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.