After spending three weeks in Kenya working on water issues with Maasai women, Kendyll Hicks was ready to declare it her favorite among the international projects she’s participated in through MIT.
As a volunteer with the nonprofit Mama Maji, Hicks spoke about clean water, menstrual hygiene, and reproductive health with local women, sharing information that would enable them to become community leaders. “In rural Kenya, women are disproportionately affected by water issues,” she explains. “This is one way to give them a voice in societies that traditionally will silence them.”
The team also planned to build a rainwater harvesting tank, but climate change has transformed Kenya’s dry season into a rainy one, and it was too wet to break ground for the project. During her stay, Hicks lived in the home of the first female chief of the Masaai, Beatrice Kosiom, whom Hicks describes as “simultaneously a political animal and the most down-to-earth-person.” It was this close contact with the community that made the project especially fulfilling.
During MIT’s Independent Activities Period, Hicks also has traveled to South Africa to learn more about the cultural and biological determinants of that country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, and to Colombia to lead an entrepreneurial initiative among small-scale coffee farmers. Hicks joined the Kenya trip after taking an MIT D-Lab class on water, sanitation, and hygiene. Each experience has been successively more hands-on, she says.
“I’ve been drawn to these experiences mainly because I love school, and I love the classroom experience,” Hicks says. “But it just can’t compare to living with people and understanding their way of life and the issues they face every day.”