Arlington grad poised to learn, teach in Kenya
ARLINGTON -- By now, Heather Brinson is in Kenya, following her dream of teaching children.
The 2012 Arlington Memorial High School graduate is participating in program that assists her in traveling to a country and living and teaching there for a time.
Brinson signed up with International Volunteer HQ, a New Zealand-based "independent volunteer organization similar to Peace Corps," as she described it. IVHQ bills itself as the world's most affordable international volunteer organization.
Brinson said it's "not a government affiliate, but acts as a go-between with you and a country." It also doesn't carry the multi-year commitment the better-known Peace Corps does.
The 18-year-old Brinson will be teaching basic English and math to children ages 5 to 16 in up to three different areas of the Eastern African nation for three months.
"When I decided this was something I wanted to do, I went straight to the Internet. I found an organization that helped me to set up flights and get travel insurance," she said. "It's a big step to put a lot of trust in to one program. I looked for one that had a music program."
Spending time abroad has been a dream of Brinson's, as is teaching.
"I've always heard about other people going abroad to volunteer -- something I was always interested in," she said. "I decided to do it in between high school and college."
Brinson will start at Berklee College of Music in Boston in the fall.
"Music is my thing," she said humbly. Brinson is a singer-songwriter who also plays several instruments including guitar, piano, ukulele, clarinet, and baritone horn.
"I started with piano when I was 2 or 3. And I started teaching myself guitar at about 11," Brinson said. "A big ‘thank you' goes to my mom for getting me interested."
At AMHS -- a school with fewer than 200 students -- Brinson had the opportunity to play in three bands (pep, jazz and orchestra) and sing in several choruses, including selective chorus and the all-women's chorus. She also was able to direct a play and develop an interest in photography.
In college, Brinson plans to focus on "songwriting with a performance track and major in music education as well," she said. "I have a sincere passion for teaching."
Brinson said she got hooked on teaching while working as a summer camp counselor every year she was in high school.
"I think working with kids is the most meaningful kind of work. In a time when there's not a lot of hope in the world, nothing gives you more hope than just working with kids," she said.
Prior to leaving for the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Jan. 29, Brinson had to receive a number of vaccinations just to be allowed to travel there. These included yellow fever, polio, meningitis, hepatitis A & B, and typhoid. She also had to start taking malaria pills to protect herself from that disease.
In addition to the disease threats posed to visitors to Kenya, which is still considered to be a developing country, there is considered to be a high terrorism threat there. In September, 67 people were killed in shootings at a mall in the capital city.
However, Kenya is also a country known for its profound beauty and for its cordial diplomatic relations with the United States.
It is perhaps not a place for the faint of heart. But that category doesn't include Brinson, who brimmed with excitement and passion about her trip when she spoke with the Banner last week.
"My parents are definitely nervous but excited. They're very supportive of me," Brinson said. Her mother is Anita Joan Nash of Arlington and her father is David Brinson of Greenwich, N.Y.
Brinson said her mother lived in Ghana as a child, which is one reason why she's keen on the idea of her daughter spending a few months abroad.
Brinson said she is excited to share details of her trip when she returns to the U.S. in a few months, and plans to make a documentary about it.
"I'd like to get the word out about this program," she said. "It's a great opportunity."
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