What a whirlwind. Two weeks in and I feel like I’ve been here 2 months. So much has happened! While I don’t intend for this blog to be solely chronicles of my travels, I do feel like it’s appropriate to share a bit of my life so far, then we can dive into details of the project another time. As I sit here eating chapati with peanut butter and jam (don’t knock it ’til you try it), I’m having a hard time finding the words to describe this experience thus far. So many beautiful moments, plenty of nerves, some sleep-like-you’re-dead nights, and some conversations that have reminded me again and again why I’m here. I’ve learned a few words of Kiswahili, practiced some very rusty soccer skills, learned to peel and chop carrots into my own palm, and spent time with a lot of incredible people. Rahab and I preparing for the venture home after school last Saturday. There certainly isn’t a typical day here in Njabini. I’ve only been here 14 days and I’ve already ridden a bus halfway across the country and back. Nevertheless, I’ve heard some people like to know what I get up to so here’s a “typical” day if there ever was one… 7:00 am — Good morning! Kate, the other Global Advocate whose time overlaps with mine, is usually awake and the boarding girls who live at the house are leaving for school. We drink coffee, make eggs with avocado toast (never had better avos than here), and bum around on our computers for a while. This is when I typically intend to go for a run. I blame my laziness on not knowing all the tiny winding roads yet, but let’s be real, I just don’t want to have to take a shower. Our social worker, Edwin, promises to drag me with him one of these mornings. 11:00 am — After wrapping up some project research, we head out for school, leaving Alice, Christine, Edwin, and Amos hard at work in the office. The walk is a gorgeous 30 minutes and includes some intense hills that caused me great distress when I wasn’t used to the altitude. 11:30 am — I help Mom (Phoebe, the head matron whose been with FK since the beginning) chop vegetables from the farm for lunch– my cabbage slicing and carrot dicing skills are coming along nicely. I sit with the teachers during break to drink chai while the kids have porridge. We chat and joke about how Mom is going to make Teacher Robert marry her daughter. 1:00 pm — Lunch! We’ll usually have mshenye (potatoes, beans, and corn mashed) or rice with lentils and a banana. If we’re lucky, we’ll have a fresh pineapple from the farm. After eating with the kids, we play games and clean up. 2:00 — I sit in on a meeting Kate is having with one of the teachers regarding the health programs she’s implementing. Although my project is focused around Monitoring and Evaluation, it’s been helpful to absorb as much as possible about everything that goes on here. Sometimes we have meetings with people we’re trying to partner with, like the incoming book club, Vitabu Vyetu. 4:00– I catch a ride back to the house with the girls or sometimes I take a motorbike home. Riding by motorbike is hands down the best way to appreciate how beautiful Njabini is. 4:30– More research, emails, journaling, or video calls with the Mama Hope crew. If I’m lucky, it’s time to play hide and go seek in the yard or practice handstands with the kids. 5:30 — Dinner time! Chapati, cabbage, and pea stew… Ugali with sautéed kale and fish… The list goes on. We seriously have the best cooks. 6:00 — Family Meeting. The girls read aloud or lead (a very squirmy) meditation. We talk about our peaks and valleys of the day, what we learned, and what we’re grateful for. The matron on duty might make an announcement and then we close out with a big “D-O-N-E.” 6:30 — The girls head to tutoring in the dining hall for 90 minutes. The Flying Kites kids work so hard and it shows. They are smart, inquisitive, and unique. One of the boys, Isaac, is an incredible artist who just spent hours painting a beautifully intricate flower onto an empty frame at the house (picture to come). I am constantly learning all the ways that make them amazing. 8:00 — The girls come hang out in the volunteers’ room or we all watch a Kenyan soap opera in the family room (auntie Leila doesn’t approve, so sometimes we’ll watch cartoons instead :)) 9:30– BEDTIME. I chill with a book and am out by 10 pm. It’s a beautiful thing. Even as I write this, there hasn’t been a single day that went exactly this way, but that’s the beautiful thing about this experience: my days aren’t ruled by schedules; they’re ruled by conversations, children, an unforeseen need, and the option to remain in the moment. This week in particular has been hectic and inspiring. I’ll be posting about our time spent in Lwala and Nairobi in a couple of days. For now, I’ll end with some questions I’ve been asking myself lately… How do we define impact and the people whose lives are touched by the work we do? Can we slow down in moments when we feel stressed or frustrated? Can we find the roots of those unmet expectations and toss them out the window? When we look at a place from the outside, what are the things that make it beautiful that can’t be seen with the naked eye?
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
Mlali is a very small town in the middle of Tanzania. It lies on a plateau at the base of Mt. Mlali, overlooking an iconic and stunning savannah. The roads are made of red dust, which finds its way onto every inch of my body by the end of the day. The sun sinks down peacefully every day beyond the horizon of acacia trees, then gives way to a moon that looks red each night when it rises. I believe it’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I was welcomed to Mlali by Mama Faith, who is married to Athanas Sekwiha. Athanas’s sister, Kilines, started the Queen Elizabeth Academy. Athanas is a teacher at the school, and Mama Faith is the school cook. It’s sort of like a family band, except instead of forming a band, they started a school. I live in a lovely little apartment on the family compound, which also houses Athanas and Kili’s parents, Babu and Bibi, as well as other nieces, nephews, and relatives, all of whom play a role at QEA. The Queen Elizabeth Academy is sort of like The Little Engine That Could: in spite of countless setbacks, it has persevered. The team of people who run the school are change-makers with heart and grit that are extraordinary. There are dozens of times when it would have been far easier for them to bow down to the status quo as something acceptable, yet their love-driven work is turning their dream into a reality, one piece at a time. In addition to the school’s strong academic standing (it was ranked #7 in the district last year), QEA is a beautiful little microcosm in its community. The school farm began three months ago and employs a parent as the head gardener. In addition to providing food for school lunches, the farm has already sold enough produce to pay the salary for the gardener and the watchman. Over 2,000 trees have been planted on the 36 acres of land, which were granted to QEA by the town of Mlali. These trees will provide additional income as the delicious bananas, papayas, and mangoes grow and sell. Equally as important, other trees have been planted specifically to help prevent erosion. The foundation for the boarding house is coming along very nicely! I do believe the boarders at QEA will have the nicest view in all of Mlali! The masons are working very hard each day to make sure the kids have a safe and beautiful home. I feel happy and whole here in Mlali. In the two short weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve had laughs that made my belly hurt and heard stories of grace and beauty and inspiration. I am grateful to be a part of this meaningful work, and blessed to have such wonderful friends and family who have supported this project. With love from here to there….
With 300+ students, 30 teachers and staff members, community members stopping by to meet with Alice about the community housing project or the microfinance project, the campus is always bustling with people and there is always something going on (even during school breaks!). Over the break, the kids loved watching movies, especially Tarzan! Rebecca, one of the three caretakers that live with and care for the kids living in the Orphan’s Home, is one of the most loving and welcoming people I know. “There are always more than a dozen extra kids at Alice’s house — from the 11 children living at the Orphan’s Home to the many neighbors who simply want a safe place to play. Everyone is welcome. So here’s to overflowing dinner tables and a generous kind of love.” – Glorious Volunteer, Erin Brennan-Burke Ebenizer and Amar pose for the camera!
Nellie, Class 4, Age 10 What is the difference you see between boarding school and day school? Because boarding school is so very beautiful. In boarding school teachers they take care of us pupils. I love boarding school. Nellie is the second born in her family, with two brothers and one sister. Her mother works as a waiter, while her father is a laundry worker in Kisumu. Nellie is one of the sweetest girls at Akili, always the first to run up to me and grab my hand! Nellie hopes to be a doctor when she grows up, and LOVES singing (I know this for fact because her voice is always one of the loudest when we’re singing). Please donate to Akili to ensure that girls like Nellie are ALWAYS able to raise their voice! Macreen, Class 4, Age 10 Why do you like the new uniforms? Because it helps us go to school. Macreen is the oldest out of her siblings, living with her hard-working single mother in Obunga, who works in a saloon. Macreen is incredibly shy, but so sweet- you can just see it in her smile in this picture! Please donate to ensure girls’ education for girls like Macreen 🙂 Mary, Class 4, Age 10 Why is education important for young girls? I should go to school to learn. Mary lives with her mother, a vegetable vendor, and her father, a tailor in Obunga. She is one out of nine, and her parents work hard to ensure that all the kids are in school. Mary is incredibly friendly and has many friends at Akili, she also happens to be one of the sassiest girls! She hopes to be a doctor in the future, and is very dedicated to her education, ranking in the top three of Class 4. Please support feisty, funny, and lovable girls like Mary to continue their education! Jane, Class 4, Age 10 Why do you love Akili? Because we learn. There are teachers in Akili. There are classes. Jane lives with her five siblings and parents in Obunga, where her parents work as a firewood vendor and a fishmonger. Her dream is to be a nurse when she becomes older. Help ensure a bright future for girls like Jane by donating here.
When it comes to international development we tend to set our sights on the future. Even in my work I have always been forward focused – building, developing, educating. By investing in the next generation we are helping provide access to the tools needed to bring change to a community. There is even a very noticeable trend in international giving; supporting organizations serving children and education. While this does bring amazing opportunity for future change, we are overlooking a population that exists in every community whose needs are often being left under-resourced. Two weeks ago, during an NGO fair, I struck up a conversation with the organization African Impact. Among many other projects African Impact is partnered with Langoni Old People’s Home, locally known as “Wazee” (pronounced Wah-zay, meaning “elderly person” in Swahili), an elderly care facility based here in Moshi. Intrigued by a program outside of my usual education/child-development work, I met with Gill, the program manager, to learn more about their partnership. Here in Tanzania, it is a part of the culture that as the elderly get older they are taken care of by their children, grandchildren, or other family members. However, due to conflict, injury, death, financial strains, and many other reasons, there are a number of individuals growing old and finding themselves without a family to help support them. Wazee is a government funded elderly care facility that was set up in the late 80s/early 90s and currently accommodates 15 residents. Staffed by 1 manager and 4 women, the employees work long hours tending to the basic needs of residents: cleaning and cooking. This leaves little to no time to focus their attention on community building and daytime activities for the elderly. After years of living as neighbors, many of the elderly didn’t even know each other’s names. Gill explained to me that when they first visited Wazee it was a dismal place, a place for the elderly to simply watch the final years of their lives pass by. In 2013 African Impact partnered with Wazee. Working to fill the need for community building programs, their time is focused on stimulating the residents physically, emotionally, and mentally. While the staff continues their work of general operations, African Impacts runs daily group activities such as Arts and Crafts, newspaper reading, seated exercise, ESL classes, a variety of games (yes bingo is a big hit here too), and a community garden (helping diversify the nutrition available to the residents). This past week I volunteered with African Impacts to get a better understanding of their program and impact. Starting our day by greeting each of the residents one by one, we slowly made our way from home to home chatting, sharing jokes, and discussing current events. Through the conversations I was hit with a wave of nostalgia. I was reminded of visiting my own grandfather at the home he stayed in before he passed away 2 years ago. I realized how important it was to my mother and me to choose a place for him that would exercise his mind and body, ensuring that the last years of his life were ones of value and joy. So why should this level of care be different for anyone else in the world? After greeting each of the residents at Wazee, the rest of the afternoon was spent doing seated exercise. A mix of stretches and aerobic games to get everyone moving. We were not only ensuring their bodies remain healthy and active, but also providing the space for the community to laugh, chat, and interact together. Where before there was little to no interaction, now when you visit Wazee you will see all residents together chatting under the shade of a tree, sharing stories, and enjoying their final years together as a community. A few years ago a resident at Wazee passed away. With no funding for a funeral or a tombstone this person would have been buried in an unmarked grave, with no celebration or time for mourning. African Impact decided that they would pay for the funerals of the residents at Wazee. After this first funeral African Impacts was receiving feedback from the residents who stated, “you are here with us in life, you are also here with us in death, you are our family now. 0 0 0 Vulnerable communities come in all different shapes, sizes, and ages. When considering community development we must think of all members of the community. Yes, it is important to invest in the next generation, but it is important to not hold such a narrow focus on the future. There are individuals today that deserve equal attention. For centuries, cultures around the globe have respected the advice, wisdom, and guidance provided by the elderly. It is important we also respect their need for our support as they continue to age, ensuring their final years are ones of comfort and peace. Call to action One of the major issues found at Wazee is theft. With no wall surrounding their space, the residents are left unprotected from thieves coming to take advantage of the vulnerable residents. One woman’s three-year-old toothbrush was even stolen. African Impact is currently raising funds to help build a wall around Wazee. If you would like to support the their efforts please click here.
Each time I return to Guatemala I fall more in love with the warm people, the intricate culture, the staggering landscapes, and the vivid colors. When each person you pass on the street greets you with “buenas dias!” it’s hard not to feel instantly connected to the vibrant life that engulfs you. I’ve now spent two weeks living in Panajachel in the cozy, beautiful home of Ingrid, Carlos, their daughter Adriana, doña Alma (who tends the magnificent garden), Tina (a Japanese volunteer), a constant flow of visitors, extended family members, and a partially blind/deaf dog. After some torrential rain the first week, we are now passing into summer and I’m told I have some beautiful sunsets over lake Atitlán to look forward to. (From left to right: Luis, Linda and Joselyn making musical instruments, Celebrating Marsela’s birthday at Arbol del Niño- Marsela is the most amazing cook) The holistic education center, El Árbol del Niño, has 14 regular students, and is slowly adding a second class. Spending each day with them and getting to know their distinct personalities has been such a blast! They are now learning yoga and meditation every morning (taught by me), Capoeira, breakdancing, English, art, music, math, gardening, and soon cooking. They are learning about health, being served a nutritious snack and lunch everyday, brushing their teeth, and getting plenty of exercise. (This is usually an after school program, but now that the students are on summer break they come to the center mon-fri from 8:30am-4pm) Not only is the center focusing on these students, but also starting to teach and empower their families and community. Some projects in the works include: A vegetable garden at the center as well as small portable gardens in each family’s home (many of these children are not accustomed to eating fruit and vegetables). Learning how to cook and bake. Soon they will be selling their products to local businesses. This will help them learn about money and savings. Each student will open a bank account. Building a community park and large scale vegetable garden that will one day sustain the foundation so that they will not need to relay purely on donations and funding. This piece of land will help the community by permaculture education, providing organic produce to families, hosting nature walks and bird watching tours in the forest (this project will be funded by the money I am raising). I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be involved in these projects, to work with these children, and to see how much they learn each day! Only 62% of Guatemalan children make it to 6th grade (UNICEF), and although public school is considered “free,“ there are always hidden costs and many families can’t afford even small things such as books and writing utensils. Many children as young as 5 years old must work to put themselves through school, or work to help feed their family. With overcrowded classrooms, absent teachers, and chronic mismanagement, what is needed is not just more education, but a different kind of education. Children must be allowed creative expression, practical work, an appreciation for others, a feeling of responsibility to the world, and a life long love of learning so they don’t burn out and drop out of school. Children should believe that they can be leaders and that they can break the cycle of poverty in their communities. Much love! (Ingrid, Marvin, Giselda, Adeline (a French tourist) and I with the students, photo taken by Michelle, their teacher) Please help support this sustainable garden and park project by visiting my fundraising page and sharing my blog!