Saturday, 17 March 2018

Our Last Day at Compass

What an exciting and rewarding final visit we had at Compass School today. 

Since torrential rains shut down the coffee plantation we were supposed to visit Thursday, and many roads were closed, we fit in some last- minute personal shopping, and, far more exciting, we went shopping for Compass School, the heart of our mission here in Kenya. With Faraj as our advisor, we purchased about 70 litres of paint for classrooms, doors, and chalkboards, and all the necessary paint supplies. We also bought another set of gumboots, as we’d already donated the first set in hopes the early rainy season would recognize its error and go away - no luck there😏

But today made up for the dreariness of yesterday. We returned to Compass ready to work, and eager to meet the MCA, Henry Kagiri. Our kids and the staff greeted us with open arms.  The students immediately leapt to our assistance, sweeping out classrooms that had been inundated with mud due to the rains and nearby construction. They helped us scrub down walls and move desks, but the real excitement started with the painting. Those kids and some of their younger teachers stepped right up, arming themselves with paint rollers and putting real muscle into painting those rough, concrete walls. Over five hours, we managed to clean and paint three classrooms, and paint almost all of the chalkboards while sharing and singing with the kids.

In the middle of all of this, the MCA’s assistant, Paul, and his secretary, Evelyn, arrived almost on time but with the disappointing news that the governor had arrived unexpectedly and the MCA could not attend. We were relieved, however, to learn that Paul and Evelyn were fully authorized to act for their boss and a standing circle meeting with them, Lois, school board members, Flora, Mary Thamari, and Holly took place in the school yard. 

We are very grateful for Mary’s politically astute input and questioning and for Holly’s calm diplomacy.  In fact, while the rest of us have been running around doing all kinds of “fun” stuff, it has been Holly who has made the speeches, led discussions, delivered thank yous, generally demonstrated her mastery of the art of “schmoozing.” Unless you’ve taken on this role, it’s difficult to understand just how incredibly exhausting it is. We’re so grateful to Holly for the diplomacy and tact that makes her such a good leader and allows us to go about our business knowing the details are in good hands.

The meeting was very successful, and when Paul and Evelyn met with us and the Board members following the circle, we received assurances again that our concerns regarding the school grounds, fencing, and property would be addressed to our satisfaction. We were also told that a letter from the MCA would arrive via email by the end of the day. It did, and we are really pleased. See the copy of this letter attached. Wow! It’s just amazing what a small group of women who care about kids and have learned how to make valued connections and friends can accomplish.

Feeling elated after our meeting, we returned to our painting with the kids under the supervision of Faraj, who was wearing his Tumaini Afrika t-shirt because he is no longer “our driver” but our friend on the team. 

After cleaning up, we delivered the beautiful pillowcase dresses made by Cheryl Mireault to the girls and more toothbrushes to the boys. It was so hard to leave today. The kids wanted to know when we’d be back and were disappointed to learn we were going home to Canada - there were lots of teary but smiling goodbyes. 

Our final dinner and debrief was a joyous occasion, as we celebrated receipt of the MCA’s letter and opened our personal letters from students at Compass. We have pen pals! 

And to make our Afrika experience truly authentic, we were bid farewell by an apocalyptic swarm of flying ants.  Apparently, once they’ve lost their wings, they can be collected and sautéed in butter. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to try this. Gosh darn it anyway. 

Tomorrow, we head home. We’ve seen and learned so much, had lots of fun, been moved to tears and laughter, and been forever changed. Thank you for making the dreams of Tumaini Afrika a reality for us and for the kids to whom all of us have given a hands up. 

Pamoja tunabadilishwa


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

“Know Thyself.”

So, in case you’ve been wondering, no, it isn’t possible for six women to go on a trip without shopping. Yes, that does sound like a stereotype, but as the great Greek philosophers said, “Know thyself.” And when Polonius exhorted Laertes: “To thine own self be true,” he was speaking to us. To shop well is to accept a challenge, to arm ourselves, to go out to do battle in the markets, and to return with booty worth a king’s ransom. Yes, today we faced the foe, tilted at windmills and won our Dulcinea, mixed our metaphors, and shopped till we dropped.

Yes, we did enjoy our shopping experience today, but we did so knowing that the businesses we supported are about bringing disadvantaged women from many backgrounds together to create viable, lasting enterprises.

We began our day by visiting Amani ya juu where vulnerable women from many African countries come together to create beautiful textiles and textile products. They interview for a position then serve a probationary period before becoming full time members of the cooperative. Competence and integrity are essential, as this is a profit-sharing group. Over ninety women work, sing, pray, and share their lives as they produce some of the best textile products (clothing, art, decorations, toys, and accessories) that we have seen in Kenya. The unity quilt that hangs over their meeting area illustrates how many cultures can come together in peace.  On another wall, a tiled mosaic kanga reads “Pamoja tunabadilishwa“ - “Together, we are transformed.” We were toured around the operations and met the women who make the products - clearly, it is a positive and uplifting place to work.

We were pleased to meet Maggie, the face of Amani ya Juu , who organized our tour and called our Sault Ste. Marie friend, Julia Clarke, to meet us. Julia is the organization’s chaplain who also serves as overseer of restaurant operations and marketing. She introduced us to her Kenyan husband, Ken, who works in audio-visual, IT and communications. The second of their two weddings was celebrated in Sault Ste. Marie and attended by Holly. 

We were especially happy for this connection when we were able to enlist Ken’s help to give us a boost when our van decided to take a break.

With our credit cards still malleable from the heat of our purchases, we headed to Kazuri Beads, another cooperative which employs over three hundred  women and men who produce beads and pottery. Wow! You have no idea how much work goes into making those beautiful clay beads. Kazuri exports to many countries, including Canada, so keep an eye out for their products.

Our last stop was Ocean Sole, a Kenyan social enterprise that collects and recycles old flip flops to produce unique and whimsical decorations.

Doing good and shopping - now there’s a win win. Tomorrow - fair trade coffee.

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