Kindred spirits from Kenya discover each other at EMU

By Paul Souder | August 20th, 2014

Kaltuma Noorow and Caleb Hinga

Kaltuma Noorow and Caleb Hinga

Their neighborhoods in Nairobi, Kenya, were only 30 minutes apart. Yet these two students traveled more than 7,500 miles to meet for the first time at Eastern Mennonite University, where they discovered a closer connection than geographic proximity.

At the end of her first EMU semester, Kaltuma Noorow had a casual conversation with Caleb Hinga, then a sophomore. She mentioned her mother’s name – Dekha Abdi. Instantly Caleb made the connection,“You’re Dekha’s daughter!”

Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, a Somali-Muslim woman who was internationally recognized for her peace work, had been his mother’s inspiration at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP).

Caleb’s mother, Waringa Hinga, had earned a CJP master’s degree in the spring of 2011. Kaltuma’s mother was a student at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) in 1998 and 2009 and an SPI instructor in 2011. She died in an automobile accident weeks after returning to Kenya in the summer of 2011.

“I don’t want her dream to die,” says Kaltuma, a rising junior majoring in peacebuilding and development. Kaltuma, 23, is the eldest of Abdi’s four children. When their mother died Kaltuma was on track to be an architect, studying at a university in Kenya.

Some of her EMU classes are taught by her mother’s former professors. Now Kaltuma hopes to go on to earn a master’s degree in conflict transformation.

Fellow Kenyan Caleb describes a similar journey, prompted by his mother to come to EMU. “She saw leadership abilities in me, but I wasn’t using them in positive ways.”

Three years later as a rising senior, computer science major Caleb is glad he followed his mother’s advice. “I was studying mechanical engineering in Kenya. My physics class had 700 students; the teacher was projected on a big screen. Here, classes are small. The teacher knows if you’re slacking. They know your strengths and weaknesses,” says Caleb.

He and Kaltuma lead the International Student Organization; he served as president in 2013-14 and she as vice-president, poised to be president in 2014-15. In addition, Caleb has served on student government, campus activities council, and as an organizer for a 20-school international student event at James Madison University.