As soon as COVID-19 restrictions eased enough to allow travel, Dr. Mustafa Gökçek, professor of history at Niagara University, and his two sons took the opportunity to go on a service mission to Africa. They spent five days in early September in Kenya, where they brought humanitarian aid to the poverty-stricken neighborhoods and orphanages in Nairobi and Mombasa.
The idea to assist the people in Africa had been on their minds for several years, but the pandemic prevented them from pursuing it until recently. However, their commitment to service continued during that time, as Dr. Gökçek and his sons were involved in several community service projects including bringing hot meals to healthcare workers during Nurses Week in 2020, and hosting an online ESL summer camp for refugee children.
So when they found a contact person involved in humanitarian activities in Kenya and discovered that they could easily comply with the travel requirements for that country, Dr. Gökçek and his sons, Ali, a senior at Williamsville East High School, and Murteza, a sophomore, began planning their trip. The boys set up a GoFundMe account, which exceeded their goal within the first week it was established, and solicited donations from individuals within their community. By the time they left on Sept. 2, they had collected $12,500, which they used to purchase school supplies, toys, and basic food items such as flour and sugar. The donations also went to fund the opening of three wells.
“We really believe in the value of community service and that what makes life truly meaningful is to serve others,” Dr. Gökçek explained. “We all pursue happiness, but the purest happiness is in making others happy, so we try to find opportunities to serve the community that we live in or serve others who are less fortunate than us.”
Although Dr. Gökçek has organized several study-abroad trips to his native Turkey, the experience of being in Kenya has inspired him to explore leading one to that country so that his students can experience the diversity, the history, and the cultural richness of Africa.
“Once COVID is over, I really do hope that we can put those trips together again,” he said. “They would be a unique educational experience, not just for our students, but for everyone who is engaged in it.”
Dr. Gökçek added that being a member of the Niagara University community, where so many are also engaged in service activities, is “an amazing feeling (because) you know that you share the same excitement with others.”