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Back to Africa

Kathleen Colson meets with villagers in Kamboe. Part of her strategy is to find out directly from people what manner of aid will best help them.

Kathleen Colson ’79 (KSP spring ’78)

Why did you choose the KSP?

I had never been on a plane before and wanted to go really far away.  I’d grown up watching “Wild Kingdom” and “National Geographic,” and the opportunity to go to a country that was practically brand-new seemed like an exciting concept for a government major.

What was it about your KSP experience that inspired or compelled you to stay involved with Africa?

My experience with the KSP gave me insights into Africa, and Kenya, that were always somehow relevant to everything I did.  I felt that the press portrayals of Africa were not the real picture – the constant stories of war and tribalism and AIDS did not reflect the extraordinary spirit of the people and the young nation that I came to know.  So I started raising money for organizations in Africa, ended up starting a safari company in 1986 and, after years of guilty pleasure surrounding the surreal experience of safari, decided to start my own development organization.  We focus on poverty alleviation through a micro-finance program that builds self-confidence in people’s ability to change the circumstances of their lives and the communities.  The program is totally led by local people. 

Do you have a memorable story to share from your KSP?

My most profound experiences in the KSP were my two trips to northern Kenya.  Jake Pool ’78 (KSP spring ’78) and I were hitchhiking buddies and we wanted to see Lake Turkana.  So we hitched rides from Nairobi and then caught a lorry north in Eldoret.  It was the rainy season and the lorry kept veering dangerously toward Uganda as we worked our way north.  This was in the days of Idi Amin and the presence of two mzungus definitely made the driver nervous.  It was a long, hot trip and I remember drinking so many orange Fantas that our skin turned orange.  The return trip was equally challenging, but we had seen the west side of Lake Turkana. 

Returning to Nairobi a week late, Bill Elberty, the director of the KSP, could not wait to tell us that he had an exciting trip planned for the group.  We were going to Lake Turkana!  So two days later we climbed aboard an overland truck and made our way to the east side of the lake and the village of Loiyangalani – an equally challenging trip that found us stuck in mud above the axles of the huge truck.  We were rescued by Mike Rainy, long time leader of the KSP’s Samburu component, and a group of Samburu warriors in the middle of the night. 

I guess that is part of the reason that I am now working in northern Kenya.  The conditions have changed little and the adventures continue!
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