College Trip 2017!

Stay tuned for future posts on the College Trip 2017!  You can follow the work and adventures of Claire, Evan, Emma, Madison, Hannah, Hannah, Sam, Colin, Will, Mark, Harper, Maggie, Laura, Cindy, Norma, Blair, Marsha, and Sharon.  The team is still collecting toothbrushes, PUL fabric, velcro, markers, crayons and colored pencils.  Contact a team member of drop them at St. John’s by June 4.

Marshmallows, Toothpicks, Hula Hoops and Balloons!

So what do they all have in common? Critical thinking, teamwork and a whole lot of fun! The team visited Kyamatula Secondary School, a small school located in the hills of Wamunyu. The school, about five years old, has roughly 80 students—however the population fluctuates since students have to stop-out when they can’t pay their school fees. Kymatula consists of four classrooms with wooden desks and blackboards — no science labs, computer labs or other resource materials—but despite the lack of resources, we found the students very eager to learn.

Today’s goal was to introduce some lessons that encouraged teamwork and critical thinking. Dustin and Greg created some outdoor challenges— the first two were all about teamwork. Students placed a balloon between their legs and hopped across the field. They couldn’t use their hands and if the balloon slipped out they had to get it back in. Once all team members finished, they had to join hands in a circle to figure out how to have two hula hoops cross over them and around the circle. The team who finished both tasks first, were declared the winner!


Then onto the paper airplane challenge: Dustin and Greg showed the students how to make airplanes. Working in teams, the students made their own version with the goal of seeing whose plane could fly the farthest. This was the first time these secondary school students had made paper planes and they did it quite well. One group even figured out if they put some stones or twigs in them they would fly farther.


Meanwhile Chris and Matt split the class into groups to build marshmallow and toothpick towers. It was great fun watching these groups of 5-6 students work together to try to make their tower. Do you build tall, wide, or a combination of both?  Ultimately one group in each session was declared a winner—usually with a wider base. After Chris measured the height of the tower, Matt inputted the data on his laptop along with the number of toothpicks and marshmallows used by each group. He then showed the data in a “visualized” form of pie charts and bar graphs. The students and teachers were fascinated. The class also discussed the challenges they found—the marshmallows became too soft, not enough time, and the lack of stability of the structures. At the conclusion of the class, the students tasted the marshmallows—“very sweet.”




We concluded our time with Kymatula Secondary School by distributing tooth brushes, singing the “toothbrushing smile” song and posing for a school photo.


While we were all at the school, Steve was back at the LRC teaching the staff how to use the 4 screen silk screening machine he created, helping to add shelves to our expanding library and doing other odd jobs.

Time then for the team to head back to Nairobi– One last photo outside the Lysak, one last Tusker, and one last drive with our fabulous friend, John.img_8123


Executive Director, Sharon Runge stayed on for two additional days to visit the Kitui area and two schools, Lower Yatta and Kyaithani Secondary Schools with our partners from the Sunshine Coast-Sechelt Rotary Club of British Columbia, Canada.

Lighting the Way Towards Literacy!

Run Like a Kenyan, Kenya Connect’s 5k Race in Wamunyu was a roaring success! Students from 20 of KC’s participating schools joined us with teams of six. The race began with a police escorted procession through the village to the Wamunyu ABC school with students holding books high to promote reading. Once at Wamunyu ABC, students from the Wamunyu Special School began the race running two laps around the field. Everyone cheered!

unnamed-16Then The 5k (which actually turned out to be more like a 6.5k) began with adults starting off first. The course started off with laps around the field and then quickly (maybe a bit too quickly) headed up hill towards the Mbaikini School. For the visiting team, the climb was steep and tough, especially being at a higher altitude, roughly 4500 feet.  Coupled with that was the blazing hot sun. But everyone persisted. The course was stunning. Once up the top of the hill we ran past homesteads, cows with carts passed us, and children along the side of the road cheered for us. Wamunyu’s landscape is rolling hills with terraced farms—it was just beautiful.


Once all the racers finished, the program began. Team members gave inspirational speeches to the students about the importance of education and awards were presented. SunKing who makes small hand held lights, sent a representative who provided prizes to the top finishers. All students also received a Pico hand held light courtesy of the First Lady of Machakos (the Governor’s wife). The children were thrilled to receive the lights. All schools received a soccer ball that the team brought over and the top 16 runners in the boy and girl category each received a book from local publisher, Phoenix Press.



Concluding our program was a presentation by members of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. We were thrilled they made the long journey from Nairobi to offer some words of support to our students.


One of the goals of the race was to encourage students to work hard in school and to also read. The KC LRC library is the only library for 100km and most schools are without library books. The race encouraged students to read and to come to the LRC to borrow books. We know that students who read often do better in school , but our community is one with a low parent literacy rate and a culture that hasn’t had access to books.


Once all the students left, the Kenya Connect and visiting team enjoyed a post-race Tusker and lunch at The Palace Restaurant enjoying some nyama choma, chicken, and fries. Those Tuskers sure tasted good after the run.

On our way back to the Lysak, we made a “window shopping” stop at the Woodcarver’s co-op. We watched some of the men carving and then began looking at the vast numbers of carvings in the co-op store–more shopping on Sunday.


The day concluded with John giving team members their spirit animal. Sharon and Steve already had their animals—the termite and impala. John is not only animal whisperer when on safari, but he’s also keen on watching and observing animal and human behavior. Greg was named the elephant, Dustin the hippo, Chris the Cheetah and Matt the leopard. John explained each special meaning and we were all touched.

There is still an opportunity to run in Run Like a Kenyan in the US. On October 29, KC is holding a 5k/10k Run/Walk at Sandy Spring Friends School in Olney, Maryland. All proceeds benefit the work of KC!





On our way back from visiting Kyaani Primary Schools, one of our team members asked, “How come the students are so excited to see us?” “Why are we special visitors?” The warm welcome we have received by both students and teachers is overwhelming, and I think we all feel that maybe it isn’t fully deserved.


Upon reflection, I think it’s all about the connection. These students in the rural village of Kenya rarely get visitors—especially visitors from abroad. To hear American English, to play soccer, to sing songs, and to learn together is powerful.


Today the team repeated the lessons from yesterday using the glorious books, Mama Miti and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Using stories about real people who have made a difference in rural Africa is powerful and inspirational. Many of these students have not seen a “picture” book with rich illustrations. One girl commented today that she loved the pictures in the book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind—seeing how the illustrator showed the wind or explained what dreams were intrigued to the students. After one of the sessions students wanted to learn more from Steve Sharpe about how an engineer worked on ships—they couldn’t believe that some ships had engines as big as their classroom.



Of course playing games and singing is always a great connector. There were many lively games of soccer, football and tag while groups of students shared their passion for singing.img_7528

Today’s performances included students in costume as they shared what they might be when they get older. It was lovely! We also heard the song with the lyrics, “I shall shake my body and dance before I die—a song about living life fully and in the moment before leaving this earth.



The team was also humbled by how excited the students were about receiving a toothbrush and a sweet treat. “This Little Smile of Mine” was taught again and the students had great fun waving their brushes around!


Kylaani is one of Kenya Connect’s school participating in the “rent-to-own” solar light program. Students can pay $1 per month for 8 months to own a hand-held solar light so they can study at night. Today 50 students received these lights and a log sheet so Kenya Connect can monitor if they are reading more with the lights.



Connections—And as much as the students in Wamunyu are so excited to see our team, I know we are equally excited to be with them. The students joy, eagerness to learn, and presence is something we all can learn from. It’s about connecting, learning and being together.



Books, Games, and Dancing at Kiathani Primary School!

The PayPal Team traveled to their first school today, Kithiiani Primary school, located on a beautiful vista above Wamunyu.  As the team entered the gates, the children were ready to greet us with song and dance.  “You are welcome” was chanted as we danced up to the school.  We were all introduced, and the team members received their Kamba names.  Sharon and Steve of Kenya Connect had been named Mutanu and Musyoka on previous trips.  The others were named:  Dustin—Mwendwa, Greg–Kioko, Matt–Mbatha, Chris– Mutinda— It’s such a special moment to receive the name.  After a rousing game of “Boom Chicka Boom!” the team members proceeded to the classrooms to give lessons on the picture books of Mama Miti and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.  The teams did a story safari first with the kids making predictions of what will happen in the book by looking at the pictures.  They then read the book (depending on the grade level) or the “teacher” read the book using movement and making comments or posing predictive or inquiry questions along the way.  The children were enthralled with the pictures and loved these true life stories.





While two of the groups were in the classroom, the third team was out on the playground with the kids— games of volleyball, soccer, and tag.  The team also brought over some “American Footballs” and the students were amused at its shape and how it is thrown.


After a feast with the teachers, Kenya Connect was presented with two chickens in thanks for our support of their school.  Giving a chicken is a sign of deep appreciation and welcome.  We were humbled by the gift, especially since we all felt we had gained so much being with the children and teachers.


After lunch we had some entertainment with the student singing and dancing. They even invited us to come up and dance!  It was fun and we all were impressed with the clear and strong voices of the singing leaders.  We delivered toothbrushes thanks to many dentists including Crafton Dental and  Sircus Dental and Dover Assembly of God church who did a massive collection.



The team headed back to the Kenya Connect Learning Resource Center and unpacked and sorted items they had carried over including more toothbrushes, soccer balls, books, laptops, and a silk screen printing press created by Steve Sharpe.


We also watched technology specialist, Patrick Munguti teach a Level Up Village Global Inventors Class with students from Mbaikini Primary School.  They were working on designing a box to hold a hand-held solar light.  21st Century technology in a rural village!



To say the least, we were a bit tired, but we were able to muster the energy for a few rousing games of dominoes!

An Amazing Day in the Ngorongoro Crater!

We began our day with rain at the Olea Safari Lodge and so we were a bit concerned of what that would mean in the crater. John assured us it would be clear, but some of us had our doubts. The Ngorongoro Crater is just that, a huge crater that was created by Volcanic activity. As we descended the windy and bumpy road in the mist, we saw a lush tropical rainforest ecosystem. And half-way down, if by magic, we were treated to seeing a very tall stately male giraffe engulfed in the mist about 5 feet from our vehicle. We were in awe. It was just the first of a day filled with incredible wildlife encounters.


As we continued our descent we saw a few baboons and as we entered the crater, we were welcomed by an aging bull elephant. John explained that the park had many older male elephants who never leave the crater— kind of like the “old folks” home of Tanzania. And from that time on, it was one amazing encounter after the next.


We saw several groupings of hyenas and even saw a couple vying for the same bone of meat. Thompson’s gazelles, impalas, wildebeests, zebras and warthogs grazed together in harmony. We were fascinated to see the warthogs on front bended knees while grazing that we learned was due to the fact that they have no necks.


Just seeing the animals in their natural habitat is such a gift and hard to even fully describe. But we had a few special encounters. At the second hippo pool of the day, we saw three hippos moving around a bit—more than we had seen in the very populated pool earlier. We were thrilled when one yawned and fully opened it’s gigantic mouth showing yellowed teeth and a very pink tongue. But it got better. A few minutes later one started moving towards the side of the pool and heaved its massive body onto the land. The other two followed suit and we saw all three hippos up close on the land. They are massive! And as we watched them we saw the yellow billed Oxpecker landing on their backs eating off flies from their thick skins. I think we all felt like we were part of a National Geographic series!


We found out that the monkeys in the park could be quite aggressive. Of course we knew not to feed them and John has warned us at picnic spots to be wary, but we never thought that they would be as daring as one female monkey was! We were sitting having our first view of the black faced vervet monkey when a female with a baby grasping on for dear life, leaped onto the truck and inside the vehicle. She immediately went straight for our brown lunch boxes. Seeing the sharp teeth we were a bit panicked. John leapt out of the car and fortunately she jumped out of the vehicle as quickly as she came in! A bit of a scare, but it resulted in a fabulous picture of the baby! A bit later, Greg had a kite dive bomb to grab a piece of chicken out of his hand.


And then there were the lions. Recently in the crater, the park management had done a controlled burn to eradicate some invasive species. The landscape is still charred and black which made seeing sleeping lions so much easier. We saw several groupings of lions throughout the day—many in sound slumber, but the best grouping was the last, when we saw two and then a third lion at the side of the road right next to our truck! We were the first vehicle to come upon them so we had a perfect viewing spots. Three young males, their golden manes just forming seemed to be having a rest at the side of the road. To see them in their full glory so close-up was a treat.


Our day ended with a visit to the Masai Village. A village where one tribe of Masai live. We all did a little dancing and Masai jumping and then saw their huts and learned about their traditional life. Despite being a bit touristy, it was interesting to see.


Both days of our safari were amazing— the animals, the landscape and the richness of culture. Of course our guide, Exaudi “John”, was incredible. He seems to be the animal whisperer of Tanzania. As other tour vehicles whizzed by, John would say “let’s just wait here a few minutes” and sure enough, hippos would come out of the pool, lions would saunter over, and elephants would cross our path.


Here’s the recommendation—if you are interested in a safari, contact AllureAfrican Safari. John is the operator and owner. Not only does he have a keen sense of animal behavior, he is very knowledgeable on identifying birds, mammals, and plants, he is one of the most kind and thoughtful people you could meet.


Elephants, Elephants, Elephants and Much More!

Tarangire National Park is the home of elephants in Tanzania. And we saw elephants. We saw mothers nursing their young, older elephants pulling down branches and limbs, and elephants boring holes in a dry riverbed to find water. We saw multiple herds of all ages—it was magnificent!



Our day actually started at the watering hole…. With animals beginning to file down to the water— it’s the dry season here so water is scarce. Despite a wonderful watering hole,img_6516the animals were cautious, waiting to see if it was safe or if the lions were laying pray.   Over the course of twenty minutes or so, we watched them checking out the landscape and finally entering the cool water for a drink—but they didn’t linger because they know they are sitting targets by the water. What was fascinating was that the species were co-mingling—zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, giraffes, elephants and impalas. And as tentative as they were to enter the water, they were equally as ready to leave.


In addition to the elephants and the excitement of the waterhole, we saw giraffes feasting on Acacia trees, impalas leaping across the savannah, and lions lazily napping.

Our guide, Exaudi John or “John” is the animal whisperer. He knew where to look and how long to stay—other vehicles whizzed by, but we sat and we saw.



And as we watched a herd of elephants on the riverbed, John suggested, “why don’t we lunch with the elephants.” We did and enjoyed our meal as we watched the elephants interact with each other and their environment. Imagine enjoying a spectacular lunch while watching elephants in their natural environment.




It’s hard to begin to even express what we saw today. But we were all in awe—awe of how the animals live together in harmony, awe for how the species have evolved to find their special place in the Savannah food chain, and in awe of being with such a rockstar group and guide in this very special place in the world.



The Team has Arrived! Elephants, Mt. Mero and Nyama Choma!


The Kenya Connect/PayPal team has arrived!  After a lovely night at the St. Theresa Roussel House, the team headed to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage outside of Nairobi. This elephant haven rescues baby elephants who have lost their mothers due to poaching, sink holes and other circumstances.  Baby elephants rotting down the hillside, the team saw 2 dozen baby elephants enjoy their special bottles of formula while also rolling in the dirt, pushing the tourists, and drinking from the pool. Most importantly, they learned of the mission of the Sheldrick Center to reintroduce the elephants back to the wild!



Picnicking on the way to Arusha was complimented by a herd of goats and cows!  Fabulous views and some new friends!



And then the wonders of Mt. Mero– a rare view with snow.

IMG_6501.JPGAfter a gorgeous dinner of grilled Nyama Choma and chicken and a sampling of Tanzanian beers, the team headed off for some rest in preparation for tomorrow’s safari!

Packing Up!

Books, soccer balls, toothbrushes, National Geographic magazines, and sweet treats were among the many items donated for the PayPal Kenya Connect October trip!  Team members Dustin, Matt, Gregory, Chris, Steve and Sharon collected items from colleagues, friends and family, members of their faith communities, and from local dentists to carry over for students in Wamunyu.


The team will begin their journey on October 2nd by visiting the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage near Nairobi before traveling to Tanzania to visit several of the National Parks.  The group will then head to Wamunyu, Kenya Connect’s Project site, to provide enrichment lessons, team building activities, and motivational talks for students at four of our partner schools.  Wamunyu, roughly 2 1/2 hours from Nairobi, is a rural village that does not get many visitors.  Students at our 55 partner schools enjoy having visitors since it allows them to practice their English, learn about life in America, and participate in a new lesson.

The team will also meet with Kenya Connect Access students, an enrichment program funded by the U.S. Embassy, at the Learning Resource Center. While at the LRC, the team will provide support to Technology Specialist Patrick Munguti.  One of the special moments for the team will be participating in the 2nd Annual Run Like a Kenyan in Wamunyu.  Students from six partner schools will participate in this 5k race in the community.  Some of the visiting team members will run alongside and be cheerleaders for the runners.  The festivities will also include inspirational talks and providing participation awards for all students.

The team plans to be posting along the journey…… stay tuned!




Feedback from KC Headmasters

One of our goals is to ensure Kenya Connect programs and projects are meeting the needs of our 55 partner schools and the community.  We met with 50 of our 55 partner heads to gather their feedback on programs we have provided including professional development, ICT education, hand washing stations, library and literacy resources, deworming, and other items.  After a brief presentation on the history of Kenya Connect and some of our future plans, the Headmasters were led in small group session by Board Chair, Alicia Wrenn, to better help us understand the effectiveness of our programs and how we can best serve the community.  Animated conversation and discussion was seen as the Headmasters gathered in groups around the KC compound.  Their feedback was interesting and helpful confirming some ideas and conclusions we had developed while leading us into new areas of thought.  More to come on the outcomes, but we were honored that all of the Headmasters indicated that ALL of our programs were essential and that they were grateful for the support.  At the conclusion of the meeting, the Headmasters perused books by Phoenix Publishing, a local publishing house.