Friday, July 8, 2011

Debrief and Go -- Thursday

This morning is our last at the Tausi Hotel, our last in Rodi Kopany, we are leaving Achungo today.  But this is a day of important work -- after breakfast we spent about 3 hours in a debrief process, reflecting on our experiences and what they mean in our lives.

We gather in the "lounge" and settle into its soft chairs with pen and paper and start by closing our eyes, relaxing and envisioning ourselves at the school.  Each of us reflects on what we see and hear, who we are with, what we are doing, and what we feel as we picture ourselves back at Achungo, where we've left a large chunk of our heart.  And after some time, we spent about 30 minutes journalling, writing our impressions and reflections.

The children have taught us many things that we're only beginning to realize.  They gave us immediate and unconditional love, made us feel thoroughly welcomed into their fellowship, and freely gave of their affection in a way that is not part of our daily lives, especially with strangers (or new friends).  They fully trusted and accepted us from the first moment.

They also were overjoyed at anything we shared with them, even just with our company, and certainly with any little ball or block or book.  But I never felt they were receptive because of the stuff.  It seemed to me that the "enough-ness" of their scarcity, their total lack of entitlement or expectations, meant that I could just spend time with them and that was enough to bring them joy.

There is a hole within us that is only filled by this sort of unfettered fellowship and love (agape).  And perhaps because we were willing to suspend our willfulness, our sense of what we could give/bring/do for them, perhaps because we got out of the way, God was able to participate in building our intimate connections with these children and teachers.

I am feeling an extreme compassion and love for these children and for the teachers I worked with -- compassion for their extreme scarcity (it feels to me like deprivation) and how I think that can prevent a healthy, happy life.  But they are such happy, friendly, accepting children that they make me immediately feel at home, feel like I want to constantly be with them to soak in this love that they freely give me.

I have huge esteem for Michael and for Dorcas and Nancy and Eliakim, among others -- their integrity and compassion and sacrifice and faith is a model for me.  They are not threatened by are accepting of these strange new things with genuine appreciation.  There is no sense of entitlement, no fear of change (at least not in evidence).

I am overwhelmed with a frustration and sense of powerlessness against all that they need.  We make tiny baby steps to help but there is so much to do.  Replacing the 7 office windows, re-designing new desks, these feel like little gains with so much more to do (water pipes, electrical, flood control in the yard, let alone land and buildings and...)  And I'm still so disappointed over not getting the printer to work.   "Not my will, Lord, not by my strength.  Help them." 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How Can We Possibly Leave? -- Day 10 (Wednesday)

Several team members had talked about the value of giving the staff a way to organize all the stuff we'd brought rather than just leave piles of new things.  Julia M had recounted her father's adage that whatever you do you always have to take care of the staff.  So Julia, the energizer bunny, has developed a detailed scheme for completely organizing and labeling the school office, the shelves, the cabinets and their shelves and drawers, the hangers for jump ropes, just about everything in the office.  She plans moving the cabinets, consolidating them into the "Assistant Headmaster" office to create a full storeroom.  She has us purchase small plastic bins for the shelves and a few large baskets for storing toys.  Then a number of team members help her sort all the books, toys , school materials, papers and just about everything else in the office rooms and then store them on the newly labeled shelves.  The office is absolutely transformed!  Mr. Eliakim (the Asst Headmaster) works with us and when we're finished he and the teachers seem very proud of how professional (and tidy) their "new" office now looks.  I think this is the greatest gift we could have given them!

But there is sadness amidst the joy.  Almost from the start there is a heavy heart that hangs over this day for all of us and Silvia starts crying during the morning PE.  We have had a delightful time with these children and these teachers and we have all fallen in love with them.   

During Monte's 3-week stay last November, his heart was particularly sensitized to the experience of the preschoolers.  This combined "Baby Class" (ages 2-4) and "Middle Class" (ages 4-5) often has little to do but sit in their spare little desks or plastic chairs and wait for the next group recitation.  38 children with one teacher who had to hand-draw each exercise sheet meant that there was little for them to work on--maybe one or two sheets per day.  The littlest were often just sleeping with their heads on their arms on the desk.

Today he walked in on a transformed class where little children had amazing toys to play with and to learn from.  Things they had never seen before, let alone touched.

I was completely overwhelmed watching one group play with stacking blocks together and another attach Duplos (oversize Legos) and another group play with puzzles of animals, letters, numbers, and others look at picture books for the first time in their lives, and others coloring pictures with crayons.  I had to walk outside to regain my composure.  This was worth the whole trip!

"On this day we have been together...

Reading together, writing together, counting together,
learning together

But the time has come to depart us away, 
The time has come to leave one another.

We shall meet again,  We shall meet again, We shall meet again, When God allows us.

Bye, Bye, Bye, Bye -- We shall cry
We shall meet again,  We shall meet again, We shall meet again, When God allows us."

Far too soon we find ourselves at the end of the school day at the closing ceremony of our last day with the children.  After the children sing us their farewell songs, Suney takes over and leads us all in our songs:  "Shake a friend's hand", "Jesus Loves Me", and then the new Achungo clap-cheer as we mix into the throng of our new family.  This is my favorite picture of the trip.  We leave with a very full heart in so very many ways.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Now We're Teachers! -- Day 9 (Tuesday)

While most of the team spend the day in classes with the teachers and children, reading, teaching, doing games, etc. (and someone else will have to fill in that detail....), Chris and Monte spend the day shopping with Michael.  We start at the Rodi lumber yard shopping for materials to build new desks.  Chris has diagrammed out a modification of their desk that has more support and a larger desktop (8 inches as opposed to 6).  We help the lumberman figure out which rough lumber to use -- he takes 8 inch and rips it for the 2-inch pieces and then planes one side of each of our pieces.  Actually, he just figures all that out -- ripping, cutting and planing will have to wait as the power is out for Rodi.

Next stop: Homabay.  We make several stops and purchase glass to repair the office windows plus glazier's putty and a putty knife, shovel, blackboard paint and paintbrushes and sandpaper, and school supplies--pens, markers, poster paper, exercise books, chalk, textbooks (to replace those Kathy wants to bring back), de-worming medication, and other stuff that I've forgotten by now.  We are unable to find 1.25 inch pipe and valves to fix the water system.  But otherwise it feels like we've gotten a lot done.

On our return, Kennedy and Charles immediately begin repairing the windows.  I'm realizing that they can help themselves with many things but just lack the tools.  We need to get them 2 pipe wrenches so they can do their own pipework.

Monday, July 4, 2011

It's a Suney Day at Achungo! -- Day 8 (Monday)

Today is our first planned-out day to work with the children and teachers.  Suney began our trip quietly expressing the hope that she might somehow be helpful.  Today, she proves that to be the understatement of the year.  Her experience as a 6th Grade teacher for several years and apparently, helping with VBS (Vacation Bible Schools) and her personal energy and her ease at connecting with children, even in very large groups, and her ability to bring order into potential chaos -- it all comes out today!

She has met with Eliakim, the Assistant Headmaster who actually coordinates all the school activities and teacher schedules.  They've collaborated on a schedule for the day and Suney has given each of us our assignments, our lesson plans, and instructions for how to carry them out!  We will each work in a classroom for at least part of the day, alongside the teacher, and will lead reading with our storybooks as well as other subjects.  Everything will be in conjunction with the teacher so that they begin to consider how they might continue using these new items and methods after we're gone.

We walk down to the school and they have been waiting for us to begin their opening assembly and flag ceremony at the lower end of the campus where the flagpole sits amidst a circle of ornamental plants.  After the 6 little "cadets" march to the flagpole and raise the flag, and the children sing the Kenya anthem and a worship song, Paul offers us an opportunity and Suney jumps right in and leads all of us:  "Shake a Friends Hand" (and scratch their back and touch their nose -- the children love it!), and "Jesus Loves Me" with all the hand motions.

The day starts with the teachers leading their classes with their regular curriculum and methods and Suney's team observing and it proceeds with PE activities, handicrafts in various classes, reading to the children and then helping the teachers help them read in groups.

Monte does not have a successful day (just speaking personally, here)!  He tries to hook up one of the power-strips we brought to the existing power-strip without realizing that it won't handle the 240volt that is standard in Kenya.  After it blows out, he tries again after including the converter he'd brought.  And he blows out another power-strip!  (I guess that converter was already fried)   He has brought a printer -- all the way from the U.S., in the hopes that it will transform the teachers' ability to print worksheets and exams.  We've purchased 10 reams of paper for that purpose and brought 6 printer cartridges for this printer.  It's time to plug in the printer and make it all happen.   The printer says it is rated for 110 - 240 volt.  What could possibly go wrong?  So what happens?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Not a blink or a whimper out of the printer -- no matter what we try.  Guess I fried that, too!?   Very disappointed, Monte tries to keep his distance from anything electrical for the rest of the day.

After lunch, we return to what turns out to be a short afternoon.  Mid-afternoon a storm comes up and quickly turns into a major downpour that lasts about an hour.  With these metal roofs there is no way to conduct class -- we have to shout in each other's ear just to be heard.  So we just hang out inside, avoiding the leaks in every room, pulling curtains over the missing windows of the office to keep water out.  Afterward we learn that in the temporary building that houses most of the classrooms the dirt floors turn to mud and to rivulets in some places as the rainwater flows in from the sides.  That is something that needs fixing.  This storm is a momentary drizzle compared to what they get in the rainy season.  We brought in 2 lorries of marram (clay-gravel mix) to build up the floors this Spring, but that doesn't seem to have been enough.  Later, I coach Michael and Charles on ditching along the fence-line and we buy them a shovel.

At dinner that night, Suney is at it again -- schedule, assignments, lesson plans for everyone for tomorrow!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Time for Fellowship -- Day 7 (Sunday)

Today Michael has invited us to his home church (Kager Vision Center) and then to his home (for lunch) and he has contracted a matatu for our travel.  The matatus are modified minivans used as taxis that seat 10 with room for 14 passengers (yes, you read that right).  That's including 2 or 3 sharing the front seats and others practically sitting on laps or hanging out the door.  I would guess they get some rugged treatment -- especially judging from this one.  3 of the team ride with Michael in his borrowed car and the rest of us pile into the matatu and enjoy exhaust that pours out the back and is sucked inside along with the dust through the hole in the floorboards and the back windows (even after we close them).  Miraculously, we all survive.

We briefly stop at the village blacksmith and are given the tour of his mud forge with hand-crank bellows. Then on to Kager.

The Kager service is shorter than I remember (only 2 1/2 hours) with lots of amplified singing, short preach-imonies from a variety of pastors and visits (including me, but not including Chris and Ana who were prepped to preach), and, of course, with their wonderful dancing troop of 8-year-old girls.  There are some other wazungu (whiteys) in attendance and we hear from Mama Lynn of Jubilee Village Project (Indianapolis)

After the service, we meet Michael's mother (68) and grandmother (100 and still spry and in her own hut), and enjoy a wonderful lunch at his house (chicken, both fried and in sauce, rice, chappatis that win the hearts of the team).  Then we gather outside for a visit from Mama Lynn and her team of teachers.  Jubilee has adopted Kager for a multi-faceted, multi-year development.  It's a sort of "extreme makeover, African-style."  Their motto:  "Changing the world one village at a time"   There are leaders ("partners") heading up projects related to food,water, health, energy, housing, economic development, etc. and Mama Lynn heads up Education.  They have built a secondary school and this team is teaching the teachers.  This sounds like a large-scale project that could be extremely rewarding for Michael's village.

In our chairs under the shade tree in the middle of Michael's family compound we share our stories and our learnings.   After a time, they must leave and then, soon we depart as well.  And again, somehow we survive the ride back in that matatu.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"We Welcome You to Achungo" -- Day 6 (Saturday)

Last night Chris shared about how the 12 Steps provide a regimen for healing through surrender to God (Higher Power) and through the processes of confession and of making amends with those we've harmed (or sometimes, those who've harmed us).  It was a very powerful teaching for us all.

This morning we talk about the importance of this first day at Achungo and of our attitude, of our suspending our expectations and plans, that we will make our greatest contribution if we focus on just being there with the children and with the teachers, just listening and watching and learning, before presuming to show them or teach them or enrich them with what we have.  This culturally humble approach will serve us well in the days to come as we develop mutual respect for the teachers and collaborate with them on all our plans.  Leveraging Chris' talk from last night, we talk about how our greatest opportunity for joy comes as we surrender our willfulness.  Remembering how our servers at each meal bring a wash basin to our table for each to wash hands, we reflect on Jesus model of service (the greatest teacher washing his students' feet) and on how critical it is for us to subordinate our preconceptions (who we are, what we can do, how we can help, the resources we can provide) and focus on what God is doing around us and in us ... listen and observe and then, participate in what we see.  If our primary focus is just being with them, we will find our contribution will turn out to be incredibly valuable in unexpected ways.

Our day begins with a great breakfast buffet (pronounced "buff-ett") including fresh pineapple, papaya, bananas, as well as eggs, bread and jam with tea, coffee or milo (ovaltine-like) and incredibly flavorful fresh juice (they guarantee us they boil the water).  Then Michael comes to the hotel to escort us to Achungo to meet the children.  But first we must meet the staff.

We gather in the small office (I like to call it the faculty lounge) with all the staff in plastic chairs rented for our visit.  Headmaster Paul hosts, gives us an official welcome, introduces Michael for his welcome, and then each of the staff, before passing the rhetorical ball to Monte and the team.  Michael shares his vision and talks about growing up an orphan and deciding that he needed to do something for the orphans of this area.  Achungo is founded on the premise that a nation's health is based on the well-being of its children and on the desire for them to have the care and education to be able to live rewarding, productive lives.  There are many orphans in this area, maybe one thousand, and as they provide for these 110 now, they hope to help many, many more in the years to come.  After Monte's introduction of the team and some words from Julia and other team members, we move outside to meet the children (at last!).

The Welcome
  We adults move our plastic chairs outside facing the children who are sitting on the ground under the shade tree, and we receive their welcome.  They sing songs ("We welcome you to Achungo....please enjoy yourself"), and then small groups arise to recite poems, perform skits and dances, and extend their welcome.  On Paul's invitation, Monte gives a brief greeting and introduces the team to the children.  It is all very sweet and entertaining.

The Balls
  Our first activity with the children is to bring out some of the balls and take them to the nearby field that they use as a play area (there is little space on the tiny campus).  Meg and others are in the office pumping up some of the new balls and when she emerges with 2 new soccer balls in her hands, we hear a shout of spontaneous exaltation from the multitude of children.  Their athletic department (for 110 children) has consisted of 2 very old, somewhat flat balls and 6 jump ropes.  We soon learn that based on their experience of extreme scarcity (some might say, deprivation), they have nothing but utmost appreciation for any little new thing.  Off we go the The Field to play ball games, duck-duck-goose, and every other sort of game with these exuberant children.

The Books
  We've brought over 150 storybooks (there were none previously -- not in the entire school and certainly not in their huts).  On our return from The Field, we identify them by grade-level and give piles out to each of the team members to take to an assigned class.  Each of us accompanies an Achungo teacher to their class and works with them to first read to the children and then to set up table groups for them to read on their own.  English is their third language and we soon learn that as intent as they all are on their reading, and although from at least 2nd grade on, they do a great job of word pronunciation, their comprehension is behind what we expected.  I suspect my 2nd grade Spanish reading comprehension would have been a lot worse (understatement!).

The Stories
  After lunch, the upper classes engage in storytelling and delight our team with imaginative and often elaborate stories.  The favorite ending for the boys seems to be "and then he became a pilot."

The Team
  That evening I marvel at this team and the talents and energy they each demonstrated today:
  • Julia, Meg and Clare -- incredibly energetic and creative, teaching the kids all sorts of new games
  • Ron -- where does he get his energy and enthusiasm?  the kids just flock around him as he plays with them ("buzz--I'm Rrrron the bumble-bee")  and listen enraptured as he dramatizes a storyreading
  • Julia -- always creating, she develops a math lesson using toy cars that is a huge hit.  
  • Chris -- the architect, he meticulously diagrams our proposed electrical system, plumbing system, desk design, and when nothing else is going on, jumps in to give a computer lesson to whatever staff are around.
  • Ana and Drea -- every time I look they are completely absorbed with children (and the children with them), whether on the field or in the classroom.  They are Teachers!
  • Kathy -- the researcher, observing classrooms and teacher methods, planning ahead (always!) for new ways we can help or resource
  • Susan -- (aircraft designer) is fully engaged in her classroom, reading, listening, intently connecting with the children
  • Suney -- quickly emerges as our leader, our teacher, and always ready to organize a song or lead us into "here's what we can do now"

Friday, July 1, 2011

Will the Wildebeests Please Get Out of the Way? -- Day 5 (Friday)

It's Friday and we're departing Masai Mara to make our cross-country trek to Achungo.  But it seems that the entire park has come out to the road to either wish us farewell or block our escape.  Seemingly endless parades of wildebeest and zebra frequently block the road before us.  The gazelle, the elephants, water buffalo, even giraffe, are right alongside the road -- maybe 30 - 50 feet away from us.  How did they know that we'd be driving out, and with our top lowered so we can't stand to view them and with our cameras all put away?

Just one of the "big 5" yet to see.  We stop at the Mara River (after a brief detour into Tanzania -- where the Masai Mara extends into the Seregeti) and there's a large bloat of hippos!   (Not kidding -- I looked it up.  Their herds can be called pods, dales or bloats and I think the latter is most appropriate).   All are mostly underwater with just tops of heads and backs showing.  A large group is huddled, mostly inert, but then the big fight begins!  2 are facing off (likely males competing -- like in every culture) and there's a lot of snorting.  Others seem to slide over near the fight (taking bets?) but it's hard to tell just how the fight is engaged.  Didn't see the biting (like on the Nature Channel) but maybe we didn't stay long enough.  Just looked like they were trying to sit on each other!

And then we're back on the road for 6 endless hours of bad road to Kisii (lunch and some shopping) and finally (after a few wrong turns), Achungo's town of Rodi Kopany.  After we check into our rooms (comfortable but spartan compared to the Sarova), a group of us head over to see Market Day in Rodi.

After we navigate some alleyways between buildings that aren't much more than tin sheds, we emerge into a large open area.   At first it looks like total chaos, but as our eyes adjust to this farmers' market on steroids, we see a somewhat orderly collection of small stands of wares and a ton of vendors with their goods spread atop tarps on the ground.  It's Friday -- the weekly Market Day for Rodi Kopany and it seems like everyone from many miles around have gathered with their wares.  Europe circa 1300?

Dried fish, beans of all sorts, bananas, pineapples, other fruits, greens (kale), tomatoes, and other veggies, millet, cassava, maize and more maize, clothes, metal goods, sisal's all here.  Although it's a mass of people in a tight space, there is none of the frenzy or hard sell that we remember from the Masai village and no trinkets, no tchotchkes, no nick-nacks for the tourists.  Everything here is highly utilitarian and we may be the only tourists these folks have seen for a long time.  This is a real market with real goods meant for the real people -- we're in real Africa now and I feel at home. 

And although we're the only white faces and we do get a little special attention, we also feel accepted -- no special sales pressure, no change of behavior to play to the tourists.  And no haggling.   Suney buys a woven bag and a huge wooden spoon at the asked prices (about $1.50 and 50 cents, respectively!!).