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SOLES Student Examines Meaningful Service Experiences in East Africa

Dan Morgan is a Benedictine monk of Collegeville, MN and a student in the MA Higher Education Administration program at the School of Leadership and Education Sciences. Dan is currently working on an independent study course in East Africa, in Kenya and Tanzania. His goal is to learn more about how volunteers and the host communities make meaning of their service experience. Dan is still in the process of conducting his research, but wanted to share his experience from three sites with the USD community.

I was drawn to East Africa to learn more about the meaning of service as a Benedictine monk and student in the MA Higher Education Administration program at the School of Leadership and Education Sciences. During an independent study course, I visited host communities and shadowed volunteers in Kenya and Tanzania to conduct research about their service experience.

In Kenya, the focus of the service work is the Mathare slums of Nairobi, one of the world’s largest slum communities. The volunteers serve some of the most vulnerable — street children and children with disabilities. Volunteers work with NGOs, such as the Alfajiri Street Kids. Many of the children associated with this project live in and eat from garbage dumps. One of the goals of this project is to protect children from drugs and abuse by getting them off the street, helping them find ways to express themselves, and offering them a path to education.

A second service site in the Mathare slum is the St. Maurus School, a school for the developmentally disabled. Developmental disabilities carry a cultural stigma, and families often do not have the resources to care for these children. St. Maurus School provides children with a safe environment to live and teaches them basic life skills. During my time in Mathare, I met some of the heroes who have dedicated their life’s work to serving these populations, and I visited with some of the children they serve.  

When I visited Honga Abbey in Tanzania, I learned that their focus is on education and health care as in most Benedictine communities. Basic food, clean water, and electricity are luxury items here. The volunteers pick a type of service work that aligns their interests with the needs of the community. For example, volunteers teach English, help on the farm, and assist in the health clinic.  

Like Honga Abbey, the next Tanzanian site I visited also has a mission focused on health care and education. In addition, this site has a sustainable farm for the community and the local village. Imiliwaha, a community high in the mountains, is home to St. Gertrud’s Convent. Although the clinic’s maternity, pharmacy, and lab services are minimal, they are so desperately needed that people travel up to 90km by foot to access them. The community also runs an orphanage, which houses about 30 children. I observed a volunteer playing with those children in the orphanage in addition to doing inventory in the pharmacy, picking up trash, and washing dishes after every meal. Several hundred Benedictine sisters live in this community as well, and their culture of singing, drumming, and dancing was surreal to witness.

During my time with each of these communities, it was a blessing and a privilege to be with them, pray with them, eat with them, and laugh with them. Perhaps one of the most striking differences I noticed about myself and about this experience was how joy, true joy, was in such abundance. Luxuries of the material world were scarce, but joy was abundant.

Video and photo provided by Dan Morgan