Hekima Place in Kiserian, Kenya
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Nina Trach

Majors: Spanish and Public Relations
Hometown: South Brunswick, NJ

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I first learned about Hekima Place from a senior in the Schreyer Honors College who was a great mentor to me in my freshman year. She had been to Hekima three times before and arranged to have Jenny Roach, the Executive Director of Hekima Place, come and speak to the Schreyer for Women club while she was in the United States. After hearing Jenny share her story and the stories of the girls at Hekima, I immediately knew that I had to make the journey to meet with, learn from, and help these inspiring girls in Kenya.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

Hekima Place is a home for more than 60 orphaned and at risk girls in Kiserian, Kenya. The home began as a safe place for orphans of parents affected by the AIDS crisis in Kenya, but has transformed into a place for girls who are victims of all kinds of challenging circumstances. Hekima is built on a foundation of faith and love, where young girls have the opportunity to receive an education and just be kids. My role as a volunteer for three weeks manifested in many different roles, helping in whatever way was needed. I traveled with four fellow Penn Staters and we spent the majority of our trip painting the girls' houses to prepare for Hekima's upcoming inspection. We also spent a great deal of time helping the girls with homework at night and doing social activities with them on the weekends. Our mission as volunteers was to provide help for the staff and support for the girls, which we were able to do with a variety of different tasks. While the girls were at school, we also got to experience some of the local culture in Karen and Kiserian, two of the closest towns to where we were staying.

How did this experience impact you academically?

As a student currently majoring in Spanish and Public Relations, I expected this trip to have more of an influence on how I view the world as a global citizen, since it did not directly connect to my majors. However, I was thrilled that the experience actually had a significant influence on what will be my future academic choices at Penn State. This trip taught me a great deal about the difference between aid and sustainable development and the importance for the latter to prevail. In my coming semesters at Penn State, I plan to find a minor or certificate program focused on sustainable community development or global relations to supplement my two majors. Since returning from my trip to Hekima I have also thought more about my thesis and how I might be able to tie in this new passion for sustainable development and the impact media can have on developing communities. I hope for future service or research experiences in a Spanish speaking country to incorporate the valuable lessons I learned at Hekima with the Spanish and Public Relations skills I have learned in the classroom, to contribute to my thesis.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

I have always had the long term goal of working for the International Olympic Committee or NBC Olympics, due to a love for their global message of unity, cooperation, and competition. My trip to Hekima has opened my eyes to how I might be able to help develop and promote other global campaigns or incorporate my knowledge of sustainable development into a different aspect of the Olympics. I plan to look more into careers in corporate social responsibility and sustainable global development that can really utilize my skills in Spanish and Public Relations. With my current majors it can be easy to fall into the trap of a job selling or promoting things with little meaning or significance. My trip to Hekima has reminded me of and solidified the fact that whatever my career path may be, I will be happy as long as I can have a meaningful impact on someone or something. I have the incredible power to make a difference in this world, as we all do, and Hekima helped me to remember exactly that.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would absolutely recommend that other Liberal Arts students make the trip to Kiserian, Kenya to experience all the love and knowledge that the girls and staff at Hekima Place have to offer. For anyone looking to experience a different culture in the most meaningful way possible, volunteering at Hekima is undoubtedly the perfect way to do so. This trip allowed me to find a second family across the world who were able to teach me more about myself than I could have imagined possible, all while impacting the lives of the beautiful girls that call Hekima home.

How has the Paterno Fellows Program had an impact on this experience?

The Paterno Fellows Program and the College of the Liberal Arts provided me with a great deal of perspective in my first year at Penn State. Due to coursework, extracurricular events, and even just interacting with other fellows, I have a greater appreciation for diverse thinking and the importance of having a global perspective. Without the valuable lessons I have learned so far from the Paterno Fellows Program, I may not have even thought to seriously consider a trip to Kenya. I'm so grateful for all that I have already learned from being a Paterno Fellow and all that is still to come.

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