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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