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)