Wednesday, 30 July 2014

5 more days left in Kanyawegi

Rashma and I have been in Kanyawegi, Kenya for almost 6 weeks now.  It’s crazy how fast time flies.  I don’t think 6 weeks is enough for us to get anything done here. We did accomplish going into schools to teach primary students (Standard 6,7,8) about HIV/ AIDS but we are uncertain of the effects this will have on the children.  We made the decision to go into the high schools this year because we felt that it is necessary for high school students to get sex education and HIV/ AIDS talk so they can make safer decisions.  Unfortunately, Kenyan government is against condom demonstrations even though most teachers/ parents know that their kids engage in sexual behaviours.  We talked to several teachers who told us that they are aware but they just choose to not see them.  They are also afraid that talking about condom use will encourage sexual behaviours.  Their concerns are understandable but if the behaviours are inevitable due to hormones and nature, it is better to educate them so they are aware of the risks beforehand.  This way, the teenagers will know how to avoid contracting HIV or how to prevent spreading by understanding the importance of condom usage and also how to use it properly.  We heard crazy things about condoms from the students such as having little holes on them. 

Another big problem in Kenya is lack of teachers.  Also many teachers do not care for the children’s future.  Teachers’ job is so crucial because they may potentially have the power to change someone’s life in a positive or negative way. Unfortunately, many are corrupt and they focus on acquiring more money or goods from parents.  They let others do all the “donkey work” and cruise along, hoping that life will continue to be good.  Also, Kenya lack teachers that can teach English. Even though English is an official language in Kenya, many don’t know how to speak/ write English properly.  I met a secondary school student who didn’t understand simple phrases in English… I don’t know how he is going to make it past this year since all the exams are in English. Today, I asked a teacher his opinion on of what should be done to fix this problem. He suggested a change in the policy to make sure that English is properly taught in classes and make sure that the students/ teachers don’t speak in mother tongue.  There are these kids I met during my 2nd day in Kenya.  Dadi, who is the oldest is 9 and he does not speak any English.  I am not sure how he is getting by in school.. but today I asked Stephen to tell Dadi that he should learn English.  I hope he remembers this mzungu and tries to learn it.  Later, I was told by Stephen that students learn english in grade 4-5. I also saw a halfie kids at Lisuka primary school today.  He is half white, half black and both of his parents passed away so he lives at an orphanage.  The teachers said that he is very bright and smart.  He doesn’t get made fun of in class which was my biggest worry. The discrimination does not exist here because the Luo people think of light skin as very “smart” (attractive). 


Photos with the deputy and Chris-George

From my 6 weeks, I am realizing that Kenyans always have a mediator.  For example, when I need to purchase a chicken, I would normally go through a friend of mine who knows someone.  We had to go through another person all the time and our communication was often delayed.  We didn’t really want to push it either because we were not familiar with the culture and we didn’t want to offend anyone in any way.  A lot of people go to developing countries thinking that they will accomplish many things and make people's lives better.  We are being na├»ve if we think this way.  Many organizations send students for a very short period of time.  I always thought of 6 weeks of volunteering as a long duration but it is way too short for anything to be firmly accomplished.  First of all, we need to build a relationship with the community and the people you work with.  Put yourself in their shoes. Would you be happy if someone you didn’t know came into your village and started controlling everything?  For example, this research project came into the community and caused an uproar in the CHWs (Community Health Workers) because they weren’t following the proper protocols.  Projects are important but I feel building a strong relationship is more important.  If you have a positive relationship with the community members, this will help and guide you through your project work.  If you’re going to do international work, please, please take the extra time to be friends with them.  If we don’t do this, we have to ask ourselves if we are actually creating a positive impact in the community or we are just there to disrupt them.  Your intentions might be good but the results may not be the same.  Also, partnership with the community is essential.  I was a learner in the community and by partnering with the community, I was able to get by.  Without them, and their support, nothing would've been possible.  I learned so much from them and I am very grateful.  A mutual learning/ teaching relationship is a must. 

Even though many may think that people here are uneducated or less educated than us, they have knowledge we lack.  We don’t know how to do the daily things they are used to.  Many time I felt so helpless because I was unable to help them with the simple things such as pouring out a heavy jug of water, harvesting maize, building a tent and etcetera.  Yesterday, Dina and I went to talk to Maurice about bank stuff.  We had to wait for about an hour because the whole family was at their maize farm, harvesting this season’s oduuma (maize).  The kids kept on disappearing off somewhere and brought back huge bags of maize.  I became bored of waiting and decided to follow them. I spent that morning harvesting maize with Maurice and his neighbors.  I carryed maize on my head for about an hour back and forth.  Oduuma peck! (maize is heavy) Even though it was extremely tiring, it was one of the best days I had in Kenya.  I felt like a true Kenyan.  We were fed mchele (rice) and chai (tea) afterwards.  

Maurice and the team

Jumping photo

Dina and I stuck around and talked to Stephen and his friend Smith for a while. We ended up talking about religion.  Luos are devoted Christians.  I shared with Stephen before that I don’t have a religion and religion is a confusing topic for me.  I shared with them that it confuses me when people disregard their own efforts and thank god for all he has done for them.  You were the one that worked hard to get the results that you wanted. Where does god come in?  They said god created that path for you because he had that planned in your life.  What about people who fall off the "right", positive path and end up engaging in behaviours that are considered bad such as alcoholism? I don’t believe in god but I don’t see myself as a bad person.  I lived my life with certain values and I abide by what I believe to be right.  Smith asked me what I normally do on Christmas.  I volunteered with the Salvation army and fed homeless people last year.  I do it because I truly want to. Even though my actions are small, I am hoping to make at least someone happy that day.  I personally don’t think you have to believe in God to be good.  People may say that I will go to hell (I’ve heard this since I was a kid because my parents are Buddhists) but I guess I won’t find out until my days are over.

My friend Stephen Amoke (aka I am okay- I would ask him if he was okay time to time and he always said "I am okay. Amoke!"), who is Maurice’s brother, helped us so much throughout this summer.  Especially after Maurice’s accident, he has been doing all the physical work for Maurice without pay.  I felt really bad that he is doing GIVE's work without pay and wanted to find a way to pay him.  He helped us during HIV/ AIDS soccer tournaments which were held every Saturdays for 8 weekends.  I tested him on some of the questions and he knew the exact answers we were looking for.  I knew that we may need a translator/ facilitator throughout our classroom teachings so I asked the executives if funding was available for a facilitator. Once it got approved, I asked Stephen if he could work for us.  He has been working hard every day for the last 6 weeks.  He is only 19 and is waiting to enter University this September.  It is amazing for me to see how hard he works every day, not just for us, but for his family as well. He listens to his brother without any complaint, which is a rare thing to find back at home.  Maurice is like a father figure to him.  Today, he helped us set up tents for the Dialogue day and when one of them didn’t work, he had to take it apart and take them back.  He also had to bring sodas (which are in glass bottles) for about 50 people.  He also returned everything on his motorcycle afterwards without any payment or complaint.  Rashma and I had to teach at 3:00 so I asked him if he would be able to come and pick us up around 2:45.  I was worried that he wouldn’t have enough time to eat.  He finished everything beforehand and came to our house at 2:50ish and we made it to school in time.  He taught the class with us for 2 hours and we offered to buy him soda and chips (fries) afterwards. When we got to Obambo, he had to finish some of the stuff from Dialogue day so he didn’t eat for another hour.  

It is sad that all we can do is provide him with soda and chips… I ask him whenever I hang out with him if he is having a good day, worried that we’re working him too hard.  He always answers with a smile saying that he always has a good time with us.  Even though he is only 19, he says the wisest things.  Once I asked what kind of women/ men are considered as good looking? And he said “you know, everyone is beautiful in someone’s eyes” and I let it be just that.  I hope he goes far. I am hoping to help him throughout his university with the little amount of life experience I have.   He was originally thinking of going into banking and work in the community bank in the future but I’ve been encouraging to dream bigger because he is capable of bigger things.  I am going to miss him. 

We got shades for Stephen.  When he was driving us around on his boda, he would cry because dust would enter his eyes. I felt so so bad and we came up with an idea to get him these so he wouldn't have to cry anymore!

Stephen being a big brother at Nywara Primary school

5 more days in Kanyawegi… sigh.. :(


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