Monday, June 13, 2011

Meeting my Church!

On Friday morning I hurriedly phoned the Methodist Guest House in Nairobi to try to reach David Berry, Celia Booher, or Rachel Aker or anyone I knew from the group of Second Presbyterian (and people from the interfaith leadership team) volunteers coming to Kenya that day.  I was so excited that people I knew and people coming from a program I was familiar with were coming to visit Kenya for the first time.  Two of the youth on the trip were in my bible study class in 2009-2010, so I couldn't wait to see them again!

I finally got a hold of someone on the phone and I was able to meet them at the Giraffe Center on the other side of Nairobi.  After one of the longest taxi trips I have been on in Nairobi (without traffic jams), I found the group enamored with a giraffe who was eating food pellets out of their mouths!  There I saw Rachel (one of the only youth I knew ahead of time, and was really happy to see the surprised sense of excitement when she figured out who I was.  The group took me on their whole day adventure from the Giraffe Center to the Elephant Orphanage, to Java House for lunch, to the "Alive and Kicking" football manufacturer, and to the Carnivore Restaurant for dinner!

They explained that the purpose of their trip was to build the relationship between the "Kenya Help Us" fundraising program in Indianapolis and the program beneficiaries in Kenya.  Each youth was developing a research project on a specific aspect of life in Kenya.  More information about the program here.  Some were looking at women's issues, others at Education, and others at many topics known to be of concern in the country.  They really wanted to know first hand what life was like for the people they were raising funds for.  This seems like a great approach because it gives these young Americans exposure to many issues that have not been a part of their lives in Indianapolis, while also being respectful of the people they are hoping to help.  They are not interested in telling these orphaned youth how to live a better life because it would take years for an outsider to understand the dynamics that have created the current environment.  However, they want to get feedback from the program coordinators and the orphans themselves as to what has changed in their lives and how they cope to existing conditions.  I hope there is time for me to teach them what I have learned about the issues they are researching.  Even after a year of working with many people and organizations, there are still many questions that I have about what it takes to provide positive opportunities to people growing up in marginalized communities.

It was really great to talk to some people from home about subjects so familiar to me and so foreign to my environment.  I talked to Noah and Ben about boy scouts and track and field, and I talked to David Berry and Emily Matthews about Seminary.  Many of the group members talked to me about their first impressions and how they had reached this point.  It was nice to be a mediator between the group and some of Kenyan culture as they made plans and worked with their drivers and program coordinators.  It was like a taste of what it will be like to go home I think.  I started telling stories of my experience here - some stories that I haven't told anyone about yet.  I forget how certain stories are really quite tragic and painful to hear for an outsider.  Some stories of treatment of girls in Pokot land and living conditions in much of Kenya were a bit shocking to hear about, but when you learn about these conditions from the people living it, you forget about the shocking reality because the people themselves tell you with smiling faces.  My sense of what is normal is a bit skewed for the time being.

At dinner, we were treated to extra plates of meat (which at a place called Carnivore, you can imagine is really good!), free drinks (non alcoholic of course), and a birthday cake to celebrate Christine's birthday!  This was all provided by the manager whose daughter is now working at a hospital in Indianapolis in part because of their connection to Emily Matthews who was a leader on this trip!  You can tell how proud he is of his daughter and how appreciative he is of the opportunities she was given.  Here you can see how the staff of Carnivore celebrates birthdays.  The manager got the entire staff including cooks, waiters, and anyone else wearing a staff uniform! :)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Spark of Scouting Alive in Kenya

I was invited to attend a District Scout Camporee in Murang'a, Kenya this weekend by the District Executive who has been working with CWS Africa to provide adult leader trainings for expanding scouting in Murang'a District. 

The scouts I met did not have the capability to raise lots of money to do cool things like go to week long summer camps, trek across untouched wilderness, and build expensive monuments for historic events that are only historic because there is now a monument as we do in the US. They still had the same drive to learn scouting survival skills and enjoy entertaining each other with skits and songs, but there was something different. The songs they were singing were all new, written for specific needs and challenges in their community. One group of patrols was asked to come up with a song to sing to the President and Primeminister to ask them to settle the Internally Displaced People affected by post election violence. Another group of songs was about protecting the Mao Forest from deforestation due to development. Others had different environmental and peace related messages. They created the songs and skits right there! No regurgitating answers or copycatting. These guys made up new material just for these worthy messages.

It changes my understanding of the Kenyan school system a bit. Until now, I have only seen students looking for the "right" answer to give back to the teacher so they can pass the exam and move on to the next grade. I have been complaining that the tests (much like standardized tests in the US) make creativity a nuisance. Teachers only teach what is in the book and most students memorize the answers with out ever understanding why the Pythagorean theorem works or why what goes up must come down. I think it is much worse in Kenya than the US because teachers here are paid less than domestic workers. Teaching gives you such leadership and responsibility in the community, but not the financial appreciation from the government.

In any case, these kids were great. They were disciplined yet funny, caring and compassionate. The adult leadership was pretty hard on them, but that is what I have come to expect from adults in authority in Kenya... In any case, I enjoyed getting to meet over three hundred youth involved in the event. I also sang them a song from my boyscout camp: Ransburg. I sang them a song that was not in English, Kiswahili, Kikuyu, Arabic, or any other language as so to not put anyone at the advantage of understanding the song:) It is a repeat after me song. Here are the words:

It was great to hear their kikuyu accent try to pronounce the "L's" :)  They didn't get the last part AT ALL!
To see all photos from this trip, visit my facebook album here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Writing for Church World Service

Eastern Africa Review

Since I started working for Church World Service in September, I have done many writing, video, and photo projects, but the one that sums up most of the work I have been doing is the biannual newsletter that CWSEA sends out to its partner organizations and donors.  I hope you can take some time to read about the people I have been working with here!  I have traveled to Tanzania, Rwanda, and all over Kenya to talk with the people who implement CWSEA programs and the beneficiaries.  I try to focus on understanding the experiences of people I meet.  Interpreting commentary from people that see you as a "donor" or a rich white person and speak in a language you don't understand leaves a lot of room for false impressions.  I think I need several more years working with each organization I have met in order to really understand the thoughts of the people involved.  Even so, communication can often be beyond words.  Just the smiles, stares, tears, and hugs shared can give you much more information than an hour of conversation. 

My fellow YAV, Grace, explained very well the reason why both she and I haven't written any blogs in the last few months.  I finally feel at home here in Kenya and have found people to share my stories with here.  I often think about things I want to tell friends like you (where ever you are), but life has become very busy!  My sister Katie and friend Paige came to visit from Chicago in January and we all were able to reflect on our own lives quite a bit.  We visited CWSEA programs and many of the friends I have made around the country.  I tortured them with many long bus rides and over-packed schedules!  Somehow we found a lot of time to talk.
"Lions! Ahh!"  Katie: "I think we should go."
Upon reflection of my life in Kenya, my aspirations, and other thoughts I found our conversations pulling me to the conclusion that I should be learning more about Theology and the church and going to seminary to solidify my ideas about community development, environmental stewardship, and interfaith partnership.  Since Katie and Paige are both ordained pastors, I wanted to make sure I wasn't just reacting to their coolness and jumping on the seminary band wagon.  After a month of thought and prayer and applications to seminary, it seems like I really want to go!

I have applied to Princeton, Union in NYC, and McCormick in Chicago.  I am not sure where I will end up, which is a huge turn from my original plans to go back to Indianapolis to start working for Urban Mountain Farms.  I still feel called to working in community development and staying involved in Urban Mountain Farms,  but I have put a lot of value on developing my personal theology to lead the work that I will do in the future.  I think God has been trying to get me to apply to seminary for almost a year now, but I have consistently ran from the idea until now.  I am excited for this new opportunity to return to the classroom and really challenge and solidify my ideas.  You can also read my seminary application essay if you want to know more about why I am going.

Let me know what you think about the articles I wrote for the EA Review!  It would be great to hear how you are doing.  Peace and Love.