I had an interesting dialogue with a student yesterday—a single mother who is a practicing nurse in a clinic that sees all kinds of patients. She is taking more courses this term than I think she should, but she just sounds determined and committed enough to make it all work. She wants to become a counselor and is taking a course in Human Growth and Development that I am teaching. We had the opportunity to have a long one-on-one discussing course concepts, assignments for the trimester, her goals, and her experiences.
I asked her to talk about her current work setting and she began a passionate description of seeing young Kenyans come through the door with a variety of physical, medical, and adolescent issues. She sees HIV patients and quickly differentiates between HIV and AIDS. The more common STDs coming through the door now are gonorrhea cases. And sadly, some of those are repeat cases—age 14 and up.
We talked about the kinds of information that young people have about sex, STDs, STIs, AIDS, and the like. We speculated about what it is that finds young people who have information but who ignore it and end up in risky behaviors with the resulting consequences she sees at the clinic. I think the issue may become a project for her in the class this term. I will be eager to read her paper and to have the email discussions with her about it—for she is one of the distance learners who have been on campus this week and will not return until December for a final examination (I know, it’s a different system than I’m accustomed to).
During our discussion, I probed and questioned some, trying to work on two things related to the course: could she describe her own motivations, her own learning style, her own system of positive and negative reinforcers; and could she describe (or could I determine) why she works so hard and carries such a heavy load? Out of every question I raised (and some know me as a probing questioner), the thing which emerged was that she was doing what she was doing in order to be more helpful for the people she sees. I got no hint of wanting advancement, promotion, position, status, income, or any other assumed reason for people loading themselves up so heavily. I was impressed
AIDS, STDs, STIs, sexuality, and many other childhood and adolescent issues are rampant here. I have talked with people who are working with AIDS orphan heads of household (perhaps age 12-14-16?) who are learning business skills in order to keep the family together and the younger ones in school. I’ve talked with missionaries who bring work teams here to build (in a week) a “home” for those AIDS orphans to live in. I’ve heard a powerful story of people who have replaced the ritual female genital circumcision (mutilation)l ceremonies with mother-daughter bonding and coming-of-age ceremonies with one result being a significant decrease in genital mutilations. I’ve met a few youth workers who are working extremely hard in developing and implementing excellent programs for young people.
I’m not sure that any of the content in the previous paragraph is included in the counselor education texts or course material we usually cover in U.S. grad classes. Social advocacy is alive and well in Kenya.
Brooke Collison is professor emeritus of counselor education and a former president of the American Counseling Association. He will be a visiting professor at Kenya Methodist University in Meru, Kenya during the September trimester. Joan Collison will be a volunteer with children in a social service agency during their four-month stay in Kenya.