“What are you thinking?” That question, voiced or simply pondered, is a common query considered by most of us from time to time. Austin Walker ’12 spent most of his summer posing similar questions to Kenyan youth. Specifically he was focused on uncovering what young people view are the most pressing issues facing them and their country. Walker worked with Professor of Government Steve Orvis on “Development Perspectives: The Lost Voices of Kenyan Youth,” with funding from a 2011 Levitt Research Fellowship Grant.
After studying abroad in Dar es Salaam, Walker traveled to West Kenya to begin his project. He interviewed 138 secondary school students from four different schools in the region. These interviews represent approximately 10 percent of all students in this area.
Walker’s interviews covered four main areas. He collected background on each interviewee, including age, gender and family background and then asked participants about the challenges they felt were most relevant to Kenyan youth. The next set of questions encouraged interviewees to think about what the best solutions to these problems might be. Finally, Walker asked each participant about the role of NGOs and outside organizations in helping to address these issues and how these young people felt about these organizations.
To carry out his project, Walker partnered with the Lwala Community Alliance (LCA), an organization founded by two Kenyan brothers in their home village of Lwala. LCA aims to build human capital in Lwala through “physical health, educational opportunity, economic freedom, cultural vitality and spiritual growth,” according to its website.
“The overarching goal of the project is to bring the voices of Kenyan youth into the often theoretical debate raging in academia over how to approach development,” said Walker. He hopes that by writing from the perspective of those who are in need of aid, he can help bring the most important issues to light and, perhaps, assist organizations focused on improving living conditions for Kenyan youth.
Though Walker had anticipated some of the responses that he received, other answers were surprising. For example, he had expected that many young people would be concerned with the issue of school fees and the lack of available jobs. However, some interviewees discussed their concerns about inadequate counseling and advice regarding relationships, sex and negative peer influence.
Kenya’s official languages are English and Swahili so Walker worked with two assistants who are fluent in both Swahili and Luo, the local tribal dialect. Interviews were conducted in English, but students could also communicate in Swahili or Luo if they were more comfortable doing so.
Walker has a self-designed major in international development and social justice and a minor in economics.
Walker is a graduate of The White Mountain School in Littleton, N.H.