Monday, 12 March 2018

Homa Bay

After a long(seven hours), bumpy, but fascinating road trip to Homa Bay, we ate dinner at the insect research station where we would stay for three nights, then fell into bed. The next morning, we arrived at Wasaria Primary School  on Lusinga Island at ten, and they were ready for us, thanks to advance planning by Nellie, Mary’s long time assistant in the County Girls’ Caucus program. This public school, far from Nairobi, was far different from the informal schools we’d visited previously.  While classrooms were still sparsely supplied and overcrowded, and many wore uniforms in disrepair, there was a sense of health and optimism overall. Approximately 500 students, almost even numbers of boys and girls from pre-primary one to class eight, learn under the guidance of just twenty teachers. Still, all of their class 8 students qualified for secondary school (no guarantee here, as anxiety-provoking, demanding exit exams often defeat even the brightest students). A number even did well enough to qualify for a national school (more prestigious).

We were so excited to witness the results of the County Girls Caucus founded by Mary Thamari and partially supported by Tumaini Afrika. Wasaria girls had attended a caucus almost two years earlier, and student leaders, with teacher support, continued to spread the message of girls’ empowerment through education, health, hygiene, and self-respect. We attended a Girls Caucus Club meeting led by an impressively poised, articulate, and compassionate grade eight girl - except for the paperwork, she is already a mature teacher. She and the senior girls shared the knowledge and self-confidence they had gained through Mary’s program. Tumaini supporters, you are truly giving a hand up to Kenyan girls.

While we shared with the girls, Mary’s LIA partner, Steve Omondi who is a social worker, addressed the boys. He shared his personal story, then augmented the Girls’ Caucus program by encouraging respect for girls and women. Following this, Marg led a differentiated learning presentation for the teachers. You know that staff member that sits at the back of the room wearing their skepticism for all to see? That person was front and centre and nodding in agreement by the end of the presentation. Good work, Marg!

Our visit concluded with a presentation of school supplies and soccer uniforms, donated by Sault Area Soccer Association and collected by Maria Burgess, for the girls’ team and their coaches. 

With so much going on, we enlisted Faraj’s help to hand out toothbrushes to the smaller children. You have no idea what a logistical challenge it can be to deliver such a prized item to excited children.  Wow! Faraj is a natural. He handles kids even better than he drives, and that’s saying a lot.

After a quick lunch back at our digs, we headed to Urianda Primary School. It’s a public school, too, but with a big difference for Kenya: Urianda is an inclusive school that prides itself on accommodating children with physical and intellectual challenges. In fact, when at the end of an eventful day, one young man had a seizure, he was quickly attended to and the other students remained calm and unfazed. The love and dedication these teachers have for their students shone through their eyes and words during the differentiated learning presentation. These people really get it, and they were eager to study the resources we provided.

While we, along with Mary and Nellie, listened to the Girls’ Caucus presentations and demonstrated some basic self defence, Steve Omondi, a social worker from LIA and Faraj spent time with the boys. Steve is a very organized and empowering leader, and having noted Faraj’s just revealed skill with kids, enlisted him to assist. If Faraj’s sendoff is any indication, “Faraj, Faraj, please come back!” he may have found a second vocation. Watch out Kamal and Lois, your driver has a wandering eye - well, not entirely, as he did a great job of dodging cows on the highway on our way back to our lodgings.

On Saturday, girls from Wasaria and Urianda invited to attend a special event with their parent or guardian at ten a.m., straggled in up to an hour late due to a lengthy walk over muddy roads due to heavy rain the night before. They walked kilometres for something they really didn’t have any information about.  Would you? Almost all the fifty girls and their parents/guardians made it, along with four recent secondary school graduates who will begin university in the fall to study education, public health, nursing, and science.  While waiting for everyone to appear, Marg led the girls in a singalong, assisted by Carey and Sheree. We were a full-fledged choir by the time everyone was assembled.

The pastor of our church meeting place was most welcoming and supportive of County Girls’ initiatives. We were pleased that the principal from Urianda, who had been at a meeting when we visited his school, arrived eager to greet us; in fact, many of the teachers from both schools also attended to support their students and, in some cases to stand in as guardians for those girls whose moms and/or dads could not attend - this was a Saturday, by the way. 

After initial welcomes, Mary Thamari addressed the crowd. Realizing that some could not speak either English or Kiswahili, she recruited a woman from the audience who eagerly stepped forward to translate Mary’s mix of English and Kiswahili into Luo. We really don’t know what was said, but she captivated her audience and the rapid translation was amazing to witness.

Gabi’s DfG presentation was also a wonder to behold. Steve served as the translator, holding up the ladies panties to show how the shield fit in place, and not batting an eye when he needed to deliver information about heavy flow and leakage. The pastor, male teachers and dads there without their wives, all received kits for their wives and  enthusiastically practised inserting the liners into the shields and attaching them correctly to the panties so they could show their wives how the system worked. They eagerly asked questions in front of the mothers and daughters, demonstrating an acceptance and support of the women in their lives that their daughters would not forget.  Truthfully, we suspect that many Canadian men would not have handled this demonstration with such aplomb. Thank you Stephen and Gabi!

Next, it was Carey’s turn to conduct a child development seminar for the parents while the rest of us danced, sang and played clapping games outside with the girls. 

Finally, it was time for the highlight of the day - goat  presentations to the girls in attendance who had been chosen to receive these valuable gifts because they were both deserving and in need of the economic help and encouragement owning their own goat would provide. What a gratifying experience it was for us to help present the goats you helped to purchase. Check out the photos. Is your goat there? A special word of thanks goes to Steve, goat wrangler extraordinaire, and to whoever offered their van to transport 34 of those bleating darlings to the event. Glad we’re not in charge of the detailing!

Exhausted but elated, we bid farewell to Mary and Nellie who headed back to Nairobi. The next day, we dropped off Steve to his bus stop back to the big city and headed to the Masai Mara for a much-needed rest before our final few days in Kenya. 

Enjoy Jeannine’s beautiful photos of the Mara and its inhabitants!

Lilac-Breasted Roller


Warthog (Pumba)

Grey Crowned Crane





Cape Buffalo





Cute Elephant Butts

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