I was struck by her strong convictions and her courage, as I'm uncomfortable at times just walking in downtown Baltimore. So, I decided to ask her why she has chosen this path.
Let's start with a little background. When you were growing up in Maryland, what kinds of things were you involved in that planted the seed for your current endeavor?
Kaylie: I've lived in the same house since childhood, in Baltimore County, Maryland. I was homeschooled and then attended Liberty Christian in Eldersburg. In high school I switched around between homeschooling and Mount de Sales Academy while I also attended Carroll and Catonsville Community Colleges. Upon graduation, I went to Houghton College in Upstate New York where I double majored in Art and Communications with a minor in Intercultural Studies - which took me to Tanzania for 4 months.
I vividly remember going to an orioles game with my dad when I was around 9 or 10 years old. And I saw the same homeless man begging for money on the street before we walked in and again when we left. I decided I wanted to help and convinced my dad to give this man some money. Afterwards I remember riding back to our parking lot in a shuttle bus and vowing to the Lord that I would dedicate my life to help people. The memory of that man has stuck with me ever since.
My parents encouraged generosity and loving those who have less.
What drew you to what you did and where you were this past year? What made you decide to return?
Kaylie: I was living in Charlottesville and working with an accomplished oil painter, Malcolm Hughes, while living with my aunt and working part-time at a cheese shop. But doing all of this still left me feeling restless.
I heard about an organization called BuildaBridge in Philadelphia and agreed to go to an annual event called the Arts Institute that attracts artists world-wide to provide training, networking opportunities, informative seminars, and hands-on arts experience.
I sat down to breakfast one morning with one of the founders of the organization, Dr Nathan Corbitt, and shared with him that I was looking for a way to use my artistic talents in a tangible way that would help those who are most in need. This is when he told me about the position in Kenya. He didn’t say IF you go to Kenya, but used the phrase “when you go to Kenya…”. He told me I would be teaching an art class in the Mathare slum, networking with groups of artists needing support in adopting a community-service mindset, and devloping marketing opportunities. I would run art camps that BuildaBridge had created, similar to those they've begun in countries all over the world, called The Diaspora of Hope Art Camp.
After being there for a year I've developed deep and meaningful relationships, and I've seen the receptive enthusiasm of children and artists alike. The personal fulfillment of knowing that what I do can bring hope and healing to those living in the slums makes it a no-brainer for me to return.
Did you have any fears about going so far away and to such an impoverished area? Did you have difficulty convincing your parents to agree to it?
Kaylie: My parents have been great in their support and recognizing that as an adult I can make my own decisions. They respect that. I'm careful and take realistic precautions such as not traveling late at night or venturing deep in the slums. Initially, I was fearful of pickpocketing or stealing and was very cautious even walking outside my door. Now I'm much more relaxed in general.
Have you had any close calls as far as your personal safety is concerned?
Kaylie: I was mugged at gun point because some guys wanted my computer that I was carrying, but besides that, no!
Have there been any funny incidents or language-related problems due to the very different backgrounds that you and your students/co-workers have? Anything that made your students look at you like you had three heads due to cultural differences?
Kaylie: People in Kenya are charged by the minute for their phone use, so when you want to get someone to call you but you don't want to use your own money, you can call just so the phone rings and then quickly hang up… this then shows the person you called and they will feel compelled to call back. This is called “flashing”. In my language, however, flashing means taking off your clothes So when people would say, “I will flash you”, I thought in my head- please NO!
Have there been any heartbreaks for you in your relationships with your students?
Kaylie: My students come from abusive homes, some even physically abusive, and both the mental and physical scars they carry are heartbreaking.
How do you sustain hope in the face of such deprivation and trauma that your students experience?
Kaylie: I use the arts to teach the children about hope, even in this hard world they were born into. I encourage them individually every chance I get. I speak kindly to them, asking them to dream and challenge their thinking. I visit their homes. I initiate art camps during the holidays so they have something to look forward to. I point them to Christ, who offers himself as their eternal hope.
Anything you'd like to add.......especially if readers would like to make a donation to help support your work?
Kaylie: Checks can be made out to "Kenya Project" and mailed to: BuildaBridge International, 205 West Tulpehocken Street, Philadelphhia, PA 19144 Anyone kind enough to help should include their name, address, phone number and email. They should also specify whose work they are supporting (Kaylie Sauter), as we are volunteers.
Here is a link to the video which Kaylie created about her year in Kenya. The images are gorgeous and unforgettable!