June 22, 2010
Haley Brescher left her hand prints on a school in Kenya. The African country left an imprint on her heart.
"We found a school - it was basically a shack. There was no door in the back," said the May 2010 family and consumer science education graduate from Indiana State University. "Most of the children were orphans. The teacher there was a volunteer who wasn't getting paid. Yet, they would go every day to learn."
Brescher journeyed to Kenya to spend almost three months student teaching. Indiana State's partnership with Indiana University's Cultural Immersions project opened international student teaching experiences to ISU's students.
While there, she, working with other American student teachers and the Kenyan community, chose St. Elizabeth's Nursery School in rural Kenya as a service project. She mixed mud with her feet and used her hands to repair a hole-riddled mud wall.
"Everybody's hand prints were left in the wall," the Ireland, Ind., native said.
The student teachers painted charts on feed sacks to hang on the interior mud walls. They worked with the community for a school registration day to help the teacher get an income. Brescher gave school supplies that teachers from Ireland Elementary School donated before she left to begin student teaching there.
But the student teachers decided they weren't finished. During rain, water would come into the classroom turning the dirt floor where children sat into mud. The students helped to install a door. They also pooled their money to hire a local carpenter to build benches, desks and a blackboard for the school.
"We don't have money; we're students," she said. "We each donated the equivalent to $50 and we could do all that."
Though the recent graduate has started hunting for a teaching job in Indiana, she dreams of returning to Kenya.
"I didn't know how deeply I would be impacted and change my philosophy on life" she said. "Now, I have different priorities and I want to do bigger things."
Brescher said she always wanted to study abroad, but found it difficult to do while staying on track with her education courses. Through Indiana State's partnership, Brashear found the world opened to her. She would spend 10 weeks student teaching in Indiana before her time in Kenya.
"Kenya, I thought, would be the biggest cultural difference from the United States," she said.
She stayed in a mud hut on a farm in the village of Kabula, which is near the town of Bungoma - a nine-hour bus ride from Nairobi.
"We didn't have electricity or running water," she said. "I took a shower out of a bucket. I did laundry in a bucket."
She also went white water rafting on the Nile, danced with Masai tribe members, stood in the rain falling in the Kakamega Rain Forest and traveled on a safari.
Brescher also became close friends with her neighbors.
"The father didn't speak English. They had never eaten with a mzungu (white person). I was so nervous," she said about the first dinner she ate with the Ondiek family. "I made some of the best friends I've made in my life. They helped teach me about real Kenya."
Through the family, she learned how to cook over a fire. She also learned to prepare a Kenyan meal from start to finish, including killing a chicken.
"They became a family to me," she said.
She also became close to the teachers at St. Teresa's Secondary School, where she student taught. A teacher there dubbed her Nekesa, which means Harvest in Swahili, since Brescher was born during harvest time. At the school, Brescher taught life skills, such as careers, goal settings, healthy relationships and team building. She also gave lectures to the entire school of 476 students.
"I got through that," she said with a laugh. "Now, I feel like I can do anything."
Brescher also became close friends with a teacher, who has tested HIV positive.
"She found out when her husband died of AIDS," she said. "She said ‘I could live as if I had it and shrivel up and die or I can live.'"
Through her friend, Brescher learned about the reality of an African epidemic. She also learned about continuing to reach out to others.
"She became my role model," she said. "She's living in a country that's poverty stricken and she reaches out to others. She just took in a woman and a daughter who are struggling until they can get back on their feet."
Brescher spent a year studying about Kenya through the Cultural Immersion Project prior to her student teaching. During her student teaching experience in Brazil, students there sewed shirts and dresses for Brescher to give away in Africa. In each piece, a picture of who made the item was tucked in a pocket.
"I think it is a heaven-sent blessing from God that ISU is working with IU for this program," she said. "ISU is awesome for offering this international experience."
It is one that Brescher said others should experience.
"If they're considering it, they should do it," she said. "I can't explain it in words how wonderful it is. It's so worth it."
College of Education Dean Brad Balch said interculture opportunities are important for education students because schools in Indiana are becoming more global.
"When you look at the current standards for teachers, interculture opportunities are extremely important and we know of no better way for them to accomplish those standards than to see life, see the teaching and learning life, through the eyes of others internationally," he said. "We know that many of our Hoosier graduates don't want to move far from home. We have demographic data that suggests that and international experiences help encourage portability and moving to where teaching jobs exist and a willingness to do that."
Brescher said originally she thought living abroad was something that other people did and she would spend her life in a small town in Indiana.
"Now, I'm like why can't I go there?"
Haley Brescher poses with students she taught at St. Teresa's Secondary School in Kabula, Kenya. ISU/Courtesy photo
Haley Brescher teaches life skills at St. Teresa's Secondary School in Kabula, Kenya. ISU/Courtesy photo
Students learn sitting at new desks in a classroom that ISU student Haley Brescher helped to renovate. ISU/Courtesy photo
ISU student Haley Brescher walks with a friend in Kenya. ISU/Courtesy photo
Contact/Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or Jennifer.Sicking@indstate.edu
Haley Brescher spent three months in Kenya and found her life changed.