Thursday, 31 March 2016

Visit to the Mathare Slum

Tuesday was an extraordinary day. We visited Mathare slum (informal settlement) with the incredible humanitarian, Jane Otai. Jane, who grew up in Mathare, works as a Senior Program Advisor for Johns Hopkins, conducting public health programs in Mathare. We had expected to learn about waterschool, but we were in for an experience far more moving and eye-opening than we could ever have anticipated.

Jane introduced us to the founders of the Mathare Outreach Community Centre who, for twenty-two years have offered education, food, love, and hope to children and their families through a variety of programs.

We were guided by Jane, Magdalene, one of the founders, a social worker, and several teachers through Mathare streets to visit several schools. Despite the abject poverty, lack of basic services and sanitation, and unimaginably poor housing, we saw a vital community. Almost everyone was busy hauling water, preparing food, building furniture by hand for sale, gathering charcoal, and running small roadside businesses. People were working hard to do the best with what they had. We also saw that our motto of "a hand up, not a handout" was being put into action, as a number of the teachers we met had grown up in Mathare and had returned to help their community. In fact, this is something we have seen throughout our travels here. Young Kenyans are using the opportunities given them to build up their country.

We visited several classrooms where the children welcomed us with singing and recitation and witnessed some really enthusiastic teachers - very commendable considering the high class numbers (40 to 100 or more), limited space, poor lighting, and few supplies. On our way to a sharing session with the teachers, we stepped into one of the school kitchens for a quick visit. ( see photo). The grade eights, who will soon sit for the very challenging national exams which determine their educational futures, entertained us with song and dance, then pulled us up to join them. Their teachers got quite a laugh watching the five muzungu proving their lack of rhythm (well, maybe not Jeannine and Sylvie).



Our sharing with the teachers revealed that we do have common concerns - special education, discipline, addiction issues, parent involvement and motivation, but these caring professionals certainly face more challenges in raising up their students than we have experienced. We were able to offer some practical suggestions, but our strongest message was to let them know how very important their work is. As Holly told them, "Teachers do the most important work in the world."

Following our professional sharing, we visited two classrooms in groups. Diane and Sheree visited a mixed grade seven/eight class where Diane presented basic information about puberty and sexual health then opened up the floor to questions. We were amazed and impressed by the thoughtful and frank questions the students asked. That they wanted to ask about the myths and misconceptions they held and did so in mixed company was very courageous.

Over in the grade seven class, Jeannine, Sylvie, and Holly also addressed sexual health topics and encouraged them to stay in school, then were thanked in song. Some discussion led to the discovery that the students knew  "un peu de fran├žais" and that was all it took for Jeannine and Sylvie to break into song. Their beautiful harmonies proved that some muzungu really do have an ear for music.

The last part of our Mathare tour was two home visits. How can we explain the overwhelming challenges faced by the two families we visited. Their resilience and resourcefulness, their sacrifice and hard work for their children was humbling. One, a widow, was the cook we met earlier at the school. She is so very proud of her son who has been sponsored to go to university, and she graciously invited us into her one room home ( no water or electricity) that she shares with her nine children and grandchildren. Our second visit was to a couple who lived in similar conditions except that their roof leaked miserably and the husband was disabled. To support her husband and three children, the mother spends her days gathering the crumbled remains of charcoal, mixing them with dried mud and compressing the mixture in a mould to be used as fuel. Jane assured us this is a very efficient fuel source. How can we not admire this woman's tenacity?

What else can we say? It was a very quiet drive back to our rooms. What can we, a small group of people from Sault Ste. Marie do that might possibly make a difference? The need is so large, and we are so small. Our hearts are heavy and the prospects daunting, but all we need do is look at the faces of the children, teachers, parents, and community workers we have met to know that we and all of you who have contributed to Tumaini Afrika are making a difference.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

We've Got Your Goat!

Easter Sunday in Namuncha was a huge celebration. The four hour service was a mix of dancing, singing, prayer, and sharing the joy of community. The little children watched us with wide eyes and vied for a chance to sit in our laps where they curiously stroked our skin, touched our hair and held our hands as we clapped to the rhythm of the music, We wore our Masi jewellery and shukas but our dress could not rival the beautiful traditional clothing of the Masai women.

Following the service, we were served a meal with meat, a sign that our visit was very special. While the children enjoyed an Easter treat, we thanked our cooks with gifts of rice.

Then, the real excitement began. Our thirty-eight goats were herded into a pen where they were selected by their new owners and brought to wardrobe where they were dressed in their new scarves. Pastor Simon explained that a gift of livestock, you become a friend forever. All of our Tumaini supporters who purchased a goat can know they have lasting friends in Namuncha. 

It is so difficult to describe the joy and sincere thanks our new friends expressed as they received these gifts. The hugs, gifts of beadwork, handshakes, and smiles were overwhelming. One elderly man brought tears to our eyes as he hoisted his new goat in his arms and practically danced away with his new source of income.
It was a long day, but we left in high spirits. One more day till we say ole sere.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Joy in Namuncha

Today's blog is coming to you from the northern savannah of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.  Hello….I am Vicki, the IT support person and photo editor.   While I have been encouraging the team to keep on writing because I know that you are enjoying their updates as much as I am, it turns out that they have busy doing other things.  Go figure!   The full days, hot sun and hard work are taking their toll and apparently, flopping into bed at the end of the day is more inviting than composing an update for our amusement.   But I have been getting brief updates via text and Jeannine has been sending me photos so, since the pictures speak for themselves, I thought I would post some for your viewing pleasure.

Upon their return from the Maasai Mara, they have spent most of their time in the Maasai village of Namuncha.  They have continued work on the fence and helped to dig trenches for the water tank.  In addition to the manual labour, they have been spending time with the young children.   Yesterday they delivered the Days For Girls kits and gave a lesson on their use.  They also spoke to the girls about female circumcision, HIV and condom use.     As a way of saying thank you, the girls sang and danced for them.  Not to be outdone, Jeannine responded in kind.  I think we all would have liked to have seen that!

Today they are back to Namuncha with the goats!  Lots and lots of goats!  Enjoy the photos! 

Come On!  How Cute is That!

Serving Lunch

More Lunch

Well Behaved and Patient in Line

And Happy

Diane giving Days for Girls Lesson

Girls With Their Kits

Happy Easter everyone

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Headed Back to Nairobi

After one last early morning safari, we left the Maasai Mara and headed back to Nairobi.   Tomorrow we return to the Maasai community of Namuncha where we will be delivering the Days for Girls kits and the two water tanks we have purchased.

In the meantime, we received some photographs from Principal Annastacia from the Compass School.  The Soo Minor Soccer Association was generous enough to gift us with some soccer uniforms.  As you know, soccer is a very popular game in Africa.   Here are some of the children proudly modelling their new jerseys.

And have you ever seen children so happy to get some new underwear?

Actually, it's probably not the underwear.  These kids just seem to smile no matter what.  We think there's a lesson in there somewhere.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Safari in the Beautiful Masai Mara

Just a few of the beautiful animals we had the privilege of observing in their natural habitat.  Upon her return, Jeannine is applying for a job with National Geographic as staff photographer.






Cape Buffalo

Black Rhino

Black Rhino

Lilac Breasted Roller