Posts Tagged ‘education’


Doug: Life in Mombasa

November 19, 2011

Greetings from the coast of Kenya! Apologies for the long delay in posting, but so much has happened in the last 4 weeks. I will try and capture it all in the following post.

Around October 23 I moved from Nairobi (the capital of Kenya—where I had been living for 3 months) to a coastal town called Bamburi, just 25 minutes north of Mombasa—the main port city on the coast of Kenya. I am now in the internship portion of my program, where every student works for 6 weeks at a development NGO in the sector of development that he or she wants. I requested to be put at an internship that mixes social services and education—since those are my two interests.

And that is exactly where I have been placed. For the past 3 weeks I have been interning at the Wema Center (‘wellness’ in Swahili) —an orphanage, school, and vocational training center for youth from the coastal area. There are 8 dormitories at Wema, which are solely for former street girls, and there are 3 classrooms which host about 80 children from the community. In order to attend the school at Wema, the child must come from an impoverished or needy household. Many of the kids in my classroom come from single-parent homes (always mothers), and some were even abandoned on the streets of Mombasa, found by the police, and brought to Wema. From my first awkward day shadowing the main teaching in my classroom, I have moved on to taking full responsibility of the class and teaching for the entire morning block—usually numbers and language lessons. It took a little time, but I finally have all the kids’ names down in my classroom, and know a good number of other students, and even some of the older girls that stay here at the center. I’m usually at the school (a 15 minute walk from my home) by 8:30 am, and leave to walk some of the boys home around 3pm—since they live in the surrounding community. (Side note: my walks to school in the morning have gotten interesting, since I’ve started to walk with one of the other teachers who lives in my neighborhood. She’s Japanese, and knows very little English. So, naturally, we speak the entire time in Swahili—we sure do get some strange looks from Kenyans along the way…)

Teaching is definitely not easy—and some days are better than others. If ever there was a theme or motto to my time in Kenya it is this: just roll with it. For example, the main teacher will sometimes walk into the classroom just as class is about to start, tell me how he has to go to a meeting and will be gone for the rest of the day, and that I will be teaching the whole time. I then have to scramble to come up with a lesson for the whole 1.5 hours. But this extends to all aspects of Kenyan life—I get home and really need to work on an essay, but the power is out so I can’t charge the laptop. Or our bus breaks down and we can’t get where we need to go. Unlike in America where people get stressed out if the Starbucks line is taking too long, in Kenya, you just roll with it. After all, there’s not much (anything) you can do.

My homestay here in Bamburi is much different than Nairobi as well. For the first time in my life, not only am I in the minority, but I’m overlapping every day with people who are Muslim—something that was so foreign to me, having grown up in the Ohio suburbs. I live with my mom, dad, my 5-year-old sister, my 15-year-old sister, and my 24-year-old brother—though he is often out working. The first night I was surprised when we ate on the floor with our hands. Also, my family is of the Waswahili tribe—where the Swahili language originated from. So everyday I hear more Swahili than I ever have in my life. I try to keep up, but usually it’s just too fast—I have become conversational in Swahili which is helping a lot, and was my goal upon coming to Kenya. I’ve also picked up the Muslim greeting that’s used seemingly every time someone enters the room: Salaam alekum, to which you say walekum salaam.—I’ve more or less become fluent in Arabic obviously…

Also, while living with a (big) Muslim family, I’ve had the opportunity to experience two family events: celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid a few weeks ago, and a Muslim wedding last Sunday. Both were really interesting experiences. For the holiday, I showed up to a family member’s house, where everyone was crammed into a small hallway, divided men and women. There was everyone from small children to elders—and one man was leading the call-and-response prayers in Arabic (as if I needed to feel more out of place). What followed was a huge feast of Biriyani (traditional Muslim dish) and Mango juice (I don’t think I’ll ever get over how good the juice is here on the coast: passion, to watermelon, to avocado—this stuff is crazy good).

Me with my host mom (on the left) and all her sisters, after celebrating the Muslim holiday Eid.

For the wedding, which was last Sunday, I traveled with my two sisters and a bunch of other kids—all of us decked out in our white wedding attire, through the streets of Mombasa, across the channel via the Mombasa Ferry, and into a rickshaw (tuktuk in Swahili), where we wound through small streets, 3 hours late to this wedding.

My host sister Rahma (on the right) and our cousins crammed into a tuktuk (rickshaw), on the way to the wedding.

We showed up and crammed into this concrete-walled house with other family members, where the bride was sitting. After I had been asked/forced to take copious pictures of the bride, she was marched outside underneath a large cloth, and we all went to the groom’s house—the final event of the evening. I joined a long line of women signing and shouting, as we stormed the groom’s house in one final hurrah. It was certainly quite the evening. And what evening would not be complete without a pikipiki (motorbike) ride back to the ferry with my host mom—during which we had to come to a screeching halt 3 different times to avoid hitting people. Kenya never fails to keep things interesting….

Me with my two host sisters (left and center) at the wedding.

Doug: The Tanzania Trip

September 8, 2011

I just returned from a 6 day trip to Arusha, Tanzania with three friends from my program, and it was absolutely amazing. The MSID program coordinators decided that they would give us 5 days to travel after our final exam last Tuesday. So we boarded a bus bound for Arusha, Tanzania. The trip to Arusha was primarily my friend Chelsea’s idea—since there is a school there that she has supported for the last 7 years, The School of St. Jude. One highlight from the 5-hour bus trip from Nairobi to Arusha was paying $100 USD at the border for a visa into Tanzania (USA and Ireland citizens are the only ones that had to pay more than $50; oh yeah, and Pakistan pays $200—sorry Pakistan). Arriving in Arusha, we found it to be a much smaller city than Nairobi, with AMAZING views of Mt. Meru—which looms over this hilly city.

View of downtown Arusha from our hostel

Our first two days and nights were spent at The School of St. Jude, a remarkable school that was started on a bare plot of land about ten years ago by an Australian woman with the dream of a school that would offer excellent education, while being completely free, to train bright young minds from the poorest families in the area. What stands today, nearly ten years since the first 3 students enrolled, is one of the most amazing schools I have ever seen, with 1,500 students (ages 7-20) on three different campuses and a core faculty of Tanzanian teachers. The School of St. Jude (the patron saint of hopeless causes) is fully funded by private donors (you can sponsor a student through their website), and everything (and I mean everything, from the kids’ backpacks, to their uniforms, to school supplies, to tuition, to the brightly colored school buses, is completely free for the students’ families). The school provides hearty meals to every student (in case they aren’t getting it at home). The campus is quite literally a paradise—it is beautifully groomed, covered in rich green grass and vegetation, with colorfully painted playgrounds and clean bright buildings. Walking around the campus, I was speechless that such a school existed in rural Tanzania.

Not a bad view…

But enough about the school—now onto the students. I challenge you to find a happier group of kids than the hundreds of primary school kids we saw running, jumping, screaming, laughing, playing and just being kids every morning before the bell rang for classes. There was no fighting; there were no disobedience issues or behavior problems or crying—just pure joy. And I realized that for these kids, school is paradise. For their families, they realize that getting this education is the only hope for their children to break out of the cycle of poverty, empowered to change their lives. “Fighting Poverty Through Education”—The School of St. Jude’s mission statement is short but powerful. They seek to train the future leaders of Tanzania, and they are well on their way—the students here score unbelievably high on standardized tests and are considered some of the brightest in the country.

I admit it—I teared up twice during our stay at St. Jude’s, both times on the last day. On that Friday, the school opened its gates (like it does every Friday afternoon for 2 months out of the year) to any and all 7-8 year-olds in a 30KM radius from the school for testing for admission. Chelsea and I agreed to help guide the kids during a series of “tests”, from basic identification of pictures, then (if they pass) to a short writing portion. What resulted was something I will never forget, as I stood in the open-air lunch pavilion, waiting for the kids to arrive: hundreds upon hundreds of boys and girls started filing into the school yard; parents (mostly mothers) and even orphanages had started lining their children up at 8AM that morning, hoping beyond all hope that their son, their daughter, would get a coveted spot at St. Jude’s (the school only can let in 150 students each year). My role was to greet each child and lead them to sit on some benches, waiting for their turn, their chance, to prove that they deserved a spot at St. Jude’s. Each kid was so precious, some holding small, dully sharpened pencils (perhaps their family’s only pencil?), with shy, scared expressions. Some light up in a grin as I smiled at them and greeted them in Swahili (most spoke no English). On the one hand (as I greeted child after child), it made me so happy to think that St. Jude’s was giving these kids a chance at an education that they may not otherwise get; on the other hand it broke my heart that the majority of these kids were going to go home empty handed—without that coveted green slip of paper, saying they had earned a spot. And here I was—a kid who always had had access to good education growing up, and in a year’s time, would be back getting my university education (something that will be a challenge to get even for many of the St. Jude’s students).

Hanging out at lunch

Nevertheless, what brought tears of joy was the amazing sight that met our eyes as we walked, later that afternoon, bags packed, to the front gate on our way out. The dozens of students who had gotten those green slips of paper (which meant acceptance to St. Jude’s) were finally making their way out of the gate after a long day of waiting in lines and testing. A huge crowd awaited them on the other side—mothers cried and yelled out screams of joy, picking up their children (who themselves did not seem to be fully aware of the implications that the paper held for their lives). People everywhere were crying and laughing, as these small kids filed one-by-one into the joyous crowd of parents. And as the crowd thinned, and as beaming mothers took their children back home (next the school will visit them at home to survey their socio-economic status to make sure they qualify for free education), I realized the true power that a school has to transform and empower the lives of the families it serves. The smiles of the kids and families also further convinced me that working with youth through education is a career path that I increasingly am feeling called to. Thank you St. Jude’s, for everything you’re doing, and all you taught me.

After the School of St. Jude, the other main thing we did was hire a taxi to drive us through Arusha National Park (while all the other silly tourists paid absurd amounts for their safari trucks, we were bouncing along in our beatup sedan–it was fantastic). Instead of going on and on about how beautiful it was and how many animals we saw, I’ll just put in a few photos:


Mary: Another day in India

August 7, 2011

I’m writing during a mid-afternoon break today as I jam to a little Grateful Dead. I think it’s technically time for afternoon chai but Emily and I just got back from a long exploration walk so we just snuck up to our rooms to flop in front of the window air cooler for a few hours and relax. I’ve already had chai twice today, so skipping this one round is bearable. I woke up pretty early this morning, around 6:30, after going to bed so early. I was just sitting in my room reading when Emily came in a few minutes later and said she couldn’t sleep either so we sat on the floor and played speed scrabble (basically bananagrams but with regular scrabble tiles), and talked about our lives for about an hour and a half. Emily is the second oldest of six children. She spent three months in Tanzania last year volunteering as a teacher there in a small village and then took the rest of the year off from school to work in Minneapolis, where she’s from, in a bike shop, which is all pretty awesome. We’re both interested in a lot of the same stuff in school, environmental science and how people interact with their environments and trying to work on some of the social problems in the world. We bonded over music a bit too and I told her how psyched I was that she brought along her ukulele from home, I’ve been listening to her playing every day so far and loving it. We eventually got dressed and showered. There’s both an overhead shower and a faucet about half way up the wall that you can use to fill up a bucket for a bucket shower. Yesterday I took an overhead shower and thought nothing of it. Then yesterday afternoon I learned from another MSIDer that in our neighborhood the water supply is only turned on for an hour every morning at around 6 am. The owner of each house must turn on a main water supply pipe at that time and fill the storage containers for each home. Then when the water is switched off after that hour, that supply of water held in the containers must last all day, supplying the plumbing, sinks, and everything else in the house that uses water. Needless to say I won’t be taking any more overhead showers—they waste absurd amounts of water. My bucket shower this morning was maybe a little awkward but perfectly enjoyable. Emily and I then had another really big breakfast. It’s a good thing lunch and dinner are eaten so much later here (around 2:30 and 8:30 respectively) or else I would never be able to eat!

At breakfast, Rama-Ji’s daughter was talking to us about how the school where she works is in the middle of transitioning from a private school to a government owned public institution. Even though the government offers some subsidies to private schools, the taxes and corruption which skims some money off the top of the subsidies were so high that it made more sense for the school to just go public. What’s really interesting though is how the government is starting to focus more on rural education. Instead of employing more teachers and building new schools in the villages, the government is sending public school teachers out into the rural villages and telling the city kids they have to go to the rural schools if they want to attend public school. Rama-Ji’s daughter was glad they were finally thinking of the rural children but Rama-Ji was angry they weren’t just employing more teachers.

After breakfast, we made it to school safely, which is saying something considering it was our first walking experience in the city and we had to cross JLN road which is basically like a major highway with traffic lights (jaywalking is the norm here though, nobody uses the designated crosswalk). Class was awesome. We had our first real Hindi lesson and I actually feel like I learned something today. We went over the transcription system, which is really important since we haven’t learned the devangari script yet, how to introduce ourselves, ask how you’re doing, the difference between addressing an elder and a friend, how to make the weird pronunciations we don’t have in English (like curling your tongue back and touching the top of your mouth to make the retroflex consonants like ta, da, ra), how to ask questions, how expensive something is, and the numbers one through twenty. I really like the word for eleven – gyara (pronounced gee-are-ah with a soft g and a rolled r). Our Hindi teacher is a seriously cool woman. She’s Romanian but was born and grew up in Paris and is now married to an Indian man. We had a fun little conversation in French after she asked the class what other languages we had taken (Emily being the totally cool human that she is knows Swahili, Korean and Spanish). We also learned a bit more about religion and marriage practices in India. Despite being about 80% Hindu, India has complete religious freedom, to the point that major Muslim and Christian holidays are considered national holidays alongside the Hindu ones and conversion is tolerated amongst all religions. We discussed how Hinduism worships the abstract (a rock or flower or tree for example) as though it were sacred because God doesn’t have any one single form and therefore can be found in any form, which I thought was very beautiful. We talked a good bit about arranged marriages in India too, which are still very common. Love marriages are completely tolerated for the most part, but “dating” is hardly ever allowed and most Indians just expect to have an arranged marriage. Arranged marriages are very complicated, with both people’s caste, education, religious background, and horoscope being the main factors taken into consideration. There are classified ads in the paper every day advertising the families that are looking for a bride or groom and there’s even a website you can go to, basically like the Indian version of eHarmony, except it’s actually used fairly commonly (when I brought it up at lunch today Rama-Ji’s daughter laughed and said she had recently been on to see about finding a wife for one of her nephews).

After class, we came home for lunch which was delicious as usual and we even had mangoes and vanilla ice cream as a treat which was absolutely to die for, the ice-cream over here is different, it’s a lot thicker and richer than most American ice cream and I can’t rave enough about how amazing the mangoes are! While eating we watched some Indian soap opera that Rama-Ji’s daughter really likes and it was absolutely hilarious.  The acting was horrible and there were even sound effects added in. After lunch, Emily and I met up with the other MSIDers and went on our “assignment” to find the price of peanut butter at the closest grocery store (for some reason everyone thinks us Americans LOVE peanut butter, they always ask if we are craving it yet) and then to the closest mall to see how much a bus ticket to Delhi costs. This was all quite the adventure, as we only had vague memories of where everything was from driving past it yesterday and we took quite a few wrong turns down some alleys. We eventually found everything no problem but it was really crazy to actually be on the streets walking around the city. One of my guidebooks had an excellent description of city living that I kept recalling to my mind as we were walking around today – “Urban structures lie shipwrecked in the sea of humanity and a flowing, sinuous, teeming mass enlivens the streets, causing sensory and emotional seasickness. Every space is filled, and just as on the temples, where carvings complicate every surface, so too does the endlessly shifting pattern of the human form in all its postures create the background of the street”. Alright, well I’m going to go sit in the living room downstairs to read so Rama-Ji doesn’t think I’m being anti-social. Plus it doesn’t hurt that that’s the only air conditioned room in the house.


Amanda: Seva Mandir

April 29, 2011

While I lived in Udaipur, I worked as an intern in the education department at Seva Mandir.  Seva Mandir is the largest and most well-known NGO (non-governmental organization) in Udaipur, and one of the most prominent NGOs in Rajasthan.

While at Seva Mandir, I completed a project on children who receive a scholarship from Seva Mandir but drop out of school anyways.  Although I was often frustrated at Seva Mandir because of language and cultural differences, I feel like the work I completed really did matter.  During the course of my project, I visited over 11 villages and spoke to over 20 kids and their families.  I rode jeeps through dry, rocky terrain.  I scaled mountains with my translator and a few 10 year-old boys in search for kids.  My translators gave me tours of villages aboard India’s most common transportation vehicle: a motorcycle.  I drank unfiltered water!  The sun, blazing through cloudless skies, showed my white skin no mercy.  Goats once snacked on my reports while I interviewed a child.  I met women so shy they hid behind their saris, responding to my questions in giggles.  I discovered that poverty, real poverty, has nothing to do with money and everything to do with opportunity.

A high-end clothing company from the UK, Monsoon Accesorize, funds a scholarship for children in villages surrounding Udaipur.  Children must meet several requirements to become eligible for the scholarship.  They must attend at least two 2-month learning camps, be over the age of 9, and have at least a 70% attendance rate at school.  The scholarship is intended to provide children an option to stay in school.  All of the kids I interviewed were eligible for the scholarship but quit school for several reasons: some kids left because their teachers abused them; some left to watch livestock, some kids quit because school didn’t interest them any more; some left because polio crippled their legs, making their walk to school unbearable; some kids left to work at stone mines for the equivalent of $1/day; some kids left after a parent died in order to support their households.

My boss, Sunitaji, was one of the most independent and passionate women I have ever met.  She opted to spend nights at learning camps in order to invest in teachers and children.  She taught me the difference between giving people money and giving people tools for life.  The night before my last day at Seva Mandir, Sunitaji invited me to her house and cooked fish for me!  Sunita let me play with her son and watch whatever I wanted on her TV. Dinner at Sunitaji’s was such a sweet gesture and some of the best food I had in India.

I worked with many other interns from around the world at Seva Mandir, including people from India (of course), France, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the US.  I met friends who could sympathize with being a foreigner in India.  We joked about being white in a country of brown.  We celebrated Holi from a rooftop, took too many chai breaks, and complained about “Indian time” (and in doing so, became affected ourselves by the Indian pattern of time-delay). 

I presented my project to Seva Mandir’s entire education department my last day of work.  I was very nervous to make suggestions about the scholarship program to educational professionals.  Although only about half of the audience knew enough English to follow my presentation, everyone was very supportive of the project.

Working with Seva Mandir was great for me at this stage in my life for many reasons.  I have always been interested in education, but made the decision about a year ago not to pursue a career as a teacher in the US public education system immediately after college.  Through my work, I realized that a good education is a right to all children regardless of the country they are born in or their family’s socio-economic status.  A good education doesn’t end when kids quit school.  An education challenges children for life and teaches them the joy in living intentionally.  In my opinion, education is the foundation for development and is essential for individual empowerment.

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