One professor combines faith
and academics to touch lives in Kenya
Cross-Cultural and Leadership Communication professor
Ruth Anaya, D Litt et Phil (cand.), has cultivated a strong
relationship with the people of Muhanda, Kenya, earning
herself the nickname “Daughter of Our Community.” Now,
through ;;;’; travel studies program, she gives students
unheard of access to the developing East African nation.
Muhanda is one of the poorest areas of Kenya. Children
go barefoot and mothers struggle to feed their families one
meal of maize porridge a day.
Ruth and her husband, Petra, a native Kenyan, founded
Hands-On Development Initiatives International Society
(;;;; Int’l). Their work includes the establishment the
;;;;;; Education Fund Group, a medical and maternity
clinic, a community centre, and a water project.
At ;;;, Ruth teaches a range of courses including
linguistics, cultural anthropology, and economics. Each
summer, she leads a three-week travel study program to
Kenya with students from as many as ;; different majors.
Incorporating each student’s skill set, she equips them to
perform ethnographic research of local culture with the aim
of improving the area’s living conditions.
The trust earned by Ruth and Petra is extended to the
students who come to Muhanda. “It was like going into
the community as a local,” says Sarah Abbott, a past travel
studies participant. “Ruth has a great way of acknowledging
the culture you were brought up in and opening your eyes to
another way of living.”
These travel studies have produced several successful
projects. To contribute to the community’s economic
viability, Ruth’s family had started a bakery. One team of
;;; students looked at the bakery’s products to find ways
of adding value and nutrition. “People there don’t eat much
fruit or vegetables and, with meat being a luxury, they
survive mostly on starches and local greens,” explains Ruth.
Observing the area’s many bananas, the team introduced
the idea of selling banana bread. They researched pricing
structures and developed marketing plans to increase profits.
A novelty in the region, the banana bread was a hit. It was
picked up by a local
and promoted in the capital. Further batches were taken to
nearby cities and sold at hotels and inns.
Another group of students identified that ;; per cent
of illnesses in the area were water-borne and that women
spent up to five hours a day travelling to collect water. The
community sectioned off an area for the water tank, collected
the water and purified it. Implementing water meters made
the project sustainable. Nominal monthly fees supported
maintenance costs and provided water to those who couldn't
afford metered water to their homes. Once completed, the
project distributed purified water to over ;,;;; people. With
the project as a successful model, Ruth and Petra mentored
additional communities to implement effective water
Ruth’s dream for Kenya has proven infectious, with four
of her travel studies participants remaining in the country for
long-term projects. Her own passion for the land and people
of Kenya only grows stronger with time. “The dignity and
generosity of the people continually amaze me,” she says,
“and every time I go, I am surprised by the sky. It feels like
you can see the whole universe and God is only a hand’s