Monday, August 30, 2010

Brayden's Thoughts on his 2010 Kenyan Eagle Project

Brayden with finished desks ready to deliver to Dzivani Primary school
My trip to Africa was so amazing! I went to Kenya to build school desks for my Eagle Scout project. It was great to work along side the villagers. After going to the schools the first day and seeing their old buildings with children sitting on dirt floors with bugs or squishing to sit four or five kids across a desk made for three, I knew we had to build as many desks as we could. It was hard because we kept running out of wood and screws and one day the power went out so we couldn't run the equipment. It was good to watch the desks be loaded up on a trailer behind the Koins tractor and taken to the new schools. I knew the kids would be very happy to use them!

Kids will sit 3-4 to a desk in the classrooms

Brayden working on making desks

Finished desks ready to load up for delivery
Brayden in front of Koins tractor ready to deliver new desks to Dzivani
Brayden with Mike, Curt and the Kenyan workshop crew, sitting on finished desks
Brayden and his mom, Sherrie, in Kenya
 Even if I hadn't have been doing my Eagle project, I still would have loved going to Kenya to build the desks because I learned so much and made a lot of new friends!

Sam's Pencil Project, July 2010 Koins Expedition

Kenya—July, 2010. How do I begin to explain this experience? It was both enlightening and perplexing, both empowering and daunting, both invigorating and draining, and something I wish I could repeat over and over again. This was my fourth trip to Kenya with Koins, my fourth attempt at making sense of my role in Mnyenzeni, and the fourth time I’ve foolishly gone to Africa with expectations. Three previous trips should have taught me to never step on the plane with certain expectations in mind. Things like what a Primary School Headmaster’s response might be to the question, “what do you need most right now?” or how 60 young children might react to a pile of unsharpened pencils. But they didn’t. These are the things that this na├»ve American should not have tried to answer herself.

Sam in Kenya in 2005
The months leading up to departure found me searching for an idea of how I could do some good on my upcoming Kenya trip. I remembered an experience my mom had had while on an expedition a few years ago. While talking with a headmaster, she asked him the question, “what do you need most right now?” When listening to her account, I remember thinking, they probably need new classrooms, better desks, textbooks at the least. His response was simple and direct, “Pencils.” Excuse me? Pencils? How in the world are these children learning a thing if they don’t even have pencils? And is this an indication of all the materials you lack? What about those classrooms and desks? Do they exist? A slew of questions filled me to the brim, along with a burning commitment to get pencils to Kenya, no matter how heavy the suitcases are! So the informing of friends and family began and the gathering was enormous. We ended up with over 8,000 pencils (at least one for every student in every school that Koins serves), 30 wall-mount pencil sharpeners, and bags full of scissors, chalk, rulers, and all kinds of teaching necessities. I was ecstatic because I knew these supplies would be received with grateful hands—those of the teachers. I couldn’t wait to “leave some pencils at the schools,” as I wrote in my journal. Little did I know that smaller hands would receive them with even more enthusiasm.
Vikolani is an early-childhood school, serving children from preschool to 2nd grade and is located about 15 minutes from the Koins Community Center. Our group walked to the school one afternoon, toting bags of pencils, ready to present our gifts to the headmaster. When we arrived, we found a classroom full of adorable students waiting for us. They welcomed us with beautiful song as only African voices can produce, and I thought to myself, Poor things, they’ve been waiting here since school ended today. Their teacher probably made them stay to welcome us, I’m sure they are anxious to get home. What was that? An expectation? Yes. And wrong again. I learned that these children had voluntarily waited without food all afternoon to meet us. I presented the supplies by explaining that many good people in America had heard about them and wanted to send a gift. I expressed my desire for them to be hard-working students, and I pulled from a bag a handful of unsharpened pencils. I asked, “Who would like a pencil today?” All they could do is stare at my hand, disbelief written on their faces. I clarified, “Raise your hand if you would like a pencil.” Every single child raised a hand. I explained that I had brought enough so that each student could have a pencil of their own, and what followed had the power to bring me to tears. The room erupted into shouts of joy and clapping, and the measly expectation I had had of “leaving some pencils at the schools” was dashed again. How? I asked myself that moment and for weeks to come, how have I been here 3 previous times and never noticed this huge need? My only answer is that I had expectations. Fourth time around, and I think I’ve finally learned that listening to the people express their needs, then rejoicing with them when the needs are met is really what this is all about.
Sam with pencils for kids at South Summit School in Majengo, Kenya

Kids at Vikolani School receiving pencils
Happy children check out their new pencil
Sam passing out pencils at Dzivani Primary School
The suitcase of pencils when Sam started the expedition
Ready to distribute pencils to a Miguneni classroom

Sam with a group of village kids outside the KCC

Cindy's Kenya Reflections, August 2010

I love Kenya. I love everything about it. I even love the smelly streets of Mombasa.  But with out a doubt what I love most is the people.  Like the seven previous trips I have made to Kenya, this year was no exception. I am always taken off guard by the awakening of my spirit that I feel when I am with them.  There is such a mixture - gratitude for my life, gratitude for their examples, gratitude that our worlds are no longer separated; grateful that these people will forever be infused in my soul as much as anything else that is or has ever been a part of me.  I really like who I am in Kenya. I love feeling like I can make a difference. I love knowing that we, Koins for Kenya, have made a difference. 

This trip, the reality of that difference became manifest on more than one occasion. I loved watching the Americans we were with. Many of them seasoned humanitarians, poured their passion for good into the lives of our African brothers and sisters. Without hesitation they took their hands, they held their babies, they taught their children. I honestly felt overwhelming joy to be a part of something so good.  And then as always my Kenyan friends gave me so much more than I could ever give them when an African woman reached out and held my hand, wiped my tears, offered words of consolation. 

One evening as our group was gathered beneath the moonlight reflecting on our experiences of the day and enjoying each others company, we were interrupted with tragic news that a young boy had just passed away under the mango tree no more than 50 feet from where we were sitting. He and his uncle were trying to reach the dispensary to hopefully gain access to medication that might save his life. They did not make it.  His name was Charo, he was 12 years old. He had gone to school that day, despite his horrible headache, so that he would not miss out on his end of term testing. By the time his mother returned from working in the fields near their home he was terribly ill. They had walked several miles to get help. As I became more aware of this child and his story my emotions could not be contained. I was mourning the death a child I did not know. Everything I love about this country was completely overshadowed by everything I hate about it. The lack of food, the inability to prevent very preventable diseases, the scarcity of medical services, the absence of clean water to drink. The list goes on and on.  And then a hand reached and took my hand, an arm pulled me in, and there was a shoulder for me to cry on. My African friend who, with out words, told me it would be OK, that she was there for me, and taught me again the importance of each of us doing what we can to lift the burdens of our brothers and sisters.

Cindy with Kenyan teacher
Cindy and Kenyan baby
Robyn and a girl from Miguneni Primary School
Cindy and Fatuma
Cindy, Sam and Mishi, a Kenyan primary school teacher
Cindy painting addition to the Wind Ridge school in Chikomani, Kenya
Bret and a blind boy at Mwache Primary school
Marcie painting children's fingernails
Classroom art, Kenyan style, made by this teacher
Children who attend Wind Ridge school, which Cindy's Utah classroom funded
Cindy giving teaching aids to the teachers of Wind Ridge school in Chikomani
James and his new Kenyan friend
Jason surrounded by his new friends
Kris being thanked for her donation to the Miguneni Primary school
Lacee and a village baby
Lindsay and some playmates
McCall and her new friends
Sara and Jason, playing with the local kids

Sherrie's 2010 Kenya Reflections

There were so many peaches from Africa that I don't even know where to begin, but here are a few of the highlights for me ~

Children of Kenya
The children's smiling faces, even when they were dirty, covered with ring worm and had ripped shirts and no shoes on their feet.

Konga with infected ear
Konga, a few days after ear treatment
I loved watching Konga (spelling?) recover and become a happy, smiling, singing little girl after she received the proper treatment for her ear.

Lacee and McCall playing with kids in front of KCC
It was so fun to watch Sara, Lindsay, Katlyn, McCall and Lacee playing with the kids out front of the KCC. Even though they couldn't always understand what the other was saying, they played, laughed and danced. You could feel their genuine love for each other just by looking at them.

Kids at Miguneni Primary school with the lunch, boiled corn
I loved sitting on the porch at the KCC watching the kids walking to school in their uniforms carrying their little bowls so they could eat lunch that day. They were so happy to carry their dirty water jugs and little sticks brooms to clean their schools. I realized how blessed my children are to live where we do and have more than boiled corn to eat. It was amazing how grateful the school children were to have that food to eat.

Scholarship parents bring gifts
I was touched when parents of the children of the scholarship students came with gifts for the Americans. It was humbling to see them give up a few ears of corn when that would probably feed their families for a day. It was also amazing when the villagers gave the goats to Kris, Anthony and Bret. Those animals are worth gold - in food, etc. and for the people to sacrifice and give them to the American's was an act of unselfless love.
Purity, our first ever female university student
Fatuma, leading her class in a song
Lacee with Fatuma, in Fatuma's classroom
Bret had told me so much about Purity and Mama Fatuma. So it was wonderful to meet both of them and see their happy smiling faces. You could tell they are good people just from the happiness and love their faces radiated. Mama Fatuma is such an amazing woman to take care of all those preschoolers every day with a baby strapped on her back.
Umaze with her new hat
The day we went to the Albino school and I traded my hat for the little girl, Umaze who was covered with ring worm and a rash for her little broom was a great peach as well. I had been watching her and she had been off on her own without any friends the whole time we were there. Her eyes looked sad and I can only imagine the hard things she was dealing with in her life at that time. When I tried to talk to her, she was afraid of me, so I had Johnson translate that I would like to trade with her. She was still shy towards me but her eyes lit up when she understood what I was asking her.  Everytime I look at a picture of Umaze wearing her new hat - my heart swells and my eyes fill with tears.

Gona children greeting us as we drove towards their school
Dancing in front of the Gona latrines

I know everyone would agree with me, that each time we drove to the schools and were met by the singing, smiling children it was hard to not contain the tears of joy for the love I felt for those wonderful children. Gona was my favorite school. I wasn't ever sure how to interact with the kids and always stood back and watched in amazment. The Gona kids in their beautiful bright yellow shirts just grabbed my hands and made me run to see their beautiful new bathrooms that they were so excited for! They showed me true love and I felt an overwhelming love back for them. The program they put on that day because they were so excited to have earned enough money for their portion to build a school was the best! It made me want to go home and fire up my friends and family to give them a school!
Brayden building desks for Dzivani
Brayden sitting at a desk ready to send to Dzivani
Brayden, Curt and Mike with the BTW workshop personnel
The opportunity Brayden had to build the desks for Austin's school was a huge peach! Not only did he learn so much from two amazing mentors (Kurt and Mike) he made friends with Mr. Jones and his helpers at the work shop. To see the desks all lined up and branded with the roses in the new class rooms made me realize that one person can help to make a change in Kenya. A couple of kids in my neighborhood in Vernal emptied their piggy banks and gave their coins to Brayden to put towards the desks. Those coins, along with many others, helped to make the children of Dzavani so happy. They were truely grateful for their new class rooms and desks.

Some of the SMS girls with their bright new clothes and smiles
Dorm room at the SMS
I loved going to the Sean Michaels School and seeing the children's smiles when we handed out their new clothes. It was like Christmas! I was amazed to see the rats running around their dormatory rooms, but grateful they had a place to stay so they wouldn't have to travel with their disabilities.

Sherrie at the Lutsangani dispensary giving out baby blankets to new mothers
The day we went to the dispensary and handed out the blankets Brayden collected was bitter sweet. Just knowing that the blankets might entice some mother's to go to the dispensaries to have their babies to get help was rewarding.  But it was hard to watch the lady who was brought in with malaria.  I was so grateful those people had a place to bring her to get help.

Baboon on safari

The Safari was amazing and of course the baboons made the whole trip, but what I will remember the most is driving past the mud huts and watching the smiling kids running out to wave at us yelling, "Jambo!" It was sad when we left early Thursday morning because none of the children were awake to run out and wave.