Sunday, November 6, 2011

Brainstorming with MIIS Students – Am I Now Empowered??

Last month we visited my daughter Jessy, a student at the Monterey Institute for International Studies. She organized a brainstorming session for me, to help me define goals and work toward vision and mission statements for my sex education project, which is one of the projects to be funded by a non-profit I am in the process of starting with several friends.

one of many chart pages of notes
I’ve been reflecting recently on how much I learned from the session. First of all, these young folks know stuff! Lots of stuff. They asked me questions I couldn’t answer, or hadn’t thought about yet, and really gave me some tools to use for analysis going forward. I’ve been working in Kenya for seven years now, as a teacher and trainer, and it was amazing how little I still actually know about setting up a sustainable project. Turns out that both the art and the science of designing a good project are important, and the “science” – the rubrics, charts, worksheets, logic models . . . – are simultaneously both cool and useful.

The thoughtful focusing process that the students took me through was instrumental in helping me refine my thinking for the non-profit that I am now helping to develop. They got me thinking about everything from how to define success and then how to measure it, to how specific I think the target group I would like to help should be: women and girls? women and girls ages 11 – 26? rural Kenyans?

Interestingly, though, what was a side discussion at the time has turned out to be the topic I’ve been thinking about and discussing the most in the past couple of weeks.

Empower. Empowerment. Empowering. I don’t remember who brought it up at the meeting, very likely me, but a goal was articulated to “empower” girls and women, and one of the students immediately took issue with the use of that word in our context. Her point was that for me to empower you, there’s a connotation that I’m the one with power, you are the one without power, and I’m giving you something that you can’t get for yourself. In the context of westerners going in to a developing country and “empowering” people there’s an unintended subtext which is suggestive of paternalism.

I can offer knowledge and skills to someone who is interested in what I know, but only that person can use the new skills/knowledge/new-found self confidence/whatever else may come from what he or she learned, to become empowered, if that’s the right use of the word.  

In an article I read written by a teacher who says that she doesn’t empower her students, she makes the comparison to learning. As she says, she can teach her students, but she can’t "learn" them. Only they can learn.

Here are some of the pieces I’ve been reading on empowerment.

I still can’t articulate well my unease at the common use of “empowerment” – but I feel empowered by the insight I gained from Jessy and her MIIS friends!!
Monterey wharf

And who doesn't want to go learn cool stuff in Monterey??

Friday, September 9, 2011

Now I Know Who My Mother Is

This is a guest blog by my friend Peter Gitonga. Peter is a Kenyan teacher who is currently studying at the University of Nairobi to get a degree in commerce.

by Peter Gitonga

I have been around for quite some time now, and I have not gone without knowing the love of a parent, a mother to be specific, to her children. The sacrifices are countless, and the tears and prayers beyond comprehension. The drought in our country has drilled this lesson into my head that a mother really loves to the point of denying self, and worse of all to the point of death. This was the lesson I learned, perhaps with a drop of tears, realising that two children were suckling their deceased mother in the drought-stricken northern part of my country Kenya. It reminds me of another scenario in our neighboring South Sudan, a vulture eagerly waited for an abandoned starving and dying child to die so it could have its midday meal. When a mother loves, she loves for better and for worse. (I do not dispute that there are some women who are capable of abandoning their children even at infant age to go seeking merry in life.)

The pictures and the people may seem too far simply because I watched them on TV, and it may make me feel guilty for being at a place where I watch people making merry every evening, with every favorable thing that life can bring along in their life. I don’t want you to feel the same, perhaps for having lots to celebrate in life, but it must be time all of us who read this felt how direly this world needs us.

Before I wobble and fall out of topic, I must say that the picture leaves several questions in mind, like what options did the mother have? How much less painful were these other options? Was the lesson being learned by whoever it was intended for? I will not ask the question here where the father was, because it will raise many others.

I try to think of how this mother could not watch her children die, and shove them off her run-down breasts if she had that energy left anyway. All the same I think of her letting them suckle her to death. At this point I sit and tearfully think of my mother and of how many times I have been an inconvenience to her, right from way before labor. I learn that there is nothing I can do to repay her enough but love, appreciate, support and thank her in thought, in words and in deeds, when I have plenty and when I have none. What about you?  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Just Two Minutes

. . . of your time, and you can vote for The Galveston Island Tree Conservancy to win grant money from Tom's of Maine.

Vote for The Galveston Island Tree Conservancy

My friend Ed Sulzberger is a board member, and the conservancy is doing great work. They formed to help re-forest Galveston Island after Hurricane Ike. Because they are a barrier island in the Gulf, they deal with hurricanes, de-forestation, drought. . . This excellent project could serve as a coastal model for dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes.

You can vote once a day through the 13th. If they get the top prize they win $50,000 to help with their conservancy work.

So take two lousy minutes and VOTE.

And thanks.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Last Full Day In Nairobi With Old Friends

I ensconced myself at a hotel near a mall, at Rose's suggestion, and invited three old friends to come by and visit. First was Stella, an amazing young woman whom Bob and I had the good fortune to be able to sponsor through high school and a computer course. Perhaps more on her strength and determination, and love of family, in a later post. With permission.

Then my old friend Peter Gitonga came over. He was the first freshman and sophomore English teacher at Lavenda, and we met in 2004. I believe I made him extremely uncomfortable by teaching sex ed in his classes back then, when, as a young teacher, he was actually the same age as some of his students who had had interrupted schooling and were in their 20s. His family lives near the school, and I've been to several excellent meals at his mother's house over the years. His youngest sister is Becky's age.

Last, but definitely not least - however, unphotographed - was my friend Sido Njau, who was the exceptional project manager at Lavenda. He is now the Kenya director of a new non-profit enterprise set up by Ruth Rowlands and her husband Peter, Tandum. They're working on greenhouses and water catchment for poor schools.

Rose, Nick and Melanie arrived home (driving from Kakamega) several hours after I did, having been caught in a a dead standstill traffic tailback. When they got to the spot, they saw the small red car that had been driving crazily past them earlier. Karma, people.

A nice late-night chat over tea by candlelight (the power goes off at their home when it rains in Nairobi - unfortunately, it's still the rainly season here) with Rose and Nick, and off to bed.

Today - heading home!

This Is What I'm Talkin' About

. . . in my post on the Kakamega airstrip dated Saturday, September 3, 2011.

What?? Doesn't everyone on business travel with their work supplies?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Stories and Sex Ed With Some Ember Grandparents and Local Pastors

Tuesday, August 23

I know I'm not keeping to chronological order at all, but some of these are harder to write and I keep putting them off.

Robert had scheduled a meeting with twenty-five of the grandparents who have worked with the Wholistic Team, whom I trained in 2009. The team volunteers in the community, usually but not just with grandparents and grandchildren of the Ember Project. They do quite a bit of sex education, but hadn't yet broached the topic of condoms with the grandparents. The team is behind Robert, from left, Immaculate, Sarah, Judith and Harrison.

Phylis and I wanted to mostly listen to stories, but also wanted to add a little value by presenting some information or activities that might be interesting and new for the grandparents. We proposed teaching how to use condoms, since the team hadn't introduced it yet.

Robert wasn't so sure the time was yet right, and, in addition, five local pastors would be attending. So, the three of us hatched a strategy. Phylis and I would listen to stories and ask questions. Then, we would team-teach refusal and delay skills and make up a few role plays. Then we'd ask for some role plays from the grandparents. After that, they'd be primed. We'd mention that discussing and practicing with their grandchildren how to stay safe from potential pressures is helping them abstain. Then we'd ask what other information could help their grandchildren stay safe, and keep our fingers crossed that someone would say to be faithful and to use condoms (ABC). And we'd be off and running, asking them if they'd like us to show them how to talk about it.

Before we got to that point, though, we listened to some very hard stories. These grandparents are very open about some of their struggles, but I've changed the names. Some stories don't have a grandparent in a photo, and some photos are unrelated to any of the stories. These are all people who, at a time in their lives when the cultural expectation is that they will be slowing down, getting support from their children, and relaxing into old age, they have children to raise again. And school fees to pay, clothes to buy, medical care to pay for . . . When they thought some hard-earned rest was coming their way, with age-related issues of their own, they are looking at never being able to stop hoeing the fields.

One grandmother, Pamela, told us that she'd had four children. The first three died of complications of AIDS, leaving behind nine grandchildren whom she is raising. Her last daughter died in childbirth, and the baby died, too. She said it is "such pain to lose those children." Then she said that she "struggles, but we are fine."

Another, Susan, said that her son married and had five children, but then became "mentally disturbed." He ran away and didn't want to stay with his wife. His wife left, and left all five children with Susan, her mother-in-law. Susan's son is still alive but not well mentally, and she is raising all of the children. Ember has helped with a goat and school uniforms. And she is a member of a popular activity here, a merry-go-round, with some other Ember grandparents. Everyone puts in a little money each meeting, and when it's your turn, you get a lump sum. She uses it to help buy food in larger quantities. She said she is "thankful to God who gave Magina (that's Robert) the mind to go outside and bring help."

A grandfather, Henry, reported that his daughter died of complications of AIDS when her son was seven. The father abandoned the boy to the maternal grandparents, and Henry and his wife have raised their grandson since. He's now twenty, and they managed to get him all the way through high school. This is no mean feat here, where school fees are a struggle for these poor grandparents.

There is a theme here of parents abandoning their children to grandparents rather than raising them themselves. I'm having a lot of trouble with it, and will write more about it some other time. It's making me angry. And really sad for these kids. I'm trying to get a better handle on it, and have a lot more stories about it, not just from the grandparents. Later.

After the stories, Phylis and I introduced the idea of refusal skills and delay skills. We had a lot of fun with the group demonstrating body language and creativity with language as we gave a few examples. (The skills were developed by ETR Associates in their excellent curriculum "Reducing the Risk",

Here I think I was a 7th grade boy, and Phylis was my female teacher trying to lure me to her home by asking me to come home with her and help her carry water. I don't recall trying to punch her, but that's what this photo looks like.

Break time, and then back to work.

Here Phylis was my uncle, I think, trying to get me to come into his bedroom on the pretense that he was sick and needed help, but I was suspicious and wise to his ways!

A nice stretch.

And then we all shouted "no" (actually,"haba", pronounced "hava", in Kisamia, a dialect of Kiluhya). I expected to have to ask them to try it again louder, but Phylis and I were practically deafened on their first attempt.

These grandmothers were a male boda boda driver (on the right) and a young girl walking past. The "young girl", in the red shirt, finally ended up shouting at the top of her lungs at the driver, shaking his hand off of her, and gesturing him away. It was actually really stressful and intense for the audience, and we had a round of applause and a cathartic laugh when it was over. And, as I'd hoped, the woman who played the predator reported being practically undone and very upset at being shouted at. It helped demonstrate that when we forget about embarrassing ourselves by causing a scene, and really believe that we have a right to scream at someone, or do anything else to keep ourselves safe, it can be very effective.

The guy on the left is a pastor, and on the right an Ember grandfather. The pastor played a fishmonger trying to get a schoolchild to come into his shop by offering not to charge him for the fish. The stories that the audience members came up with took them about one minute to figure out and propose. These are really big issues around here.

Then, our strategy paid off. The group volunteered that condom use could also keep their grandchildren safe, and we were off to the races. After a discussion of faithfulness (overlapping, or concurrent, sexual partners are a major driver of the HIV epidemic in Africa) we asked whether they wanted us to show them how to teach about condoms. An overwhelming yes!

The Trust condom package (the brand I like to use for demonstrations, as it has a small piece of paper inside with picures and instructions) has three condoms inside.

We distributed one little box to everyone, with the hope that they would use it at home for teaching.

Difficult to tell here, but I'm filling up a condom with water.

Circumcised versus uncircumcised penis. Size may not matter, folks, but being circumcised does. Men who are circumcised are 60% less likely to get HIV from unprotected sex with an infected partner.

Yes, there's a right side up and a wrong side up. And if you get it wrong, you can't just turn the condom right way round and put it on again!

The young woman who was taking photos for us evidently couldn't bring herself to photograph us putting the condom (correctly and consistently) on the model of a penis that we use.

Harrison thanking the grandparents and pastors for their time and attention, and Phylis and me for our contributions.

Robert exhorting everyone to share the information.

After we finished, the pastors all came up to ask us to speak at their churches. People are really ready for this information.

I Knew Someone Would Find It Someday . . .

Saturday, September 3

So, Nick drops me at the Kakamega Airstrip this morning. It is, as billed by Nick and Rose, tiny.

In fact, the airstrip staff push the luggage to the plane on regular luggage carts. This is the total luggage for the flight to Nairobi via Eldoret. Most people just have carry-on. The embarrassingly gigantic red suitcase is mine.

Because the airstrip is so small, with basically no technology, the bag and body searches are pretty thorough. And my premonition of the last several years came true. The agent took my condom demonstration kit out of the suitcase and opened it as I was rapidly explaining that I train people to teach sex education. Out came boxes of condoms. And the wooden demonstration model of an erect penis.

She was actually very matter of fact and quite interested in my work. And my real worry has been that we would be pulled over while on a matatu and the luggage checked by the police. Which has never, in my experience, ever happened. But I still occasionally rehearse the explanation in my head of why I am traveling through Kenya with those particular accoutrements.

Caught in a Downpour in Shilongo!

Thursday, Sept. 1

So, I was getting off the matatu from Kakamega at the junction with the dirt road that is the path home to Rose's. With two bags from the Nakumatt supermarket holding juice and rice (heavy) and a large pumpkin from the market (really heavy). And my back pack. Full of my computer, camera, phone, and all of my various chargers. And it started to pour. Sheeting down, pelting down, slamming down. I crossed the tarmac road and took shelter under the overhang of a small corner shop, whereupon I discovered that I didn't have my phone with me. Luckily, I had my notebook with phone numbers, and one of the shopkeepers lent me her cell phone. I discovered that Nick and Melanie, who had spent the day driving to Kakamega from Nairobi with a van full of furniture for the Vumilia office, were back in Kakamega at the Nakumatt. Which I had left about 45 minutes before!

As I awaited their arrival I discovered one of the uses of the tiny tomato paste tins that are sold, re-purposed, at the little kiosks. This one - can you see the tiny handle welded on that makes it a ladle? - is being used to measure paraffin into a plastic baggie for a customer. Most people around here, which has no electricity yet, use paraffin lanterns to light (and I use the term a bit sarcastically - there is little gloomier than a mud hut lit by one paraffin lantern) their homes for a few hours after dark.

The customer will carry the paraffin home in the plastic bag. Imagine how poor you are to never be able to take advantage of economies of scale and buy items in regular amounts. Or regular containers, for that matter. (In fact, we ran out of paraffin a couple of weeks ago, the same night the generator broke AND my phone was dead with no way to charge it. Thank goodness for headlamps and spare batteries.)

So, I had a nice visit with the shopkeepers (the woman in blue was sitting next to a pile of maize, but didn't have any customers during the hour I was there, and the woman in olive green has the fruit stand on the left). The woman in blue let me use her phone.

When we got bored I took out my iPad and showed everyone film clips of the girls at the orphan home singing and dancing. These kids asked me to take their photo, and were having fun. I promise. But the camera came out, and suddenly gloom and doom.

You can see behind them that the rain has relented somewhat. But only about an hour of rain and you can see little creeks.

Then Nick and Melanie showed up, having picked up Rose. No room for me! They took the stuff, and I still walked home in the rain, but with a good friend and neighbor whom I hadn't met before. So, another new friend, lovely skin from the rainwater (or so my mom used to tell me) and new friends at the corner kiosk.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Impala Park, Kisumu

Tuesday, August 30

Another fun excursion with the Nyausi/Anyembe family. First, though the photos don't do it justice, all six of us cram into a tuk-tuk.

Akwanyi took this picture holding the camera out in front of her. Not bad!!

At the entrance.


Lots of birds here, evidently, though the only one I recognized was the hadada ibis.

What I called the hammerhead in the post on Lake Victoria is evidently more accurately called a hamerkop.

Enclosures with, variously, ostrich, monkeys, baboons, cheetah, lions, jackals, hyenas, guinea fowl. Felt sad for them.

Off for a walk in the woods!

An impala peeking out. There were three or four back there.

This was the path we wanted to take, but the rains had another idea. It was a fairly crisply moving creek.

I almost never succeed in getting butterfly photos. This poor little fellow was nearly drowned. I tried to rescue him with a twig after I took the shot, but he was not looking grateful as I left.

Shute is an explorer, Hidaya, for all her mischief-making, is a daddy's girl at the moment. I would say that Akwanyi is an inquisitive academic.

Weird caterpillars and chrysalises (evidently also called chrysalides. why??) These guys are known to make your skin sting and itch if you touch them. Oddly, it actually looked more like tiny caterpillars were coming out rather than butterflies. We ran into a park scientist, who was going to get back to us on which butterfly comes from these caterpillars. Anyone know?

I took random shots of the ground, which was swarming with dragonflies and butterflies. Managed to get this black and white butterfly.

Sundowner tower. We stopped here for some trail mix (cashews and raisins) and water.

The railway walk. Anyembe walked along to see whether we might want to give it a try, but it only led further away from the entrance and we needed to start back.

Back toward the entrance.

We finally saw the famed impala in groups, just free along the lakeshore.

A sausage tree. Evidently some Luo (at least used to) use one of the fruits to bury in a grave if someone had died but the corpse was missing. The fruit is supposedly edible but not delicious. None of us was tempted to test that statement from our guide Duncan on Sunday.

Hidaya, left in red, and Shute.

A really fun excursion. When we tuk-tuked back, Everlin and I went to a meeting with commercial sex workers at Cadif (more later) and Anyembe and the kids played at Jomo Kenyatta Park, across the street from my hotel, until we got back.