#31 On the Way Home      

#31 On the Way Home                                                                             Aug 14, 2015

My last days in Naivasha were full, partly with finishing the last of Harry Potter.  I had read them when they were first published, eagerly awaiting each new book.  I was amazed at how much seemed totally new and which parts were different from my memory.  But what I realized is that it’s the classic hero’s journey, discussed many years ago by Joseph Campbell.

It wasn’t all reading, from Friday through Tuesday (but not Sunday) I did my usual tutoring of all who wanted to come to do math.  I’d been told that 30 kids were coming from one group and I feared I would be overwhelmed, but in fact it’s the same each year, I get 20 – 30 kids.  This time is was a pretty consistent 22 kids.  We worked 9 – 12 each morning but this year we had the addition of afternoon science tutoring by Maria Lokateri, SFG graduate in 2013, who earned A in math, chemistry and physics.  Below, she is surrounded by our SFG girls on the day of the SFG reunion.  She’s wearing the white top.

2015-31 1 Maria Lokateri tutor science

Just 4 days of teaching was not nearly enough time to make a major impact on the students, but they kept coming back, so evidently they thought they were getting something.  It’s always an interesting group, some kids from Karachta, a very poor area down by the lake, near some flower farms, girls from SFG, several boys from Archbishop Ndingi and of course our kids from Mji Wa Neema.

2015-31 2 math review class

Below is David Kamau teaching chess to Luca and Julia.  Mary Anne Rodgers and family had brought the set to Mji Wa Neema, much to everyone’s delight.  They’re sitting in the sun outside the dining hall because some rewiring in town has all of us with no electricity for the whole day.

2015-31 3 David Kamau teaching chess to Luca and Julia

I spent several afternoons at SFG, discussing the summer with Ruth Kahiga.  Being principal is no job for the faint-of-heart.  We discussed strategies for helping the form 4’s increase their grades on the KCSE.  As much as I hate the idea of “teaching to the test”, the fact is that in Kenya, a school’s reputation is based primarily on their KCSE performance.  SFG has never been filled to capacity (320).  This year we have 280, so it’s close, but it would be helpful financially to be full.  Locally, the people also appreciate what they term, the “formation of the girl child” by which they mean our efforts to turn out effective, mature, caring young women and not just academic stars.  And it’s hard to have real “stars” because our target population is not the top students, but those middle performers, who often have great potential, but for various reasons did not get top marks on the KCPE (the primary school exam which determines who gets into the best high schools.)  Our students tend to be in the 280-350 range out of 500.

A US group is using our facilities for most of the summer, running a leadership camp for high school students from the slums of Nairobi.  I met some of the leaders, one of whom, Sally Kinney,  is a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans.  She found us by surfing the net for information about girls high schools in Kenya and happened on our website.  She watched the TEDx talk I did in 2011, interested because she had done one herself on her own project.  She told me they want to do another at Tulane, a TEDxx (for women only!)  Here they are in one of the form 1 classrooms with their team t-shirts.  Sorry this picture is not well focused.

2015-31 4 Sally Kinney leadership conf at SFG

I had saved Wednesday for packing and found I had pretty much everything in suitcases by the time Fr. Kiriti picked me up to go to dinner with Annastasia and Mwangi, good friends of his who have become good friends of mine as well.  Their 3-year old son, Raphael, is a real character who loved the books I brought for him and was fascinated by the junior form of Labyrinth which I also gave him.  He’s a bit young to get the idea, but it’s a great strategy game.  We played a round so mom and dad could get the idea.  Alas I can’t remember their 8-month old daughter’s name, but she is a darling baby, whose baptism I attended early in my visit.

2015-31 5 Raphael Kirit Margo Annastasia Mwangi

Both Mwangi and Annastasia are engineers.  He works at KenGen, the geothermal plant in outer Naivasha, a good hour’s drive from their lovely home, while she works in Nairobi, more than 1 hour’s drive in the other direction.  It’s the same issue that many bright young US families face.

Our flight left at 11 pm on Thursday, and because I was ready to go by 11 am, I had lots of time to say good-bye to Sr. Magdalene, who dropped by for a visit, and Julia, to whom I feel so close.  The issue of whether more children will come to Mji Wa Neema is still up in the air and if it doesn’t happen, then what happens to Julia and the 2 small boys, Joseph and Luca (just found out his name is not Lucas)?  Where will the older kids go when schools close?  This is home to almost 30 young people and while they may not live there on a daily basis, it is their home and Julia is mom.  So hard.

Fr. Kiriti arrived and after fitting 4 large suitcases, 2 backpacks and my carry-on bag into a fairly small Nissan, as well as David Wekessa who had come down for the weekend and needed a ride back to Nairobi, we drove off, first to drop off the car Fr. Kiriti and I own together and which I drive during the summer.  It will stay with Joyce and Charles while Fr. Kiriti is in Berkeley enjoying his sabbatical at the Jesuit School of Theology.  We made a final stop at SFG and then were off.

2015-31 6 farewell pic Julia, Luca, Josephat, Fr. Kiriti, David Wekesa, Tabitha (behind), Magdalene, Evelyn and Joyce

Above is our farewell picture, with Julia, Luca, Josephat, Fr. Kiriti, David Wekesa, Tabitha (behind), Magdalene, Evelyn and Joyce.

First stop in Nairobi was at Joyce’s restaurant on the University of Nairobi campus.  She is such a good friend to Fr. Kiriti and to me as well.  She insisted we had to eat, although our lunch had been late, but as it turned out, I was happy I had had that extra bit.  Dinner was on the plane, about midnight, by which time I was feeling pretty hungry.

The Nissan belongs to a priest friend of Fr. Kiriti.  He lent the car in exchange for Fr. Kiriti’s agreement to filled in for mass on Sundays in Nakuru while the car owner was on leave in Ireland.  So next stop was the St. Patrick Father’s center, where the Nissan was left for it’s owner’s return in a few days and we loaded all the baggage into a taxi.  By then (6:30) it was total Nairobi traffic jam time.  The driver was really skillful, intimately conversant with every back road and alley, but even so, it took more than 2 hours for the 30-minute drive to Jomo Kenyatta Airport.

Five am saw us arriving in Dubai, where we had a 4 hour layover before the final 16-hour trip to SFO!  ARGH! This is a long trip!  Of course the planes are huge and the queues are long.  I went first through the final boarding pass check and proceeded down the escalator, thinking Fr. Kiriti was right behind me.  At the bottom I didn’t see him and feared there had been a problem.  Shortly he appeared and when I asked about the delay, he beamed, “I got upgraded to business class!”  I must confess a bit of jealousy, as he was trundled off with preferential boarding, while I stood in the poor people’s queue.  I am writing this from my seat with 3 ½ hours to go.  The section I’m in must be Economy + because the space is not nearly as cramped as I’ve had in the past.  This is a new jumbo jet, with the business and first class upstairs.

Inevitably, the plane did finally arrive at 2 pm Friday.  Following a long-standing tradition, we were met by my son, Mark, who again had the problem of fitting all those suitcases, plus the 3 of us into his car.  Despite our worst fears, we managed and finally we arrived at my house in Menlo Park, so be met by my 2 kitties, who missed me very much and have been telling me thus at every opportunity.  Later we enjoyed dinner with my son Mark and his family.  By 8:30 Fr. Kiriti was out like a light.  I lasted until 10, not wanting to sleep too early, lest I wake at 4 am or so.

I am home and thus another summer, my 11th, is ending with promises to all my Kenyan friends still ringing in my ears, “I’ll see you next June, God willing.”

To those who have read my blogs, I thank you for your loyalty to my adventures.  Until next June….



#30 I Learn the History of Mji Wa Neema

#30 I Learn the History of Mji Wa Neema                                                         August 9, 2015

I had thought most of the older ones would leave early, but they were enjoying each other’s company so much, almost no one left until after 6. At that I had to shoo Cyrus and Kantai to return to Nairobi.  These kids love being together and no one wanted to leave, but now most have either gone back to school or to grandmothers for the vacation.  Some of the high schoolers are staying for 2 more days of “Math with Margo”. I know they stayed up late last night, because Josephat came in for math help, but I noticed he was falling asleep over a particularly gnarly question.  When I admitted he had gone to bed at 2 the previous night, I sent him off to bed, to return tomorrow after he’s had some sleep.  Crazy kids!

I had a visit today from Mithlet, who has almost completed her double major in business and project management at Strathmore, a very posh private university.  I met her in 2006 when she was in form 3 at Ndingi (before it became all boys).  She did very well on the KCSE but had no funds for going on.  Fr Kiriti gave her a job in the Catholic bookstore, but she was unable to save anything like what university would cost.  Eventually, after Kenya Help had built St. Francis, so there was more money for scholarships, we chose to sponsor her to university.  She has had to fend for herself and for her niece for a long time.  She’s smart and she’s street smart – a great person and I was glad to see her.

Later my door was knocked by Simon Mungai, parish council chairman, friend of Mji Wa Neema, math teacher and good friend.  While we chatted, Julia brought over a gentleman to introduce to both of us, Anthony Ngaruiya, who turned out to be one of the founding members of the children’s home.  We chatted for maybe 20 minutes, during which time he told me the home was begun in 2003, with Cyrus and brother David Wekesa the first children.  They had been living in the streets after the mother died.  Cyrus was 11 and David was 8 or 9.  There had been great antipathy initially for a children’s home in the parish, so they had to seek funding from outside the parish and even abroad.  Only when the people saw that funding was available did some begin to see the importance of the project.  Of course now there are only 2 in primary school, the rest coming here only for holidays, generally staying a few days before going to their guardians.

Anthony is a very loving man, who emanates passion for the children and for the home.  He told me he had eventually had to move away from it because he wanted to marry and start a family and he couldn’t do both.  By the time I began living at the home, he was no longer much in the picture.   We had not met before today and I knew nothing about the beginning of it.

2015-30 1 Anthony Ngaruiya founder orphanage

He then went off to meet with Julia and the kids and I returned to Harry Potter, book 7.  I could hear lots of chatter and laughter coming from the dining hall and eventually Anthony came to ask me to take this picture.

2015-30 2 Mji Wa Neema reunion more

  • Bottom row:  John Durango, Simon, Evans, Cyrus, small Mary.
  • Row 2: Selina, Kantai, Anthony, Magdalene, Patrick, Julia, Lucas, Joyce, Tabitha. 
  • Row 3: Josephat, Margaret, David Kamau, Joseph, Evelyn, Big Mary, Esther and Cynthia.

Whew! I did it.  It took me years to learn all the names!

I’ve just heard from Cyrus who is still not home at 9:15 pm, having left here after 6.  Evidently there is a major traffic jam in Nairobi.  Anxiously waiting to hear he and Kantai have each arrived safely.


#29 The Young Folks of Mji Wa Neema Have a Reunion!!!!

#29 The Young Folks of Mji Wa Neema Have a Reunion!!!!             Saturday, August 8, 2015

This has been such a day!  Julia began planning this reunion weeks ago and the members began to arrive last night.  Note I am no longer referring to them as children.  I’ll use members for lack of a better term.  I chose it because they all feel they are members of a very large family.

It was planned as a lunch because some could not stay the night and at 1:30 we all gathered in the dining hall.  There were 22 in attendance of the original 35.  Some post-high schoolers were unable to leave from school because they are “on attachment” or are having exams, some have grown and married, some have been adopted, and one has died.  Nonetheless the room was so full of youthful energy I’m not sure the roof could have remained attached if many more had been here.  Of course Fr. Kiriti had to be here—he is “Dad” to all of them. We had a wonderful meal, cooked by those who had arrived early—rice, chicken, spaghetti noodles, greens.

2015-29 1 Mji Wa Neema reunion1

Julia in left foreground, Cynthia, Patrick, Esther, Fr. K, Cyrus (oldest) and Joseph (youngest).

One of the most important persons was not here—Judy!  Judy Murphy is a high school friend of mine, a retired social worker who has come to Naivasha 6.  Her presence is felt all over this home.  She tirelessly raised funds to refurbish the dining hall, the girls living quarters, the boys dorm and the kitchen plus the erection of a security wall and the repair a slide, a teeter-totter (still in use) and a swing set.  She has truly been the grandmother to all these children, although they call both of us sho sho.  The other missing person was Jecinta, social worker for the parish for 10 years, with supervision of Mji Wa Neema being a major part of her responsibility.  She died in November, 2013 and is still greatly missed.

2015-29 2 Mji Wa Neema reunion

(Kantai gives me a big hug) This is Patrick and Esther on the left, Cyrus and Joseph on right

There were many speeches, first by Fr. Kiriti, who cares so much about their success in the future and for the 9 years he was parish priest, he was at the home almost daily, talking to the kids, urging them to work hard, disciplining when necessary and generally being father, while Julia has been an incredible mother to them all.  And the members all love them both so much.  If one must be an orphan, this is the place to be it!

I had had copies made of pix Judy and I made 3 years ago.  We took a picture of every child with the 2 of us.  This was because Fr. Kiriti once told me he has no pictures of himself as a child or even an adolescent.  We wanted to be sure they had some pictures of themselves.  Judy had somehow found a picture of all of them taken in about 2004, when they were all very young.  She sent enough copies for each member to have one.  The laughs, screams, hoots, and general joy was worth every cent she spent.  They loved getting those pix!  Thank you, Judy.  I’d include it here, except I don’t have a copy on my computer.

After lunch there was a picture taking orgy, all the cell phones plus 50 on my camera, from which I must choose a few to try to convey how much fun they all had.  You could feel the bonds among them as they tease, hug, hassle, share, and just connect as young people do.  One member has not been back for 4 years and the kids went out of their way to make him feel welcome.  He was planning to leave this evening, but the kids would not hear of that.  He must stay for the weekend.

Below is the new family photo, but missing are David Wekesa, who has a weekend job in Nairobi, Monica who is in nursing school, David Mungai who is in med school, Ruth and Beth, whom Julia could not contact

2015-29 3 Mji Wa Neema reunion

Julia called us all back into the dining hall for a meeting after all the picture taking.  She asked me to speak and among other things, I told them how much Judy and I love them and what a privilege it has been for us to be their aunties/grandmothers.  Some of them still have grandmothers, although the grandmothers are not able to care for them.  But they still see Judy and me in that role.

Each person made an appreciation to the rest, telling how glad they were to be together again, how much they loved each one, thanked me, thanked Julia and especially sent their love to Judy.  Then they decided to establish an organization to ensure they would always get together at regular intervals.  As long as any are in school it must be August, because that’s when high school (and many universities) are closed.  Cyrus was selected as chairperson, Cynthia as secretary and organizer and David Kamau as the 3rd person on this committee.  They even decided to form a “welfare circle”, although the high schoolers are exempt because they would have no money to contribute.

Cyrus is the oldest (first born), a position which carries a great deal of prestige as well as responsibility.  Taking responsibility for 35 siblings is no small undertaking, but I could see him accepting his place, rising to the occasion.  Time will tell whether they continue to meet, but if today’s event is any indication, I will bet they will always be close.

2015-29 4 Mji Wa Neema reunion

2015-29 5 Mji Wa Neema reunion

= Margo

#28 A KH Board Member and Family Come to Teach English

#28 A KH Board Member and Family Come to Teach English        Thursday, Aug 6, 2015

Mary Anne Rodgers is a member of the governing board of Kenya Help.  She, her daughter, Emily, and Emily’s friend, Sam, arrived Sunday and were ready to teach English Monday morning.  Our plan was to give private tutoring to form 4’s whose English exam results were not up to snuff.  The students loved working with them.  We got names from the teachers and every 1 ½ hours a new girl would arrive, English mock exam in hand, to go through it with one of the 3.  Mary Anne is an attorney, Emily is college senior with a psych major and Sam is a junior with a major in philosophy, planning to teach.  It’s hard to get better help than that.  Unfortunately it didn’t occur to me to take pictures of all the hard work going on and the intensity of that work.

In the meantime I was busily working with the form 4 math students whose performance was less than stellar.  I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing less than 1 on 1 (although I was doing 2 on 1) such that I could look at their papers and help them see where they were going wrong.  I was quite surprised to find that often the issue was the student didn’t understand what was being asked – and had she understood it, she could have answered it.  A second problem was fear.  The questions seemed so intimidating the student was afraid to even get her toes wet, let alone wade into the question.  I tried to work with 4 groups of 2 a day, each 1 ½ hour, although some days we didn’t get there early enough or something came up to interfere (best laid plans…). We focused on the “cheap points.”  These were often questions that seemed hard (so were often skipped) but in fact could be answered in under 1 minute.  In addition, I stayed at school 3 nights so I could teach from 7 – 9.  I stayed with Lucy, the new matron, who is very sweet and took good care of me, although it meant she had to sleep on a mattress on her living room floor.  Again we focused on strategies for maximizing the points on the KCSE.

In US schools the students go home after completing exams, but here, they stay at school for 3-5 days after completing exams, to “revise” with teachers and also to wait until their exams were marked, so they could take home a report card.  This is a must that the student arrives home at the end of the term, report card in hand.  It’s a tough marking marathon for the teachers because the exams are hard and the “marking scheme” is very precise and most unforgiving.   By Wednesday afternoon we had to stop.  The girls were cleaning the classrooms and dorms, washing their clothes and packing to go home.  Thursday most of them left before 8 am, some having very far to travel.

Also we had planned a meeting of Empower The World, the Kenyan NGO established to administer the funds raised by Kenya Help.  They accept applications from families who need scholarship help, make home visits to ascertain the reality of the application and select those fortunate students, usually 6 girls and 6 boys, plus the children in Mji Wa Neema, almost of whom are in high school or university.  We thought it would be very important for Mary Anne to meet the ETW members and vv.  It was a wide-ranging discussion about their goals and ours and how we work together.  They are ready to begin applying for grants, both in-country and international, with the understanding that time may dictate the phasing out of Kenya Help.  No one knows what the future may hold, but they are as concerned as we are about keeping this wonderful program of sending poor, bright kids to school.

Emily and Sam contributed much enthusiasm and creativity, as is often the case with young people.  I’ve wished so often for that energy of youth to join us and now perhaps that will begin, although both of them are in college, Emily in Colorado and Sam in Connecticut.  They were quite taken with the proposed “greater greening” of SFG, by installing a biogas conversion system, which takes all waste – food, human, animal, vegetable – removing the methane for cooking which reduces deforestation, which is a big problem here, as well as reducing air pollution, a big problem everywhere.  The remainder is processed for organic fertilizer, safe enough to use on food crops.  Since SFG has 2 gardens, both done organically, this will increase productivity and avoid the expense of pumping out the bathrooms every term.

Here we are at dinner as we continued out discussion of going forward with our mutual programs.

2015-28 MaryAnn Rodgers Emily and Sam ETW board

Thursday morning the 3 visitors left for a safari, the girls left school and the teachers had their end of term party.  They have what’s known as a “welfare group” to which they contribute monthly and I also contribute while I’m here.  Hence I get to attend the party.  I forgot my camera, but Ruth has kindly sent me pictures.

Later, back at Mji Wa Neema, I kind of faded away for awhile.  That was 4 days of marathon teaching for me, and I withdrew into Harry Potter, book 7.

But I couldn’t completely fade away, because the kids were coming home from high school and the first thing they all do is hand over the grade reports to Julia, whom they all call Mom.  Here is the SFG contingent.

2015-28 SFG girls hand over report cards to Julia

Saturday is the reunion of the children from this home, although not all are able to attend.  Some of those in university have exams or are “on attachment”, which preclude their leaving.  Most of the high school kids are now here and will attend my math sessions until Tuesday.  Wednesday is packing up day and I leave on Thursday.  I can’t believe this summer is almost over for me here.  It has been another time of so many adventures and experiences, renewing old friendships and making new ones.

Here is a picture I just found from the reunion; these are mostly girls from the pioneer class.

2015-28 reunion members of SFG pioneer class


#27 Reunion – Not the Way We Planned It, But a Smashing Success

#27 Reunion – Not the Way We Planned It, But a Smashing Success       August 1, 2015

People were to gather 8:30 to 9, chat until 10, mass at 10, to be celebrated by Fr. Kiriti.  Well, by 10 ONE alumna had arrived; a second, Fr. Kiriti’s niece, arrived with him.  Even Teresia, who was the main organizer didn’t arrive until almost 11 – but I found out later she was not feeling well, so she is excused.  Mercy arrived after noon, but had come from far.  She told me she was in a matatu by 5 am!!!

It has been 3 years since Fr. Kiriti left this parish and SFG, but when he walked in all the girls cheered.  Even those who don’t know him, know of him and were so glad he was back, if only briefly.  His sermon was perfect, talking about culture and the culture we have created at SFG and will continue to define and refine.

Afterwards, the students returned to their classrooms and the alumnae gathered in the quad to plant a tree commemorating the first annual reunion.

Alums kept arriving so that eventually there were more than 20.  One grad brought her 2-year old son, who was quite the hit of the day and did not even whimper as he was passed around to one auntie after another.

They met together in the library, where I asked whether they were willing to be part of a longitudinal study of graduates of a girl’s high school.  I don’t know if such a study has ever been undertaken in Kenya, but I know of several such studies in the US, one of which is my own graduating class (’58) from Mills.  I think in time such study might yield valuable information about girls/women in a society where the roles of women are changing rapidly.  They liked the idea.  Now all we need to do is find someone who wants to take on such a study.

But they really wanted to talk with the current students.  Time was not on our side, as the form1’s and 2’s had an exam beginning at 1:30, so the alums met with them in their classrooms for a few minutes.  Then we gathered the form 3’s and 4’s, who have completed their exams, in the dining hall.  The alums introduced themselves and I could see this might be just another occasion of people talking to the group, so I suggested the alums just go mix with the students and find out what they want to know.  I must say, it was a brilliant suggestion.  Very shortly there were groups clustered about each alumna.  It was intense.  The students were like little sponges.  Here were the ones who had experienced SFG and had moved on to the wider world.  What was it like?  How did they feel?  What were the problems they faced?  It was perfect!

2015-27 1 pic

2015-27 2 pic

2015-27 3 pic

2015-27 4 pic

2015-27 5 pic