By Erin Dowd ’21
In March of 2020, I was lucky enough to be accepted as a Summer Fellow through the Global Research Institute. I was studying in Seville, Spain at the time and was over the moon about the prospect of continuing my world travels to completely unfamiliar territory: Kenya. I would serve as an intern with The Samburu Project (TSP), a nonprofit working dually from Los Angeles and in Kenya to bring sustainable water access, community health education, and female empowerment to communities in the Samburu region. Specifically, my summer of field work was intended to include data collection, well-drilling, workshop facilitation, and gaining a deep understanding of the many ways that water profoundly impacts health, community empowerment, educational opportunities, and economic growth. As a double-major in Kinesiology & Health Sciences and Hispanic Studies, I was thrilled about this chance to combine my interests in community health, research, culture, and travel and to develop my skillsets in various fields.
Just days after my GRI acceptance, the world shut down due to COVID-19. I worried that my opportunity to be involved as a Summer Fellow had disappeared just as swiftly as it arrived. But I worked with GRI and leaders at The Samburu Project to adapt my internship to a remote format for the summer of 2021, shifting the focus from field work to education.
The Samburu Project aims to bring sustainable water access, community health education, and female empowerment to communities in the Samburu region.
Rather than working on the ground in Samburu, I devoted my summer to a variety of projects that serve to educate about the vibrant culture, rich traditions, and traditionally pastoralist lifestyle of the Samburu people. With support from GRI, the TSP team in Los Angeles, and one very special author, I found great value and fulfillment from the work I completed during the past several months — all from the comfort of my bedroom!
Working closely this summer with Rhodia Mann, the author I mentioned above, was a gift. Rhodia was born in Kenya in 1942 and has spent her life as a passionate writer, researcher, bead and jewelry designer, and a historian of the Samburu people. Much of my internship was dedicated to giving Rhodia an online platform and later to converting one of her memoirs, titled A Woman of Two Worlds: How (not) to Become an Anthropologist, into a more accessible e-book. This book highlights her many Samburu adventures, and includes useful maps and diagrams, authentic images, and vulnerable personal accounts from several periods of Rhodia’s life in Kenya. It is my hope that making this book available to a wider audience than that of its initial publication will further TSP’s mission of supporting Samburu communities in a variety of ways. Rhodia’s deep love for adventuring, learning, and connecting with people who bring diverse perspectives was evident in every exchange we shared this summer. It was truly an honor to shed light on her life’s work through this e-book undertaking.
Although I, of course, would have preferred to be working in Kenya this summer, I am grateful for the support I received that made my remote position possible. Adapting to this role with a shifted focus was a perfect bridge between my undergraduate and graduate studies. I am currently pursuing a Master of Health Administration degree at Cornell University, with particular interest in increasing access to quality care in underserved communities. Much of what I have learned in my program about the intersectionality of our lifestyle, environment, education, and health outcomes parallels topics I explored as a Summer Fellow. I hope that the work I contributed to this summer will serve to share stories that reflect these delicate relationships as well. I will carry what I learned this summer with GRI and TSP to academic and professional endeavors for many years to come.
For now, I will continue to feel lucky that I was able to meaningfully connect with The Samburu Project, Rhodia, and the Samburu community, even from so many miles away. I look forward to a time when I can experience the magic that I felt this summer in-person in Kenya. I know I will get there someday.