This summer, for the fifth consecutive year, President Lynn Pasquerella traveled to Kenya with a team of like-minded academics who have made it their mission to find and implement solutions to the East African country’s problems of food insecurity, poverty, and disease.
The ten-day trip marked the end of a five-year commitment Pasquerella made to the so-called “Kenya project” back when she was still at the University of Rhode Island.
Finding time to do fieldwork in Africa has become increasingly difficult for Pasquerella as she’s risen through the ranks of higher-education administration, but one way or another, she says, she’ll stay involved in the project.
“It was a big chunk of time to spend away, but it’s worth the investment,” Pasquerella said after returning from this year's trip. “Certainly it’s our mission of using liberal learning for purposeful engagement, so this was great.”
Here, and in the accompanying slide show, Pasquerella reflects on her most recent trip to Kenya and outlines her hopes for the future of the project. (Note: Click on individual photos to see captions.)
What, if anything, was different about this year’s trip?
LP: This year we began partnering with APHIAplus, which is an organization devoted to education around the social determinants of health, focusing on HIV-positive populations. We’ve also been working with World Vision and Yes Youth Can!, which is an initiative that President Obama has been behind and is supported by USAID. We’ve been working with new communities this year around youth empowerment. In the past our focus has been almost exclusively on empowering women’s collectives, so now we’ve broadened our scope in partnership with these organizations.
Did you encounter any obstacles this time around?
LP: Last year we worked with Cycling out of Poverty, a Danish organization, on trying to modify bicycle designs to transport some of the crops. This year we saw that now the organizations are no longer having to use bicycles, but the government is supplying them with motorbikes. So, we were looking at ways that we could modify trailer designs to go into these remote areas. In just a year, the needs of the community have changed as a result of access to government resources. The problem now is that during the rainy season the motorcycle tires get caked up with mud, so can we come up with a design that will help them maneuver through the rainy season?
What originally inspired you to make this commitment to Kenya?
LP: The project started when I was approached by a University of Rhode Island alum. At the time I was the vice provost for research, and then became the vice provost for academic affairs, and the president asked me if I would take over this initiative to support an alum who is working on clean-water solutions for Coca-Cola Africa. We were working with interdisciplinary, interinstitutional teams—the University of Rhode Island, Brown University, the University of Hartford—to identify simple engineering solutions as a result of participatory-action planning and community-action planning.
Did the project appeal to you on a personal level?
LP: Throughout my career I talk about being committed to Ben Barber’s notion of colleges and universities as civic missions, so that integration of liberal education with community engagement and social justice was appealing to me.
What was your goal when you got started five years ago?
LP: It was really to create an infrastructure that would allow the project to move forward. We needed both an infrastructure on the ground in Kenya and then here in the United States to sustain this. And we’re now in a place where we can see that happening. We’ve been able to maintain the same faculty who are a part of this project, so that’s been exciting. And we’re a pretty good team. We’ve traveled together now for five years.
Do you plan on continuing the project?
LP: We were able to begin in Kenya, but we would like to have this replicable in different communities. That’s the goal of World Vision and the other organizations that we’re working with--to come up with something that’s not only sustainable but replicable by other communities.
~ Christina Barber-Just