Pizza & Karaoke
This week, we’ve spent time with the US Ambassador to Kenya. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger (Republican) is as, if not more, committed to Kenya than anyone I have met here.
He invited us to attend a reception at his residence on Monday for Vital Voices (international group focused developing women leaders). Women in attendance honored the Ambassador for his “unapologetic” support of women’s rights and were all huge fans of his.
Here are a few things I have learned about him:
· He has stayed in Kenya longer than his term (he has now been here for 6 years) because he wants to see real change happen during his term.
· He is a fierce advocate for Kenyan youth and women.
· He is so personable; that often times (probably against better judgment) gives his cell phone # to people he meets.
· He represents the American spirit in human form. It’s true. The man speaks constantly about empowering ourselves and each other, the American spirit, and the American dream.
During our second encounter in Bungoma, he was kicking off the Yes Youth Can program in the Western Province. There were over 70 youth leaders in attendance. During this forum, he allowed for Q & A time and he addressed their challenges and concerns in an honest and direct matter. He introduced us and said, “Look at these kids, here. I want you to really look at them. Some of you are their age, but mostly they are younger than you. These kids are organizing for change at the grassroots level in the US for Barack Obama. We brought them here because we know real change for youth has to come from youth.” (high expectations, much?)
This week we hit the road with the purpose of traveling Kenya for a listening tour. We are trying to get an idea and make an assessment of the challenges youth face (regionally and nationally) in an effort to write regional organizational plans for each.
On Tuesday, we left Nairobi for Bungoma. It is about 5 hours away and crosses over the Equator. The Equator was quite breezy and cool, not scorching hot like I expected.
Bungoma is a small town about 40 kilometers east of the Uganda border. Our hotel accommodations were humble, and because Kenya (with the exception of Nairobi) is a malaria danger zone it was my first encounter with mosquito nets. That night, I marinated in mosquito repellent and even accidentally took a double dose of my malaria medicine (paranoid much?).
Immediately following the Ambassador’s forum on Wednesday, we led a forum of our own. This was our toughest crowd to date. Attendees were youth leaders, youth business owners (farmers), and young elected officials. We immediately got off to a rough start because we were talking too fast and were hard to understand. It was difficult for me to regain my energy after sharing my story of self and why I do the work I do and I started choking up (homesick example #1). This can be humanizing during a 1:1, but definitely not in front of a large crowd. During our breakout groups, they were quick to point out to me that as Americans, it is difficult for us to really grasp their challenges. They are right. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t share common challenges and common dreams. During my breakout group with the farmers, I tried my best to describe the United Farm Workers movement and the benefits of organizing. (Perhaps I should have been having this conversation in WI?) Of course, I took advantage of this to share that my two oldest brothers and mi papa are farmers (homesick example #2).
The best part of our Bungoma trip was meeting Rose. Rose is a woman who lives in a small town in the Western Province who started a Teen Pregnancy Support non-profit. When young women become pregnant in this region, usually the best they can hope for is to become maids and house keepers in Nairobi. Rose is trying to stop that. She helps these young women return to school by mentoring them, and those that don’t because of the stigma that follows them have other opportunities too. She has applied for grants to buy sewing machines so that they can learn how to sew and sell uniforms to local schools. She has made a stone/brick oven that the women bake on and sell pastries to local schools. She is working to empower them while also attending college in Eldoret. Her goal is to have enough funds to build a center where these women can live with their children until they get on their feet.
Next we were on our way to Kakamega. We were lucky to find a nice, American-like (during the 60s) hotel that even had a golf course. We spent our evening there talkin about our meetings, Texas, and the Hillary campaign. (homesick example # 3)
We had three meetings there today. Our first was w/the Kakamega Boarding School for boys. I was impressed with their extracurricular activities and their pride for their school and attendees. The biggest challenges they face is that many of the boys who attend the school have families who were victims of the 2007 post-election violence, and because of economic challenges many of them are forced to drop out. Without any option of public education, this is their only opportunity. What was disappointing about this school is that in Kenya, teachers face some of the big challenges we face in the US. Schools are restricted to a test-based curriculum that is written nationally without taking individual and regional needs into consideration. Also disappointing is that this school does not discuss governmental issues like the revised constitution for fear of the boys acting out and feeling overly empowered. (Seriously.)
Our second meeting was with the government run Ministry of Youth and Sports. I haven’t watched my words so closely since Jimms asked me why I am a 27-year old spinster.
Our third meeting was great! We met with youth leaders from Kakamega who worked with different organizations that focused on different missions ranging from reproductive rights to Christian values to youth with disabilities. This meeting was so energizing and productive that it ended with 3 large flip chart papers on the wall with the following topics: organizational snowflake, Respect-Empower-Include, and mobilizing youth.
We are now in Kisumu, which is by Lake Victoria (think mosquitos). We’ll be here for the next four nights. We are apparently staying in the nicest hotel in the city and paying more for it than I have probably ever paid in the States. However, because it has AC – at this point, I’d probably give up bacon for the rest of my life for it. (JK/ I would never give up bacon.)
Tonight I had pizza for dinner (homesick example #4). It was no Pizza Hut, but it hit the spot. I also volunteered to karaoke. Song of choice: Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey (homesick example #5). Luckily, Elliott volunteered to help me out and thus we performed the Glee version to an audience of two.
Interesting to note that at every restaurant we’ve eaten at or social venue where there have been televisions, they are always showing Mexican Telenovelas. So, perhaps…I should feel more at home here.
Tomorrow we’re taking our first day off since we landed. We’ll be visiting a nearby national park and getting to know this bustling city that is Kisumu.
Love and miss y’all.
Notes for a few of the pictures:
· Ambassador Ranneberger
· Standing while Ambassador Ranneberger introduces us
· Facilitating Meetings
· Map of our Travels
· Obligatory Equator Line Pose