Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tumaini Counseling Centre

Here is a link to Tumaini's video on what they do in Kenya. I really think you should watch it. If you would like to know more information on how you can support these counselors, comment on my blog or send me an email. My friends, Roger and Shirley Brown need financial support before they can return to Kenya. They have been working at Tumaini for their career, but with the economic issues of the US, they have been struggling to maintain support. The work that the counselors do in Africa keeps everyone else who is working there, there.


Monday, October 12, 2009

I, Too

So far, while in Paraguay I have learned about humanity. While at the all girl's school up-country from Asuncion I was able to see how a poor girl from an ethnic group that was once hunted by others for being native to the land, and then hid in the forest for hundreds of years, can now stand with pride amongst her peers-- all her peers, of all colors-- as she presents her prize that she's won over all in the country. All she needed to obtain this was someone to fill her with the idea of worth and provide her with the skills needed to succeed.

This poem by Langston Hughes reminds me of these girls. The poem is about an African-American in the US, but I'd venture to say that it pertains to these Native Indian girls.

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes, but I laugh,
Eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table when company comes.
Nobody'll dare say to me
"Eat in the kitchen."

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

-Langston Hughes

Friday, October 2, 2009

Naval Academy Article about Nuru International

Click this link to read about how Nuru's founder and ex-Marine, Jake Harriman, fights terrorism with seed and fertilizer!

Great article about Nuru written in Shipmate, the NA's magazine. Its exciting to see the different places we get press.

Jake was in Morgantown,WV this week for the first time in awhile (he mostly splits his time between Kenya and California), so it was nice to get to see him for a bit.

On Tuesday, I leave for Paraguay in South America with Nicole Scott, our partnerships Director, to check out a project called Teach A Man To Fish. We'll be there for 9 days (gone total for 11) to see if their most successful project, a self-sustainable high school, is something we can do in Kenya and possibly on other projects. I'll keep you all posted on how that goes and give more info. then.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Organic Farm in Kiberia

I know I know! I haven't blogged in almost a month and now I've done 3 in one day!!! Don't get overwhelmed, you have a month to read through them! Haha!

This link is to a BBC slideshow that also has commentary by the founder of the self-help group for the organic garden. Pretty pictures and interesting thoughts on organic farming in Africa's largest slum, which is located inside of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya:

Kiberia being cleared for low-income housing

I was reading the BBC, Africa and found the front page news to be that Odinga is clearing everyone (1 MILLION people) out of the largest slum in sub-saharan Africa, Kiberia, Kenya to make room for low-income housing. I'm still processing my thoughts on this one. Part of me feels like this is a good thing, to reduce crime and improve the lives of the people who live in Kiberia; however, on the personal side, generations of families have raised their children in those shacks. Although they may be shacks, they were called home to over a million people. Food for thought. Read the article by clicking the link below:

Campus Reps, Birthdays, and America

Now that I'm back in the US of A, I am working with Derek and Billy on the Grassroots Movement Team, along with some excellent volunteers. My main job right now is connecting with students on university campuses to join in the fight against extreme poverty by volunteering their time on campus. We are getting geared up for some very important dates this fall: Oct 1st and Nov 1st. On Oct 1st we are launching the new website and also celebrating Nuru's 1yr anniversary and all the achievements that go along with it. Nov. 1st is the launch of the I AM NURU Campaign, which allows people to lift a family in Kenya out of extreme poverty over the course of 5 yrs. by paying $28/mo. If you are interesting throwing a party with a purpose for either of those dates--or both--email me to find out details. Last year's party with a purpose here in Morgantown was an amazing success. If you are interested in the I AM NURU Campaign, click on the Nuru website link to the right on Nov 1st for details.

Secondly, tomorrow is my birthday. Last year my friends in the counseling department threw me a surprise party in our Human Development class, with cupcakes and soda-- very sweet. That night a bunch of friends celebrated Mine and my friend Tara's birthday (today) at a Mediterranean restaurant.

This year, I would like everyone to donate to Nuru via the Facebook cause page:

I'm asking everyone to donate $10 to collectively get $200. So far we have raised $120 since last week when I set it up. $80 more bucks and we're there!

America is an interesting place to get used to the land of individualism and relational sterilization. But I'm slowly getting used to it, so that's good. This Friday I'm headed to the Paraguay consulate to get a visa for a business trip at the beginning of October. Fun rides on the metro in my future.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nuru's 6th Episode: Harvest

Hey Everyone,

Sorry that I have been delinquent in writing. I am back in the USA safe and sound and have moved back to Morgantown,WV where I'll be working with Billy Williams and Derek Roberts and out volunteer staff on the Grassroots Movement Team, who tirelessly work to awaken individuals to action with NURU and to action within their own communities. More on that to come. But for now, watch Episode 6 here... its not long. I'm in it again, along with my handsome colleagues. Thank you.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Back on the ground in Kuria

On the 19th of June, as stated, I caught the bus from Nairobi to Isibania with Jake and Janine at 6 a.m.. Since then I have been crazy busy with catching up with Francis and getting all the future initiatives for the Education Program running. While I was away, Francis visited a project in Kisumu, all the teacher training colleges in the surrounding area, and sat in on many of the classes in each of the schools in our working area to evaluate the teacher and head teacher. What he found in the schools is that the head teachers were coming to school late, if at all, and consequently so were the teachers and students. In the classroom, the teachers didn't have the scheme of work posted on the black board or even written anywhere at all-- not even a lesson plan in a book somewhere. Basically, they'd stroll into the classroom with a textbook, read a little bit, and then leave the students to ponder on that 10 minute lesson. So Francis came up with an idea to put some coals under the administration and the teachers.

Education Advisory Committee:
Our first initiative is the institution of the Education Advisory Committee. The EAC is made up of 1 parent per school, the chairman of each school, a head teacher that represents all of the schools, the assistant chiefs of each of the 2 sub-locations, the District Education Officer's representative, Francis, and the Program Manager (me or Chelsea, my replacement). The role of the EAC is to monitor the quality of the education provided in each of the schools and to discuss and solve problems sited, along with any problems known in the community within the realm of education (i.e.- dropout). This past Thursday we all met for the first time to discuss the rules and roles of the committee and we nominated a chairlady, whose name is Veronica and is a parent at Nyametaburo Secondary School. They will meet the first week of every month to discuss any problems and/or solutions.

Pre-School Training:
During the months of July, September, and October there will be trainings for the Preschool teachers. Nope, I didn't forget August, its just that the schools are on break for the month of August and therefore the lecturers are doing work elsewhere. The total of 5-weeks of trainings will be broken into two 2-week sessions, and then one 1-week session. At the end of the 5 weeks, the teachers will be certified by the ministry, which makes them official Early Childhood Educators, which means that they will be MORE than babysitters!! The first session started today (Monday, 12 July) and so I went out to Kehancha (the district seat), where the training is held, to see the "students" and they were SO excited and happy. Surprisingly, there were more MEN then I thought there'd be! We had just sent out invitations to each of the school inviting their pre-school teachers and I just didn't think about men being here-- whoops, guess who's NOT gender-sensitive. Anyway, I'll report back at the end of the week on how things are going and get some pictures of them up here.

Along with the idea of pre-school training, the teachers also need a classroom to decorate and make the place more inviting for young minds to grow. As of now, they meet in a nearby church or in one of the condemned classrooms that no other class will touch. Therefore, its in our near future plan to have some classrooms built for them. Early childhood education is SO important because it sets the tone for the rest of their scholastic career!

Attendance Club:
Because attendance and drop-out is SO high, we are implementing an Attendance Club, which will offer incentives for the students to come (yes, bribery, ok, they need it!). The targeted audience, obviously, is the truant population, so they will be the members of the club-- specifically, the top 10 truant kids from each class--for starters. Because truancy is not always the fault of the child, but the parent, this club will allow the student to talk with the teacher about any problems at home. This is where the EAC comes in: if a parent is holding their kid home from school, the EAC will make it VERY clear that this is BAD. Here, community is so important, and if your community publicly "shames" you by everyone knowing what you're doing is wrong, then you want to change your behavior.

Achievers' Club:
It has the same premise as the Attendance Club, except that it targets the lower 10 rung of each class. This too, will give those students a chance to talk about life. For example, the inspiration for this was when Francis and I attended a ceremony for the secondary school. All of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place students got to come for a prize-- there was a prize for each subject and for each class. Just the same, the 1st-3rd poorest ranking students had to stand up in front of their peers. I found this to be appalling for one; and for two, made me think of something better to be done. There was one girl who had to stand for almost everything! I later found out that she is the oldest of her family and her dad has 3 wives and her mom ran out on the family a little while ago! NO WONDER she is failing!!! She looked miserable and probably wished she was never born-- you know-- can you imagine being that girl? So, that's what the Achiever's club is all about.

Campaign against dropout:
Francis and I want to launch a campaign against dropout for both girls and boys. Boys tend to dropout and become truck loaders in town, which leads to alcoholism and drug use-- amongst the obvious of ignorance. The girls tend to get distracted by boys by 8th grade (post-female circumcision) and decide that they are too womanly now to be a student and then dropout to marry. We'd like to bring in lecturers to the school to talk on these subjects. I know, Ronald McDonald telling me to stay off drugs didn't help all those out there in the US, but, if you don't try, you lose all around.

So, that is a sneak peak into my world here for now. The next team of people comes from the US this Wednesday and so we will be heavily involved in turnover with our replacement. I'll post pics soon!

At Long Last...

Ok, So it has been a month since my last posting and let's be honest, the last 2 were lame because I didn't write anything. So, I'll give a brief summary of my vacation and then move on to what's going on here in Kuria, Kenya.


(Rachel and I's attempt at a good pic together)

The first week I went to Mozambique with my friend Rachel, who has been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho for the past year and still going strong in the SNOW. I had flown into Johannesburg, South Africa's airport from Nairobi, on the way to Maputo, the capital of Moz. While waiting in the airport, wishing I had more USD or some Rand to buy a sandwich (realizing that with $2, as in the US, I could only buy a .5L bottle of water), Rachel sent me a text asking where I am. I replied "in the airport, of course." She replies, "tell me exactly where you are in the airport." See, you have to know that Rachel was planning to take the bus from Jo-burg to Maputo and meet me at the airport in Moz, not in SA. However, Rach had a different, more secret plan: when I sent her my itinerary months ago, she secretly booked the same flight from SA to Moz and arranged for the seat right next to me. Rachel is one of my best-friends and I hadn't seen her since before I left for Sudan in 2007, and maybe this is just a girl thing, but it was super exciting to see each other again! So, after our meeting outside of the SA 2010 World Cup shop, we caught up over the usual food of ours (Rach eating a pizza, and me, a tuna sandwich-- it was so typical and normal). We flew to Maputo, spent the first night there, and then at 4am we set out on a bus for the beach in Tofo (pronounce Tofu). The beach was AMAZING! This was the first time I'd been on a beach since 2007 and soaked it all in. We went running on the beach, ate lots of seafood (fabulous seafood), and took in the culture-- meanwhile catching up on 2 yrs of each other's life. In all, we stayed in Tofo for 8 days and then returned to Maputo for 1 1/2 days. It was such a great reunion and I can't wait for the next one, wherever that may be.

I was only in Nairobi for the weekend before I was back on an airplane, this time headed to Kampala, Uganda (my poor friend Carolyn, I stayed at her house in a whirlwind in the beginning). My friend Sarah, whim I met at Africa Inland Mission's orientation school in Machakos, Kenya (ABO) while I was helping Carolyn with the children's ministry, lives in Kampala as the director of the early childhood program at Reformed Theological College (don't think I didn't pick her brain for ideas). Sarah picked me up from the airport, and tape-to-ipod adapter in-hand (thanks Dad and Erica), I plugged in my i-pod and we sang and danced in the car the whole way to her house while catching up on each other's news. The first 2 days were spent getting insight into Sarah's world-- work, friends, house. Sarah has the best apartment in all the land, from the interior decor, to the breathtaking view from her front balcony. I think we had the best time just listening to Christmas (sigh, yes, christmas) music while lounging in chairs on her balcony watching the sunset. While in Uganda, Sarah also arranged for us to go to Banda Island, one of the Sesse Islands on Lake Victoria. To get there, we had to take a matatu (public bus/van) to Entebbe, a boda (motorbike) to the lake shore, and then a fishing boat 3 hours into the lake. Banda Island is a culture of its own for sure. Its owned by an older British guy named Dominic, who's grown-up in Kenya (his dad was a British Colonial Officer before and after independence); and now owns that island, as well as 2 others around it. Aside from the EVIL killer ants that inhabit every millimeter of that place, Banda island was relaxing and fun. There were a total of 12 of us plus staff in the whole area and so we could do whatever we wanted-- take a row-boat out and get rescued by a Frenchman, lay in hammocks watching the waves roll in, take a night dip in the lake, or eat fantastically fresh Nile Perch-- or all of the above. When we returned from Banda Island, Sarah made sure I got some of the city-life in me by taking me to Garden City Mall where we got pedicures and then ate a South-African, American-themed restaurant with American-Indian pictures and designs all around. The place is called "Spur" and has all the frills of American dining, right down to the salad bar (no free refills though). After dinner, we took in a movie, "Demons and Angels," which was pretty interesting. Oh, and Sarah also managed to sneak into the agenda the painting of her office! The whole week in Uganda was fabulous and I hope to treat Sarah with the same hospitality when she comes to visit in the US for the first time ever (She's South African).

I was in Nairobi for about 4 days before heading off to Kijabe to visit with Erica, my other good friend whom I met at ABO last year. Erica is a 4th grade teacher at the Rift Valley Academy (RVA) who is crazily preparing her wedding in September. You can read her sweet engagement story on her blog by clicking on her name. Erica's house has this great little upper-room that she so lovingly decorates with flowers the 2 times I've been to visit. It was great getting to catch up with her because we haven't been able to talk much since she went home over Easter to take care of wedding arrangements/ see her fiance/ prepare for a new life in Long Island. One night, we went down to the home of one of her Bible study friends where we had a BBQ and played Cornhole (those pics are also on her latest entry). Most of the people in her Bible study are Kenyan Doctors and are simply hilarious.

While at Kijabe, another good friend from ABO, Barbara, who lives in the desert in northern Kenya was also visiting at RVA; and so while our hostesses worked, we played. Barbara and I went running around the soccer/rugby field in the mornings and laughed it up. Too bad she, and her roommate Charmyn, live on the complete opposite side of Kenya from me (their blogs are also on the right-hand side of my blog page). Also, while at Kijabe, my friends Sybilla and Vic, who are from Bowie, MD (sort of), my home-town, drove out from Nairobi, where they live, and we, along with their son, hiked Mt. Longonot. Mt. Longonot is a dormant volcano and super beautiful from the top. That was such a fun morning; and good to see them again!

To get home from Kijabe is always interesting because its not all that easy or fun to just catch a matatu back to Nairobi; and it is much cheaper and better to catch a ride with a RVAer who's planning to go into town. This time, oddly enough, my AIM reps, David and Darlene Noden, who originally assisted me in my preparation for going to Sudan last year, were in-country with a short-term team!! I haven't seen them since 2005 and haven't heard from them since 2007,and so it was a great surprise to ride to town with them! Once in town, I went out to eat at Java House with them and their team. It was the Noden's wedding anniversary too, and so we celebrated that. Later, I said good-bye to them and the team and headed back to Carolyn's house. Oh, and while still in Kijabe, the night before leaving, I received a text that Aerie and Chris were back in-country, a day before I has expected them, and they were leaving for Isibania the next morning! So, I left a day after them, along with Jake and Janine-- just enough time to eat some fantastic fish with Carolyn and take her to Java House for a birthday dessert before she goes back down to Machakos for yet another ABO.
(The Nodens and I)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Quasi Sudan Reunion

Job Odero and his wife

For those of you who have been following my blog since I left for Sudan in 2007, you might remember Job Odero, the Kenya missionary teacher who came to Ikotos at the same time as me. Job and I were the only foreigners at the school and faced many hardships together as we tried to improve the school. The existing teachers, who were mainly untrained, were resistant to change in "their" school, so it was a slow process. When I left Sudan (almost a year ago now-- May 22nd), I prayed for Job, and was worried about him being the only foreigner at the school continuely trying to make improvements.

Two Sundays ago I went to an Africa Inland Church service in Migori, the neighboring big town. After the service I spoke with the pastor, mentioning that I used to work in a school in Sudan with someone named Job Odero. The pastor's response was "Oh yeah, I know him." My response was "Are you sure? I doubt its the same one." So I made motions like an extremely skinny person and said "does he look like this? And is he a bit brown (which means that he's lighter)?" The pastor insisted he was the one, but he wasn't sure if he was in Sudan or not, so I gave the pastor my cell number to relay to Job or his wife.

On Thursday night, I received a random phone call from a number I didn't recognize-- I almost didn't answer it. Of course, it was Job! So we talked for a bit and decided to meet up on Sunday for church and then go to his house for lunch. Francis came along too, a.) because I'm not supposed to travel alone (Nuru Rules) and b.) Francis wanted to meet Job. Francis heard a lot about Job last Sunday upon my finding out that Migori was Job's home area. So he wanted to meet the man in the flesh.

So yesterday we did just as planned. We took the matatu (taxi van) into Migori, met Job on the outskirts of downtown, and proceeded to church. His oldest daughter and youngest son met us at the church. It was so cool to be at church with Job again, but this time seeing him with his family that I'd heard so much about while we were in Sudan. After church, we walked to his house, which wasn't far, and as I walked in the door, his wife gave me the biggest hug in the world. She's a thin lady, but it was quite the bone crushing variety of hug. During lunch, Job and I caught up on all the happenings of the school in Ikotos, from the time I left to February when he returned. Truly, he has suffered a lot of hardships at that school. There were some disgruntled (alcoholic) teachers who wanted to see Job in jail or beaten. I'd like to add right here that Job was by far the most moral and upright person at that school, and so any charges against him were positively devious. The former deputy head master, Otim-- who I had fired because of drunkenness and sexual harassment towards the female students, and I didn't pay him his salary in the end because he never showed up to work--had bribed a police officer to have Job thrown in jail. Within the same day, as Pastor Tobiolo, who's now like the mayor of the town, realized what happened, Otim quickly ran to the jail and forced Job to leave, fearing that he'd be found out for his devious act.

Through all of this hardship, the main reason for Job's return home was because of the lack of payment for working at the Ikotos school. His wife has been trying to support the children as Job attempts to receive payment for doing God's work; but now his oldest daughter is entering high school, which is a big expense. Job shared with me that when he came back home, he managed to scrounge up enough money to pay for 1st term, which was 20,000 Kenyan Shillings (roughly $260) , but as 2nd term has started, he's unable to send her. The cost for 2nd and 3rd terms are 10,000 Kenyan shillings each. Job found a job (ok, I know how funny that sentence is) at a local private primary school. He's been working there for a month now, and is paid approximately 10,000 Kenyan Shillings a month. The main thing is for him to be able to get off his feet after 2 years of not being paid a salary. At the moment I'm trying to think of ideas on how to help him do that. He's not like the people I'm working with in Nyametaburo and Nyang'iti, he was a successful teacher in Nairobi for many years; and his wife was a successful business lady until her kiosk was burnt to the ground during the election riots. It was only from meeting the AIC bishop of Sudan, and feeling God's leading to assist them at the school, did Job encounter such a financial situation.

...And so that was my Sunday.

Job with his family:

Job with his entire family, including his mom, aunt, nieces and nephews (that he helps support because some of his siblings have died from disease):

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Staff Development Day

Yesterday (May 9th) we held a staff development day at our house. The Community Development Chairmen (CDC) came over and we discussed everything from banking, to female empowerment, to maps. Philip Mahochi (our head chairman and community business guy) taught the rest of the CDC how to keep a budget and do their own books. The CDC came to Aerie saying that they wanted to be the first to know how to budget and save, as to set a good example for the rest of the community.

Afterwards, somehow a huge and long discussion on women's rights came up. It was really interesting because their were only 3 of us females in the group, and 7 males. The ones who did the most talking were Philip and Francis. The cool thing was that Francis, being the same age as Philip, comes from a more modern camp, while Philip is more traditional. I say traditional in that Philip romanticizes the good ol' days of Kurian culture, back when men walked first on a journey to protect the women; and women got water while the men would accompany her, bow and arrow in-hand, to protect her from lions and rival clans. However, as Francis pointed out, that is no longer the case; and instead, the women do basically everything from washing, cooking, farming, watching the children, etc. while the men sit idle (not all the men, but especially the newer generations). Nellie, who is one of the younger women (younger than Eunice, but older than me) spoke up a few times which was great. Philip even brought up scriptures and then Francis and him were battling out the scriptures interpretation and so that's when I busted out 2 Tim and also Ephesians 5. I really enjoyed having this discussion with them, and that Philip and Francis could offer up the two different views.

At the end of the discussion we walked to Philip's house for lunch; and then walked back to our house for more banking and budgeting talk which Aerie led. Following that, I updated them on what Francis and I have learned about the schools; and then we all had a brainstorm as a group about what needs to be done. Very helpful. When that was through Chris showed everyone the map that he's been working on of our whole area-- including where we live and some places around our house, as well as all the places we work.

Concluding the day, we all went to Border Point Hotel and restaurant for dinner to have some laughs as a team. The whole of Saturday was fun and informative!

Aerie showing off his business and budgeting stylings:

Chris discussing water and showing off his cool map of the area that was created with lots of walking:

At Border point:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Baseline

In case you all have been wondering about Eunice, I went to her house the next day, brought her lunch, and we talked about her daughter's future. Then, the next day we talked again, after she visited her daughter, and both of them are doing better. They're thinking that once the baby is born and weened, the daughter will go to a vocational college, such as a teacher college, and the baby will stay with Eunice for 2 years. Thanks for your prayers.

So, what have I been doing work related for the past few weeks? Well, as I briefly mentioned in the last posting, I've been working from home/my office imputing data from the field into spread sheets. One of the big parts of Nuru is creating a baseline for each new project, in all 5 area of development. Once the baseline data is computed, then, for education, I'm projecting what our exit will look like. For example, as of now there is only 1 secondary school for the whole area; and it is inadequate at best. So, for the exit projection, there should be 2 fully-functioning and self-sustaining secondary schools-- one in each sub-location: Nyametaburo (existing) and Nyang'iti (TBA).

To decide on what the baseline is for our area, I had to collect the data in several different ways: going to each school, random sampling of household surveys, and surveying the students. Two of the hardest things to identify right now are a.) population and b.) literacy levels. The last census was done in 1999 and the next one won't be done until 2009; and so I'm using their projections for 2009, from 10 years ago, along with the findings from the surveys. I need to know how many children go to school out of the total amount of children in each area. Another snag in the process is that many of the children from bordering towns come from Tanzania. The Tanzanian curriculum doesn't teach in English, but rather Kiswahili, and most parents want their children to learn English. That's great that the TZ children are able to go to public school here, however its horrible from a research standpoint.

As for literacy, the last National literacy test was held in 2006, which isn't so out of date. The only problem with it is that they only tested from age 15 and up; and lumped the scores by District (i.e. Kuria as a whole, not by sub-locations such as Nyametaburo). Because of this, I'm debating holding a literacy test for the primary level, but still not sure which is the best format to use. If any of you teachers have some ideas, let me know. I know many of you who read this are all too familiar with IEPs and SpEd testing.

Currently, my counterpart, Francis, is tirelessly hiking around our 5 areas doing the household survey. He's doing to 10 houses in each of the 5 locations. I'm hoping to compile a guesstimation of the total amount of children versus the total amount enrolled. I'm also hoping to identify the total amount of disabled children are in the area. Mentally disabled children here don't go to school at all; and physically disabled children may or may not, depending on the severity of the handicap.

While Francis hikes around, I'm here typing the information that he brings me, along with creating a nice little package of research for our research team in Ohio, who are amazing and will do a lot of number crunching that I can't do. I sent a rough draft in to Gaby, the lead researcher, last Friday, and yesterday received feedback. So today I'm working on refining the baseline packet so that it will look nice to our reviewers. One of the things that sets Nuru apart is that we are having outside NGOs review our research for accountability and efficiency. We'll then take the review, evaluate it, and trim the "fat" from our data for a streamline NGO 2.0 development machine.

I took a break from the baseline this morning to update you all. The last entries have been sad, and not much about the work itself. Hopefully this entry helps all of you to understand more about what I'm doing on the Education side of things.

In 2 weeks our team will be taking a month-long break from the project. When living out here, it is important to leave the area, look away from the work, relax, and once refreshed, come back to the project with fresh eyes. Kind of like writing a paper for school-- when you're in the thick of things, with your head down and nose to the grind too long, things get muddy. An NGO 2.0 wants to be fresh, not muddy. As for me, I'm meeting up with one of my best-friends, Rachel, who's been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho since last June. We're meeting in Mozambique to catch up on the beach. After that, I'm visiting friends in Nairobi; Kampala, Uganda; and in Ikotos, S.Sudan (where I used to live). I cannot wait to see all my friends out here! But, until the end of next week, head down, and nose to the grind stone-- there's work still to be done.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Friends and Funerals

When I plan my next work week the Friday before, I never really know what's going to happen in that week, but I do figure it's going to stay according to schedule for the most part. However, by Friday afternoon, I had learned from my colleague, Francis, that our fellow co-worker, Eunice was out of the office because her son-in-law died unexpectantly. I was especially sad to hear this because I hadn't seen Eunice since before Easter because of my new office lifestyle these past few weeks (which has me pasty white); and was looking forward to seeing her.

In this morning's staff meeting, we heard that the funeral was going to be today, and so, as a staff, we all went to show solidarity as Nuru. Also, today, I read a newsletter from my friend Cath about her last days with her husband and her feelings after his death. It was bizarre-- two deaths in one week-- both newly married husbands, both relatively young, both from disease. In Cath's email she shared 3 Bible verses: Isaiah 43:18,19; 1 Corinthians 15:35-36, & 42-44; and Ephesians 2:4,5, &8. Those were the opening words of her email after mentioning Martin's death; and throughout the entire email, although through tears, as she told us, she was praising God for the moments she did have with him and that he's in heaven right now with no more cancer and no more pain. Although I was in tears through reading her email, I was encouraged that Cath, through her sadness can find joy. How many times have I had much smaller problems than these and cannot find the joy through the tears?

So, before going to Eunice's son-in-law's funeral, I made her and her daughter a card. On the front read the last 2 verses of Psalm 121, and inside I wrote about Cath's story and her strength in God, along with a folded a print out of the 3 passages that Cath wrote out in today's email, decorated with colorful magic markers so that they can hang it on their wall to remind themselves daily of the one who restores lives and brings hope.

When we got to the funeral, we hugged Eunice and then sat down in some chairs in the back (it was outside under a tarp, which spilled out beyond the tarp). As I sat, I noticed Eunice sitting in the grass against a tree facing away from the rest of the service; and so I wondered if I should go over to sit with her. At first, I stayed in my chair because of pride, but then I realized that my friend and sister needed someone to comfort her. Eunice has spent since last Friday comforting her daughter, who wouldn't allow her mom to leave her side for a moment because she was so beside-herself. Because of this, neither of them had ate or slept since Friday. During the funeral, Eunice told me that she has spent the whole weekend trying to comfort her daughter and get her to eat (the daughter is 8 months pregnant), but she couldn't comfort her as much as she'd like, and as a mother, that was devastating. It was then that I realized that this friend of mine really did need to be comforted after an exhausting weekend of being the comforter. So I just sat with her-- my arm around her, as we talked and prayed.

At the close of the speeches, everyone walked up to the casket (actually pushed their way through like it was the metro station in rush hour) to pay their last respects. Eunice asked me to come with her and so she led me up there hand-in-hand. Afterwards, she led me into the courtyard and into the room where her daughter sat on the floor against the wall crying. At the sight of her daughter crying, Eunice began to sob and buried her head into my shoulder. Soon after that, she started falling to the ground, so I lowered her to the floor. She laid there sobbing and all I could do was hold her and pray out loud for both her and her daughter, and for the unborn child who was possibly undergoing a lot of stress. Eunice was shaking, but responded as I prayed. Some other women were there poking at her and talking to her in Kikuria in a way that sounded like "buck up!" or "you're freakin' out your daughter so stop!" As those ladies did that, all I wanted to do was grab them and say "What's the matter with you?! Let her cry! Is it not natural?!" But instead, I just continued to pray for her.

Finally, some people decided that she needs to go home, and Eunice eventually accepted and asked me to call a boda (motorbike taxi) for her. Instead, I called our chairman, Philip to see if we can take her by taxi because she might have fallen off a boda in the state she was in. Along with another woman (who was obviously a friend and age-mate to Eunice) who helped me pick her from off the floor, we walked her outside to the awaiting taxi. All of us (Aerie, Chris, the Chairman, etc) rode together with Eunice and her friend in the front seat together. Because she hadn't eaten in 4 days, we stopped along the way to pick up some food for her to take home. Eunice also has younger kids at home and who knows what they've been doing for food this past weekend. Eventually, we reached her house and I gave her a hug good-bye as her friend walked her down the path to her house. Tomorrow I plan on going to check on her and make sure she's alright.

This entry is sad, and doesn't necessarily have to do with my work, but I felt like I needed to post it. I hope that there's something beneficial from it for all who read it. Personally, I'm still processing. But as the Shel Silverstein poem of the Zebra says "Are you black with white stripes or white with black stripes?" We are all human here and this is just the story of a mom who loves her hurting child and wants desperately to take away all of her pain; and it's the story of how another can find joy in her sorrows as she loses her newlywed husband to cancer.

"Do not remember the former things, do not consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth, shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." ~ Isaiah 43:18,19

Thanks for your prayers for Cath and her family; and now Eunice and her family.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

by Shel Silverstein

I asked the Zebra,
Are you black with white stripes?
Or white with black stripes?
And the zebra asked me,
Are you good with bad habits?
Or are you bad with good habits?
Are you noisy with quiet times?
Or are you quiet with noisy times?
Are you happy with some sad days?
Or are you sad with some happy day?
Are you neat with some sloppy ways?
Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?
And on and on and on and on
And on and on he went.
I'll never ask a zebra
About stripes

My Friend Barbara recently posted this poem on her blog. When I read the poem it made me think of how, as people, we're always trying to find the differences in people. Mainly, it made me think of how, as Westerners, we are always trying to "figure out" the people of Africa. But in fact, we are all the same really, just on different levels and in different ways-- Are you good with bad habits, or bad with good habits?" That could be a question we can ask ourselves as we point a finger at one another or decide how much different or better we are from others (me included). That was one of the first things I realized in Mali back in 2003-- we're the same, and as women, we can relate across language barriers.

That's all. Just a short entry today with that thought. Ol' Shel Silverstein goes way back in my history and I'm glad Barbara pointed him out to me again in a way that's relevant to my life here in Kenya.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Prayer request

Some of you faithful readers may remember a story from a few months ago about my friend Cath and her fiance, Martin, who had cancer. Well, first, they did finally get married, according to the German government, but were planning to still do a church wedding. However, although he seemed to be getting better, Martin passed away this afternoon from an infection in his lungs. Please pray for Cath, who was still a newlywed, and also for both of their families and close friends. Thanks for your prayers. As I stated previously, Cath was my hut-mate in Ikotos, Sudan last year for a month while she was observing the Scotlands, a missionary couple who also lived in Ikotos. Cath has such a joyful personality and is the most prayerful person I have ever met. For me, I know I want to pray for her as much as she would and has prayed for me in difficult situations. She needs prayer, not only for her loss, but also for wisdom, because her original plan was to return to Southern Sudan with her husband, in time, and I'm sure her plans are unsure as of late. Again, thanks.

"I lift my eyes up to the hills. From Where does my hope come from? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keep Isreal [and us] will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, not the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and coming in from this time forth and forevermore." ~ Psalm 121. This chapter from the Bible was read to Martin in his last minutes of life. The Lord still is the keeper of Martin and I'm sure he is in a comfortable place right now.


Hey all, Remember how I wrote about that Be Hope To Her (BH2o+) campaign and event? Well it is this THURSDAY (23rd), so go to the website and register with a campus if you're in college. If you're not in college, buy some paraphernalia from the website or download the free logos and such to promote the event. If you are on FACEBOOK, click and copy this yellow bucket logo and put it as your profile pic just until Thursday, and by Friday, you can put back that silly picture of you sticking your tongue out towards the camera again (humor).


Africa Thanks you!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Civil Rights and the White Tax

Refugee In America
There are words like Freedom
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heart-strings freedom sings
All day everyday.
There are words like Liberty
That almost make me cry.
If you had known what I knew
You would know why.

~Langston Hughes

My cousin, Colleen, was working on this poem in the early hours of the morning as I had already started my day today. It reminded me of some of the events of yesterday, Orthodox Easter, if you didn't know. Yesterday morning I listened to Francis Chan's Easter sermon on i-tunes (podcasts are downloadable for free). He talked about the largeness of Jesus Christ. Chan began the sermon asking the crowd to raise their hand if they thought they could beat him up if given the opportunity. Some people were hesitant, while others, even young ladies in the front row, raised their hands. Then Chan went into how powerful Jesus Christ truly is. I am not going to go into all the details of the sermon, but you can listen to it if you have i-tunes on your computer and look up Cornerstone Sili Valley Church. Two things I'll mention about it are: one, the said beating up of the Pastor; and two, a quote that was referenced from J. Vernon McGee, "This is God's universe and he does things his way. You may have a way, but you don't have a universe."

I greatly enjoyed that quote as it is so bold, yet clear, and possibly offensive to some of you. One thing Francis Chan covered in the sermon was that Jesus did not come to cart around sheep and baby bunnies. He came to show us how to live and to save our rotten, stinkin lives. And that, sometimes, was/is offensive to people.

All that said, the second quote was worth mentioning, but had nothing to do with today's post. After listening to the sermon yesterday morning and spending some prayer time on the back porch, the boys and I went to Kisii to get supplies at the beloved Nakumat. To get there we walk up a monstrous dirt path to the road, where we then catch a matatu (van or station wagon form of public transport). We waited at the road for some time before anyone stopped. Within minutes of a matatu stopping, a man emerged from the vehicle shouting at the driver in kiswahili, and in English said "I can pay anything you want! Just because you see the color of their skin and the color of mine!" He continued yelling and we realized that what was happening is that the driver was kicking the man out so that he could try to get more money from us by charging us the "white tax" (hyperinflated price given to mzungus). So the man, who was well-dressed and probably has a middle class job, was offended (and from my counseling stance, probably hurt) that he was kicked out by probably someone of his own tribe, and definitely by someone of his own race and nationality.
Upon realizing the situation, unanimously, we refused to get in the car with that driver. Then, of course, the driver asked the man to get back in, and good enough, the man refused. When the driver pulled away, the man pulled himself together, but was still angry (understandably-- I think that would rock my entire day). We offered our apologies and told the man that we also felt the driver's act was unjust. The next matatu that pulled up had only room for 1, so off he went.

We quietly waited for another matatu to come-- I think all of us might have been digesting that event (at least I was). Several minutes later, we piled into a matatu and headed towards Kisii. Along the way, we saw a large crowd stopped on the side of the road, watching something from over the guard rail, down in the valley. So, of course, the driver pulled over and asked what was going on; and it was a thief being beaten to death for his crime. Here, and it seems, all over East Africa, thieves are beaten on-the-spot by an angry mob (is possible); and if the thief was sneaky enough to get away undetected, then he is tracked down by the angry mob and then beaten. So, on this Orthodox Easter Sunday, on the way to Kisii, a thief was being beaten for his crimes while EVERYONE watched, including everyone in the matatu, who quickly filed out to watch. I stayed behind in the car because, even if just, I don't enjoy watching people being beaten. I'll keep my thoughts on that to myself.

When people had had their fill and/or the beating was over (I'm not sure which), people piled back into the car and off we went. I'm not really sure what to say about those two events, but rather I'll let those stories tell themselves. Something didn't sit right with me about either story in light of the big picture of the universe that was painted for me in the Francis Chan sermon earlier.

What are your comments on the stories? You can leave a comment without signing in or leaving your name if you choose not to. For me, From the first story of the man being thrown out of the matatu for being black, was enough to remind me that we still have a ways to go in civil rights; and that as whites, we have the power to reject those injustices by not giving in to the certain "comforts" given to us by our color.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter in Kijabe (Pasaka toka Kijabe)

This Easter I stayed at the Rift Valley Academy in Kijabe, Kenya. Erica was off in the US getting her wedding plans finalized and so my friend Sarah and I (whom you might remember from my ABO blogs last July) kept the house warm for the weekend. Two other friends came in from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, Juli and Kate, who teach at HOPAC, an international school. We had a great weekend laughing and telling stories as we celebrated the resurrection of our savior. Here is a pictoral narrative of the weekend:

This is the view from the airstrip and walking to the cliff that overlooks the Great Rift Valley:

Easter morning we went to the neighbor, Lori's house for breakfast after the sunrise service held at the football field:

The view from the football field at sunset:

Hanging out with Sarah, Juli, and Kate at the Jander's House at the lower station:

Ok, so the layout is really off in this posting. I was experimenting with having pics on the left and text on the right. I'm not changing it, so bare with me. Thanks and Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Potatoes, Reading Competitions, and Headdresses.

For the past couple of weeks I've been fighting against the schools closing for their tri-annual break. My proposed deadline for the baseline data for education is May 16th, so together with my Kenyan colleague Francis, we've been data collecting machines. We have been to all 9 schools in the Nyametaburo/Nyangiti area, which include: Nyametaburo primary and secondary, Nyangiti Primary, Siore Simba primary, Taragwiti primary, Gukipimi community primary, St.Joseph's private primary, St.Paul's private primary, and Imani (Faith) private pre-school. The data collection includes meeting with the whole staff of teachers from each school, meeting with the headmasters individually to collect enrollment and exam records, and meeting with the students to ask them about their home-life, school-life and various obstacles involved in going to school.

I really enjoyed sitting with the students to ask them about their experiences. As the children, Francis, and I sat in a circle, it reminded me of being a guidance counselor again. In those days, as prescribed by my Guru of Guidance, Jan, I would have a group of students over in the office for "lunch bunch" in which they would spend the opening part of lunch sharing on who lives at their home, what's their favorite sport, etc. I also felt like that popular female journalist from the 80's, who every now and then, would have a show on Nickelodeon in which she would sit in a circle with some kids and talk about current world issues.
Anyway, all that said, not only did it allow me to know what factors are involved in their learning (or lack there of), but it gave each student a chance to be heard-- possibly for the first time. Let me take a minute to set the stage for you folks: I didn't choose all the students in the school, but instead selected the top and bottom 3 students from each class. I also kicked out all the teachers and staff so that the students would feel as free as possible to share everything.

Here are some answers from the students:
In response to "Do you enjoy learning," almost all the students in each school said yes. Here is why: because education is the key to success, to make my future life better, to have knowledge on how to lead my future life, learning enhances good adult behavior, and education allows us to later help our community (one little 1st grader raised her baby hand and said "so we can learn to read!").
"What is life like at home?" Not enough time to study because of fetching water, cooking, washing, taking care of the younger siblings, working in the farms,etc. One girl, by the time she finishes all of her household chores, begins studying at 9pm and continues until 12am (but that's only if the kerosene in her lamp lasts long enough). She also shared that she wished she had her own room so that she could concentrate on her studies. Almost all of the children raised their hands in saying that they'd come to school in the evening hours if the school had electricity so that they could study their notes at night.
One thing that surprised the high schoolers when I told them was that when I tell American kids that there are African students who would love to go to school in America, and the American student's response is "give em my seat." The students here just cannot imagine, with all that the American students are provided with at school (i.e.- electricity, breakfast and lunch, textbooks, notebooks, pens, etc) that they would turn down the opportunity.
Out of 32 total students surveyed at Nyametaburo Primary school, 19 students eat dinner every night and 10 eat breakfast because there isn't enough food to go around. And when I say "ate" it's a relative term because some of the little ones said that they eat a small potato for dinner-- not a stuffed baked potato from Outback Steakhouse, but a plain potato, possibly uncooked. Some of the children just have a cup of chai (boiled milk mixed with water and some tea and sugar).
Another notable moment from the survey is that all of the students push themselves to go to school. Most of them, their parents sort of care if they go or not, but for the children of farmers, their parents would prefer if they'd stay home and help with the farming, which is an enormous pressure on the students-- if your parents says to stay home and weed today, you stay home and weed-- no refuting.
From all the schools surveyed, every student loves reading and if given a library and enough kerosene for their lamp, would read all the time. (that one's for you Celeste, if you're reading this).

On Thursday, I went to a reading competition held at St. Paul's Primary, which consists of grades nursery to 5. I loved witnessing even the babiest of students reading letters in English. The first up to bat was the nursery kids, who read their vowels in front of the whole school + 2 visitors. One of my fav little ones, Mary Robi, who is the tiniest thing with the biggest smile, and always carries around a little black purse across her chest, steps up to the front, and with her loudest voice unashamedly reads her vowels and and then the entire alphabet, and comes back to sit down next to me. The whole school claps for each student as they walk back to their seats. From grades 1-5, students would come up and read an excerpt from an early reader book in English, and then another book in Kiswahili. When the competition was finished the teams (Red House and Blue House) were tallied to see the winner (points are deducted for each word not read from each student on a team).
Afterwards, Brahmwell, the headmaster, asked if any of the students wanted to recite any poems for us; and so some of them did so. It was cute because they would get up in front of the school and while reciting, they had full body motions to go with it!
One had to do with a squiggly worm in the earth under a tree. My little Mary Robi got up with 4 other classmates to recite her poem with motions. Some of the students also recited Bible verses, the Lord's Prayer, and the Apostles Creed (Pastor Gann would LOVE that one). When they were through, I couldn't help but teach them the hippopotamus song that I learned (of all places) when I used to volunteer at H.S. church retreats in college. We sang, danced, and sang and danced again to the lyrics and motions of the hippo song that was loved by all.

I'm sorry that I didn't get any pictures of these events. I don't bring my camera along very often-- for one, because I carry the smallest backpack ever for convenience; and for two, because my charger for the camera's battery is gone and so I need to possibly find a new one in Nairobi or worse- buy a new camera with my non-monies. HOWEVER, I did manage to get some snaps of yesterday's lunch at our Chairman, Philip Mahochi's house. I picked up my outfits that I had made at the tailors in TZ for a total of <$30; and wore one of them to lunch-- headdress and all. The ladies were all over it, ha!

Seriously though, if you want to make a donation to the Education program or hold a fundraiser for it, I wouldn't mind. If you want to do it for anything specific, just let me know, otherwise it'll go into the general Education Program account, which keeps this program going-- not to sound like a PBS special or anything.

Prayer Requests:
~to collect all the information for the baseline evaluation
~to not be overwhelmed while doing it.
~to be given wisdom in how to go about analyzing the info, as it is not my strong-suit
~for health of the team, including the CDC staff. (I've been feeling really tired and nauseous lately)
~for funding for all the programs
~for a successful Bh2o+ event coming up in a week across American campuses.

Pictures are mostly from the lunch at the Mahochi's. Mama ChaCha (Philip's wife) and their son Gilbert came into town from Nairobi for a long weekend and so Mama Chacha's mom and sister came in from the surrounding area too. Mama Chacha's mom is the one with the long ear lobes, which is a dying practice. Philip's mom is the other grandma-type. Mama Chacha is the extremely light one. The woman to the right of me in the top picture is Clara, whom I befriended last Thursday. Her and her husband own a successful hotel in town. She invited me to her house on Thursday, which is a HUGE western-style house across the valley from ours, chock-full of banana trees, pumpkins, a large chicken coup, an exercise bike in her sunroom, and a victorian-like red velvet lounger couch in the living room. <== This random grandpa was at a wedding we went to a couple weeks ago. I've never seen a man carry a baby like this before. The men here seem to generally be very loving with their children, which is something that didn't happen in Sudan-- or most of Africa, from what I know. *oh and you can click on the pictures to view them at full size. Also, to view more pics, go to