Friday, November 20, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
This week we were thrilled to welcome Australian nurse Vanessa Wynn-Jones, who arrived at the school to establish health records and lead HIV/AIDS workshops. Vanessa joined us after spending a week in eastern Kenya, where she worked in rural clinic treating the Massai people.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Vanessa led HIV/AIDS workshops for the Kibera community, first for men and then for women. Vanessa’s first forty minute workshop turned into a three hour discussion on the risks and effects associated with HIV/AIDS. Men from the community would not stop asking questions, eager to have access to her medical expertise. The women also showered Vanessa with questions, not only about HIV, but about other struggles they face in Kibera, such as depression and domestic violence. More than just informational talks, her workshops gave Kibera residents a safe space where they could share their health concerns with one another.
Friday marked the first day of health exams for the KSFG’s students. Vanessa met individually with the girls and their parents to establish medical records for and examine each student. She counseled parents on nutrition and sanitation, offered HIV tests, and referred students in need to medical specialists. These records are an important step in our continued efforts to care for our girls’ health needs, as well as their education.
Though only here for a week, Vanessa plans to return and will be heavily involved in the development of the school’s clinic, which is currently in the early planning stages. We have had such a great time with Vanessa this week, and we cannot overstate our appreciation for her dedication and expertise. Her work is truly a testament to the impact an individual can have on a community, even in six short days.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Today I got a heartening phone call from the school. The teachers exclaimed to me that is just one month of experiencing our incredible curriculum our students are a full year ahead of their peers in traditional Kenyan schools. In just one month so much has happened.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The day itself began with an even greater fervor than usual. Our parents and students began to arrive at 8:00 a.m. in freshly pressed uniforms. It became immediately obvious that our children and parents had never been to an event celebrating them. Soon after our partners The American Friends of Kenya arrived to participate in the festivities. We were then joined by the Kenyan press, and George Milkwa, the CEO of the Association of Kenyan Independent Schools.
When Kennedy and I arrived at the school we found the parents and children singing. One mother stood in the center leading a call and response song. She lifted her voice in praise singing the lyrics, "That's why we love you God, when we think there is no hope you prove us wrong. When we search for death you give us life. That's why we love you, you show us that there is a brighter day, a day of peace, a second chance, you teach us to keep singing songs of hope." I felt shivers go down my back as the kids clapped and danced while singing along.
During the ceremony itself several parents told their stories about growing up hoping for an education themselves, and their elation that their children will receive more education than they did. Three student representatives spoke as well about their beautiful new school and excitement to begin learning. The CEO of the Kenyan Association of Independent Schools also spoke, lauding revolutionary and ground breaking educational models like ours. Finally, our partners the American Friends of Kenya spoke and the Executive Director gave her silver wings to the school after Jackie Kemuto, one such student representative, declared her dream to be a pilot.
From the look of this start, these kids will fly high.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Today we had another workshop with parents and students to discuss the differences between our school and other Kenyan schools and to emphasize the import role that parents must play in their child’s education to ensure their success. This was an incredibly productive meeting. We began by giving the students (clad in their uniforms they are simply too adorable) a gift of a nutrition bar and pair of new underwear each. They were very excited, as because of their extreme poverty our kids are unable to afford something as basic as underwear. We then gave the parents soda as well to kick off the celebratory air.
The meeting was lead by Headmistress Joan and our three incredible teachers Janet, Madahana, and Naomi. We also were very lucky to have two of our Kenyan board members Odoch and Donna Pido in attendance. Odoch is the Director of the SIT Nairobi Study Abroad Program, and Donna is an anthropology professor and expert on women’s empowerment in Kenya. The Pidos will be helping to guide the school while Kennedy and I are in the United States and it was great to have them in attendance.
Our meeting included the discussion of several topics. We talked about our goals for our students to go to high school and college, able to pursue their passions and interests and have a career of their choosing. We focused on how parents can support their children academically and emotionally at home by providing encouragement, and telling their child that they are capable of anything. We also stressed how important it is that parents don’t beat their children, as this makes them less able to learn and grow because they live in fear. Instead, we discussed alternative discipline strategies, to which the parents were very receptive. I don’t think they had ever discussed this issue before. Parents were also very enthusiastic about the power of learning through play and the changes our school brings to the Kenyan educational scene. After the meeting we all walked to the school site together for both parents and children to see their school for the first time. The procession of forty-five little girls in uniform and forty-five parents was quite a joyful sight.
It was breathtaking to watch the expressions on the faces of the children as they saw their beautiful new school for the first time. Several asked me if we could have school seven days a week.
Tomorrow we are planting our sustainable garden along with our parents and the NGO Trees for the Future. As we believe in a holistic approach to community uplift we are going to teach parents how to make vertical gardens, which grow in a burlap sack and can be grown anywhere, in the hopes that many will be able to start small vegetable selling businesses or provide fresh vegetables for their families. Our parents are already incredibly involved, several asked me today if there was anything they could do to help with preparations!
Already our school feels like an incredibly supportive, tight knit community.
Great pictures here (click on the slideshow to enlarge!)
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Friday, July 31, 2009
Left: Max helps to build.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Below: Students at The Kibera School for Girls
Our typical days begin at 6:30 a.m. We are at the Shining Hope for Community Office in Kibera by 7:30 a.m. each day and don't leave before 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. On the five days that we did student interviews the office was full by 8:00 a.m. with over 50 parents with children waiting patiently in line. Over the past several days more than 350 students have waited in line for a chance to go to The Kibera School for Girls. The tension has been high, as in all seriousness these children are waiting in line for a shot at having a very different life. The desperate need for a free school for at-risk girls is staggering. As I call child after child for their interviews I can’t help but wish that we could have three schools so we could take everyone who has an urgent need and desire for an education.
Our selection process has been governed by democratic principles. After each child is interviewed a staff member from Kibera goes to visit their home. As our school targets children who would have no way to pay school fees without us, it is important that we verify each child’s financial and living situation so that we serve those who need us the most. Much of the time the report from this staff member is heart breaking. Most of our applicants live in houses made of cardboard or discarded wood with such gaping holes that they might as well be living outside. Furthermore, inside these houses there are no beds, no furniture, and most do not even have cooking utensils. All of our accepted students own a single pair of clothes. In the interviews themselves we, along with our headmistress, lead the child through a series of simple tests that gauge fine motor, cognitive processing, and verbal skills given to us by our education specialist Melissa Dearborn. From there, we just talk to the child and ask why they want to go to our school, and if they could learn about anything what it is they would choose to learn about. Finally, we interview their parents or guardians to find out more about the family and the financial situation, as well as about if the child has been involved in prostitution, has been sexually abused, or is at risk. After this extensive interview process to ensure that we accept the most driven and at-risk students, we put the names of qualified children into a hat and selected randomly. After we randomly select we also look to make sure that there is diversity of both religious and ethnic representation. The result is that we have forty-five girls whose lives have been changed and who could not be more excited about starting at The Kibera School for Girls. I’d like to take a moment to introduce a few of our students:
Ashley Adhiambo is four years old and although she has never before gone to school, she taught herself how to write the alphabet. She is curious about everything, and told us that if she could take a trip anywhere in the world it would be to “a real school.”
Ashley’s mother is single and only twenty-years-old. Her father left as soon as he found out that he was about to have a child. Ashley’s mother does not have a job, she survives by washing clothes whenever she can get work and earns only 300 shillings per month (the equivalent of $4). She leaves to look for work early every morning and doesn’t return until late at night, and says that she often worries about Ashley’s safety, as she is left alone and vulnerable in an area of Kibera infamous for rape and abuse of young girls. Now Ashley’s dream of visiting a real school is coming true along with her mother’s dream of finding a way to give her daughter a life that will be different from her own.
Maureen Nyatichi is five years old. Because her mother cannot pay for her to go to school she spends her days in her house caring for her three younger siblings while her single unemployed mother hustles for a way to feed her children. Maureen's family own only a single towel, one pair of clothes each, and a discarded fairy tale book that Maureen found in the garbage. Although she cannot read, Maureen often makes up elaborate tales as she pretends to read from this book in the hopes of distracting herself and her siblings from their pangs of hunger while they hope that their mother will return with something to eat. Overwhelmed by the difficulty of taking care of her children without any help, Maureen's mother planned to abandon her children at an orphanage to try and survive on her own. Now that Maureen has been accepted at The Kibera School for Girls her mother will continue to struggle because Maureen and the school have restored her ability to hope.
Susan Akoth is six years old. The youngest in a family of eight children, Susan was the first in her family to ever attend school through the support of an older sibling, as both of her parents are unemployed and living with HIV/AIDS. However, after she finished kindergarten the family stumbled upon further misfortune when her oldest brother took poison. Instead of killing him as he had hoped the posion put her brother in the hospital for two months. As her family is unable to pay the medical fees, Susan had to stop school. Despite the struggles her family has faced to survive, Susan never gave up hope that one day she might return to school. When she was walking through Kibera searching through the garbage for something to eat she saw a sign advertising a free school for girls.
On Wednesday we had our first meeting with accepted students and their parents. At this meeting the neighbor/guardian of five-year-old orphan Alvin Moraa stood and began to cry. He said that he has spent his life watching the plight of girls in Kibera. He has stood by as little girls begin to trade sex for food, as five-year-old girls do the housework while their brothers go to school, and later as thirteen and fourteen year old girls begin to have babies of their own. He said that he looked at Alvin and felt powerless, as he is without money or any way to give her and other girls an education. He then said that The Kibera School for Girls has already changed Kibera by showing the community that there is another path that they can take. At this point all of the parents began to cheer as we stood back and saw the power of a project that truly belongs to the community it serves.
After this meeting, each parent and child came inside the office one by one to sign their contracts. Parents agree that instead of paying school fees, they will work for the school five weeks out of the year to run sustainable microfinance projects. They also sign a contract agreeing not to make their daughter do housework over homework, and to emotionally support their daughter as she gains an education. Students also sign a contract saying that they will try their best, respect themselves, respect other chidlren, and respect the school, giving them ownership in their education from day one. A few parents look on with bewilderment, as this is clearly not convention in Kibera but the children take the process very seriously. Four-year-old Ashley Adhiambo meticulously signs her name by drawing a cup.
Left: Ashley Adhiambo signs her contract along with Headmistress Okumu.
The community has also rallied to construct the school itself. Every day over 100 community members, many of whom do not have children attending the school, have volunteered their time to help build. The community is excited for plans for a sustainable garden donated by Trees For The Future, and several workshops that will teach community members and parents how to grow vegetables in burlap sacks, called vertical gardens, which can be grown anywhere. The community is also looking forward to the opening of the first free health clinic, a space for women's microfinance projects, and the very first free school.
It has indeed been quite a week.
Below: Kennedy speaks at a community meeting.