OLPS is an organization that supports communities in Kisumu and Siaya that have been stricken with cases of HIV/AIDs.
The Riley Orton Foundation is a gateway out of poverty for both the students and the teachers.
It’s a long one today folks but I’m leaving Kenya in a few short hours and I’m feeling all the feels right now so bear with me. Since arriving in Kisumu, actually since the very beginning of my journey with Mama Hope I have been struggling to truly express the energy that has come in to my life. So today I am writing from a place deep in my heart. Today I am full of gratitude. Today I will borrow a line from a fellow global advocate and ‘tell you my love story.’ (Thanks Neale). There have been so many moments, seemingly insignificant interactions in the street or observations from a matatu that have made a little voice in my head go ‘man I love this place.’ Men breaking in to song as they hawke clothes outside a busy market, women fighting over a matatu window to sell bananas through then collapsing in laughter together upon realising no one wants to buy anything, children making me feel famous by following me on my morning runs. That little voice has always been followed by a twinge of pain in remembering that eventually I’d be leaving. But as the time is creeping up on me I am taking comfort in the connections I have made. I’m not talking about networking or new LinkedIn friends, I’m talking about real, human connection. When we travel or meet foreigners we love to make comparisons, not because we want to point out differences but because we like to find the similarities, the things that make us all human. Of course there are big differences here as well but today I want to focus on the things that have made this place feel just like home. This first thing might not be quite related to the human connection I’m talking about but it is just too good not too mention. I love a good sunset and spent many afternoons watching them at the beach before leaving for Kisumu but let me tell you, Kisumu did not fail to impress. I’ve seen colours I didn’t even know existed in the sky here. They might not have been over a beach but Lake Victoria is more than a match for that. Eva, Erick, Meggy, David, Sheila and Alyssa, now my extended family, how I have laughed and shared with you. Meggy and Alyssa are two of the happiest, brightest and loving little girls I have ever crossed paths with and that is truly a reflection of the homes you keep and your attitudes towards life. I simply can’t find enough words to explain to anyone how amazing you all are but I do want to give a special shout out to Erick for reminding me of my Dad – always watching the news and keeping me informed about the country’s political status. Obambo will always be home. More than anything I’ve found people everywhere dedicated to making the world a better place and not a single person who doesn’t believe it is possible. Neighbours helping their neighbours, families investing their money in to community run initiatives, people who dedicate their whole lives and almost all the minutes in their days to tackling the most overwhelming of problems and making real change. These things can be found all over and when we look at the entire world as our home it is not hard to feel total admiration for all the wonderful people within it. I will always be grateful to Kisumu for showing me that connections can happen anywhere, anytime. Connection and context are what we need to find our common humanity. It’s always there but to find it we just have to open ourselves up, be vulnerable and let the light in and out! Context is what gives us that connection, so ask questions, learn from each other and be empowered by the knowledge you gain. To anyone thinking this sounds like hippy dippy bullshit, it’s not. It works. I can tell you that because I’m living it right now. Mama Hope and the global advocate program works because they find those connections. In Kisumu there is laughter, there are smiles, there are 3 men and two wonderful families behind them, driven beyond words. There is a wealth of untapped resources in the minds and hearts of these people and by making connections we can draw it out and our world will explode with all the love and knowledge that I have seen. We need to keep giving a voice to all the good in the world because that is the force that has the power to move our world in the direction we all want. Everyone connected to Akili is doing just that and I feel so lucky to have seen it in action. These aren’t just bright smiling faces, these girls are our future. They are brave, they are strong and they are smart. Akili Preparatory School is facilitating their empowerment and helping them reach their full potential. So as sad as I am to be leaving I feel like the luckiest person in the world for getting to meet such a resilient, determined and happy group of people. Akili’s success is due to the combination of these three things and there is no doubt in my mind that the best is yet to come!
GETTING TO WORK! Today I’m writing this at the beginning of my fourth week here. Four weeks already! Time is flying by and I am soaking up every minute. I still can’t flip chipatis using just my hands but I have managed to pick up a few words of Kiswahili here and there. ‘Cheka’ meaning ‘laugh’ and ‘twende’ meaning ‘let’s go’ are my favourites so far. I will also definitely be using ‘sawa sawa’ when I get home. It means ‘okay’ but I’ve noticed it is also used to end casual conversations, plus it just sounds so damn cool! Today is also the beginning of a busy week of budgeting and designing the first project that the funds many of you have helped raised will be allocated too. As you know one of Akili’s main focuses is their overall sustainability and the wonderful thing I am coming to understand is how future focused everyone involved with Akili is. While providing quality education for its current students they are simultaneously making sure they will be able to to do the same in 20, even 50 years time. As such, every project that is implemented serves a dual purpose. The first portion of the funds we have all raised together will build shower cubicles for the 30 boarding students at the Obambo campus. Currently the girls are showering out in the open and unfortunately they have reported men watching them at times. The showers’ second purpose will solve another problem – finding enough water for the 200 fruit trees that have recently been planted around the campus. Water is scarce in Obambo but David and Erick know these fruit trees will eventually provide shade and food for the future classes of Akili and provide extra income for the school. We will be implementing a grey water recycling system attached to the showers so that these trees will receive the water they need to grow. Electricity is also an issue so instead of using a pump or filtration system we will be filtering through wetland plants. Simple but effective, and in my opinion way cooler! Stay tuned for pictures as the project progresses. I also wanted to introduce you all to Dennis. He is Akili’s Sustainable Farm Manager. He is hardworking, optimistic and has been very good at putting up with my learn and teach on the go approach to google spreadsheets (why can’t it just be the same as excel?!) Together we’ve come up with a way to record the farm’s outputs and expenses and are looking forward to a years time when there will be a clear picture of the farm’s annual productivity. Dennis showing off the impressive tomato crop at the farm inside Obunga slum Dennis’ biggest priority each day is making sure every student can be nourished with food straight from the farm. He also takes orders from the locals and their respective markets stalls. He is looking forward to the day the farm will produce enough goods to sell at Kisumu’s supermarkets, and he is working hard to get there. Another project on the cards is increasing the depth of the farm’s bore hole to access more water and increase productivity. The tomatoes are currently the Akili Farm’s most lucrative vegetable. They started with one greenhouse a few years ago and realising they could make a profit from the produce is what spurred the idea for an entire sustainable farm. Outside of work with Akili, each ride to a new destination in the city provides new sites and scenes. Yesterday a cruise through a bustling market street, today, a bumpy journey through the streets of the city’s mechanic work shops. While some things are familiar – I can tell that man is a mechanic – there is a system of operation here that works in such a different way to home. So I observe, and to be honest, it’s hard to explain but there is a real beauty in not understanding how things work here. Every man in the street is dressed in the same blue workman’s jumpsuit. Are all the workshops owned by one company, are they freelance workers jumping on jobs where they can, or are they simply competing businesses working in harmony together? I have no idea but I do know they are getting the job done. To me it looks like organised chaos, to the locals I’m sure it is simply organised. I’m spending a lot of time here being in awe of what I don’t understand and appreciating experiencing everyday life in a different setting. I won’t lie. I’m having a mini freak out about how fast time is going already so every day I’m taking the opportunity to keep observing, keep soaking it in and keep on taking strolls in perfect settings like this. I took this on my walk home from Akili’s Obambo Campus Thanks for reading, love Jane
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