Kenya: Urbanization, Health, and Human Rights

Key Features

“It isn’t possible to effectively give credit to SIT Kenya and the academic directors for all of the lessons learned both in and outside the classroom, the once in a lifetime opportunities given to me almost daily.… I will be eternally grateful for this semester for the rest of my life. It was amazing.”

—Hallie Gremlitz, University of Vermont

Newly built commercial spaces in Nairobi

Study at program bases in Nairobi and Mombasa, with excursions to other key sites in Kenya.
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 second and third largest cities — Mombasa and 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 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.

Mombasa is a historic trading port, a multicultural hub, and Kenya's second largest city. With a population of nearly one million, Mombasa is a major port city and contemporary urban center. It was also one of the original Swahili city-states along East Africa’s coast.

In Mombasa, students have the opportunity to encounter many of the more than 40 ethnic groups that make up Kenya's citizenry and to practice their Kiswahili. The SIT Mombasa office is located in Old Town, or Kibokoni, steps away from the imposing Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese in 1593 and now a major museum.

Visit to herbal medicine nursery

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.

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, Mombasa, 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
  • Nairobi’s informal economies
  • Healthcare as a human right in Kenya
  • Grassroots development programs
  • Access to ARVs in urban and rural areas
  • Girls' education in Nairobi
  • Health financing in Kenya
  • Primary healthcare options
  • Maternal and child health
  • Family planning
  • The right to the city
  • HIV/AIDS peer education
  • Nutrition and health programming in Kisumu

Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Nairobi and Mombasa

Language Study: Kiswahili

Prerequisites: None


View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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