Simbolei Community Assistance Association

Archive for the ‘Kamariny’ Category

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.

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.

IMG_1047

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 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

 

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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