More than Just Research in Kenya

Tara Wickey near green tea fields
In a village five hours outside of Nairobi, Kenya, with no electricity or running water, Tara Wickey, who has muscular dystrophy, was studying abroad for her graduate degree in Public Service Management at DePaul University.

While there, Tara observed the ways in which Kenyans are responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the government and non-governmental levels.

“It was difficult and quite a culture shock. It made me appreciate and acknowledge all the developed world comforts I had come to take advantage of.”

Tara met with families affected by the epidemic in the slums of Nairobi and children who lost their parents due to AIDS at a Nairobi orphanage while gathering research for her thesis project.

“Poor neo-natal care, inequalities in educational opportunities, a lack of adequate housing, electricity, clean water and nutritious food contribute to a shorter life span for persons with disabilities. Healthcare and transportation is limited and often inaccessible.”  

Tara came back to America with a changed perspective after what she learned in Kenya. What was once important suddenly seemed trivial to her; she felt unprepared for seeing poverty at such extremes.

A saving grace was seeing small micro-enterprises of women who create hand-crafted cards, jewelry and other items to be sold to tourists and countries abroad. The women had pride in their work and they felt accomplished in being able to take care of their families.  

“Kenya taught me that even the smallest action can change someone’s world. Also, the injustices that exist need to be a bigger priority for each one of us.”

While study abroad increases life lessons such as these, students with mobility disabilities are less likely to study abroad. Yet, Tara was able to study abroad three times (previously in Ireland and England).

“I knew it would be stressful at times but I refused to miss out on the opportunities. The fact that I was able to live abroad despite having physical challenges shows employers that I am accomplished, determined, and not bound by labels.”

After graduating, Tara went to work as a community organizer with Illinois Self-Advocacy Alliance. “My time abroad affirmed my personal mission and quest to help ensure equal rights and opportunities for individuals with disabilities both here in America, and abroad."