Posted by: hilarycole | December 11, 2007

The start of something new

I spent yesterday with Reverend Chris’ family near the town of Kakamega. It was about an hour matatu ride followed by 30 minutes on a boda boda into his family’s rural compound. The beauty all around was astounding. The lush rolling hills of sugar cane can take your breath away, and easily disguise the disparity they create between the farmers and sugar manufacturers; when the latter group actually decides to pay, they are far from fair.

Chris’ father is a former school headmaster – an educated and wise man who showed me great respect as his visitor, and took the opportunity to enlighten me on the ‘real’ Kenya. He believes the country is deceiving the world into seeing it as a democracy, with its multi-party system and free elections. But his definition of democracy goes much further. He posed the question of whether primary education is really free if the public schools have one teacher for 80 to 100 students, making every parent desperate to find the fees to send their children to private schools. And according to him, no one gets treated at a public hospital, regardless of the level of urgency, unless they first produce money, and that, to him, does not make a civil country.

But the purpose of my visit was to see and photograph the family’s compound to help promote Chris’ vision: a volunteer organization which aims to empower young girls, enabling them to make choices in their lives by learning about health issues and women’s rights, as well as skills and trades. His father has already given him land – two acres – which leap frogs him over the biggest hurdle to getting something going.

Since I last wrote about it, another volunteer from ICODEI named Eric has joined heads with Chris on the problem of young boys in this area – there is a plethora of homeless boys who spend their days scrounging for a few shillings to buy a little bit of food and a whole lot of glue for sniffing. There is, quite possibly, nothing worse than seeing a shoeless boy in completely rotten and tattered clothes as high as a kite, grabbing your hand and asking you to buy him food. So Eric and Chris are adding a boy’s orphanage to the vision. We’re all beginning by trying to establish an organization to receive donations and volunteer support from abroad. The first job will be to erect a structure or two on the land to house volunteers and then build a home for boys. A relative of Chris’ has already offered some unused classrooms nearby for teaching space.

After enjoying a wonderful lunch prepared by Chris’ perpetually-smiling mother and lovely sisters, and meeting virtually everyone in the area (Chris cannot walk by a single soul witout being summoned for a chat or a soda), I’ve seen how much support he has for his vision. He is driven, and with more people making micro-movements, I really see it happening.

Tomorrow I leave Bungoma/Kabula and head for Rusinga Island before my trip back to Nairobi. I’m sure more adventures await in the week ahead, but I’m still looking back with gratitude for the hospitality, education, and teaching opportunities I’ve had until now. The people here make it remarkably easy to build relationships, with their openness, grace and constant greetings; I hope those ties are only just beginning.

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