I believe that I’m an opportunist. Now, I have heard that word associated with a negative connotation, but I believe being an opportunist means you seize new opportunities, experiences, networks or add to the richness of your own life. While the Anderson Grant allowed me to travel to Kenya to work in health and human rights, it gave me so much more.
My amazing host family always discussed how awesome it would be for me to fly to Vipingo, a coastal community close to Mombasa. They created the Kuruwitu Marine and Welfare Conservancy in Vipingo to re-establish the marine wildlife and fish population. They also work and assist the Kuruwitu village with understanding how to balance their need to fish with sustainability. This is necessary as over-fishing in the same areas was leading to a decrease in food for the entire village. The family worked to designate certain areas as “protected” while the population of marine life re-establishes and then they will designate another area that will need to be protected. By creating the conservancy, they help the village maintain their fishing for both income and food.
I saw an opportunity and I took it! While I was there I volunteered with a beach clean-up, assisted with a sea turtle hatching, discussed health and sanitation with villagers and saw another part of Kenyan life. The most wondrous part of this experience was that the family hosts gap-year students from around the world. Students cover the costs of travel and incidentals, while the family provides room and board for the duration of their stay. The students learn about marine conservation and work with the conservancy and village. I was amazed with my host family and saw what they provide to these students and that’s when I saw an opportunity for the students I work with here in the U.S.
I discussed with the family how amazing my time had been in Nairobi and how thankful I was to have received the Anderson Fellowship to complete my practicum. I also expressed how fortuitous it was for me to have met my host family and see what they do for university students who wish to explore other cultures and customs through volunteer opportunities. I explained that I work with amazing high school students who would love such an opportunity. The family thought it would be a wonderful idea to create a partnership with the school I work for. Currently, my school is working to send 4-5 students back with me who will work with the conservancy and the village.
Paying it Forward
I just want to thank USC and the Anderson Family Global Health Immersion Fellowship for helping me to finish my degree and complete an international practicum. This has been one of the most impactful and rewarding experiences of my life and I am beyond thrilled to be able to pass that experience on to others. Without the fellowship, this would not be possible. Being an opportunist has allowed me to see experiences and moments that can impact my life and the lives of others. So I say be an opportunist, and take those opportunities as they come because you may be in a position to pass your experience forward!
Lauren Jackson is a student in the Master of Public Health online program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Her project, “Intersecting Domains of Health and Human Rights in the Kenyan Context,” is funded by the Anderson Family Global Health Immersion Fellowship.