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CMU students travel nearly 7,700 miles to volunteer in Kenya

Chippewas journey to Africa to help HIV patients, orphans

Contact: CMU News

Central Michigan University psychology graduate Olivia Jenkins headed to Kenya with her roommates after graduation in May to help serve HIV patients and orphans. The experience has changed their lives.

Jenkins, a Sanford native, had studied abroad in Maseno, Kenya, in May 2013. Her roommates, St. Joseph senior Josh Wessel and Saginaw graduate Hesham Salman, joined her when she returned a year later to the Maseno Mission Hospital. The three Chippewas served the hospital in various ways ranging from information technology work to assisting in the labor ward.

Following her first trip to Africa, Jenkins started sponsoring a child through the His Arms Kenya Orphan Project. The return trip enabled her to spend time with the child she had been helping from afar.

“Parents and adults don’t often have time to play with children, so even playing soccer or jump rope was really important to them,” Jenkins said. “The most impactful thing was seeing how happy they are even though they don’t have much. They can play with anything and have huge imaginations.”

Wessel worked with a spiritual counselor and other hospital employees to test patients for HIV and keep their spirits up.

“What many people don’t realize is that one’s mental state, not just physical state, is closely tied to the speed at which one heals,” Wessel said. “It is too easy to lose hope at a hospital, especially when faced with an illness such as HIV.”

Wessel said his philosophy and psychology courses at CMU gave him the passion to serve others abroad. His professors taught him to improve the world by gaining a better understanding of others.

“Through working together to help one another, we can make steps toward peace,” Wessel said.

Salman said although there is not much people can do to prepare for a few weeks in a completely new culture, CMU provided many tools to ease the transition.

“CMU has done a lot to promote cultural diversity and history, which is useful in understanding a new region of the world and the way they live,” Salman said.

They experienced the cultural differences of Kenya and compared their way of living to what they have experienced in the United States.

“I think everyone should travel to a developing country,” Salman said. “It allows a change in perspective that you cannot get anywhere else; the world is a book, and those who don’t travel only read one page.”

Jenkins grew up in central Michigan, but said she was put into a world full of people completely different from her when she came to CMU.

“CMU has taught me to think less of myself and to listen to the point of view of others,” Jenkins said.

The group organized the entire trip on their own including their housing, meals and transportation.

While their focus was to change the lives of those they served, their lives will forever be changed as they use what they’ve learned in their classes to impact others from a global perspective.

“If I learned anything in Kenya, it’s that education is the most important thing in the world,” Jenkins said.

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