A Global Perspective
Last spring, fourteen students in the Schreyer Honors College left the U.S. pulling suitcases of supplies for girls in Kenya and Tanzania. Three weeks later, they returned carrying experiences that would last a lifetime.
These Schreyer Scholars traveled to Hekima Place, a children’s home in Kenya, and the Secondary Education for Girls’ Advancement (SEGA) Girls’ School in Tanzania. In both locations, the Scholars helped with the facilities’ daily operations, taught lessons on reproductive safety and self-defense, and forged meaningful connections with young women overcoming societal challenges in earning their educations and improving their lives.
The trip was led by Dr. Michele “Mitch” Kirsch and funded through donor support for the Schreyer Honors College travel grant program. Kirsch, who retired last spring as the Schreyer Honor’s College’s associate dean of student affairs, organized the opportunity after several Scholars took personal volunteer trips to the two countries and returned inspired by the people they had met.
Here, Jessica Santucci ’22 Sci shares insights from the trip and from her early days as a Penn Stater:
What brought you to Penn State?
I knew that Penn State was a place where I could receive a top education, especially as part of the Schreyer Honors College. But even more than academic rankings, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Penn State community. From the moment I received that acceptance letter, I was filled with anticipation for the lifelong friends I would meet on campus, the alumni I would network with throughout my career, and the many other ways this community would help me achieve my dream of attending medical school and becoming a doctor.
Did you plan to study abroad during your education?
I’d always dreamed of studying abroad, but the costs associated with travel and housing were intimidating, especially when considered alongside all the typical expenses of earning a degree. So, when I heard about a Schreyer-sponsored trip to Africa that was fully funded through Schreyer travel grants, I thought it was too good to be true.
Tell us more about your volunteer experiences in the two countries you visited.
At the Hekima Place girls’ orphanage in Kenya, we helped with daily operations, which included harvesting and preparing food, washing laundry, and caring for the infants. We also learned a lot about the adoption system in Kenya. Many local families believe that their babies will have a better life in an orphanage than they could provide in their home, so they make the unfortunate decision to surrender their children at a young age. We witnessed how this has overwhelmed the country’s orphanage facilities—but we also got to see the good work that Hekima Place is doing to keep the girls connected to their culture.
At the SEGA Girls’ School in Tanzania, we met young women ages five to eighteen whose family or financial situations have made it difficult for them to stay in school. We were able to get to know the girls, hear about their experiences, and lead some of the classes. We also traveled to nearby villages and met people from the local communities.
What sort of supplies did you take over in your suitcases?
In Tanzania, we distributed handmade, reusable feminine hygiene kits produced by the nonprofit Days for Girls to local communities. Without access to simple tools—items available to us in corner convenience stores—many girls are forced to stay home from school for a week each month. Over time, missing so much class makes it impossible to keep up, and most are forced to drop out of school. The kits can be used for five years, but I know the impact will last far longer.
How did the trip change your perspective?
I got to see how privileged I am, but also appreciate the different ways people live. I’ve learned how important it is to not impose my own values on other people. Different does not mean less.
If you could create an endowment at Penn State, what would it support?
I would create a fund to support mental health within the Schreyer Honors College community, like the Dr. Michele “Mitch” Kirsch Fund in Support of Mental Health Initiatives. I think it’s so important to have support systems for students who are feeling overwhelmed.