Camp in Kenya: Body Percussion, Positionality & a Mzungu?

Changemaker Catalyst Recipient, Terez Hobson, traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to volunteer and work with Ngong Road Children Association’s 2017 summer camp. Terez created and facilitated a creative workshop on body percussion for NRCA campers.

For two weeks I attended the Ngong Road Children Association (NRCA) summer camp. Ngong Road is a U.S. and Kenyan based nonprofit that seeks to provide education for kids in Nairobi, Kenya who do not have the means. Many of the kids come from families affected by HIV/AIDs in the slum areas surrounding Nairobi. NRCA currently has about 350 children in the program, ranging from primary all the way to post-secondary school.

This summer’s volunteers, NRCA alumni, current NRCA post-secondary students, and Tulane students came together to help pull off a massive summer camp operation. Camp is the highlight of every kid’s year and I was so ready to be headed toward a positive and energetic setting.

Here is a picture of Naromoru Girls Secondary School. The site where NRCA Summer Camp 2017 was hosted.
Here is a picture of Naromoru Girls Secondary School. The site where NRCA Summer Camp 2017 was hosted.

Tulane volunteers going on the trip were all responsible for hosting workshops. I had planned and prepared a workshop on body percussion. So what exactly is body percussion? I consider it making beats, rhythms, and music with your body in any creative (and safe) way. I thought a body percussion workshop would be creative, accessible, and fun. During senior camp, which was towards the end of the camp sessions, I ran my workshop for 4 days. Senior campers are in grades equivalent to 9-12th so I was leading and interacting with kids from 14-17 years of age.


My workshop had components of basic music concepts, beat making, and a fun competition. After learning the basics I created groups that would come up with their own material in a couple of minutes and showcase it for the class. (One group was so creative they included bird calls as part of their piece!) Then a panel of judges, myself, a Kenyan staff member, and another volunteer, would judge the group’s material based on content, musicality, group cohesiveness and creativity.

 I enjoyed teaching my workshop to multiple groups, as this was a great opportunity to be a leader at camp and help to structure some creative activity. Leading the sessions also allowed me to interact with campers in a new way. I got to know most campers through my classes but I also loved getting to know students through an individual or small group conversation.

A persistent thought I had as I interacted with people was how do they perceive me?

The girl's at grammar camp all wanted their nails painted!
The girl’s at grammar camp all wanted their nails painted! Yvonne was first but I had a line 20 people long!

Positionality, how my identities interact in a given context, was on my mind as I was abroad in Kenya. I had a mental list of my salient identities. It read: Female, African American, US Citizen, Able-Bodied and Young. In the U.S. my most salient identities are being Black and female. I thought that these two identities would be the most salient in Kenya as well.

My most salient identity was my status as a foreigner form the United States. I swear, after the lyrics to Jambo Bwana, the first word I learned was “mzungu.” Kenyan campers applied this term to me, which I found funny when they said it meant “white man.” Mzungu is a term in Swahili to refer to someone of European descent and the kids were more generally using it to mean “foreigner.” Obviously, my foreign status was the biggest thing that many campers and Kenyan staff perceived about me. Being a foreigner/US citizen remained my most salient identity throughout my time in Kenya.

Victor, a post-secondary student who has gone through the program, and I reppin' Tulane
Victor, a post-secondary student who has gone through the program, and I reppin’ Tulane

Being from the U.S. was the main thing that students wanted to talk about as we got to know each other. There was such interest in my likes and dislikes as well as a life halfway across the world. The campers wanted to talk and become friends through knowing about me and I could not deny them genuine answers. As I got to know students we would spend time talking, playing chess, organizing field activities, dancing at night, or pointing out constellations. Two weeks was not enough to get to know everyone in depth but I am grateful for all the experiences that I got to share with all my NRCA campers.

 This experience has reminded me to be happy.  I will always remember the positive energy that was vital to running camp. Remembering the people, their lives and sheer determination encourage me to keep pursuing my interests and to be thankful. When I think back about Kenya in the future I will remember that I should dance a little, experience things in the moment, and focus on connecting with people and their own experiences.

Please check out Ngong Road’s website if you are curious about learning more about their mission.