Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Notes from the field #1: This was a different kind of trip

John and Judy got back from Africa on March 21. We had intended to post every day or so as usual, but the internet connections were problematic. We were only able to post to the blog on March 5 ("So much for taking it easy our first day in Nairobi") and March 11 ("Little Rock Scholars: I had no idea it would be like this"). So this is the first in a series of field notes we'll be filing now that we're back. Not wanting to overwhelm you, we'll space them out over the next few weeks.

Lilly of Little Rock ECD and her family
There is always a roller coaster aspect to these trips, and this one was no exception. Somehow, I never remember that I'm going to finish one day giddy with the good news, and the next day flattened by the difficulties.

John with Sammy (l) and Stanley (r) of Nanyuki Handcrafts

This was a different kind of trip in some ways. Earlier trips have involved lots of new experiences: visiting new and unusual places (remember the De Pat Palace?), meeting new friends,
Members of Rotary Club of Nairobi East

and seeking out new opportunities to invest in hardworking people who - like all of us - only want to make a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. While there was some of that this time, most of our time was spent visiting existing projects - evaluating progress and results to date, considering what changes need to be made, etc.

This is important stuff. Eliminate Poverty Now is a public charity. We have a responsibility to be sure your donations are used properly, and we're honored that you entrust us with that responsibility. But managing existing projects is a very different sort of activity.

John and Father Godfrey (Songhai Centre)

As you'll see over the next few weeks, another theme that emerged out of this trip was that of financing women entrepreneurs (RockPads, JOYWO, Songhai Women's Capital Fund, Farmers of the Future Mother's Gardens).

Balkissa (l), Hamani (LIBO Niger) and Ramissa (r)

Shariffa (l) and Nadia (r)

Finally, there were golden opportunities to make new friends and visit old friends in their homes, sometimes meeting their families for the first time. Those were among the highlights of the trip.

John and Pete (Brach Family Charitable Foundation)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Little Rock Scholars: I had no idea it would be like this

Today we'll give you the opportunity to honor an amazing group of young people.

Eliminate Poverty Now started the Little Rock Scholars program to enable the brightest graduates of Little Rock Early Childhood Development Centre to attend secondary school. We are very excited about this program. We believe it will give these children an opportunity to escape the extreme poverty of the slum, and that their success will inspire other children. 

The funds required are not minimal, but they are not exorbitant: $3,600 per child ($900/year for four years). So far, about $8,000 has been pledged, enough for at least two children. But these kids are doing so well in the after-school program that we expect 7 of them to qualify for the top national secondary schools!

Today we met with the scholarship candidates. We thought it would motivate you to donate if you could "meet" these children and hear their stories. The natural light in the room was too dim for clear photographs, but you can still appreciate these incredible young people.

Teacher Evelyne asked the kids to talk about themselves: their family, their interests, their goals. She herself spoke first to give the children an example, then I spoke a bit about my life. All very upbeat.

I had no idea what would happen next - neither did the teachers.

The first child spoke so powerfully and emotionally about her life that she ended up in tears. Child after child wanted to talk about being hungry, being derided for living in the slum, having parents abandon them, experiencing the death of a parent. Many of the children were crying as they told their stories.

But all the children ended up saying something positive. They spoke about wanting to be doctors, teachers, airline pilots, writers. They know they need to work hard and get good grades, but they believe that they WILL achieve those goals. And they thank God for keeping them alive and enabling them to be what they know they can be.

Words cannot express how inspiring these children were.  I kept thinking how strong and brave they were just to come to school each day. 

Founder Lilly Oyare and the teachers explained later that it was therapeutic for the children to share these stories. Simply having someone listen to them provides healing. 

I "know" about the difficulties of life in Kibera, but when a child tells you that after both her parents died she lived with a series of other families and now lives in an orphanage in the slum - and then says she thanks God for the opportunity to go to school and work hard - well, it puts everything in perspective. 

I want to honor how brave these kids are, and even though it was wrenching to hear these stories, it certainly made me feel that it would be a privilege to send any of them to secondary school. These are children who can change the world.

We hope you agree and ask you to donate to the Little Rock Scholars Program. Every little bit helps.

Click on the Donate page and change a young person's life forever!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day

March is Women's History Month, and today, March 8, is International Women's Day!

When we signed up to take part in Blog for International Women's Day, I immediately thought of one of the first things I see when I go to EPN's website: "Eliminate Poverty Now promotes economic development and educational opportunity in Africa, especially for women."

One of the questions bloggers are asked to consider on this day is: "how can we, as a culture and members of the global community, involve, educate, and inspire girls in a positive way?" While there is no single answer to this question, we believe education is at the heart of the issue, and the heart of many EPN projects. And getting involved in some of these projects is a step that almost anyone can take.

Of course, Judy and John are busy in Africa, seeing the project sites, meeting with the wonderful people involved, and making fantastic plans for the futures of these projects. I won't go into great detail here, as Judy has some great blogs planned, but I do want to let you all know (if you don't already) which EPN projects involve women specifically.
Women gathered for a Pads for Peace meeting, 2011

There's the work being done with Pads for Peace, and RockPads, which not only is providing sanitary kits to girls, but also education. Lunapads tweeted, "Women can't take control of unless they understand their cycles/menstruation " and that is exactly why the education piece of the project is so crucial.

There are the Women's Sewing Centers, which provide training and economic opportunities, and also the Little Rock ECD, which will send the top-scoring girl (and boy) to secondary school. And don't forget the Women's Cooperative Garden and the Women's Elevage project!

We live in a time where it is easy to share knowledge and opportunities, and so educating our girls and women, and encouraging them pay it forward, is the place to start. This is one of the reasons we ask you to share EPN's news with your family and friends!
Mawa, head of the Women's Cooperative, 2010

The second question posed to bloggers is "Describe a particular organization, person, group or moment in history that helped to inspire a positive future and impact the minds and aspirations for girls." At EPN, we don't need to look far out of our own community to find people who inspire and impact girls every day. What about Little Rock's Lilly Oyare? Here is a woman of grace and passion, changing lives and futures. And the same can be said for Mawa, the head of the Women's Cooperative.

Lilly, with EPN's own Judy (another woman helping to inspire and educate!) 2009

We're so glad you took some time to read this today, and hope it's gotten you thinking about women: whether about how you can help, or what women inspire you, or even just about women's issue in general. This post is part of a day, a month, that are all part of a larger conversation. So have the conversation with us! Comment here, or on Twitter and Facebook. We'd love to hear what you think!

Monday, March 5, 2012

So much for taking it easy our first day in Nairobi

John and I do suffer from jet lag. So we planned a very limited first day in Nairobi - just visiting the new site of Little Rock Early Childhood Development Center would be exciting enough.

But Lilly Oyare - founder and director of Little Rock - thinks everybody has the boundless energy that she has. So we had a very full - and wonderful - day.

Judy Craig, Lilly Oyare and Judy Gration at the Residence
First, we met Judy Gration! Judy's husband Scott is the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, and Judy was enormously helpful by shipping fabrics and supplies for the RockPads project and books for the Little Rock library. Judy is warm, welcoming, and passionate about Kenya. And despite her very busy schedule,  Judy was very generous with her time; we spoke about Eliminate Poverty Now for quite a while! The Residence for the Embassy is a tranquil, beautiful home and, as I hope you can see, the grounds are lovely. As Americans we can be very proud of it.

Lilly Oyare and Edward Mwenda

Then we visited the new Little Rock site and is it ever buzzing with activity! When it's at full capacity, the new school will quadruple in size and be home to 1000 nursery school and disabled children. Today, a 30-person crew was installing steel rods in preparation for pouring the concrete foundation and walls. The Site Manager, Edward Mwenda, said they are on track to finish construction by October! There is already electricity and WATER at the site: parents will no longer need to bring water for cooking, washing, and toilets. Plans include a computer center and a multipurpose area which will generate income as a catering facility when school is not in session. Once construction is finished, the site will be landscaped. It will be a true oasis for the Little Rock community.

We finished up the day at the existing Little Rock site. We'll be spending more time there this week, so I'll save the details for a later post. Because now the jet lag is really catching up with me.

By the way, last week a ship dropped its anchor onto the fiber optic cables that supply Kenya's high -speed internet. So our connectivity is very limited. But I'd still love to hear back from you. Please share your thoughts, comments, good wishes, constructive criticism, etc. as comments right here rather than sending them as emails. I'll be sure to see them and respond as soon as I can.