Kara Poppe, Princeton in Africa fellow ’15-’16, completed her fellowship year in June. Like the five fellows before here, she worked for 12 months as the volunteer coordinator and sustainability fellow at Nyumbani Village. We checked back in with Kara recently to ask her about the last months of her fellowship and year as a whole. She graciously agreed to answer our questions and share her lessons learned.
What three words would you use to describe your fellowship year?
Diverse – During the year, I met Kenyans and foreigners from diverse backgrounds. I learned so much about other cultures and ways of life.
Unpredictable – No two days in Kenya were the same. You could never predict what was going to happen next. It kept me on my toes, which I liked!
Nature – I loved spending a year in “nature” living the simple life without many modern comforts and away from traffic and the hustle and bustle of city life.
Reflecting back on your time in the Village, what were some of your favorite memories?
Rain! Anytime it rained, especially a significant rainfall, it was personally very exciting for me. My favorite time was when the rainy season had just started. The Village had been so dry for months, then in just one week, it turned into a lush paradise! There is something so refreshing about the birds chirping and the flowers blooming! It was also fun to watch the rainwater tanks fill and see the impact that the project had on the families. I was very fortunate that this past year saw higher than normal rainfalls, which benefitted the crops, the Village, and nearby communities tremendously.
Throughout the year, I befriended many of the staff’s young children. Being there for a full year allowed me watch many of them learn to walk, talk, and grow in other ways. I really enjoyed my evening rounds in staff quarters to play with them. I miss them already!
I know I have written about this before, but when I reflect on the past year, the Day of Remembrance will always stick out in my mind. On this day, the lives of the children, grandparents, and staff’s departed loved ones were honored with mass and a beautiful candlelight ceremony. Hearing hundreds of children sing while the sun set and the stars came out was a jaw dropping experience. I will never know the pain and grief that these children have experienced at such a young age, but their journeys to Nyumbani became real to me that evening and solidified the importance of Nyumbani’s programs.
What lessons did you learn that you will keep with you forever?
Climates are different all over the world! Growing up, I never really processed that other parts of the world do not necessarily experience the same summer, autumn, winter, spring with various forms of precipitation and a range of temperatures that we do here in the Midwest. Experiencing dry and rainy seasons as well as warm temperatures year-round was new to me! I will openly admit to embracing the “Kenyan winter” and complaining of being cold when the thermometer still read 70 degrees.
For years, I studied sustainability in school. I certainly would have never claimed to be an expert in it, but it was not until I spent a year in Nyumbani Village that I learned how hard it is to “be sustainable.” There are countless factors involved. It was so cool to live in a place that is regularly testing new technologies to conserve local resources while maximizing output to benefit the community. I learned that some new technologies were easy to implement and others were not.
Are there any valuable skills you gained?
The most valuable skill that I am taking away from Kenya is to take life as it comes and one day at a time. Tomorrow is not promised, so we must make the most of today. In Kenya and in life, the circumstances are always changing. It is important to be adaptable and flexible.
Throughout my year with Nyumbani, I hosted individuals from more than 15 countries. This helped me build my cultural competency skills as well as improve my communication skills.
During the year, I also increased my tolerance for various types of insects and small critters! I am not as scared anymore, and I consider that to be a useful life skill! I also became skilled at stopping massive ant invasions in my room.
What are your plans moving forward?
For the immediate future, I will be at home journeying alongside my mother in her fight to beat breast cancer. I plan to substitute teach in the nearby schools as well as pursue other part-time nonprofit work. I am looking forward to volunteering again with local environmental organizations. In a couple of years, I plan to pursue my masters in international or higher education. After my masters, I would be interested in spending extended time abroad again in a lesser-developed country.
In your future career, what experience and/or lesson from Nyumbani will you take with you?
From my time in Nyumbani, I solidified that every staff member plays a key role in making an organization function smoothly. Without the livestock attendants, social workers, or tailors, the Village would not be able to fulfill its mission. Appreciating and valuing the work of every person in your team is incredibly important. I plan to take this lesson with me throughout my career.
Thank you so much Kara for sharing your experiences and memories from this past year. We appreciate the work you have done and look forward to following what you do next!