Saturday, August 10, 2013

Thank you Jill!

We have had so much fun stuff happening this summer at the EAC that I had to pick just a few things to highlight in the blog.  Since we had to say goodbye to our peace corps volunteer Jill Daniels (irreplaceable, but we are excited to meet our new PCV Adriana arriving next Friday), I decided I would focus on a few projects that Jill put into place in her final months with us.

First is something that started at the beginning of the year that we slowly saw come to fruition.  Jill approached me with information about One World Classrooms and their Global Art Exchange project.  It is a project where schools send in art work and in return receive a mixed package of art work from students all over the world.  It sounded like a great project, so Jill connected with teachers at school helped students create 25 pieces of art to send into One World.  A couple of months later, I received a big package at the post office.  I couldn't figure out what it was, but I opened it to find 25 amazing pieces of art from a hugely diverse list of countries - there was an pounded aluminum piece from the US, some amazing drawings from China, a drawing of village life from Namibia (strangely similar to Kenyan life), some drawings from the Ukraine, and many other pieces.  It was such an exciting package to open and one Jill and I were so excited to share with the students.  We decided to display the art at Term 2's closing day, on the wall of Class 8, so that students and parents could have some time to enjoy the art.  We added some art from our own students as well.  What a beautiful display!  We will certainly be participating annually in the One World art exchange.

The second project Jill started during her last few months is also something we hope to continue.  After hearing about it from a nearby fellow peace corps volunteer, Jill started collecting supplies for making reusable sanitary napkins.  One of the major reasons that girls miss school in developing countries is because they lack any supplies for protection during menstruation.  There are a lot of campaigns to collect normal sanitary napkins and distribute them to schools, but the EAC was interesting in testing out a more sustainable option for the girls. 
The reusable pads are made from pieces of shower curtain (or any thin plastic) and pieces of towel, sewn together.  Snaps are added on either 'wing' so that the pad can attach underneath the underwear of the girl.  The first training was held in May at Vutakaka and it was a great success.  We have lots of left over supplies, so our new peace corps volunteer will hopefully pick up where Jill ran out of time and do the training at our 3 other health education schools.  What a wonderful, long-lasting impact!

As Jill heads off to spend a month in Paris (where we know the food will be seriously lacking compared to Kenya) and then back to the US, we wish her the best in all her endeavors, and we know she will forever stay connected to the EAC.  She has made a huge impact in our health work and much of what she has done will continue on with our staff and future peace corps volunteers.  Thanks Jill! 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The rains are here!

Hello all!  Just a few quick notes on what has been happening at Vutakaka as we plunge into the rainy season.  On March 15th, Vutakaka Junior School held it's first ever inter-house Sports Day.  Students are now divided into four houses named for different animals found in Kenya and assigned a color.  The day started with a parade around the field, with all teams cheering loudly and waiving their colored flags high.  The events began with the longest races first to beat the heat of the mid-day sun.  Events included individual and relay running races, shot-put and javelin throwing, long jump, and high jump.  In the end, Nyati (buffalo) house won the title in yellow.  Congrats to all the students on a great effort!
In academic news, school closed for the term on April 11th, after great scores on the end of term exam.  We said goodbye to our intern, Shanie, who had been working with the upper grades in Math and helping us to fix and upgrade our XO laptops for the students.  We really enjoyed having her out here and appreciated all her hard work.  She says she 'might' be back, and we are hoping for the best!
 In health news, Peace Corps volunteer Jill Daniels conducted a demonstration in gunia sack farming.  Gunia sacks are woven plastic sacks that are typically used for carrying rice, beans, or maize.  Old sacks can be used for vertical farming.  Jill showed the health team how to fill the center with rocks and the remainder with manure and soil.  Once our collard seeds are ready, up to 50 plants can fit into one bag!  Slits are cut in the side of the bag at regular intervals, and the greens grow out the sides of the sacks.  We can wait to see how this improves our school farm, and how we can share this with the community!
We also recently celebrated Malaria Day with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer Kelly Sawyer in Kadzinuni village.  Kelly organized the two-day malaria event, which coincided nicely with the start of the rainy season.  The day included a net washing demonstration and free net repairs, speeches from health workers and nurses, entertainment from local schools and a DJ.  It was a big success and we hope many people heard the message about how to prevent malaria.  Well done Kelly!

Friday, March 8, 2013

A busy month!

Wow!  As I was pulling out pictures for this blog post, I really got to appreciate how busy we have been so far this year, and how many exciting things are happening here in Takaungu at the EAC.  Let's get to it....

This year has been filled with visitors.  We were very happy to welcome one of our board members, Matthew Merluzzi, to Kenya for the first time.  Last year Matt traveled to the Ivory Coast as part of his job as a comodities trader working with cocoa farmers.  He had such a good experience on that trip that when Jen and I told him to come out to Kenya, he jumped at the chance.  He stayed with us for 6 days and had a great time learning more about our programs.  Matt has been instrumental in raising money for our capital projects since joining the board, and we were excited for him to see what all his efforts have accomplished.

While Matt was here, he helped us to distribute shoes that had been donated to the nursery school children by 'Thousand Pairs of Little Shoes', a Caymen Islands charity started by a longtime visitor to Kenya.  Thanks to Renata for the donation of the shoes!

As an avid fisherman, Matt was also interested to hear about the grant just awarded to the Takaungu Beach Managment Unit from the Constituency Development Trust Fund.  EAC staffed supported the Unit to write a grant for a cold store room and ice processing center.  We were so excited when we found out last year that the group received the grant for 5.4 million shillings!!  We took Matt to meet the fisherman and see the current storage space.  

Unfortunately, the weekend after Matt left was the launching of the project (pictures below).  It was a beautiful day and a committee was chosen by the community to implement the project.  We can't wait to see the progress this brings to the fishing community of Takaungu and will support them throughout the process.

This year also saw the return of Tony Hillier, community poet extraordinaire!  Tony had visited our school last year and held a 10 week poetry class for the Class 7 and 8 students.  He also encouraged teachers and staff to participate.  Tony had such a great time here at Vutakaka that he went home and created a beautiful book of the students and staff poems and art work.  As Tony and I debated how to use it for fundraising and also how to pay for printing, he informed me he was funding the printing of 50 copies and coming back to Kenya to deliver them himself!  We were so excited to see him two weeks ago, and everyone is very proud to see their work published.  Thanks Tony!

Just a few quick, but still exciting last notes before I sign off and save the rest for another blog.  We want to give a shout out to intern Shanie Holman from Seattle, Washington, who is doing a great job tutoring our students in Math and Science (she is even holding an election time tutoring program!) and working on updating our XO laptops and helping teachers to further integrate them into their classroom learning.  Thanks Shanie!  Below is our new headteacher Mr. Jumaa, who will be profiled in our upcoming newsletter.  We are excited to have him and can't wait to let everyone get to know him, at least online.  Welcome Mr. Jumaa!

I'll close here, even though there is more to share.  Right now we are in a holding pattern, waiting for election results.  Kenyans seemed determine to keep the peace, despite a lot of reasons for them to be annoyed with the systems and politicians in this country.  Despite a still unstable situation, I am as ever impressed by the patience and dedication to a better future of the people of Kenya.  Let's keep hoping for a peaceful future, near and far.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

February resolutions

  Hello everyone!  We hope you had a great holiday season and are enjoying being back in the swing of things like we are!  Once again, my new years resolution is to write more blog updates, post more photos, and generally stay in touch with our supporters more often.  So, I’m going to try.

We have a great intern here now, Shanie Holman, who is posting some of her wonderful pictures that we will be sharing on Facebook.  We also recently hosted my good friend and EAC board member Libby Gluck here, doing lessons on peace and helping the children to create some great peace-inspired art work to bring home to our donors.  The elections are coming up on March 4th in Kenya, and everyone is anxious to see how it goes and hoping for a peaceful outcome.  The last elections were at the end of 2007 – violence ensued after allegations of manipulation of results.  An estimated 800 people died and 600,000 were displaced.  Luckily, the Coast of Kenya was a much safer place than the rest of the country.  We are confident that this year will be better, but just in case are prepared to hide out in our safe haven of Kilifi/Takaungu and hope for the best. 

It is an important time to teach the students about elections, the right to vote, peace, and the future of their country and teachers are taking every opportunity to do so.  So, the students have definitely hit the ground running this year.  The Class 1 students are settling in well in their first year at primary school, and the new KG1 nursery students (all 3 years old) have slowly stopped crying in the mornings when their parents leave. 

We are also happy to have our new head teacher, Jumaa Masha Lewis with us.  He started work on February 1st and is off to a wonderful start working on revitalizing the school clubs and the arts classes.  I’ll spotlight him in my next blog post.

The health work has also resumed for 2013 and motivation is high!  We have 15 strong chickens (ok, we have lost about 10 so far but the remaining ones are looking good and should be for sale soon).  Once we make some money on these chickens, we are going to expand their house and also add a place to bring our goats.  In 2010, a parent donated a goat to the EAC.  This goat has been living with a staff member and has now had a baby.  We would like to bring them to the EAC compound and try to expand our goat population.  At holiday time, a goat can bring in a lot of money!  We are really hopeful that these income-generating strategies can help support our health work. 

While we wait for the chickens to grow, health work goes on as usual.  Health education has resumed at the 6 local primary schools, and our nearby partner has added in a 7th school!  Health staff are also working with 6 community groups, sharing health information and trying to assist them with small business development.  We continue to work with the two government clinics in our area of operation, and are helping the Community Health Worker unit to implement a door-to-door HIV testing grant they received from the government.  A huge thanks is due to our Peace Corps volunteer Jill Daniels, who has contributed so much in her first 6 months with us.

As you can see, we are excited to be moving forward, as always.  I am particularly hopeful about the year ahead, as I feel we have really planned well to make the big moves towards further sustainability.  We will keep you posted as this happens.  Wishing all of you a wonderful and progress-filled year as well!