Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Labor of Love // Education in Enchoro, Kenya.

Let me tell you something.

There’s this little theory I have. It’s a theory that has increasingly become molded into the foundation of my morals and convictions; an integrated part of my being.

No matter how vastly different two people may seem (look, talk, act), there is always a way to connect with one another.

Landon (my bro) talks with Kisea. // Maji Moto, Kenya.

Landon (my bro) talks with Kisea. // Maji Moto, Kenya.

While I spent hours engrossed in the process of familiarizing myself with the people and details of Enchoro Village (i.e. interviewing, touring property, sharing tea, taking hundreds of photos), Noosalash patiently sat waiting in a sliver of shade produced by a World Concern Land Rover.

Toying with a discarded plastic Krest bottle, she peered up at me with a shy grin as I approached her. It’s no surprise that most beneficiaries I meet react to me with slight intimidation; in the field I tend to look like a half-human/half-robot – one arm carrying my large tripod while the other balances my camera bag, microphones, and lenses. (Yes, my looks alone have been the cause of children’s tears.)

As Noosalash led me to her home, romping over fallen acacias and dried up river beds, the conversation between us seemed to flow. In fact, we talked for the entire 15 minute walk.

A little background…

Noosalash: 40-year-old mother of 8 from Enchoro, Kenya. Maasai. Speaks mainly Maasai and a bit of Kiswahili.

Kelly: a 26-year-old single woman from Seattle, Washington. American. Speaks mainly English and a bit of Kiswahili.

Arriving at Noosalash’s compound, giggling with each other, my colleagues looked at us puzzled, “What were you talking about that whole time?”

Noosalash creating beautifully intricate Maasai jewelry to be sold in town.

Noosalash creating beautifully intricate Maasai jewelry to be sold in town.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.

As we walked, I would say something in Kiswahili, then Noosalash would respond in Maasai. She would proceed to say something in Kiswahili, then I would respond in English.

Somehow, despite our tri-lingual exchange, meeting on a very peculiar level, Noosalash and I understood each other.

We connected.

By the time we’d reached her house, Noosalash no longer looked at me from the corner of her eye. Instead, she playfully batted my arms as I teased her about carrying such a huge stack of wood. Grabbing my hand, she led me to see inside her manyatta (traditional Maasai home) and then over to a patch of shade. We plopped down under the shelter of the compound’s largest tree, where Noosalash was creating intricate pieces of traditional Maasai jewelry.

Similar to 99.9% of the women in Enchoro , Noosalash never received a proper education. Like most, she was married by the age of ten and immediately proceeded to have children and care for the home. Though she does not harbor bitter feelings toward her upbringing, Noosalash believes in something more for her children.

“I plan to send all of my children to school through doing odd jobs – making beads, selling livestock, and other kinds of casual labor,” shared Noosalash.

Unfortunately, no matter the commitment of her labor of love, there is a strong chance that Noosalash’s children will have to cut their education short. Enchoro School Collage

Like Olemegili, Enchoro’s school only goes up to grade 4.

According to 28-year-old Rose Pesi, an Enchoro’s primary (elementary) school teacher, “It’s tough to be a teacher in this school because we don’t have enough classrooms for our children. We have 2 classrooms and there are 4 grades.”

Rose sits in one of Enchoro's classrooms.

Rose pensively sit at her desk in one of Enchoro’s classrooms.

After finishing grade 3, students either drop out of school, repeat a grade, or walk two hours (each way) to Olesere, the nearest town with a better equipped school.

“This school is far,” explains 11-year-old Francis. “When I go to visit, it takes me two hours by foot.”

Francis, who is number one in his class (quite possibly because he has had to repeat grade three due to the fact that he is still too young to walk all the way to Olesere), can attest to the community’s heartfelt desire to educate their children.

“Life in Enchoro is a bit difficult because we don’t have a good school with classes to graduate to,” he points out. “Some students are kept by their parents from going to Olesere because they are still very young. I don’t like it when children have to go to another school.”

Whenever diligently working Francis is given the opportunity to complete his education, he has big plans, “I want to be a teacher so that I can teach the children.”

Francis in the classroom where he is repeating grade 3.

Francis in the classroom where he is repeating grade 3.

Of the four individuals I had the privilege of spending time with in Enchoro, 100% voiced that their village’s greatest need is a larger school.

Emphasizing her point, Rose confidently reiterated, “The greatest need in this village is to get extra classrooms for our children.”

It’s clear that the desire to grow in knowledge is innate. Having never lived outside of Narok (and most likely never outside of her very rural homestead), Noosalash remains far from ignorant, “I want this village to develop. I want us to have a school.”

It seems that education should be viewed as more than rote-memorization and tedious coursework.

In fact, education could be the spark that ignited my connection with Noosalash. It is our shared passionate curiosity and inquisitive nature that drives us both to question the world and people around us. Like many, we both have the desire to learn; and this is stronger than any physical, cultural, or linguistic barrier that may superficially appear to hold us apart.

Within The Folds Of Rolling Green. // Elizabeth in Olemegili, Kenya.

Climbing in elevation up what should be considered more of a pile of corrugated rocks than a road, this is not the Maasai landscape I thought I knew.  Holding on to the door handle so as not to fly across the vacated backseat, I look out at the valley that seems to shrink with every tire rotation.

Narok County, located in the south-west region of Kenya, is home to over 800,000 people. Situated alongside the magnificent Great Rift Valley, Narok south alone is home to countless around 200 villages – the majority of whom are Maasai.

A significant portion of Narok’s landscape can be compared to what many know as ‘quintessential Kenya’. It’s common for those who have not visited Kenya  to envision it as a country filled with tall Maasai men draped in checkered blankets, balancing on one leg while holding a large stick, and peering out over a seemingly endless savannah (where a lion is inevitably crouching amid the tall blowing grass).

Though this is a fairly accurate image of Narok, the rolling green hills outside of my window convince me that this popular image cannot stand alone.

After three jostling hours, the car reaches what appears to be the top. Breathless, I gaze out at the rolling green hills. Everything about this area is different from the previous Narok villages I’ve visited. It’s chilly, lush, and even closer to the equatorial sun (something a person of very pale skin is quick to notice).

We’ve arrived in Olemegili.

1-Olemegili Chief,Mother,Girl (8 of 170)

Later, sipping fresh milk tea inside of the chief’s tin roof home, James Ntiyani explains in proper English that out of the village’s impressive 3,000 person population, a mere four adults are educated.

Albeit it’s crisp air and mountainous beauty, Olemegili is somewhat of an island on its own. To travel to school, the market, an adequate health center, or even a clean water source, the community fights a (literally) uphill battle.

Sipping tea with the chief.

Sipping tea with the chief.

Because the chief is adamant about educating the entire village he has assisted the community with building a small school, “I focus most on education because I realize that it’s the greatest avenue for change to come to the people. Since I found some education, let my village become like me.

This is great news and leaps and bounds beyond Olemegili’s recent education history. Unfortunately, the one-room school only goes up to grade three. This means that students are forced to repeat grades, travel ludicrous distances to attend grade four (around 16 kilometers round-trip per day), or, sadly, drop out of school entirely.

A belly full of sugary tea, we step out of the chief’s home meander down a grassy knoll to meet a community member named Elizabeth Noolmeyeki. Pausing to turn in circles and fully soak in the view, I wonder out loud where all of these supposed 3,000 people are. All I can see is six scattered homes.

The slopes of Olemegili appear to engulf individual homesteads, hiding significant sections of the village within their folds.

Far in the distance, if you squint hard, you can see the nearest health center to Olemegili.

Far in the distance, if you squint hard, is Olemegili’s nearest health center.

An air of inherent confidence to her stride, Elizabeth greets us with firm handshakes and smiles. She invites me into the doorway of her home (this is hands-down my most favorite location for talking and taking photos), where we proceed to sit on her carefully combed dirt floor.

Peering through my lens, this 28-year-old mother of five breaks down life in Olemegili through hers.

Elizabeth at home.

Elizabeth at home.

After marrying her husband Jeremiah about ten years ago, Elizabeth made a new home in Olemegili. Rearing five children between the ages of six months and 13 years of age, she continues to work her tail end off to make sure they are fed and in school.

[Evidence Of A Life Of Hard Work :: An Average Day in the Life of Elizabeth]

6am: Wake up and leave the home straightaway to fetch water.
“I have to make sure to draw water first because there is very little. I have to get there before the other ladies.”
(Definition of there: a dirty water hole that only fills when it rains.)

9 – 10am: Return from fetching water, milk the cows, and let sheep out of their pen.
We struggle here with a shortage of water. During dry season, we travel from 6am to 6pm, so all of our effort is toward gathering water. There is no time for work in the home. Where we get water is where every person and animal gets their water. This gives us stomach aches.”

Olemegili water pan.

Olemegili water pan.

11am: Head to the garden to begin digging.
“There is a lot of agricultural potential here. This land is beautiful.”
(Elizabeth plants potatoes, maize, beans, kale, and onions.)

12pm: Return home to cook lunch.

1pm: Pick up axe and venture out to collect firewood, then return to garden.

2pm: Finish gardening and bring animals back to their enclosure.

3pm – Dark: Cook dinner, feed children, bathe and put children to bed, close up gates and door, sleep.

Repeat  x365.

On the family property.

On the family property.

Yet, even after the aforementioned 24/7 work schedule, Elizabeth’s food and money is not always sufficient. “Sometimes it’s enough, sometimes it’s not enough, but this is all we have.”

Her days may be full due to the necessary measures required to survive, yet it’s clear that Elizabeth toils with conviction.

Using her red handkerchief to swat the incessant army of flies away from her face, she states with the steadfastness of a dream envisioned years past, “My greatest desire is for all my five children to be able to go to school. Once they are through with school, their lives can change. I am not educated but I will be happy if they are.”

Olemegili's one-room school. Hosting up to grade three.

Olemegili’s one-room school. Hosting up to grade three.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s eldest child has already fallen victim to the grade three cut-off. “My son Samuel was forced to travel to the neighboring school eight kilometers away after finishing grade three. Every day he faces cold and walks very long distances.”

Trying to disregard the flies as thick as a Georgia summer air creeping into the crevices of my eyes and nose, I contend to balance my camera. It’s in this moment that I am struck by Elizabeth’s words – she is the fourth person to mention the impact of the Olemegili cold.

Elizabeth and three of her children (L to R): Elina, Tunini, Ketemian.

Elizabeth and three of her children (L to R): Elina, Tunini, Ketemian.

According to the general community, people die every year from pneumonia. To blame is the nearest health care center, almost a full day’s walk away. Because the pneumonia has not been treated properly, the disease has continued to manifest itself into new, resistant varieties.

“I can count the people we have buried just because they weren’t able to get to a hospital on time,” Elizabeth whispers, staring me directly in the eyes.

“As much as I want other things for this village, I would push the need for a health facility as a priority.”

The paradoxical beauty of Olemegili’s landscape in contrast to all that it lacks leaves me dissatisfied. Yet the poignancy of Elizabeth’s passion and clarity of her conviction births within me an awareness of hope for the future of her family and her village.

Resting a weathered chin on the palm of her hand, Elizabeth states, “We are open to new ways of doing things.”

 

 

World Concern: Going To The End Of The Road And Staying There. // Part II

The following is Part II in a two-part series (you can read Part I here).

The series was written in response to the following questions:
     1. What makes World Concern different than other development organizations?
     2. Is being a faith-based organization (FBO) more of a challenge or a strength?

My hope is that you find this both informative and thought provoking. I’d love to hear your responses/questions! (It’s best to share these via commenting below or emailing me at kellyr@worldconcern.org)

—————————————————————————————————————————–

World Concern staff meets with village elders. // Abeche, Chad.

World Concern staff meets with village elders. // Abeche, Chad.

How do the FBO’s do it?

From what I’ve seen, World Concern’s Christian basis is the glue that seals together their long-term development vision.

Being a FBO is both a bonus and a challenge. “I think every organization has something about them that wins some and loses some,” says Chris Sheach, World Concern’s Deputy Director of Disaster Response.

For example, due to their faith-based stance, World Concern has been denied multiple large grants (hence the restricted budget), losing a lot of potential funds. However, their faith based status means that World Concern has been able to build deep, lasting partnerships with churches in the U.S. and a variety of other faith-based groups around the world – establishing lasting relationships and consistent private giving (for example see One Village Transformed).

Along these lines, World Concern has faced, and continues to face, issues with security. Working in locations such as Chad, South Sudan and Somalia, they have dealt with a variety of faith-based tensions and threats. In some cases, religion gives reason for being labeled a potential target.

World Concern beneficiaries in Chad, where over 50% of the population is Muslim.

World Concern beneficiaries in Chad, where over 50% of the population is Muslim.

On the other hand, World Concern is inclusive and open to hiring staff from other faith backgrounds. Still, nationals in the areas where they work are aware that World Concern is Christian based.

According to Sheach, “In terms of how we deliver, I don’t think being faith-based should have much to do with it – we should deliver in the best (professional) way possible, to the people that are the most in need of delivery. Perhaps one of the problems with an FBO is that different people have different interpretations of how faith intersects with the process of serving. This doesn’t happen in World Concern.”

“The best thing about working for a FBO is that when I am with beneficiaries, most none of whom are atheist, and whose world views MUST encompass spirituality as a fundamental part of living and daily survival, I already have a bond that allows us to relate,” shares Jane Gunningham, World Concern’s Regional Advisor for Innovation.

Having recently returned to Nairobi from a four month stint in South Sudan, Gunningham continues, “I am not driven by policy to ignore this aspect of reality: in fact, I am allowed to talk about how faith, divine principles and the ultimate nature of existence reside in how we understand and relate to the spiritual underpinning of life. It allows me to recognize how seriously the beneficiaries take their spiritual beliefs, without thinking of them as backwards or superstitious.”

While balancing their values, appealing to the donor, and remaining consistently committed to work that is raw, messy, and long-term, World Concern is trying to live out what they believe in doing – going to the end of the road, staying at the end of the road, and doing it all with a strong sense of purpose.

Village meeting with World Concern. // Tessou, Chad.

Village meeting with World Concern. // Tessou, Chad.

Is there a formula for successfully fundraising for long-term projects while maintaining a sex appeal; a way to educate the donor mindset – replacing the desired instant gratification from development with long-term change? To be honest, World Concern is still searching. (If you have one, find my contact info below.)

And the ever-morphing future for development work can only tell.

So here’s to continuing down that un-sexy, not-so-profitable, life transforming road.

To learn more about World Concern’s One Village Transformed, click here