Update October 27, 2023:
Mikayla, Elaina and our Interim Head of School were interviewed on KRQE! Check it out here.
Menaul School rising seniors Mikayla Sierra and Elaina Ortiz-Cerno had the experience of a lifetime over the summer in Kenya, participating in a competitive grant program designed to help expand opportunities for New Mexican youth. Mikayla and Elaina participated in the AFS Summer Global Prep Program and were each awarded the Globe Runner Scholarship Fund. This competitive and life changing program offers high-achieving high school students from underrepresented communities in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico area the opportunity to step outside their local community and develop a global vision by studying abroad.
The AFS-USA’s Faces of America (FOA) scholarship works with a consortium of community-based organizations to identify promising young scholars for educational opportunities abroad. In addition, the Globe Runner Scholarship Fund offers high-achieving high school students from underserved communities in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico area the opportunity to step outside their local community and develop a global vision by studying abroad.
The program is looking for future changemakers, those primed to help build a more just and peaceful world in the future. Students should be mature, independent, open-minded, flexible, and responsible enough to spend two-three weeks away from their family and in the home of a host family.
“It was cool to see how similar their traditions are to Navajo traditions,” said Elaina. “They slaughter sheep, have welcome blessings and use traditional herbs for medicine.”
Menaul’s two exceptional rising seniors had the opportunity to choose from three different global experiences, ultimately settling on travel to Kenya on a service-oriented trip that incorporated social services and environmental justice components.
Volunteering at the Children’s Center was a critical part of the service-oriented trip. An orphanage that worked to not just house youth, the Children’s Center provided education, food and cultural support. Mikayla and Elaina had the opportunity to integrate into this important non-profit work, organizing activities, preparing meals—even helping slaughter a goat!
The students organized a gift drive before going and were able to give the donated toys and items to the children. Mikayla spoke to how meaningful it was to interact with the children and be a part of that advocacy work: “One of the best parts of the experience was getting to organize gifts for the Children’s Center and interacting with the kids there.”
They also had the opportunity to learn about sensitive and complex human-environment relationships through exploring Kenya’s Lake Naivasha. The seniors explored the impacts of increasing industrial development on the sensitive alkali lake ecosystem and learned about geothermal energy production in the Great Rift Valley. Menaul’s top tier biology programs helped them engage deeply with the nuanced issues surrounding the lake. The seniors described the unique geologic impact of the Great Rift Valley on the development of alkali lake formations. “We don’t have any lakes like that here,” said Mikayla. “It’s basically like a bowl, and all the effluent from human impact flows in.” In addition to visiting Lake Naivasha, the seniors went on not one but two safaris—and at one point even got to see a crocodile!
When asked about how Kenyan culture was both similar and different to New Mexico, the girls expressed a nuanced perspective on international relations. “Because we are Native American, we are pretty similar,” said Mikayla. “We stayed with Indigenous tribes.” Elaina agreed: “It was cool to see how similar their traditions are to Navajo traditions. They slaughter sheep, have welcome blessings and use traditional herbs for medicine.”
Elaina and Mikayla noted Menaul’s World Smart education and exposure to many different cultures helped them adapt. When asked if there were any challenges to integrating into a different culture, they mentioned that their friendships with students from Africa prepared them and the open-minded culture at Menaul made it easy to take things in stride.
The supportive structure of the experience helped—both girls were placed in host families and travelled with a group of 11 other American students. Both girls felt connecting with their host families as well as the group of students helped them immerse into the program and learn more from their experience. In their group there were other high schoolers from seven other U.S. states!
“It helped me learn about more of the United States,” said Mikayla.
Elaina mentioned how being in a host family with other young people her age helped her acclimate to the environment. Going on nature walks and other outings with host siblings helped our Menaul students connect with the environment.
Elaina recalls: “We fed giraffes, like out of our hand!”
By the end of their stay, they felt like they were truly part of each of their host families. Mikayla and Elaina both received Maasai names—an incredibly impactful part of their trip. Mikayla received a name that meant “polite and humble” when she first arrived, but received a second name that meant “one who is active” by the end of her stay. Elaina received a name that meant “hardworking”.
“My host family was so welcoming,” said Mikayla. “They always said feel free—that phrase, feel free, expressed being welcome in the home.”