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The pupil of the eye

PCVs swear in in Kenya

There is a beautiful metaphor that hasn’t left me since I first heard it years ago. Sometime in the mid-to late-19th century, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, likened people of African descent to the “pupil of the eye … from which the light of the spirit shineth forth.”

I was stunned when I heard it. Given the time period, it was unprecedented for such ennobling words to be spoken about Black people. The words bestowed dignity and glory upon a race that, at the time, was largely considered inferior by most of the world. The centuries-long, historical disenfranchisement of Black people across the globe has undoubtedly traumatized us, but some of that pain has been transmuted into a capacity for soulful empathy, wisdom, and a sensitivity to the suffering of all.

PCVs in Kenya
Maëlis Aden-Faden, right, arrived in Kenya in September of 2023 to work as a Health Volunteer.

I arrived in Kenya in September of 2023 to work as a Health Volunteer. Serving in Kenya has reminded me of the essence that people of African descent all share. As a Haitian American, I am descended from African slaves who were taken from their homes and transported to the island of Hispaniola. My ancestors were forced to leave behind their families, culture, and religion. I’m sure they desperately pined for their lost lives and prayed, “if not me, please let my children go back home." Now, I find myself one of the first in my lineage to return to the continent: a reality my ancestors probably never thought possible.

To the Black Peace Corps Volunteer, serving in Africa can be seen as a cathartic pilgrimage and a coming to terms with a stolen ancestral identity. So far, I’ve observed many similarities in the foods we eat, the rhythms and melodies of our music, and even in subtle things like our mannerisms and the vocalizations made between words — the African blood is strong. Moreover, when I show pictures of Kenya to my family, I’m told of how it resembles Haiti.

In many ways, being in Kenya has allowed me to embrace authenticity and gain self-knowledge. Although I’ve had many challenges working in HIV/AIDS prevention and education and in maternal and newborn born health promotion, the Kenyan people in my community in Busia near the Ugandan border have welcomed me with warmth and acceptance. I look forward to the rest of my service in this beautiful country and to connecting more deeply with my African brothers and sisters and the majesty of my roots.

We are as instrumental as the pupil of the eye, allowing light to enter and a transformative vision to take place. When it's my time to go back home, I look forward to sharing with the American people what I learned while here, thereby harnessing that vision for the fostering of intercultural understanding and tolerance.