Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Elewana Education Project

Me standing outside the Elewana offices.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, there is an Episcopal missionary named Rev. Zach Drennen who runs a project out in Amagoro, which is Western Kenya almost to the Ugandan border. It is called The Elewana Education Project. Amagoro is a relatively unreached area in terms of aid so they work with the Diocese of Katakwa to support secondary education through sponsorships, technology and community development.

I have been wanting to get out there and visit since even before I arrived in Kenya. Of course, it came down to my last week, but I am so thankful I got out there. It is a beautiful section of Kenya. I stayed in the mission house with Zach and another volunteer, Paul. It is clear that Zach and the rest of the staff is well known and loved in the community. The most important member of the Elewana family, though, is Bob. Bob is Zach's dog. He resides at the mission house and has become a beloved fixture around Amagoro. All of the kids get so excited when they see Bob pass on his walks.

St. Peter's Aterait Secondary School
In the short 6 days I was there I got to help plan for the Episcopal High School group who arrived Saturday, attend an event about English teaching put on by the cultural affairs office of the U.S. Embassy, go to Kisumu for the BIG shopping trip, and visit Mt. Elgon! It was a busy 6 days, but I loved every minute. The staff at the house and office were so warm and welcoming. The school we visited, St. Peter's Secondary School, is one of the best I have seen. Episcopal High School is working with the students there over the next 2 weeks to do a service project in the community. When we did the preliminary visit the principal and the teachers were great and seemed to genuinely love what they do. That passion is not something you see everyday, especially radiating through an entire school. I cannot wait to hear how the project turns out.

Now I am back in Nairobi and believe it or not this is my last full day in Kenya until August! It is really hard to believe that I get on a plane tomorrow night and arrive back in the US on Thursday. I am not sure how to feel about going home. I am definitely excited to see friends and family, but there is some uncertainty about what it will feel like to be home after a year away. Since I will be returning in August I do not need to be too sad this time and I do not have to say any final goodbyes yet, which is nice. I am sure there will be a lot of reflection to come. All I know right now is that this has been the most incredible year so far and despite the many challenges here, my love for this country has only grown. Hope everyone is having a good week. Talk to you back in the US!

Below are some more pictured from my trip out to Amagoro. Enjoy!
Diocese of Katakwa Mission House.

The mission house.

Me with Mama Beatrice. She makes some stellar chapati!

Paul (another volunteer) and Leonard (the house boy and future marathon star).

The science lab at St. Peter's.

On the way out to the school.

On the way up to Mt. Elgon.

We stopped for tea at the Mt. Elgon Lodge

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Just Imagine

Imagine for a minute that you are 14 years old. You live with your mom and step father in a poor community in Kenya. Your step father is a drunk and and at night when he returns home he takes his drunken rage out on you. Because of this you decide that it is not safe for you to be at home so you start sleeping out in the forrest or you find friends you can stay with. This angers your step father more, which in turn angers your mother. They decide they no longer want to deal with you so they take you to court and wrongfully accuse you of stealing money and being disobedient. It is your word against 2 adults. The court system finds you guilty as a minor and ships you off to a remand center for a sentence of 2 years. The intent is that YOU will be rehabilitated from behaviors that you did not exhibit to start with, while your mother and step father continue living just as they were.

Now your 2 years is over and you are sent home. Here's the kicker- you get home to find everyone in your family gone with no explanation. Eventually you get a hold of an uncle who is now taking care of you little brother and sister, but will not take you in. He will give you no information about your parents. You have no idea whether they are dead or alive. You are now 16. What do you do? The government has no luck tracking down your family so you are just sent back to the remand center for an unknown amount of time feeling hopeless, unwanted, unloved, bitter and lost.

Meet Mary Wangui. That is her story.

Me with my new friend Mary!
I do not know about you all, but I believe somewhere along the line the system failed Mary. In 2 more years she will be 18, considered an adult, and the government will no longer support her and regardless of where she is in her education or training she will be released with no where to go.

Yesterday I spent the day with over 100 girls like Mary who live at a remand center in Dagoretti. Through conversations with these girls we learned that the main cause behind their placement there is dysfunctional families. If they were not turned into the court by their parents, then most were found living on the street due to abuse or neglect. The remand center is a nice place with nice teachers, but in terms of rehabilitation I do not know how much they can accomplish with their resources. These girls put on a brave face everyday and as much as I know they enjoyed having visitors they are still filled with bitterness and loss. They need one on one counseling to understand they are loved and be reminded there is more life left to live and they have a choice in what that looks like.

My heart broke for Mary. What do you tell someone like that who has lost everything and has been told by her own family that she is not wanted? There is really nothing you can say and nothing frustrates me more than that. All you can do is listen and be a friend and show compassion. I do not blame her for feeling hopeless. Nothing in her life has told her otherwise. I believe there is hope for Mary and for each of the girls there and I am praying earnestly that God will reveal Himself to them. Please join in praying with me for Mary and the millions of children living in poverty. Pray for their parents, the governments, and those working to find solutions and bring change.

Entrence into the center.
I do not want this post to be all sad. Yesterday was a fantastic day because we got to know what issues the girls are facing and now we can use the information to work on creating a partnership between Nafisika Trust and the center. Not only that, but we learned more about where the gaps in the system are and now we can start looking at ways to close those gaps.  It was a day full of dancing, singing, and laughter.
The wonderful group from Nafisika.

Introduction and games!

Lunch time.

Small group games and conversation.

Mary, as I said, is one of many many children living on the street. The Be The Change projects in Rongai, Nkoroi, Ngong, and Dagoretti are working to get them back into school by working with the parents and with all of the stakeholders in the communities. You can support the project in Ngong by clicking here and donating on Global Giving. We have 15 days left to raise 2,000 pounds!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Global Giving

Yesterday I met with my friend Vickie, who started Nafisika Trust. Most of you that have read my blog before know that Nafisika is the group working in the prisons here in Kenya. Every time I meet with Vickie I leave encouraged. I am not only encouraged by the amazing work they are doing, but also by the incredible work Tatua is doing. Vickie and I met to finalize plans for an event we are having this Saturday at Dagoretti Children's Center. DCC is a remand center for girls and we are hoping to spend Saturday just getting to know the girls and see what their needs are to determine how Nafisika can begin a partnership with them.

As we were talking I could tell Vickie was exhausted and exhilarated all at once. She kept telling me about all of the meetings she was having with important people AND that at each one she used the skill of Public Narrative, which is taught in community organizing! She was thanking me because Tatua taught her that skill. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with me, but I told her I would pass her thanks on and I thanked her for reminding me how grateful I am to be a tiny part of this work.

I asked her how she was doing and she looked at me and said, "I do not know how I ended up here. I do not know how this work is getting done and how we will continue to do it." It just seems crazy how many big things are happening in Kenya right now. So many communities are coming together to support projects that they, themselves, want and need. Vickie told me that everyday she just asks God what to do next and when something seems impossible, which most things do, she prays and she trusts that God will come through. I can say the same thing for Natalie. At Tatua immense things are happening and communities are transforming and embracing their power.

This work is not easy and would be impossible to me without faith. Natalie and Vickie are two shining examples for me of what it means to have faith and a belief in the mission of God. Everyday I start to see more and more how important it is and will be to change the face of aid around the world. I go home in just 2 weeks and with me I am bringing a new outlook with a desire to live out the motto of Tatua - "Exposing the power of ground-up solutions."

This month Tatua is participating in an online fundraising competition on Global Giving. Donate here today to help launch the campaign in the Ngong community and send over 1,000 kids from the streets back to school! To learn more, here is a video of one of the Ngong leadership team members talking about her experience so far working with Tatua.