Sunday, November 29, 2009

October/November Pictures

*NOTE* Pictures do not format well when I link from smugmug - please click on the image to see the full picture. Thanks!

I'm finally starting to feel a tad organized, a bit more inspired to get some long-put-off projects underway, might even attempt to catch up on email! In the meantime, enjoy some pics of the projects and people that have been keeping me busy!

With Dan and Zeph (Zeph in hat, Dan seated next to Dennis, with lollipop). These are two former street boys who have taken some younger kids off the street and though they have very little to give/share, they have managed to enroll them in school and keep them with them. I love Dennis - he is a smart kid and quite endearing. When I chided him for eating his lollipop and how bad it was for his teeth, he joked, "but they're all ready rotten!" Sadly true, but that's not gonna get him down!

At the Joseph Waweru boy's home in Nakuru for my first visit of the year. I took 2 of the 3 computers my friend Jason donated (I'm using the 3rd one while my mac gets shipped to S. Africa for repairs!) and confirmed they'll have a secure set up to ensure the computers are protected from misuse and theft. The boys were very excited! I'd love to raise $200 to purchase a copy of encarta for kids for each center. If you can contribute $5, $10 or $25 towards this I would greatly appreciate it. The rest of their software needs, especially in terms of typing tutors, excel and Microsoft tutors, are being donated by my dad's good friend Jo-L Hendrickson of Individual Software. Thanks so much Jo-L, Jason, Shirley and the Orange Rotarians for making these opportunities possible for these kids!

Earlier in the month my roommate Katie and I joined Hurlingham Rotarian Ken Idwasi for a trip to his rural home near Kakamega Forest. Along the way we stumbled on a fundraising for a local church, and then visited a local school Ken's family has been supporting in honor of his late mother.

About a year ago, the current standard 8 students (8th graders) were all failing their national exam practice tests. With Ken and his family's help (in the form of salary support for a new teacher, provisions of sanitary pads and education to keep girls in school all month and a variety of other assistance) the students are now virtually all passing their practice tests. We attended a prayer meeting held the day before the actual national exam, met the proud parents of each student and treated them to a big lunch after the meeting.

Katie also led an empowerment workshop with the girls and we both discussed with them some of the changes they can expect in high school, the realities of the issues that until now they've only heard about but have yet to confront (drugs, alcohol etc.). They seem prepared and we were really impressed with the amount of sex-ed and STD-prevention they had already received.

This weekend I started with a Friday visit to a group of crafters I know in Thika. I'm working on connecting them to some groups in the U.S., and it was fun to be back in my element - talking production, talking prices - finding out the stories behind each piece.

Finally, yesterday some Hurlingham Rotarians and I visited the Mt. Olive Girls Academy in Athi River - a school that a group of Newport Rotarians have raised support for. We've been helping identify wholesale supplies including bedding and linens and furniture. So fun to see the new building and think of the girl's lives who will be fortunate to attend there! Huge thanks to Ken and President Remmy for all the help coordinating - and kudos to Kimberly and Sylvia in Orange County for all their work helping the school!

Blankets and towels and sheets oh my!

Tonight's Thanksgiving celebration was postponed until tomorrow due to a power outage this afternoon - but those pics will be here shortly!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's a girl!

I'm sorry for being so out of touch. Between my computer going haywire, spending entirely too much time trying to find a car* and keeping up with a LOT more work for school, posting and uploading pictures keeps getting pushed off. However, I miss sharing my life here, and I'm thankful that people continue to mention this blog to me - it means so much that you are reading.

I'll share a bit more when I get back up and running with my own computer (FedExed to South Africa for repairs today!), but in the meantime I want to share about one of the women who works at our house every day and who I know could benefit from some support from home (my native home, that is).

This is Maureen - a gal whose smile and laugh are the sort that can turn a bad mood around in no time - they're just utterly infectious. She works with my roommate's organization, ZanaA, and until recently was a junior field officer (one of the high school grads that are working with their younger peers doing empowerment groups and helping distribute sanitary pads). I was used to seeing her on Tuesdays and Fridays when they had group meetings and so I didn't know her very well until I returned this year and learned she was nearly 4 months pregnant (and now working in the office while she prepares to welcome her baby). I don't think it's my place to share the details of her pregnancy, but suffice it to say it was not planned, and Maureen was not responsible for it. Like the other junior field officers, her focus has been entirely on taking advantage of the opportunity her job with ZanaA has offered, and the hope that in breaking out of the poverty of the Nairobi slums, university lay ahead. Now, she worries constantly that having a baby will interfere with that hope, but I see her daily choose to focus on the positive of her health and her support network here to face the future as bravely as possible.

So why am I sharing this? Though Maureen has younger siblings, she's spent very little time with babies, but has taken on her impending motherhood with a level head and total responsibility. She's made a list of the things she needs to care for her child (a girl!) and hopefully accommodate her attending school, because she's not ready to give up on that dream yet. At the top of her list are the usual baby items - onesies, socks, receiving blankets, diapers, a crib etc. Because they don't have water in Kibera where she lives, cloth diapers aren't super feasible - but she would like some (and protectors) for when she has enough access, or when she simply can't get disposables. I thought that my Bay Area community might be especially helpful in this regard, along with seeking 1-2 portable breast pumps so she doesn't have to give up nursing if funding for university does come through. She's done some internet research and has also become aware of the various ailments nursing can cause - and would love any of the breast pads or creams that you moms out there have found to be especially helpful.

I have a friend coming to visit in February shortly after Maureen's baby will be born who has agreed to set aside a suitcase to help bring her any donations I can collect. Please share this with anyone you know who might be able to help (and financial donations are also very welcome via my paypal account - we are trying to raise at least a year's worth of rent in a larger house as her family currently shares one room, as well). If you can help with any of these items - shoot me an email at meganmacdon AT gmail DOT com and I will connect you with my friend who will carry the items over.

Thanks so much, and more from me soon (contingent on FedEx, that is!).

*It's done! A 1996 Rav4 is parked outside and carried me happily through the sort of errands and activities that would have taken twice as long with out it today :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A moment of profound thanks

I have to admit, I had a frustrating afternoon. And more than anything, I wanted to come home and blog about it - because what had happened was the sort of thing that makes me feel like SUCH a foreigner here, and sharing it with my extended community helps me to feel less like an other while I process whatever has happened. Thankfully, tonight my mood got flung to the far end of the spectrum with a number of emails that reminded me of the much larger picture of this journey, and how it continues to evolve and change in ways I can't imagine.

Almost three years ago I gave notice at my job and began planning a volunteer trip to South Africa in the hopes of exploring an international career. What I found when I arrived was an utterly tragic rural situation with too many children facing far too much on their own - be it their own illness or the loss of those that should care for them. These kids became my playmates, my pupils (as I attempted to overcome my fear of teaching in basic tutoring sessions) and my inspiration as I submitted my application for the Rotary Scholarship that would ultimately bring me to Kenya. When I applied, it was with the hope that I would end up in South Africa, and be able to continue building a relationship with these children, who had said goodbye to far too many people in their lives, and whose tears when I left broke my heart in such a way that I can barely think about them for fear of the guilt of leaving creeping in.

Such is to say that while many think that this whole experience has been one hell of an exciting ride (and believe me, it has!), it has not been without a large amount of anxiety, fear, sadness and hopelessness along the way. I don't know of anyone who can immerse themselves in such communities and not face moments of pure despair from time to time. Seeing the situation in Nkandla firsthand, reading the case histories and joining the life cycle there for that short time is one of the most incredible things I will ever do - and yet not being able to go back or support them since has been very hard, and made this whole process feel very selfish at times.

Tonight, I received an update from The Africa Project, the group that continues to raise money and support these kids, with pictures from this past summer. I am sometimes afraid to ask how certain kids are doing for fear of hearing bad news, and these pictures reminded me of their incredible spirits and the ongoing work of so many that I was fortunate to be a part of for that short while, and that in so many ways launched me on this path. I was also told that a large donation given by a dear family friend, Joy Nelson, was used in part to take the children on Safari and camping this summer. Though they live near some of the best game parks in the world, many of these kids never have the chance to see them. What a true blessing to know that after 2.5 years, somehow my time there has continued to play a role in their life by way of the generosity of someone in my community.

I was talking to one of my best friends recently and he mentioned that because I often blog about my struggles to understand this experience and all that I see around me, he didn't think that I'd changed that much having taken the steps that I have. It was hurtful to read that comment, but at the same time easy to dismiss. However much I might struggle with who I am in relation to my surroundings, or how exactly I am to go about creating the change I hope to see here or maximizing my contribution in honor of the opportunities I've been given, I am in no way the same scared, overly logical girl who lacked the confidence to take risks and live life to the utmost that I at some point became. Though I have much yet to learn, this journey has opened my eyes and my heart to so many realities of life that I just wasn't getting where I was at. Having moved quite a bit growing up, I now feel like I have the most incredible community at home - though it's spread out around California, the U.S. and now the world. Just today I got an email from a Newport Beach Rotarian who is working with my host club here, a friend from Monterey my parents met at the fair last year who connected me to the weaving and spinning group I've worked with, and two members of The Africa Project - one of whom is anxious to learn more about Kenya and opportunities to get involved. I talked to two young men in Nakuru who will receive the Orange Rotary Club's computer donations, and finalized plans for the Kakamega trip this weekend. I have learned how simple it can be to ask for help - whether for others, or even for myself - and the profound necessity for being a storyteller when I come across things that need to be shared. I have learned to better value work and opportunities, freedom and health, family and friends in entirely new ways. I have begun to understand what sacrifice is all about, what it means to hold out for what is right and how to communicate across cultures, across understandings of right and wrong. It is hard to share life primarily through the internet, but I hope that every once in awhile I do justice to this experience, to the incredible payoff to any risk taken, to the people who have been a part of it and continue to help me weave a path of inter connectivity that I am in absolute awe of. At the very least, I promise I'll keep trying.