Simbolei Community Assistance Association

Archive for the ‘Kenya’ Category

Wrapping Up Another Year with Some Great Books

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

So, lots of updates are in order. Due to family responsibilities, the Kaitanys were not able to relocate in July as planned. Currently, Richard is travelling back and forth between Michigan and Kenya every few months to keep things moving in both places. Our house is on the market and our shipping boxes are neatly packed and labeled. It won’t be long before ALL of us have a new home in Kenya.

But in the meantime, the holidays are approaching and that means time for some great new books for the Simbolei Library and for folks who visit us at holiday gift fairs.

Every year, I choose a few of the many amazing picture books that come out each year to suggest for holiday gift giving and for our Simbolei Library. My criteria include choosing new books by diverse authors and featuring children from a variety of ethnic, cultural, social and religious backgrounds that promote positive values. Also, I look for books with outstanding artwork. There are always too many amazing choices. But, I try to limit the list to five or six. So, without further ado, I introduce our first holiday book pick of 2019

This recent bestseller tells the story of Katherine Johnson who loved numbers and counting. After overcoming many challenges, particularly gender and race discrimination, Katherine grew up to work with NASA as a “computer,” completing complex equations needed for space flight. When the Apollo 13 spacecraft was damaged while returning to earth, Katherine managed to recalculate a new flight path quickly and accurately, saving the lives of the three astronauts who were able to return safely to earth. The book has lively illustrations that create a continuity of Katherine’s character as she grows older through the story. Katherine’s story is first a story of personal courage and talent, but also includes reference to historical discrimination against black people and women in the United States and especially in the fields of math and science. Further, this book is unusual in providing brief, simple explanations of Katherine’s actual work with advanced mathematics and physics that could be an interesting conversation starter for a math or science classroom. The book is perfectly suited to a seven to nine year old reader on their own or, with some help and possibly slightly simplified read aloud, would fascinate most four to seven year olds.

I will have copies of the book ready for purchase at the Lansing Peace and Education Holiday sale on November 15 and 16 and at the Presbyterian Church of Okemos Alternative Holiday sale on December 8.  Through the generosity of Schuler Books and Music, 30% of the purchase price at either of these sales will go directly to Simbolei Community Assistance to help fund our community library and other educational activities. If you would like to purchase a copy but are unable to attend the sales, please email me at simboleigirls@gmail.com and I can arrange to mail a copy to you.

Stay tuned for the rest of our holiday list over the next few days!

Topophilia: Why “I Love This Place” Matters

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

Currently, the Kaitany family is surrounded by a chaos of boxes, piles of books, piles of items to be donated or given to friends, etc.  Even though our final departure date is not until July, with a house to sell, pets to resettle in new homes, and six people’s accumulated belongings to organize, it’s quite a process.

Our current home decor.

When the chaos threatens to unnerve me, I find it helpful to visualize the end product, arriving in Kenya and settling into our new home, hiring and training teachers, organizing facilities and finally, welcoming students.

I have also done some reading about the moving process and discovered that feeling love and attachment to a particular place has a scientific name, “topophilia” or the “love of place.”  As a person who has always felt strongly rooted to the natural environment, I am not surprised to learn that tophophilia can ease one’s feeling of confusion or the sense of being “lost” that often goes along with moving.

The farm in Iowa where I grew up, probably about 1980.

I grew up in rural Iowa, a beautiful place where people care for the land and the seasons and weather are fully integrated into the rhythms of daily life. When I visited rural Kenya, I immediately felt a sense of connection and homecoming as well. Farmers and rural folks in Kenya likewise are closely connected to place and the natural environment in a way that must be shared by farmers around the world.

My friend, Ellen, on the edge of the Rift on a misty evening.

Iten, Kenya, where Simbolei Academy is located, sits near the equator at an altitude of 8000 feet, so it has the benefits of equatorial sun, 12 hour days and nights, and a climate with few extremes, while its high altitude mean the warm air is dry and not overly hot. Looking out over the Great Rift Valley into vast, mild blue sky is probably the most restful experience one can have. My topophilia for my new home is strong. I hope you will consider a visit to Iten as we finish and open the school to experience the beauty for yourself.

Looking out over the Rift, a place that inspires topophilia.

As for me, it’s time to get back to the endless to-do list that comes with wrapping up my last semester of teaching in the US and preparing for the relocation.

Sustainability and Mentoring the Community

Friday, March 15th, 2019

My husband, Richard, has been a driving force behind Simbolei Academy from the beginning. But, as we transition from construction to curriculum planning and soon, to actual school operations, Richard will have fewer responsibilities at the school and will be able to begin pursuing some of this other interests in community development.

Richard’s background is in agriculture. He grew up on a family farm near Iten and studied plant pathology, the science of diagnosing and treating diseases of crops, at Iowa State University and at Michigan State University. Recently he retired from the Department of Agriculture with the State of Michigan. So, now that the construction is beginning to wind up, Richard is excited to have time to begin working on agricultural projects and mentoring local farmers using the knowledge he has gained over decades of work in agriculture in the lab and the regulatory office.

First on his agenda will be providing food for the school. 320 teenagers will consume a large amount of food every day and the most cost effective and healthy way to provide it will be to raise it ourselves. In addition, Richard and I can implement some of our ideas for sustainable animal husbandry and land stewardship through our projects.

We have already developed a small dairy herd, pictured here hanging out with Richard. Right now they use several small paddocks sandwiched in near the construction site, but we are preparing pastures and dairy facilities so our cows don’t graze on the soccer fields once the students are using them!

Second, we will be growing maize (corn) and vegetables for the school cafeteria on Richard’s family farm a few miles from Simbolei. In order to prepare for this, Richard was able to fulfill a childhood dream of buying a tractor. Most farmers in the area rent a tractor during the growing season, which saves money but also leads to planting delays and a fair amount of frustration and desperation as every farmer in the area competes to get one of the few tractors into their field.  Richard sent me video of his new tractor plowing the field where we will grow food for Simbolei students.

Richard will be back in Michigan in a few days to help me make final preparations for our move. But, I think he is leaving a big part of his heart in Kenya with our cows and his tractor!

We expect to be relocating to Iten in July and will be opening Simbolei Girls’ Academy in January 2020. We always welcome volunteers and other contributions and are always happy to provide more information about Simbolei Academy. Please contact us to find out more.

Andrea

Our Solid Foundation: The Beginnings of the Simbolei Vision

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

Richard is still in Kenya, so absorbed in getting as much done as possible before he comes back to the States in March that he hasn’t sent any pictures lately. Here in Michigan, I’m sorting, packing and cleaning. I had planned to write a post about the bittersweet task of packing up, but haven’t been able to get my thoughts together. So, this week I’m going to take a little stroll down Memory Lane to where Simbolei began, way back in July 1998.

1998, Richard and I had been married 14 years and had three kids, but we had never travelled to Kenya as a family and the trip was overdue. So, when I got offered a reasonably well paying job for the fall semester, we decided it was time to spend a summer in Kenya. We packed up 10 year old Kipchumba, six year old Kibor and almost four year old Jerotich and flew across the world.

The biggest event of the trip was a ceremony at Richard’s family home to welcome the kids and me officially into the family. There was dancing, singing, and food, but the most significant moments were when Richard’s family dressed the kids and me in new clothes they had provided. This act, which is a variation on an ancient marriage ritual, indicates that from now on, we are to find our shelter, our clothing, all of our needs, within the shelter of the family of “Kapsesia,” the official name of Richard’s family lineage. Jerotich didn’t grasp the ritual significance, but she really like the ruffly dress which my sister in law, Magrina, wife of Richard’s oldest brother, is helping her with in this picture. 

We also visited Richard’s primary school, Chelingwa Primary, and donated a small box of books. This box was the first of many, many books that I would present to primary school head teachers in villages around the area over the years. Although we didn’t know it at the time, it was a day of great significance. During the conversations and small speeches in the staff room after the book presentation, Kenneth Kipchoge, then headmaster of Chelingwa Primary, noted that the community was eager to have people of our education and experience “come home” to Kenya and that particularly, they hoped we would consider building a high school for girls. To be honest, up until that point, the idea had never entered my head. I had assumed when we eventually relocated to Kenya (I was in love with the place by the second week, so that was already pretty clear) I would teach at a university as I did in the US. But, Mr. Kipchoge’s words first brought the vision of Simbolei Girls’ into being.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip, discovering the beauties of Kenya and meeting and developing relationships with Richard’s family and friends. It would be eight years before we were able to buy land suitable for Simbolei Girls’ and another five after that before we were able to begin construction. But, it was the beginning a lifechanging experience for all of us. As we prepare to finally open Simbolei Girls’ to the first students in January 2020, this story reminds me that sometimes all it takes to start something big is a few words of vision, the planting of a seed.

 

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.

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.

kiptingo2

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.

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.

Visiting Kiptingo Primary

Thursday, 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.

kiptingo4

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.

kiptingo5

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.

kiptingo3

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.

kiptingo2

Kiptingo1

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

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.

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

Wednesday, 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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