Hi Everyone – Doug and I got back home late last night after almost 24 hours in transit…drive to Nairobi; stay overnight and two eight hour flights to get here. You can imagine its a transition in many ways…emotionally, physically and mentally. We are glad to see our family, friends, pets and get back to our lives. But we also leave part of ourselves and the children and people we love in Kenya. Doug asked me if I will continue to the blog…the answer is I think I will, along with sending out email upates.
This was the best trip yet – we engaged with the staff, the children and the running of Nyota in a much deeper way than previous trips…probably because we had more time there and also the fact that Nyota is maturing and growing. We are seeing so much progress and the children are in such good health and so happy to be part of this big family. Thanks for your kind notes while we were away – it was so wonderful to hear from you and get your encouragement and support. The children and staff send you all very warm greetings, their deepest thanks for your many kindnesses, and hope that you will come and visit them! I always feel like they have bestowed upon me a huge gift of their friendship, openness and trust and allowed me to experience their lives in a very real and insightful way. I hope through this blog I have and will continue to be able to share some of this with you.
January 20, 2011
Today is our last day at Nyota. It’s been a very busy week…writing the Nyota Annual Report 2010, going over the new home construction project and timeline, discussing future staffing, and developing a draft Nyota policy, which I will review with the Nyota Advisory Council and FTC when I return. This policy supports our registration with the Kenya Children’s Department. Part of this policy is having a mission statement for Nyota. Here is what we have developed:
Our vision is to empower these children to become self-sufficient adults who can in turn help their communities. We want all these children to become “stars” in their own right, and we want to empower them to achieve their dreams and in turn to help their communities.
We want the staff, children and the Children’s Dept to understand that one of the primary goals of Nyota is to help these children to succeed academically to the very best of their ability. To support this one of the things we are doing is recruiting one or two tutors to work with the children every evening and weekends on their homework and to provide remedial instruction. Ivan, Martha (Manager of Mission in Action) and I also discussed ways to better integrate our children and Nyota into the community. Some ideas include bringing respected elders in to speak with the children, organizing regular volunteer activities with neighbouring villages, and crafts workshops with the kids.
I also spent many hours yesterday going through the new home and picking paint colors – dark and light blue and gold for the boy’s area; deep rose, apple green and gold for the girl’s area; and summer yellow and orange for the dining and gathering hall and kitchen. Who knows if it will turn out well…we just want the place to feel light and cheery and welcoming! The ceilings of the home are going up (wooden ceilings) which makes it look alot more finished. Then the terrazo floors will be installed, then the plumbing and final finishing. We are hoping to be in by the end of March – subject to some additional fundraising.
We had a staff meeting to discuss how we could assist the children with English. There has been little progress in the past year and it is affecting their school marks. The small children (under 5) speak almost no English, and some of the older children who have not attended school regularly or who come from small villages also have very limited understanding. The staff suggested we implement an “English Only” policy for the next three months to immerse the children. Kiswahili will be used to help interpret and explain. They are certainly making an effort to follow this, although it is hard. I hope it is successful as they can then go to more of a 50/50 use of English and Kiswahili. I’ve already seen a difference in the smaller kids – especially with the help of Tess and the pre-school program we have started. It is a balancing act to impose English and continue to respect their native languages and culture. In Kenya there continues to be a strong divide between English as the language of school and commerce, and Kiswahili as the language of everyday life and our kids are very grounded in their native languages.
We also sorted out the issue of missing library books – it seems there was no issue of stealing (the books were stored in someone’s locker and all returned) and the bigger boys were very upset that there could have been this misunderstanding. I felt very relieved to learn this!!
A Special Moment…last night I read to a couple of the younger girls. They love nothing better than to have stories read to them. One of these girls has AIDs, although through medication she is much healthier than when she arrived and appears to be controlling the disease. She tentatively started stroking my hair, then she tucked it behind my ears, then she fixed my part and patted it down…this kind of intimate grooming is much more common here amongst children. They love to hold, touch and be held. But it felt like kind of a sign to me that they have accepted me in a deeper way. It breaks my heart that this wonderful young girl is afflicted with this terrible disease, but together we can ensure she gets the medical help she needs to live a fairly normal life.
Water – A Precious Resource…one thing you can’t help but notice here is how valuable water is and how difficult it is for people to access. Every morning when we walk the children to school there is a large gathering of people around the public tap beside the road. People carry water jugs on their heads, backs, bikes and on their donkeys. Water is carried home or sold to others. It goes on each day, all day long. There is no such thing for most of turning on the tap. Bathing occurs from a small tub. The other day some of the caregivers at Nyota were walking the small kids and they came upon a caravan of about 50 camels who were being lead by some people from the Turkana tribe of NE Kenya. These people would have walked hundreds of miles to get here. There is a terrible drought in this part of Kenya, and they have brought their camels here looking for green pasture and water. The animals were emaciated. When I stand under the shower I can’t help but remind myself that what I take for granted is a matter of life and death for many people.
The Boys Choir…they have started a boys choir hear under the leadership of the son of Imanuel, one of the cooks. He is a wonderful singer and he has taught the boys to sing in harmony. All the songs are in Swahili so I have no idea what they mean, but their voices are beautiful and so moving. Doug and I had tears in our eyes listening to them last night. I caught some of it on video which I hope we can upload onto our website. It felt like one of those special moments in life when you truly feel blessed. That is mostly what I feel when I am here…blessed to be able to share experiences with the staff and children of Nyota, their culture, their language and their daily rhythms. How many outsiders get to see this side of Kenya? What a life changing time we can offer people who come here to volunteer. And the kids and staff as so thrilled to have visitors. Hospitality is an important part of their culture and they do everything they can to make us feel comfortable and welcomed.
Saying Farewell…tonight we had a little good bye party. We bought lots of chicken (one of the favourite foods of the children but expensive by Kenya standards), balloons and candy. As usual, when the children eat their favourite food you can hear a pin drop in the dining hall (eating is serious business to these kids, many of whom have experienced hunger and eat like this meal could potentially be their last…it is a steady progression of fork to mouth, often hunched over the bowl in a very watchful manner.).
The kids extended their evening songs and the little children recited a few poems for us. We ended the evening by all joining hands in a circular and singing a song called “Farewell” – the words of which reaffirms that it is a temporary parting and not goodbye. We all got big hugs from each of the kids, and then I went off and read stories to Jacinta, Caroline, Faith and Margaret, who love this nightly routine. We walked the children to school the next morning – holding hands and playing spelling games. These morning rituals were very special and I will deeply miss sending them off to school with their bug smiles and waves…Lynda