Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 2 Part 2

This evening we traveled with Kate to Karen to purchase textbooks for students in grade 4.  After we got the necessary books, we stopped by the vet's office.  Recently, Hekima Place acquired two German Shepard puppies to assist the night guards in protecting the compound.  The pups are Nicky and GiGi.  Poor Nicky was bitten by a tick and has developed tick fever.  He's spending the night at the animal hospital with an enlarged spleen and a high fever.   

After leaving the vet's office, we headed over to Karen Country Club for our 7pm Rotary meeting.  It occurred to me that at the very same moment my Brother and Sister Rotarians in Pittsburgh were also meeting.  

I was so proud to represent the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh at this meeting.  I couldn't have picked a better meeting to attend.  The speakers were from several California districts who developed and have executed a program "Kenya Smiles," which provides Kenyan students with dental education and supplies.  As amazing and exemplary of the Rotary spirit as this program is, I was even more touched by a five minute presentation from two Oberlin students: Ty and Peterson.  Ty is a US native and Peterson was born and raised in a rural slum of Kenya.  Pete, who is pursuing a degree in neurobiology, worked his way through the Kenyan school system and ultimately was accepted to Oberlin.  The only thing keeping Pete from pursuing his education in the US was his inability to pay for the plane ticket.  The Rotary Club of Karen sponsored him and sent him to the US.  Once at school, he decided to give back and developed "Kenya Reads."  In one year his program has built two libraries on his old neighborhood and has started providing uniforms and sanitary pads to students so they don't miss school for not being in uniform, or for girls who must miss a week of school when menstruating.  As if that's not enough, when he was in high school, he wrote a biology essay book that was published and is now used in Kenyan high schools!  Needless to say, I made Pete and Ty promise to come visit is on Pittsburgh - I mean, seriously, it's just across the border!  I happily purchased two uniforms and sanitary pads for girls in need for $40 USD.

The meeting closed with the exchange of flags from six clubs.  I proudly shared our flag and accepted the Karen Club's.  There was a great energy at the club, including two prospective members with seventeen meetings between them, and six Rotaract students from two Universities.

Another great day for Rotary, regardless of where in the world you are meeting! 

Day 2

This morning we has the opportunity to go to the Good Hope School.  The school goes from ages 4-5 in baby and nursery classes to 8th grade.  The student body is made up of the elementary-aged students from Hekima Place, children from the Good Hope Orphanage and local children.  The school is just 2 kilometers away but the road is quite hilly and in very bad shape.  The girls go by bus every morning and afternoon.  

The school system in Kenya works on a trimester schedule with one month long breaks in April, August and December.  Since it is the end of their second term the students were talking their exams.  We started our morning in the teacher's lounge with morning prayer and a ministry on forgiveness provided by the head teacher.  Next we were off to help out in the classroom.  Joe proctored the 6th grade social studies test and I gave some of the nursery students their exam.  

The nursery students were quite intrigued by Joe and I.  Kyla, a young girl was fascinated with my blue eyes and pointy nose.  My hair, earrings and bangle also got a lot of attention!

After exams, we broke for tea at the Orphanage.  We had an amazing chai tea while the little ones had porridge.  After tea, the children had time to play outside while we got to take a look at the "conservation classroom" and their pet tortoises.  Beginning in first grade, all students at Good Hope learn about conservation as part of their curriculum.  Partly in an effort to preserve the 91% of Kenya that has game roaming on its land a d partly to teach the students from more rural areas how to be more effective in cultivating sanitary and prosperous lives.  As an aside, did you know the ivory trade is still a huge problem in Kenya?  Every day, 5 elephants are slaughtered for their ivory.

After learning about Good Hope's green education, we got to enjoy a special school assembly that was prepared for some special visitors.  As special as we were (I am sure), these guests were BIG TIME: visitors from the World Bank.  The show was amazing with singing, dancing, percussion, poetry and dramatic performances.

As we headed back to Hekima, the children went out to play a little football while the staff and teachers looked on.  These kids all seem happy and well adjusted!  It's amazing to know that half the student body comes from either the Good Hope Orphanage or Hekima Place.  The other half live with their biological family - some in places where there is no running water.  If you didn't know it, you wouldn't realize it because when you look around you just see a bunch of well-mannered kids enjoying their time at school, albeit some with tattered and torn uniforms, mismatched socks and tights, shoes that are flopping off their feet or clothes that are two sizes too small.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day 1

It is hard to believe we have been in Kenya for 24 hours.  We arrived last evening around 9:20 pm.  We didn't get our visas until 10:40.  Fortunately our bags were waiting for us as was our driver from Hekima Place.  We got to Hekima Place a little after midnight.  The city streets of Nairobi seemed so quiet at night, but it was nothing compared to the quiet out here in the hills.  

Kate kindly stayed up to welcome us and showed us to the "Karibu House," where volunteers stay during their visit.  We have lots of room - up to 17 could actually stay here.  It is identical to the three residences were the girls live with  their "mums" who act as total caretakers of the girls. We have a large common area and a kitchen with appliances!  

After 22 hours of travel, Joe and I were pretty quick to call it an evening.  Kate advised that we take our first day easy because we would be exhausted.  I thought she was being over-cautious, but boy was she right.  This morning ans afternoon I was struggling with jet lag that even my Starbucks Via couldn't cure!  I went back to bed while my awesome travel buddy, Joe, went to explore (his jet lag set in while we were in a cab later that day when he fell asleep mid-sentence).

Once I finally got moving, Joe and I toured the grounds and met some of the "mums" and "uncles."  The operation they have here is truly amazing!  The uncles take care of the grounds, the animals and security.  There are goats, cows, chickens (and chicks) and rabbits. They harvest corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and beans.  They collect rain water from the roofs.  Whatever resources they collect, grow or raise, they use and if the don't use it, they sell it.

After meeting and greeting, Joe and I headed to Karen to do some shopping.  The drive through the small towns and markets was eye-opening.  We had passed these towns, Ngong and Kiserian, on our way from the airport, but it was dark and there was almost no activity.  Late afternoon was a different story!  Thousands of people milling about, merchants, markets, goats and donkeys.  I should have been taking pictures, but I was so awestruck and busy giving myself eyestrain.  

In Karen, we bought lots of groceries and a modem so we can get Internet (and I could update all of you!!).   We got back to late to have dinner with the girls, so fortunately we picked up some KFC carry out.

After our lovely home cooked meal, Joe and I settled in to watch "Half the Sky," a documentary about the struggles and abuses of women and girls worldwide.  A timely pick given that Joe and I had the pleasure of meeting Hekima's newest guest, a beautiful ten year old girl named Yvonne who was rescued from Nairobi hospital after being enslaved and then repeatedly sexually and physically abused.  Her attack was so brutal she was in the hospital more than a week.  Rather than cower or hide, the first thing she did when we met was smile ear to ear and give me a HUGE bear hug.  I can't even express in words the feeling.  I don't think I ever can.  Sophia, who works in the office said to me, "Of course Mum (Kate) took her in.  She is a baby who was a slave and who was raped.  She has no parents.  She has no where to go, so she comes here."

Monday, July 29, 2013

Halfway There

We made it to Heathrow!  What a beautiful airport with amazing shopping. Ted Baker... Mulberry... Boots!  That said, what a pain in the neck to navigate through!  It took us an hour to get from our arrival gate to get to our destination gate.  It involved a bus, a train and a thorough search of my carry-on (which was deemed 100% acceptable I might add).  We are going to wait for our flight to Nairobi and enjoy a Starbucks or two - pretty sure we won't be seeing many of these for the next few days!  Getting so excited for our adventure.  I will admit, I'm a little nervous too!  Spent some time reading the Lonely Planet Kenya guide as we crossed the Atlantic.  Found quite a few places I hope we get the opportunity to visit while we are in Karen!  I did learn one little factoid, the town we are staying in (Karen) is named after Karen Blixon, whose memoir "Out of Africa" was a popular book and film!  Hope to post soon from Kenya!

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Lots went into planning to go on our trip to Hekima Place in Karen, Kenya.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit obsessive when it comes to my to-do list, so planning went very smoothly. First, it was time to renew my passport. Even though it was months in advance, I still did the expedited service.  No joke, I got my passport in ONE WEEK!  Next came booking our flights.  There were more options than I expected!  We were able to get flights for about $2500 round trip.  We will be flying coach/economy, but I still haven't told Joe yet!  In order to make sure we could volunteer and stay with the girls at Hekima, we needed to fill out the volunteer application, do criminal background checks and get Act 51 clearance.  If you're planning on visiting Hekima (or any other reputable children's organization), make sure you allot yourself at least a month to complete these checks.  The background check can be completed online, but the Act 51 clearance has to be sent to Harrisburg for processing.  The last item on the trip preparation list was vaccinations and malaria meds.  Even though we are going to Kenya in the cool season, I figure better safe than sorry so my dad prescribed anti-malarials for Joe and I.  We will start taking them a day or two before we arrive in Kenya.  I also went on the website for Allegheny County Department of Health and submitted our travel plans.  Within a day, we received a list of recommended vaccines.  We brought our list to the walk-in immunization clinic and were done in about an hour and a half (including a little waiting).  Insurance doesn't cover the vaccines, so make sure you stick aside a little loot to cover the cost - it was about $350. It's been a while since I got that many shots!!!