Understanding Culture and Heritage: The Kraft Global Fellowship Program

June 20, 2019

How does culture, language, and identity shape your world view? Jewelnel Davis, University Chaplain and Associate Provost, Columbia University,  in collaboration with the Kraft Global Fellowship  Program and Columbia Global Centers | Nairobi set out to find out more on this.  The Fellowship is a longstanding partnership between Columbia University, the Kraft Group, and the Columbia Global Centers, that seeks to promote interfaith and cross-cultural experience for Columbia University students and to enrich their communities through the acquired experiences and knowledge upon their return.  

This summer, Jewelnel Davis led the Kraft Global Fellows to Kenya as part of the experiential and immersion learning exercise, the fellows sampled the rich cultural, religious and natural heritage of the region.   Columbia Global Centers | Nairobi hosted the group, and through their six-day mission, fellows learned more on various religious beliefs through sharing and interaction with various religious leaders, cultural and social communities. 

During a public lecture titled 'What makes one African, Prof.  Jesse Mugambi, Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, at the University of Nairobi, elaborated on placement, ideology, education, language, religion and science, and how they collectively build one's culture and heritage. Prof.   Mugambi then explored the history and the various dimensions of the African culture and how, over time, this, in turn, shapes our identity, spiritualism, and social placement within the continent. Prof. Mugambi, through the lecture, explored the changing dynamics around the world through migration and how citizens based on culture, education, and world view will continue to shape the identity of regions across the globe.

As part of the learning process, the fellows explored, interacted, and shared roundtable sessions with various leaders in Protestant, Swaminarayan, Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, Islam, Sikh, and the Catholic faith leaders.  The exploration of the different faiths facilitated a better understanding of religion and belief and how it shapes the culture at the community level, the students visited the Kibera South Health Center-a community-based health facility catering to thousands, predominantly from the surrounding informal settlement area.  The session was a peek into social vulnerabilities juxtaposing the good-reliable and affordable through government and NGO partnerships health care as well as highlight the existing challenges such as malnutrition. 

Kraft Global Fellows 2019

As the saying goes, 'it takes a village’ to raise individuals, and socialization forms an integral part of culture and identity. The fellows had the opportunity to interact with students and tutors from the Tunapanda Institute- a community-based innovation training and incubation center for under-privileged youth who want to explore IT, tech and business, and their inspiring tutors who are the bedrock of their community as their brother’s keeper.  To understand the values of a society, learn how they take care of the less privileged. Dream Children’s Home and Center in Kajiado County, a live-in home catering to over 80 orphaned and destitute children and teens, provided this opportunity for the fellows.   

The Kraft Global Fellowship provides the opportunity for the students to experience but answer many their personal and reflective questions and interests on religion, culture society, and belief systems, integrate their world views, to the build intercultural and interfaith awareness as a global citizen.    Chaplain Davis noted the Fellowship continues to open doors to the world and allows cross-learning to spur one's curiosity but indeed challenge our world view and how their environment influences people, language, and culture. "This encourages greater understanding of the world around us as individuals and communities" she added