TEACHING-EMPOWERING-MENTORING-BUILDING OPPORTUNITY Mission: to partner with individuals and communities in Western Kenya to support entrepreneurial activities, education and health through training programmes, scholarships, water and sanitation projects

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Our final week

This message will probably be the last one before we leave for Canada. I have nursed my ailing computer over the last months and am looking forward to a repair (which I think unlikely) or a new machine.
Let me tell you about our last week.
On Monday we attended the Read for the Top finals at Emmaloba. Again, a great experience as it was in Mwiyenga. The staff is enthusiastic and the head teacher is already planning how to use the same formula for other subject areas. They want to hold a contest on Science for their grade 8 –the final year before national exams. We left them the bells to use. The principal told us he received a delegation from grade 7, reinforced by the presence of their Peace Keeper, to ask when it would be their turn to compete. (More about Peace Keepers later)

It is customary to 'garland' special guests at a function. (We have a large collection of shiny garlands.) This video shows the chosen students bringing the garlands for me, Rod and the judge.
On Tuesday we interviewed seven young people who had dropped out of school and are jobless. Girls wanted to do tailoring, boys motor mechanics and driving. We can make a difference in someone’s life for little outlay by helping them acquire a skill that will put food on the table. Other organizations offer scholarships for formal education, but these people have no hope unless they receive a little assistance. We are hoping very much that generous donations when we are home in Canada will enable us to continue this.
Last Wednesday we conducted a day of eye testing at Maseno hospital. An American nurse volunteering there set it up for us. We distributed 20 pairs of glasses which improved vision enormously for the people concerned. Most people need reading glasses and we always bring a bunch of the dollar store ones with us. We had a few pairs and left some funds to buy more since we had accumulated a list.
A number of people had problems, mostly cataracts, that we could not help. Some required dark glasses because their eyes were becoming sensitive to the strong sunlight (we are on the equator). We tried to pre-screen for these problems but were not always successful. In addition we spent some time dealing with people who had no real problem but were trying to con us into giving glasses. They claimed not to be able to see the chart but lenses made the problem worse. Go figure. We decided eventually that they wanted the glasses because they were free, or for resale.
We still had a problem with the hand gestures (indicating the direction of the symbol) for some people, many of whom had never been to school and had no idea what to do. In addition there is a real problem distinguishing between 'up' and 'down', 'left' and 'right' We learned to disregard the 'wrong' gestures if they were consistent. We worked from 10 til 5 with a break of about 40 minutes. So we were doing about 3 an hour. Explaining the gestures and trying unsuccessfully to fit people mentioned above took some time.
We left the remaining frames and lenses with the nurse who will be here until July. We leave Kenya next week, so figured it was best to let her use the remaining kit.
At a Virtues seminar on Saturday we saw the teacher who had brought us the children in his school with severe vision problems that I spoke about a few weeks ago. He said the glasses were making a big difference to confidence and self esteem as well as sight.
On Thursday we did our accounts and made cheques for all the scholarships and the maintenance of existing Tembo projects while we are away.
On Friday we met our Tembo advisory committee and gave cheques into their safe keeping. They will pay fees as designated, maintain the library on rabbit keeping, fish farming, poultry etc, collect information about requests for water and educational assistance as well as continuing Virtues training.
On Saturday I conducted my last Virtues seminar for trained teachers on Peace Keeper training and Setting Clear Boundaries. It was a most interesting session. Emmaloba has just established Peace Keepers and there was a report on the process. The other schools attending received sashes for their own Peace squads. The open discussions throughout the meeting gave us many insights into school culture and difficulties in implementing a positive approach to education. We hope to continue the discussion on our email list for those who have access to the internet.

So that was our last full week. The next few days will be spent packing and leaving our apartment in good shape. In other news, ten Cabinet ministers have been implicated in big corruption scandals. Each party is trying to find clues to corruption involvement in the opposing party. In the coalition governement some Ministers belong to one party, others to the other.
At home we have had a big problem with rats in the attic (no connection between these two pieces of news) and have been scattering bait, trusting they will all be gone by our departure next Thursday.

When we are home, we will be setting up the AGM for Tembo and doing as many talks and as much fund raising as possible. Anyone interested in supporting the work of Tembo will be warmly welcomed. Thank you all for your support and prayers. We look forward to hearing from you over the next few months.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Read for the Top

Read for the Top is in full swing in two schools. We ran the heats last Monday, the semi-finals on Wednesday. On Saturday we have the finals in Mwiyenga and on Monday the finals in Emmaloba. Wednesday's semi finals in Mwiyenga were an edge of the seat, nail biting contest with scores so close it was impossible to predict the outcome until the last minute.
In the pictures the children are wearing their colour coded T shirts. We take them in after every stage of the competition and they are handed to us in carefully folded and smoothed piles. These children so rarely receive anything new, that they are enchanted by their shirts. After the finals they will keep them. The winners will receive schools bags and books.
There is no power in the school, so we are using 'shop' bells where you press the top to ring. Scores are kept for the audience to see on a blackboard with a very rough surface. For the finals when the church will be full of students and parents, we will have a sound system running from a small generator or car battery.

Virtues news

Some of you may know that Richard Andabwa , a strong supporter of Virtues and our interim chairman of Tembo Kenya, has been very ill. In short, a growth was removed from his abdomen last Saturday in an eight hour operation. I was delighted yesterday to receive a call from him. His voice is strong and he is no longer hooked up to an IV. This weekend he starts a little solid food and if he continues to do well, could be home next week. We thank everyone for their prayers. Richard and his wife Bibiana are hoping to attend the Virtues Facilitators conference in Canada in May, and for a while I was not at all sure they would make it. Now I feel much more hopeful. Just the visa needed now.
Even while in hospital before the surgery Richard was working for Virtues. He read in the news of a school in Western Province where students had rioted, burned the dormitory and left the school. He phoned the Provincial Director of Education and set up an appointment for me to meet him Monday morning. The PDE immediately phoned the principal and gave us his blessing to present a workshop for the staff. The students (boys) were at home and due to return Wednesday.
On Tuesday we left Kakamega at 7.30 and drove with two of our facilitators 2-3 hours on rough roads to reach the school. The poor principal had no Idea who was being sent to him. In fact, at the end he confessed he was half expecting a team of inspectors coming to judge him.
He was very hospitable and gracious despite his misgivings and we conducted a shortened teachers presentation. We were well received and the evaluations were very positive. They all would have liked more time of course, but they said the strategies would definitely help them in dealing with the boys as they returned to school.
Many gave their email address so we may have more participants for our email list.
Needless to say, Richard's first phone call this week was to hear the details of the visit to Kolanya.


The last week of February I travelled to Limuru just outside Nairobi for the first ever meeting of all diocesan Education Secretaries. I received a crash course in church history in Kenya and met some very impressive people including the Archbishop whose picture you see here (in shirt and tie). I was also able to do a very quick presentation of Virtues. This is the kind of programme people are looking for to strengthen relationships in schools, parishes and communities. We may hear more from the other dioceses after they have had some time back in their offices. I returned to Kakamega armed with a list of tasks for me and for the diocese.

I briefed the Bishop on my return and we settled some first steps for implementation for our schools and the whole education structure in Maseno North. Yesterday I met with the Diocesan Board of Education who are very happy with our proposals. We have to collect a lot of basic data which we will put on computer for the first time. An assistant priest in Kakamega has been given the task of collection and sending information to me while I am in Canada.

We drove to Nairobi because while I was in the conference Rod wanted to take the opportunity of visiting a tree nursery and farming project also in Limuru. This will be for the next stage of our Rotary grant in Emmaloba. We are hoping to be able to start a nursery of indigenous trees including the species of acacia that is commonly known as the 'fertiliser tree'. This tree drops its leaves in the rains (at planting time) and provides a nitrogen boost to the soil eventually eliminating the need for fertiliser. Crop yields are said to increase by 200%. Well worth looking into.