Two humanitarians bring hope to promising students in Kenya

On the final afternoon of their 10-day humanitarian mission to Kenya, Chelsey Goldberg and Alexa Armstrong reconnected with a boy named Sammuel and then took him to the optometrist. Sammuel, 10, struggled to see, and exposure to the sun burned his eyes something fierce.

“We were well-versed on his condition,” said Goldberg, a fifth-year human services major at Northeastern University, “and we knew that we could potentially save him from becoming blind by taking him to the eye doctor.”

In short order, the optometrist gave Sammuel a routine exam and concluded that he was suffering from allergies, which were damaging his lenses. To alleviate his pain, he prescribed an antibiotic and provided him a pair of anti-glare prescription glasses.

Goldberg and Armstrong doled out $75 for the service, which comprised the exam, the medication, and the specs, and Sammuel beamed with joy. Finally, he could see.

“I’m feeling great!” Sammuel told Goldberg, after posing for a photo in his new glasses. Goldberg, for her part, could not contain her glee. “To change this kid’s life,” she noted in a recent phone interview, “was one of the best feelings in the world.”

Sammuel and Goldberg could not stop smiling after he got fitted for a pair of prescription anti-glare glasses.

Sammuel and Goldberg could not stop smiling after he got fitted for a pair of prescription anti-glare glasses.

Care for Kenya

Sammuel’s story is but one of several uplifting anecdotes that Goldberg shared, a single tale amid a handful of hopeful narratives derived from the young humanitarian’s life-changing experiences in Kenya.

Goldberg, SSH’16, and Armstrong, S’16, departed for the East African country on July 3, intent on delivering school supplies and other essential goods to some five-dozen impoverished yet promising students in two cities: Eldoret and Nakuru.

The duo volunteered under the auspices of True Start Athletics’ Care for Kenya project, which seeks to provide particularly needy students with the tools to succeed in the classroom. They divided their time in each city equally, first donating backpacks, storybooks, and encyclopedias to students in Eldoret, and then doling out supplies to similarly studious kids in Nakuru.

The altruistic expedition, Goldberg explained, dovetailed with her longstanding interest in global service. “The human services field is all about helping people,” she said, “and giving back to the community is one of my biggest passions.”

Goldberg and Armstrong raised more than $2,000 for their humanitarian mission through the Northeastern Fund’s Catalyst program, which makes it easy to follow, connect with, and support the university’s most inspiring student projects. And they harnessed the power of their positions on Northeastern’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee—Goldberg is the president, Armstrong the vice-president—to launch a school supplies drive, wherein student-athletes donated pencils, tennis balls, and flying discs to the youngsters.

“We wanted to do our part to bring as many supplies to Kenya as we could,” said Goldberg, a former forward on the women’s hockey team, “and the drive sounded like the perfect idea to get a lot of athletes involved.”

Family ties

Goldberg and Armstrong interviewed scores of students at each of the six schools they visited, taking notes on their material needs, their home lives, and their hobbies. After collecting the data and donating some items, they traveled into town via safari van to purchase more clothing, sports equipment, and educational books for the kids, whose ages ranged from 5 to 15. One studious teen named Bryan, an eighth-grader at the Kelewet primary school in Nakuru, where the Northeastern humanitarians first met Sammuel, asked for a test practice book with which to prepare for his upcoming secondary school exam.

“He is a very smart young man, who has dreams to become an engineer,” Goldberg blogged, explaining Bryan’s story. “He cannot afford secondary school, but he is such a brilliant student that truly enjoys school. Hopefully we will be able to get him to where he would like to go.”

Goldberg and Armstrong also donated money to particularly needy families in behalf of True Start Athletics. Two cousins from the Bwayi School in Eldoret—a 14 year-old named Matthew and a 15 year-old named Peter—received $220. Peter, whose parents died in tribal clashes, and Matthew, whose father makes 50 cents per day chopping and selling firewood, live in a small mud hut, whose cramped space is filled with 10 other family members. It’s not uncommon for them to eat leaves for dinner, and when Goldberg and Armstrong showed up and handed them the money, Matthew’s mom and dad started crying.

“It was probably the most emotional and rewarding experience of my life,” Goldberg recalled. “They were speechless and I didn’t know what to say because I had never been exposed to something like this.”

A relatively small amount of money goes a long way in Kenya—a can of coke is 58 cents, a dozen eggs $1.57—and the donation, Goldberg noted, will help keep the family afloat for more than a year.

A new life for Edda

One of the most heartrending stories Goldberg told me focused on Edda, an undernourished 14 year-old girl who loves school and dreams of becoming a nurse.

Goldberg and Edda struck up a friendship some two weeks ago, when the former met the latter during her visit to the Park View primary school in Nakuru. Edda, Goldberg learned, was on the verge of being sold off into marriage by her alcoholic father, who last year sold her 15 year-old sister for $240. The only way to protect Edda from suffering the same fate, Goldberg explained, was to remove her from her home, and then enroll her in the local boarding school. After getting permission from Edda’s mother, Goldberg and Armstrong did just that, paying for the tuition for her first term, which she began earlier this week.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” Edda told Goldberg in Swahili, after her new friend had taken her shopping for her boarding school uniform. Noted Goldberg: “It means so much knowing that we could change her life.”

Goldberg and Armstrong took Edda shopping for her boarding school uniform.

Goldberg and Armstrong took Edda shopping for her boarding school uniform.

Future dreams

There’s no doubt that Goldberg and Armstrong’s work in Kenya made a distinctly positive impact on scores of studious kids and their families. What’s also without debate is the mission’s life-changing effect on the young humanitarians themselves.

Goldberg has long dreamed of becoming a motivational speaker. She once pictured herself atop a stage, looking out before a sea of hapless athletes, down on their luck men and women who’d struggled to overcome injuries and disappointing performances. She could relate to them, she thought, she could tell them how she broke both her legs playing hockey, underwent multiple surgeries, and then considered quitting the sport she loved. And she could inspire them too, sharing how she harnessed her optimism, how she rehabbed like crazy, how she overcame adversity—and the fear of re-injury— to go on to play 90 games for the Huskies.

But then she visited Kenya, and the scope of her career dreams expanded. Witnessing the living conditions of the vast majority of Kenyans, she said, many of whom live in mud huts or in tarps on the roadside, put her life in perspective and compelled her to reconsider the scale of her professional aspirations.

“We have been born into opportunity,” Goldberg explained. “When people here start having trouble with their jobs or questioning their future path, they should realize that they don’t have it so badly.” No longer, she told me, does she want to limit herself to an audience of athletes. Now, she said, she wants to target “all people who are feeling down for whatever reason and work with them to overcome their negativity.”

Goldberg will put her motivational speaking skills to work this fall, when she begins a co-op with Dale Carnegie Training, the nation’s leader in professional and corporate development. Her focus, her manager told her, will be the millennial generation, members of Generation Y for whom she will give inspirational presentations. “He thinks I have the power to motivate and inspire people in my generation to keep succeeding and developing,” Goldberg said.