Monday, August 20, 2007


A Song by April Edwards

There’s something about the way The sun goes down at night
It’s like something
Is asking me to stay

There’s something about the way
The kids turn out the light
It’s like something
Is begging me to stay

But I’m leaving now
I guess this is good bye
To the lake, sunrise, sunset
To football games and singing late at night
So Goodbye, Kenya, Goodbye

But there’s something that I’ve noticed
About myself these last few days
It’s like I’m different now
In some way

So remember this, my friends
Even when I go away
Kenya in my heart
You’ll always stay

So though I’m leaving now
It’s not goodbye
To the lake, sunrise sunset
Or football games and singing late at night
Just farewell until we meet again

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Computer Classes:

Ibencho Primary School:

Prashant, Mike and Andy in Nairobi:

Nyangwayo Primary School:

Chadwick’s Say

By: Patrick Messac

In chemistry class, Chadwick Ouko is the paragon of a good student. He is disciplined and obedient, he often leads the class as they recite-in unison-their answers to classroom questions, he never asks the teacher difficult questions, and he keeps the class on task by always working by himself. On the football pitch he always passes when his teammates are open and on Friday nights he helps lead the choir during their vespers celebration. All of my interactions with Chadwick, a form 2 (10th grade), have been very professional and formal. Whenever I tried to get to know more about Chadwick’s life, he would stress his dedication to his education, his God, and his family. When I asked him about his family life, he told me it was “Very fine, thanks.” This was a pretty standard interaction, not only between Chadwick and me, but also between many of the Duke students and the Kenyan students. This barrier in both communication and openness made it very difficult for us to understand the challenges facing the students of Muhuru. It would be very important for us to have an understanding of these challenges as we prepare to address the issues that we are destined to face with the future WISER girl students.
We decided that we had to open up a dialogue with the students through various methods. We had to encourage students to open up and express themselves. Sunny and I came up with hosting a poetry workshop for all of the students. I called all of the students to a classroom and on the board wrote:
1) Write from the heart.
2) Use grammar the way you see fit.
3) Write from the heart.

Sunny added that, just as a picture represents far more than what can be seen on the canvas, a poem, despite its scarcity of words can says much more than what is on the page.
So, after posing some questions, the students found a place where they could write. After about 10 minutes, students began to run up to Sunny and me to have us read their poems. With nervous anticipation, likely caused by the fear of us tearing apart their paper with red ink, they waited as we read their poems. Sunny and I looked at each other after reading the first poem and began to show great excitement about the students’ writing ability, depth of thought, and emotion. The students were shocked by our cheers and high fives, and encouraged by our enthusiasm. Many ran back to their spots to expand their poems or even write new ones.
Towards the end of the workshop, Chadwick approached me somberly with his poem. It read:

My Dying Mother
Written by: Chadwick Ouko

My dying mother laid on the bed
I worn by my weeping sat by her
By that moment fear approached me
Death coming like arrow shot
Winging its way to the eyes of
His target

Mother! Mother! Tell Me! Tell Me?
Who fathered me,
Who are our relatives,
Where do we come from,
Too weak to utter a word
She choose to remain silent.
I wanted to know
the naked truth

She always said that I’m too young yet
Now I’m approaching eighteen years old
And she is dying. I wanted to know
the naked truth

She open her mouth and said
Your father was --------,
Go as mother and she keep
Quiet and she was dead.
I wanted to know
the naked truth.

Each night before the students go to sleep the students have an opportunity to talk about their favorite part of the day. That night, after the poetry workshop, Chadwick explained, “Today, I found a new skill in writing poetry. It feels good to have my say.”


By: April Edwards

Hello again!

So as many of you know, WISER will open in January of 2009. We are beginning the exciting process of recruiting girls who will be in the first class of Form 1 and Form 2 (9th and 10th grade ) which means that we are talking to girls in Standard 7 and Standard 8 (7th and 8th grade). We planned a special event called WISER Girls’ Day where we decided to invite the top 50% of the Standard 7 girls in the Muhuru District to come meet each other and interact with each other and to learn all about WISER and what it will be.

On July 30th and 31st, Andy, Kelly and I went out to tell those Standard 7 and 8 girls all about WISER and Girls’ Day.

We woke up early, when the sun’s rays are new, long, and orange and the roosters, cows and donkeys in our front yard are making the most noise (around 6:30). The three of us grabbed a quick breakfast of boiled eggs and hot tea and dragged ourselves outside to meet our guides who were to show us the way to each of the 9 primary schools in the Muhuru Bay district.

We were surprised as we came outside as we found not a bicycle for each of us, as we had expected, but ONE bike and two gentlemen with boda-bodas. A boda-boda is basically the bicycle version of a taxi. The “driver” sits on the front part of the bike and pedals, and there is a cushion that sits above the back wheel for the passenger. Generally when I am in Kenya, each time I see a Boda-boda, there is a man pedalling a woman on the back who is riding the cushion side-saddled. I immediately went on the defensive as one of the drivers gestured at the two boda-bodas and pointed at Kelly and me and told us to climb on and “Mr. Andy” could ride the one bike. Kelly and I looked at each other and then just to make sure that no one thought we NEEDED to be carried around like we were incapable of riding ourselves, we each hiked up our skirts, lifted a leg over the side and boldly straddled the boda-bodas. (After all, aren’t we here for women’s empowerment?).

Then we were off. We were flying down a rocky dirt road in the early morning sun with a clear purpose and a mission. It was exhilarating and I immediately forgot to be offended that I was on a boda-boda instead of my own bike.

I was unprepared for the scene that was waiting for us at the first school, Nyangwayo Primary. As we rode up, children swarmed us from every direction, screaming, smiling and waving frantically. Some of them were so excited that they forgot to look where they were going and ran into their peers and stumbled on rocks and tree roots. As we dismounted, we were instantly surrounded by crowd of children and a hundred small black hands outstretched as their voices chimed in unison, “How are YOU?!”—one of the English phrases that most Kenyans know. All of them were so excited.

Andy found the principal in the midst of the excitement and requested an exclusive audience with the Standard 7 and 8 girls, which was quickly granted. As the three of us walked into the classroom, the girls were smiling and whispering amongst themselves excitedly at having been specially chosen from among all the students. All three of us introduced ourselves to them and explained that we were from WISER. Before we went any further, their head teacher asked that each girl stand and introduce herself. So as Kelly, Andy, and I stood in front of the class with the word WISER written on the board behind us, one by one, the girls stood up and said their names aloud. Anna Wigesa, Standard 7. Jocinter Bittah, Standard 7. Each girl in turn.

About halfway through the introductions of the 20 or so girls in the room, it hit me. These could be our girls. These girls are what we have been working for over the past year and a half. This is who we have come to help and work with. These girls. I started to get a little choked up as I realized the enormity of it. For a year now, I have been writing grants and doing research with other members of this team as we try our best to raise money to make the WISER school a reality. But in that year it had never been as real as it was in that moment meeting their eyes as they said their names. This is who we are working for. WISER is not only an ideological project. It is the dreams and futures of these girls.

After the introductions, we told them all about WISER and invited some of them to Girls’ Day. They cheered when we told them that 70% of the girls at WISER will be from right here in Muhuru and that 70% of them will be on scholarships. It was unbelievable.

Over the next two days, Kelly and I happily rode boda-bodas with our drivers (who turned out to be really awesome and helpful) to all 9 primary schools in Muhuru. I cannot really express how incredible it was to finally be able to put faces to the project on which we have been working for so long. To see how excited they were and hear them promise to work hard in the next year so that they might be one of the first girls at WISER was more than satisfying. It really brought all of our work into perspective for me. They make everything worth it.

One school, Ibencho, is on top of a mountain. Our bike drivers had to abandon pedaling on the way there because the path was so steep and rocky. We hiked the rest of the way to the top, and it took the majority of the morning. When we got there, there were only 3 girls there for us to talk to because of a special religious camp nearby. I was tempted to be disappointed at first, but as soon as we started talking about WISER and I saw the girls’ faces, I knew it was worth it. I think all of us would climb a mountain to bring WISER to just one girl.

So here in Muhuru, WISER is really starting to become a reality. We had Girls’ Day this week, and it was a huge success. Almost all of the girls that we invited were able to attend, which is really saying something since some of the girls were from more than 2 hours away by foot. The whole day was amazing. The girls rotated through different stations learning about WISER, leadership, and playing games.

At my station, I taught all the girls the WISER song which we had written before the CampWISER intersession. Each small group learned the song before going to the next group. The announcement had just been made to stop for lunch as I was with one of my last groups. They were still learning the song, so we decided to go a couple of minutes long and keep singing. As we were singing, of their own accord, all of the other girls came from all over camp as gathered around us and began to sing with us. They had already been through my station and learned my song so as they began to sing, I realized that this was the first time that all of us were singing the song together. Soon we were surrounded by all the girls at camp as well as the other members of the WISER team and all of us were singing together. I stood up on a chair with the guitar so that everyone could hear it and we just continued singing the WISER song together. Music moves people. I saw Tyla crying as we sang and had to work myself to keep my voice steady as we sang the words that we wrote together. I wish I could explain it better here so that you could understand exactly the magnitude and power of that moment. But let it suffice to say that it is one of those memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

So until next time,


A View of Muhuru

By: Sunny Kantha
Imagine supporting a family of 10 with $3 a day. Better yet, imagine if this $3 were only guaranteed for 8 months of the year because of your crop yields.

Such statistics probably beckon you to high school when most of us first heard them. But if you’re anything like me, you probably found it hard to truly comprehend this harsh reality.

Welcome to Muhuru Bay, Kenya.

Situated on the shores of the beautiful Lake Victoria, Muhuru Bay is a small agricultural and fishing village with around twenty thousand residents. Our task this summer: circle the 29 sub-regions of Muhuru Bay to conduct a microfinance needs-assessment survey. This survey will help us understand what needs to be done to transform the economic condition of Muhuru Bay through microfinance.

Microfinance is the process of providing small loans to uplift the impoverished. By giving money to those not approved for traditional lending, microfinance is quickly becoming a revolution in poverty alleviation. Muhammad Yunus’ Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Grameen Bank reaffirmed microfinance as a significant agent for change in South Asia. However, it seems as if such success has yet to be replicated in sub-Saharan Africa. I find this situation to be puzzling given the incredible work ethic of the citizens of Muhuru Bay,

Every day, I have the privilege of getting to know the residents of Muhuru Bay and their way of life while I am collecting their economic information. What surprises me about these people is their ability to persevere and remain optimistic through incredibly harsh economic conditions. After visiting nearly seventy-five households, it is surprising how many families have only a widowed mother in charge of feeding and educating all of her children. Additionally, the cultural practice of polygamy leaves a multitude of families with more children than they can properly feed, much less educate. Yet, despite numerous obstacles, many children pursue an education and help full time with supporting their families.

Considering that many families work so hard, they should be able to eventually improve their plight, right? Coming from a country where loans are as easy as visiting a bank or payday loan center, this may seem obvious. However, lack of access to capital is a serious problem in Muhuru Bay. The problem is so serious that many families find successive generations in the same economic morass. One of our ultimate aims of this project is to bring microfinance to Muhurians. This will go hand-in-hand with the aims of the WISER school ( in terms of empowering the community. I am grateful to have the privilege to work with WISER and help this community, while at the same time enriching my learning.

What has astonished me about my experience thus far in Muhuru Bay is not the breadth of my learning, but that these are lessons I could never have learned in a classroom. The difference between reading about poverty in a textbook, and experiencing it firsthand in a developing country is tremendous. In this journey through Muhuru Bay, I have seen almost every socioeconomic class in the world. From the absolutely poor, living on less than $1 a day, to the extreme minority who could be considered wealthy by American standards.

The most heartbreaking and enlightening conversations I have had were with families who have lost numerous family members—usually young children—to malaria or HIV. After hearing stories this powerful, I cannot stand idly by while Muhuru suffers. This is why I hope to be back in 2008.

I Am Not You

By Kelly Teagarden

Thursday night we had a poetry jam for all the students at Camp WISER. It was the first time that we saw individuality and freedom of expression emerge from the students. They were not confined to the formality of a classroom nor were they restricted by the appropriate memorized responses. They could express themselves and use their own emotions, feelings and thoughts. It was one of the more powerful moments of my life.

Many of our blogs have discussed the ideas of shock, misunderstanding, confusion and lack of awareness. We have each had moments of humbling recognition of how different our lives are from these students. But we have also realized that we are all humans and all children and we share smiles and hugs and laughs. We share dreams and desires for our futures and we all want to make something of ourselves. The humbling differences have hit us hard as we begin to understand how special a time this is for all of us. We are all students, learning from one another about a different world—one with many cultures, traditions and practices. But we are NOT one another. We are each unique individuals and we must be ourselves. Throughout life we are tempted to be like others through peer pressure, societal pressure or familial pressure. But in the end each of us are no more or no less than ourselves.

Wilmer, one of my favorite campers and a member of my core group shared one poem with the group but when asked to write them down handed me 5. One of them was titled, “I Am Not You”. It is written below:

I Am Not You

Performed by: Wilmer Wylkester Warenthof II

I am not you
But you will not
Give me time, chance
Will not let me be me

“If I were you”
but you know
I am not you
Let me be me

You meddle, Interfere
In my affairs
As if they were yours
And you were me

You are unfair, unwise
To think of yourself
That I can be you
Talk, act and think like you

God made me, me.
He made you, you.
For God’s sake
Let me be me.

(This poem was actually written by Roland Tombekai Dempster (1910-1965), who was an African writer and literary figure born in Liberia. The poem is entitled, "Africa's Plea")

This poem struck a chord deep within my core. I was shocked at her bold power and her ability to stand up to the world. Her strength inspired me and her demand to “Let me be me” spoke to me. If she, in this world so different from mine with so much hardship and adversity, where women are often oppressed, can stand tall and demand her individuality, I have no excuse. I have absolutely no excuse. Never again shall I succumb to the pressures around me. They are not worth it. I am me and that is the best I can be.

For the rest of my life I must stand tall and be myself. The pressures of the world will not hinder me and they will not phase me as I push through. There will be trials and triumphs but through them all we must be ourselves—in the end that is all that remains. I would ask everyone to read this poem and to think hard about it’s message. Take the time to pause and look inside yourself. Are you being true to yourself? Are you being you? Each of us were put on this earth for a reason. The message is one we have heard many times before, but somehow hearing it from a tall, strong, 18 year old Kenyan woman it speaks truer than ever. Be yourself and have no hesitations, for you are incredible just as you are. “God made me, me/ God made you, you/ For God’s sake/ Let me be me.”


By Kelly Teagarden

In preparation for Camp WISER we wrote a WISER song. Music is an important part of life here and we knew it would be a great gift to give. It has been incredible to watch them learn the song and to practice it even when we are not around. They take pride in knowing the lyrics and in singing it throughout the day. We gather each morning to sing it together and we close most days singing it. This past Thursday the Camp WISER students opened Girls’ Day by singing the song to the 125 Standard 7 girls from the 9 local primary schools. The pride with which they entered the room, the poise with which they lined up and the energy with which they sang the words was unbelievably powerful. Most of the counselors were brought near tears. We had taught the Camp WISER students a song that they were now giving to the younger girls.
At the close of Girls’ Day we marched to the new WISER land with W-I-S-E-R flags and sang the song as we walked. The feeling of being surrounded by 125 girls singing on repeat, “Don’t tell me I can’t succeed/ I can make dreams reality/ I won’t stop no matter what/ I can reach the top!” is indescribable. The community came out of their homes and lined the road as we processed by. As we gathered together on the WISER land site we heard speeches from Chief Ogwang, the chief of the Southeast region of Muhuru Bay and from Lydiah Okinyi a respected female leader, a student at Moi University and daughter of the past Head Master of Rabwao Secondary School. In Lydiah’s speech she quoted the song discussing the lines “And though you may stumble/ you will find your way”. She spoke about the fact that we all may stumble in our academics or in life, but it is important to keep our goals in sight. It is important to remember what we are working towards, whether that be to go to University or to be a nurse, pilot or teacher, or whether that be to go to WISER. We must all work hard and push through the stumbles now, keeping our goals ahead of us. She spoke so eloquently and powerfully to all the girls and stood before them as an example and a role model.
To close the ceremony we sang the song once more all together standing on the WISER land, overlooking Lake Victoria and holding our signs proudly above our heads.

The WISER Song:

Verse 1:
Life is a journey
You learn each passing day
And though you may stumble
You will find your way

Verse 2:
We’ve been told the sky’s the limit
But there are footprints on the moon
When we expand our minds we’ll see
Learning will set us free…

Learn WISER, exceed all that you know
Grow WISER, above the earth below
Be WISER, and see where you can go
Live WISER, Live Wiser!

Verse 3: (Rap)
Don’t tell me I can’t succeed
I can make dreams reality
I won’t stop no matter what
I can reach the top!

Verse 4:
The final verse is sung as girls and boys,
Girls sing Verse 1 twice the boys sing verse 3 four times



By Kelly Teagarden

Amosi! I am writing to you from Migori, Kenya. I wish I could update you from the comfort of our front porch and our little house in Muhuru Bay but seeing as how there is no electricity or internet access, the one and a half hour drive along bumpy dirt roads to the slightly larger town of Migori is the only option. The last two times we have been to Migori there has been a power outage so the only option of internet was a small shop with a generator.

The trip to Migori is an adventure in and of itself. We flag a car down that is coming from Customs—the small town in Muhuru Bay—and we pack anywhere from nine to twelve people inside. The front seat has four people with someone sharing a seat with the driver, the back seat has four to five people and the trunk has three people crammed in along with all the luggage of the car—usually some sort of smelly fish. Seatbelts are a safety precaution long forgotten, speed limits are non-existent and even traffic lanes are a foreign concept. The goal of the driver is to avoid the most holes and rocks in the road forcing him to adopt a slalom-like movement. We all grasp the seats in front of us, or one another for comfort and support as we pray we will get there safely.
After the hour and a half of driving along dusty roads trying not to awkwardly touch the person next to you, breathing in dirt and body odor, and wondering if you might just rather be left on the side of the road than continue on, you hit the stretch of pavement! A sigh of relief is heard throughout the car as a mutual understanding of gratefulness is felt. The smooth pavement under the car wheels is a luxury we will never again take for granted. We pull into the center of town and get out of the car our legs still shaking as we walk a few paces towards the grocery store still shocked that we are in one piece.

Everything here is a bit like the trip to Migori. A simple enough idea, drive a car into the closest town with power, use the internet, get groceries and get home before dark, but in reality there are unforeseen complications, larger ditches in the road and larger boulders in the road than you have ever seen. The cars drive at 45 degree angles and create new paths to keep the ride as smooth as possible. I played a game with myself last week trying to figure out which path the driver would take on the road outstretched before me. After about 5 minutes I turned to April, explained the game I was playing in my head and she asked, “Are you winning?” My only response was to laugh and say, “No.” I clearly could not read the road as well as the local drivers and my paths continually ended up in pot holes or unseen impossible turns.

The same is true for Camp WISER. We cannot see the road as well as we may have liked. We have already run into many bumps and holes as the first week comes to a close. The last thing any of us have ever intended to do was to be imposing our American ideas on the Muhuru Community. The goal of WISER is to work with the community and to incorporate everyone’s ideas and knowledge as we try to find the best “path along the dirt roads”. We want to work together and bring WISER and some good practices to Muhuru but only if they are put forth within the Kenyan system and Kenyan way of life.

Halfway through this week there was an incident involving my favorite camper, Wilmer (pronounced Wilma). Wilmer was not in class so I went to the dormitory to try to find her. As I walked in I saw her belongings laid out on the bed and her empty school trunk before her. She was packing up to leave. I immediately sat down on the floor preparing for the worst. I asked her what was wrong, what she was doing and why she was packing. She could not even respond. She just looked at me with downtrodden eyes and pointed to a note on the floor. A tear began to roll down her cheek as I saw the note had my name written on the front.

I have been a camp counselor for five years and I was a camper for the five years before, I thought I had seen everything—homesickness, broken homes, self mutilation, lack of confidence and all the other trials of adolescence. After 5 weeks of being here I had even begun to adjust to many of the initial shocks here in Kenya—girls my age are mothers and having to take care of their children, families need their children home for the break to help around the house and children are often caring for other children while parents are absent, working or dead. I asked Wilmer if her family needed her home and she just continued to cry harder. As I read the note I became more confused. As much as one can try to prepare to be in another country and world you cannot fully understand all the inner workings of a different culture or all the ramifications of your actions. The note explained that she would be going home because she had broken dress code last night by wearing pants and that some of the older girls had told the Matron who would soon tell the Head Master and she may be kicked out of school. We had not enforced dress code because this was Camp WISER and not Rabwao Secondary School. Apparently this freedom and privilege that we saw as so innocent and that they so deeply wanted had larger significance than we had realized.

As I finished reading the note I felt tears well up in my eyes, I forced myself to blink them back. Her note had explained that it would be better for her to go home and stay as she is now because we will leave in a week and she will still be here to deal with this life. She will be left behind. She is better to remain as she is. I told her I was still confused and I asked her to explain a bit more. She now had tears streaming down her face and she told me that she had had pneumonia for a year now and that she has chest problems and must keep warm all the time. She had worn pants the night before to keep warm, as it is winter here and it was a cooler night. I had no idea how to respond. I immediately reached over to my bed and gave her my blanket—one of the small blue ones I had taken from the airplane on the flight over. I told her to sleep with it at night and that she could wrap it around as a skirt during the day and wear pants underneath. I told her we would work something out. I was searching in my head for a way to allow her to stay. I told her she was one of my favorite campers and I knew she was learning so much and would continue to do so. She was helping others in the classes and demonstrating leadership amongst the girls.

We left the dormitory ten minutes later, after I had helped her pack her school things back in her trunk. But as the day continued I wondered if that had been the right decision. How could I ever comprehend the impact of all my actions? Something that seemed so simple to me, wearing pants to stay warm, meant so much more. She had been sick for a year! And she was trying to keep healthy. But here, it is traditionally inappropriate to wear civilian clothes at school and especially pants as a girl. Just when you think you are beginning to understand a place you realize you still have so much to learn.

I am ready to learn more in this last week. I know that every single one of these students have so much to teach me about their traditions, their culture, their reality, their dreams, their lives and their futures. I hope that I can begin to find the best path along the pothole covered dirt roads and get a little closer to the path the locals would take. I hope that I can continue to understand more and become able to drive a safe path -avoiding as many holes as possible. I know that I will not always be able to see what is before me but I hope that these students will help to guide me each day and teach me how to best navigate their roads.

Learning Leadership

By: Tyla Fowler

It’s hard to believe that the first week of campWISER is over! It has been so much fun and I think that all of the students are getting a lot from it. It is awesome to have a chance to teach the curriculum that all of us have worked so hard on perfecting and to see the students absorbing the information that we are trying to impart.

I know that I have learned so much this last week while teaching the leadership class with Kelly. We have done many activities with the kids to build teamwork, communication skills, self-confidence, and trust. Many of the activities and games we are using have been adapted from the camps that we went to as kids in America. It is so interesting that until now, I never realized that the games we play in America at camp build up so many of the skills that are important in building strong young people and encouraging leadership.

As a child, you do not think about the deeper meaning of the games that counselors teach you. The obstacle course that someone leads you through while you are blindfolded that teaches you to trust and demonstrates the responsibility of leading someone, the game of telephone that teaches you the importance of effective communication, the blind square activity where you have to work as a team to make a square out of a piece of rope while everyone is blindfolded that teaches you about teamwork. Working here as a counselor, I have had an amazing opportunity to begin to understand the importance of these games. It has become more evident because we are working with kids who have never had teachers or counselors to develop these traits in them.

Their progress over the course of the last week has been amazing. Before our eyes, many of the students have learned to communicate with each other effectively. More importantly, almost all of the students are showing huge increases in self-confidence. They are speaking more loudly and confidently. Those that were usually silent are now starting to share ideas. They are doing critical thinking about the things we are teaching them.

All of these things, which seem so basic to me because they have been taught to me all my life, are so important if we want these kids to be the leaders that will change the status quo. It has been wonderful to see these students grow as leaders over the last week. I never thought that our work here would be immediately evident or feel so tangible. But we are watching as these kids grow as people and become more confident in all of their abilities. We can only hope that the skills we are teaching them will translate into their lives here in Muhuru and that they will be able to utilize them in a meaningful way when we have gone. I also hope that they will take initiative and that their motivation will inspire all the students who were not able to attend Camp WISER to have more confidence in themselves as well. I hope that their confidence is infectious and that when the Duke team returns to Muhuru next summer, they will find an entire group of confident and motivated youth who are emerging as strong leaders in the community.

Look Closer

By: Tyla Fowler

Here in Muhuru Bay, one of the most important things that we have from home is our music. Almost anytime we are in our house, there is music playing. It is a small bit of familiarity that we are able to hold onto in a place that is still so strange and new to us. However, music is not only something that reminds me of home; my iPod also finds subtle ways to remind me of truths that are important, no matter where I am in the world.

Ani Difranco tells me: “squint your eyes and look closer…”

Squint my eyes and look closer? This statement seems so simple, but I find that sometimes, it is exceedingly difficult to do. It is easy to get wrapped up in my own little world and forget that everyone around me has a story and a life that I do not see or know about.

When asking a student if they want to participate in intercession for the next two weeks, I do not immediately consider whether or not they have a family at home waiting for them. I do not ask myself if it is possible that they have someone they are responsible for taking care of. I assume that as a high school student, their experience is similar to mine: school is a priority and their family sees their education as a high priority as well. Instead, I find myself staring at a beautiful young girl who (to my great surprise) has three children at home and a husband that she must plead with to get permission to attend an intercession program. This is the first time I am shocked and humbled by my own lack of insight and knowledge about the lives of the students that I am interacting with on a daily basis. This is when I realize that there are so many things I do not know and that in my time here there are so many things that I will not be able to learn or fully understand.

While this is the first time I recognize that I do not really have any idea what life here is like, it is not the only instance that humbles me and reminds me of this fact. After a tiring day working with girls from area primary schools, the intercession students presented us with the poetry they wrote during the day. When I heard that Patrick was planning to do a poetry workshop with them, I was highly skeptical. I did not believe that they would grasp the concepts or that they would enjoy that kind of creative expression. I was wrong. As the students climbed the steps in the meeting hall to present their poetry one at a time, I was shocked by their confidence and performance skills. Students that do not speak above a whisper in the classroom appeared to be seasoned performers with amazing projection and feeling in the delivery of their work. More than being amazed by their performance, I was blown away by the depth and insight in their poetry. They bared their souls about subjects I believe many high school students would be unwilling to share: life, death, disease, family, god, and the burdens of daily life. Once again, I was shocked and humbled by accounts of parents and friends dying of AIDS, stories of pregnancies that ended relationships and left girls alone and helpless, and poems that showed the pride that many of the students take in their heritage and the traditions of their culture.

It is difficult to remember that everyday, people around you are living lives that you know nothing about. I know that this is true no matter where you are and that even when I am in America, the lives of many people that I know would amaze me. However, the contrast here is so sharp that it still manages to catch me off guard and remind me that it does not matter how much I think I know, I can never know what is going on under the surface until I take the time to find out. I find that once I have taken the time to ask the delicate questions and get to know someone on a deeper level, all of my interactions with them become more meaningful because I know the context of our relationship. Being here and getting to know these students has taught me that many of them will value their interactions with us so much more because of the more difficult parts of their lives that they deal with on a daily basis. On the other hand, I have learned to treasure the time that I have with those around me because I understand what a huge thing it is that they are giving this time to us and that they are taking time from their hectic and demanding lives to learn what we have to teach.

Knowing about the lives of the students we are teaching is such a gift – I am so thankful for their willingness to forget their lives for a few hours a day and interact with us.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Power of a Dream

By: Patrick Messac

After each exhausting day, many of us like to take some time in the evening to unwind with a conversation by the soccer field or on the porch with the Kenyan secondary students on our campus.

This is an amazing time when all of our hard work suddenly becomes real: it is a time when each abstract fundraising proposal could possibly provide chemistry textbooks for all of the aspiring HIV/AIDS pathologists destined to be at WISER or provide a school uniform for one of the 70% of girls that will be on scholarship. This is also a time when each study tip we introduce may be the strategy that leads these students to retain the 8 subjects they are soon to be tested on which wholly determines whether or not they qualify for University.

Usually during this time the students enjoy talking about their futures. It came to me as no surprise that with HIV/AIDS rates above 30% in the community many students hope to become doctors and nurses. I was also excited to hear that nearly all of the other students still had high aspirations of becoming accountants, lawyers, and teachers. It was not until I heard a small group of students giggle mockingly as one of the students mentioned that she dreamed of becoming a pilot that I blanked on how to follow up with encouraging words. I wanted to ask how she planned on achieving such a bold path, but I became weary as I couldn’t predict any feasible path as I had yet to even hear a plane in the Muhuru skies, the nearest airport is hours away, and many of the students had never seen a real plane up close, much less ever boarded one. When I finally mustered up enough courage to ask why she dreamed of becoming a pilot, she answered by motioning to the sky with her index finger and tracing the path of an imaginary flight. With wide eyes and great excitement she explained to me that when she would fly over head the entire bay would recognize her accomplishment and be proud. When I asked her how she planned to follow her dream she responded simply, “Anything I can do. Everything I can do.”

I quickly excused myself because I knew I had to remember this quote. If this girl faced all the odds and could still believe in her dreams, how could anyone ever justify making excuses as to why they wouldn’t be able achieve theirs? When those students laughed at her dream she was unfazed. It is this spirit of resiliency if she will ever undoubtedly have to maintain if she will triumph over all the adversity she is sure to face in her quest to accomplish her goal. It is for girls like this one that we must build WISER. When built, the school will provide opportunity for the girls with the guidance, opportunity, and skills necessary to achieve their dreams. WISER will be a place where no one will laugh at another’s dreams, because no dream is out of reach.

Night Preps

By: Patrick Messac and Rachel Gartner (Washington University in St. Louis '07)

Practice Problem #1
Take two and a half hours of available study time per day, a single light bulb for 200 students, no answer keys, and a severe shortage of usable textbooks and divide it all by the 11 subjects that each student is required to take every semester.

Practice Problem #2
Develop a method to keep students in school:
A fifteen-year-old student orphaned by HIV/AIDS with no means of income has to pay the mandatory 30,300ksh/year to attend secondary school?

Practice Problem #3
How much energy will a student have at the beginning of a 7pm night study period if:
She wakes up at 5:30 in the morning, sweeps the courtyard, goes to morning meeting, attends class for 7 hours, enjoys one hour of free time, walks 1 mile to the lake to wash her clothes, dishes, and body, and then carries 5 liters of water back on her head?

Practice Problem #4
What are the products of this reaction?
9 under-qualified, underpaid teachers lacking motivation + a learning compound with no electricity, no running water, and an absence of creative learning tools or innovative methods of teaching + 266 students eager to learn

Practice Problem #5
Re-write this history:
In 18 years no girl from Muhuru has gone on to university…

Solution: WISER