Kelsey Bilek '13 poses with schoolchildren in Kenya, where she set up a health clinic, taught classes, and mentored troubled youth.
Bringing Health Care and Education to Rural Kenya
While walking home one day on a rural road in Kenya, Kelsey Bilek saw some children collecting termites for dinner. When they encouraged her to try one, she decided it would be an interesting experience and tossed it in her mouth. “It really didn't taste like anything,” she says. Afterwards, she says, the fact that she had just ingested a termite hit home. "I freaked out and drank about a liter of water, gasping and exclaiming the entire time,” says Bilek. Tasting termites was just one surprising moment in the two months Bilek spent learning about health and culture in Africa.
Bilek spent her first month working with local women and children to start a mobile health clinic in three small coastal villages. Working with a family friend who is a registered nurse and professor in women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin, Bilek spent three days in each village teaching the women about health topics including anatomy, pregnancy, transmittable diseases, STDs, and proper nutrition.
For the second month Bilek was in the northern region of Kenya, interning with Project Africa, a nonprofit organization that works to empower marginalized rural women and girls in Africa. Bilek taught English and Science in a prison, mentored girls in a delinquency center and a local primary school, and organized after school soccer matches for local children.
“I am interested in bringing healthcare and information to a part of the world that is in need of such medical help,” she says. “There are many diseases and basic illnesses that are preventable, yet are a serious problem due to lack of education and difficult access to medical care. I am especially interested in helping women because their health is tied to the well-being of their family and community.”
A powerful experience for Bilek during her time in Africa was witnessing the welcoming, laid back attitude of the Kenyan people. “Over time,” she says, “I adopted this slower outlook on life as well, choosing to take my time to enjoy where I was and what I was doing instead of worrying I would be late, or rushing to get somewhere.”
Bilek’s trip to Kenya reinforced her awareness of how lucky she is to be receiving such a quality education at Haverford. She regularly saw children in the streets who were there because they could not afford to attend public school. “Seeing the level of poverty as well as the effort that some Kenyans put into their education gave me a new understanding of the privileged life that I have,” she says.
While Bilek is still formulating her career goals, working with the Kenyan people has broadened her view of the world, she says. "The challenges that I had to overcome taught me that with time and dedication, my goals may be achieved."
--Heather Harden '11