Saturday, March 16, 2019

Oh the warmth, oh the welcoming!

It was a bit over a month ago, when I arrived in the village called Shianda, in western Kenya. Kenya is a country where I’ve found it extremely easy to feel like home. Now, what makes a country feel like home though? Turns out that it  has nothing to do with the climate, comfortable bed you’ve gotten so used to, unappreciated luxuries like running water and stable electricity, or the home-cooked meals and available food in the super-markets. It is actually all about the warmth of the people, that you’re surrounded with, that makes you feel so welcome and comfortable - like home. And boy, oh boy, how much of it you come across here in Kenya. 

Statistics say that about 17.4 million of the poorest people in the world live in Kenya. And assessing based on the economy, living conditions and funding of education and health care, I do believe that number is correct indeed. However, these are the things that we consider as wealth, not necessarily what they do. The definition of wealth to them, is a whole different concept.

They embrace the little they have with such grateful hearts I’ve hardly ever seen before. They find something worth of a loud jabbering laughter even in the poorest of situations (which I sometimes find odd though). 
They have this calmness in them and smiles on their faces, even if they barely have funds for their kids’ school fees and have no idea how to pay for the next day's dinner. This real “hakuna matata” attitude. There’s been moments when it has freaked me out a little and made me want to ask them how can they be so careless, naive and irresponsible. But the truth is, they’re not. It’s far from that.

It’s not that they don’t understand the gravity of their situation (meaning economical), it’s just that they’ve accepted the fact that there’s not much they can do about it (not always true though, but still). They’ve learned to cope and trust in what they believe in. They believe that tomorrow will be a better day and they’re not stressing over all the ‘what if’s, which is so common for us, Europeans, to do. 
They really do master the art of embracing ‘the now’ and finding peace and happiness in what they currently have, not missing what they don’t or envying what the neighbours do. So, huge learning point for us Europeans.

Don’t get me wrong here though, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to have it any better. Oh, they definitely do. They’re, for sure, trying to grasp every opportunity for improvement (and quite often prefer the easiest and fastest of ways to the more sustainable ones). They are longing to see the change for better. But they do it in a way that we don’t know how to. They do it with a peace of mind, yet hope of heart, without a glimpse of self-pity or constant complaining. With this calm and stress-free approach, which I would never be able to maintain, if I was their situation. 

It is, without a doubt, a beautiful, humbling experience to see and learn from their mindset, especially for me, since ‘impatience’ could easily be my middle name and worrying for no reason is not exactly rare either. I am very much looking forward to my next months in Shianda and hope to take on at least a tiny bit of the locals’ approach on life. 



So much for now. I will definitely write about the health care situation in rural Kenya, work conditions for nurses and my work here in my next post. 

If you'd like to read more about the living conditions and everyday life, as well as education and nutrition in our village, I highly recommend to read the blogs of my fellow-volunteers Hanna-Marta, Panagiota and Birgit (blog in Estonian). Links to their blogs can be found in the top right corner.



Friday, March 8, 2019


Greetings from Shianda and Happy Woman's Day (here we celebrated it on the 10th of February)!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Harjumine Aafrikaga

Tere, tulevased/praegused/endised vabatahtlikud ja muud huvilised. Minu nimi on Birgit ja olen Mondo saadetud vabatahlik Shiandas, Keenias. Töötan järgmised viis kuud kohaliku organistatsiooni Wefoco juures. Minu ülesandeks on töötada koos kohalike gruppidega ja aidata neid ettevõtlustegevustes. Tulin kuu aega tagasi Aafrikasse kohvritäie ravimite ja rohkete eelarvamustega. Ravimid on siiani alles õnneks, aga eelarvamused on enamasti ümberlükatud.

Elamistingimused

Jagan kolmetoalist korterit teise vabatahtliku, hispaanlanna Martaga. Jagame Martaga peale korteri ka paljusid iseloomujooni ja kiindumust hea toidu vastu. Meie köök on alati Shianda turult ostetud värsket kraami täis. Majal on aed ja veranda, kus joon hommikukohvi koos ringi siblivate kanade ja ennasttäis kukega. Naudin väga siinseid hommikuid; ärkan enne teisi, aga veidi hiljem kui too kukk, ehk umbes seitsme paiku. Korter on väga kodune ja selliste rahulike hommikutega on väga tore alati päevale vastu minna.

Shianda küla ja kogukond

Oleme vabatahtlikega ainsad muzungud külas ja tähelepanu on meeletu. Saan aru, miks Hollywoodi staarid ütlevad, et kuulsus on väsitav. Inimesed tervitavad, näitavad näpuga ja küsivad kuidas läheb umbes viis korda minutis. Aga sellega harjub ja selle vastu aitab enese väljalülitamine. Selle on kõik vabatahlikud ära õppinud. Paar korda on juhtunud, et näen teist vabatahtlikku üle tee kuskil eemal ja hüüan teda mitu korda, aga ta reaalselt ei reageeri. Välja lülitatud. Kogukond kellega töötame on väga külalislahked. Algul veidi kartsin, et nad pole ehk huvitatud mingitest koolitustest, mida me siin üritame neile anda. Aga need, kes kohal käivad on väga tänulikud. Minu jaoks on kõige liigutavam vaatepilt see, kui vanad mehed ja naised, pliiatsid näpus, hoolega kuuldut kirja panevad. Iseasi see kui palju õpitust ka kinnistub, aga selle jaoks ongi monitoorimine.

Eelmine kogukonna vabatahlik Linda korraldas kohaliku põllumajanduseksperdi Salimiga kanapidamise ja orgaanilise põllumajanduse koolitusi. Küsisime siis peale tema tsükli lõppu, mida iga grupp on õppinud ja kasutusele võtnud. Selgus, et enamusel olid meeles mida nad õppinud olid, kuna oskasid nö. tunnikontrollile õigesti vastata. Samas väga paljud ei implementeeri õpitut, kuigi teadmised on olemas. Seega üritan oma aja jooksul teha neile projektijuhtimise koolitusi, kus proovin neile natuke sisendada sellist suhtumist, et no excuses, only results. Ehk kuidas asju planeerida ja meeskonnana neid asju ellu viia. Vaatab kuidas läheb.

Töö ja vaba aeg

Gruppe, kellega töötame on kokku 16. Seega kui koolituste tsükkel käib on päevad tihedad. Tööpäev algab boda seljas grupile külla sõites. Boda sõidud on üks mu lemmikosa päevast ausalt öeldes. Oleneb paljuski bodajuhist, aga hea juhiga mööda käänulisi külateid sõita on mõnus. Kui grupi juurde jõuame siis meid tervitatakse hoogsasti. Siis algab ootamine. Ootamist tuleb Aafrikas palju ette. Oleneb päevast ja grupist, aga kella peale ei alusta me kunagi. Kui oleme kokku leppinud, et koolitus algab kell kümme, siis enne kella 11 on naiivne arvata, et midagi juhtuma hakkab. Sellega harjub. Kui koolitus on pikem, siis on ka lõunasöök grupiga koos. Ugali, kana, kartul, lehtkapsas on tavaliselt menüüs. 
Kui me gruppe ei külasta, siis teeme kodus või Wefoco kontoris tööd. Nendel päevadel sööme küla kohvikutes või kodus. Käime ka kaks korda nädalas kõrval külas trennis, et chapati ja töömõtted välja higistada. Nädalavahetusteti sõidame külast eemale, seda on vaja. Keenia on väga ilus ja avastamist on palju!









Thursday, February 28, 2019

The International Child Development Programme (ICDP) in Shianda (part 1)


It was almost a year ago, when I first read the description of the education volunteer’s position in Shianda. Among the tasks there was included training on different teaching methods imparting skills and knowledge to teachers of schools in the surrounding area.

After I got selected and was participating in the preparatory training held by MONDO in Esthonia, I read the reports of the previous education volunteer, where it was mentioned that even though teachers have knowledge about various teaching methods, they struggle in putting them in practice. My coordinator confirmed that, assuring me that educators seem to welcome the volunteers attending their trainings, nodding their heads but what lacks is real implementation and that monitoring is important.

Then I started reflecting on the causes that hinder the successful application of the methods suggested, as well as what alternatives could be considered for experimentation. And I thought about ICDP… I remembered that back when I was studying my Master’s in Oslo, Norway we were trained as class and attained a certificate as ICDP facilitators. It was the initiative of the professor Berit H. Johnsen to train us and I knew it was a programme which had been implemented in various contexts of Africa, South America, South-East Asia and Europe.  However, I hadn’t taken it for granted that I could make use of it in Shianda, as I decided to first reach, do the needs assessment and discuss with stakeholders.


During the first month of my deployment I visited most of the schools we cooperate with and having in mind Johnsen’s Curriculum Relation Model, I tried to observe as many of the interrelated curriculum areas as possible:  students, educational intentions, content, assessment, methods and organization, communication and care (in teachers-students interactions). Care is both a main concept of the EU Aid Volunteers initiative, as its motto is “We Care, We Act” and the core of the ICDP Programme. 

As an educator myself, I am a fan of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of cognitive development. This roughly says that all complex mental functions, like speaking, understanding, reflecting etc. come after quality social interactions. So, psychosocial care as a principal ingredient of healthy social interactions is the basis for all intellectual functions. But what happens when this basis is unstable? What happens when teachers are unaware of their caring skills? How can my work be sustainable if they don’t realize their real potential as humans? How can students learn effectively in settings which lack positive relations?

Having observed here but also experienced myself as a student the authoritarian way of interacting and having been asked questions like: “If not by beating, then how can I handle wrong-doers?” it was evident that the time has arrived for a psychosocial care programme to get started in Shianda. I discussed my idea with my director and I was happily surprised when she told me she had attended in the past a similar programme in Nairobi and she reassured me she finds it to be highly relevant in our context: “This is the right place to do it”. So, did I!

The role of the ICDP facilitator is similar to the one Socrates –the Greek philosopher- had, using the “maieutic method” or “Socratic dialectic” with his students. That means that the facilitator doesn’t have the intention to convey new truth to the caregivers, but to assist them to find the truth in themselves. His/her goal is to support and empower them so that they feel trust and confidence for their capacities and existing experience. This so-called “resource-based approach” gives caregivers the opportunity to personally explore their interactions, reactivating their caring competence and becoming conscious of it in their everyday encounters with children (and not only). ICDP is a programme of human care in general that covers all levels of our interpersonal relations.


A crucial term for ICDP is sensitization. Without sensitivity, care cannot exist. Thus, it’s important to increase caregivers’ sensitivity so that they can use their empathic ability and their own practical experience to relate and communicate better with the students. There is no set of recipes that one can use for correct caring actions in any given situation. Nevertheless, teachers can be provided guidance to improve their contacts with children. And this guidance is imparted through seven sensitization principles.
 
First and foremost, it’s fundamental that a close and trusting relationship is established between facilitator and caregivers with mutual respect and willingness to listen. This is something that is built gradually. So, after getting to know them during the observation period, I planned to have weekly meetings with teachers’ groups for six weeks on a specific day and time that fits each school. We also created a contract agreement, where this commitment is “formally” depicted. Furthermore, I intentionally spend personal time with them mostly before and after the sessions by sharing worries and thoughts.

Another sensitization principle is to promote a positive conception of the children, so that caregivers are encouraged to see that their negative aspects can be understood in a different way. But how can teachers perceive students positively when they are not able to perceive themselves on the same way?

And here comes the third principle, which is about pointing out positive features in caregivers’ existing practice. For that, every time I entered to a class for observation (or observed the less structured break time), I took notes of the caregivers’ strengths in the teaching-learning situation/communication with the intention to let them know in a later stage.  Once teachers realize their strengths and feel enabled, they can rely on them and head one step further.


I promise to keep you updated on the rest four sensitization principles as they’re taking place in our ICDP sessions. Stay tuned! Till then take care and “mulembe” (“peace” in local language-Luhya)!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Generating income through poultry keeping

Poultry keeping is an essential source of income for community groups in Shianda village in Kenya. In order to enhance their performance, Mondo provided five egg incubators for blocks which are part of an agricultural association. Since lack of electricity is part of the everyday life of the community, the groups also received solar panels as an answer to this challenge.

Besides electricity, the groups were lacking knowledge on how to use the machines properly, therefore they only had very low hatching rates. Based on my assessment, there were several factors hindering the project. The blocks were usually collecting the eggs for several weeks, although the eggs can be kept for a maximum of 10 days before putting them into the incubator. They also tried to buy eggs from unreliable sources which lead to the same problem. Furthermore, the eggs were not stored among proper, hygienic conditions, therefore some of them were already spoiled when the groups put them in the incubators. Therefore, I facilitated trainings with the assistance of WEFOCO’s local agricultural expert, Salim to provide the required knowledge for the members.




Besides delivering trainings, the incubators were moved to a school with a generator in the village in order to provide an opportunity for the members to practice with stable electricity, thanks to a teacher who is a member of the blocks. It was also important to develop cooperation among the groups, therefore meetings were organised where members could discuss any concerns and the required steps.





In order to keep the chickens produced by the incubators among appropriate conditions and to have the right supply of eggs, Mondo also provided chicken cages for the blocks which have been constructed by skilled labour under the supervision of WEFOCO’s agricultural expert. The groups contributed with locally available materials for building the cages.






Thanks to the above actions, the incubators' hatching rate has significantly increased and the groups received 458 chicks since last October. Having continuous supply of chicks allows members to generate a more stable income for their families.














Wednesday, January 30, 2019

First month in Shianda




There has been almost a month now since I arrived to Shianda. It hasn’t passed neither quickly nor slowly. I have been enjoying every moment and I am very grateful for living this new experience. I think it would be wise to “touch” in this post the issue that concerned me the most and gave me food for thought from the beginning:  local community’s conception of a white person.
 
It was not difficult to notice that “wazungu” (white people) are seen and treated as different in every context, from WEFOCO’s (our hosting organization) office till the streets. Let’s give some examples:

Whenever I go to the office, the staff provides me with a chair, even though I am already seated on the bench.
During the orientation meeting, our director mentioned that “Here you will face cultural differences, for example in Europe they don’t greet each other. Here we even shout from a distance to another person”.
When I washed some clothes for first time, my landlord’s wife exclaimed “Oh, you wash your clothes alone!”. The second time I did it (in bigger quantity), she asked me “Do you know how to wash clothes?”. After a while my landlord came and told me: “That’s a lot of work for you, next time we call the cleaning lady.”
Every time I take a walk in the surrounding Shianda area, there are always willing drivers who stop asking to give me a lift.

People really want to interact with me, from a simple handshake till a small talk. However, I have the impression that they feel afraid and shy, hesitating that their way of approaching may be offensive for an American (since all “wazungu” must be Americans!).  I’ve heard questions like “Did you come out from a computer?” as well as compliments like “You are smart”, once I greeted a child in Swahili. 

It took me some time on reflecting about the causes that led to that kind of behavior and are strongly related to historical, socio-economic and political reasons. Furthermore, I am in a small rural area so I have to bear in mind the stimuli that people receive here. Most of them rarely see "wazungu" in person, or probably have seen them from a TV or book image and there are others who may not have experienced again the surprise of seeing people with different skin color in any means.

As I am myself from a small village of a Greek island, I can’t say that people’s mentality is unfamiliar to me.  Interacting with them comes out naturally so I started coming closer to them exchanging information.  

Whenever I am offered a chair in the office, I tell them I feel comfortable also sitting on the bench.
I underline to the director that Europeans vary greatly among them according to their place, customs and traditions. In addition to that, if one visits some European countries, he/she cannot have a general image about Europe, the same as if you are in Kenya (which is SO MUCH diverse anyway between ethnic groups and clans) and generalize about Africa. In fact, in many European rural settings, greeting each other on the street and shouting by distance is common.
Every time I hear a kid or adult calling me “mzungu”, I go towards him/her and we introduce ourselves so that next time it would be much better that he/she calls me with my name. And believe me, it works! And they are proud of themselves assuring me: "You see, I remember your name!".

When they offer me a motorbike lift, I kindly refuse pointing out that walking is a way of exercise for me and I like it. I have explained to my landlord and his wife that hand washing is common not only in Africa. I enjoy doing it and I know how to do it, as I had my mother’s example from a young age.

I love walking and hiking, so my walks around Shianda are frequent. That way, I get to meet and interact with a lot of people.  It is an opportunity to share with them things and take them one step further from ignorance. I have met people who were surprised when I told them that in Europe there also exist rural areas with dirt roads and villages, people who couldn’t think that in the majority of the countries English is not an official language, people who believe that everybody with white skin is rich.

And then I start telling them about economic crisis, refugees, immigration, governments’ corruption and unemployment.  I tell them that there are more continents than Africa and America in the world, that people live together in them having different backgrounds, color and culture and among them you can find “wazungu”, who speak other mother tongues than English (!) in every place you go. I tell them that wealth in the world lies in the hands of very few and that at the end in feels much better having less. I tell them that we should all focus on the things that we already have e.g. family than those that we don’t have e.g. money.  And lastly, I tell them that we are all humans and we have to cover the same needs to be happy, we have to emphasize on the things that unite us, rather than those that separate us.


It turns out that every time I give this kind of “speeches”, there is a crowd gathered around me nodding their heads, identifying themselves with what I share with them and finally recognizing me as "sister". Many of them ask for my contact for more information exchange and I forward them to WEFOCO. It’s a great opportunity to promote my hosting organization and its actions.  Empowerment, enabling and confidence boost for everybody. To be continued…



Saturday, October 13, 2018

KWENDA SCHULENI

Visiting the schools 

As part of my education-based mission, I have been visiting our different partner schools  to introduce myself to the headmasters and teaching staff, as well as observe lessons and teaching methods. Based on these observations, I was able to assess the needs and develop two training programs for the teaching staff. 

Our partner schools are Mukambi, Eschimuli, Khaimba and Khabakaya (Primary Schools), as well as Ebubere and Khaimba (Secondary), and Rise & Shine School for special needs students.


I was lucky enough to receive a lovely welcome in all schools and to observe a lot of different topics in different levels.
Some of the classes I attended were science, Religious studies, chemistry, English, Kiswahili, social studies, and ECD, Early Childhood Development. A great opportunity for me to get an overall idea of how lessons are conducted here, what type of methods are being used, how teachers communicate with students, what type of materials they use, and so on. 
The main thing that comes to my mind after all my visits is that it takes a lot of courage to be a teacher in Kenya ! Classrooms are often packed, more than 40 to 50 studends in Primary, and 90 in ECD ! Ninety 3 to 4 year olds in one classroom make for a happy mess, even if teachers are quite reactive and have it under control. The other thing is resources ; as a teacher in Europe, I’m used to having all the resources I want, and diverse and fun materials, enough for all students, ect… Here, the only material available is the blackboard. Most students do not own a copy of the text book, they have to share it with other schoolmates. Pens and pencils are scarce, and very often there are only a few color pencils available for the whole class. 

Anyways, back to the purpose of my mission; there are many different areas that could be covered in terms of teacher training, so I had to decide what would be most beneficial for the schools and students. 
The two topics that I chose are : 
- Safer school environment based on the child-friendly school approach
- Maximising student engagement by using active learning techniques

The first topic is based on UNICEF's child-friendly school initiative; the program contains a lot of different guidelines and subjects, but after witnessing some violence-related incidents at school, I decided to focus on "creating a safe learning environment", including gender-based violence, health issues, and developing child-confidence. 
This topic is to be handled cautiously and bearing in mind the cultural gap. Although corporal punishment is illegal in Kenya, it is still frequent and accepted in schools. Children get caned for poor grades, missing school, or graver issues. Yet most teachers and headmaster know beating a child is unacceptable; because of that, talking openly about it is quite complicated. People are reluctant to talk about it, and even more so with a Mzungu (white person) who knows nothing of Kenyan ways and therefore cannot understand. I am still in the process of figuring out how to efficiently communicate with teachers and reach them on this subject. 
Otherwise, for everything else that is included in a "safer learning environment", schools are usually quite aware of recommendations, although it is sometimes hard to put in place. For example, a Child-friendly School would require separate single-sex toilets for hygiene and girl protection; most schools can barely afford to build enough toilets for all the students, so the idea is appealing yet unrealistic. 

The second topic focuses on methodology and teaching ideas; from my observation, Kenyan schools are mostly using lectures as a pedagogical approach. There is no or few time given to self-reflexion and understanding, rather repeating and learning by heart. Students rarely work in groups or pairs, limiting brainstorm and assimilation. 
Studies on education and learning process show that the information assimilated by actually thinking and understanding is 3 times more likely to be remembered on the long term. Active learning promotes recall and deeper understanding of material, as students are engaging with the content rather than simply listening and repeating it. 
It was honestly a challenging issue to tackle. Most teachers here agree that the Kenyan curriculum and methodology is based on lecturing, but they don't necessarily see the problem with that. Without understanding why lecturing and one-way teaching is not the most efficient way for students to gain and retain knowledge, it is therefore complicated to understand the importance of engaging the students. At first they mostly see the challenges; loosing class control, loosing time, having to prepare a lesson plan... Yet I had the pleasure of seeing through discussions and brainstorm the beginning of a change in the mindset. Obviously one training is not going to change their approach entirely, but it's a first small step. 

Overall, conducting such trainings is very interesting and pleasant, as I get to exchange and share ideas with the school staff, and they seem genuinely implicated (expect that one time a teacher asked if they were going to get paid at the end of the training, and when I answered no, she left the room 👍). The question mark remains as to the long term efficiency of such trainings; I hope to conduct at least one reinforcement training and some monitoring activity before I go in March, but such an important and complex topic should be covered regularly to reinforce good practices among teachers. 

Finally, aside from observing and training staff,  I had the occasion to get active with the students quite quickly. I was asked to conduct sessions in different schools with class 6, 7 and 8 on the empowerment through education, and HIV/AIDS and early pregnancy prevention. I was also able to participate in Lower Primary and ECD classes, allowing me to practice my Kiswahili and exchanging with the learners.

All of these experiences were a great learning process for everyone, myself included, I feel very privileged for having the occasion to share with teachers and students from Kenya !