Today was a great time visiting a wonderful friend, Grace Atero. Grace and I met in 2007 when the Project just had gotten underway and we had enrolled only 7 secondary school students (we are over 100 now). One of those 7 students was at Ogada Secondary School, where Grace served as the visionary and dynamic Principal. We quickly became friends, and I have visited with Grace every trip since.
The last couple of days have been a time simply to listen. First, I visited 5 secondary schools to listen to the Head Teachers talk about the problems girls encounter trying to complete their secondary education. Most schools start their lessons by 6:15 in the morning and don’t dismiss until 12 hours later. The long hours, compounded by the long distances walked from home to school, mean that girls are walking in the dark, risking their safety every day. I listened, while the school administrators expressed their concern for these young girls and their hope that Umoja will find a way to allow more of the girls to enroll in boarding schools, although it is a much more expensive option than day school.
My command of the Dhluo language is limited to a few essential words, including “erokamano” which means “thank you.” I love listening to people’s prayers because I hear “erokamano” said so frequently I feel I actually understand almost all of the prayer.
Yesterday was no different as I went on home visits with some of the Hope Women’s Group to deliver our greetings and a small supply of food to 8 elderly grandmothers.
Over the weekend, my assignment was to visit 5 different congregations and an interfaith prayer service, bringing greetings from Indiana and sharing a bit about the Umoja Project. Much of the time I was accompanied by a group of five young adults, 18-22 years of age, who are part of the assortment of people who gather at Margaret’s house. Maurine, Perez, Criss, Timothy and Meshak all finished secondary school, but none has been able to find steady employment or raise the money necessary to continue their education. Unfortunately, they are only a minute fraction of the young Kenyans with this problem. Except for the very top students who are given government scholarships to go to the university, the post-secondary prospects are dim for a student who lives in poverty.
I doubt many of the women of Hope Women’s Group were aware that last Monday was International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women around the globe. If they knew, I have no idea what they would think about such a day –I can imagine they might wonder how anyone has the time to celebrate when there is so much work to be done! However, for me, this group embodies both the accomplishments and challenges that International Women’s Day is designed to recognize.
Strength and Weakness. Among the many lessons I’ve learned in Kenya, none have been as profound as the lesson of strength and weakness. After comparing my personal lifestyle – access to education and healthcare, the ability to earn a quality living, and friends and associates with like capabilities – to the lifestyle of many Kenyans, I have had to reassess my understanding of strength and weakness.
When I returned back to Rosalia’s from the rainforest one of her nieces had come to visit for the weekend. She grew up in Nairobi, and is fairly “westernized.” It felt odd to hear talking about the new movie “Angels and Deamons” and going to the mall. However, she was quick to inform me that she still enjoys the traditions of her culture.
After about 2.5 weeks in Kenya we moved in with families in the Chulaimbo area. I live with a very big family on a compound in the village. By compound, I mean a fenced in area with five houses. “Mama Rhoda” is the mama of the house. She lives in the house at the top of the hill and everyone living in the other houses are in and out of her house for breakfast and dinner. There are about 10-15 people coming and going from her house each day. Included in that number are two adorable kids,
So it has been two weeks, four days, and give or take a couple hours since I arrived in Kenya. The weeks have blurred by, and now the experience has turned into travelers bliss, that disconnected feeling of not feeling at home, but not feeling like home is home either.
At home, Mondays during the school year seem to be everyone’s least favorite day of the week — the first day of school after the weekend and the promise of 5 whole days in school before Friday night rolls around again. In Kenya, some of the feelings are the same and some are different. For students, it is different here — school is a privilege, not a dreaded task.