As a Barnard College undergraduate with an interest in the places where humans and wildlife interact, The School for Field Studies Wildlife Management Program was a perfect fit for me. It provided the opportunity to engage with fascinating issues in an ecosystem I was interested in.
I gained so much from the experience: the beginnings of an understanding of the complex political, historical, environmental and cultural forces that impact how humans use land; a deep fascination with the ecosystems of southern Kenya; a newfound appreciation for rain; and meaningful and lasting friendships. SFS also strengthened my Kiswahili and gave me the confidence to speak it! I use it every day in my work these days, and I think often of the patience and kindness of the Kilimanjaro Bush Camp staff as I struggled to find words.
I’ll never forget one day, when I was conducting interviews during my SFS Directed Research Project, a young man in Kuku Group Ranch asked me why I, an outsider, was doing this research when someone in the local community could do it more effectively. It was a surprising moment that challenged me to really think about my role in the world and the importance of facilitating local leadership and involvement in issues. It provoked an ongoing reflection on the role of ‘outsiders’ and the potential for community partnerships to address pressing development issues. I firmly believe that without local investment and engagement, even a well-meaning intervention cannot be sustained.
I returned to Kenya as a Princeton in Africa Fellow with The BOMA Project, an NGO working in the northern part of the country. The BOMA Project focuses on economic strengthening, providing business skills training together with seed-capital grants for women in predominantly pastoral communities to start small businesses, diversifying their livelihood strategies and becoming more resilient in the face of worsening drought. While working there, I spent about half my time in our office, writing reports and attending to programming needs and the other half of my time in northern Kenya, collecting data and assisting with grant disbursements and training sessions.
For one project, I planned, designed, and carried out two impact assessments, visiting almost 200 microenterprises throughout northern Kenya that have been in operation for either one year or three years. I coordinated every aspect of the assessments, from designing the surveys to writing the budgets to buying supplies to conducting all 196 interviews to entering and analyzing data to writing the final reports. It was an intense undertaking but gave me the opportunity to sit with our participants and hear about their lives, a privilege for which I am eternally grateful. Shepherding the project through all phases taught me a lot about the importance of asking useful questions and the challenges of articulating the realities on the ground in language useful for programming and fundraising.
My familiarity and comfort with pastoral communities, an essential skill for this job, grew out of my time with SFS. I love spending time out in the areas in which we work, talking with participants and hearing about their businesses. SFS taught me some of the core values in pastoral communities and how to be respectful and appreciative of them.
If you are thinking about studying abroad with SFS, my advice for you is, go for it and take it all in! You never know what will happen next or how an experience will inform your future thinking.
Or, if you are an alum interested in getting into grassroots sustainable development, I say, try something that might not sound exactly like what you’re looking for…you never know how you can integrate your knowledge to address a new challenge!