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K-State Hosts Group Focused on Leadership Skill-Building
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Politics aside; with leadership a hot topic in this election year, voters might want to consider insight from youthful visitors as they choose their leaders.
The visitors are a group of 15- to 17-year-old students from two schools in relatively rural areas of Kenya, East Africa, said Deryl Waldren, a K-State Research and Extension 4-H specialist. He helped write a grant to bring the visitors to the U.S. and Kansas, Feb. 12-27.
The program, part of a U.S. State Department Sub-Saharan Youth Leadership Program, includes Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Nigeria and is sponsored in cooperation with the States’ 4-H International Exchange Programs and Kansas 4-H, Waldren said. It is intended to acquaint young people with the U.S., the democratic process, and skill-building activities that will help them develop leadership skills in building their communities when they return home.
To be considered for the program, youth were invited to write an essay in answer to the question: “What qualities should a good leader have?”
In sharing their collective list of desirable qualities during a get-acquainted session at K-State, the visitors included patience; a sense of humor; courage; good decision-making skills; patriotism; vision; wise use of government funds; awareness of people’s needs; respect for laws; tolerance; a good communicator, an open mind, and kindness.
Ten essays were selected and the students who wrote them were invited to the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi to be interviewed for the travel opportunity.
The traveling group selected by U.S. Embassy staff includes five young women, three young men, and the school principals from each school, Waldren said.
The flight – a first for all – took the travelers first to Washington, D.C. for a four-day orientation before traveling to Kansas with Mary Kay Munson, 4-H volunteer from Geary County, Kan. Munson has extensive experience in 4-H leadership, development and exchange programs.
In Kansas, the young Kenyans are staying with host families in Riley and Geary counties to learn more about everyday life (including two days at local schools with host siblings), and are attending a two-week short course in leadership, citizenship at home and in the larger world, effective communications, community development, and entrepreneurial concepts.
The visitors are making connections with their counterparts and learning by doing as they attend Kansas 4-H meetings and activities, including Citizenship in Action in Topeka, Kan., which teaches students about the democratic process, state government, and how laws are made. They are also attending 4-H Ambassador Training at Rock Springs 4-H Center in Junction City, Kan., which focuses on skill-building activities in leadership and communications.
The students have been encouraged to do needs assessments for their communities and to develop a plan using what they are learning to address critical issues at home, Waldren said.
With reducing the school dropout rate and teen pregnancy as their goals, the students are considering innovative, yet practical ideas, he said.
Planting school vegetable gardens and developing fish farms should allow them to sell produce to help pay for tuition, said Waldren, who noted plusses that included learning more about food and how it is grown and variety in the diet.
To reduce teen pregnancy, youth are planning an educational abstinence-based curriculum, and to lead by example.
As student visitors work hard on their take-home message, many of the unusual opportunities – and firsts – have generated a lot smiles.
Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz welcomed the group, explained about the educational system, land-grant university’s role in society, school rivalries (K-State and KU were about to play) and presented each with a K-State/Willie the Wildcat pin, before suggesting students take advantage of another first – the snow.
The abundance of food and number of choices in a K-State dining room; Manhattan’s lack of public transportation (in comparison to Washington, D.C.); rules of the road, and shopping for essentials in a discount store provided contrasts for students who sometimes walk an hour or more to school and live without electricity, electronics, running water and other features typical in American homes.
While French fries, K-State’s famed Call Hall ice cream, M&M’s, and various activities earned rave reviews, some of the students spoke of the kindness and generosity they found in the U.S.
“Everyone is so nice; they’re doing so much for us, and not asking for anything in return. It’s not that way in Kenya,” said Allan Anyula, who hopes to encourage volunteerism at home with the skills he’s learned on his first visit to the U.S.
Lilian Tabu, one of six children, cited friendship, the need for leadership skills, and an interest in a political career as reasons for her participation. Fredrick Ombunga, has become a keen observer of infrastructure, and noted the differences in traffic flow between Washington, D.C. – and Kansas. That’s not surprising – he wants to be an engineer.
“The benefits of the educational effort works both ways,” said Doug Jardine, who with his wife, Anne, and family served as Fredrick’s host family.
This is a cultural exchange and an opportunity for our family to learn about the larger world, and places that we could never afford to visit. We may live differently, but can share our home as part of the learning process, Jardine said.
More information about educational opportunities with Kansas 4-H and exchange programs is available at Kansas 4-H.