Friday, May 22, 2015

First Days in Nyeri

I am a total nerd.  My favorite part of the trip so far has been the tour of Tangaza College in Nairobi.  I was very impressed with the programs they have and access to technology.  Their smart classrooms not only are connected to the internet and allow for projection, but instructors can record sessions and put them on YouTube for students.  I don't have that capability in my classrooms!  What I enjoyed so much about this visit was the philosophy of teaching that many of the professors share.  We spoke with a Communications instructor who expressed how important it is that her students not only learn media or radio or production, but that they understand the issues that are not currently addressed by the media or are perpetuated by the media that oppress or marginalize vulnerable groups, such as women and the poor.  I was just in love with the fact that content impacted and affected by media is taught in the classroom along with practical communication skills.

Natural wood carving in the school chapel

Natural crucifix designed by students at the university for the chapel
The school was full of murals and artwork. Beside is a sign of available programs.
After our tour of the university we stopped for lunch and to exchange money at a local mall before getting on the road to Nyeri.  Three hours of trekking through the country and up hills going about 20 mph we arrived at St. Mary's Secondary School.  The trip was not without the components of African road trips that feel so familiar to me.  We bought sugar cane through the window of the bus from a vendor running along side us on the side of the road.  We were stopped by a police officer at a checkpoint who insisted on a bribe before allowing us through.  A bathroom stop in a random field followed by a purchase of many sweet bananas still on their stalks and more sugar cane.  And then finally we had arrived.

For those who remember Woolworth's, I'm not sure if this is the same company, but if so it lives on in East Africa!
Boarded and ready to get to Nyeri
Sakawa is a social worker at the school and he has been our guide since our airport pick up.  When we got to St. Mary's he and Brother Francis gave us a tour of the school grounds.  There are four groups of boys who are affiliated with the university.  The nursery boys live in the slums across the street, but come to campus for food and classes during the day.  They range in age from 5-12 and school for them consists of basic hygiene, manners, and English as many of them speak only the local language and have not be acculturated into formal school.  There are the juniors who live here, but go to primary school off campus.  These are boys who were living in the slums or on the streets and have been accepted into St. Mary's Juniors Program.  Primary school here is like elementary school and it is free in Kenya, so the boys get food and shelter from St. Mary's, but are educated in the local public schools.  Then there are the high school boys.  Many of them pay to come here, but others come from the Juniors Program and they receive scholarships to stay.  St. Mary's Secondary School is one of the best high schools in the country.  The boys who graduate from here score significantly higher and pass is much higher percentages on the high school exams than the average Kenyan students.  The last group of students are the technical students.  These are boys who have struggled academically and cannot make it through the secondary school.  They learn a trade in the technical school and are given a six month externship at the end of their education.  St. Mary's provides food and shelter during this period of time and then the students are expected to find gainful employment.  These students range in age from 16-27.

The school is communal in nature.  The boys who live here go to school during the day and then after school they do chores to keep the school in order.  Some are in charge of cleaning dorms or the cafeteria while others get up in the morning before school to milk the cows and feed the pigs.  The school grounds are fairly vast and they raise a lot of their own animals and grow a lot of their own vegetables.

Pigs on campus.  Two are slaughtered each month. Joy.
Typical breakfast.  One of those thermoses is full of warm milk straight from the cows here on campus.
View of campus from the lower field.
Basketball courts and chapel/auditorium.
Yesterday we were welcomed at the school by all of the high school boys at an assembly before classes started.  The rest of the morning was spent doing odd jobs and playing with some of the younger children on campus.  I met another staff member who does case work with Sakawa.  Her name is Maggie and she is about to have her first baby in June, so we spent a lot of time talking about babies and expectations.  It was nice to meet someone going through an experience I just had and to learn about what being pregnant and parenting is like here.  Sakawa and his wife also just had a baby, so there's lots of bonding around that.

In the afternoon we walked to a hotel called The Treetops where, I found out, Queen Elizabeth had been staying as a child when she found out that her father had died and she was to be crowned queen.  Given that my mom is British it was kind of cool to be in a place that the queen had been for such a historic moment.  Though it was not lost on me the meaning of the queen being in Kenya and what colonization did to the people here.  It was quite a relaxing afternoon just sitting by the pool chatting with Maggie and watching the students play games and bond.
Treetops Resort
Relaxing poolside
View looking up from my lounge chair.
View looking up from my lounge chair.
Coming home we walked through some market spaces, which are very similar to those I've been to in Gabon and Benin.  I forgot my belt at home, so bought one from a vendor and haggled my first price in Kenya.  No doubt there will be more of that to come!

There's a huge event happening in Nyeri this weekend, so we don't have much planned.  I'll be posting tomorrow night after the festivities are over with pictures and stories.

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