The start of the journey

I have all these pictures to share! I have decided to start a categorized picture diary of my mom and I's trip to Kenya. In the next little bit i'll post selected photos from Nairobi, Kakamega, Mount Kenya, Rondo retreat, schools, orphanages and more! I'll let the pictures tell the stories and we can reminisce together.

Rain or Shine

I’ve been back in Winnipeg now for almost two weeks now and life has slowed down a lot. It is sure good to be home but I find idle hands don’t serve me well. After many sleepless nights and days starting at 230 am, I am finally back on a schedule of doing nothing. I flourish with busy schedules and some times don’t know how to relax. Culture shock has seemed to pass me by unaffected but I am weary of it being to good to be true and anxiously suspect the ground to crumble beneath me at any moment. Trying to keep up high spirits is hard when the sun sets at 430pm and family and friends are so far away. I daydream often of so many fond memories. Remembering the birds chirping outside my bedroom window, the smell of the dew on the grass from my morning run and the smiles of the kids at the schools/orphanages.

I am currently working part time customer service at an awesome green juice company and looking furiously during my spare time for a full time, career orientated job. Staying optimistic for the most part but one day I let the frustration get to me and proceeded to throw myself a pity party. After forcing myself to the gym, on the treadmill I was hit with one of my daydreams of Kenya, this time remembering how most lives were completely and utterly dictated by the weather.

In Kakamega, and many small towns in Kenya, there is no room for luxury. Everything has to do with basic human survival and the thought of excess is not even born. It is something I have never seen before in my travels. Even Tanzania had art galleries, jewellery shops and well organized, walled markets. For the most part, people earn their living from working or supplying small ‘shops’ on the side of the road. The most basic ‘shop’ can be as simple as a tarp on the ground with clothes/ produce/ fish/ shoes/ etc, randomly piled on top. The high end ‘shops’ are mismatched pieces of wood to make a stand with a roof. In between you can have anything from a plain table, clothes hanger system or selling hard boiled eggs from a cooler.

The kicker about these ‘shops’ is that everything comes to a halt when it rains. Which it does, every single day, for anywhere from an hour to 8 or 9 hours, well into the next day. These shop owners and suppliers have to pay to rent the patch of land they sell on every day. No matter rain or shine, they pay. I imagine they pay to get their products there, they pay for upkeep and they probably have to pay a bribe for something or another most days. Some of them sell things for cents and would need an entire day of sunshine to break even. Some sell clothing that get ruined in the rain and mud day after day. Something that can be a god send to crop farmers, can be so detrimental to shop owners.

Every time it rained over there, I couldn’t stop thinking about those people and their shops. How these El Nino rains Kenya seems to be experiencing, must be absolutely devastating to the economy. How do these people make it through? Why must a situation that is already so hard for them, become harder? I know there is perseverance like none other there but my heart ached for them every time I witnessed those torrential downpours.

So as I zoned out at my gym on treadmill, I became thankful for what I have and the opportunities that are open to me. I am determined to make the best of what I have in front of me, stop being lazy and try my hardest to get what I want out of life. I want to help people and change things. I think all of these determined people and their shops, show the potential of the area. The amount of resourceful entrepreneurs is massive in Kenya and a future lies within them.

Young Dedication

What has really shook me to my core, is the realization of the dedication and discipline these young students must posses to exceed in academic life. I was not aware of how completely opposite a students life is here compared to the developed world. I believe that more people should know not only the hardships these children go through just to be in school, but the hardships they endure to remain in school. Children in Canada should now how good they have it when it comes to their education. I have reflected on my teenage self since being here and shudder at the thought of what a brat I was!

I believe my childhood was similar to the  average Canadian teenager. I went to the schools that were in closest proximity to me (both primary and high school were less than a block away). I took the classes that I enjoyed and the ones I didn't, I was happy to just squeak by with a passing grade. I was given, or took, money from my parents to buy delicious, unhealthy, greasy food at the cafeteria. If I felt up to walking the half block home for lunch, the kitchen cupboards and fridge was fool of good food. I very often skipped class, either sleeping in past 10 am or going home early. I was rebellious in class, talked back to teachers often and rarely did homework. When I arrived home, it was clean, orderly and stocked full of things to eat and play with, all by the hands of my parents.

I reminisce on these things not to point out what a bad kid I was, but to outline what I believe to be an average teenage life. Schools in Canada mainly have the distinction of religion or public, with a few boarding/private schools remaining here or there for the richest of rich. Kenya has all those distinctions with the added fact that there is a lot more of them! With around 75% of the population under the age of 30, schools are growing and overflowing fast. There are a lot more boarding schools than Canada, although they cost more than the fess day school, some students are forced to travel quite a distance to school each day and when you factor in costs of travel, boarding schools can equal out. Along with day schools, boarding schools, Christian schools, Muslim schools, Kenya also has national schools. National schools are all boarding schools, they house the students that have the grades and money to get in, and they have the best kind of resources. All other schools are left to fend for themselves so to speak. Teachers must pool their own resources for the littlest things like chalk and erasers and principals must reluctantly send students home on a daily basis because the student was unable to pay their school fees.

 Dispite having so much against them, students show up day after day eager to learn. After teaching at my second school here, Bishop Sulumeti secondary school, my mom and I discovered the students daily schedule.

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This is the schedule for a all girls boarding school. The schools location is close to town but the students are on a such a strict outline, they rarely venture outside the schools gates. As you can see, these beautiful, bright young ladies wake up every morning between 430-5 am. A feat I wouldn't even dreaming of doing now let alone when I was 15!

Every moment of their childhood is mapped out with homework, cleaning, lessons, and prayer. When you ask them about the schedule, they aren't phased. They are grateful for every day they spend learning and not being sent home for fees. They are grateful to have three staple meals a day, the tools to keep up their personal grooming and the chance to be surrounded by girls their own age who are also eager to learn and grow together. The meals they have normally consist of chai tea and plane bread for breakfast, beans and maize for lunch and ugali, meat stew and squimaweaky (cooked greens). They are glad to have their bellies full and sometimes indulge in a snack of buttered bread sandwich. Every meal, they bring their own plate/bowl/utensil and wash it themselves each time.

I got to teach some very bright students last week. They were all so eager and excited to learn. Out of the dozens and dozens of schools in the Kakamega county, only three offer art. My work was short but sweet as the students were all just gearing up to right their end of term exams. In my small time spent with these art pupils, I was able to see that there is a small art appreciation building in these young minds and teachers. The teacher I worked with at Bishop Sulumeti Secondary school, Francisco, is a god among art gods. He started teaching art here in the 60's, retiring at the end of the 90's and is currently touring schools. He spends a few years at each school that doesn't offer art, he builds an art program from the ground up, teaches a art teacher apprentice and then leaves to find the next deserving school. Along with teaching, he holds together art collectives and galleries in the area.

It is people like Francisco and the students I have encountered that give me faith for the future of art in the area. It is through exercising the creative part of our minds that we are able enrich our lives with the simple things. It is with creativity that travel and tourism is enhanced and not only artists are born but dreamers like architects, engineers, tradesman.

It is through these students determination that I become more determined. I have seen their passion and discipline. I have seen how much they WANT to be in school compared to students in other countries dragging their feet. It's with their faith that I want to dedicate myself to helping them dedicate themselves to their studies. Overall it is in the young dedication of this country that I see the possibility of growth and prosperity of the future.