Name: Kara Hee-won Shin
Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia (Jungdaun Korean Church)
Assignment: Through MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, I serve with MCC partner Daima Initiatives for Peace and Development in Nairobi, Kenya.
“If you want to learn how to look at the world through the eyes of strangers who welcome you to jump in and become part of their lives and work . . . this is a safe space for you to come and do so.”
Kara Hee-won Shin
Why I chose SALT: Last year, in my position as a policy research fellow, I realized that I was being lured to chase roads that promised comfort and familiarity, rather than personal and spiritual challenges and growth. I wanted to break out of this pattern and also complicate my understanding of the world and how to approach its issues.
Typical day: My days are split among various peacebuilding projects across Kenya. One is a trauma and resilience initiative that works with students who survived an April 2015 attack on Moi Garissa University College that killed nearly 150 students. As I meet with survivors and document their stories, I have been astonished by their resilience. I also am stunned by how deeply the students root themselves in what was not uprooted from them during the attack — their trust in God.
Joys: Inspiring leadership, witnessing how peace workers in Kenya tirelessly and creatively work in a context of historical and current violence. My tasks, though challenging at times, have stretched my understanding of the residual effects of terrorism, radicalization, unaddressed trauma, colonialism and conflict. I am grateful for this opportunity to face and in a small way address these complex and prevalent issues.
Challenge: Maintaining an unwavering hope that the violence that haunts Kenya — much of which derives from deep-seated historic and systemic conflicts and injustices — can be defeated.
Advice for someone thinking about SALT: You do not need to do SALT to “serve God” and “learn more about this world” – you can do that in your own communities. But if you want to learn how to look at the world through the eyes of strangers who welcome you to jump in and become part of their lives and work, if you want to experience a year of life without its usual and invisible comforts, if you want to complicate your understanding of a place and people you may have not explored otherwise, this is a safe space for you to come and do so.
Favorite food: I’m slowly becoming obsessed with Kenyan-Indian samosas, ugali (boiled maize flour), kachumbari (Kenyan mix of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro), thick (and real) mango juice, and pili pili kali (small spicy green peppers).
Biggest surprises about living and serving in Kenya: I am surprised by what delights and frustrates me and how it continues to change over time. For instance, the long commute by matatu (mini-bus) was something I used to dread every morning. The massive amounts of dirt and fumes from the road, confusions about the fare, drivers inventing “third” roads on two-way streets and never-ending traffic jams were tiring to say the least. Furthermore, I was constantly having to correct those who shouted, “Ching chong, nihao (Hello, Chinese),” by answering in Swahili, “Hapana, mimi ni Mkorea (No, I’m Korean).” These things haven’t changed, but the commute by matatu is now where I feel closest to the beautiful chaos of Nairobi.
Finding hope in faith: The story of Jonah has been strangely comforting to me. The ultimate faithfulness of God and Jonah’s own realization that he cannot deny what he already knows of God even in the “deep sea” has helped me in difficult moments. Serving in my assignment has also reminded me to continue the study of my faith and that of others, as well as the importance of engaging in intelligent conversation with those with differing worldviews and values.
What I’ve learned that I want to take back into my life in Canada: That I am more resilient than I give myself credit for, and that this world is too.