"I can see the mountains! I can see the trees! I can see the river!" 12-year-old Erik yelled while excitedly jumping up and down. For the first time in his entire life, he could see clearly.
For four consecutive years, Baylor has taken a team of students to Bethlehem Home, a Kenyan community ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, to bring vital medical care and education. This summer, Baylor students, faculty and staff worked alongside medical professionals in transient medical clinics to provide free medical care to anyone with need.
Young Erik was one of the many beneficiaries. In one corner of the old church building that daily housed the clinic, students adjusted self-refracting glasses while patients stared at an eye chart, hoping the letters eventually would come into focus. Person after person rejoiced over their newfound vision. For Erik, the glasses are more than just a tool to help him see; these glasses will facilitate his education, improving his vision so that he may continue his schooling.
Erik's story is just one of many revealing the beautiful impact that is made each year through Baylor mission trips. From Kenya to Belize, Cambodia to Los Angeles, Baylor students from a variety of disciplines travel around the world with a clear mission in mind: to bring hope and practical help to the suffering.
"The clinics give students a chance to work alongside doctors, learning how to perform simple patient overviews, how to take doctors' notes, what to prescribe for conditions and how to treat malaria and intestinal worms," explained Petra Carey, BA '01, coordinator of communications, summer programs and external relations for the Honors College and the Kenya mission trip co-leader. "It's really hands-on and immediately benefits the students and the locals."
But the medical clinics are only the beginning. These students -- comprised of University Scholars, Business Fellows, Honors College and pre-med majors -- conduct research annually to plan projects for the trip that will help meet the goals of this specific community.
Jae Kim, a senior University Scholars major, has taken the charge to educate schoolchildren about HIV and AIDS. Each afternoon of the trip, he and five or six other students would visit a local school to share ways to prevent the transmission of AIDS and offer opportunities for these young students to ask specific questions.
"The middle-aged population in Kenya has been pretty much decimated due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic," Kim said. "There is a mentality that people outside their nation are superior and that they are subject to HIV and AIDS because of their inferiority by nature. I am able to answer that there is nothing different between them and us, that HIV is not something that happens innately."
Before each trip, students raise funds for a variety of resources that complement their projects -- helping to meet the needs of the community and propelling the local people forward. The Kenya team provided goats for the people to have milk and fruit trees for food. They planted gardens to help the schoolchildren learn about gardening and farming, and they installed rain gutters and water cisterns for clean drinking water.
The projects are not just educational; they are innovative, practical and sustainable.
"We can tell that even though our actions are small, they're having a huge effect on these people," Kim reflected. "It gives them so much hope that they're willing to continue striving for improvements without giving up. They're enthusiastic about it."
Students who participate in returning trips are often afforded missions scholarships, reinforcing Baylor's mission to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service, but the need is still great. "If there were scholarships to aptly cover students' travel needs, we could use fundraiser monies to buy more medical supplies, goats and trees, to build a better school and to buy better supplies for local students," Kim said.
"What begins in Kenya continues when students return home and realize there are needs here," Carey said. "As BU Missions defines it, it's people being transformed by people being transformed."
Though the mission trips last only for a couple of weeks, local people like Erik will continue to benefit long after Baylor students return to Waco. Each year, when the fruit trees are harvested and the goats provide milk for starving families, the Kenyan people are reminded that they are not alone in the journey.
To read personal stories from the 2012 Kenya trip, visit strawtobread.com.
To learn more about supporting trips like these through endowed scholarships, contact University Development at (254) 710-2561. Every gift champions The President's Scholarship Initiative and helps extend Baylor's reach to the world. Make your story part of this effort by submitting it at www.baylor.edu/extraordinarystories.
The Baylor Alumni Network, in partnership with Baylor Department of Missions, is launching a pilot initiative through which alumni may work side by side with students and faculty on selected global mission trips. Interested alumni should apply online and may be matched with appropriate teams subject to the needs of the program, the expertise and interest of the alum, and the availability of space on the trip. If you would like to learn more or are interested in becoming a part of this pilot initiative, visit www.baylor.edu/missions.