After graduating from Arundel High School in May of 2015, unsure of what I wanted to do at University, I embarked on a year-long solo trip around the world. I had a plethora of incredible opportunities from living amongst the picturesque rolling hills of Sicily to learning how to scuba dive in the beautiful reefs of Southern Thailand. However, my absolute favorite experience that I had was volunteering in Wamunyu, a village in Central Kenya, with Kenya Connect for three weeks during January of 2016. The small on-site staff has some of the most genuine and dedicated people I've ever met. There was Patrick; he accompanied me on a trip to Nairobi with his wife. First, we stopped at what Kenyans refer to as a 'muzungu' restaurant; Muzungu being a Swahili word, roughly translating to "white foreigner." They both ordered the chicken breast, but when they bit into the chicken fillet, they began yelling in the middle of the restaurant, 'Where are the bones?!?! This isn't chicken! It's got no bones!!!' and I could hardly contain myself. James was more reserved but hard-working and dedicated with a quiet, tender smile that makes it appear as if he knows something you don't, which he probably does. Then there was Cyrus, who chauffeured me on his motorbike to different schools every day, where we would set up new book clubs, or simply check in on existing ones. Everyday, and I mean every day, as we sped down the bumpy dirt roads he would turn to me and scream excitedly over the noise of the bike '100% free African Massage!'. It never got old. I will never forget the first school we visited. We were starting a new book club in Sofia Primary school, the students were all waiting outside in the dirt courtyard when we arrived, murmuring excitingly to each other as we got closer. The students performed a song and dance for the occasion, and I was able to meet all of the teachers and administrative staff at the school, there were roughly six of them. Once with the selected students, I introduced myself, and we read a children's book called 'We're going on a lion hunt', it is meant to be read as a kind of song and dance so we read it together. The students were shy at first, but once they understood the words, they really got into it! After we finished the book, we answered some questions about it together to be sure everyone understood the story and could discuss what they liked best about it. After I had said my farewells, I was followed out by a stampede of giggling Kamba children, who laughed and waved until we were out of sight. Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to repeat this incident with little variation as I traveled to a collection of primary and secondary schools throughout the rest of my time in Kenya. One of those secondary schools being Nyanni whose book club I had had the pleasure of skyping with throughout my Junior and Senior years at Arundel high. We were even able to hold a Skype session while I was there, on the Kenya side of the Skype, standing in the very resource center that we had fundraised at Arundel so much to help build, it was unreal. It's been ten months since I was in Kenya, and I still think about it, about them, every day.
Review from #MyGivingStory
With 80% of Kenyans living without electricity, most daily activities end with the setting sun. Living in darkness, not by choice, has a dramatic impact on the educational success of children in these rural areas. The simple luxury of reading or studying after dark is not a possibility, so how will these children compete in the 21st century? This is where my giving story comes in and involves Kenya Connect, a wonderful and selfless non-profit organization. My giving this year has resulted in increased access to solar lights for students in rural Kenya.
Public education became a reality in Kenya in 2003, however serious differences exist between urban and rural schools. Most rural schools are unable to provide technological and other resources that rely on electricity, and the students themselves lack electricity at home, which prohibits them from studying and reading at night. On a typical school day, the rural Kenyan children arrive home around 6:00 or later. They are expected to help with dinner and perform their required chores, after which the sun has long set. If their family can afford it, some children study with a primitive kerosene lamp (a can cut in half, filled with kerosene and lit with an open flame). In addition to the crippling expense associated with the home made 'kerosene lamps,' comes a health risk from the emission of caustic fumes and a fire hazard from the open flame. Clearly, this is not a level playing field for these students living in rural Kenya.
The mission of Kenya Connect is to engage and empower students and teachers in rural Kenya to succeed in the 21st Century. They use a holistic approach that includes various health initiatives, such as de-worming, clean drinking water and personal hygiene as well as technology and other educational initiatives. In 2012, Kenya Connect opened its Learning resource Center (LRC) in Wamunyu, Kenya, which provides local students with access to 30+ computers, the internet, a lending library and multiple STEM and technology classes. Access to the LRC and its resources is free to any of the 17,000+ rural students in our 55 partner public schools in Machakos County. It has become a beacon of hope to this remote community, and the students have thrived with their newly acquired skills. Kenya Connect is in the process of purchasing a bus so the distant students will have access to the center.
#MyGivingStory involves the newest effort by Kenya Connect, which is their solar light program. The program was born after a chance meeting with Greenlight planet and a demonstration of their SunKing solar lights. Their simplicity, durability, and affordability seemed to be designed specifically for families in rural Kenya. In talking with James Musyoka (field director of Kenya Connect) about the potential impact these lights could have on the students, my husband and I made our giving decision to help Kenya Connect establish the solar light program. The root of the program is providing affordable access to solar lights, which will enable rural students to develop good reading and studying habits. This is just one small step in leveling the playing field for rural Kenyan students.
Review from #MyGivingStory