I am always in awe of Rochelle Zaranek, Macomb social work professor, for her tireless efforts on behalf of the disadvantaged. This time, she and two of her former students are spending the next few weeks studying Swahili and packing their suitcases with 900 backpacks and assorted school supplies before heading to Kenya at the end of July.
This brave trio needed six vaccinations and a stash of motion sickness pills before heading to a country where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line and clean drinking water is nearly nonexistent. “But this is something I have always wanted to do,” says the always humble Zaranek. “I know it will be a culturally enriching and beautiful experience.”
Accompanying their former professor on the trip, which is organized by Kensington Community Church, are Ethan Paschall, a doctoral student in psychology at Eastern Michigan University, and Kristine Mannino, a graduate of New York’s LIM (fashion) College and a Big Apple fashionista, no less. With their valuable cargo, much of it donated by Macomb faculty and students, they will visit three schools/orphanages supported by the Pokot Outreach Ministries (POM) that are caring for some 800 children in Kenya’s Pokot region, many of whom have lost one or both parents to disease or violence.
“Their only hope of ever getting out of poverty is through education,” relates Zaranek, who I have had the honor of accompanying on one of the many local service learning projects she takes her students on. “I will be working with social workers to assess the students’ educational needs and when we return, I will be applying for a (Macomb faculty) grant to provide ongoing support.”
Among other things, Zaranek hopes to introduce a peer-to-peer project in which her social work students regularly engage in communications with the six social workers responsible for the three schools/orphanages, located in an arid region of Kenya where drought and famine are commonplace and main roads are rugged at best.
“These social workers don’t have access to many resources,” offers Zaranek, “and my students want to get involved. They want to help.”