Wednesday, August 26, 2009


There are moments in your life and in the life of a community where it is as if time holds still long enough for everyone to acknowledge a miracle. The dedication ceremony for the Kibera School for Girls was one such moment in our lives and in the life of the Kibera Community. The school is indeed nothing short of miraculous. There are moments in any project as large as this one where one wonders what they have gotten into. There are a million daily details that can never be completed. There is a frenzied pace to every day, such that sometimes it is easy to lose track of the bigger picture. But at our dedication ceremony we all stood back to catch our breath and in doing so realized that what we created together is much bigger, more imaginative, and more transformative than what we could have envisioned on our own. In this spirit on August 18th 2009, along with the school and Kibera communities, we dedicated the Kibera School for Girls compound to belieiving in the power of hope.

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

Parents, Students, Teachers: Teamwork

It’s been another busy and heart warming week at The Kibera School for Girls. Construction is almost complete, we will get power beginning tomorrow, and the families couldn’t be more excited.

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

Uniform Distribution: The miracle of joy

It's been a long, tiring, but all in all amazing week.  Construction is almost complete on the school, and construction of the health center has begun as well!  We have been meeting with different contractors regarding our biodigester and finally found a great company that does eco-sustainable work for community projects.  Our biodigester construction will start in September thanks to a generous donation, and will include the construction of 5 toilets, two showers with water heated by the biodigester, and a kitchen powered by the methane gas produced from the digester.  

However, the highlight of this week was today when we distributed uniforms to all of our students.  For all of our students these uniforms were the first brand new clothes that these children have ever been given.  In addition, uniforms are the only clothes that most of our children have.  The excitement as 45 little girls tried on uniforms, traded sizes, swapped styles, and paraded around was incredible.  The happiness from parents, students, and teachers alike was simply uncontainable.  

After we finished distributing uniforms I visited the homes of several students in the afternoon.  In the slide show below you can see the photos from the home of Melvin Apiyo, a pre-school student.  Melvin lives in a single room with her nine brothers and sisters, as both her parents are HIV positive, often sick, and unable to find work.  Their house is almost falling down, indeed it is almost as if Melvin lives outside.  When I first went to visit I didn't see anyone at home so I began to leave.  However, Melvin came running from around the corner with about 10 other children to see what a white person was doing in their neighborhood.  I asked Melvin if she wanted to show me her house and she opened the door with great pride as about 20 plus children gathered to look on.  As I took pictures and Melvin posed the kids exclaimed in Swahili look at Melvin!  Wow!  Melvin eh!  Melvin, usually a shy but incredibly precocious child just kept posing, loving the attention.  When we took a picture together the kids went wild over Melvin.  She stood smiling as she became the neighborhood celebrity, and then ran inside her house to show the crowd her beautiful new uniform.  As I left I heard every child exclaiming, I want to go to that school, including Melvin's three brothers!