Riots force trip cancellation
A Calvin student walks with two Kenyan natives during Interim 2007, an experience which was denied this year’s class.
“I was really hoping that I’d get a chance to experience a culture so different from ours,” said sophomore Andrew Hoogendam of his Interim trip to Kenya. “But now I won’t get that chance.”
For years since it declared independence in the early 60s, Kenya has been seen as a bastion of democracy in Africa. Now, though, that reputation is being threatened by political upheaval. The Kenyan crisis has had deadly consequences throughout the nation, and here at Calvin, comparatively minor side-effects are being felt as well.
Among Calvin’s many studyabroad programs, the Interim trip “Leadership in Africa: Development, Church, and Civil Society in Kenya”, was supposed to have left for Africa on Jan. 3. However, because of the controversial elections in that country and the resulting instability and danger, the Interim was called off.
“It was completely cancelled on Jan. 2,” said economics professor George Monsma, one of the faculty leading the program. “There is a great deal of insecurity.”
The situation in Kenya is insecure to say the least. In the December elections, challenger Raila Odinga was beat out in a close race by incumbent Mwai Kibaki. But many of the election results were never reported and some tally sheets were not properly sealed; some even appeared to have been opened before.
The results of the Thursday election stopped being announced on Saturday. On Sunday, the final result was announced and, within an hour, Kibaki was inaugurated. When the results were given in Nairobi, more votes were counted than there were registered voters for some provinces. Clearly, some things were not right in this election.
A good deal of questions arose surrounding the legitimacy of the entire election. Odinga and his followers strongly believed the presidency had been stolen from him. Riots and violence erupted in the slums and cities of Kenya.
The conflict is affecting Kenya’s neighbors as well. Countries like Uganda and Rwanda are suffering because, as landlocked states, they depend on Kenya for petroleum, imported goods and its sea ports.
By the time January rolled around and the Interim departure date was within sight, the volatility was still very present in Kenya.
“It wouldn’t work to bring a group of students,” said Monsma.
With approximately 500 people killed and estimates of 250,000 people displaced in Kenya, the turmoil was too threatening to allow Calvin students and faculty to spend an interim there. It was just too dangerous.
Another Calvin interim going to Malawi and Mozambique was scheduled to touch down in Kenya before flying on to their destinations. That study abroad program came into question as well, but after discussion by the administration, the interim was allowed to go ahead after students and parents signed a waiver. The Nairobi airport has not fallen victim to violence.
Cancellations and relocations have occurred several times in the history of Calvin’s study abroad programs. Monsma said a 2002 trip to Hollywood was cancelled due to reports of potential terrorist attacks following 9/11. A 1991 interim to Nigeria was called home mid-trip because of a travel warning brought about by the start of the First Gulf War. The semester program to Nigeria for the following semester was also cancelled.
Professor Monsma and Professor Fackler’s 2004 interim to Kenya was relocated to Uganda when a travel warning and issues of security arose. And last year’s interim trip to Eritria was moved to Kenya when the country’s security depreciated.
After the trip to Kenya was called off only a day before the class was scheduled to depart, the students were forced to face the uncertainty of what to do over interim.
“The essence of the class was to learn about Africa from Africans,” said Monsma. The trip was meant to be “an experience in African context.” It would be hard to offer the students any just replacement for the experience they would have had abroad.
Some discussion considered the possibility of building a class specifically for the students who had intended to go to Kenya. This idea of a replacement class was scrapped though, because it was unreasonable for any professors to put together a class schedule and gather materials on 24 hours’ notice.
With no trip to Africa and no class to attend, it was decided that students would be allowed to pick their interim class from the pool of already scheduled classes. Unfortunately, it was difficult to give preference to the students and most had to pick from classes with open seats.
Regardless of the setback for Calvin’s study abroad program, there will be no real alterations to the layout of the programs to respond to unforeseeable dilemmas such as occurred with the Kenya interim.
“I don’t think it should change anything in a major way. This is something that couldn’t be predicted,” said Monsma.
In a world that is sometimes particularly unstable, it is not out of the question that other Calvin interims in the future could run into problems like those faced by the Kenya interim. Calvin’s program feels confident that it can respond to the challenges that arise.
Now, the students who had, for the past few months, planned at this time to be walking the streets of Kenya, are still strolling the paths of the Calvin campus. Still, there are things which can be done to help Kenya for which one does not need to be within its borders.
“Pray for the people of Kenya,” Monsma suggests. “Pray for an end to any violence.” In a country where, in recent days, contending political parties are at each other’s throats, where tension is high, and violence prevails, Monsma asks that people pray.
For more tangible responses to the Kenyan crises the CRWRC is collecting a relief fund, contributions to which will, according to their website, “provide food and other types of relief to displaced Kenyans who have taken shelter in churches in Eldoret, one of the cities that has been hardest hit by the violence.”
To be sure, the cancellation of the trip to Kenya was a disappointment to those who planned to attend. However, there is a glimmer of hope that these students may still reach Kenya.
Assuming the struggle in Kenya is resolved and the violence subsides, and if the administration approves the program, Monsma says the college hopes to offer the same course next year. Preference would then be given to those students who were forced to abandon their hopes of seeing Kenya this year.