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Learning across the globe

Four students and their teacher spend time visiting West Linn High from Kenya
by: Cindy Garrison, Summer Veit, far right, a freshman, and her friends Hannah Christie, a freshman, and Christian Hazen, a junior, show their new friends Edwin Kemei and Irene Wanyoni how to play rock, paper, scissors.

Questions. That's what most people have for the four students and one teacher visiting from West Linn High School's sister school, Namwela, in Chwle, Kenya.

The questions range from 'how old do you have to be to drive' to 'how do you like the weather in Oregon?'

Although the visitors are from a different culture and a different part of the world, both sets of students have found many similarities.

One day last week, the visitors from Kenya attended Michael Lord's social studies class.

'Why do you come to school?' Geoffrey Amunga asked the class.

Answers ranged from 'the law requires it' - which brought a lot of laughs, to more serious responses such as 'to get a good job and a good career.'

Amunga's response was 'I go to school because I want to be a doctor and help people in my area.'

Another question the Kenyan students had for the Americans was, 'What would you think if you had to wear a uniform?'

Most students were opposed to that idea.

Over the next few weeks, the students from both schools will have time to learn more about each other's cultures. The Kenya students will be in West Linn until Jan. 9.

Their teacher, Irene Simiyu, encouraged the West Linn students to write their counterparts at Namwela if they are interested in learning more about the school and the 450 students who study there.

Letters are how the exchange started four years ago when freshmen from the local high school sent letters to Namwela to introduce themselves. They tried to describe the area and their school as well as a little bit about themselves.

'For some time now, there has been that communication between West Linn and our school,' Simiyu said. 'If you are interested in developing a relationship with a student in Namwela, write them a letter. Tell them about yourself. You can even ask them questions. We hope this relationship is going to be a lifelong relationship. So even when you leave school, you'll know you have a relationship with someone in Namwela.'

The visitors came to the school, because a group of West Linn students was unable to make a trip to Namwela this summer due to violence.

Not one of the visitors had been on a plane before, but that was only the beginning of their adventures.

They spent 38 hours in the air.

Since they've been in Oregon, they've been to the Oregon Health and Sciences University entrepreneurship class and dental school. They also attended a Portland State University World Affairs conference, where they served on a panel to discuss sister school relationships and the high school.

Members of the group are staying with local families throughout their visit.

Already, their visit has opened their eyes and changed their lives.

Daisy Nafula, 17, wants to become a journalist.

She found the environment here comfortable.

'Both students and families are social and friendly,' she said. 'We feel at home.'

Edwin Kemei, 17, wants to become an electrical engineer.

He was most impressed with how easy it was to make friends here. Before he arrived, he was a little unsure what to expect.

'I've made a bunch of friends here. They're respectful and thankful,' he said. 'They practice good etiquette.'

Many of the students mentioned how different their lives are compared to West Linn students.

Irene Wanyonyi, 16, hopes to become a broadcaster.

'I like the way that every student gets to respond and participate in class,' she said.

At her school, students take notes for about 30 minutes as the teacher writes lessons on a chalkboard. At the end of the 30 minutes, the students have about 10 minutes of discussion.

Amunga, 26, wants to be a neurosurgeon.

'I thought that American students would not interact with students from Africa because we come from places that are poor. When we came here, I found it was not like that. So, I was happy about that.'

The student's trip was sponsored by the GATA (Global Awareness Take Action) Club at the high school.

The purpose of the club is to learn about problems the world finds difficult to address. The club is dedicated to bring awareness to global issues by taking action and creating changes in the community and the world around them.

'Four years ago, inspired by a speech Bono gave at the World Affairs Council, 20 or so freshmen started a club called GATA,' said David Frick, club advisor. 'For two years, the club grew, giving other students awareness about debt, trade and preventable diseases in Africa and other distant places. Taking action, the students embarked upon community service projects and fund-raisers like fair trade chocolate sales, 'Be Aware' bracelet sales, shoe box projects and many other community service events.'

The group raised more than $10,000 and 12 students were chosen to go to Kenya this past summer as ambassadors in the first student exchange.

Four days after the group found out they weren't able to make the trip, they came together to figure out how to turn the disappointment into something positive.

According to Frick, special recognition goes to high school seniors Michael Bernert, Maddie Kiley, Cristina Burns, Michelle Barnum, Erin Davey and Kelsey Figone as well as juniors, Chelsea Callis and Lucas Pinelli.

'It's been really amazing,' said Michael, former co-president of GATA. 'I've never seen the students this engaged in a project like this and something outside their community.'

A community reception for the Namwela group will be held at 7 p.m. on Jan. 3 at the West Linn High School Auditorium, 5464 West A Street.

Cindy Garrison is employed by the West Linn-Wilsonville School District and often writes articles for the Tidings.