Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a two-part blog series by Arianna Pattek, a senior at Georgetown University and author of Till Human Voices Wake Us.
To compile Till Human Voices Wake Us, I did not amble into St. George’s completely by chance. Rather, I transplanted myself to Kenya as part of the Global Development Internship (GDI) with ThinkImpact, a non-profit dedicated to fueling social innovation at the grassroots level to alleviate poverty. The GDI in Kenya focused specifically on building relationships within the community of Kayafungo, a rural area of around 43,000 people 50 kilometers inland from Mombasa on the coast. Kayafungo faces a variety of problems at the most basic level. I felt overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of the problems plaguing Kayafungo. I have spent much of my college career studying the complexities of development, but seeing these issues firsthand was an awakening experience for me. At the time of the GDI, I was between my sophomore and junior year at Georgetown University. I am now a senior in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, pursuing a major in Culture and Politics with a thematic concentration in Genocide/Trauma/Marginalization and a minor in Justice and Peace Studies. The GDI was the perfect opportunity to put my classroom pedagogy into practice.
I had the benefit of a host family to interact with on a daily basis. In order to fully practice the development philosophy we studied, the internship structure placed the GDIs with homestay families in the Kayafungo community. I lived with the Charo family, a wonderful subsistence-farming family of eleven. While this family welcomed me with open arms, transitioning into his family’s life proved to be bumpy for all of us. The language barrier made even the most basic communication difficult. During our first haphazard conversations, it seemed like I was attempting to bridge an ocean of cultural difference through miming, and I was failing miserably.
On my third afternoon in the Charo house, I spent some time before dinner sitting outside journaling, and I felt a presence over my shoulder. I turned, only to discover half of the family watching me with great interest. Although they could not understand the words I was writing, the act of writing had them transfixed. I gave them my pen, and they began to write their names for me. Writing broke our communication barrier and fashioned us a bridge to communicate. After this interaction, John, my host-dad, finally christened me with my Giriama name, Jumwa, officially making me a part of his family. Writing gave us both a method to express our personal voices in a familiar space and ultimately completely transformed our relationship.
I carried the significance of my first true communications with the Charo family throughout my curriculum work at the beginning of the GDI. As I reflected on how exactly my and my host family’s lives collided, I wanted to explore the role of writing in the Kayafungan community. Then, the next week, I visited St. George’s while doing fieldwork, and it clicked. These students seemingly did not have many opportunities to engage with and develop their personal voice. Writing helped me bridge the communication gap I experienced with my host family. Perhaps it could help these youth, who have experienced trauma and incredible hardship while maintaining their sense of dignity, find their voices. Their stories inspired me and could serve as an inspiration for others. I am honored to contribute to the SWSG blog, because the missions of this blog and of my project are so congruent. It is my hope that young people internalize this mission and we can together help foster the next generation of social justice leaders.