Thursday, June 24, 2010

School Days and Grandmother

It is Friday morning here, and we are preparing to head out to Cura for another round of activities based at Cura Primary School.

Yesterday, our volunteers scattered to various classrooms for some reading and English language lessons led by the teachers of classes one through four. Matt was the official photographer of the event, and we'll hope to be able to post some pictures soon (the connection here too slow to post them effectively now, but I'll try to add them later!).

After reading time, we moved to the field to conduct athletic activities with classes five through eight. The children had an incredible time with the new equipment: a fabric parachute, some bean bags, some hacky sacks, some jump ropes, "fitness dice" and more. It was satisfying to see the kids so happy, but it was even better to hear the teachers express the novelty of this kind of physical education. The Deputy teacher, Stephen Ngotho, was thinking aloud about the ways he could use the materials not only for sport but also in combination with language and math instruction... The materials were inspiring the teachers to bring their instruction outside and into a kinetic form that would resonate with their pupils.

We look forward to more of that today with the younger children and their teachers! We are also eager to get the maps we donated up on the classroom walls. As of yesterday, the rolled bundles of maps were still in the corner of the Headmaster's office, so we're afraid he's less than excited about getting them distributed. We'll keep trying to encourage his enthusiasm for the programs and materials so that he can encourage that tone among the more reluctant teachers, as well.

Our guest yesterday, Bernard Mathu, was a big help in encouraging Mr Njenga (the Headmaster) to embrace our presence---Mr Mathu has a long career in education in Kenya and currently runs a school in Nanyuki (where we'll visit toward the end of our trip). Bernard is also a Rotary member, so he spent the day with us, overviewing the projects in the village and at the Home. He had valuable insights about the work we're doing, and was so impressed with the projects in the village that he's coming back with us today!

One of the most exciting "projects" we saw yesterday was the completed livestock shed and its celebrated inhabitant: Norman. Norman is a very pregnant cow whose milk has been nourishing the Home's family since her arrival. Kenneth explained that, since Norman was welcomed to her new home, the Home has not purchased a drop of milk, saving 3000KSh (about $40) per month. This is an enormous benefit to the Home financially, and the milk is sweet and delicious and fresh! (I sucked down two creamy cups of tea at the end of the day, so you can take my word for it.)

The upstairs occupants of Norman's home are noisy and busy... and on the verge of providing eggs for the Home and for sale to the community! The hundred or so hens will start laying in a month, and the ten original "roasters" have already provided chicken dinners for the children. The Board members are doing a spectacular job at managing the livestock and the shamba (small vegetable farm) so that they feed the children first and then provide potential for surplus to sell. We're hoping to add rabbits to this mix very soon, of course.

Lest one think that rural farming is all that's going on in Cura these days, I should mention that I also delivered two laptops and a large selection of educational software yesterday... one laptop for Moses (to help with his record-keeping and communications) and the other for Scola (to help with her computer lab instruction and the management of the Pen Pal program). We're excited about the prospects once Cura is more fully "wired."

The day ended with a visit from Evelyn Mungai, the one who started it all, and her husband and deputy, Mike Eldon. When the children found out that she was coming, they couldn't contain their excitement to see what "Grandmother" would be bringing them. (Biscuits from Nakumatt, as it turns out.) Our group had a lovely meeting with Evelyn and Mike, updating one another on the projects we've been working on and the observations we're making. Lovely Evelyn invited each person to talk about her/his experience in Cura so far... and the reactions were uniformly, thoroughly positive and filled with gratitude.

Malik, our driver, is waiting for us in the lot as I write, so I must run. More soon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Meetings with Leaders

Yesterday our group went to Cura for the first time, by way of the Dan Eldon Place of Tomorrow for a brief tour and introduction to Mike Tambo. Mike works with his DEPOT colleagues on leadership workshops with Kenyan young people and organizations, including with the teachers and leaders in Cura Village. He agreed to join us in Cura later in the day, but sent us on ahead...

On the way, we saw Scola, the computer lab instructor, walking toward Cura--so she and I had a joyful roadside reunion before she hopped in our car for the final stretch of road!

Upon our arrival, we were warmly greeted by Moses and the full Cura Home Board. We were seated and offered tea and sandwiches before the Chairman (George, who is also the pastor of the Anglican church) convened our meeting to discuss the progress of the Home since we last visited together. We were updated on the progress of some of the projects designed to foster Cura's economic sustainability (weaving, bee-keeping, banana-growing, chickens and the latest idea: rabbits!), the plans for a secondary school and the repercussions that school will have on the policies of the Home, as well as on the welfare of and existing needs for the children who are happy and healthy there. Mostly, we were reminded of the profound committment these individuals have toward nurturing the community's strength and independence. We hope to continue to partner with them in creative and successful ways!

One of the things we asked the wise people of the Board was about the qualities of successful volunteers; we hoped to get some guidance for our own behavior, as well as a sense of how long-term volunteers could increase their potential for success. I was particularly struck by the Chairman's immediate answer: that the most effective volunteers "matched words with actions." The Board added that effective volunteers are also respectful of the community's practices and wisdom, open to new experiences, committed to complete the projects they begin, and mindful that they stand as role models to the children who observe their actions.

After our meeting with the Board, Mike Tambo rejoined us and escorted us to Cura Primary School for a meeting with head teacher Mr Njenga and his staff of teachers. We reconnected on the issues we discussed last year, and discussed our plans for interacting with the school children for the remainder of the week. Some of the teachers shared their observations about existing needs for their classrooms and curricula, which gave us excellent ideas about how we might prepare materials and activities for our next visit!

I'll write more with details about these conversations as they develop, but for now rest assured that we're all busy and very, very happy to be here! Tami and Tesha were all smiles after their tour of the classrooms and interaction with the children; Linette was so moved that even now she tears up when she talks about yesterday; and Evan is giddy about her plans to visit the class 8 pupils who are closest to her own age. Matt, of course, is busy planning his move from his Nairobi bed and breakfast to his Cura digs...

More to come,

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cura's June 2010 Volunteers

This week, Cura will welcome seven volunteers who plan to work on a variety of projects related to the Primary School, the Clinic, the Computer Lab, the Library, and the Home. We'd like you to know who we are! In each of the informational segments below, we're providing a brief introduction, and we'll post subsequent updates about our work in Cura in the upcoming weeks. When possible, we've linked to our individual blogs, as well, in case you want to follow our more personal reflections about our travels.
Hayden Bixby Nichols and Greg Van Belle

We are thrilled to be returning to Cura, since it's been a year since we were last there. We look forward to reconnecting with the good people who live and work on behalf of the children at the Home.

Linette Bixby

Linette says:
I can't wait to play with the children at Cura - to see the happy faces (that I've only really seen on the Cura website) of these children who have endured so much in their few years of life. I'm also looking forward to meeting the teachers who are making such a huge difference in their lives. I'm looking forward to being a part of an organization that is doing so many wonderful things.

She can also be tracked at

Evan Nichols

Evan says:
I am fifteen years old and I am very excited for this trip. I cant wait to meet the kids at Cura and the child we sponsor. I am also excited to meet kids my age who live in Cura. It will be interesting to talk to a kid my age who lives on the other side of the world!

She can also be tracked at

Tesha Taylor

Tesha says:
I have been independently involved with educating myself on HIV/AIDS education, awareness and relief efforts in Africa since I was young and the passion I feel for this cause is irresistible. There has always been something very magnetic about the idea of volunteering in Africa, and the opportunity to work at Cura is a dream come true to say the least. I also feel touched that my sister Tami will be alongside me through this journey and we will have these memories to share forever.

Tami Taylor

Tami says:
I have been fortunate in that I have done a lot traveling, but it has been years since I was able to combine that travel with service. I am incredibly excited to once again be apart of something that matters. After years of working in the often harsh and disillusioning corporate world, I am ready to do more with my life. I truly want to make a difference. Ever since I was a little girl, I have had a fascination with Africa. I am so very grateful that I was able to take advantage of this opportunity.

Matthew Ransley
Matt found us via our website and has been developing his volunteer proposal for months. He plans to live in Cura over the next several months, contributing to the development of the computer lab and other ongoing projects!