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!

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