Wednesday, July 13, 2011
#13 A Visit to Marcus’s Project
Marcus is a young New Zealander who came to Kenya a year ago and never left. He and the others in his group had come to Mji Wa Neema to do community service, which for them was painting a few pictures and designs on the outside walls. When I talked to them I opined that it wasn’t much community service, more like having fun. They didn’t appreciate that, nor my suggestion that at least they should be having the children do the painting. Jecinta told them the same thing and took them off to the KCC slum. The girls, with their too revealing, skin tight t-shirts and short shorts didn’t get it, but Marcus was hooked. He saw the need for a pre-school, including nutritious food and in one year’s time has a charming project going. Jecinta and I agreed to go there this morning.
As is often the case here, there was a bump in the road—several, in fact. The first was the purse I found lying on the hood of the car I drive. Sister Cecilia came along just about the time I spotted it and together we tried to determine the owner. I found an identity card but didn’t recognize the face or the name, so she took it off to Lois, the parish secretary, who did. Purse and very relieved owner were soon reunited.
I had called Jecinta to meet me in the front of the church, right by her office. I waited and waited and finally got out to determine the cause of delay. I found her coming out the gate of Mji Wa Neema along with a lady who was carrying a very large sack (100 # size) on her back. She was struggling and once dropped it, losing a cabbage. Jecinta indicated she lived in the KCC, so we gave her a lift home. Her story. She has five children, 2 of which were with her. One maybe a year, the next maybe 3. When she was 1 month pregnant with her youngest, the husband had left where they lived to find a job in Naivasha. When he didn’t return, nor send money, she came looking for him. She found where he lived, but he had left for another town and neighbors told her he had another wife. This is not unusual. She had no food, no money and was living with a friend (now that’s a friend). She had come to Jecinta for help. The bag was full of rice, potatoes, maize, cabbages and cooking oil. She was planning to return to her family, who may or may not welcome 6 more mouths to feed. She had married very young, has no education and no skills.
As we drove out the gate the baby began to wail. I figured he was hungry, so we stopped at the supermarket, where Jecinta bought milk and some sweet buns. Eventually baby quieted down. The older one never peeped.
We stopped near where she stays. She sent for the other 3 to help carry the food. I gave her what cash I had, but I can’t imagine it will be enough to go to her parents’ rural home. At least for now she can prepare food for the children.
We proceeded on the Marcus’s school, which is located on land lent to them by a farmer who also donates some of the food he grows. The children has just begun a midmorning break. One teacher had her class in a circle singing a song about patting their heads, typical children’s song and in English. As soon as they spotted the camera I was surrounded. “Picture, teacher, picture!” I tried to take one, but as I backed up to widen the shot, they kept moving towards me. It took some time to communicate they should not move.
Then when I took it they pushed and shoved to see it. Little boys, of course pushed little girls out of the way, but I reached into the crowd and pulled the girls forward. After some dozen shots, they began to wander away for games while Jecinta and I wandered into classrooms and to the kitchen. It’s a very tidy compound, as you see.
Volunteers, one from Canada, one from Austria peal potatoes for lunch, head teacher and 2 othes chop onions and other ingredients
Everything was orderly and tidy, except for the children, who were raggedy, full of energy and dust. Yet when they returned to the classrooms they were quiet, orderly and hard at work. The teachers are all from the KCC, must be at least high school grads. They certainly were well picked, for their devotion to the kids and to learning.
The more I see of Marcus, the more impressed I am with his love of humanity, his persistence, his creativity in using native resources and his ability to get volunteer and funds from outside Kenya. He’s roughly connected an NGO, possibly based in the UK, but basically this is a one-man show and it is a hit!!! SRO
Here he is with the middle level class. Decorations done by volunteers show nouns with drawing
They keep the class size very low in order to give individual attention. Most of the children are behind, having never gone to school. They are tested regularly and when deemed ready for school are sent off to the local public school to make room for more children. Currently they must turn away children in order to keep the numbers low. Although the academic program is top notch, the feeding program, which includes a daily dose of multivitamins and regular de-worming, is the most important. Many children do not develop normally due to malnutrition. These children are getting a real chance.
Here is the link to an editorial from the Nairobi Daily Nation of July 7 on this very subject. It’s a good article.
I wish I could include more pix, but this goes out through a modem that looks like a flash disk. If I feed it too many bytes, it chokes. Nonetheless, I’m going to try this.
As you see, the work is just like in any preschool. The teacher is the principal, or head teacher, whom you met earlier, peeling onions for the lunch. She is devoted to the children, who are attentive, studious and eager to learn.
Note the careful printing and drawing (hope it’s not too small).
From there we went to a nearby public school trying to trace a graduate from that school who had not returned to Ndingi after the midterm break. Evidently he had been told to buy some items and the mother had no money. He returned later that day, but the real thing I wanted to say is how impressed I was with the principal. He was on top of everything, how students were doing, where they lived, siblings, parents. The boy’s mother has no phone (indicative of extreme poverty), but he knew the number of a neighbor. I think the schools here really try.
One more item in this one. Fr Kiriti is the Kenyan Mrs. Winchester, but for different reasons. He just can’t stop building. He latest projects, here in the parish compound are (1) sinking a huge cistern under the garden, to collect rainwater from the roofs around, (2) repairing the long driveway leading into the inner part of the compound, which has been my despair. It was so rutted and potholed that I regularly hit bottom as I drove in. There were rocks jutting up all over and every time it rained more dirt would wash away, leaving more rut and more rocks. He has his crew making “creeks” to carry the water away, with cute little bridges over the pipes and also into the parish office. What is he using to create a new, raised surface? Why, the dirt from digging the cistern, of course! Brilliant!