By: April Edwards
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,