Back to Africa
Christopher Burns ’95 (KSP fall ’93)
|Chris Burns inspects a millet granary in the Tahoua region of Niger. There he served as associate Peace Corps director for natural resources management and program and training officer for Peace Corps/Niger from March 2006 to July 2009.
Why did you choose the KSP?
Part of my decision to attend St. Lawrence was to participate in the KSP. I knew what I wanted to study and I bolstered my initial years with African history, language, government and environmental courses to get prepared. Previous to St. Lawrence, I had always been fascinated by Africa, partly stemming from my dad’s career during which he sent me postcards from every country he visited, including many on the continent. I saw the KSP as an opportunity for my first foray into sub-Saharan Africa.
What was it about your KSP experience that inspired or compelled you to stay involved with Africa?
Quite honestly, every day of my KSP experience reaffirmed my desire to work and live in Africa. Kenyans are warm and hospitable and their land is beautiful. I have been able to draw upon the KSP as the backbone of my career in international development. I have been fortunate to live for two and a half years in Ghana and three and a half years in Niger, Ghanaians and Nigeriens being equally as inviting and personable as Kenyans. The classes that I took leading up to the KSP, while I was in Kenya, and afterwards cemented my career on the continent. Professors like Paul Robinson, Celia Nyamweru and David Lloyd provided the theoretical and practical knowledge that allowed me to pursue my career. My fellow KSP mates allowed a richness during the semester that made every day a unique experience. And my homestay families in Nairobi, Samburuland and Taita showed me the power of resilience and indigenous knowledge in better understanding the world in which we live.
I still keep in touch with my homestay family in Nairobi, most recently thanks to Facebook. My family has had the opportunity to visit them in Nairobi and we have hosted them at our house in Falls Church, Virginia. Also, my ongoing friendship with Chachu Ganya, and the opportunity to travel with him throughout Gabbraland and visit his parents in 2001, has kept my ties to Kenya strong.
Do you have a memorable story to share from your KSP?
One that stands out is when we were doing our Tanzania field course with Dorobo Safaris. We were taking a long walk one day, and a few of us came across an entire giraffe carcass lying on the sun-bleached ground. Pete Johnson ‘95, Kristen Semels ’95 and I took the giraffe skull and carried it up a small mountain. We set it on a big rock so that it could overlook the land. With guilt, I took a vertebra from the giraffe’s neck and brought it home with me. To this day, I look at it and marvel at the beauty of the animal. I thought of it again when in Niger from 2006 to 2009. There, I was counting giraffes one August as part of the national annual census. Niger boasts the only population of wild giraffes in West Africa, 160 and counting; as little as a decade ago, they faced extinction because of poaching and loss of habitat. In three days, we counted 65 of them and as I spent hours tracking them and watching their patterns, I harkened back to that day in Tanzania coming across the giraffe carcass.
I recall learning about Multiple Species Association (MSA) in Tarangire National Park – when herbivores of different shapes and sizes seek comfort in one another to fend off attacks from predators. In Niger, I wondered how the giraffe population might benefit from MSA, had they had the diversity of wildlife that exists in East Africa. Sadly, they don’t. And many humans in the area have had to learn to live in harmony with giraffes, after initial resistance. In this part of Niger, humans are the predators. Yet successful conservation and education programs have made great strides. My semester in Kenya/Tanzania solidified my belief that this can be true for any part of the world, where humans and animals coexist, if the proper programs are put in place and maintained.
The KSP is a phenomenal opportunity and I am fortunate to have been able to participate in it. My career, to this day, benefits greatly from it as well.