Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jambo from Central Province, Kenya! I cannot believe it is already the end of the month! The past couple of weeks here have just flown by. School settled into a routine, and then that routine was shaken up last week with the national examinations that took place for most of the week.

All the primary students, from Standards (grades) 1 through to 8 complete examinations in English, Science, Mathematics, Social Studies/Christian Religious Education, and Kiswhahili. The examinations for the Primary students are quite lengthy, and are mostly comprised of multiple choice questions. For the Standard 8 students, these examinations decide their futures, as their results determine whether they can continue with Secondary (or High) school.

We also had our visit from Dr. Tim Goddard, Dean of Education at UPEI, which was great. He was able to meet the headmasters at our schools, tour the properties, and meet the staff and students. I know the schools appreciated his visit immensely.

During the examinations, I was reminded of how little the students have at Ithanji Primary School. Some of the pencils were just the tiniest stub, and I would have thought writing with them would be impossible, but the students make do. Mr. Karinga, the Head Teacher at Ithanji, explained that many families cannot afford 9 shillings for a pencil (which is less than 25cents Canadian). The students also use razor blades to sharpen their pencils, which is very dangerous for the pupils. I witnessed the dangers first hand when a Standard 5 boy sliced open his finger while trying to sharpen his pencil for his exam. This past weekend, I was able to purchase additional pencils and as many sharpeners as possible to leave at the school, so that at least each class teacher has a sharpener or two that the students can share, to avoid the use of the razor blades. This experience was another reminder of how much we take for granted in Canada.

At Ithanji, the parents pay for an extra teacher’s salary which is not included in the government funding the school receives. Mr. Karinga explained that the parents willingly pay for an additional teacher out of pocket, and that for many families, the cost required for each student per month is very difficult to scrounge up. Again, a humbling experience because the amount we are talking about is less than $1.50 Canadian per month. Prior to travelling to Kenya, I knew (at least in theory) that even small amounts of support could make a huge difference for people in need, but I don’t think I truly appreciated just how small an amount. I know I am guilty of thinking that, as a student, I cannot support “enough” and therefore might as well not donate – unless I can donate $20 per month or something. Living here has shown me this simply is not true, and that every little bit truly can make a difference.

While talking with Mr. Karinga, I was really overcome with emotion, thinking about all the waste we have in our country while such a small amount could be channelled to make such a difference here. The Kenyan people I have met demonstrate resilience and the ability to see the good in every situation, which absolutely amazes me. There are many problems in this country, and the government does not provide the level of support that Canadians are accustomed to and take for granted. Every time I tell the teachers at my school about a program like income assistance, employment insurance, Medicare, help for mentally handicapped, assistance and support for children and orphans, maternity leaves, they are absolutely amazed. In Kenya, there just is not the level of infrastructure we so often take completely for granted (AND often complain about!); there is not even garbage collection here. People dump their household garbage somewhere on their property or by the side of the road.

I think every Canadian should have an African “reality check” in order to realize what we have. As a culture, we love to complain about the imperfections; I am not suggesting we accept areas where improvement could be made. But, I think we need to really consider our position of privilege before we complain, and remember that the majority of the world lives with but a small fraction of what we do (and probably complain far less!) And, do not underestimate how little it takes to help – think about it next time you buy something you do not care about, or waste water, or leave the lights on unnecessarily; think about what that small savings, if redirected, could do. I know I will be thinking about the students here long after I return to Canada, and I will be aiming to change my lifestyle, even just a small amount, to help as much as I can. The students are so curious, joyous, and thoughtful, and they deserve the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

Next week promises to be full of activities as well; our schools have their prize giving celebrations this weekend, and we are arranging visits to some shambas (farms) in the community, as well as visits to see the bio gas burners, and of course, the milk run with the Wakulima Dairy folks, which promises to be exciting! We will update after we take in these events! Bye for now!

Lindsay G. (UPEI B.Ed. student, 2010)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Karibu! Second week in Kenya...

So far we have been here for two weeks out of our six weeks here in Kenya. I think I can speak for the pre-service teachers in Ichamara when I say that we love every minute and that time is going by too fast!
Ndathia? (How are you?) Nikewayga! (I’m fine!) Those are a few of the Kikuyu words that I have picked up. The locals love it when you speak their language, although we usually get laughed at when we do. Everyone here speaks Kiswahili and Kikuyu. There are many people who also understand English, but it is their third language so it is a little rough for some. In school, students begin learning English in Standard (grade) 4. On the topic of language, being foreign, I have a very strange accent. My students are beginning to understand me better, and I am beginning to understand them too. They love to laugh at words I pronounce, especially their names. All of the students in my class are Christian so they were given a baptized English name, which makes it a little easier for me to remember them. Some examples are Esther, Agnes, Patricia, Lewis, Anastasiah, Charles and Duncan. I seem to have a difficult time saying Duncan. Everytime I say his name the entire Standard 6 class bursts out laughing and I am corrected, “No Teacha Hannah, his name is DONE CAN.” People also seem to have difficulty with our names, most people call me Anne because they don’t really pronounce the H, Evan is Eevans and Lindsay is sometimes referred to as Linskey.
I am teaching at a school called Matuto Primary School. I have been assigned Standard 6 English, Standard 7 Social Studies and 7 Phys. Ed. Like most schools there is a schedule posted on the wall, I admit it really had me fooled the first day. I thought that there should be no problem following a schedule. However, I am at a school with no electricity and no clock so basically teachers teach when they want and take a break when they want. Often I will go to my class and there is already a teacher there, or I will randomly walk by any other classroom and children are calling out “Teacha teacha come teach us.” So I will just go in, even though I realize the little ones have no idea what I am saying. The children are truly amazing and make me smile and laugh constantly!
Everyone here is interested in Canada, and are shocked when we tell them how cold it can get. Children here will bundle up in sweaters and knitted hats to walk to school, I mean it is a brisk 20 degrees some mornings! A couple of the teachers approached me the other day and asked me to clear up a debate they were having before I arrived. One teacher had told the other teacher that Canadians can buy thermal underwear. The other teacher thought he was pulling her leg. I set them straight; I also tried to explain long johns to them. They found this to be quite hilarious. They are in disbelief how I am often very hot in my tshirt and skirt while they are wearing heavy clothing (it’s usually about 25 degrees). Kenyans are just as interested in the cultural differences as we are.
Well that’s it for now! I can’t believe I have been here for two weeks already, time is just flying by. Four more weeks to go and I’m sure I will have lots of stories to tell when I come home. I already never want to leave the children, I will miss them and our bags and bags of mangos they send us home with everyday. Even though they have so little, they want to give us something everyday. They have already given me and taught me more than I will ever give or teach them. I feel so thankful and lucky to be here, and I love every moment. Next weekend we are going on Safari, I can’t wait! I am ready for Kenya to bring on the elephants, giraffes, zebras and lions.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Greetings from Kiirua

Gidday everyone! I made it to Kenya alright! I arrived in a small town called Kiirua last Sunday. Dave, Cynthia and I are staying in a small compound attached to St. Theresa’s Mission Hospital. It has everything we need; reminds me of the cottage lifestyle on PEI. We have electricity most of the time. The power goes out quite a bit. We just got the Internet yesterday. It’s on and off too, but that’s ok. It’ll be good enough to connect with an update from time to time.

We had a day in London on our way here so we took the tube downtown for some sightseeing. We saw Buckingham’s Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and the Parliament buildings. It was a quick, but very nice tour. So much history and character.

We arrived in Nairobi last Saturday. It’s a very busy city with many people walking in the streets. There is construction everywhere due to the cities growth and the need for new highways. We stayed at the Fairview Hotel. It was an amazing place, very fancy. On Sunday we headed for our schools in the country several hours away, and that’s where I am now.

It’s a unique experience. It’s like going back in time. There are mainly dirt roads, bumpy and muddy, especially when it rains. There are farmers plowing their fields with the help of their cows, women and children harvesting the crops and people carrying heavy jugs of water and firewood on their backs. And they carry around machetes (pangas) like they’re Tim Horton’s coffee. They carry them for weeding their crops that are far from their homes.

The landscape is unbelievable. The village stands at about 1 mile high with Mount Kenya just down the road standing at 5200 meters. The land is covered by high rolling hills covered by crops of maize (corn), onions, potatoes, beans and many more. They have crops everywhere. So many, that I wonder sometimes where the people live. I’ve meet many people on the road when I’m running, but have only seen a few homes.

The temperature is very hot here, usually around 25 or higher. The first few days it was raining a lot. The muddy roads are dangerous, and compare to the snowy roads of PEI. It took about a week to get used to the weather, but since then I’ve managed to get out for a run everyday to explore the countryside. Quite different than a typical run in Charlottetown.

I have lots of energy because of the delicious and healthy food they have. Everything is fresh: beef, all kinds of vegetables, bread, milk and all kinds of unique Kenyan dishes. And of course their famous tea, it’s very good. At Kinyenjere, the students take care of the school’s garden everyday. Weeding, watering, and ensuring the drip irrigation is working. They are extraordinarily responsible for their ages. They know that more work put into the garden yields more food for the entire school.

Kinyenjere Primary is very different than schools at home. They lack the infrastructure and resources that we are lucky to have. The school is around 40 years old and in need of repairs. The floors are dirt, the walls cracked concrete. The roof is tin and when it rains it’s impossible to teach because it’s so loud. There are broken windows in some classes and no windows in others. There is no electricity and their water is stored in tanks. It’s quite an eye opener. Many of the students share textbooks, sometimes 3 or 4 kids to one book. Many of them don’t have pens or pencils and need to wait for another student to finish before they can start. The grade one class was very happy when I brought in pencils for them. They were so proud to have their own. Many of them haven’t let it out of their hands yet! The playground is shared with a cow and several goats, but believe me, that doesn’t stop the kids from playing soccer and running, they are amazing athletes. I’m pretty happy! I’m the 3rd fastest person in the school (grades 1-8) hahaa! A very humbling experience.

Although they have little, these kids are so happy and have the kindest spirits. They are beautiful and I’ve fallen in love with each and every one of them. They stick up for each other. They support each other. There’s no such thing as bullying here. No fighting, no complaining and no crying. They are strong, respectful, focused, hardworking kids and they go to school for one reason, to build a future for themselves. Although they are faced with obstacles that we couldn’t imagine, they come to school everyday with a huge smile on their face to greet me. It’s quite something.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jambo (Hello) from the 3 teachers in Ichamara

The nervousness we may have felt on the plane was quickly dissolved by our friends Henry and Shaad. They are 2 of the friendliest and funniest men you will ever meet. The traffic in Nairobi was crazy, not to mention that we were driving on the left. In the morning we headed to Ichamara (the farm house where we stay) after breakfast. When we arrived our chef Francis, who cooks the best fresh food ever (sorry moms), had prepared a feast for everybody before we said goodbye to Dave, Cynthia and Stan as they head to Meru. We got a tour of the 14 acre property from the farm manager Steven; They grow arrowroot, kale, coffee, macadamia nuts, bananas and have chickens and milk cows. Waking up to a rooster while sleeping in a mosquito net is indeed a new experience, especially when it’s walking outside your window. At first, everybody stares at you, because they have never seen white people before. Everything we do is hilarious. Our 1st days at Matuto Primary and Ithanji Primary were busy after the initial shyness of the children was subdued. Many kids even brought Mangos as presents. They have so little, are so generous and so happy. They were so amazed by the cultural and climate differences between Kenya and Canada. We are learning a lot of Kiswahili (the national language) and the local Kikuyu tribe language. On the 2nd day we showed them picture, and brought them some soccer balls. The kids are ridiculously attentive in class, but they have a hard time saying that they don’t understand. It’s hard and hilarious trying to speak English with a Kiswahili/Kikuyu accent so the kids will understand. Everything about the children makes me smile, especially when they wave a chase the car when we are leaving or passing them. The girls went to the market today with our cook Francis while I relax, because after 1 week of ups and downs and the beginning of the adventure of lifetime. Our teaching and lives will forever be improved and changed by spending only 1 week in a country like Kenya. I wish everybody could have this opportunity. Hope everything is going great back home. Thank you so much to U.P.E.I. Education and Farmers Helping Farmers for giving us this opportunity and supporting us along the way.

Monday, March 1, 2010

4th Year Nursing Students Conduct Blood Pressure Clinic

Another week has come and gone, and our Kenya experience has sadly come to an end. We have had an amazing time here learning so much about culture and health care. This week we went to the Muchui Womens Group community and conducted a blood pressure clinic. Over 60 people attended both members and nonmembers. The clinic included an educational session on how to maintain and lower ones blood pressure. Each person took home a booklet which included tips on lowering blood pressure and a place to record their blood pressure regularly. This public awareness was largely receipted and was accessible to many people who otherwise may have not had their blood pressure taken. Having the opportunity as fourth year nursing students to practice in Kenya has been a huge learning curve and an unforgettable month.