Kenya: Urbanization, Health, and Human Rights

Study the intersections of health, human rights, and cities at multiple sites in Kenya

offered by SIT Study Abroad

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Please visit our website for more information. Study at program bases in Nairobi and Kisumu, with excursions to other key sites in western Kenya and a comparative visit to northern Tanzania. Roughly two million people in Nairobi — more than half the population — live in informal settlements at great cost to human dignity, health, and well-being. “Slum” dwellers lack basic services including running water and sanitation as well as access to safe and reliable transportation, while suffering from insecurity, marginalization, and discrimination. Evictions are an ever-present risk. In Kenya’s largest cities, including Kisumu, issues of access to safe, affordable, and viable shelter are similarly challenging, though unique to each site due to historical, linguistic, economic, ecological, and sociocultural distinctions. While media images of urban Africa focus on slums, luxury housing and gated communities grow exponentially in Kenya’s cities, providing a stark contrast to the precariousness of the informal settlements. With more Kenyans moving to urban areas, the challenges associated with insufficient affordable housing — and the attendant health and human rights crises these foreshadow — are becoming more acute. Nairobi Nairobi is a relatively new city that began as a watering hole (“the place of cool waters”) for local Maasai pastoralists roughly 100 years ago. Today Nairobi is Kenya’s capital, a cosmopolitan metropolis of an estimated 4 million people, and the international or African headquarters for many research institutes, corporations, and global institutions. Nairobi is an ideal program base because of its concentration of academic, political, economic, and cultural resources, including many relief, development, health, human rights, and political organizations. Several of Kenya's universities are in Nairobi, and students have access to scholars, researchers, practitioners, and experts in all relevant program fields. Students may also take advantage of libraries at the University of Nairobi, the World Bank, the United Nations Environmental Programme, and UN-Habitat. Kisumu Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city, is picturesquely located on the shores of Lake Victoria and is the primary urban settlement in western Kenya. As a major port and trading hub and the center of the Luo community in Kenya, Kisumu has played a significant role in modern Kenyan history, and its fisheries and agriculture are significant contributors to the national and regional economy. Kisumu (and the broader area of Lake Victoria) was the epicenter for HIV/AIDS when it first emerged in the 1980s. Responding to these and other health needs, investments were made in medical research in the area. Today, Kisumu is home to a joint campus of the CDC (the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and KEMRI (Kenya Medical Research Institute). Founded as a collaborative venture in 1979, the partnership has grown to seven facilities around Kenya — the largest of which is in Kisumu. The Urbanization, Health, and Human Rights program includes collaborations with research scientists at the CDC/KEMRI campus in Kisumu, together with urban and regional planning faculty from nearby Maseno University. Consider some of the most pressing societal challenges of contemporary relevance. Urbanization, health, and human rights form the crux of the most pressing societal challenges not only in Kenya but throughout Africa and much of the world. The SIT Kenya program offers opportunities to learn of and from the Kenyan experience — via lectures, excursions, discussions, homestays, and everyday life — while interrogating the causes and consequences of urban inequalities and their health implications. An excursion to Tanzania provides a comparative view of health, human rights, and urban issues at sites in Mwanza and Arusha. Issues of human rights have been in the forefront in Kenya following the post-election turmoil of 2007–2008 and the subsequent adoption of a new constitution in 2010. While Kenya has, on paper, adopted strong protections for economic and social rights in the new constitution and expressed a firm commitment to improving access to healthcare among its citizens, such goals remain largely elusive. Kenya’s economic gains in the past decade have been unevenly distributed, and the country has faced a number of internal and external crises in recent years. The SIT Kenya program addresses these complex issues through in-depth engagement with scholars, practitioners, activists, artists, and Kenyans from all walks of life. Study Kiswahili. Kiswahili serves as the lingua franca throughout East Africa, from the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and parts of Mozambique. Through the program’s intensive language course, students gain conversational ability as a building block for better communication throughout the region. Kiswahili study allows students to connect more deeply and quickly with their homestay families and host communities, making the language component a highlight of the semester. During field assignments and the ISP, students apply their emerging skills and further develop their vocabulary. Study on a program for multiple majors with opportunities to pursue individualized interests. This program is appropriate for a number of majors including, but not limited to, pre-med, pre-nursing, anthropology, development studies, architecture, urban planning, sociology, public health, and international relations. A background in health is not required. While on the program, students focused on other fields, including creative writing, art, theater, and literature, may connect and apply their experiences in Kenya to these interests. Program excursions offer each student the flexibility to focus on her or his particular academic focus and intellectual interest. Each student’s intellectual universe expands exponentially upon arrival in Kenya, and the program’s academic director, lecturers, and ISP advisors are on hand to assist in that process. Independent Study Project Students spend four weeks near the end of the semester working on an Independent Study Project (ISP) in which they conduct primary research on a selected topic. The ISP is conducted in Nairobi, Kisumu, or another approved location in Kenya appropriate to the project. Experienced local academic advisors support each student in tailoring their project and methodology. Many students extend their ISPs into senior theses, while others use their ISP as the basis for Fulbright and other fellowship opportunities following graduation. Sample topic areas include: Gendered dynamics of health and human rights Neglected tropical diseases in western Kenya Informal settlements and their health challenges Healthcare as a human right in Kenya Grassroots development programs Access to ARVs in urban and rural areas Health financing in Kenya Primary healthcare options Maternal and child health Family planning HIV/AIDS peer education Nutrition and health programming in Kisumu


  • African Studies
  • Urban Planning
  • Urban And Regional Planning
  • Public Health
  • Public Administration And Policy
  • Health Administration
  • Human Rights Advocacy
  • Ethnic Studies


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