Thursday, March 13, 2014

RAY OF HOPE 2014: Greetings to Glide Church from Evelyn and Hendrika

Little Ray of Hope staff, Teacher Evelyn and Community Health Worker Hendrika send greetings to GLIDE.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

RAY OF HOPE 2014: Empowerment!

Kirsti with the workshop participants

Today was a day for me to dig in and work hard. Part of the work I am doing in Nairobi is with two small non-profits, eMentor and Youth Banner. Both programs support entrepreneur’s by giving them training and mentoring to start their own businesses. The work I am doing this week is with individuals who have gone through training programs, and have been out running their own businesses for a period of time. The workshops I am leading focus on how they can build a solid foundation for their businesses and how to grow them.
Kirsti teaching skills to empower!

We had everything from rice and potato farmers, to caterers, clothing merchants, tailors, graphic designers and hawkers.  We did a lot of the work that I would normally do with clients – defined their core values, their SWOT analysis, what their brand promise is and how they will measure their success.  We spent time practicing their “pitch”, developing their messaging and putting together their execution plan. A lot of work for one day, but so valuable.
So, what did I learn,~ you ask. Very simply that the gifts I have been given to do this work, need to continue to be given. Plain and simple. The last two days of being immersed in the school system gave me a strong foundation to work from in offering examples and suggestions. The ability to tell stories from local organizations made all the difference. I’m grateful to the schools we visited earlier this week, who shared their visions with me. As well, I am grateful for the amazing women I continue to meet, who are building their communities, one step at a time.


Hendrika and Evelyn teaching Karen how to correctly use
a toilet
Coming to Kenya will either put you in a faith crisis tailspin or make God more real than you ever thought possible. And sometimes you experience both within hours of each other.

Today I heard stories of corruption and greed that cause so many to suffer. I saw hungry and sick adults and children. From the safety of a car, I saw people sitting on garbage heaps, hawkers accosting passers-by, and shanty-town after shanty-town. I saw gorgeous deluxe housing shadowing the tin shacks of people living in a 12 by 12 room with entire huge families. I saw a sink drain with no connecting pipe once it passed through a wall, so the dirty water just fell to the floor of the next room.

How can people have so little when there is so much wealth in the world? Where is God in the midst of this injustice and suffering?

One acquires quads of steel when using
the toilet here
And then I see the resilience of the people. People who are doing so much with so little! People with dreams deeper and wider than mine. People who live in the midst of suffering every day and meet it with joy. People whose hearts keep opening up to others in need, to share what little they have with no sense of scarcity.

And it is there, right there in the laughter of these resilient people, that I see God.

It's always great to connect with folks from home: Kirsti and Karen had dinner with Glide member Josh Biddle, and San Franciscan Mike McCaffrey and his girlfriend Sara Quinn. Mike works for MicroSave and has set up and institution to do research and training on the use of cell phones for financial services and Sara works the International Potato association which  promotes sustainable agriculture

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

RAY OF HOPE 2014: Upcountry!


Today, we arrived at the Learning Center to pick up Alfred. Even though we had a long day's drive ahead of us, tea and mandazi (doesn't every culture eat some version of fried dough?) were waiting for us when we arrived. So we sat with our Ray of Hope friends while children arrived to the Little Ray of Hope. Once we finished, we were on the road!

The students posing for Classy Martin, who taught them
how to hula on our last trip!
We stopped at two public schools in the local area first, seeing Ray of Hope students in their new schools. I really enjoyed seeing the variation in all the schools we visited. Unlike in the US, the public schools are very good quality. While they are still simple in comparison to US standards, they strive to give a well-rounded education, even with their limited supplies.

After visiting the local schools, we headed up county to check on one more student--Sharon--who is at a (public) girls boarding school. It was a two hour drive, and as we left the city behind, the scenery grew more green and lush. The air smelled clean and fresh (except when a diesel-fueled vehicle passed us).

We turned into the school and waited to meet with Sharon. The school is in the shadow of Mt. Kenya, which was covered by clouds. It was lunch time and we saw students smiling, laughing, running. Cows and chickens roamed amongst the students on the playground. A shipment of food supplies arrived and several of the girls ran to help unload the food. There was a sense of safety here that most girls never can feel when they are in Kwangware.

Karen with a student at the Girl's boarding school
We spoke with the headmistress, and I was struck by how disciplined life is at the school: rise early, do chores, lessons, more chores, more lessons, homework time, dinner, more homework time. Sunday is the only day this schedule eases a bit: church in the morning, homework, and then "entertainment". The headmistress said that for the last two weeks the girls have been watching the film "The 10 Commandments".  Entertainment has a very different meaning in Kenya!

Alfred with his grandmother
Alfred mentioned that his family was lived nearby. We asked if he could take us there. It was so much fun watching him get more and more excited the closer we came to his family home. Back into the country we went, the dirt road barely wide enough for our vehicle. Four generations live on this coffee farm, their tiny cement homes clustered together. As we arrived, they began to gather to greet us, with smiles and hugs. It is so amazing that when there is love, language barriers disappear--love has its own language that goes directly to the heart.


Once again, I am struck by what Community really means.
Alfred's family
One of my favorite things about singing with the Glide Ensemble, are the times when we are working on a song, and everyone is sitting on the risers, as close as we can because there are so many of us. We come in every color, shape and size. And yet we sit, close enough that you can’t help but touch someone on either side, and more if you are lucky.  It’s those few moments when I look around, and am so grateful for the community that I am a part of. A community of people who love and support each other, and who are not afraid to be physically close together.
In Kenya, I am so conscientious of how many people there are here, and how closely they live together. Children at the Ray of Hope school sit so close that there is no open space on the tables they learn at. On the busses and public taxi’s, people are nearly sitting on each other’s laps. It can be uncomfortable ~ we Westerner’s are used to “having our space”.  And yet, I think we miss out on something.

Alfred, Kirsti and Grandma
Today we had the pleasure of visiting our friend Alfred Gatimu’s family in a small farming town called Karatina. Alfred’s family has a large piece of land that they farm on. There are 8 small buildings on the land, where the family all lives together. We were lucky enough to meet many of his family members, who welcomed us with open arms, and asked that we come back and stay with them the next time we are here.

 The gift that I received today was unconditional love from people I just met. And while we are not a culture of living closely together, there is a lot I can do just to continue to give that love. So, my friend Dominique, be prepared for a big hug when I get home!

Monday, March 10, 2014

RAY OF HOPE 2014: School Days


The first time I traveled to Kenya, I was taught (in an oh-so-loving way) that it was important to not force my Western standards on a country whose culture is quite different than mine. The lesson has been a difficult one to learn, and today I found myself really questioning my own assumptions of how “things should be.”

Josh, Teacher Alfred, Kirsti with three students
We visited five schools today, where children that formerly went to the Ray of Hope Learning Center, now attend. We saw a public school that looked and felt like it could be the twin to Ray of Hope. The classrooms were made of tin, and the rooms were filled with children as young as 2. The facilities themselves were minimal, but the children were working hard. We could hear the teachers with their styles that are still the model brought by the British. Lots of repetition and very strong, stern voices.
We visited the Kawangware Primary School, which is a public school, in the heart of Kawangware. The school is run by Milliam Kelonye, who proved to be not only a strong advocate for education, but also a strategist, financial officer, counselor and chief advocate for 1500 students, 23 teachers, and many, many families. The first thing I noticed when we walked into her office is that there is a large poster with the schools core values on it, a very specific “report card” to measure the success of the school, and a large SWOT analysis that had been done for the school. I was in heaven! A school with a plan! And a headmistress who clearly cared about her students and could speak of our 9 children from Ray of Hope by name. We also had a chance to visit with the Ray of Hope kids, all of whom seemed happy and thriving in the environment. It was an amazing testimony, again, to the vision and persistence of a woman who is determined to make the best of a hard situation, and bring the highest standard of education to the lives of the children in her school.

Today's lunch at the Little Ray of Hope was a Glide team favorite: Green Grams


Today, Kirsti, Josh and I travelled throughout
Karen, Teacher Alfred, Teacher Evelyn, and Josh
Kwangware to visit Ray of Hope students in their new schools. These students' academic journey began at Ray of Hope--a place where orphans and other vulnerable children found safety, love and family. It was where they learned how to sit at a desk, hold a pencil, and begin to discover the world beyond the slum. Once a child had a financial sponsor, the student moved to a formal school.

It was very moving to see these students: we at Glide first met them five years ago--now many are young men and women! They were proud to be met at their school and tell us what they liked (or didn't like!) about their school.

Children at the Little Ray of Hope
The Ray of Hope staff worked hard to place the students in schools near their homes.  Still, every morning at 6am, the students come to Ray of Hope for breakfast (most would not have had anything to eat since lunch the previous day). Once they downed their porridge, off the students go, walking to their schools. Many return to Ray of Hope after school for tutoring and other guidance.

Evelyn, Alfred, Hendrika, and Agneta have created a family for children. This family helps children who would otherwise be without the emotional and physical support to continue going to school. One of the schools we visited had 1500 students. The headmistress shared with us the struggles of providing education for children in the slums. Malnourishment, abandonment, HIV/AIDS, abuse and a lack of funds to adequately staff a school are all issues that impact a child's education. She told us that more than half of the children who live in the slum are not in any school--with no family support or financial resources, the children are left alone in the streets. Many turn to drugs.

Sure enough, as we left the school, we passed literally dozens of young boys with bottles and bags to their faces, sniffing glue. Stumbling, faces contorted, they called out to us, some banging on the car as we drove by. This is my fourth trip to Kenya, and I have seen so many heart-wrenching things, but seeing all these young boys high in the street right outside the school yard was devastating.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

RAY OF HOPE 2014: Sabbath Conversations


Even Mission Teams go to church! This year, we attended the Kwangware Methodist Church, which is not a United Methodist Church (like Glide) but is part of the Methodist Church Kenya, which was once a part of the British Methodist Church. We had visited this church the first time we came to Kenya in 2009. We made it in time for the Youth Service. When the preacher began, I was a little nervous about his stated sermon topic, but was surprised to hear his interpretation of "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand." It was about the radical turning to and living into God's realm. At one point he said, "Faith is not democratic." Hmmm, where is he going with this? "Faith is not democratic because in a democracy majority rules, which means there are always losers. In the Kingdom of God, all are equals."

A street scene in Kwangware
We were joined by former Ray of Hope teammate Josh Biddle (see yesterday's blog for more info) and had a long lunch at a Chinese restaurant. We made it back to the Methodist Guest House in time for tea (a ritual that remains post-British colonization). The three of us talked for hours. There is so much we don't understand about Kenyan culture. Having time with Josh, who has been living here since October, helped somewhat, but even he says that there is still so much to learn.

This is why we are here. There have been changes to the Ray of Hope organization around structure, funding, and staff. The impact of these changes are striking. Before we bring another group here, we are trying to learn from our Kenyan friends how we can best support them as they care for the most vulnerable ones in their community. Tomorrow, we will be out in the community visiting schools where the older children are now attending. It will be another day of listening and learning!

Please continue to keep us in your prayers, as well as the staff and children at Ray of Hope!


This morning, we were fortunate enough to attend the Methodist Church of Kawangware. And when we arrived, they were singing “Our God is an Awesome God”. I couldn’t help but think that the world is so enormous - and yet, here I was 9,072 miles away, singing a song that we sing at Glide. I am reminded again, that my community is made up of people around the globe who I care for and love. What a gift I have been given.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

RAY OF HOPE 2014: Back with Friends


The youngest class with their morning porridge
They say it takes a village.

Today, we spent the day in what could be considered a small village. Four small classrooms with nearly 100 children crammed inside of them. And teaching them are two teachers who have done an amazing job of not only teaching the basics for school, but the basics of life.
Evelyn Waneloba and Alfred Gatimu are two remarkable teachers in this tiny learning center in the heart of Kawangware, Kenya. Kawangware is the second largest slum outside of Nairobi, home to over 400,000 people. In this small learning center called Ray of Hope and Little Ray of Hope, Evelyn and Alfred and a small group of others, make sure the children are clothed and fed each day before they go to school. The older group of children, all go to public schools during the day, and get their breakfast and tutoring at the Ray of Hope. The Little Ray of Hope is home to over 50 children from ages 2 – 7 who are being taught the basics before they can go to public school.

Kirsti with Gabriel, whose birth she attended
the last time we were here
The true story here, however, is Evelyn’s story. She is a single parent, who has adopted (brought home) 4 children, in addition to her own at home. She lives in a modest home in Kawangware and is not only raising her own children, but making a living teaching others during the day. When the funding changed for the Ray of Hope, there wasn’t a spot for Evelyn to continue in a paying job. In the midst of going to college and getting her teaching credential, Evelyn decided to open her own “Little Ray of Hope” and brought young children in to the learning center. But she made one minor change. Instead of being dependent upon the funding from an outside source, she gathered the resources of the community, and asked families to pay what they could, for their children to go to school. While sometimes the pay comes in the form of money, other times it comes as food, or clothing, or whatever a family has to give to help with the cost.

Teacher Evelyn (left) and community worker
Hendrika (left) with student Brian
Evelyn is the true story of success here. She went from being an employee of a foreign sponsored non-profit to a strong role model in the community, finding a way to make her business work for all that are involved. Yes, it takes a village. And sometimes, it just takes a strong will to move forward and  love to make it work.


Today we arrived at the Little Ray of Hope in Kwangware. This is where Glide teams have come for the last three trips. The agenda for this trip, however, is much different. Instead of providing programming, we are here to listen and learn. There have been many changes in the program since we were last here, and we want to understand the changes better, so we can best support the amazing work that is being done here.

When we arrived at the learning center, we were greeted by four of my heroes: teachers Alfred and Evelyn, community health worker Hendrika, and cook Agneta. These four have committed their lives for caring for vulnerable children: orphans and those who are HIV+. When a child loses a parent, or the parent abandons the child, these four think nothing of welcoming the child into one of their (already overcrowded) homes. Every additional child means a greater strain on their already meager resources, but that does not deter them one bit. Their understanding of family and community is far wider and deeper than anything I have ever seen anywhere else. Resources are meant to be shared, not hoarded or stored up. We at Glide say, "If someone is hungry, you feed them." Here at the Learning Center, if a child is hungry, an adult will make do with less to make sure the child has some food. Imagine a world where we all made that kind of commitment to each other!

The children welcomed us with song, as they always do. There were so many new young children! Most of them do not yet speak English, so we had fun communicating beyond words. We played together and then in the afternoon, Kirsti led them in a craft. She had brought plain t-shirts for the children to customize as their own, using magic markers.

Our newest Glide enthusiast!
After leaving the learning center, we went to a hotel to have dinner with a new Ray of Hope representative from the States, to learn more about the changes to the program. As we were eating, GLIDE member Josh Biddle strolled in! Josh was on our first Ray of Hope trip and fell in love with the people of Kenya. He is here on a Fulbright Scholarship as part of his medical training (he is studying to be a doctor at UCSF). He came here last fall and will return to the states in June.

It was great to see him and hear of all he is learning here. He will stay down here while we in Nairobi, so look forward to having more time with him.

Friday, March 7, 2014

RAY OF HOPE TRIP 2014: Jambo, Kenya!

2014 Ray of Hope Team: Kirsti Tcherkoyan
and Pastor Karen Oliveto
Finally, after two days of travel, we have arrived safe and sound at the Methodist Guest House. This year our flight itinerary had an 18 hour layover in Zurich. We both felt it was actually a good thing to break up the trip: having the longer layover gave us time to get exercise in the sun and also deal with jet lag.

Our flight to Nairobi arrived at around 7:30pm. We didn't leave the airport until nearly 9pm because one of our bags did not arrive. As previous teams know, each team member limits personal items to just carry on luggage, so that we can check two bags each containing supplies for Ray of Hope (each bag weighing 50 pounds!). So the missing bag contains supplies, which hopefully will arrive to the Guest House tomorrow.

We received a warm welcome from the reception clerk, Timothy, who remembered us from previous Glide trips. The entire staff here are very helpful and friendly. They had us in our rooms in no time.

A room at the Methodist Guest House
Tomorrow, we will be going to Little Ray of Hope to be reunited with our Kenyan friends! And joining us on Saturday or Sunday will be Glide member and former Ray of Hope teammate Josh Biddle, who is in Kenya for part of his medical training!