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Mumela, Kenya, Monika AschenbrennerRemote Kenyan village proves invaluable to internship
by Elizabeth Willoughby

Neither through tourism nor NGO, but by teaching local students in rural Kenya was LMU student Monika Aschenbrenner able to experience Africa in a deeply meaningful way. Curiously, the unique internship that provided the opportunity is offered only by LMU’s faculty for biology education.  

In the village of Mumela, in rural Kenya, the market center is home to a few shops as well as people selling fruit, eggs and anything else that locals require. There is a sort of bar on a dusty side road, and donkeys carry water from the river to the town's scattered houses made of stone, brick or clay for the thousand or so inhabitants, mostly little children. Mumela has ten churches, one school and no electricity.

With three teaching internships at German schools under her belt, it was Mumela where LMU's Monika Aschenbrenner decided she would do yet another one. Mumela would have no fancy house, no heavy costs and a program typically unheard of in biology education.

An exchange of knowledge

Organized by LMU Biology department's Dr. Monika Bieberbach with the support of the head of faculty, Professor Birgit Neuhaus, the internship provides the opportunity to stay in Mumela for six euro per day for room and board, to teach local students and to gain intercultural sensitivity experience in a most profound way. It is exactly the type of program Ms Aschenbrenner had been searching for since high school.

For four weeks this year, Monika took showers by dumping buckets of water over herself, and breakfasted on fruits and pancakes at her landlady's before walking downhill to the Mumela school, greeting children along the way. She learned that a long handshake with every person is very important. She learned to let go of the need to always be productive, and to just sit and converse, sometimes for hours. She learned that in Mumela there is no separation between religion and other parts of daily life, and that there is a vivid mix of Christianity with a belief in ghosts, demons, spells and curses – a combination that can lead to strange things, such as exorcisms.

But Monika wasn't the only one learning. The students' enthusiasm for knowledge above and beyond the curriculum is something she says she will never forget. Pupils met once per week on their own in order to debate complex issues that affect their community, such as if tourism is good for Kenya's economy, and they requested extra biology classes during their free time.

Discussing AIDS prevention was another memorable class. "They are well educated on how infection occurs and that abstinence and condoms protect you," says Monika. "The problem was more that they didn't know anything about condoms, how to use them, even what one looked like, so I brought one to school for a life skills lesson. The fact that they started asking so many questions assured me that I had done the right thing. I talked openly about the matter to diminish taboos – it's too important not to explain. But I had to respect their religion that insists that sex before marriage is a sin, so I always prefaced my talks with, 'You should stay abstinent, but if it does happen, then...,' which was an easy concept to grasp considering all the pregnant young girls in town."

The take home

When it comes to teaching, Monika's month in rural Kenya proved invaluable. Working with students of varied levels of English, she was forced to break down the lesson content in order to reach everyone in the class and to engage people who have an entirely different value system.

"I am much better prepared for and more aware of the problems that might arise. I see the importance of not trying to make students see things my way, but to bring things across to them in their way. I haven't seen any other possibility in my studies where I could have learned that, especially in biology, which is what makes this opportunity so special."

So special, in fact, that she plans to return to Mumela – it's the subject of her thesis.

Originally published at insightLMU, December 2012

 

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