Simbolei Community Assistance Association

Kenya 2017

August 2nd, 2017

Another amazing Literacy Outreach trip has come and gone but now I can relive it all by telling you some of our stories and highpoints. This year, I traveled to Kenya with Joanne W., my neighbor of many years who finally was able to fulfill a long ambition to see our project for herself.

I was thankful to be reminded, shortly after our arrival, that Joanne is also an experienced “theater mom” who was able to get our puppets shipshape before we started visiting schools. She also proved to be an excellent “puppet master,” manipulating all of the characters while I read the story to the kids. For all but one day of the trip, Joanne, Felix and I managed to perform the story and help the kids with the art work with the help of their classroom teachers. It was, as always, lots of fun, even with the scramble to manipulate five puppets with two hands!

Over the next few days I’ll post more details about the fun and interesting adventures of Literacy Outreach 2017.

We Are Building a School: Tunajenga Shule

May 10th, 2017

In planning for Summer Literacy 2017 I realized that due to the excellent English skills of our cooperating teachers and our manager, Felix, my Kiswahili has gotten pretty rusty over the years. I am now on a “crash course” to brush up my basic skills, and thus, the title of today’s post which simply reads “We are building a school” in Kiswahili.

It’s important to remember often that though longterm goals can seem distant, each practical step brings them closer to completion. In January, Richard and the crew finished putting on the second floor “deck.” This summer I hope to move stone for the second floor walls, put in a new water tank to catch rainwater, and repaint the volunteer cottage, along with conducting our literacy outreach workshops. I will be joined by two or three volunteers this year, so we will keep busy.

I’ll be posting more about summer preparations as we move along. For today, here is a picture Felix took with his phone last winter of our crew putting on the second floor.

A Few of My Favorite Things

February 14th, 2017

Everyone has a passion and since I was a kid, mine has been books. I was lucky that as the seventh of eight children in my family, my house was already full of great books by the time I came along. Not only that, but because my community valued books and education, and because of the generosity of some people I never met, our town had a public library.

Carnegie Library, Denison, Iowa

We also had a school library in each of our public school buildings. All of this was overwhelmed, however, by the sheer size of the library I found at Iowa State University when I headed off to college. And, over the past 2o years I have been able to visit the East Lansing Public Library often with my own kids.

All my life, books have been abundantly available to me. When we visit the kids in rural primary schools in Kenya, we find that they also are enchanted and delighted by books. But, sadly, their access is limited. Books are too expensive for most parents to buy. There are no public libraries within the Iten area and school “libraries” usually consist of piles of textbooks in a corridor or storage room.

Imagine what an accessible, well supplied community library would mean to these students and their families.

That is why we have decided that an essential component of Simbolei Academy is a community library that will not only be open to the public but will promote literacy through community outreach such as storytimes and workshops.

Currently, I am in the process of cataloging the books people have donated for the library. We can use more books, especially popular science, fiction, poetry and of course, picture books.  Please contact us if you or someone you know has books to donate.

In addition, we are looking for people with a deep commitment to literacy and libraries to help us fund the completion and furnishing of the Simbolei Community Library. This is a big job and we need your help. If you would like more information about gifts to the library fund, please contact us at simboleiacademy.org.

I’ll keep you posted about the cataloging. It goes rather slow when my helpers and I have to stop and read every few books.

Luna helps with cataloging and packing books for the Simbolei Library.

So Many Reasons to be Thankful: 2016 in Review

November 25th, 2016

Once again it’s time to look back on the year to review where where we started and where we ended up. It’s been a good year for Simbolei.

In January, the building crew poured the main staircase and the second floor deck as they wrapped up the building season.

Showing the main entrance area of the school which will have a balcony on the second floor.

The building crew finished the front entrance pillars and the second floor deck. 

In June and July, we had our biggest volunteer group ever, as 11 people arrived  in Iten to share books, stories and a puppet show with students in seven nearby primary schools.  Volunteers also toured local attractions and explored Iten, including participating in or spectating at the Iten Marathon.

Teachers with the puppets and the storybook.

Teachers with the puppets and the storybook.

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Back in Michigan, Schuler Books and Music in Okemos hosted a successful fundraiser during the release party for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Schuler Books contributed 30% of sales during the release party to Simbolei, raising over $4600 for construction and literacy programs!

Schuler Books employees present Andrea and Richard Kaitany with the donation.

Schuler Books employees present Andrea and Richard Kaitany with the donation.

October brought Riffs for the Rift, another great community event with food, music and lots of support for Simbolei.

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Volunteers from East Lansing High School at Riffs for the Rift

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Guests enjoy a Kenyan meal at Riffs for the Rift.

Deacon Earl and the Congregation were the highlight of the evening. They've promised to come back next year, bigger and better.

Deacon Earl and the Congregation entertain at Riffs for the Rift. 

Now, we are rolling into December once again. Richard Kaitany will leave for Kenya on December 1st to continue construction on Simbolei Academy. Progress on Simbolei Academy and our literacy outreach has been consistent and steady thanks to all of you for y0ur support. By this time next year we hope to be finishing up construction and organizing curriculum and hiring staff. The journey to this point has been wonderful, but the best is yet to come.

Riffs for the Rift Does It Again!

October 24th, 2016

Saturday we hosted our annual benefit night, Riffs for the Rift. Deacon Earl and the Congregation, the Lo Fi Steppers, Amanda Smith and Jelimo Kaitany all provided live music that included blues, reggae and classical. We had a huge tableful of delicious Kenyan food. Most importantly, everyone gave generously to support education and we raised over $1000 for Simbolei!

We want to thank everyone who came out and donated to the cause, the musicians who volunteered their time and talents, the cook and the food servers and the East Lansing High School National Honor Society students led by their chapter president, Taylor Murray, who helped with everything from serving food to moving tables. It was a wonderful evening of food and music. Best of all, we met our winter construction budget!  So, Richard will be departing for Kenya soon to finish pouring the second floor concrete.

If you or a group you belong to would be interested in hosting a benefit activity for Simbolei, please let us know. It is a great way to get friends together for a pleasant evening and help Simbolei at the same time.

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Join Us for Riffs for the Rift, October 21

October 5th, 2016

Kenyan food, live music, pictures, stories, crafts and fun. We’re preparing for Riffs for the Rift Benefit Night, October 21 from 6-8:30 at Presbyterian Church of Okemos, 2258 Bennett Road, Okemos, Michigan. Admission is a free will donation and all the proceeds support our building project and summer literacy outreach programs. Last year we ran short of some favorite food items, but we’re making more this year, so you won’t leave hungry.

On the menu:

Curried cabbage with carrots and onions

Sukuma Wiki (Collard Greens fried with onions and tomatoes)

Coconut Chicken

Mokimo (Kenyan mashed potatoes with corn and peas)

Curried Rice

Spicy Beans

Spiced Stewed Beef

Pumpkin coconut pudding

Elgeiyo/Marakwet Peace Corp Chocolate Cake

Hope to see you all there as we prepare to send Richard Kaitany off to winter construction.

Up and Down the Rift Valley, Summer 2016

August 19th, 2016

As volunteers sort through photos and souvenirs, I am already making plans for our next trips to Kenya. While most of my posts focus on the work we do in Kenya, I wanted to share some images and memories from lighter moments of Literacy Outreach 2016.

Volunteers on boat tour of Lake Baringo. Weaver bird nests are visible in the upper part of the photo.

Volunteers on boat tour of Lake Baringo. Weaver bird nests are visible in the upper part of the photo.

One of the things I always tell potential volunteers is “In Kenya, the unexpected is expected.” Our Saturday drive down to Lake Baringo had a few rough spots such as motion sickness from the steep, curving roads and Lake Bogoria hot springs being flooded over. But, we did get to Lake Baringo for our boat tour and we did have lunch at the lovely Tamarind Restaurant. Anyone who felt chilly had a day of warm sunshine on the valley floor.

Allen playing around at the volunteer's hotel dining room.

Allen playing around at the volunteer’s hotel dining room.

Volunteers had comfortable lodgings and wonderful meals at the Elgon Valley Hotel in Iten. Those of us staying at the cottage on the construction site found the food and company enticing too, and spent a good amount of time there. Allen, Felix the manager’s son, especially enjoyed the chips and the adoring adult attention.

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Andrea and Ellen meet some encouragers on the forest hike.

What is life without challenges?  A “moderate” two hour hike turned into something a bit more challenging when we ended up starting from the wrong trailhead. Nevertheless, we all made it to the top, even Professor K. We had lots of help and encouragement from people we met along the way.

Waterfall on the escarpment.

Waterfall on the escarpment.

Thanks for being Simbolei Academy’s helpers and encouragers as we work our way toward the opening of Simbolei Academy.

If you are interested in coming along for either the Runner’s Winter Break/Construction trip in January or the Literacy Outreach trip in July 2017, send us a message at info@simboleiacademy.org.

Visiting Kiptingo Primary

August 4th, 2016

I’m going a bit out of order with my story today. I’ll post more about the volunteers and their arrival etc., later, but I’m eager to tell you about our first literacy program with the students.

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The main group of volunteers joined us in Iten on Sunday and first thing Monday morning we hit the road for our literacy visits. First stop was Kiptingo Primary. I had a special surprise for these students. In the past, our supply of crayons was limited, so at each school I would collect the crayons at the end of the activity for use at the next school. At the end of the week, though, I would always go back and deliver the leftover crayons to the kids at Kiptingo Primary. As one of three very remote schools and as the one that gets the fewest outside visitors, I felt they most needed the encouragment of keeping the crayons to use for the rest of the year.

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But this year, through the generosity of our volunteers and through the a grant from the Denison, Iowa Rotary Club, we were able to purchase enough crayons to leave a big bag for each school. The kids love drawing pictures based on the storybooks we share with them. Now they can continue to use the crayons for many weeks to enrich their education.

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In the past, one task no one liked at the end of a fun day of literacy activities was to recollect the crayons. Volunteers disliked doing this and I disliked requiring it. But since we needed the crayons for use in the next school, we had no choice. What a joy this year to tell the kids that the crayons will stay with their teacher for use in their classroom along with the books and paper we always donate to our cooperating schools.

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On behalf of myself, the students and our volunteers, I want to thank our generous donors who added another pe next year you can join us to share the crayons and the fun.

2016 Teacher Workshop Brings in Some New (Puppet) Faces

July 25th, 2016
Teachers and volunteers gather for our annual workshop.

Teachers and volunteers gather for our annual workshop.

We are back from Kenya! We have lots of great stories and pictures to share from our time working with students and teachers.  The highlight of our first days in Kenya is always the Teacher Workshop. This year, we had a wonderful set of puppets made by my cousin, Sandy, and we decided to use part of the workshop to introduce the puppets to the teachers.

Teachers examine the puppets that we will use in the literacy workshops.

Teachers examine the puppets that we will use in the literacy workshops.

The teachers admired the clever construction of the puppets but especially the way the puppets were designed to illustrate the text of our theme story “Pretty Salma.”

Teachers with the puppets and the storybook.

Teachers with the puppets and the storybook.

In addition to introducing the puppets, we also gave the teachers books for their own leisure reading and to share with older students. It is a joy to see their enthusiasm for reading.

Teachers with the leisure reading books we brought.

Teachers with the leisure reading books we brought.

Salaries for primary school teachers are too low to allow them to purchase books and the Iten area has no public library. We are honored to help these teachers enjoy the pleasures of reading.

Caroline, English teacher at Kamariny Primary, shares my love of mystery and detective fiction.

Caroline, English teacher at Kamariny Primary, shares my love of mystery and detective fiction.

As we move ahead with construction this fall, I begin to envision the future community library at Simbolei Girls’ Academy. Not only will our students enjoy the books, but book lovers like these teachers throughout the community will be able to enjoy our collection.

A New Season for New Adventures: Literacy Outreach 2016 is Coming Up

May 11th, 2016

Felix sent a couple of new pictures from Kamariny this week. The maize is coming up nicely and little Alpha, the first new calf in our little “herd” is growing well.

Maize field at Kamariny, May, 2016.

Maize field at Kamariny, May, 2016.

Alsace and baby Alpha, May, 2016.

Alsace and baby Alpha, May, 2016.

Here in Michigan, the volunteers who will be traveling to Kenya for Literacy Outreach 2016 are filling out travel paperwork, confirming flights and eagerly counting the days until we arrive in Kenya to share books and stories with the kids.

It seems like time flies by as every year brings new developments and new adventures. There are many times when I feel discouraged at the pace of our building, impatient to see the future. But it’s important to enjoy the journey and watch the growth of good things, crops, calves, children and schools. All take time to reach their full potential. It will not be long before little Alpha is a full grown milk cow, supplying our students with safe, nutritious food. And it won’t be long before the first students settle into the dormitories at Simbolei Academy, ready to build a better future for themselves and their community.

In the meantime, over the next few weeks I will introduce you to the amazing people who have volunteered to help in Kenya this year and also to some of the people who support us here in the US and make all our programs possible.

While the calendar says the New Year starts in January, all farmers and those who love the outdoors know the beginning of a new growing season is the real new year. Take time to celebrate it.



The Great Rift Valley is part of a huge tectonic rift in the earth's crust that also created the Red Sea and the valley of the Jordan River.

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Simbolei Girls Secondary School, Kenya