Birds’ Nests and Blackboards

The man known as Kuti, Mwalimu, Ndugu, teacher, coach or brother in Kenya is known at Central as Curtis Brobst ’09.

Brobst was born and raised in Pella and began his Central College career in 2005. While on campus, he found refuge in Lubbers Center for the Visual Arts and fell in love with biology and bats in Vermeer Science Center.

As a junior, he took on the requirement he had been putting off for two years: service-learning. “I thought service-learning would be just a small hassle, a minor speed bump on my way to earning a degree,” Brobst says. “I thought I’d finish somewhat reluctantly and move on.”

But service-learning left a greater impact on him then he ever imagined, forever changing his life and his landscape. “The class led me to Children and Family Urban Ministries in Des Moines, to an internship, to AmeriCorps, to incredible opportunities in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro,” Brobst says. “The snowball effect triggered by service-learning is changing lives in Africa and, more so, changing mine.”

Brobst volunteered with AmeriCorps for a year following his graduation from Central. After that preparation, he received a long-awaited phone call in July of 2010. The Peace Corps had approved him to teach science in Kenya. They asked if he could start in three months. Brobst put all his possessions in two bags and left the world he used to know for a realm of new sights and sounds.

“I fall asleep to the laughter of hyenas; I wake to roosters crowing and mosques calling out to God,” Brobst says. “I live near the edge of Marsabit National Forest. I’ve come face-to-face with bull elephants protecting their young; I’ve watched water buffalo and zebra meander amongst baboons playing their games. There was a day I chased a baboon out of my house after it stole a kilo of rice off my counter.”

Before sunrise, Brobst can be found warming up in the football field behind the local school. By seven, he will be in front of a poorly lit, packed classroom with hands covered in chalk. Half the school windows are broken, so the birds have found a playground among the exposed rafters.

“The first time I walked into class, 75 students couldn’t take their eyes off of the strange-sounding white guy standing before them,” says Brobst. “They were packed front to back, side to side, leaving three feet to walk in front of the blackboard. Over time, we learned together, we joked together and that class of eyes became a class of names. They tell me I can’t leave in December; a few look away because it’s just too hard to lose a mentor and friend.”

The students look up to Brobst as a coach, as well. He bought the school’s first rugby ball in Nairobi, and he has been credited with bringing the sport to the area. Two more schools just bought their own rugby balls and plan to play a match against his school.

“Nearly two years have passed since leaving Iowa,” says Brobst. “What I thought was a speed bump turned into a mountain of hard goodbyes, incredible hellos and a lifetime of experience. When I pinpoint exactly why, how and when this all started, my finger points to a few incredible people. It points to Central.”


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  • Evan Sevits


    1:28 pm on October 24, 2012

    So proud of you, Curtis! I know you made such a great impact in your community overseas, but we can’t wait to have you back in the states. Thank you so much for your service.

    All the best, Evan

  • Whitney Longnecker


    2:06 pm on October 4, 2012


    This is an incredibly moving story and I’m so glad to hear you’ve had such an impactful experience in Kenya. I am so proud to call you a classmate and friend.

    Best wishes, Whitney

  • Muruku Waiguchu


    12:58 pm on October 2, 2012

    Hi there!
    If you can, pass on my phone number (locally 0723 807 613 or 0734 807 613) to Curtis so that I can connect with the young man–whenever he is in Nairobi, I can provide him with board and room and even transport should he ned to get around the town.

    Am here of and on training university lecturers.

    Muruku Waiguchu (1965)

  • Linda Danielson


    12:54 pm on October 2, 2012


    This is a great story! It is beautiful to hear the impact you are having on people’s lives. You have so many wonderful gifts and talents to share with the world and you share them so willingly. You are changing lives and you will continue to change lives throughout your lifetime because you have been changed. You have an intense passion for living your life for others and the world will be a better place because of it. It will be great to hear what is next for you.

    Take care.

  • Whitney Westphal


    7:15 am on October 2, 2012

    I graduated from Central a year ahead of you and my husband three years ahead of you and we just left Kenya last weekend after spending three months there serving at Tenwek Mission Hospital near the town of Bomet. If I would have known another Central grad was there it would have been fun to try to connect! My husband worked as a doctor and I taught in a local school, just like you are doing so I can totally relate to your experience of many stunned eyes staring at you! Hope you enjoy and soak in the rest of your experience there. We are already missing Kenya! If interested, our blog while there was

  • Mary Benedict


    9:35 pm on September 21, 2012


    You make us proud!!!!