07/07/2014 05:48 EDT | Updated 09/06/2014 05:59 EDT

Post-Secondary Education Also Means Learning Outside the Classroom

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One of the most fundamental aspects of a well-rounded post-secondary education is getting some life experience outside of the classroom.

This past May, five deserving post-secondary students from across Canada travelled to Kenya to volunteer with Me to We. Throughout the trip, which was part of an RBC Leading Change Scholarship, these students helped create clean water sources, built much needed facilities, learned about healthcare and volunteered at Kisaruni, Free The Children's all-girls school.

Judging from their experience, there is no better way to learn the value of education than to experience it through the eyes of a student who has had to face many obstacles just to get to school every day.

Jessica Warkentin, a social work student at the University of the Fraser Valley was one of the students who participated in the recent trip to Kenya. I thought I would share a little bit about her experience:

When I was in elementary school, I remember excitedly unpacking multiple boxes of pens, pencil crayons and lined paper at the start of the school year. Each day after a nutritious breakfast, I would head off to school with a lunch in my hand, sturdy backpack on my shoulders, and the promise of more food and time to play after school. I was simply one of many in my Canadian town that had such privileges.

I sat, squished three per desk in a crumbling old classroom in Kenya and saw first-hand the stark differences between the learning environment that Kenyan children experience and the one that I was educated in.

I listened as a student from Kisaruni, Free The Children's all-girls high school, described her daily schedule. It started with waking up at 4:45 a.m. and rigorously studying before a long day of chores. Later we learned that the girls themselves came up with this schedule because of their desire to learn as much as possible.

During my time in Kenya, I saw first-hand that education is the key to developing communities, becoming a leader, and providing for families. But I also saw that there are still older members of the community that follow traditional values and are hesitant to send their children to school. The curriculum at Kisaruni focuses on the girls giving back to their community through their education. In this regard, the girls participate in community projects as well as health and agricultural clubs.

After more than two weeks in Kenya, working on everything from a volunteer build project, to learning about safe drinking water initiatives and local farming, to volunteering in a local health centre, I've only touched the surface of learning what life is like for many in Africa. What's become most clear is that while students in Kenya endure many more hardships than their counterparts in Canada, they really value education.

Towards the end of my trip after a climb up the hillside, I caught my breath as I turned and looked out at the Mara Valley. I took in the lush greenery, prosperous farmland and surrounding mountains. This beautiful scenery was not what I expected to find considering the projected images of desolate Africa. My experience with Kenya has been of a beautiful people in a lush, clean land.

I believe strongly that deserving students should have access to quality education in order to pursue their academic goals; and financial aid paired with the opportunity to experience the world beyond the walls of the classroom is increasingly valuable.


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