A Trip to Kenya: When Teachers Become Students
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
By: Nicole Kielan
Deirdre McIntyre, a senior anthropology major at Adelphi, caught flights as well as feelings during the January 2020 intercession.
The Massapequa resident spent 12 days in Kenya through Adelphi’s faculty-led program where she learned a tremendous amount about Kenyan culture—and even more about herself. She previously had the opportunity to travel to Ireland, Greece and Norway where she studied literature, archaeology and educational foundations of the area. Kenya was her fourth trip abroad, and her most unforgettable. There, she volunteered at a local school teaching mindfulness to a group of fourth and seventh graders who could not fully grasp the concept of expressing emotion.
“We had to show them how to identify happiness and sadness,” McIntyre said. “What does anger look like?”
These groups of students, some of whom are orphans, have been growing up in an environment where they have been told how to act and feel. With the help of McIntyre, they slowly began to identify with their emotions using creative techniques. Children associated feelings such as anger, happiness and sadness with the colors red and green. They were taught how to change those negative red feelings into positive green feelings using music and the environment around them. Due to the lack of resources available, McIntyre had the children model their emotions using natural materials including stones, leaves and mud, ultimately lifting their spirits just by being outdoors.
“Every creation was a happy face,” she said.
“Deirdre was tender and loving with the children and a good communicator who came down to their level,” said Anne Mungai, PhD, one of the program’s leaders and associate provost for strategic initiatives and graduate studies at Adelphi.
Although the opportunity to teach these children was unforgettable, McIntyre said the kids taught her more than she could have ever taught them.
“Honestly, I could use a few more lessons on how to smile more from those kids,” she said.
Lena Demas, one of McIntyre’s fellow group mates, added, “We learned what real generosity and pure love is.”
According to McIntyre, the children came to school wearing the same few garments of clothing every day, yet when complimented on a bracelet they were wearing, would not hesitate to offer it as a gift. These recurring gestures and demonstrations of love left a lasting impression on her.
McIntyre said she feels very lucky to have been given the opportunity to travel, volunteer and absorb various cultures around the globe. However, she said this experience was different from her previous travels. During her Kenya visit, she not only faced the eye-opening culture, but also had to truly face herself.
“I knew I was going to be in a place that wouldn’t compare to what we have here [the United States],” she said, “but then you're sitting around it, I kind of had to confront my own entitlement.”
McIntyre left Kenya with a new outlook on life, where even the simplest commodities such as toilet paper were not taken for granted. Because she wants to be a teacher in the future, McIntyre said she is eager to pass what she has learned down to her own students.
She and the other participants of the volunteer group have started a “GoFundMe” with a goal of raising $3,000 in order to buy new furniture for the classrooms. As of now, the students have a limited supply of chalk and are using rolled up jeans as erasers.
“The goal is to refurnish one classroom at a time, and if we can do that it would be amazing,” said McIntyre.
She looks forward to gaining more knowledge from her travels knowing the world and its inhabitants have more to teach her just as she wishes to be able to teach them in the future.
“We forget that even in a world where we believe we have everything, if we’re not happy and can’t take time to laugh and smile with others, we might be the ones missing out,” McIntyre said.
Deirdre McIntyre (second from right) spent the winter intercession working with students in
Kenya. Shown are images from the trip.