Simbolei Community Assistance Association

Archive for the ‘education for girls’ Category

Books About Black History for All Ages

Sunday, February 10th, 2019

February is Black History Month in the US, so I thought it would be a good time to share some books about Africa and Black history that I have found interesting. Today, I’ll cover two very recent books, one for adults and one for younger readers that cover important aspects of Black history.

The first book is A Rope from the Sky : The Making and Umaking of the World’s Newest State by Zach Vertin, which came out in January 2019. South Sudan, Kenya’s neighbor to the north, is one of the world’s newest countries, having separated from Sudan in 2011 and began to disintegrate in civil disputes in 2013. Vertin follows the major figures in the formation and eventual disruption of South Sudan as they achieve the impossible, separating from the country governed from Khartoum created by the British and setting up a new coutnry. But, fighting for independence and governing a modern state are two different tasks requiring different strengths. The picture of South Sudan’s struggles with corruption and the toxic manipulation of ethnic rivalries illustrates the struggles common to many African nations to one degree or another. The book is rather long but quite readable and helped me understand South Sudan and its impact on East Africa much better. Simbolei’s late friend and patron, Lazarus Sumbeiywo makes a brief appearance in the peace negotiation process.

 

For younger readers, Black History Month is a great time to learn about some stellar figures in science.  One beautiful new picture book tells the story of African American scientist, Ernest Everett Just, a pioneer in the study of cell biology. The pictures in this book are gorgeous and the text describes Just’s life and work in a way that will spark the interest of readers ages 6-11 in cell biology while also discussing the racial discrimination Just faced in his career. The book’s author is Melina Mangal and Luisa Uribe did the beautiful illustrations.

Over the years, many of you have asked me what types of books the Simbolei library will include. Others have asked what books might give good information about East Africa. As I pack up my own library and prepare to ship the books, I will be posting brief descriptions of some favorites here. Happy reading!

Construction News!

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

The new year begins with Richard Kaitany and the crew finishing the rough construction and beginning interior finishing. Everything is finally coming together for our school opening, January 2020.

In this picture, the workers position the cut stone in preparation for creating the last walls.

This is the wall they can finish in one day. Then , the wall needs to cure overnight before they continue the next day. 

And in this photo you can see the back wall finished. In the days since this photo was taken, all the second floor walls were finished.

So, what’s next?  Here in Michigan, I am clearing out and packing up accumulation from 20 years raising a family in this house. Our house here will go on the market in April. In Kenya, Richard and the crew are ready to begin interior finishing of the first four classrooms, the science laboratory and the library. A huge thank you to the Presbyterian Church of Okemos in Michigan for providing funds for interior finishing and microscopes for the science laboratory!

If you or someone you know would be interested in sponsoring the library or one or more of the classrooms, let us know!

Also, over the next few weeks, I’m going to start posting about how I am preparing for the move, with photos and stories about the new tools and processes I am attempting to master, from efficient ways to do laundry without a washing machine to making cheese and planning coursework.  I will also post reviews of some great books about Kenya and East Africa so you can read up on the context of Simbolei Academy.

We’re moving right along!

Andrea

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.

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.

So Many Reasons to be Thankful: 2016 in Review

Friday, 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!

Monday, 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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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

 

Look What You’ve Done!: Simbolei Academy is Moving Forward

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

Today I received more photos from the construction site in Kenya. I especially wanted to show the picture below, which I happen to know Felix Sirma obtained by climbing a tree to get the right angle on the construction site. It shows the metal plates being laid so that concrete can be poured.

Humor me for a minute. Stop and look at the size of this project. This photo shows HALF of the main building. This image just brought home to me the size of the project we have undertaken and the amount of work that has gone into it thus far. After this portion of the roof is poured, the remaining work will be the roof, the second floor walls and the interior finishing.  So, yes, we have some things to do yet. Yes, we still need to raise money and do some hard physical labor, but we ARE getting there. As the motto on our homepage points out, all of us together can accomplish amazing things and this building and the educational opportunities it will provide are amazing things.

We hope to keep construction going on schedule through this year so that we can open in January 2018.  With your continued support we will make it. We have come so far with so little that I know we can do the rest. Please consider how you might further our work this year. Also, please consider serving either as a volunteer in Kenya or as a board member in the US. We have positions open in both areas as well as lots of other volunteer and internship opportunities. Send us an email at simboleiacademy.org to find out more. But, don’t forget to take a few minutes and celebrate our successes so far.

Andrea carrying books for literacy outreach, 2015. We are now accepting applications for volunteers for literacy outreach, 2016, July 2-10, 2016.



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