a blur. I was full of nerves and anxiously anticipating how to the day would go. I am a control freak, and having the reins taken out of my hands has been an experience that I will value, but it challenged me in ways I was not prepared for. Meeting all of the staff members was one of my favorite parts of the day. I pride myself on being a great mentor, friend, and co-worker. I was excited to build rapport with each member of the staff, and to hear of their experiences. I found out quickly that this would be a little bit harder than I had imagined. I expected open arms and stories of ABA, science, and Autism. Instead, I got “hello” “How are you” “Good morning.” Challenge accepted.
Next were the children. Oh my, these children. They would melt your heart with just a glance. We spent the second half of our day going to each child, hearing about their background history (or what we had documented) and we quickly dug into the problem solving. See, this was my problem – I was trying to solve problems and save the world, I was not listening to the therapists who work with these children day in and day out. I was not respecting their stories, their perspectives, their frustrations. It took me a couple of days to understand that in order to truly bond with this community, I needed to listen to their opinions, to reach out to them, to collaborate with them. As my work style changed, so did my relationship with these wonderful therapists. Today, I can proudly say that I have made some amazing friends. I have learned some words, I have eaten amazing native foods, and I have (awkwardly) picked up on some Kenyan dance moves. Most importantly, I have changed. I am in love with Kenya. I am in love with its people, its culture, and its passion. I cannot wait to see what next week has in store for me.