Sunday, July 22, 2007

1st Dispatch from Muhuru

from July 15, 2007

Hello all!

This is April, and I update you now from Migori, a town about an hour away from Muhuru Bay that puportedly has electricity, though right now I'm sitting at a really old computer in about a walk-in closet sized internet cafe where the power and the lights are out and the computer is run by a noisy generator outside. We rode in a taxi on the way over here and crammed 11 people in it. Just to get a visual, please everyone stop for a moment and envision really uneven dirt roads with lots of holes and giant rocks sprinkled with small children running about to school, people on bicycles carrying lots of wood and women carrying jugs of water on their heads. Now imagine with 10 people and a baby flying at 100km/h. Death ride. No joke. Luckily we were ok and we didn't hit anyone (except for we almost nailed a cow that just barely made it out of the way).

We've been in Muhuru for 5 days now. It's incredible. This is the second go round for me, since I came last year. I think i had gotten so wrapped up in the logistics of WISER, that i had fogotten how beautiful it is here. We've made a habit of hiking up to the top of this really high rock to watch the sun set. We can see a lot of Lake Victoria, the Kenyan countryside, as well as both Tanzania and Uganda from up there. It's breathtaking. Sometimes it feels like paradise.

But the truth is, we don't have to walk far for it to begin to feel like Hell either. Children (anywhere from 4 to 9) with no shoes and bloated bellies from lack of food fish with bamboo sticks while standing in the lake which we won't touch -- for fear of parasites--just so that their families can have a reasonable meal. Old women, bent over from carry huge jugs of lakewater on their heads for miles to water the crops that they try to sell to make money. It's hard to deal with often. It is a sort of extreme poverty to which I am unaccustomed. And though all of us came out here with one suitcase prepared to "rough it" for 6 weeks, the truth is, I've begun to feel quite spoiled. We live in a house made of plaster with a tin roof. Granted the roof doesn't touch the walls, but it feels really luxurious after a day of walking around in the plains around the lake seeing only small mud huts with roofs of thatch for families of 6 or 7. Our one lantern for the 11 of us, which is our sole lighting source after dark, seems excessive as we walk past the night study rooms at the school where all of the girl students share one for everyone.

All that aside, we have seen some incredible and really inspiring things. This past week (on our first full day in the village) we were invited to Shining Star Primary School, with children from nursery school age to grade 5, who were awesome. They were prepared for our visit and performed several traditional Luo (the local tribe) songs and dances for us. It was a great welcome to Muhuru, as the kids dressed up and used traditional Luo facepaints and instruments in their performances. We tried to give them some entertainment of our own as we taught them the hokey pokey and showed them our own rendition of Row, Row, Row, Your Boat.

We also had an incredible community meeting this past Friday. The purpose of the meeting was to get together with the greater Muhuru Bay community and both share with them the latest develpments and plans, but also really to just get some feedback from them and to make sure that all of their voices and concerns were heard. There was a marked differenece between the community meeting this year and the one from last. Last year we gathered in the Dining Hall of Rabwao Secondary School and the meeting consisted of us broadly talking about currenty problems with girls' education and a few of the community members' responses to that. This year, we met on the land donated by Dr. Rose's father, where the WISER school will be built. We moved a bunch of chairs and benches with a truck (see Kelly, Mike, and Patrick) out under a big tree which overlooks all the land and had an astonishing turnout from the community (picture). This year we were able to share with them real concrete plans about the school and its development, after which we broke into smaller "focus groups" so that we could really hear what Muhuru had to say. We got a lot of valuable feeback from them about ways we can best work with the community, but what i found most exciting was that we found overwhelming support. Muhuru is genuinely excited about the project that we have begun and all of us are looking forward to working with them in the future. One of the points that was emphasized most was that WISER is not just a school for girls, but a community center meant to benefit the greater Muhuru Bay community. It was overall a great meeting which ended with everyone eating together. The boys, to dispell any rumors about gender and cooking, helped prepare the meat and then served the village (picture).

In general, we are still having a great time and learning a lot every day. Look for another update soon!

April Edwards

-Post from July 15

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