A very first work experience


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While doing her work apprenticeship in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, Vivianne is experiencing that you need a strong passion and love for your job if you want to make a change in people’s and your own life. If you are not happy to be doing what you are doing you will make no change. You need to have a strong internal drive which is something Vivianne wants to have too once she gets into work life.

Before the Apprenticeship:

I have not been creating any expectations for my Apprenticeship. My choice of work experience is not very conventional. Not everyone flies to the other side of the equator to work with Refugees in Kenya. My mentor has told me what we will be doing and what she has planned for me. I believe that going in without any expectations will leave me open to more and let me be surprised instead of disappointed.

“Hopefully I will be able to find a profession that I am passionate about. I learned that I have to practice being more passionate about the things I do because it changes your attitude and your outlook on life.”

I hope that during the nine days I will be spending in Kenya will teach me more about the difficulties that refugees face and how Charities, foundations and Governments can help. I would like to learn how we can make a difference and give someone better opportunities in life. Hopefully it will give me a better understanding of one of the many problems in the world and push me out of my comfort zone.

My mentor has given me the opportunity to interact with refugees and help with their short film they are making about the project. I will be able to learn about their lives, hopes and dreams. I imagine that being in such a different environment than usual will give me a culture shock, but I believe that I will have an easier time digesting it as I grew up in Asia and spent a lot of time traveling.

I think my mother is more nervous about my work experience than I am. A lot of people keep asking me if I am afraid, excited or anxious. To be honest my feelings are quite neutral. I am someone who thinks of every possible outcome, positive and negative, before I do something. I’m not overjoyed at the hot temperatures or the risks of contracting malaria among other thing on a very long list of dangers. But instead of focusing my thoughts on negativity, I am concentrating on this amazing opportunity that I have been provided with to see another part of this world and experience first hand the dedication and hard work of the people working on this project.

During the Apprenticeship:

Friday: on Friday morning I took the 5am train to Zürich Airport where I met up with my Aunt. We then exchanged some Swiss francs into US-Dollars and Kenyan Shilling. We used online check-in and only had hand luggage with us, so we were able to go through security and travel to our gate relatively quickly. Luckily we were able to board quickly and efficiently.

We landed in Nairobi around 5:30 after a comfortable flight. Surprisingly it was quite cold at a temperature of approximately 14 degrees celsius. I was expecting a minimum of thirty degrees. It took us thirty to forty minutes to go through passport control. After twenty minutes of waiting outside our terminal and several international phone calls our driver was finally able to collect us. It took us another hour or so to drive to our hotel; the Methodist Guest House. As we drove through Nairobi, which was at a rather slow pace, the surroundings strongly reminded me of Thailand and Indonesia. Even though it wasn’t humid, and didn’t have close to the amount of greenery as them, the infrastructure and the flow of the traffic seemed strongly familiar.

When we arrived at the guest house, my aunt and I met up with Mary McFarland, the International Director for ‘Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins’, to discuss the current affairs of the project they were running in Kakuma Camp while we ate our dinner.

Saturday: In the morning we watched and took part in the student interviews for the JC:HEM diploma program. The applicants were from a Refugee Camp in afghanistan and were being interviewed by two people on site, and three people in Nairobi.

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Afterwards my aunt planned a visit to a local project called “Mirror of Hope” It was a small organisation led by a woman and her husband who focused on helping children and HIV-positive women who live in the slum of Kibera, which is the largest urban slum in Africa with between 350’000 to 1 million inhabitants. The organisation helps bring children to school and offers them activities like singing and drawing after school and during their vacation to remove them from the dangerous environment full of drugs and prostitution inside the slum. They also educate them about STD’s, health and safety and and offer a ‘Women Empowerment’ Program for HIV-positive women.

The woman who founded the organisation who is named Judy, showed us around their small facilities which consisted of three buildings. She brought us into one of the singing classes and the children sang us songs and performed a some dances. After getting to know some of the children, my aunt, Judy, and young women named Caroline and I went inside the slum. I was surprised by the size of it and how many young children we saw. While we were climbing up the hill to Caroline’s home we passed a family home which was 3m by 4m and housed a couple and five children. You could tell that the area didn’t have any proper water or plumbing system. However, the slum seemed to have its own economy. We passed many shops and even hotels.

Sunday: In the morning we were invited by Judy to join a Swahili Church mass. It was starkly different to the traditional european masses I was used to. People were singing loudly in lively tones, and children were dancing through the rows. The church was full, and it was the second mass that morning. Everyone seemed happy that they could go to church.

Monday: We woke up early, probably around 4:00am and headed to the small Airport. As the sun was rising we boarded our small charter jet. Around us were other small planes which belonged to ‘The World Food Program’ and the UN. The flight from Nairobi to Kakuma was two hours long. Our Plane landed on a very primitive airstrip consisting of dirt, sand and some pebbles. From our seats we could already see people of all ages from the town of kakuma watching the plane park from behind the safety fence, fascinated with the odd flying contraption. After we stepped out of the plane and on the runway we were greeted by on-site JC:HEM and JRS (Jesuit Refugee Services) workers who piled us into two UN trucks.

To get to the camp we had to first drive through the small village of Kakuma. People were setting up shop, and children were going to school, proudly displaying their school uniforms. We then drove through large areas of land, even spotting some camels. We entered the camp through Kakuma 1 (oldest part of the refugee camp) and drove to the ‘worker grounds’. This was a secured area where people who are employed by the UN, JRS, JC:HEM, the WFP, etc. lived and sometimes also worked. We were given Visitor passes and shown to our rooms, which surprisingly had running water and electricity.

After a short break, the whole group was taken on a tour of Kakuma Camp. We first looked at a small learning center which was built by JRS in Kakuma 4, the newest part of Kakuma Camp. Then we visited a boys shelter. The boys shelter housed around thirteen boys, which were unaccompanied, neglected by their families, or being hunted. There had been a new arrival the week before; a albino boy from rwanda. After that we took the cars back to Kakuma 1 to tour the Arrupe Center. The arrupe center was built by JC:HEM and is the main learning center in Kakuma where students can take their online courses. It has two computer labs where students will study and do their coursework. To end our tour we were taken to a women’s shelter. Women were allowed to come and live here with their children if they are being sexually/domestically abused or taken advantage of. The shelter also teaches the women how to tailor and they end up making school uniforms for the schools in their area.

Tuesday: On tuesday I was granted the privilege of visiting two local schools. Together with two JC:HEM workers I was driven to Kakuma 4 where we went to ‘Hope Primary School’. It has approximately 5100 students with ages ranging from 7 to 20 years old. We sat into two classes; a 5th grade english lesson with 85 students, and an 8th grade social studies lesson with 143 students. The higher the grades were the less girls were present. The 5th grade class had 29 girls, and the 8th grade had 11 girls. After each lesson I had the chance to speak with two students, a girl and a boy, and ask them what they thought about education and what they wanted to do when they finished their studies. What surprised me most was that the majority of the teachers still utilized the cane. They would walk around slapping the cane to get students to go to class, and would also use it as a punishment. I was slightly appalled by the practice as it is seen as something horrible in europe.

After one and a half hours we decided to visit Peace primary school. It was very similar to Hope primary school. Both of them consist of several brick buildings with metal sheet roofing and chicken wire windows. The classrooms are filled with wooden benches, a chalkboard and some posters.

After lunch, I joined my aunt, the Filmmaker Uwe, and Mary McFarland to film interviews for their short film on JC:HEM’s higher education program. On that day we were interviewing graduates of the various programs, including a man who opened a computer/phone repair shop and a priest who teaches a peace program at his church. While we were filming in the street a large crowd gathered to watch. For them it was unusual to see such a production. While we were filming I was assigned the job of carrying equipment and holding the microphone if needed.

Wednesday: We started the day with four interviews of current students. Most of the questions were about their thoughts of the program and how they are going to use their degree to help others. In the afternoon we took the UN truck to the home of a refugee named Rowland. Rowland is a current student in one of the JC:HEM programs. We filmed his daily routine which included his 1 hour journey to school, preparing his meals, teaching english for adults and helping out as a trainer in a boxing center. At the boxing center they also had a group of dancers who were performing a mix of modern and traditional routine. Like on tuesday I spent the majority of my time carrying equipment.

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Thursday: After a lovely breakfast that included pancakes, my aunt, the filmmaker, two JC.HEM workers and I journeyed to the Angelina Jolie all-girls Primary School, which was also a boarding school. While the filmmaker was collecting some B-roll, my aunt and I visited a class of around 30 girls. They were aged 15 to 21 years old. They sang us a some songs in swahili and in english. A girl named Elizabeth also recited us a poem called ‘An African Girl’. It was a beautiful poem about the way girls are treated differently by society. They also asked me a few questions about education in europe. After the filmmaker finished filming B-roll, we interviewed a current teacher at the Angelina Primary School who was a graduate of the JC.HEM teaching program.Afterwards we returned to Arrupe Center to film two more interviews and a student meeting with administrators.

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Friday: On friday we went to Arrupe Center to film more B-roll and interview Mary McFarland (the international director of JC:HEM) for the short film. Later there was a lecture about women in politics held by Dr.Lahra Smith from Georgetown University, who flew in with us from Nairobi.For lunch we returned to the ‘worker grounds’. As a group we had a reflection session where we discussed the week and what we learned from our experiences. Afterwards we drove to the airstrip and flew back to Nairobi.

After the Apprenticeship:

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by my experience especially by the people I encountered while I was in Kenya. Before I traveled to Kenya people warned me about the dangers of being in a refugee camp, especially as a light skinned women, however while I was in the camp I felt comfortable with my surroundings and everyone I met. I did not experience any culture shock, it was as if I had already been there before. To be honest I was more terrified of the giant bugs crawling out of my shower than anything else. Oddly enough I was not emotionally affected as much as I thought I was going to be. Someone suggested that it could have been because of my age, saying that teenagers process things differently. Or I might have a high tolerance. It was something that really bothered me because I knew that the people I met were in terrible situations but I could not react with strong emotions.

I have to credit a lot of the experience to the people who I traveled with, especially my aunt Chantal Goetz. Everyone was always in a positive uplifting mood which made it easier to digest the surroundings. I am a strong believer of ‘people make the experience’. Even though everyone was older than I and already had a Phd or something else they treated me as an equal, like an adult, not like a child. It was something I strongly appreciated and strongly impacted my experience. Something that I observed in my co-travelers and others who are working in the camp was their strong passion and love for their Job. They were very happy to be doing what they are doing and they had a strong internal drive which is something that I want to have to. Hopefully I will be able to find a profession that I am passionate about. I learned that I have to practice being more passionate about the things I do because it changes your attitude and your outlook on life. I must also mention that I have so much respect for people who work in these jobs everyday because after I came home I experienced this overwhelming physical and emotional exhaustion which was suppressed while I was in the camp. I do not understand how they can handle it for months on end.

Another thing I learnt, which also was something that we discussed during the ‘reflection session’, was to know when to be patient and when to be impatient. It was something my aunt and Dr.Raymond F. Reyes from Gonzaga University brought up. They said that one cannot always be patient or else some people will take advantage of that, however to know when to be impatient one has to be patient. I think I need to practice both because I am not sure at which one I am worse.

Even though my work experience was very eye opening and inspiring I do not think I will be diving into the field of Refugee aid and Charitable organisations in the near future. I would consider it later in life, but I do not believe I have the right passion for such type of work. I realised while I was in kenya that I had a strong interest in the environment and recycling. While we were visiting different facilities on monday I could not stop thinking of different ways of planting more diverse plants and crops in the desert soil and how you could increase the use of solar power inside the camp. It also strongly bothered me that there were large amounts of trash and they were burning it instead of recycling it.

I realise that this trip is not something that most people can experience. I was lucky enough to be one of the few people that had the chance to see the situation from another angle than the media portrays it. Of course I understand that nobody is truly able to comprehend what it is like being a refugee, unless you are one. I am grateful to have had this opportunity. I would absolutely do it again but in an area of agriculture or health care instead of education. I learnt a lot about the world, conflict, peace, passion and the ripple effect in the week I spent in Kakuma, and I hope that it will help me make decisions in the future.