Samburu Game Reserve and Lodge

After a full day of school visitations and driving, we arrive at the gates of Samburu National Reserve. I have spent time inside these gates before and consider it my Disneyworld. This park always brings back fond childhood memories of the movie Born Free as Samburu Reserve is one of two areas where Joy and George Adamson helped introduce Elsa, the lioness, to living in the wild.  It is also where the beautiful Samburu Lodge is located where I will spend the night.

Samburu Gate

Elsa sign

It is evening and we need to reach the lodge located along side the Ewaso Ng’iro River before dark. Our Toyota Prada is showing its age but thankfully manages to maneuver through the difficult road conditions presented to us.  Along the way we encounter giraffe and many elephant families. I never tire of seeing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, living free. We finally arrive at the lodge where we are greeted with a friendly face, a wet towel and a glass of passion fruit.

giraffe

Samburu elephants

Something I look forward to whenever I visit Samburu Lodge is the familiar faces of the same employees time after time. This tells me it is a place where employees are treated well therefore I find them consistently happy and friendly.

The accommodations are charming thatched roofed huts with all the comforts of home.

hut

Meals are always buffet style and include many cuisine choices.

buffet

Entertainment for the evening always includes a visit from the local crocodiles and on this particular evening a visit from a genet, a cat like creature, roaming around under the tables. It is also common to see monkeys everywhere so the lodge has a full time employee armed with a sling- shot.

crocodiles

genet

There is also a very nice pool and hot tub on the grounds where the monkeys love to hang out. Beware! These monkeys are expert thieves.

Tomorrow we plan to do an Opportunity Kit delivery to Lerata Primary School, visit Laisamis Primary and Loglogo Girls Secondary School.

For now good night from Samburu, Kenya.

Hadi wakati mwingine (Until next time)

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School Visits Continue…

Our next stop is Meru School, a National High School located in Meru County, Kenya.  I have been hearing the term National School a lot so I am curious to learn the difference between a National High School and one considered not a National High School.  I am told this:

A National School is:

  1.  Government Sponsored
  2. KCPE exam scores are higher (KCPE is the exam given in Grade 8 to determine placement in high school)
  3. Students are from all over the country
  4. Better facilities
  5. Competition is high
  6. Students are more ambitious and focused

We currently have two students at Meru School, Kena (Form 4) and Ayub (Form 1).  I have spent time with both boys during KURA’s Mentorship Programs. Kena is from the village of Logologo and Ayub from Korr. I have a particular fondness for Kena as he happens to be one of the kindest young men I have encountered and is also a student I personally sponsor. Ayub is from the village of Korr and a very well liked young man as well.

While driving to Meru we discover there is problem. There has been a strike at the school. We learn the school has been closed by the administration and the students have been sent home. Through the grapevine we hear many students are disgruntled because of the new headmaster’s rules and policies. Sadly, we will miss our  visit to Meru School and our chance to see Kena and Ayub.

Meru StrikeWe continue our journey onto Chigoria Girls School, another National School located in Tharaka Nithi County on the eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya.  A year ago Chigoria was noted as being the best school in the county with 21 students scoring straight A’s and 104 earning A- on their KCSE exams (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) taken at the completion of Secondary Education. Here we will visit the headmistress and three KURA students, Veronica (Form 2), Adiyahiso (Form 2) and Gumato (Form 1).

At this time of year exams are given universally though out the Kenyan schools so we meet with the headmistress while we wait for a break in between exams. The headmistress proudly shares Chigoria Girls has a 90% graduation rate with many girls going off to university. The good news for students fortunate enough to attend secondary school in Kenya is if they graduate with a C+/B- average, the Kenyan government will send the student a list of Kenyan Universities they can attend with financial assistance available. The most precarious time for young people in Kenya is secondary school when poor families cannot afford to pay the fees required for their children. Many are left behind in their villages with no opportunity to improve their lives or their families’ lives.

IMG_5412After a short wait, the girls greet us. They are as excited to see me, as I am to see them. Hugs are passed and I sit down to hear how school is going .  They each tell me they are happy and doing well. Academically they are all doing average work but are working hard to improve.

Veronica’s favorite subject is English and she is a member of the school’s Red Cross Club. Her dream is pursue a career in Veterinary Science. Adiyahiso is an avid football/soccer player for the school and Gumato’s favorite subject is Biology.

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While each write a letter to their respective sponsors, I am introduced to a teacher who heads up the school’s mentoring program. She is aware of the need to have a place where girls can share their worries and concerns. She checks in with our girls individually and also heads up group meetings every other Wednesday to discuss topics such as peer influence, self- esteem, adolescence and loss.

me and Chogoria girlsIt was an enjoyable visit with these fun girls. I leave them comfortable knowing they are well taken care of, happy and getting a great education.

As we continue our journey north to Samburu, we receive word from Ayub. He is heading home to Korr because of the strike at Meru School but would like to see us.  He lets us know he will wait for us in Archers Post.

Ayub

After a couple hours of driving, we reach Archers Post and meet Ayub along side of the road. He hops in the vehicle and we get a chance to catch up. He fills us in on the strike at the school but is not fully aware of the details. However he tells me he is very happy at Meru School and that his favorite subject is Biology.  He also tells me that his best friend at school is fellow KURA Project student, Kena. This young man warms my heart.

The KURA Project believes education is the smartest investment one can make. When children like Kena, Ayub, Veronica, Adiyahiso and Gumato are educated, they will be able to contribute to the development of their communities and transform not only their lives but the lives of their families.

Hadi wakati mwingine (Until next time)

Linda, Kibirichia and Beyond

The goal today is to visit three schools: Kibirichia Girls, Meru School and Chigoria Girls. The first two are located in Meru and the third on the eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya.

As we drive along the tarmac that takes us from Nanyuki to Meru, I am forever amazed, amused and terrified at the driving habits here. First of all, how I have not witnessed a head on collision is a miracle. These drivers have no hesitation passing vehicles anytime anywhere. Secondly, I have decided they are gifted packers. Kenyans can fit more onto a motorcycle, car or truck then I ever thought humanly possible. It is not unusual to see up to four people sandwiched onto one motorcycle (of course no one wears helmets) or plastic crates strapped and piled five or more in height or huge bundles of grass expanding the width of the driving lane balanced like a tight rope walker, to name a few.  I decide to sum it up this way, “Where there is a will, there is a way” and leave it at that.

Our first stop today is Kibirichia Girls School in Kibirchia, Kenya where we plan to visit KURA student, Linda. Linda is a Form 3 (year three) student at this all girls boarding school.

Kibirichia Girls School & Linda

It is Monday morning and I find the girls on a tea break, each dressed in winter hats, coats and leg warmers. It is chilly here and coming from the state of Vermont I understand chilly.

It is exam day but we are fortunate to arrive during a break between exams and are able to speak with Linda and her headmistress. Linda is surprisingly shy when I see her. She is generally a smiling, happy girl so I am somewhat concerned. I begin to ask her questions. I learn her favorite subject is History and that she is a member of the Presidential Award Club. The Presidential Award Club participates in community service work such as planting flowers, feeding animals and visiting children’s homes. Linda also enjoys playing netball and runs track. Her specialty is the 100 – 200 meter.

It finally begins to dawn on me a possible reason for Linda’s shyness. Unfortunately Linda was not warned about our visit…it was a total surprise. If we can all go back to a time when we were called into the headmaster/principal office, the memory is most likely not a pleasant one. I for one recall a feeling of pure terror.

In addition to this unfortunate circumstance, Linda is concerned about her grades. Her performance is below what she wishes it to be so we take time to brainstorm with her headmistress on how we can together support her improvement. I am told Kibirichia Girls provides an adult mentor who is also a teacher. I am assured her mentor will take the time to be a support to Linda, to build her confidence and help her navigate her academics.

Headmistress and me

The KURA Project will follow up with Linda, the headmistress and the mentor to be sure things are going in the right direction. Visitations to Linda as well as each of our current 32 sponsored students will be made by a KURA representative three times per year. It is not enough to just pay school fees.  The student’s parents, KURA and the school need to work together for the best outcome possible.

Me and Linda

Linda comes from the village of Logologo in northern Kenya. She is far from home but is grateful for the opportunity for the Secondary School education she has been afforded. When Linda finished Primary School in 2015, she always knew she would either be married off or her father’s servant. Due to poverty there was not enough funds available to pay the fees required for a secondary school education. Thanks to the generosity of a family from Pawlet, Vermont and KURA, Linda has been given the opportunity to pursue her dreams.

Next stop, Meru School…

 

 

Kagumo High School & Samuel

After a 300-kilometer/186 mile drive from Nairobi, I arrive at Kagumo High School in Kiganjo, Kenya. The weather is cooler then I have experienced on previous visits to Kenya as it is now considered to be winter here. I guess the temperature to be around 70 degrees F.

Kagumo High School is an all boys’ boarding school where Form 1 (first year) student, Samuel, attends. KURA proudly supports secondary school funding for qualified boys and girls – 80% girls and 20% boys.

I look forward to meeting Samuel as I have only had the opportunity to know him through photos and recommendations. Samuel is from the village of Baragoi in Samburu County, northern Kenya. His single mother does her best to feed and support her four children but because of poverty she is completely unable to afford the fees needed for Samuel’s secondary school education.

Samuel and his mom

I arrive on a Saturday when classes are not in session but plenty is going on. As I drive in through the school gate, I see many boys in school uniforms huddled together in a small open building. I am told they are all waiting to make calls to their families.

Kagumo High School - Samuel

Kagumo is an attractive campus consisting of separate buildings and nice landscaping. As I get into the heart of the campus I observe many boys getting tea and bread for their mid morning snack. Others are in classrooms studying for their upcoming exams that begin on Monday.  Academics are serious here and there is a strong tradition of academic excellence at this national secondary school where 90% of the students go on to university.

Me and Samuel

I finally see Samuel and we greet each other warmly.  He is a bit shy and soft spoken but this is to be expected.  We head to the administration block to sit down to talk. Samuel shares with me he is happy at school and that he currently has a B+ average which is an extremely good mark in this competitive school. His favorite subject is Physics. He especially enjoys the experiments they perform in this class.

Samuel also shares his daily academic schedule, which includes 8-11 subjects per day:

5 a.m. – Study period

6 a.m. – Breakfast consisting of 4 pieces of bread and tea

6:30 a.m. – Classes begin

2 classes

10:00 – 10 min. break

2 classes

11:00 – tea break

3 classes

Lunch – maize and beans

2:00 – 3 classes

4;00 – break until 6:00 – games, sports, etc.

6:00 – supper (30 min.) – Ugali (maize)

Samuel tells me all 200 students live in a one-room dormitory.  The students are assigned to clean the dormitory every Thursday and Saturday.

There is a month long break coming up and Samuel plans on spending his time back in Baragoi helping his family with the herding of their animals and reading.

If anyone is interested in sponsoring the secondary school education of a student like Samuel, please contact me. There are many more needy children waiting for this opportunity. Sponsoring a student, changes a life, a family, a community.

Samuel by his desk

Hadi wakati mwingine

The KURA Project – Making Dreams Come True through Education

I will be making my way from Nairobi north to Marsabit, with stops along the way to various Secondary boarding schools. My mission is to visit a variety of the schools our 32 KURA Project students currently attend through our Educational Sponsorship Program.

I plan to speak to the head of each school as well as each student to learn as much as I can about their school and how KURA can best support them though their secondary school experience.

Attachment-1 (27)I will also visit prospective KURA students, currently in their final year of Primary School. All of our students have been selected for our program in conjunction with the Headmasters Association of northern Kenya and based on several factors:

  1. Academic Achievement
  2. Poverty level
  3. Resident of northern Kenya

In addition, I will also be reporting and participating in an Opportunity Kit (reusable menstrual pads, underwear and soap) delivery to Lerata Primary School in Samburu.

Follow my journey from the city of Nairobi, through the mountainous regions of Mt. Kenya to the drylands of northern Kenya and learn along with me.

Hadi wakati mwingine (Until next time)

KURA’s Educational Sponsorship Program

In Kenya, Secondary school education is not free and once a child finishes Primary School (grade 8) school fees must be paid to continue on. If the family is poor and fees cannot be paid, their child’s educational opportunities end. Sadly, girls in northern Kenya without an education face the dangers of early marriage often times to men much older then themselves. Boys will face a life of little opportunity other then the life their parents led of being pastoralists. With the extreme drought conditions in this region and with predictions of the drought becoming worse, most families have lost a significant percentage of their livestock and their livelihood is threatened.

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In 2014 the KURA Project began supporting very poor but bright students from Marsabit County through secondary school. We started with four students. Today with the help of generous sponsors, the KURA Project assists 32 students from Marsabit and Samburu Counties. With the help of private donors, KURA supports 80% girls and 20% boys finance their secondary school education.

JPEG image-E053CBE6DCDF-1Most of KURA’s students come from a one -parent household. Others are orphans missing both parents. Their personal stories are heart wrenching. However, nothing gives more hope to these children then the opportunity of an education. Education is the one thing that can never be taken from them and possibilities open up if they have a secondary school education.

On December 29 – 31, thirty-one KURA students throughout Marsabit and Samburu Counties gathered together in Ngurunit for KURA’s second annual Mentorship Program. I have looked forward since last December for the chance to be with them again. We shared time together during the Mentorship Program, I gave many of them photos and stories of their sponsors, and watched them bond as the KURA Project family I have dreamed of them becoming.

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A special thank you to the generous sponsors who have given the gift of education to a student who otherwise it would not have been possible for. I can tell you first hand, each and every one of them is grateful. Letters are on their way to you expressing their personal thanks.

If anyone reading this is interested in sponsoring a KURA student from northern Kenya, please contact me. There are many more children waiting for this opportunity.

Enjoy the happy faces!

Hadi wakati mwingine (Until next time)

Opportunity Kit delivery

Today is Opportunity kit delivery day to Ngurunit Primary School girls. Kits will also be given to each girl attending KURA’s Mentorship Program. The kits include an AFRIpads kit (four reusable pads), a pair of underwear and soap for washing. The pads with proper care will last a girl a year or more.

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Due to the level of poverty in this region many girls have difficulty affording basic menstrual hygiene products. The result is many girls stay home from school all together. This becomes problematic because missing school for 5+ days each month causes them to fall behind in their studies. This often leads to dropping out and being put at risk for early marriage.

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The KURA Project’s mission is to provide OPPORTUNITY for girls in the marginalized areas of Marsabit and Samburu Counties to stay in school, get the education they deserve and become the best they can be.

A special opportunity presented itself on this particular delivery in Ngurunit. The headmaster from Ngurunit Primary asked if one of KURA Project’s Sponsored students could speak to his girls about the importance of working hard in school. You see, many of his students, due to poverty and the inability to pay secondary school fees, have no hope of pursuing an education beyond Primary School. I asked KURA Project student, Rose, who will begin her Form Four year in 2018, if she would speak to the girls from Ngurunit Primary about her life experiences. and why she feels education is so important.

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Rose comes from the village of Korr in northern Kenya. She is 16 years old and the only educated one in her family. Her father brought her to Primary School and Rose worked hard. However, when it came time to move on to secondary school, Rose was told there was no money for school fees and she would be married off to a much older man and live the life that comes with that. Rose did not give up hope. She wanted more for herself. Rose was given an opportunity through the KURA Project and the generosity of a sponsor from the United States. Her appreciation to the KURA Project and her sponsor for giving her this opportunity is difficult for her to put into words. Rose, thank you for sharing your story and inspiring these girls to stay in school and work hard. You have proved with determination and perseverance, everything is possible.

Many people are to be thanked for supporting the delivery of KURA’s Opportunity kits. and keeping the girls in school. These donations allow us to purchase a reusable menstrual hygiene product that is sustainable, comfortable and reliable, thus giving girls the opportunity for an uninterrupted education.

These photos of thanks are just a sampling of the many people behind the scenes making these distributions possible. Thank you is not enough.

Hadi wakati mwingine

The Mentorship Program continues –

Today is a busy one in Ngurunit with over 60 students, both boys and girls, in attendance at our workshops. A full day of activities ensues with thirty additional students from the local village joining in on the learning and the fun.

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Before the program begins, surveys are given to each student asking questions regarding knowledge of the topics being presented and topics they are most interested in learning about. It was noted the topic they most wanted most to learn about was Female Genital Mutilation and its effects.

FGM is a practice still followed by many in northern Kenya with little knowledge about the effects. I am proud to say one of our male students stood up and spoke to the group. He announced he will not condone this practice and will not choose to marry a girl who is circumcised.

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When the workshop was completed a post survey was given. Each student was asked to write a letter to a future KURA student telling them what they learned in the last two days. We were rewarded with thoughtful, well-written feedback. Most every student reported how much they enjoyed the Mentorship Program, how they now have the information to make informed decisions regarding, how they will benefit from what they learned and that they will bring this information back to their villages and share with family and friends.

That evening, popular Kenyan musician, Saningo, treated students, mentors, and the entire village of Ngurunit to a live performance. Everyone danced the night away.

A special thank you to Bill and Linda Drunsic, Karen and Jim Rowley and the KURA Project board of Directors for making the 2017 Mentorship Program possible.

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Hadi wakati mwingine

Chester

Everyone I spoke to before I left Vermont knows how excited I am to be visiting Kenya again and also about the very special gift I am going to receive this time around. Yes, believe it or not, I have been promised a camel and no, he will not be traveling back to Vermont with me.

I am told my camel lives on the outskirts of Nemeray, a remote village in northern Kenya where one of KURA’s sponsored students, David Galgithele lives. I have named my camel, Chester, short for Manchester, the name of the town I reside in Vermont.

As we travel north on very difficult roads towards our destination of Ngurunit, I am told I will have the opportunity to meet Chester. Sure enough, approximately 4 hours into our journey we stop at a compound and are greeted by two men. One is the owner of the compound and the other a warrior who is in charge of taking care the camels. Both men are very friendly and seem as excited to show me my camel, as I am to meet him. As I am brought over to a group of camels surrounded by a thicket of thorny brush, I see him. He is black in color and am told one year old. Sadly, he is not as happy to see me, as I am to see him. He is very nervous and it has become apparent it will be difficult to get near him. After some time, the men are able to round him up so I can at least get close enough to touch him.

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This particular breed of camel can survive three weeks without water, which a good match for northern Kenya considering the long stretches of drought this region suffers. The people who live in northern Kenya are pastoralists whose sole source of income is livestock… goats, cows and camels. The drought this year has been particularly harsh with most families losing a large percentage of their herds.

 

I was thrilled to have the chance to meet Chester and the good people who care for him. God willing I will have many chances to see him again.

Next stop Ngurunit.

Hadi wakati mwingine (Until next time)

Mentorship Program in Ngurunit, Kenya

We arrive in Ngurunit where we are greeted by 31 of KURA Project’s Sponsored Students. They have gathered from many villages, far and wide throughout Samburu and Marsabit Counties to attend a series of workshops we have prepared for them and 30 others from the host village of Ngurunit. Three professional mentors from Kenya have been hired to present this information to sixty students over a two and a half day period.

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Many of our students come from one-parent households, while others are missing both their parents. All of them are poor. By providing these workshops we hope to help these young people make the most of their education and give them guidance on how to take care of their health. Topics include: Importance of Education, Drugs and Drug Abuse, Career Choice, Stress Management, Teen Pregnancy, FGM and HIV awareness.

Hadi wakati mwingine