Brooke Weiser went halfway around the world to help those less fortunate. She never imagined she might not make it home.
Weiser, 27, and two other American students were detained at a hotel in Kenya because an agent didn’t pay a bill.
Weiser, a 2003 Hillsdale High School graduate, moved to Lexington from West Virginia with her husband and their two children earlier this summer. She is studying to be a nurse practitioner and takes online classes at West Virginia University.
Weiser arranged to go to Kenya through Medics to Africa, which organizes placements and projects for students in medical, pre-med, nursing, midwifery, dentistry, physiotherapy and related programs. According to its website, the group is the largest provider of overseas health care placements to Africa.
After paying her fees, which were supposed to cover accommodations, Weiser left for Nairobi on July 30. She worked in two hospitals while there.
Weiser was scheduled to leave Aug. 17.
“My taxi was there,” she said. “Some of the hotel staff told me I couldn’t leave.”
Of the nine people taking part in the program, only Weiser and two other Americans were still there. Hotel staff told them the program director for Medics to Africa owed $18,000.
Two armed guards blocked the gate.
Weiser and her colleagues contacted the U.S. Embassy and were told to work with the local police. Weiser said when police arrived, they did not offer to help.
Frustrations would mount for Weiser and her colleagues, who had help from home. Weiser’s family contacted the West Virginia governor’s office. An uncle reached a mercenary group, which was unable to mobilize.
They were desperate.
“If you can think of a place to call, we called,” Weiser said.
In the early morning hours of Aug. 19, Weiser made a bid for freedom.
“The guards physically restrained me,” she said. “I backed off because I had no idea how far they would take it.”
Weiser and her colleagues put their luggage by the gate and sat for six hours. Local media picked up on the story.
“We have them detained because we want to be paid,” hotel official Oscar Omoga told a newspaper reporter. “This is business, not philanthropy.”
That evening, Weiser made another attempt to escape.
“The guard opened the gate to let a truck in,” she said. “I grabbed my luggage and just started running for the gate.”
Weiser said a guard grabbed her, but let her go when she threatened to use pepper spray on him.
“I got out, but the other two were still in,” she said.
Weiser’s colleagues managed to escape by climbing the gate. She later stayed with a local pastor who had picked up on their plight and tried to negotiate with hotel staff.
Weiser flew home Aug. 20, but the effects of the harrowing ordeal are still with her.
“My anxiety is so high, I’m struggling to leave my house,” she said. “I don’t know that I’ve slept good since I’ve been back.”
The medical part of the trip went much better. Weiser recalled tending to a home with two HIV-positive children. One was 7, the other 3.
“I put the two kids on a motorbike and took them to a hospital,” she said. “I paid for their stay.”
Weiser said she still wants to pursue a career in the medical field, but the saga in Kenya makes her hesitant to go abroad.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” she said.