There are countless orphaned and abandoned children in sub-saharan Africa. Nairobi, Kenya alone, is home to millions of these children. Through an anthropology course, focusing on children in poverty, that I took during my undergraduate studies, I started to learn about the complexities around this unbelievable statistic. For a long time, that’s all it was to me, a statistic, a faceless number written on paper. That was the case for two more years, until I raised enough money to travel there and fund mini restoration projects at an urban orphanage in Nairobi. We, a group of students and professors from my university, had begun to establish ties and communication with this orphanage the summer prior. We built friendships in Nairobi over the next few years we established a non-profit that would build schools and homes for abandoned children. We called our organization Flying Kites. 

Instead of work in the urban settings we were familiar with, we decided to purchase land and build in the rural outskirts of the city. The country-side, provided access to fresh air, clean water and open space, amenities that were simply not possible in the dangerous city. Once establishing our place we constructed our mission. Focusing on education as the key to one’s future, we invested in learning all we could about education in Kenya. We strive to give children the tools they will need – education, imagination, and resolution - to succeed in and contribute to a complex and changing world. We prepare them to impact their societies through our emphasis on compassion, advocacy, and leadership. As one of the designers on the team, I was asked to take leadership in designing portions of our model, funding strategies, program creation, and internal and external communications. 

Description of the student project developed in response to the brief:

I developed, and was part of a team of collaborators, which worked on several design challenges from our buildings to our funding streams, and how they connected. One project specifically, our building campaign, became a fascinating adventure. Our first building project was to design and build a school for the 17 orphaned children of the Flying Kites family. This project fit into the early part of our strategic plan of eventually providing our children, and fifty more in the community, with an International Baccalaureate education. With the proper facilities, we could eventually reach the standards to apply for that caliber of education, and subsequently provide Flying Kites children with a high quality education through high school. Our team collaborated with architects, landscape architects, contractors, grant writers, academic advisors, and funders to build our first school in 2010. We are currently in the finishing construction phases of our library. I was highly involved in working with our grant writer and academic advisors to create a budget for our building plan and a strategy for our capital campaign. We created our capital campaign brochure, which became the face of our future goals. Additionally, we designed other funding streams to maintain our children’s home, pay our staff, and create awareness. 

While I wouldn’t change my experience or any of the lessons I learned along the way, I began to question the whole activity, structure and commonly accepted behaviors of international aid and social entrepreneurship. I now know that Transdisciplinary Design at the The New School is the exact place I should be on this never ending path the make sense of the complexities, such as the unjust distribution of wealth, in this world. Most recently, I find I am extremely grateful for our scholarly study of pragmatism philosophy and the ability to reframe these questions that I have grappled with since my naive eyes were opened some time ago. Since starting my masters at Parsons, I have already started to develop skills which would help with participatory community action and an ethical understanding of the implications of such work. These are topics I was oblivious to or barely scratched the surface of prior to formal design education. I hope to continue questioning notions of equality through my design work and involvement with international development, specifically with orphaned and abandoned children. 

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Authorbridget sheerin