Ice cubes, electricity, and all the people I love!
July 27, 2010 § 10 Comments
Life has been moving at unprecedented speed! In other chapters, things slow down the more you learn them. My life in Africa has been exactly opposite. Each new step brings new responsibility, which in turn lends only greater challenges and thus greater victories. I have one very exciting victory and coming challenge on my horizon, which I am blessed and thankful to welcome. I have been promoted to Country Director of Flying Kites, responsible for managing all ground operations here in Kenya, so I am feeling supremely grateful and humbled to have earned the trust and respect of the amazing group of people I work with and for. This announcement is bittersweet for me though, because I will be replacing my dearest friend and boss, Sarah Medway, who is… well… irreplaceable. She will be returning to Washington D.C. to teach law to inner-city kids through a program run by Georgetown University. She has been my mentor and has a sense of humor that keeps me at a keel. I will miss her wholeheartedly and couldn’t be more grateful for all she has done.
With that out, my introduction of four beautiful new characters is long overdue! John, Sarah, Ruth, and Matilda joined us in mid-June. Three of them are children and one is a cat.
In the interest of protecting their privacy, I cannot share the specifics of their stories, but I can tell you that each have endured challenges that a child should never have to endure and the happiness they have now found in life is nothing short of revolutionary.
John is ten years old and says “Hello Uncle Brian’s family. My name is John. My favorite friend is Joseph. I want to be a pilot when I grow up. I love my aunties and uncles. I am very happy here.”
Sarah is eight years old and says “My name is Sarah. My favorite color is red and blue. I want to help kids when I grow up. Thank you for helping me.”
Ruth is twelve years old and says “My name is Ruth. My favorite subject is math. I would like to be Aunty Bethany when I grow up.”
Matilda is the cat.
Over the course of the last five months, I have painted as vivid a picture as I can of what life is like here; what joy exists, what challenges exist, and what the fight is worth (pictured above). However, thanks to the wise input of my amazing mother, I now realize that I have yet to show you the place we are all working tirelessly to create. I haven’t painted the VISION!
I’ve mentioned that we have nearly completed our new school, The Feinstein Junior Scholars’ Academy (pictured below), but I have yet to mention that it is situated on six beautiful acres of land with a stream, cows, tall trees, and space in all directions to run. It will be home to 150 orphaned children, a primary school, a library, an office building for community strengthening efforts, fields and courts, and places for both small and large family activities. It will be nothing short of everything these children deserve.
The funding for our school came from an extraordinary donation by a gentleman named Alan Feinstein, a generous U.S. philanthropist. With this nearly complete, our next project is a library, which we are hoping to dedicate to Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist and political activist and the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The design for the library is complete, and Oxford Libraries has committed to filling it with brand new, donated books! We are now working with UniteChange, a nonprofit based in the United States, to raise the funds necessary to begin its construction.
Once the library is complete and learning is underway, we will begin constructing the children’s homes, eventually reaching ten in total. The children will live in families of fifteen along with a house mother.
So are you impressed? It’s pretty nice, right? Maybe too nice. Maybe we should compromise one child’s right to excellence and thin out the same resources among five kids; make sure everyone has just enough to be okay, instead of one child having so much. This is the heart of the dilemma, but when you’re here, you realize nothing will change if it stays thinned out. The only end to this vicious cycle of poverty is to give a child the excellence they deserve and raise them as a visionary and a leader with every tool they need to change their world from the inside. Do you see it now? This is our model unfolding.
The best part is, our vision doesn’t stop with excellence for our children. That’s just where it starts. We’ve developed the Oasis Program to help improve childcare on a national scale, by teaching area children’s homes our model, giving them every tool they deserve to succeed. As long as these homes agree to adhere to our standards, including open accounting, we will help them to improve their standard of care, develop a website, find donors, source volunteers, and as a united front, lobby for grants and make systematic changes at a governmental level.
To strengthen our community as a whole, we developed the Magnet Effect Program. This arm serves primarily as a consultant to existing community based organizations, seeking to increase their impact by improving their model and approach. Secondly, it serves as a hub for attracting and connecting other NGOs to the region. On Saturday we hosted our first “Women’s Empowerment Day,” featuring twenty different booths, each touching on a different topic. At the first booth the invited women got their nails painted to break the ice, after which they learned about topics including HIV/AIDS awareness, domestic abuse, substance abuse, microfinance groups, improved farming practices, and even self-defense, for which I (to a great deal of laughter) played the dummy.
Beside these two programs here in Kenya, we have two Stateside programs, Adventure Challenge and MyTurn, which raise awareness for all the work we are doing in the lives of these children and source life-time lovers of Flying Kites. Adventure Challenge arranges, as you might have guessed, challenging adventures for aspiring journey-men and women. These climbers, bikers, hikers, etc., fundraise to cover the cost of the trip and also raise both money and awareness for Flying Kites. In June, our first group of climbers reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, each hiking in the name of a Flying Kites child. Prior to embarking up the mountain, they spent time at the Center and got to know the children. To see some incredible pictures from this journey and learn more about the program, check out the Adventure Challenge Blog. Future trips include another summit of Kili in December 2010, surfing in Nicaragua, and kayaking in Mexico, so if you’ve been bit by a daydream… I’ll gladly send you more information.
If you’re still reading, thanks! You’re a true friend. I am almost done, I promise. MyTurn is a program run by some extremely hip cats, which focuses entirely on drawing college students to the cause. The MyTurn cast embarks on a cycle of college visits, where they introduce the mission of Flying Kites and fish for motivated volunteers and supporters.
I hope this shed light! There is no shortage of incredible blessing being born each day, thanks to the many dedicated hands and ambassadors of Flying Kites. I am returning home a week from today (!!!), and I am very much looking forward to seeing so many of your shining faces! Before I depart though, I want to show everyone I am worth my salt and challenge each of you who are reading this to contribute to this mighty MIGHTY cause. Every little bit helps. http://www.flyingkitesglobal.org/donate.shtml
Thank you for continued care and support of my life and work here. I can not think of home without a wiggle. Ice cubes, electricity, and all the people I love!