Simbolei Community Assistance Association

Archive for the ‘Books and literacy’ Category

The Value of Picture Books

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

Every summer during our Literacy Outreach activities, we visit six local elementary schools near Simbolei, sharing stories and donating picture books. While most American children have access to picture books either at home or at school, our donations are often the first picture books that the Kenyan students have encountered. In this video, a local head teacher, Jen Kibii of Yokot Primary School, explains why picture books matter to the pupils at her school.

 

We hope you will consider joining us for Literacy Outreach 2019. Dates and details are coming soon. If you can’t visit with us in person, remember that we accept donations of gently used children’s books and crayons also.

The Roof is On

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Here it is, folks, the last day of roofing!  At the end of February, we finished the entire roof of the main building. The next construction step will be to begin finishing the walls, doors and windows on the northwest wing, which is at the far right in this picture. These will be the first classrooms for students who will be entering in January 2020.

In the meantime, we will continue to use the “soccer field” to grow maize to help fund construction.

Here in the U.S., volunteers continue to clean, catalog and pack more than 6000 books for the Simbolei Community Library. Also, March 25-31 is our annual Schuler Book Days for Simbolei fundraiser. You can join the fun by shopping at Schuler Books in Okemos, Michigan and saying “Simbolei” at check out. 20% of your purchase price will be donated to Simbolei by Schuler Books. Or, online, you can shop at schulerbooks.com and enter “KENYA” in the coupon box to donate 20% of your purchase to Simbolei.

Every day we appreciate all you do to help make the dream of Simbolei Academy a reality. Things are happening fast now and Andrea and Richard and family are busy preparing for relocation to Kenya. Let us know if you would like to volunteer or learn more about Simbolei by emailing info@simboleiacademy.org.

Second Floor Is Going Up

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

I haven’t posted on the blog in a while, but don’t let that fool you, Simbolei has been busy!  We’ve been holding fundraisers (Riffs for the Rift and Alternative Christmas Market) and more importantly, we are now well into winter construction season. Richard K is on the ground in Kenya and working with Felix and the crew of Mr. Majani to prepare the second floor skeleton so we can put on the roof. Here are a couple of recent pictures to bring you up to speed.

Second floor pillars ready to be poured last week.

Richard stands beneath the second floor forms. Soon the roof will be going on.

Progress is slow but steady and we are pleased to have good weather for construction. The high quality of the work being done is evident in the beauty of the finished results.

Finally, we have a new little addition to our dairy herd. Welcome Agnes (daughter of Alsace) to the Simbolei family!

Thank you to all of you who continue to support our journey. As the roof goes on and the plan comes together, we can see our dreams and the dreams of Kamariny community coming true.

Kenya 2017

Wednesday, 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

Wednesday, 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.

Up and Down the Rift Valley, Summer 2016

Friday, 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.

2016 Teacher Workshop Brings in Some New (Puppet) Faces

Monday, 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.

The Bottom Line: Why We Care about Girl Children

Monday, April 11th, 2016

I answer lots of questions about Simbolei Academy. Obviously, it’s my favorite topic of conversation, so generally I enjoy explaining what we do and why we do it. But once in a while a question brings me up short. More than once lately, I’ve been asked, “Why do you focus so much on girls?  Don’t you care about boys? ” This question comes in a variety of formulations, sometimes sounding genuinely curious, but more often with at least a hint of criticism. Simbolei’s focus on education and empowerment specifically for girls is the only aspect of our project that ever draws a negative response from members of the local community. So, as our literacy activities grow and construction moves steadily forward toward opening day, it seems like a good time to revisit some old premises and answer the simple question, “Why do you care so much about girls?”

First, as a mom of two wonderful young men and as a teacher of hundreds of intelligent, caring and inspiring young men in my classes over the past 27 years, let me say that I admire and encourage the many gifts young men have to bring to Kenyan society. Our primary school literacy outreach activities are all conducted in co-ed schools and boys and girls participate equally.

Students at Yokot Primary seeing us off at the end of a literacy outreach program.

However, when Richard and I decided to build a secondary school in rural Kenya, we knew our focus needed to be on the empowerment of girls and women. In rural Kenya, women perform 80% of the agricultural labor. In addition to physical labor, women manage 40smallholder farms in Kenya. They have access to only 10% of available agricultural credit. However, what is even more startling, women own 1% of land in Kenya. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s not a misprint. 1%.  Women do the work, but due to cultural and social norms and a legal system that is still skewed in favor of male inheritance and ownership, women do not generally share equally in the proceeds of their work.  But surely, you may say, this system is changing rapidly?  Women are becoming educated and taking on leadership roles in equal numbers now, right?  Today, as I write this 81% of Kenyan national parliamentarians are men. The president and deputy president are also men.  Kenya has a high rate of unemployment over all, but only 29% of formal wages paid in Kenya are paid to women.

In terms of education, Kenya’s relatively new free primary education program has increased primary school enrollment by 46%. Both boys and girls now have a good chance of attending primary school. But girls still attend secondary school in lower percentages than boys and many girls are still unable to attend secondary school due to a lack of available spaces. The Kenyan national government and local leaders strongly encourage investment in private schools to increase access to education.

In short, while Kenyans face many hardships, those hardships fall disproportionately on girls and women. Despite a great deal of international attention to the needs of women and girls in the developing world, much remains to be done to ensure gender equity in Kenya.

I know this post has deviated a bit from my usual cheerful, conversational tone. But, I hope this helps to clarify our firm commitment to the empowerment of women and girls in rural Kenya. As we move into the final phases of construction, as you consider your part in our grand adventure, let’s keep sight of the motivation that brought us this far, a vision of a world class education so that young women in rural Kenya can be empowered to build the world they imagine.

Source of Statistics: USAID

 

Shipping the Books: Spring is on the Way! Come To Schuler Book Days for Simbolei!

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

It’s that wonderful time of year again when we prepare to ship hundreds of new and gently used picture books to Kenya. These books will be donated to the primary schools that take part in our literacy outreach program. As I’ve mentioned before, Kenyan primary school texts are small black and white books. While they contain the information necessary to study for the national year end exams, these books do little to foster a love of reading in students.

Every year, Simbolei brings colorful, carefully selected picture books to the students that they can keep in the school and read over and over again. For many schools, our donations are their only source of high quality picture books. For many students, the books we read and share with them are the only picture books they have ever seen.

Andrea delivers some of the books we donate to Kiptingo Primary 

Jack reads one of the books we will donate to the students.

While shipping the books is very expensive, we have found few bookstores in Kenya that carry high quality children’s books and the selections, even in Nairobi, are very limited.

For the past three years, Schuler Books and Music has partnered with us to sponsor Schuler Book Days for Simbolei in Okemos and East Lansing Michigan. If you live in the area, simply shop at Schuler Books in Okemos or East Lansing March 20-26 and mention Simbolei Book Days when you check out. Schuler Books and Music will donate 20% of your purchase price to Simbolei!

If you would like to help with our literacy program but do not live in the area, there are other ways you can help.

1. Donate to Simbolei through our paypal. You can send us an email message designating your donation for our literacy outreach.

2. Donate new or gently used children’s books to Simbolei and we will use them for our program. You can even collect books from friends and relatives to share! Books that do not meet the needs of Kenyan students are exchanged for credit with Schuler Books so that we can use your donation to benefit kids in Kenya by buying new books for them. Email us at info@simboleiacademy.org for information about how and where to ship your books.

3. Travel to Kenya with us, July 2-10 to help in person!  We need volunteers to read stories, distribute books and help with art activities at our cooperating schools.

Thank you so much for all you do to help Simbolei enrich the lives of children and young adults in Kenya. Let’s get more beautiful books into the hands of children who will love them.

 

How Can You Help? Volunteering In Iten, Kenya

Monday, January 25th, 2016

The cement pour for the second floor is scheduled for Friday. Felix is lining up the construction materials and crew and our photographer, Nicholas Kiptoon, is planning his trip up from Baringo to get plenty of photos. But, that’s not the only excitement around Simbolei these days. It’s time to plan for Summer Literacy Outreach!

Every year, a group of volunteers visits all six of our cooperating primary (grades K-8) schools in the area of Kamariny to share stories and books and encourage the students to develop love and enthusiasm for reading.

Felix shares a picture book.

Our dates this year are July 2-10 and applications are now open for volunteers. We have a full program of literacy activities along with some site seeing and cultural activities for volunteers.

Visit rural homesteads, watch the world famous distance runners train (or try training with them yourself if you are brave), hike the beautiful escarpment, visit the bottom of the Rift to view flamingos, hippos and more and make memories to last a lifetime. At the same time, volunteers make our Literacy Outreach possible. Every year, more schools request our programming and currently participating schools ask us to visit more classrooms and develop more art projects, music activities and stories. We can’t do it without our volunteers!

If you are interested in doing good and seeing life through a whole new lens, please contact us at info@simboleiacademy.org. Applications will close on May 20, or when all positions are filled, whichever comes first. We want to see you in Kenya this summer.

Andrea with kids from Kiptingo Primary, Literacy Outreach 2013.



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