New Orleans to Nanyuki: Tulane gets hands-on with International Development & Public Health

With one of my grammar school campers!

Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient Paige Montfort spent the month of August 2018 working at a camp for students sponsored by the Ngong Road Children Association (NRCA). The NRCA program sponsors students from Dagoretti—one of the largest slums in Nairobi—whose lives have been impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Paige is double-majoring in Political Science-International Development and Public Health.

At 5’8” and nineteen years old, I really did think that I had stopped growing. But oh, how I grew (in other ways than height) during the weeks I spent in Kenya!

So how did I end up there? I was one of two Tulane undergraduate students selected for the Newcomb College Institute (NCI)’s 2018 Kenya Summer Program. To prepare, I took a course titled Women and Development in Africa, developed my own unique activity to implement during my time working at the Ngong Road Children Association camp there, and interviewed with NCI representatives.

NCI partners with Friends of Ngong Road (FoNR), a Kenya and US-based non-profit organization, and the Ngong Road Children Association (NRCA). These two sister organizations seek out children in Dagoretti, one of the major slums in Nairobi, where the median household income is less than $2 per day. These children, who have “the ability to succeed but not the means,” have been impacted by the devastating HIV/AIDS epidemic—approximately 50% of the children in the program are orphans and the other 50% live with a surviving HIV+ parent. About 5% of children in the program are themselves HIV+.

These two organizations, FoNR and NRCA, support the children by providing for their education—paying school fees, providing supplies, and encouraging personal development. And it works! FoNR-sponsored students consistently demonstrate higher test scores and graduation rates than the Kenyan national average.

A crucial (and the children’s favorite) part of the program is the summer camp, which provides access to food and safe shelter over the summer break from school. It also, like the summer camp that I attended every summer throughout my childhood, offers opportunities for fun and for leadership development.

Senior campers participating in ‘Sources of Strength’ 

I had the opportunity to be a leader among the amazing camp staff, the majority of whom are Kenyan post-secondary students and NRCA caseworkers. My responsibilities at camp ranged from being a confidant for the students, to helping lead dance classes and “Crazy Olympics,” to ensuring student safety on field trips, to implementing my very own project, which I titled ‘Sources of Strength’.

So what, exactly, was this project? ‘Sources of Strength’ is a workshop that I spent my Spring 2018 semester researching and developing. Because one of the main goals of the NRCA and FoNR is to “build socioecological protective influences around youth,” I aimed to create an activity that developed campers’ self-awareness and confidence in order to better prepare them for future academic, social, and occupational endeavors.

The primary focus of this workshop is to develop children’s individual senses of resilience and social capability. While many activities at camp were physical and competition-based, my activity was focused on self-reflection. It involved thinking, writing, drawing, and discussion with me and with their peers. The younger children created colorful posters, filled with large drawings, and the older children created more detailed booklets, filled with writing and smaller depictions. Both the posters and the booklets contained six categories of Sources of Strength (physical, mental, peer, role model, personal, and “camper’s choice”), which the students individually identified and then explained.

June, a grammar school camper, with her ‘Sources of Strength’ poster


In designing and implementing my activity at camp, I learned a great deal. Of course, there was all of the research and planning involved. But then—there was the actual, on-the-ground work. At camp, I had limited resources, language barriers, and other issues to work through. I had to adapt my activity for different age groups, hand-draw diagrams and create booklets from scratch, and communicate with Kenyan staff so that they could help me find the right words and translations in order to convey complex ideas. Each of these obstacles made me a better leader, thinker, and Changemaker.

Before and after my experience working at the summer camp in rural Nanyuki, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a number of excursions. There are two, however, that I will NEVER forget:

  • The first was a visit to a local women’s NGO, Umoja Women’s Village. Founded in 1990, Umoja is a women’s only village for Samburu women (and their children) who have escaped domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and other forms of abuse. By residing together, they provide collective security and cooperation. The group works to inform women of their own community, but also the community at large, about their rights and their health. The women 
    My visit to Umoja women’s village

    generate their own income through traditional beadwork, tourism, individually- and collectively-owned livestock, and a group savings system. The profits from these endeavors help to sustain the community and their children, as well as to operate two schools open to the children of Umoja’s members and the surrounding community. In the afternoons, one of the schools also operates as a center for adult education, where Umoja’s members, most of whom are illiterate, learn basic Swahili, English and mathematics. Now, the women of Umoja have begun to reach out to other women throughout Kenya. They have begun to lead workshops across the country on capacity building and are outspoken proponents of women’s rights and economic independence. Meeting these women and hearing some of their stories was inspiring, empowering, and culturally eye-opening.

  • The second was a tour of the childhood home of our driver, Collins, who grew up in Kibera—the largest slum in Nairobi and the largest urban slum in all of Africa. This was the most unexpected part of my experience, but also one of the greatest learning moments. On my last day in Kenya, Collins invited me and the few other Tulane volunteers to walk around Kibera, to share chai in his family home, and to meet and talk to one of his thirteen siblings as well as some of his cousins and nephews. I suddenly was sipping tea and engaging in conversation in a place which, just months before, I had never imagined visiting—a place about which I had read countless books and articles in my Women and Development in Africa course. They talked to me about the challenges of growing up in Kibera, how difficult it is to escape the cycle of poverty there, and how the police do not monitor the winding dirt paths that serve as roads though the slum. I witnessed, first-hand, so many things that I had learned about in my classes at Tulane.
Discussions during post-secondary camp about sexual and reproductive health and consent

Overall, my experience in Kenya was nothing short of the most impactful experience of my life. I learned and taught and observed and practiced and struggled and worked and cried and danced and laughed and conversed and listened. I absorbed as much as I possibly could of the culture, of the experience, and of the stories of the campers and staff. I saw how issues I have been learning about in my international development and public health classes, such as urbanization and the AIDS epidemic, are impacting real people and individual lives. I already see important changes—valuable improvements—in how I address challenges and think about issues due to the experiences that I had in Kenya.

The memories I have, the relationships I made, and the knowledge that I developed—these things have inspired me and given me the tools (such as a newfound sense of confidence and a high level of adaptability) that I need to make REAL changes. Now, I feel equipped and excited to go forward in my field and as a Changemaker.