Lanesboro graduate Robin Sautter, on left, will travel to Kenya with her friend, Winter Okoth, founder of PAKEMA, this summer. They seek to mentor young people in Kenya to become the next leaders within that country and shed light on personal, community and hygienic needs.  COURTESY OF ROBIN SAUTTER
Lanesboro graduate Robin Sautter, on left, will travel to Kenya with her friend, Winter Okoth, founder of PAKEMA, this summer. They seek to mentor young people in Kenya to become the next leaders within that country and shed light on personal, community and hygienic needs. COURTESY OF ROBIN SAUTTER
No one knows the opportunities that may arise through connections in their jobs. As a research student at Mayo Clinic several years ago, Robin Sautter, a graduate from Lanesboro High School, connected with another woman named Winter Okoth.

Okoth grew up in Kenya and experienced first-hand the difficulties both children and young women face each day in that country.

"Ever since I met Winter, I have enjoyed hearing stories about Kenya and what a different life she used to live," Sautter stated.

As their friendship progressed, Okoth eventually approached Sautter with a proposition to begin a non-profit organization called the Pamoja Kenya Mentorship Alliance (PAKEMA).

"PAKEMA is a soon-to-be non-profit organization that builds their mission based on innovation, critical thinking, servant leadership, change, community empowerment and scholarship," Sautter described.

Applications have been made to make this entity an official non-profit organization. Sautter hopes the approval will arrive this summer.

As the full name suggests, the primary goal is to mentor young school children and youths situated in the slums, urban and remote areas of Kenya and beyond. The hope is that these mentorships will result in well-rounded individuals who may eventually become the next generation of leaders and builders of their nation and world. To be a positive influence in their country, these students must first understand the needs of their own communities.

"Our hope as PAKEMA mentors is to help our students discover ideas and areas of community concerns through photography," Sautter explained. "Each student will be lent a digital camera and given a theme to guide them in choosing what to photograph. Examples of themes will be to take pictures of items that the students believe are positive in their community or in picturing something that they would like to see changed in the community."

After photographing their concerns, the class will review photos and discuss their findings focusing on photos that appear often or photos that capture a unique perspective on a theme. Through the discussions about community wellness, Sautter hopes to encourage communication and participation between students, schools and leaders to build a healthier community.

There are several main projects the organization focuses on. The first and initial project is the PAKEMA Mentoring Club (PMC). Utilizing activities and workshops that are challenging and enlightening of the concerns within that country, the PMC focuses on entrepreneurship, leadership, academics, critical thinking and the like that the children will one day face themselves. Through these scenarios, the desire of PMC is to empower the students to find solutions to the problems they experience.

The second project is PAKEMA Girl-Child Project, focusing specifically on the injustices many girls face in society today.

And finally, the Health Education Project will address several concerns in human health including sanitation and hygiene, with one project devoted completely to girls' hygiene, healthy lifestyles, diseases and their preventions and career exploration. This project entered the fray since Sautter started medical school at the University of Minnesota - Duluth last year. Currently, the organization is developing the finishing touches to this project and the PMC.

"As of 2014, since establishment in mid-2012, the PMC has been influencing 500 children and young people from both primary and high schools. Our students range from eight to 20 years of age," Sautter related.

"Our mentorship program has also influenced our committed volunteering mentors who are mainly college students and beyond, specializing in diverse fields of studies from business, engineering, natural sciences, medicine, arts, education and many more," she continued.

As the PMC visits the schools established in the area, students, teachers and volunteer mentors called P-Mentors relish and enjoy the workshops. For example, one activity held at St. Phillips Secondary School in Kisumu, Kenya, included planting six trees in its first tree planting activity.

"The mentorship visits are very engaging and both the mentees and mentors learn from one another and also from the program itself," Sautter related.

Though Okoth is the person who founded the organization, Sautter has been one of the board members since its inception.

"I have been involved in writing the PMC curriculum as well as the Health Education curriculum for the organization, serving as the secretary for the board meetings and building contacts between PAKEMA and two other non-profit organizations that we will collaborate with for our health education program," she clarified.

Prior to this point, Sautter had never travelled to Kenya for one of these projects. However, this summer, Sautter will journey to Kenya with Okoth for the purpose of conducting workshops and active discussion for each of these areas in primary and secondary schools.

While in Kenya, Sautter and Okoth will begin cleaning and setting up the PAKEMA Resource Center in Kisumu to be a center for students to receive more information about each topic taught as well as a meeting space for students to work on projects.

A gently-used laptop has been donated to the center already, but hope remains high for more computers to come. These computers would be utilized giving typing classes to the students who are interested in learning this skill.

Though this may be the first time for Sautter to travel to Kenya with this organization, it is by no means her first journey overseas.

"I have been fortunate to have studied abroad in Botswana for two months, as well as teach English in Taiwan for 12 months last year. From a young age I have been fascinated by different language, culture and every unique aspect that categorize us as a 'this' type of people or 'that' kind of person. From my travels, studies and work experiences abroad, I have learned that the differences between us are extremely slim and that what most of us want out of life are very similar," she said.

As she went through her own educational experiences, Sautter realized the importance and benefit of having mentors provide advice for which paths she ought to take. This attitude contributed to the motivation to become so tightly involved in the inner workings of PAKEMA.

"I wanted to be a part of an organization that was not going to be a 'feel good' type of mission where I volunteer for a few weeks in an area, provide services to individuals that may not even want them, and then return home saying that I have been forever changed from this short-lived experience," Sautter emphasized. "Instead, my hope is to make a powerful impact in others' lives through education and providing students with the tools and knowledge that they can continue to use and build upon in the future."

For Sautter, this trip's importance lays in building a solid foundation for the organization's programs and future mentors. "This organization emphasizes the importance of becoming well-rounded, informed individuals who will take on leadership roles and take responsibility for the positive change they want to see in the world," she said. "PAKEMA is realistically only a small piece of what shapes an individual's perspective of the world, but we hope that we will be able to plant a seed in our students minds that will continue to grow throughout their years of schooling and beyond."

Currently, PAKEMA is looking for donations that will be an integral part to the success of the community project for the PMC. The items most needed, presently, are digital cameras and any monetary donations to go towards a projector, screen, supplies for activities or other reading supplies that would be helpful in the PAKEMA Resource Center.

If anyone would like to give donations to the project, any cameras, equipment or monetary donations may be delivered to Sautter's parents' business, the Root River Veterinary Center at 212 St. Anthony Street S, Preston, MN 55965.