Sunday, December 18, 2011

2011 Fundraising Success!

This year has seen substantial challenges for Cura, but our well-wishers and donors have responded more generously than ever before! We are awaiting final totals, but we're on track to have raised enough not only to boost the operating budget of the Home but also to seed additional projects that are central to Cura's sustainable future success: education, infrastructure, medical care, small business. We anticipate having at least $50,000 with which to move forward into 2012 and beyond, and we take our stewardship of donor contributions very seriously. Please watch this page for updates as we complete ongoing projects and vet new ones, and do send me an email if you'd like more detail than what I provide here:

For now, let me thank, once again, Karyn Craven and her team at Burning Torch, and Kathy and Amy Eldon and their team at Creative Visions for their breathtaking energy and generous spirit on behalf of the children at Cura. And thanks to all of YOU who have provided support in so many ways as this small project has changed the lives of so many.

It's been an incredible year.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fundraiser Follow Up

We are still calculating the totals from the two end-of-year fundraisers, but we do know that they were each an enormous success!

Wendy & Lisa, The Goods and Chubby Lovers put on a great show at November's Safari Nights, and the crowd at last week's Burning Torch event was lively and generous!

Check out photos of our Burning Torch event here...

And know that we're grateful and humbled by the holiday generosity everyone has shown the children at Cura!


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fundraising as 2011 comes to a close...

I have three exciting announcements regarding Cura-fundraising, and a plea for your help spreading the word.

One is a reminder about the Safari Nights event coming up next weekend: 19 November in Los Angeles. It's not too late to buy tickets, so please consider joining us!

The second is a new Kickstarter campaign we're thrilled to be part of: it's One World Chorus and its plan to connect with the children in Cura in 2012.

Please don't miss this amazing original song by Aaron Nigel Smith and the information about the program we're implementing for music education and global communication for Cura Village!

The third announcement is an invitation to a holiday event ho
sted by our friends at Burning Torch, also in Los Angeles. Burning Torch, Inc. has been a generous supporter of our work in the past, and the fashion
company is making Cura Orphanage the recipient of its holiday cheer this year. Please consider joining us there, too, on 8 December:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November Musings

In partnership with Creative Visions and Lucy Woodward and well-wishers from all over the west coast, I'm busy preparing for the upcoming Safari Nights event... and marveling at the progress we've made in Cura over the past year. Despite the profound challenges presented by the drought in East Africa, Moses and the housemothers are providing a supportive, healthy Home for the children to live in and thrive.

We hope that the funds raised at Safari Nights will continue the momentum this year has built, and will allow us not only to expand the programs already in place but also implement a school lunch program at Cura Primary School and kick-start a music-education program that will carry over to the secondary school (scheduled to break ground this January!).

If you can't make it to the Safari Nights event in person, please consider purchasing one of these "lunch bags," hand-made by Diedre, one of our partners with One World Chorus. Your $20 purchase will help feed a Cura child who currently comes to school without lunch...

Please contact me at if you're interested; we'd like to raise funds to implement the school lunch program in time for the start of the new academic year in January!

We're also thrilled to announce that Cura now has internet! We'll be making some changes to our Pen Pal Program so that there can be more direct communication between the Cura children and their friends in the west... so watch for more information on that soon.

Here's hoping I'll see many of you at the 19 November event -- and many thanks for the support you've already shown for Cura this year,

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We are thrilled that Lucy Woodward, Faryal Russel and Henderson Studios are working on the second annual Safari Nights (19 November) event to benefit Cura Orphanage!

Please go to Creative Visions to purchase your tickets and/or copy the link to tell your friends.

It'll be an incredible evening of music, and your presence will help support some of the vital projects we have going on in Cura.

I'll look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Letter to Sponsors and Well-Wishers

Please pardon the duplication, but a version of this letter will go to sponsors and other well-wishers this week... Please consider "following" this blog and linking it to your Facebook and other social networking; we'd love to have even more people connected to the wonderful people and work in Cura!

Please do watch for an official announcement of our Second Annual Safari Nights event, coming up on 19 November. I posted in this blog about the event last year, and we hope to build on those previous successes. At this year's event, we plan to focus our fundraising on both some very essential needs and on an exciting new proposal for adding music education to the curriculum at Cura Primary School.

For that project, we’re partnering with a non-profit called One World Chorus to offer children in Cura an opportunity to perform with and learn about children in choruses all over the globe. The project, if it’s fully funded, will be developed with teen mentor programs and even recording opportunities through its founder, award-winning Aaron Nigel Smith. Please watch for more information about this as plans come together.

Of course, whatever we begin at the primary school will be extended through the secondary school once it’s built and fully operational. Those of you who have been with us for a while know that we raised funds last year through a special west coast premier of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Since then, we’ve worked tirelessly with One Kid, One World to confirm community buy-in and get the appropriate permitting, and we’re in the process now of confirming Construction for Change as project managers for the groundbreaking in January. We’re thrilled to be on the verge of offering Cura’s children a local option for public secondary school, and I hope you’ll watch and celebrate our progress with us!

Of course, my news from Kenya is complicated by the fact that most of East Africa is suffering a drought of historic proportions. According to, "East Africa is in the midst of its worst drought in more than 60 years, with as many as 10 million people at risk." Our children, thanks to generous sponsors and supporters like you, do not have to worry about whether they’ll have food to eat, though they are feeling the effects of the drought in indirect ways. Water is a pressing concern in the surrounding community, for example, and much of the Home’s budget has had to be recommitted to trucking in water when the rain collection isn’t sufficient. Food prices, too, in the region are fluctuating radically, and the Kenyan shilling is losing strength. The cumulative effect of this means that the leaders in the village and at our Home have to make some tough choices about what they can afford… and what they can’t.

We hope, of course, that our ongoing fundraising efforts will keep up with the need, at least on behalf of the children who are under our care. Because we’re committed to being a positive force for self-sufficiency and development, however, we feel a powerful sense of responsibility to improve the circumstances of the community as a whole.

Please know that your support, both financial and otherwise, has done measurable good – you are a partner with us in Cura’s well-being. On behalf of everyone there, I am deeply grateful.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Glorious Water!

Jordan has returned to Cura, and has brought with him vibrant energy that has resulted in not only Cura's first major "Sports Day," replete with team t-shirts...

But also water, water, water!

In this blog during the summer, I wrote about the fact that water was on the minds of everyone in Cura -- how to collect it, how to pump it, how to pay for it. All of East Africa is enduring a drought, and Cura isn't entirely immune from its effects: water has to be rationed, and the community has to collaborate, for example, even to provide water to keep the primary school clean and the children fundamentally hydrated.

When the rains come, of course, our Home's tank fills quickly, and Moses, the housemothers and the children all celebrate. But what overflows or isn't captured is lost... at least it was before now. Thanks to Jordan's generous network of friends and well-wishers, not one but TWO more collection tanks have been delivered and installed in the Home's courtyard.

Feeling grateful for this thing we take for granted here at home:

and for wonderful Jordan, of course.


Monday, August 29, 2011

End of Summer Update

Paige, Savannah and Danielle are gearing up for the children to return from their holiday break... but they're working with those who stuck around and generally getting a feel for the place. For more regular updates from Cura (and the rest of their Kenyan adventures), please follow their electronic journals at: (Savannah & Paige) (Danielle)

Pen Pals, too, are eagerly awaiting the children's return for September classes -- missives from Cura are forthcoming, I promise!

Meanwhile, we're working over here to keep the One World Chorus and Construction for Change plans in motion, and we're developing plans for our Second Annual Safari Nights fundraising event in Los Angeles in early November. Do watch for more information as that gets closer, and for photos if you're unlucky enough not to be able to attend...

Wishing, as always, Cura wasn't so far away...

Monday, July 11, 2011

We're back from Kenya and settling in at home... but I'm still immersed in Cura-related communication and planning. I've got this photo set as the background on my desktop, just to remind me of where we just were...

And we've got new (and very lucky!) volunteers headed there soon!

Paige, Savannah and Danielle are heading to Cura in August to begin a series of art and theater projects with the children, both between school terms and once classes begin again in September.

Jennifer will return again in November to reprise her Rotary-inspired "World without AIDS" photography and writing projects.

And Aaron and Diedre are working on plans to come to Cura in January to begin a global "Music and Movement" project with the students at Cura Primary School.

Of course, we hope Construction for Change will also be arriving after the first of the year, to break ground on the long-anticipated secondary school, as well.

These plans, and all of the details associated with them, keep me busy and thinking of Cura when I'm home -- as do pen pals and sponsors and interested well-wishers. But nothing beats being there.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Saturday was Bittersweet

Samuel rode a bicycle around the field probably 100 times.
Henry played football with our driver, Gilbert.
Grace and Phyllis spent prepared 150 chapatis on the new jiko and pans.
Minne and Naomi learned three new songs from my Girl Scout counselor days and promised to teach other kids when we're gone.
Margaret and Esther and Nancy had an enthusiastic dance party in the tv room.
Sharon tucked herself against me, drew my ratty old kikoi over her head and napped for an hour.
Esther and Mercy reminded me to pass along messages to their pen pals.
Amos and Peter asked over and over when we'd be back.
John Michael gave me a stack of drawings of birds to take home.
Loise begged to look at the photos on my camera one more time so she could memorize them.
Simon didn't want to look at us when we made our way out to leave.
Minnet let herself be dragged by the car instead of letting go of my hand.

Leaving is brutal.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday was Awesome

After our Thursday pleas for the last of the “map” donations, we were so flush with pledged cash (we’ll send information on how we’ll collect the funds when we get home, so watch for that!), that we wanted to get a jump on our shopping day Friday. The morning started early, with the about-a-mile walk to Village Market to get caffeinated and get going!

We made a Nakumatt (Kenya’s chain of Kmart or Fred Meyer-esque shopping emporiums) run there, purchasing the following to resupply some necessary materials for the housemothers:

1 sufuria (large cooking pot)

1 jiko (a charcoal burning stove)

2 chapati pans

12 bowls

8 cooking knives

50 melamine tea mugs

2 plastic wash basins (for laundry)

Fast forward now to the delivery of the above materials:

If ONLY Christmas morning elicited jubilation like this over each small and useful gift! Catching sight of the children helping us carry in these items, the whole group of women instantly burst into ululations and song – and the Kikuyu singing and dancing went on and on and on… Later, when Scola remarked that she couldn’t believe that we brought EXACTLY what was needed, we reminded her that we weren’t psychic… we just asked. Matching the donated funds to the necessary items was such an easy thing, and it created ecstatic results!

Back to Nairobi:

After loading Gilbert’s car with the kitchen-related booty, we went over to Westgate, a mall in another neighborhood, where we had made arrangements the prior day to order the maps at Savani’s Book Centre. The maps were there, waiting for us upon our arrival, but then we began a LONG process of working with Pardeep and Sam to fill the orders from the long list the teachers had made.

When we were done, we had purchased:

Full class sets of Science textbooks for grades 1 through 8

3 teacher’s guides for above Science textbooks

9 Kenya maps

6 East Africa maps

10 each of 9 different titles of English storybooks set in Kenya

Class sets of Encyclopedias for grades 1 – 8

5 staplers

4 boxes of staples

8 calculators

1 desk sharpener

16 copies of the primary mathematics textbook for grade 7

20 copies of the English primer for grade 5

15 copies of the REQUIRED Social Studies textbook for grade 8

2 copies each of 24 titles of Swahili storybooks for grades 1 through 8

We were giddy to deliver the goods!

When we arrived at Cura, our delivery was turned into a grateful and formal presentation led by Mrs Mwathi, flanked by the teachers who were misty-eyed with joy.

It’s impossible to overstate the number of times the word “miracle” was used in reference to the display covering the three tables they set out under a tree in the courtyard of the school. The grade 1 teacher showed us the scars on her palms, resulting in sharpening pencils with knives and razor blades – thrilled at the notion of having a desk sharpener now. “Imagine,” she said, “a professional teacher who has to find a knife from the kitchen to make sure her students can do their lessons.”

The books, though, were the star of the show – and Mrs Mwangi, one of the teachers who has been there the longest, gave the children a challenge to accompany this gift: She explained that before, they were all struggling to perform well on exams without the required texts to learn the material… but now there is no excuse. The children were assigned their textbooks and were launched, eagerly, into a heightened level of expectation.

While Greg and I shared Fantas and bread-and-butter sandwiches with Mrs Mwathi and Mrs Hinga (the deputy head teacher and extra-curricular music teacher extraordinaire), we noted the chalkboard graph on the wall indicating the exam scores over the last four years: they’ve been in decline. This is a fact Mrs Mwathi is now making public and working to bring the community’s parents and other leaders into the fold for solving the problem. We’ve connected her with our friend Bernard Mathu, formerly of Kenya’s premier high school’s administration and currently running his own school in Nanyuki, and Cura’s new Vicar is also on the team. With this kind of energy and intellect on board now, we also expect good things!

As it turned out, Friday was also an incredible day for Cura because ANOTHER group showed up to make a donation. A group of Nairobi businessmen have formed a charitable project for which they locate orphanages and schools in need and provide necessary resources. Their arrival meant 50 new wool blankets (which will go very nicely with the sheets and pillowcases recently donated by the Hilton Hotel!), bags and bags of maize meal, and various other sundries. They also left Cura with this challenge:

Any of the 5 girls who are currently in grade 8 can earn a scholarship for their secondary school fees next year IF they earn at least a 400 on their national exams at the end of the term.

This is an enormous gift, and a significant challenge. No pressure, Grace, Esther, Leah, Sarah and Anne… Except that the pressure is on!

We closed our day with promises to return (we’re heading back for a day of football and singing and prolonged goodbyes this morning) and a quick visit with Mike Eldon back in Nairobi. We reflected on all the good progress – as well as the ongoing and mounting challenges – we continue to see in Cura, and marveled at the project Evelyn started five years ago, feeling grateful to be a part of it.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Connecting Cura to YOU

On Tuesday, I held a meeting in the library of all 29 children who currently participate in the Pen Pal Programme I run with Scola Nduta, my committed, reliable, capable, not-to-mention gorgeous partner in Cura. The purpose of the meeting was to explain fully to the children how the pen pal letters are sent and received, since sometimes it seems like a mystery…

They draft their letters on ancient PCs, and Scola saves the files to send via email when she can sit down with her portable modem (which we keep supplied with internet “minutes” using the donations of the pen pals on the US/west side). The children receive their letters in print form, after Scola downloads them from the emails I send her – when pen pals send photos, she has to simply show the children the screen view, though, since the printer warps the images beyond recognition.

I assured the children that the eventual goal was that they could one day communicate directly with their pen pals and others, once Cura has internet access more reliable than Scola’s trusty Safaricom USB plug-in. They were thrilled with the prospect of one day having email accounts of their own, and they were inspired to become more proficient with word-processing so they’d be ready when that day comes.

This is the kind of authentic learning we hoped to create with this program: the children learn multiple skills (keyboarding, English language, conversation, inter-cultural awareness, geography…) that are organic to the activity that engages them. What an incredible success this has been so far!

As our meeting went on, I invited the children to ask questions of me… anything they wanted. Nearly all of them wanted to know the ages of their pen pals, down to the day. This prompted my reminder that that’s a question they might ask of their pen pals in their next letters (though I answered truthfully when I could!). Some wanted to know why their pen pals asked so many questions themselves! This led to a lengthy conversation about how it’s a cultural practice in the US and in the west to use questions as an invitation to further conversation. We role-played possible responses, comparing:

Q: What is your favorite animal?

A: A giraffe.


Q: What is your favorite animal?

A: My favorite animal is a giraffe because its hide is a beautiful color and I once saw one nibbling from a tree. I read in a book that they have very long tongues. What is YOUR favorite animal?

This was a fun exercise, and Scola confirmed, in Kikuyu, that everyone got the gist. A room full of happily responsive “ehhhhh” affirmatives made my day!

All of this is to say that the pen pal program is not only going well, it’s growing! Many of the 29 current participants expressed interest in having a 2nd pen pal, and the teachers at the primary school expressed interest in having more of their students participate.

If you are not yet participating in the program but would like to, please let me know ( -- I’ll reply with details. The boys, especially, would love boys their own age to write to, so let me know if there are boys in your life who would like to sign on.

If you are already participating, please tell your friends… and please know that your letters are EAGERLY anticipated. Some children receive incredibly regular letters, which is thrilling… but which provides a comparison point for others whose pen pals are less prolific. The children think of you as FRIENDS – they know your names, they ask after you, they give me messages of love to pass along to you, and they want photos of you to have for themselves. You are a connection to a world beyond Cura that they can’t really even imagine right now – a way to make the rest of the world real. No pressure! ;)

At the end of the meeting, I met with each child to find out what they liked and didn’t like about how the pen pal process is going. My favorite moment was when Simon, a born performer and as optimistic a human being I’ve ever met, said: “McKenna is my pen pal and I don’t want anyone else. She writes VERY often, and she knows me. We will meet some day.”

Full disclosure: McKenna is my niece. But she IS an excellent pen pal, and she makes a kid’s day on a regular basis. You can, too!


While we were sleeping (aka the power of social networking and incredible blessing of good friends)

After posting my last blog and linking it to my Facebook page, we tucked ourselves in for a dvd episode of The Sopranos and an oscillating fan to even out the night noise of askaris changing shifts and traffic heating up on UN Avenue.

And while we were sleeping, the interwebs were hard at work, carrying our plea out to generous friends everywhere!

I am humbled and amazed to report today that not only have we been able to cover the cost of the maps we requested, but we have been able to order EVERYTHING on the Cura Primary School’s wish list. Pledges have varied in size, but the largest portion was one that resulted from wonderful Marte’s birthday party and her request for donations instead of gifts. That brings our total to US$1650 at the moment… far more money than we anticipated. I am deeply grateful.

I am grateful, too, to the book seller (Savani Book Center, Ltd at Westgate, for those of you in Nairobi who might be able to give him more business) we’re working with – after hearing what our purchases are for, he offered a deep discount on everything. I guess he couldn’t help but catch the fever, too!

Those who have pledged these funds can expect a complete reporting of how they will be spent, but know this for now: we can purchase ALL of the textbooks requested, ALL of the storybooks requested, ALL of the maps requested, ALL of the encyclopedias requested, ALL of the calculators requested… and we’ll even have some left over. We can’t wait to see the looks on the faces of the teachers tomorrow when we arrive with a taxi overloaded with much-needed and long-awaited materials.

Watch for photos…


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On the Map

As some of you might remember, we raised funds last year to install one World Map and one Map of Africa in each of Cura Primary School's 8 classrooms. We can confirm that the maps are on display and in use! They are so valuable, actually, that now the teachers wish to have even more specific reference points and have added East Africa and Kenya wall maps to their wish list for classes 4 through 8.

We have already spent all of the money we came with (earmarked for "education") on also-needed and prioritized Science in Action textbooks for all 8 classes -- these have been ordered, and I've actually JUST gotten off the phone with Moses, confirming the invoice amount and the delivery date/time (Friday at 2pm)!

We'd love to be able to make one final gift of these wall maps if we can; they are running about KSh 2000 right now (that's about $25 each). So a commitment of $250 (from single or cumulative sources!) would allow us to confidently make that purchase...

If you're interested in helping with this before we leave (we'll have to do the shopping and delivery before 2 July), please do contact me at:

Thanks for considering it!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Last 48 Hours

The warmth and hospitality of Moses and the housemothers is palpable. We arrived with small gifts (colorful rubbish bins for each of the children’s bedrooms), and the housemothers were surprised that we would bring something for them when it was we who were guests. We are served hot, sweet chai regularly throughout the day, and our plates are heaped with food at mealtimes. Norman, when we stayed in our room previously, has equipped it with a handful of modern conveniences: a mini-refrigerator, a small microwave, some scented candles (there IS a pervasive dampness here that a little vanilla scent goes a long way to disguise) – but it’s the welcome of the people here that is most comforting.

That said, there are few of our usual comforts here. One is never free from the dark red mud after the rains, for example, but that inconvenience is compensated by the gratitude everyone feels that the rains came just in time to fill the emptied storage tanks. We don’t shower here, but we now have plenty for our basic needs, and that is enough.

We were invited to Moses’ house for dinner last night, and as we walked up the path, we passed the plots where his two brothers also farm and live. Moses talked about the land once belonging to his father, and about his 110 year old mother who passed away just this year. Moses and his children proudly welcomed us into their home, a permanent structure just finished this last February. It is yards away from the corrugated aluminum structures where his brothers live, and even from the structures that house his three cows (one of whom was harassing the others because she’s in heat… Moses wasn’t able to reach the vet by telephone while we were there, so he had to excuse himself to go out and wrangle his misbehaving livestock!). The life Moses has created for his family is basic but comfortable, and we gratefully ate the mukimo and cabbage we were served, while we talked about the day’s news that was broadcasting from the small television on the counter. As we walked back to the Home together, nibbling on roast maize, we could smell the cook fires of various other families who were closing out their day in a similar way.

Since we knew we’d be spending the night, I brought some glow-in-the-dark bracelets to play with before the children went to bed. Distributing them was a chaotic and noisy process, but then the courtyard was filled with neon bracelets, earrings, halos, spears… At one point several children went into a single room, turned off the lights, and managed a techno-rave with all of the day-glo blues, oranges and greens!

Many of the children were still holding on to the bookmarks we had made earlier in the day...

The stickers were a big hit, though I’m not certain whether even one of the bookmarks will ever mark a place in a novel. The children love the library and the books there, though much of even the older children’s interaction with the materials there is limited to admiring pictures. It’s something, but it would be wonderful if words could inspire them as much as pictures do!

There is a lot of learning happening here, of course – and in several languages, which is the most impressive part. The children all speak Kikuyu, their mother language, but instruction in school is in Kiswahili and in English. I sat for a bit with Henry yesterday (he’s the only child at the Home who is still in pre-primary classes, so he has a lot of free time!), and we took turns placing seeds into an upturned Frisbee, counting in both English and Swahili. The reward for his excellent mathematical and linguistic performance? Actually PLAYING Frisbee with Greg!

I notice that I’m taking fewer photos this year of the daily experience in Cura – not even of adorable Henry. I think it’s because the things I am most wanting to absorb this trip can’t be captured. This makes for a less visually interesting blog record, I realize, but if I could I would link you to: the impressive size of the spiders who also live and work here, the sound from across the playing field of the pre-primary students reciting their lessons, the press of hands and bodies as the children greet visitors (and the particular urgency of their questions about when we’ll be back), the sensory overload from hearing ones name repeated hundreds of times a day (calling for your attention, but also wrapped in a sentence in a language you don’t understand), the tug at your scalp of ten pairs of hand braiding and unbraiding your hair, the weight of the wheelbarrow that contains an enormous pot of githeri for lunch (not to mention the solid strength and balance of Grace as she maneuvers it from the kitchen to the Home, the pace of life and work that requires the older children to get up at 5am to begin their studies and keeps them busy at school until after 5pm…

It is not only the children who are working hard to improve their own lives here. The adults are in constant physical and psychological demand, doing the work to raise these 50 children while they also have families of their own. Since we’ve been here, I’ve been called to act as the librarian, a tutor, a computer tech, a security monitor, an art teacher, a financial consultant, a confidante, a storyteller… I know I fell into bed exhausted last night, and I did only a fraction of the labor the house mothers did.

Today’s mud quotient was lower than yesterday’s, which made everything seem a bit easier – planning every ingress and egress in order to minimize the muck-distribution is an intellectual challenge on its own. We accomplished other things, too, though:

--I distributed art work from the HiLife kids in Texas, which the children added to their individual collections of other masterpieces from Lockwood Elementary over the last two years;

--Greg mapped the whole Cura compound, using such high-tech instruments as graph paper and his approximately-one-yard-in-length stride;

--I met with all of the children currently participating in the pen pal program, getting feedback from them about their experiences and answering questions about their US counterparts;

--Greg launched a walk-about clean-up campaign, and he and the children filled four garbage bags with scraps and trash and recyclables from around the compound;

--We both met with the headmistress, Mrs. Mwathi, to receive the list of needed textbooks she and her faculty compiled. (We matched the education-restricted donation we recently received to a segment of the need, and we’ve got an order placed for science textbooks for ALL of the class levels. Delivery on Friday – yay!)

There were notes placed in our pockets all day, expressions of love and appreciation that are unnecessary… but incredible mementos to keep us going when we get back to the US.

For now, back in Nairobi, the next step is a shower and maybe even a martini… we’re children of our own culture, after all. Keeping the ability to be effective in both worlds is key to eventually calling our work here a success.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Rains Down in Aaaaaafrica

We're having a lazy Nairobi Sunday, but I didn't want to miss a day of blogging...

Although my initial goals for the day included hardly more than sleeping in and reading by a pool, the sunshine at noon eventually devolved into ominous clouds that forced me inside. It's a good thing, too, since I got a lot of Cura-related emails written and made sense of the illogically sequenced and illegible scribbles I've made during our meetings all week.

As the ominous clouds turned into power-outage-inducing thunder, and the thunder turned into the kind of rain that even Seattle-ites like me can't really fathom, I took the time to be thankful for two things:

1. that the generator here at the UN compound (where we've set up camp for the afternoon's shelter and internet access) is fully functional... and

2. that this torrent will serve to replenish the water supply in Cura, if only temporarily.

Water is the word on everybody's lips there, and the notable lack of sufficient rain impacts everything. I don't actively bless much, but I bless this rain. Cue Toto soundtrack...


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Red Dirt and the Cura Arts Scene

This morning, we were greeted at Cura (which, by the way, is reached by a stretch of gutted red road) by Edwin, the new vicar. He had invited us to his home to meet his family, and he instructed us to get back in our car and follow him.

Gilbert (our driver) was game, so off we went back down the rutted red road (with Cura children following, perplexed by our extremely short morning visit) and over the paved road a ways before we turned off for what seemed like AGES of maneuvering increasingly rocky and neglected terrain. It is Saturday here, so the fields we saw out our windows were filled with people hard at work, weeding and harvesting the crops they depend on for both food and income. At one point, we slowed nearly to a stop in order to let a donkey by; it was pulling a cart laden with charcoal and other commodities for the market. Gilbert chuckled under his breath, and said he was reminded of an adage: Treat a donkey well, and he will treat you well. He was filled with folksy commentary, actually, as he noted the work ethic clearly in place in this predominantly Kikuyu region. Gilbert is a Luo, a tribe that has been disgruntled, to say the least, with Kikuyus through Kenya’s history… But Gilbert thought that old resentment might be put to rest if “more Kenyans went for a drive out here and saw how Kikuyus live.”

We were, of course, eager to arrive at Edwin’s shamba to see how he and his family live… and, sure enough, Gilbert had even more to be impressed about. Edwin and Rachel, his wife, have a small plot of land that is adjacent to that of each of his brothers and his father. On this plot, they proudly keep 5 cows, 20 pigs and 250 chickens, at last count, and they and their three daughters work from 5am to milk cows, harvest eggs, prepare the day’s feed and other chores before walking the surplus to the market for some additional income.

After all of that, Edwin drives the chassis-brutalizing route to Cura to begin the morning’s duties in the parish office, observing, learning about and responding to the concerns of his “flock.”

Not being Anglicans ourselves, we weren’t sure what to expect from Edwin in terms of his observations about Cura and/or his commentary about how to address its challenges. After today, even Gilbert was happy to have sustained ample wear and tear to his taxi in order to hear Edwin talk in such measured, creative and energetic terms about how he can make a meaningful impact on the community there. He spoke about the particular challenge of integrating the various generations into the common and substantial work of the community. He commended Moses and his generation for being the caretakers, and he recognized the young people as the future workforce and leadership of the area. He wondered, though, where the adults between the ages of 25 and 40 had gone… Some have died prematurely (hence, the orphanage!), but, as he says “we have not put every one in the ground as of yet.” He takes as his personal focus the closing of this gap: bringing what adults still hover around Cura into partnership with the young and the old so that the solutions to Cura’s problems are shared by a group of people who can sustain each other into the future. We look forward to tracking his success!

Once we said our thank yous and goodbyes to the Kinyanjuis, we made our way back down and then back up the red roads between there and Cura… and got back in time to spend the afternoon variously playing games, making art projects and taking care of some administrative business.

Scola, my partner in the pen pal program and the computer lab instructor, helped us manage the children rotating through the art and photography stations, while Grace (one of the house mothers) led singing and dancing and still found time to serve us a heaping plate of ugali and sukuma wiki. Delicious and filling!

The day was chaotic and demanding: those of us with children at home know what it can be like to be on call for every need throughout the day – and imagine that times 50! Though the children are self-sufficient and have plenty of care throughout the day, they were also excited to show us the new skills they had acquired (bicycles, bicycles, bicycles), make plans for when we come back on Monday (pen pal letter-writing, another art project, a shamba walk, and more) and generally get us caught up on what they need (Stephen wants a pen pal that will write more often; Sharon wants a scrunchy to finish off the braid she put in my hair; Minnet just wants Norman to come back, in the worst way; Naomi wants more paper and pens to draw her flowers in peace and quiet; Grace wants to get good enough marks on her final exams to earn a place in a prestigious Nairobi secondary school; Simon wants to become an even better dancer; Minne really wants to be excused from Sunday school… ).

Asking questions and listening to the children was the major focus of the day, and the afternoon passed swiftly! By the time we sat with Scola (my pen pal program partner) for sweet, black tea and hot, fresh chapati, we were exhausted!

I left amid reassurances that we’d be back on Monday, and that I’d have another craft project to do together (it’s bookmarks… don’t tell!). I also left with two small treasures: gifts from Esther and Grace that were so beautifully wrapped that I waited until I got back to Nairobi to open the packages so that I could photograph them before I ruined them in the unwrapping.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Food and water and luxuries like that

Yassi and I lingered over our dinner last night, talking about Cura, our respective relationships to the children, the leadership and the projects, and what we each anticipate in the coming years. Connecting with Yassi is always crucial for my work; it is even more crucial for the children in the Home, as she is as dedicated a mother-figure as anyone, crafting games and activities that inspire the children to be the best versions of themselves. This is easy for me to say, however, over my dim sum and papaya salad, my hair still wet from my hot shower!

Today’s meetings, like those over the past few days, covered a wide range of topics, but one, in particular, emerged as paramount: WATER. How to pay for it, how to get it, how to distribute it, how to live without it… The Cura community (separate from but overlapping with our work with the Home) has an outstanding utility bill that must be satisfied before any meaningful solution can be reached, and that obstacle is weighing heavily on everyone’s minds. Because there’s no readily available water (rain is collected, but what if it doesn’t rain??), Moses sometimes has to have water delivered – for washing, for drinking, for irrigation – and both the expense and the rationing have negative impacts on the Home.

Despite the water problems, the housemothers and Moses continue to do their best for and with the children. They build the healthiest menus they can within the allotted budget:

And they even generously share their meals with us when we visit. Today, we were greeted with chai and fresh eggs from the chicken coop only yards from where we sat. For lunch, we had githeri… a treat for us, but a starchy twice-a-week lunch staple for the children.

Headmistress Mrs Mwathi and the Cura Primary School teachers, too, continue to make do with what resources they have. Our meeting today mentioned but didn’t focus on water; we discussed the need for textbooks to meet the new requirements from the Kenyan Ministry of Education, in social studies, in particular… as well as the ongoing difficulties many of the community’s children face in even being able to afford to bring lunch to school.

With water and food and educational basics weighing heavily on us, it was an indescribable pleasure to get to see the children recite poetry and perform the music they’ve been working on. We know how valuable this kind of supplemental education is for children’s development, and, as in the US, most of the work staff and faculty do is unpaid and for the love of the children involved. For her efforts, we are deeply grateful to Mrs. Hinga, with whom we hope to develop more programs for music and dance education in Cura.

Clearly, the infrastructural challenges in Cura are many and mounting, though progress and hope are still in ample evidence. The eight housemothers, with whom we met today, gathered in their kitchen and surrounded by cook stoves and metal pots, can make a long list of needs – but they also smile when they speak of the children’s progress in school, their good health, and their good behavior. They are proud of the work they do – as they should be.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Glamorous World of Site Plans and Spreadsheets

We stayed in Nairobi today so that we could schedule meetings with our partners doing the daily, unglamorous work of maintenance and management on behalf of all of our projects in Cura. It turns out we had a lot to talk about!

Greg and I left the New York Times office building early, escaping before the UN compound across the street implemented one of its regular bomb drills. Chaos may or may not have ensued... we were already comfortably ensconced in Mark Somen's office at Tribe! Mark and, in particular, his wife Yassi have coordinated field trips, organized fund-raisers and generally provided loving attention for the children in Cura for the past two years.

After a short visit, we strolled over to the Village Market for coffee and to await the arrival of Nazir from the DEPOT. Nazir has worked with our partners with One Kid, One World on the community building and required permitting in preparation for the construction of Cura's future secondary school! We worked together to bring plans in line for bringing on the Construction for Change team, who will oversee the construction project starting in January... as long as we have SITE PLANS for the plot! Does anyone know a good surveyor in or around Nairobi who is willing to work for next to nothing? One the site is surveyed, we can finalize the construction plans and break ground...

Discussing site plans and construction schedules worked up an appetite in all of us... and just in time, too, since Greg and I ran into friends at the food court and got to catch up between meetings!

After lunch, we ran some errands and eventually made our way to Lavington to visit Evelyn College of Design. The grounds are tucked away and not easy to find, but this is part of the charm of the place, which we investigated as a possible headquarters for future Cura volunteers. For today, our most important errand there, though, was to meet Daniel, Cura's volunteer accountant. He and I exchange organizational emails regularly, but we had never met; it was wonderful to now be able to envision a face behind the spreadsheets. We brainstormed strategies for sharpening the relationship between Cura's receipts and the quarterly reporting; Evelyn runs a tight ship and Daniel is organized and vigilant, but we know we can always do even better as we manage several projects under this one umbrella. Learning from him what will best streamline Evelyn's work was vital to the ongoing success of our fundraising...

Glamorous? Not really. But in service of something powerful and important -- which we'll get back to tomorrow. Cura-bound first thing in the morning!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In Cura. Finally!

After two or three wrong turns (perhaps our sense of direction was dampened by the rain?) we arrived in Cura to be greeted warmly, as usual, by Moses and his right-hand-man Steven. Hannah served us chai and cakes, according to Kikuyu custom which, according to Moses, requires that one not ask a guest a single question until he has been served some “small bitings.” Once those bitings were served, however, the questions were volleyed from all directions!

Our conversation lasted us until lunchtime, and ranged from the state of Norman’s (the cow) milk production to the cost of water to the plans for the secondary school to the newest members of the Cura community: the headmistress and the vicar.

As if on cue, the new vicar, a tall, slender, impeccably dressed man, walked in to the office and Moses made introductions. More formalities ensued, as did some excellent brainstorming about accounting and vision and community leadership. It was gratifying to speak with people who are so thoughtful about the methods with which they meet the needs of the children, the broader community and even the donors and volunteers who have linked themselves with their work in Cura.

As we talked about the work that has been done as a result of donor dollars so far, we got to visit the Clinic’s nurse and lab technician, inspect the computer lab and library, and even say hello to Norman, Anita (the calf!), and the many chickens and rabbits that now reside in the Cura Orphanage compound.

We’ll have more time with the children at Cura in the upcoming week or so (today we only saw several peeking around the corner of the office, confirming with their own eyes that the rumors of our return were true!), but we have more meetings-of-the-mind in store for the near future.

We’ll meet the new headmistress on Friday, for example, and we’ll get to chat with all of the housemothers that same day over the lunch hour. We’ve met with the men today… we’ll see next what the influential women of Cura have to say!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Getting here from there

We left Seattle on Friday morning, 17 June, and drove as far as Redding, CA – the half way mark to LA. On Saturday, we completed the I5 portion of the journey, winding up in Pasadena, where we could regroup, repack and prepare for our next steps.

On Sunday morning, we met with current and future Creative Visions and Cura Orphanage luminaries…

Talking through potential plans for a choral arts program to connect Cura’s children to choirs in the US and elsewhere, as well as about the current status of the plans for the secondary school. Kathy and Amy gave the gathering the usual energy and hospitality, Jon provided perspective and comic timing, Grace set the framework for our financial progress, and we were even lucky enough to have Mike there to provide context and up-to-the-minute commentary about developments in Cura.

Greg and I left inspired, energized, and armed with a substantial to-do list!

It was tough to leave Malibu and its obvious charms, but we tore ourselves away and got to the airport in plenty of time to address the Virgin Atlantic’s various challenges. By take-off at 9pm, the in-flight entertainment helped drown out our chattier neighbors and lull us to sleep.

Arrival in London marked the half way point, and then we had yet another overnight flight into Nairobi… where we’ve now safely arrived and settled in at the New York Times Bureau office.

An hour on the road in the morning will deliver us to our eagerly-anticipated destination and get us started on the work that brings us all the way across the globe.

Worth it.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Heading Back for More!

I'll try to be more consistent with my postings this year... though the pull of the internet isn't very strong when there are other distractions available like art projects and daisy chains and village walks and bike rides with all of the incredible children in Cura!

Greg and I will arrive back in Kenya on 21 June, and we'll have only about two weeks there this year -- it's not long enough, but it's something, and it will help us assess the incredible work that's gone on there over the past year.

Even from a distance, we already know that:

--the rabbit hutch is constructed and populated;
--Norman, the cow, had her calf, Anita, and all is well in cow-land;
--a shipment of new computers for the lab is on its way from Afretech in Canada;
--the children have a handful of new bicycles, thanks to Norman, the human;
--mattresses, school uniforms, and new shoes, among other items have all been graciously donated by concerned well-wishers;
--many engaging visitors and volunteers have made their way to Cura this year, inspiring and being inspired by the children;
--volunteer accommodations have been improved, making it possible for us to stay in Cura more often;
--enormous progress has been made toward breaking ground on the new secondary school;
--the village has a new vicar;
--the primary school has a new headmistress;
--29 children have been actively participating in the Pen Pal Program throughout the year;
--many field trips and enrichment activities have been organized by our incredible Yassi;
--27 of our 49 elementary-school aged children are earning marks in the top 10 of their respective class level exams!

There have been other exciting developments this year, of course, but even this short list demonstrates that the focus, energy and compassion so many people have directed Cura's way is really paying off.

Of course, none of our enrichment activities or projects are possible without funding, and we've had some incredible developments in that arena, as well. I've blogged here about most of the fund-raising events throughout the year, and we're looking now to create a budget cycle that allows us to project fund-raising targets and plan for growth.

The most incredible and recent news on the funding front is that, since April, 35 children either have been newly sponsored or have had their sponsorships renewed! This is in no small part to the credit of Norman Golightly, his KenyaSpareACamera project, and his breathtaking energy: his campaign resulted in 21 of those recent sponsorships. Of course, sponsorships are in a constant cycle of renewal, and we have 6 on the horizon... Please tell your friends to contact me at if they're interested!

Of course, I'll be less available to monitor paperwork and details while I'm in Cura... but I'll get to them when I return. The communications work and detail management I do throughout the year is driven by the inspiration and energy I derive from being with the children, talking with the incredible Evelyn Mungai and Mike Eldon, and hearing from Moses and the other community leaders who provide the daily foundation for the work we all do.

I hope you'll check in here when you can...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

eNORMous Thanks!

Please forgive the silly pun in the title... I'm actually at a loss for how to meaningfully express the incredible humanitarian work our own Norman is doing for the children of Cura during his current visit.

He's effecting actual change on the ground by working to fill the rabbit hutch and upgrade some of the living quarters, and he's brightening the children's lives with a photography project that allows them to capture their unique views of their world.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Norman is bringing increasing numbers of people into the Cura family; his website for the cause just logged its 2000th hit, and the queries for sponsorship, volunteer-ism and in-kind donations have been keeping me busy every day.

Please check Norman's site yourselves at --
the images are stunning, and Norman's reflections on his visit are a moving tribute to the transformational power of giving of oneself.

Humbled and grateful,

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

So much to say!

Volunteer season is in full effect in Cura these days...

From the recent Rotarians at Work day:

To the return of Norman and his Kenya Spare a Camera project, to Joey's recent visit:

We are fortunate to have so many well-wishers who provide incredible experiences and opportunities for the children we care for!

We are also partnering with generous and committed organizations like

Construction for Change: a Seattle-based skills to our secondary school project

Burning Torch: an LA-based clothing line that is holding an online fundraising sale in its online boutique and donating 30% of its profits to Cura

Flying Kites: a New York-based non-profit that also runs an orphanage and school in Kenya and with whom we've been sharing ideas and challenges.

Thanks to all of you for making this work even more meaningful and productive!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cura has made it to YouTube!

We dare you to resist a visit to Cura after watching this short video!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hats On for Cura!

Well wishers at Clear Creek High School recently raised $1000 to support our work in Cura, with a "Hats On for Cura" event. Enormous thanks to Wynette, whose energy inspired the project!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Considering a Safari this Summer?

I've not yet purchased my own ticket, but I plan to be in Kenya again from about 20 June until mid-July, and I'd love to escort Cura well-wishers to the village to see the incredible work that is done there throughout the year.

Because I'm a volunteer with Cura and not a travel specialist, I'm working with an amazing woman, Marcia Gordon, and I can recommend her efficient and professional safari company, Extraordinary Journeys ( for your travel arrangements. I hope you'll check out her website and contact her to discuss options for your own, custom-developed safari experience -- which will include your time with me in Cura, of course! I know she's working up some sample itineraries, and I would be happy to forward you a couple, just for a frame of reference, per your request.

June and July are beautiful times to be in Kenya, and if you book early, you may be able to take advantage of lower season rates. Please let me know if a safari to Cura might be in the cards for you this year, and thank you for your ongoing support of the children of Cura!