And the Work Continues

It’s been a busy two weeks. So much so that my back threatened to go out. I really didn’t want to deal with it going out completely, so I behaved and stayed in bed for most of a day. But not lifting anything or bending over is extremely hard in this country. If you want to clean yourself or your clothes, it means lugging large buckets of water around. Luckily my sisters came to my rescue and washed my clothes and carried the buckets of water to the outhouse.

Now I’m just praying for rain. If we don’t have a significant rain this week that refills the water barrels, I’ll be in the river this weekend washing clothes. I’ve learned to dread the hollow sound that echoes when you tap the water barrels to determine the current water level.

On the school front, I’m there most afternoons now. I think all 180 girls have touched my skin and hair, but at least they’ve moved on from calling me mzungu. Jessica definitely sounds better with a Kenyan accent 🙂 It has been a joy watching the girls come alive and feel more confident each day as they participate in the spelling bee. I threatened not to let them go on to the next round if they weren’t loud enough, and surprisingly, they came alive after that.

An art project with all the girls concurrently was not as much fun for me, although the girls loved it. I spent three hours last week going from one classroom to the next monitoring their progress and trying to keep the class eight girls from using the markers as make-up on themselves when I was out of the room.

Getting the art supplies was a whole another story. I wanted a variety so that they could choose which medium they wanted. Finding water color paints proved to be the hardest and most costly. For five plastic water color sets with 12 small colors and 25 paint brushes — we had to have the staff in Nairobi pick them out — it cost a little over $35.

Now imagine a class of 30-40 students sharing one set and five paint brushes. Just thinking about my nieces and their possessiveness over an abundance of art supplies had me dreading going into the classrooms. To my amazement it worked surprising well. Children in general here are used to having only one or two pencils or pens, so the fact that I had paints, markers, crayons, construction paper, scissors and glue made me pretty popular. The bulk of the children had never used water colors before.

The art project was part of the festivities to celebrate the International Day of the Girl (6th annual day on Oct. 11). We celebrated early with about 700 girls from surrounding schools marching through the streets and market to raise awareness for girls’ rights.

On the construction front, the laborers are running both machines and making approximately 700 blocks a day. We’ll need about 30,000 blocks for the buildings in the first phase and similar numbers in the next two phases. The foundation is laid for the first building (a guard house) that we’ll be using as the training building to learn how to stack the blocks properly and tie into the concrete columns. I’m trying to get the local sugarcane company to donate the ash waste that is a byproduct of their operations as it could be substituted in place of cement, significantly reducing our costs to create the sand, dirt, cement mixture needed to create the bricks.

The laborers are on their own this week as the consultant leaves for a week to test their understanding and retention. He’ll be back next week, and then we’re really on our own. Once the blocks for the school are completed, the hope is that the organization will continue to make blocks generating income for the school.

I keep threatening the guys that I’m going to line up an all female crew, which they just laughed at until I pulled all the ladies from the office together and we managed to produce a block. It would be one hell of a workout. But one machine can turn out 1,000 blocks a day, and clearly our guys are off so I see no reason not to give the ladies a shot.

On the curriculum front, I found some very good curriculums developed specifically for Kenyans that were funded by USAID. The content can be used and reproduced as long as credit is given, so instead of having to put the entire curriculum together I’m going to focus more on how you teach using various techniques. I’d like to ensure all learning styles are taken into consideration and focus on strategies that help students retain the information. I also need to come up with a plan to monitor and evaluate the training so the organization can prove impact.

Next up, schools will be closing a bit earlier this year (October 20) in advance of the repeat of the presidential election (October 26) that was ordered by the Supreme Court in early September. The initial plan was for me to go back up to Nairobi for two weeks in early November, but the potential chaos that may occur after the election is putting all plans on hold. The concern is actually the road between Enoosaen and Nairobi, not the capital city itself. If need be, I’ll just fly from the Maasai Mara (wildlife reserve area).

Regardless, I’m looking forward to serving as an election observer locally and seeing all of this unfold. And before that I have plenty to keep me busy and new items seem to be added daily.