Ken Starr: Baylor students’ work in Africa ensures a better world

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013 12:01 am

This summer, hundreds of Baylor University students have left the comforts of home to embark on mission trips literally around the globe. In a time of rancor and polarization in America, Baylor Bears are quietly and energetically reaching out to serve some of the neediest people on the planet, including here in East Africa. They are sowing seeds of peace.

A decade ago, Professor (now-Associate Dean) Jon Singletary began teaching his inaugural research course at Baylor’s School of Social Work, now located in downtown Waco. The questions cascaded from inquisitive students: “How do we find out about Africa? How do we find out about orphans? How do we find out about HIV and AIDs? How do we find out about the violence happening or about human trafficking and slavery?”

Those probing questions led Baylor inexorably to Kenya and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus began Baylor’s decade-long African journey, both in research and in service. This summer Baylor students from Waco and beyond arrived on this beautiful but troubled continent — home to some of the planet’s neediest people.

Nairobi — the jewel of what was until 1963 British East Africa — is the site of Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world. Hundreds of thousands of East Africans call Kibera home.

Kibera gives powerful meaning to world poverty. Almost half the world’s population — over 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. An estimated 22,000 children each day die from poverty-driven conditions.

Yet Kibera remains a place of undiminished hope. Not long ago, The Economist magazine opined that Kibera “may be the most entrepreneurial place on the planet.” The article continued: “To equate slums with idleness and misery is to misunderstand them.”

This is what Baylor students are learning first-hand through action. They work with women building small businesses. Our pre-med students serve in community clinics and carry on the Christian ministry of healing. Baylor engineering students help bring reliable, sustainable energy sources and clean water to impoverished communities. Student-athletes coach and teach orphans through collaboration with universally respected ministries such as Buckner International.

Our elected representatives — whether in Washington, D.C., or Austin — would do well to set aside their acrimony and endless debate and join Baylor students on what is truly a transformational journey. These are the words of one of our pre-med students here in Kenya: “We are here to remember, to provide, to strengthen and fill in that gap between two cultures and, instead, be humans together, people, spirits, hearts.”

This is Baylor at its best — preparing students through transformational education for lives of worldwide leadership and service. Their work is making the world a better place.

The 14th person to serve as president since Baylor University was chartered in 1845, Ken Starr has been traveling in Africa to get a firsthand look at the missionary work of Baylor students serving in some of the poorest areas of the world.

Coming Sunday: President Starr’s report on Baylor field work in Africa helping needy children.

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