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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Glendve native learns invaluable life lesson while teaching in Kenya

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

It’s a long trip from Montana to Nairobi, Kenya, but not so far that Glendive native Hannah Huschka hasn’t been compelled to make the journey — twice.

Huschka recently returned from her second sojourn to Kenya’s bustling capital city, where she lived and worked for six months as a member of Africa Inland Mission, a non-denominational Christian missionary organization.

Huschka, who graduated from Montana State University last August with a degree in psychology, had previously gone to the East African nation for two months with a collegiate missionary group while in college.

During her stay this time, Huschka worked at a vocational training school, where she “worked with young adults from the slums of Nairobi.” She described her work as “mostly teaching.”

The vocational school she worked at was not that dissimilar from a comparable institution in the United States in its mission — to train college-age students in vocations like hairdressing, accounting, dressmaking, catering and other trades.

That being said, the school operated at a different pace from its American counterparts. As Huschka puts it, people in East Africa have a different sense of time than Americans do, and their daily schedules are “built on relationships instead of time.”

“It was pretty relaxed and really different from what you would expect if you did the same thing in the states,” she said.

Huschka’s job at the school was teaching what she termed “life skills classes” in subjects like psychology,  environmental studies, health, and first aid. 

The classes she and her partner with AIM, a girl from Vancouver, British Columbia, taught changed from week to week, so that “every day definitely looked kind of different.”

The girls also did administrative work for the school and held Bible studies a few nights a week.

Another important role Huschka and her partner played was helping students learn better English.

“You’re supposed to learn English in secondary school, but a lot of these students didn’t learn English in school because they couldn’t pay for it,” Huschka said. “You could meet someone from a slum area and they’d have no idea what you’re saying. (Knowledge of English) is definitely based on your social class and education.”

Those kind of dynamics, which Huschka described as a kind of conflict between highly westernized Nairobi and the much more traditional countryside, are one of the factors that drew her back to Kenya for a second time.

“It’s a really interesting country to visit because it’s going through that developing phase,” Huschka said.

The people of Kenya themselves also made her want to return.

“I just love the people, they’re always so welcoming and always ready to serve you a cup of chai,” Huschka said. “It’s just amazing how friendly and welcoming they are.”

That’s not to say Huschka didn’t miss certain things about back home while in Kenya for such an extended stay.

One thing she missed a great deal was driving. The former British colony follows the British practice of driving on the left side of the road, and Huschka said she wasn’t in the country long enough to get a Kenyan driving permit.

American food was another thing she missed, especially “good cheese,” as apparently the dairy product is uncommon and not typically consumed by Kenyans.

Huschka described the food as “quite different.” The staple dish for most meals in Kenya is called ugali, which is boiled maize flour, usually served with sukumi, which is the Swahili term for collard greens. According to Huschka, the dish is as unpalatable to Americans as it sounds.

“(Ugali) looks like mashed potatoes, but it doesn’t taste like mashed potatoes,” she said, adding that the flavor could best be described as “really bland dough.”

Bland traditional foods aside, Huschka said she would encourage anyone to take an extended trip to Kenya, or any other foreign country for that matter, describing it as an invaluable life experience.

“I think there are invaluable lessons to learn from living in a different culture that’s extremely different from your own, especially if you can make local friends,” she said. “The more you can learn about how people live in different parts of the world, it won’t hurt you, it can only help.”

Huschka herself currently has no plans to return to Kenya anytime soon, saying she’s ready to join the workforce, though she “wouldn’t be opposed if the opportunity showed itself.”

The country and people of Kenya are still in her heart though. One in particular, a young man named Tony from the Nairobi slums who she befriended, is occupying her thoughts these days. 

Tony wants to go to college, but can’t afford it, so Huschka is trying to raise money for his tuition. She has succeed in getting him in for one semester so far, which costs about $700, but hopes to keep going so Tony can fulfill his dream of getting a degree in social work and returning to the slums to work to improve the lives of the people there.

Anyone interested in helping Huschka with donations for Tony’s college tuition can contact her by e-mail at hannah.huschka13@gmail.com or by phone at 406-365-5855.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

Get the full story in the Sunday, August 17, 2014 print issue of the Ranger-Review.
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