Typically when school is out, the start of summer break welcomes family vacation, swimming, relaxation and hanging out with friends.
Jim Thorpe Area High School senior Brittany Holland spent the beginning of her summer volunteering in a destination less traveled and in a country whose culture and language are challenging.
"My mom teaches at Penn State Berks and one of her classes ends with an experience in Kenya," the 17-year-old said. "She asked me if I would like to go this year."
Brittany spent 15 days traveling with Penn State students to assist with the development of a health clinic and gain a self-awareness of the diversity within health and education.
The majority of Brittany's stay was with former street dwelling children at a drop-off center called "The Children & Youth Empowerment Centre" (CYEC). The center sits near the equator at the base of Mount Kenya, which is the second highest elevation in Africa and is located about 60 miles north of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.
Street dwelling youth are a frequent feature in low-income countries. In 1990 there were approximately 17,000 street-dwelling persons in Kenya and by the year 2000 the number had grown to more than 150,000.
In 2003, the Kenyan government established the Street Families Rehabilitation Trust Fund to oversee the national program for street-dwelling persons.
The CYEC was then formed to address gaps in the national program for the care of street children.
The program addresses the major circumstances underlying the street life phenomenon, including communal violence, family breakdown, substance abuse, poverty, and disease. The first eight children joined the center in October 2006.
Today, approximately 150 children and youth reside at the CYEC.
The center provides residence, education and health care to former street-dwelling children and youth.
As a grant recipient from a leading pharmaceutical company, Penn State Berks developed CYEC Project Kinga the Swahili word for protect. The funds were used for the public health priorities of medical supplies, refrigeration, and water harvesting. This PSU Berks health initiative is part of a larger PSU-CYEC collaboration that includes the College of Agricultural Sciences, Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship and the College of Health and Human Development.
While in Kenya, Holland discovered a new life style of the less fortunate. She spent a few days in the outskirts of Kibera. Kibera slum in Nairobi is one of the top ten slums of the world.
"I never realized how difficult it can be to find clean water and food," she said. "Also, it was sad to know that many street children resort to glue sniffing as a way to numb their pain and hunger."
The children didn't always have access to proper nutrition.
"While helping the PSU students gather data, I measured the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) of the children," Holland explained. "The MUAC provides information on growth and nutrition. This is when I recognized how malnourished the children truly were, and how you cannot tell their age by looks."
Another project Holland volunteered with while at the CYEC was assisting the children with writing and making books. The children's stories ranged from days of the week to folktales to personal autobiographies.
"Many of the children's life stories were heartbreaking, but helping them read and write their books was inspirational."
More information on the book making project can be found at http://isabt.blogspot.com/2010/07/kenya-bookmaking-project.html. The stories written by the CYEC children can be viewed at http://bookclub.realelibrary.com/index.php/RealeBooks/latest/.
The trip wasn't all work, Holland also enjoyed some sightseeing.
She visited the United Nations in Nairobi, traveled on a safari, and watched the children play football (soccer) and celebrate their Independence Day.
"My favorite part about Kenya was playing with the children," Holland said. "I taught them how to make friendship bracelets and they taught me some Swahili."
She was also able to experience the traditional Kenyan foods of chipote, simosa and ugali and the tropical flavors of passion fruit and sugar cane.
"My stay in Kenya was life changing. I plan on spreading information about this third world country to my fellow students by presenting what I learned as my senior project and reminding everyone that we can all get involved to help others who are less fortunate."
Since returning home, Holland, whose future goals are to attend college and major in some kind of helping profession, has decided that one day she would like return to Kenya. She currently keeps in touch with some of the staff and the students she met via Facebook.