International Studies & Programs

Time in Kenya results in national nomination

So many of the guest lectures were incredibly inspirational and motivational. They often highlighted the Kenyan peoples resilience to the adversity some of them face daily.

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Published: Thursday, 07 Dec 2023 Author: Jilmar Portillo

Jilmar with group of Kenyan school childrenOver the summer I was fortunate enough to participate in MSU's Visual Storytelling program in Kenya. I can honestly say that my time abroad was an incredible, life-changing experience. From the moment I landed to the moment I left; I was enamored with Kenya's natural beauty. The diverse landscapes were unlike anything I had ever seen before, and the fact that I was fortunate enough to have traveled with an amazing group of students made every moment on the program feel even more special than the last. I'm incredibly happy that I was able to go. I wish every student had the ability to have a similar experience and create memories and friendships that will last a lifetime as I know I have.

Most of my time in Kenya was divided into three parts. Coursework, project work, and a short time on safari where Jilmar putting his handprint on wallI was able to hike on Mount Kenya and see so many different beautiful animals like zebras, elephants, lions, and monkeys.

The coursework revolved around the building of sustained dialogue skills and presentations from some of our international photojournalist peers who have found success in the field and are working hard to change the narrative around their home. After meeting them, I must admit that I feel refreshed and inspired. Seeing and meeting people passionate about the same things that I am passionate about has only made me more focused in my work. So many of the guest lectures were incredibly Jilmar standing on dirt road with backpack on in Kenyainspirational and motivational. They often highlighted the Kenyan peoples resilience to the adversity some of them face daily. Although some of them may not have access to the resources that many in our country have on a daily basis, they don't let that kill their dreams. They work hard to circumvent the lack of resources and find success doing what they love.

I am extremely proud of the work I was able to accomplish in Kenya. My work mainly revolved around a non-profit organization named “Voice of Dagoretti.” Voice of Dagoretti is a community-based organization dedicated to the advocacy of women's rights, women empowerment, the advancement of the education system and society of the people of Dagoretti and the reporting of Gender Based Violence. I spent my time with Voice attending and recording the community advocacy events they hosted. The events I attended consisted of a tree planting in a local primary school where over 100 trees were planted, the painting of a mural on a community wall which calls for the empowerment of women and a dance/ play performance in a local community market which advocated for an end to gender-based violence and encouraged reporting it when it happens.

We recorded Voice of Dagoretti with the intention of creating a short interview-style documentary. While working with them on a recording day, it was discovered that their website needed an update, which presented me with the opportunity to work and spend time redesigning their website.

Since my return I've been fortunate enough to receive a nomination for the Forum on Education Abroad Award for Academic Achievement Abroad. It’s an absolute honor to have been nominated, I never would have believed that I would have been able to have experienced any of this. I am a first-generation college student who never thought I would be able to go to college let alone go on a study abroad program on the other side of the world and hike on Mount Kenya.

My father came to this country with no one, homeless, after being a child soldier in the Salvadorian civil war. My mother moved here with her sisters as a teenager from Mexico. I feel incredibly fortunate to have made it this far. I'm proud of myself and I am incredibly thankful for your contribution to making this possible. Thank you for investing in me and my future, it means more to me than I could ever express.

Name: Jilmar Portillo
Status: Junior
Major: Digital Storytelling
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
Program: Visual Storytelling in Kenya