Written by: Shelby Thompson
In May of 2022, Dr. Caroline Kobia led a study abroad community-engaged learning course in Kenya. The main course objective was to analyze and better understand the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Students were tasked with a three part project including the inspiration, ideation and implementation of the SDGs in relation to Kenya.
Students were hosted by the United States International University (USIU) and had the opportunity to explore and experience the beautiful campus and its surrounding areas. Four themes emerged that students explored and were repeated in their projects and class work: Education and unemployment, waste management, land conservation and infrastructure.
Kenya has the highest unemployment rate in East Africa. It was important for students to consider this while developing ideas related to education and unemployment. The students focused on giving technical schools and universities more access to skilled labor. Having accessibility to skilled labor is important to work towards meeting the UN's "No Poverty" goal.
Waste management was the focus of multiple student groups. After seeing a large amount of trash around the city of Nairobi, students proposed the idea of utilizing waste-to-energy plants. Waste-to-energy plants use the gasses from burning trash to create energy. Students also proposed a ban on plastic bottles to further the current plastic bag ban implemented in Kenya in 2017 to continue managing waste more effectively.
While visiting Nairobi Park, students had the opportunity to learn more about land conservation issues in Kenya. Ongoing tension between wildlife and urbanization increases as urban areas continue to develop, shrinking the amount of land and wildlife. Students learned that organizations with environmentally-driven missions help protect the land and wildlife from political initiatives.
Inadequate infrastructure is an ongoing and considerable issue in Kenya. Students learned that the growing traffic plays a large role in the challenges related to infrastructure. The UN's goal of "Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure" is meant to develop more efficient transportation solutions, however, this initiative is least funded in Kenya. Students believe additional lanes for motorcyclists and a tram system would help work towards the UN's goals for traffic management and accident prevention.
Not only did students learn a lot about the UN's SDG's and conduct meaningful projects throughout their time, they were also able to experience the beautiful Kenyan culture through outings and collaborative activities with local students. Kobia reflected on the continuous hospitality throughout the trip from the local students, faculty and community members. She explained that the environment of USIU resembled that of Mississippi State with its welcoming atmosphere. Her students were appreciative of the trip saying, "Thank you for allowing us to see Kenya, its challenges and achievements in a new way; the experience has surely shaped our understanding of Africa and the world for the better."
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