August 13, 2018
I hardly know where to begin! Saturday was the reunion of all the beneficiaries of Empower the World (ETW). There have been over 200 by my rough count, but a turn-up of 55 wasn’t bad. They are scattered about the country, some out of country, some still in school, with exams and of course some just not accepting of the need to “pay if forward.” However the 55 who did show up have renewed their commitment to being a force for good in the world in whatever way they can.
The day began with some talks, one by me, but the main idea of the day was to form 3 groups— high school, post-high school, and out of school. In each group they were to discuss how ETW and the opportunity to go to school had impacted their lives. I had set the stage for that by posing the question, “Where would you be today if someone who didn’t even know you hadn’t cared enough to donate for your school fees? What if you had been unable to even attend high school?”
Then they were to discuss how they can make a contribution, monetary or otherwise, to ETW and finally, how can ETW make a more important impact? They had lots of good ideas and very good intentions. Now we see whether intentions and ideas turn into action. They are all still very young. Even if they’ve finished school, they are just getting their adult lives underway. But we still want to remind them of the gift they’ve been given and their need to continue the giving line. I am reminded so often of the quote from my friend, Rebecca Bloom, who said to me some years ago, “With privilege comes responsibility.” These beneficiaries, all, by definition, from poor backgrounds don’t feel privileged, but by the very fact they’ve received their educations, they are privileged. For many it’s a totally foreign idea to help others, particularly folks they don’t know, but we keep planting the seeds, hoping some will sprout. Long germination time!!!
Sunday was the reunion of the kids who grew up at Mji Wa Neema. Those are the 35 kids whom I met first in 2005 and with whom I shared their home until 2016, when the home was closed. They are hurt and angry and I wasn’t sure they’d even show, but show up they did! It was just GREAT to see all of them, grown into adults, on their individual paths to career and responsible long life. Some have gone through rough patches. We thought some were lost, but most have moved through and are seeing the light. One boy in particular, whom Judy and I both loved a lot, at 16 or so left the home, unhappy with his life here. He found that life on the outside, with no place to live, no money for food, no education, no job—was HELL. He’s now back in high school and is here for our 2nd week of tuitioning. Gone is the look of anger and resentment. He’s life a new kid!!! Really his whole facial expression and manner has been transformed. I’ve felt great joy to see him be his sweet self again.
Almost all are finishing high school and finding post-secondary schools. Two of the girls are to study catering. Another, a pretty slow student, wants nursing school, but no reputable school would accept a D on the KCSE. There are bogus schools that would be happy to take our money, but she would never become an RN. She was very sad when told about it. I gave her the option of repeating form 4, but few want to do that. She’s now considering horticulture. Most know what they want to do and are either in school or waiting to begin in September.
We had our usual feast of sheep (couldn’t afford a goat this year) topped off with the traditional ice cream and biscuits. We remembered Judy Murphy who began that maybe 10 years ago. We’ve done it every year since. Judy hasn’t come for the last 3 or 4 years, but this kids still love her and particularly remember all the great things she did for them. Alison got a blank book in which the kids wrote letters to her. We’ll add pix we took and she will get it after I get home.
All day (and even the day before) it was a steady stream of kids, “Margo, I need to talk to you.” “Margo, I have an issue.” “Margo, I need….” “Margo, do you have ….?” On and on, until I wonder whether unbeknownst to me my name had been change to Abbey. (as in Dear..) Well before I’d given ear to each one, I was longing for my bed.
Today (Monday) began the second week of the math tuitioning. I walked into the Mji dining hall at 9 and maybe 2 or 3 kids were there. “Oh, No, no one is coming back.” HA! By 10:30 there were 37 form 4’s crammed into the room, using every available chair—jammed in so that I had to say, “Pretend you’re in a matatu.” People are always JAMMED into the matatus. The other classes were smaller, about 11 each, but that made 70—a new record, I believe.
I thrashed through lots of 3-D geometry, but by the end of 3 hours I was so brain-dead, I was making really dumb mistakes. I’ve new designated 4 people to be my mistake catchers.
After all the planning and shopping for Saturday night, Sunday morning and the big meal, of Sunday afternoon I had not thought at all about Monday and the fact that 8 kids are staying here for the tuitioning. ARGH!! They need to be fed. And still came the stream of people wanting to pour out their stories to me. I wanted to hide under the bed!
The hardest for me is Kamau, just out of high school, with a B+ in KCSE. B+ is a very high grade, particularly this year when so many kids failed. He has wanted engineering school since he was a little guy. He’s not a little guy anymore, tall and skinny, quiet and very, very bright. But the Kenyan University system decided not to accept him into the engineering school, but determined he should study bio/chem—a subject in which he has no interest. We could send him to engineering school by what’s known as the “parallel intake” program, but it would cost some 4 times the “regular intake”. What to do? He’s one of the brightest of the Mji kids, great guy and devastated. He’d been to see Hillary, then he came to see me. There is little recourse, but Hillary does have an acquaintance at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, fondly known as JKUAT. It’s is slim chance, but maybe…. For reasons known only to God and the Ministry of Education, an engineering degree is even more expensive than med school.
And so, dear readers, I will turn off my light, turn on my ipod and sleep. Tomorrow is another day, with who knows how many form 4’s will show up and already several people in line afterwards with “Margo, I…..”