Saturday, December 4, 2010

Learning lessons and saying good-bye

The last few weeks have been rich, full of activity and pretty funny events to store in our memories.  The renovations at Oloile Secondary School started as the school year was coming to a close and are now in full effect.  Mike has been busy working with the local building teams and the school is looking absolutely beautiful! The students are thrilled and eager to return to new classrooms (fully equipped with windows, doors, and solid floors) in January.  It has been really great to watch the guys all working together and learning from each other.  Mike has learned some of the ins and outs of building in a small town in Kenya and he has taught the team new ways of performing quality work.
Mike with the local building team

Our hope is that this school continues to develop into a safe haven for learning, one that encourages the students to strive for excellence.  We have observed the tendency among many of the local students to settle for less than average in their schoolwork.  The Kenyan school system is based upon exams, two to be exact.  One's entire grade for the year is based upon two exam scores (I totally would have failed in school!). We have been told that teachers will teach to the exams and will rarely have the time or desire to venture outside the syllabus.  The students only require a D+ to pass!  That means they have an understanding of no more than 40% of the information.  I find this unsatisfactory, especially if students are striving to compete in our global job market.  Two major obstacles are the past and the future.  The students come to Oloile from various backgrounds with different levels of education.  You can imagine it would be difficult to teach in such a linear fashion directed towards passing an exam if you have students with such a vast difference in their educational background.  Once they have completed secondary school, many have no way to continue their education.  Approximately 80% of the students of Oloile receive sponsorship to attend. However, there is no funding for students to move on to university, a challenge that requires some consideration and additional fundraising.  So many of the students wish to pursue additional education, earn a professional degree and do things to improve their country.  Unfortunately, many will finish secondary school and have no opportunity to continue with their education.  But, they have such big dreams!

Outside before
 During the last 2 weeks of school, I presented an opportunity to the students to earn some school supplies for the coming school year (thanks to Sarah, Jim, Maddy, and Sam for donating all the school supplies!).  Those interested were to submit a short essay regarding their dreams and how they planned to make their dreams come true.  It was quite inspiring to read the students' reflections about ambitions to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, news broadcasters, and many more.  They wrote about how they have to work hard, remain disciplined and not give into many of the temptations surrounding them in order to make their dreams a reality.  Our hope is that Oloile becomes an exceptional school in that demands more and creates opportunities for success among its students so that they can fulfill their dreams.  One also that can become self sustaining for the community.   One that can prove that change is possible.
Inside before

Outside After (still in process)

Inside after
Walking bridge to school
Change is difficult in any environment.  One thing is certain though, change must come from within.  You cannot enter a community with a "fix-it" or savior mentality, which is all too often the mindset of our western world.  You must enter humbly with the hope that you will be welcomed by a community to sit and to listen, to share stories, and to learn how and why things are done.  It is easy to judge from a detached point of view, but start having conversations and it becomes a lot more complex with the

inter-workings of local culture, history, economic development, family structures, and resource availability.  Kenya is ripe for new growth and development, but it is a challenge that demands individual desire and participation from within.  There is a fine line between aid that empowers and disempowers a community.  Even with the best of intentions, foreign aid can sometimes disable the self sustaining efforts of a community.  We wrestle with the tension between entitlement and empowerment, for instance, as we walk down the street and every child screams at you  "mzunguli" (roughly "my white person") and "give me sweet/money/pen/pencil!"  There are several exceptional individuals with whom we have had the privilege to know here who are working very hard to create positive change from within their communities.  As much as I believe foreign aid must continue, it must do so in ways that create partnerships and works from within to empower communities to create their own desired changes. I find that it is a time in which individuals can and must be encouraged to stretch beyond mediocrity to that of expectations for more.  It is also a time stretch a bit beyond personal survival and fulfillment to embrace the need to make changes for the greater good (a challenge we also struggle with greatly in America, uhemm... anyone want to discuss healthcare?)   It is a challenge we face across the globe. Having spent only a little over 3 months here, I admit that I am in no way an expert on Kenyan affairs.  But, we have learned many lessons from our teachers in Kenya and we will continue to wrestle with these issues.  We hope our time here has been a step in the direction of empowerment.  We have learned so much from those around us and we can only hope we have planted some seeds here as well.

And so, it was with a mix of sadness and anticipation that we left Kimana on Thursday, Dec. 2.  Sadness, as we are going to miss everyone so much and we would like to stay to continue working.  And, anticipation as we look forward to seeing our families at home, and, hopefully, returning to Kenya again in the future.
Saying good-bye in Kimana
Mama Nasieku made us all our favorite meals during the days before departing including githeri and chapatis! I was able to spend all day on Wednesday working in Mama Nasieku's shamba (farmland) harvesting green peppers.  It is ridiculous to witness the strength of African women. Try carrying 150 pound bags of peppers on your back!  It is so hard and they make it look so easy!

We had a lovely morning on Thursday, sipping chai and sharing pictures.  Then, we had a tearful goodbye and we drove off....and, about 200 yards later, we got completely stuck in the mud!  It was awesome.  Nearly 4 months in Kenya without getting stuck in the mud and we get stuck on the last day!  Of course.  It was quite a comical site. Mike advised me to drive as all the men pushed the car out of a deep hole.  We successfully got the car out and I drove to more solid ground.  I took a deep breath, looked down and laughed hysterically.  In all the excitement (I was totally afraid I was going to drive deeper into the hole, or that the car was going to fall over), I had forgotten to take off the emergency brake!  Well, mike needed a good work-out anyway:)  Hakuna Matata.

No explanation needed!
We made it to Nairobi where we have been enjoying time with friends.  Our wonderful and wise friend, Mr. Juma, had us to his home in Kiserian for lunch with the family en route to Nairobi.  It was a lovely time and we were so grateful to spend time with his family before departing.  We are currently in Nairobi staying with Delphin and Fabiola, our gracious family in Nairobi:)  We ventured to Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha yesterday where we saw flamingos, buffalo, zebras, gazelles, impalas, baboons, and, oh yes, hippos mating (quite a site!).  We also had a little adventure with some baboons climbing into our car to steal some juice and a banana peal...they climbed in through the open roof!  
We plan to relax and say a few more good-byes over the next few days.  It is very surreal right now, as it always is after such a short period of rapid transitions. We are beyond grateful for this opportunity, for the lessons we have learned and the many that will continue to surface.  Peace to you all and thanks for all your support.
Standing above Lake Nakuru