From New York to Rural Kenya: Girls Connect through Education

On the last night of their visit to WISER (Women’s Institute for Secondary Education and Research) in Kenya, Dwight students celebrated the bonds they had forged with new friends and shared some emotional farewells.

Only four days prior, nine Dwight girls, who had traveled nearly 8,000 miles from New York to Muhuru Bay on spring break, began their stay on WISER’s rural campus, which is starkly different than our own. The bare-bones boarding school is the flagship program of WISER, a Kenyan NGO working in partnership with Duke University’s Global Health Institute to improve education, economic, and health outcomes for girls whose families have been torn apart by HIV/AIDS, poverty, and gender-based violence. Nearly 40% of WISER students are orphans.
 
Dwight’s History of Supporting WISER
After learning about WISER’s compelling mission at a GIN Conference in 2009, a Dwight team of staff and students launched a WISER Club and raised $1,000, enabling one girl to attend the school, which opened the following year. WISER takes “a holistic approach, providing everything a girl needs to be successful: clothes, books, safe housing, female role models, leadership training, healthy food, mosquito nets, HIV education, and essential medicine.” The impact of WISER is significant: graduates pursue college and higher education, are empowered to transcend some of the harsh realities they’re born into, and become agents of change in their own communities.
 
From 2010-12, Dwight students visited WISER annually to contribute directly through hands-on service activities. Among them was Hannah Levi ’10, who was inspired by the experience to return to the school for another six weeks during her gap year.
 
Beginning in 2013, travel warnings curbed trips to Kenya, yet the WISER Club kept going, raising additional awareness and support through an annual “WISER Week.” As we headed into the tenth-anniversary WISER Week this past year, Dwight students had raised enough money to send 11 girls to school. This year’s efforts raised an additional $2,500. 
 
Conditions in Kenya changed yet again and we were pleased to resume the trip in 2019,  connecting students personally and more deeply with the beneficiaries of their efforts and introducing them to the traditions and cultures of East Africa.

 
This Year’s Visit
It just so happened that the high school group who ventured to Kenya this year was comprised of all girls; eight from our New York campus and one Dwight Global student. They were excited to meet the students whom they had seen on video during WISER Weeks in recent years.
 
After two long flights and a night’s stay in Nairobi, the group set off for a seven-hour drive west to Muhuru Bay, a small fishing village located on the banks of Lake Victoria near Tanzania. They were greeted warmly at a welcome dinner before settling into the bunkhouse. Over the next few days, Dwight students shadowed WISER students in classes, participated in writing and computer labs, observed after-school clubs, played soccer, helped during evening study sessions, and even visited some students’ homes. They learned a few words of Swahili from girls, who shared their personal stories, illustrating that education is their only path to a better future.

The days at school were busy, punctuated by silent tea breaks and lots of smiles. When not on campus, Dwight students learned about the area by visiting a clinic to hear about pressing healthcare issues; and met local officials, who discussed the important role clean water plays in the region. They also ventured to Lake Victoria and to the Suba Caves nearby to see rock art and learn about the history of the Suba people.
 
As their time together at WISER came to an end, everyone was sorry to say good-bye. With many hugs to go around and some hand-written notes of appreciation exchanged, the Dwight group was on their way.

 
 
Departing Muhuru Bay, they headed southeast to the Maasai Mara, named in honor of the Maasai people, to visit a local village and learn about their traditions. This area is also home to a famed national wildlife reserve, where the group enjoyed a one-day safari, observing many large animals up close in their natural habitat of the savanna.
 

 
Forever Changed
Dwight students saw a bit more of Kenya on their long drives to and from WISER and reflected about their incredible experiences. The trip had expanded their worldview and provided a  glimpse into the trials and triumphs of girls their own age for whom life is vastly different.
 
“After coming back to New York, I feel how this trip really has impacted me in long-lasting way,” says Maya Singh ’22. “I am more aware of challenges people face locally and around the world, and I’m more aware on a daily basis of how grateful I am for every opportunity that I have.”
 
She continues: “Cross-cultural experiences like this are important to help students gain a different perspective on the world. When you immerse yourself in a different environment and mindset, you broaden your horizons and can approach situations differently. I went to Kenya to have a different experience and it has been life-changing. I came back with a heightened ambition to evoke change in the world. WISER students, who live in a rural area, really appreciated making personal connections with us. I want to continue to make a difference in some way.”
 
Maya encourages other Dwight students to take this journey in the coming years, sharing “I had seen videos of WISER girls, but meeting them in person was amazing. We saw their hearts and souls, which are so genuine. This had a great impact on me. I hope that I was able to do the same.”
 
We have no doubt that Maya — and everyone on this trip — most definitely did the very same.