Swahili Isn’t Helping Me Here

In the months since my last post I have completed my 2 year Peace Corps service in Kenya, went home for 6 weeks to visit friends and family in 4 states, and moved to Dakar, Senegal where I have lived for nearly 1 month in my Peace Corps Response position as the Communications and Media manager for the Stomp out Malaria Initiative.

What a whirlwind…huh?

I’m really excited about this new adventure. And I’m really excited about blogging differently. While in Kenya, I created my blog to keep my friends and family updated on projects, after my visit it home it is clear that my friends and family must make up 1% of my readership. Without the pressure of updates I feel free to write more about what I’m feeling, and I am feeling a lot. You will still here about my projects, my travels…you know my experience but this time, my WHOLE experience.

Eeek I don’t even have a photo to include in this post. It’s clearly time to take my camera out to capture this beautiful place.

Check back soon.

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Malaria Mural: Using Art to Teach Health

I rode passed a talented community artists painting a school sign and immediately asked the driver to make a U-Turn. Michael Juma is a brilliant artist and art teacher and was overjoyed at my proposed idea of working with some of my students to make a malaria mural.

The mural is located at Nangina Mixed Primary School, a name you should all be very familiar with, I’ve talked about this school and the projects I’ve done there here, here, here, here and here. The class 1-8 school population is 732 total: 374 boys and 358 girls. The early childhood development/ECD classes have approximately 150 students and there are 16 teachers working and volunteering at the school bringing the schools total population to approximately 898.

4 students who expressed an interest in art first drafted their own mural designs which we used as inspiration for the final design. These students assisted in the actual painting of the mural. The winning sketch that heavily contributed to the design of the mural was from Reagan Omondi a student in class 8/8th grade.

The days of painting served as a functional art class. Michael explained every step and students were able to ask questions. This was the first time the students were receiving formal art training. They learned a little about color theory, scaling and being creative in their designs.

The mural was started on March 10th and completed on March 12th 2014.

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Camp GLOW: Girls Leading Our World…in Funyula

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud” -Coco Chanel

I coordinated a Camp GLOW: Girls Leading Our World, in my local community where we focused on character development, health/healthy living and professional development. Camp GLOW is a PEPFAR and Peace Corps initiative, they hold large regional camps annually in Kenya. I applied for a grant through World Connect to host a local GLOW in my community.

You might remember a few of my students were selected to attend Peace Corps Kenya’s Western Region GLOW. In the regional camps each volunteer can nominate 2-3 students to attend. My students came back and the hundreds that remained wondered why they didn’t have the opportunity. I’ve never had a project feel so necessary. I’m happy I was able to host a project encouraged by my community.

130 girl students ranging from ages 10-19
9 participating schools
5 days to impart knowledge and have a ton of fun
6 volunteer trainers who lead sessions for 3 days
6 community professionals who participated in the career panel
160 bed nets distributed/sold in a community where finding nets is a challenge unless you’re pregnant.
96 bottles of water guard distributed to encourage clean water practices

The stats above are some quantifiable measures of what I was able to achieve with help from my fellow volunteers and community members.

Camp Schedule:

Day 1: Registration

Day 2: Character Development

  • Self Esteem and Body Image
  • Peer Pressure
  • Self Expression Art Project/Self-Portraits
  • Gender Roles

Day 3: Health

  • Menstruation and Reusable Sanitary Pads
  • Malaria
  • HIV/AIDS/STIs
  • Healthy Relationships

Day 4: Professional Development

  • Goal Setting and Vision Boards
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Crafts/Developing Skills to Create Goods
  • Career Panel

Day 5: Community Presentation Day

  • Student testimonials
  • Art Presentation
  • Talent/Entertainment
  • Speech: Area Representative
  • Speech: Area Chief
  • Health Presentation: Water and Sanitation
  • Health Presentation: Malaria Prevention
  • Pineapple Eating Contest
  • Presentation of Awards

I heard of the transformation that occurs during Camp GLOW. I feel so privileged to have seen these girls come out of their shells, find their voices, and work on their talents. I transformed as well.

I don’t want to paint a picture of helpless girls and women. I don’t think I could if I tried. These girls and women who carry water and firewood for miles, who work in farms and care for cattle, who are in charge of the families health and nutrition and sanitation, these girls are strong. Their schedules are intense and usually start before the sun rises. However, when you try to understand the stagnation in their ability to be as successful as they have the potential to be you can look to some limitations placed on them by societal gender roles, lack of education and education opportunities, lack of resources, lack of an accurate account of their self worth.

I never want to forget a moment of the time I had with them.

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Potential Career Path: Funeral Photographer

I’ve done some unexpected things as a Peace Corps Volunteer all of which pale in comparison to my day as a funeral photographer. I just wanted to help my family and they wanted pictures to remember this event.

I was hesitant to take pictures of people crying or saying their final goodbye. Grieving is such a personal experience. Also, I may have been grieving more for this woman who’s name I didn’t know until an hour into the 3rd day of the funeral celebration and whose casket was in a tent 5 feet from my house than many of the people present.

Death is just dealt with differently here and I think they may have it right or at least a way that’s less traumatizing than we do in the west. They accept it as a part of life. It’s not something to fall apart over. It’s a time to celebrate. I don’t want to paint a picture that there was no grieving because her children were completely destroyed the way anyone would be when they lose their mother.

I think I was successful. My Mama and Baba were very impressed with the photos and since I printed so many other family members and friends were able to get some. If I helped them celebrate her life than it was completely worth my discomfort.

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Mother Bear Project. Putting Smiles on my Kids Faces

Two titles are better than one.

“The Mother Bear Project is dedicated to providing comfort and hope to children affected by HIV/AIDS in emerging nations, by giving them a gift of love in the form of a hand-knit or crocheted bear.”  I love the objective of this organization and I’m so thrilled to have been able to work with them.

Though I had planned with the school staff, bear distribution day was a complete surprise to the early childhood development/ECD/preschool class. They always see me and I’m never there to see them, my life skills class is geared towards the older students. That day was different. OH MAN I love those kids…they smile from an honest place.

I had such a blast. Normally I would have created a health lesson but Mother Bear really wants a day that’s centered around the joy of getting a gift out of love. I had entirely too much fun. We played and colored and ran outside. Each student went home with a bear and the feeling that people all over the world are rooting for their health and happiness.

The mother bear project was recently highlighted in the Huffington Post. Read it HERE. Teespoon readers who also knit and/or crotchet, please consider supporting this project by making a bear.

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