The Three Questions……

The full team’s last day in Kenya began with worship at All Soul’s Cathedral in Machakos. Most of the group attended the Youth Service in the old church while others participated in the Cathedral Church service. Both groups enjoyed the energetic music and dancing that was part of the service. Those of us who have been to Kenya before have seen this community grow and we appreciated being welcomed once again. Following the service we enjoyed some fellowship and lunch with the youth leaders. We played some fun games and enjoyed each other’s company.

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Can water really flow up a road? That was the question posed to us by James. We visited the Magnetic Hill above the city centre of Machakos to see if that statement was correct. We watched water flow up and cars set in neutral do the same. It looked like a hill, but was it really an optical illusion?

 

After packing, the team settled into our final dinner and reflection. Madison C, Emma, Evan, and Claire were the reflection leaders and led us through a conversation about our experiences.   They provided three framing questions to use as we thought about our work with Kenya Connect in Wamunyu: “What they don’t have, What they do have, and What we don’t have.” I suspect we are all still thinking about these questions and how the work has impacted us.

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And Madison B led a beautiful exercise in which we affirmed one another by questions like “tap someone who made you laugh, tap someone who inspired you, tap someone who showed leadership—our eyes were shut as we felt gentle taps and hugs by other trip members. It left the group with a warm glow.

As we hugged goodbye on the following day with most of the group heading on safari to Tanzania and a few staying on to continue work in Wamunyu, it seems as most of us have had profound experiences and a grateful heart for the work of James, Patrick, Cyrus, Mercy, Danson and Kasarani at Kenya Connect.

Let’s Dance!

The team “put on their dancing shoes” to dance with the women of the Kithito kya Kyeengai group who shared their traditional dance with the team.  We met them at Elizabeth’s (the leaders) homestead and enjoyed an afternoon of dance, learning how the women weave baskets, and seeing what a rural village home is like.  The women pool proceeds of the baskets to help each other when a child is sick or when a member can’t pay their child’s school fees.  It was not only great fun, but an honor to dance with these amazing women.

 

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How Many People Can Fit at the LRC?

On Saturday we pushed the boundaries a bit at the LRC.  We invited three groups to participate in activities with the team:  Teachers for a “make and take workshop,” ACCESS students for a debate, and TSF (The School Fund) students for a team building activity.

We expected about 15 teachers for the workshop, but 22 showed up— excited to make posters and materials for their classrooms.  As our team learned, many classrooms lack educational resources including posters that grace most U.S. classrooms. Since these materials are hard to come by, the team worked with teachers to create posters of the digestive system, parts of the sentences, reptiles and mammals, and math facts.  Most of the teachers left with three posters and a bag of supplies including sharpies to further their work.

Meanwhile the TSF students were inside creating towers made out of spaghetti, string, and tape with a marshmallow at the top.  The goal was to build the highest tower and then explain how the tower was created.  Some toppled, but the students had fun thinking outside the box and figuring how to best to work as a team.

Inside the LRC computer lab, ACCESS students researched information about the two leading candidates and prepared materials for the debate.  It was interesting for the team to learn about Kenyan politics and to see the students speak with confidence and conviction.  Our panel of judges provided feedback and tips for debate and presentations.

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And finally our morning at the LRC ended with the commissioning of the Kenya Connect Magic School Bus!  It was a lovely ceremony with a local Pastor blessing the bus and a recognition of donors including Mama Mutanu, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Cindy and Chris Dyer and the 125+ donors that made the bus become a reality.

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And stay tuned for our next blog—- “Dance, Dance, Dance…….”

Be Welcome, Be Welcome!

Eleven schools, 2500 students, and roughly 100 teachers have welcomed us in Wamunyu. Words cannot even begin to describe the generous greeting that is waiting for us each day. Beautiful children of all ages in brightly colored uniforms— pink shirts with blue jumpers for girls or shirts or yellow shirts with green bottoms—each school with their own look. It’s winter here in Kenya so many of the children have sweaters on even though we think the 75 degree weather is delightful. They are waiting for us at the front gate of the school singing and dancing with beaming smiles, strong melodic voices and dancing to the beat of a makeshift drums usually made out of an old vegetable oil container. We often are greeted by “Be welcome, be welcome, we welcome you today.” It’s beautiful, heartwarming and joyful.

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Karibu Kenya is felt throughout the village. Our days often begin with a welcome ceremony with speeches by the teachers, pupil led entertainment , and our team introducing ourselves in Kiswahili (this team has hit a new standard for greeting the schools in multiple sentences). During this week we have heard heartfelt poems and stories, enjoyed fabulous acrobatics, listened to many songs and watched dancing filled with rhythms and intense movement. Sometimes we took tea in the Head Teacher’s office and learned a bit about the school and the pupils. Other times we headed straight to the classroom.

Over the course of the week we taught literacy classes discussing nouns or identifying sounds like “ee” and “ah.” We used The Hungry Caterpillar and animal story books. Other groups did team building creating towers out of marshmallows or working to keep a balloon in the air of get across the “lava pit.” For the first time yoga was introduced by Mwalimu (teacher) Blair. It was so popular that KC staff and our drivers John and Danson joined along. The team supported KC’s hand washing program using a special lotion to show the “germs” by using a ultraviolet light. We also worked with the older students (7&8) on menstruation introducing our Wings Poa Reusable sanitary pad program. It was interesting to learn of the girls concerns and questions and we were heartened by the boys thoughts on how they can support and empower girls (the two groups met separately).

And throughout the visits there were many “high fives,” fist bumps, happy smiles, and connections with the kids. We brought the “banana” and “Boom Chika Boom” to the schools and there were many happy choruses singing these songs and doing the movements alongside of them.

 

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We have all been moved by the generosity of spirit, the joyful song, the desire to learn, and the heartfelt welcome and connection.

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A Shout Out to the Leaders!

One of the special aspects of Kenya Connect is that our team is community based with support and input from local teachers, parents, tribal leaders and community leaders. James, Patrick, Cyrus, and Mercy are the team who teach our classes and coordinate all programs with the community.  They are extraordinary, wise, kind, fun and committed to the work of improving education for the 17,000 students in the community. We also have Danson, our bus driver, Vicki who cooks for teams and visitors (and gave us chapati cooking lessons) and Kasarani who is our custodian/librarian.  When a team arrives, they are the most gracious hosts, gentle teachers, and loving friends. “Karibu Kenya”  is ever present with the KC staff and they embrace us and we embrace them.  On this trip we also have John from Tanzania with us who drives with great care, shares insights with the team and participates in activities at the school.  IMG_1596

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And a shout out to the Leaders:  Cindy, Marsha, Laura, Norma, and Sharon.  They have supported the team in so many ways and have shared of themselves daily, despite few hours of sleep.

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Connections!

It’s been a week of connections. As we reflected tonight about what has made us happy on the trip it came down to connections. Multiple members commented about the connections made with children during the opening ceremonies through eye contact—that instant connection often resulting in a small smile or a sense of “I see you” and “You see me.” Or that child who came up to a team member to say they had the same name and never left her side. Or the boy who made thoughtful comments during the menstrual health and girl empowerment class and then gave the teacher a high five right before she climbed on the bus.

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Another team member mentioned that children were practicing their English and intentionally sought them out to chat.   And one team member said she loved that the kids connected with the books she brought to their classroom or on the playground.  And then let’s talk about the game, “scary tag!”

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Our team has also connected by speaking in KiSwahili. Today everyone in Group A spoke all their greetings in KiSwahili which was an incredible thrill and connection for the teachers and students.

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And then there are the connections as we drive through the village roads. It is humbling to see people at their homesteads waving and cheering as our bus drives along the dusty road or seeing the farmer who looks up from his tractor and bursts into a radiant smile. And when the little children see us, they shriek with joy and run behind us.

And the connections and bonds with the team is pretty special.  Everyone has been so supportive of each other and it’s been truly joyful working and living together.

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Kenya Connect was founded with the slogan, “Wonderful Things Happen when Kid’s Connect.” The connections are alive and thriving in Wamunyu.

Joy, Despair, Guilt and Hope      

Today was amazing, and based on tonight’s group reflection, many of us were filled with complex emotions including joy, despair, guilt and hope.

It’s hard to fully describe the conditions of the schools and the lack of the most basic supplies, even with pictures and the best of words. Today both teams visited schools that were roughly 30km from the LRC.   To put it in context, most of the students at the schools have never been to “downtown” Wamunyu. Desks were broken, floors cracked, and the teachers lacked basic supplies. Yet despite what would be considered hopeless by many, the schools were vibrant learning communities filled with teachers passionate and dedicated with the belief that their students were special and worthy of learning.

One team member commented “these kids don’t have a blue crayon to pull of the box like our kids at home who can pull out a blue, red or yellow crayon.” Even the basic things we expect students to have our non-existent.   And another team member commented, “How much I have learned in two days.”

These few pictures will tell a bit of the story of sharing literacy, team building, hand washing and yoga lessons and two schools willing to invite “wazungus” into their community with the warmest welcome and in the hope of partnership and further learning.

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The drive to the school had the most spectacular scenery and vistas.  On our way home we pulled off for a view of the valley and to soak in the beauty of Kenya.

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And did we mention how much we love our bus?

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“If You are Lazy Please Try Another School. Here We Eat Books and Drink Knowledge”

Our first day of school visits! Our large team split into two groups to visit Kambiti and Iiani Primary Schools (the above quote was on a sign outside the head teacher’s office) to teach literacy lessons, math skills and critical thinking, yoga, and health and hygiene classes. Some comments from reflections…. “the joy and welcoming is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced,” the students were so respectful and interested in learning,” “I was amazed that they were just so happy to want to play with me…. And the moment I walked out after lunch they swarmed me!” “I hope we can take the love and welcome they showed us to others in the world.”

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And we received Kamba names— an honor and welcoming to the community. It truly is magical watching the children determine are Kamba names.

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It’s really very hard to express the feeling of being here…. The gorgeous lush landscape, the dry cool breeze, the dancing, singing, and laughing, the eagerness to be holding our hands and touching our hair, the grace of the teachers to share their classrooms, the desire to be in community with us, and the deep feeling of presence and joy.

 

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“If you are a consumer of Ivory—You are as bad as the poacher….”

Words that we heard at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Karen as the caregivers discussed why the babies are orphaned. We met 26 orphans –some because of poaching, others since they fell into a sink hole, while others lost their mothers to natural causes.   Team members felt the rough skin of the elephants as they walked by the visitors. It was a thrill to see these baby elephants and to learn about the mission of the organization.  And there was the added bonus of the warthogs!

 

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A short time later we visited the Giraffe Park. “It was the best kiss of my life!” (this is a true quote) Kissing a giraffe is a very special experience. Many in our group met these graceful animals up and close and personal. We learned more about giraffes and their challenges in East Africa and how their populations are diminished.

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After a lovely lunch at the Mamba Village including traditional foods of chapati, pumpkin soup, nyama choma, chicken, sukuma wiki and rice, we traveled to our “home away from home” at the Lysak Haven. We saw how Kenya is developing with more businesses and homes, and those who had gone before noticed the improved roads and infrastructure. We were even lucky enough to see giraffes, wildebeest and ostriches on the way! At dinner, the team discussed lesson plans and organized themselves for the next day.

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Team St. John’s Has Arrived!

Karibu Kenya St. John’s!  The team arrived safe and sound.  It was quite the feat to load the Magic School Bus with over 34 bags and 20 passengers, but we were successful.  More to come tomorrow about our visit to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and Giraffe Park before heading to Machakos to prep for our first day at schools in Wamunyu.

We are staying at the beautiful Roussell House, part of the St. Theresa Convent.