Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Community Project at the Mother Maria Zanelli Children’s Home

Kenya provides an unlimited wealth of learning experiences for teachers and students alike. On March 31, 2010 the school where I was teaching, Kiirua Boys Secondary School, closed for the term. This left my colleagues, Dave MacPhee and Stan Chaisson, and I with time to work on community projects here in the Meru area. Thus far, working in the community has proved to be yet another set of learning experiences. Each day brings a bit of awe and amazement to how these people live and the spirit they have.

Last week our team headed to Machaka, where the sisters of St. Theresa’s run a community project, to lend a hand. As we drove through a Kenyan slum towards our destination I could not help but wonder what we would find when we arrived. About twenty minutes later we pulled into a lovely little self contained community, the Machaka Project run by the Little Sister’s of St. Theresa’s. Within the compound they have a convent for the sisters, a large church, a medical clinic, a pharmacy, a store, a large garden, an animal farm, housing for the staff, an area for the feeding program they supply for the community, a training school for sewing and clothing making, and finally (most importantly for us) the Mother Maria Zanelli Children’s Home with a big playground complete with old school teeter totters and merry go rounds (which Dave, Stan, and I tested out for safety purposes of course).

The home consists of several bedrooms equipped with bug nets, a child sized chapel, a small school, dining hall for the older children (two and a half or older feed themselves), bathrooms, laundry facilities, and a good-sized common play room. The home provides care for twenty-one orphaned children under the age of 5 years old (with two exceptions of older siblings who remain at the home). These children have been orphaned by disease and desperation, several were even found at the bottom of pit latrines. The sisters do their best to provide for these children, but with only a few workers and almost two-dozen small children, it is evident they are looking for love and attention. Essentially that is what we were able to provide during our visits. Though we all helped with tasks throughout the day like feeding and consoling the little ones after fights (mostly caused by wanting our full attention) we each seemed to take on various roles:

The Jungle Gym. Stan proved himself useful as the member with unlimited energy for rambunctious children who loved being chased, tossed around, and climbing up and over anything. Every time a slight whimper would issue from a child’s mouth, he was there to work on getting them to laugh and play until the next child needed his attention. It was nice to be able to sit back and see Stan in this element, and although our Kimeru language skills are limited to greetings, we could tell that several times the women working at the centre were discussing Stan’s care giving skills.

The Teacher. Like myself, Dave is definitely more comfortable with older children, probably why we are Senior High teachers. Even so, he had a lot of fun with the little ones, and steered towards teaching the few older children paddy-cake type clapping games, worked on counting, the ABC’s and so on. As the days wore on Dave was increasingly more comfortable and the children would run to him for a round of Miss Sue or to clap out the ABC’s. One little one, Lillian, spent most of Thursday in Dave’s lap and was very perturbed when he gave his time to any other child looking to play, although she was too little to play clapping games or count, she tried.

The Holder. Those who know me well know that I can be a bit uncomfortable with young children, especially under six months old. But within the first 30 minutes of being at the home, a little bindle named Timothy was placed in my arms and I was told to ‘feed’, I simply had to adjust. Looking at his little face, it didn’t take long. That day at lunch the sisters explained to me that Timothy was found in the bottom of a latrine only a short time ago. He is coming along well but is very small and needs extra attention.

Over the following days I became the holder, the one who always had at least one child in my arms

or on my lap who just needed the attention. I even got to the point where I would pick up the children on my own, a big step for me. At one point I found myself with five children sitting in my lap at once. You may not think it possible but if children sit on each other it works. And everyone always wanted and found a spot somewhere.

The experience was in many ways life changing. Most of us have seen the commercials on television about children who are in need here in Africa, and although you can see the poverty on a daily bases, being with such a large group of children in need of loving homes brings it into reality. These children are well cared for by the sisters and staff, with several supports in place for funding and various needs, like Farmers Helping Farmers donating medicines. But none of these things can replace the love of a parent and family. I left there Thursday afternoon wondering what would become of these children, where will they end up, and who will care for them? In ten, fifteen, twenty years where will Millie, who talked to us non-stop in her Kimeru baby gibberish, Joy, who only smiled when being cuddled, Martin, a seven year old who helped feed and care for the little ones, Sammy, who was content to just be sitting beside one of us, Marcy, who picked up all the games quickly, and Kaynon, a special needs child with a huge smile for anyone who tickled her side, be? I hope in some small way we made a difference, but the home will need further assistance in the future from anyone who is willing and able to share their time and open arms to cuddle into.

Cynthia Lahey

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Final Week of School

The past weekend when we travelled as a group to the Samburu Game Park, we had the chance to meet a nomadic group called the Samburu. They are close relatives with the famous people of the Masai. It was extraordinarily eye-opening experience to witness the everyday lifestyle of this group. They were living on a desert plane, in huts covered with tarps, with no ability to grow their own food. They live solely on the meat and blood of cows and goats. Most people would have maybe a couple articles of the clothing and couldn’t afford to buy any others. The school was a one room house, with practically bare walls and little to no resources. The rights of the women were little, but with education as the women leader of tribe made a point of saying, things for everybody in the tribe will only get better. When you can visibly see the struggle many people face merely to survive.
During the final week of classes, most of the time spent at Matuto was focused on developing drama acts for a prize giving day to end the semester. It was amazing how gifted some of the students became once they received the opportunity to express themselves. Hannah and I wrote a play about teachers coming to Kenya for our Standard 6 class to perform. At the beginning, it seemed as though it would take too much effort. But, the students have such a strong work ethic, that even when we were not helping them practice, they eventually perfected it by themselves. It was amazing to see the work ethic of these students translated into something besides studying books. Giving gifts
All 3 of us decided we were going to give gifts to the students during our final week. The pandemonium that a few candies and some stickers and Canada pins created was truly amazing. Many of the students have little possessions and when they received something, they were truly appreciative. They began to really warm up to us over the past few weeks and it is going to be very difficult to say goodbye.
Prize giving day occurred on the Saturday of Easter weekend. The day consisted of planting trees in a new forest at Matuto, many different speeches from different distinguished guests, performances by different classes at the school and of course prize giving for the top students during the examination period for this semester. Although most of it was interesting, the day was very long, especially when most of the speeches were in Kikuyu. It was longer than a University graduation and they do it 3 times a year. The patience shown by the students was amazing, as even I couldn’t really stay focused for a long period of time.
During the Easter weekend, I decided to take a little time to reflect upon my experiences at both school and throughout my time in Kenya. Here a few of my thoughts:
a) I will never take for granted the liberties we as Canadians have on a day to day basis.
b) Complaining about the most minute events or occurrences is not acceptable to me anymore.
c) I will never complain about the resources I have during my whole teaching career.
d) I have never felt privileged until I came here. I wish everybody could have this experience first hand.
e) Small things can truly make big differences

Today we are having the teachers over from both Ithanji and Matuto as a show of appreciation for having us come to teach and visit their schools for the past 4 weeks. Over the next week or so, we have decided to visit some different farms, learn about the biogas project, go on the Wakulima dairy run with the teachers from Meru, and spend a week with our students at Matuto playing games, sports, art and other creative activities. We felt this was important as many of our students never get to have a camp type experience. It is going to be a lot of fun and it’s going to be very difficult to leave next week.

Evan Killorn