A Travellerspoint blog

August 2010

Networking: Knowing people takes you places

DAAD conference

sunny 72 °F

While I was at Professor Shitemi’s home the last weekend, she was finishing the final preparations for the DAAD conference at Moi University for the following week. The more I learned about the conference, the more interested I became. The DAAD conference gives former students from the University of Bayreuth’s African Studies program to interact with their peers who have gone on to teach at different Universities. There were a few German professors but the majority of those who attended the conference were foreign exchange students. The conference title “transfer of Africa-related alumni knowledge: regional integration and trans-regional co-operation” goes hand in hand with what I’ve been researching and concentrating on while in Kenya. The main task of this conference was to have the intelligent alumni from these programs to network with others of similar interests and concentrations. As Professor Shitemi explained the conference to me, it is the opportunity for these intellects to “adopt innovative methods and structures of organizing knowledge transfers through dialogue and interaction.” My goal for this trip was to not only increase my understanding of the Kenyan school systems, but also to create partnerships between the US and Kenya. Through my participation in this conference, I was able to open up my own avenues for partnership and include the Universitat Bayreuth, University of Mauduguri, University of Jos in Nigeria, University of Yaounde in Cameroon and the South African Army Reserve.

Mama Shitemi (as I came to call her by the end of my trip) allowed me to join in the discussion and the lectures last minute. It really was a great opportunity, and despite being the youngest participant in the conference and never having studied in Germany, I fit in quite well and everyone was more than willing to talk with me and share their stories. The lectures were amazing. I had the chance to sit in on a panel discussion on the establishment of Women’s and Gender studies at the Univesrity of Yaounde in Cameroon. Professor Rosalyn Mutia discussed the trials she has faced as a female in the University and how very few women are the heads of the departments or the deans for schools in Cameroon.
This is a trend everywhere but the purpose of having it as a topic at the conference was to have the other participants engage in conversation for what their individual schools or departments have done to ensure gender equity at the University level. The benefit of having all the participants having a connecting point – ie former peers at Bayreuth – is that they are more willing to give honest input and discuss freely without the pause to determine if something said is too pointed. Constructive criticism is seen as just that and nothing more. A lot of the presenters focused on the ‘transfer of knowledge’ and the pros and cons of globalization. The opinion on globalization was split down the middle.
Globalization was paired with the increased ability to travel and study in different universities. Some, like Professor Kamaara from Moi explained that brain drain exists but that if, for example, all Kenyans and the Kenyan Diaspora studied in Kenya, there would not be enough room in the Universities. Her other argument was that if some students did not go elsewhere for an education, then none of the professors in the room would have the benefit of meeting one another and benefiting from the exchange programs in Bayretuh. In the end, the general consensus was that brain drain exists, that by creating partnerships we are able to exchange ideas on infrastructure and study design and everyone benefits. But that North-side divide still exists, that schools of the south should not copy exactly the protocol and design of northern schools and that globalization needs to be balanced.

I spoke most with Lydia, Mama Shitemi’s niece who was in charge of most of the conference logistics, Sammy the IT guy from Moi who all the older professors were attempting to fix me up with as we were the youngest two single kids in the program. Despite their efforts, nothing came up except a great friendship and an exchange of contact information and the promise to keep in touch. But their jibes and attempts were entertaining.

Also, Professor Mwebi Lavin Snail of the South African Army Reserve and I had some great conversations. Professor Snail, who smokes like a chimney, looks at the effects of trans-regional foreign exchanges on the individual. Going hand and hand with the discussion of globalization, he presented his paper on the “Reflections of an ex-African Student in Europe in the New South Africa.” Although I was called away for my own research during Professor Snail’s presentation, we had our own discussion of the topic. He really is an interesting man – during the Apartheid he was a student at the university and was ‘always a rebel’. He told me he knew that his personality and temper would get him into trouble with the restricting government and one day at the University, there was a fight between a black South African student and a white official. The class, including P. Snail, was behind the student and was provoking the situation. The white official said to the students “I’ll make sure you die and go to Hell” (quite the remark!) at which time the student responded “well one of your colleagues tried to send me there the other day, and when I got to Hell’s gates there was a sign that said “Whites Only”.” Well needless to say, there was uproar between the white official and those of his colleague who came in for assistance and the students. Each of the students was suspended from the school and exiled from South Africa, Professor Snail included. It was then that he decided he needed to pursue education elsewhere and applied to Universitat Bayreuth. The effect it had on him though he said was irreversible. He was a changed man – he was no longer a South African, even after being reconciled and granted asylum into his home country. He wasn’t now German nor South African, but a hybid of the two cultures. There are many who returned after independence that were unsure of their identity and had difficulties resettling. It is more than reverse culture shock. Professor Snail said that a strong partnership between his two homes is what makes him feel complete. I have his paper and am really eager to read it. Although my studies are in Kenya, it is impossible to just read about Kenya as there are ties to every country. If anyone else would like to read the paper, let me know.

To top off this conference and actually the main reason I was invited to become involved, was the day trip to Lake Baringo, Itein and the Great Rift Valley. I have a ton of pictures I will post the day I get home and have unlimited free internet access (awww so excited!) It was gorgeous and amazing. And even though we were not in the ‘conference setting’ we still had great dialogue and it was during lunch that Professor Snail told me his story. A great way to wrap up a trip. Just a quick overview, the Great Rift Valley was formed by volcanic activity under the surface and there are huge plateaus and deep valleys we traveled down. We started at the Elgeyo Escarpment in Itein (only a few kilometers away from the high altitude training center for athletes in Itein. We saw many runners and bikers in the area. So impressive!) We then travelled down to the Keiro valley where we stopped at the Jebroach Gorge. Absolutely gorgeous. Ive never seen any view like it. We then went to the Lake Baringo hotel that is owned by former President Daniel arap Moi (I saw monkeys!!!) and then finally onto Lake Baringo where we saw THOUSANDS of flamingos and the hot springs. Although it was raining by this point, it was absolutely gorgeous and quite an experience. I cant wait to put up pictures.

One of the benefits of me setting up my own program here in Kenya was that I could take advantage of any opportunity that came up. I didn’t have to worry about keeping a schedule and could sit in on conferences and meetings. Also, I can’t forget to mention Uli (Dr. Gerd Ulirich ‘Uli’ Bauer) who was a steadfast friend in this conference. He was the project coordinator from the Universitat Bayreuth and was so welcoming and explained a lot of what was going on so I wasn’t confused. He has an amazing sense of humor and is extremely intelligent and outgoing. He will remain one of my good friends and close contacts from this Kenyan trip. Hopefully be able to visit him and his wife in Frankfurt sometime in the near future!

Check out my blog on the job offer with PeaceLinks SNV!!!

Posted by WendiBandi 07:16 Archived in Kenya Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Jambo Wanafunzi!

Student ambassador Miss Wendi Bandi from the United States

sunny 64 °F

This was probably one of the greatest days of my trip so far. Despite the great meetings with the Ministry of Education, the Assisant chief of Kesses and the DAAD conference (details in the next post), I was really wanting to go into some of the schools and actually meet with the students. Its one thing to read about infrastructure and hear from former teachers about the hardships of having 40+ students per class, and actually going in and seeing it for yourself. Miriam, my PhD research guide, invited me to the Moi Private School closing ceremonies. I really didn’t know what closing ceremonies entailed but I was so excited to get into the classroom so I signed on. It was one of the most incredible experiences.
Moi Private school is only about 3km from Moi University and is actually funded and sponsored by the Univesity as well as the government. The ceremony already was started by the time we got there (about 10:30) but as Miriam is one of the parents there, we didn’t have any problem showing up. As we walked in though, the children all turned their attention to the door and saw us. The principal, who recognized Miriam as not only a parent but also a professor at Moi, invited us to go up and sit at the teachers table. So after quietly greeting all the teachers, the awards were given to the children. As it was a Primary school, the years went from Standard 1 – Standard 8. There were at least 90 students per grade which means we had over 700 students staring up at us, eagerly waiting to see which three of their classmates received highest marks. The reward for the top three students was a NEW book for the next school year. I have a ton of pictures (cant wait to put up next week) and the best was of one of the little girls in Standard 1 was looking at her book in awe and the older kids around her were reading it to her and helping her with the difficult tasks.

When the Standard 8 rewards were about to be distributed, the principal said he would like me to present the awards and also greet all the standard 8 students individuals to congratulate them on their accomplishment. This was a huge honor for me as the standard 8 boys and girls who succeeded really are on the path to success in Kenya; graduation rates are still not high and there are so many struggles these students have faced compared to students in other parts of the world. There were only about 40 some students in standard 8 (compared to the 95 in standard 1!) but they really seemed happy to have me there and presented their awards. After I greeted them all, the principal made an announcement and asked the school if they would like me, their student ambassador from the US, to make the closing remarks and I was shocked to be received with all the students clapping and shouting ndiyo (which is yes in Kiswahili). So I got up, actually really nervous with such a responsibility with so many eyes on me, and addressed them. “Jambo wanafunzi!” which is hello students. I don’t think they were ready for me to start off in Kiswahili and didn’t really get a reaction. Great ha. But I tried it again, this time a little louder, with my hand to my ear trying to joke and have them interact and said again “Jambo wanafunzi!!” and they all yelled back “Jambo Mzungu/Miss Wendi” and then giggled a bit but then sat quietly staring up at me. So in a mix of English and Kiswahili, I told them I was from the United States studying community development at the University of Pittsburgh, that this was my first time in Kenya but I liked working with schools the best. I then went on to tell them that I was very proud of each of them for completing exams and that primary school is only the first step, but that it was a really big and important step. That the standard 8 students who I had the pleasure of meeting were very smart, brave and determined young boys and girls and that each of the younger students should follow their example and look forward to school in the years to come. I finished by saying that even as a student in the US, I’ve had my difficulties with school and sometimes it is hard to figure out how to afford it, but with the help of my family, friends and teachers as well as my own dream to go to university, I made it up to the University level and had the chance to come visit Kenya – another dream of mine. So if I can achieve my dreams, each of them can achieve their dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you “no you can’t” because yes you can and you will. When I said Asante sana na pongezi wanafunzi! (thank you and congratulations students) they stood up and clapped and some of them came up to me and gave me hugs and wanted to show me their classrooms.

I got to go to the standard 3 and 4 classrooms and they took pictures with me, showed me the library and told me things they learned that year. After my meetings with the students, the teachers invited me back to the teachers lounge and we had chai and talked for 20 minutes or so about how they would love for me to set up a partnership program for the fall with a high school in the US and with their school so the students could be pen pals, learn more about one another’s cultures and create networks they can use while growing up in different parts of the world. I think it’s a great idea and have already emailed some of the teachers at Burgettstown to set up a meeting once Im home to discuss the possibilities of setting up a “partnership”.

What shocked me the most that a few days later when I was walking to the matatu stage (area where you pick up a matatu into town) two girls stopped me by saying “Madame, are you Wendi, the American student who came to our closing ceremonies?” After I affirmed that I was and inquired their years and names (Katherine and Nancy in standard 6) they asked if it was hard to get into an American school and if I really thought Kenyan students could go there. My response “Of course you can and if you work hard in school, say no to trouble and really dedicate yourself, you can go to a University in the US” They asked if I would come back and help students, especially the girls, and I told them that I would try everything to go and gave them my email, bought them each an orange and then went on to the stage. And, given the position offer I was given, I will be hopefully coming back within the next year or so!

Posted by WendiBandi 09:43 Archived in Kenya Tagged educational Comments (0)

The Mezzo level – where everything comes together

Meeting with the Ministry of Education!

overcast 63 °F

My meeting with the Ministry of Education was absolutely inspiring, to see women and men working to really help the students and have them appreciate the education opportunities they are given. As I mentioned in the earlier post, most of the Wareng district ministers of education are former teachers and moved into the administrative level in order to eradicate the problems they witnessed as educators in the classroom. I could tell from each one of their expressions that they would want to be back working one on one with the kids but the issue is that no teachers are working one on one with the students as enrollment rates are too high and not enough teachers are being hired.

The way the DEO (District Education Office) identifies what students go to school in the area is by going to the village elders and asking who is working and who is going to school. This is where gossip comes in handy as there are no records of everyone living in the area, but the elders know where everyone lives and what they do. I learned though that PTAs (Parent Teacher Associations) play the most important role in the school’s development. PTA members attended a workshop at Moi University in which they discussed infrastructure development and underdevelopment, motivation techniques and key issues at the school. There were about 30 parents total, which is low but good for a first meeting, in which they gave parents questionnaires which the DEO will analyze and are in the process of making ‘taskforce objectives’ for the next school year. Some of the main complaints were that the student –teacher ratio is too high and that teachers’ salaries are too low. Also, the teachers they are hiring are not fresh out of school and therefore are accepting the lower wages to overcome unemployment even if they did not have the best marks at the teacher’s college.

The issue with the teachers isn’t that teachers aren’t available – there are plenty of students going to the teacher’s colleges but with the Free Primary Education initiative, the government distributes to the schools to cover infrastructure costs and teacher salaries. SO either there are less teachers hired at higher (but still negligent salaries) or more teachers hired, with lower marks and qualifications, and lower salaries. The only schools where this is less of an issue is within the private schools. Private schools are seen as a business venture by many of the wealthier men and women in the area as the wealthier families send their children (with tuition fees) to the schools, the tuition fees pay for the teachers salaries AND cushion the pockets of the school directors/businessmen and women. Even at the public school level now, PTAs are bringing in more money to pay for higher salary/better qualified teachers. The DEO explained that understaffing is the main problem – There are 456 secondary schoolsin Wareng, but there needs to be at least another 212 and there are 905 primary schools and they need at least another 302. This is just within Wareng district! The teachers are hired through the TSC and the areas with most neglect are the special education centers and early childhood development centers (ECDC).

  • *Free Primary Education gives the school 10,600Kenyan shillings or about $125 USD per student which doesn’t cover books or lunches – just the tuition.

In regards to the percentage of children going to school, according to the assistant chief, 75% of all children in Wareng district attend school but obviously girls are in the minority after primary school. The Maasai people are one of the main ethnic groups in the area and they still practice female cutting and after this event happens in a girls life, she usually does not return to school. I wont go into this topic too much but for those of you who want to look into it, read Waris Dirie’s “Desert Flower “ or check out this website http://www.orato.com/world-affairs/maasai-ritual-of-female-circumcision.

KESSP is the Kenya Education Sector Support Program and is the part of the government that works with donors and is broken in 22 divisions from retention to quality assurance to HIV/AIDS to co-curricular activities. Every 5 years there is a drafted Strategic plan set for each county in Kenya as well as for each of the NGOS (such as PeaceLinks SNV) that dictates what is expected to be accomplished by the end of the 5 year term. It is up to the NGOs and the Ministries of Education to execute the propsed strategic plans and education policies drafted by the Parliament. These women (and man) I met with are responsible for all of the 900+ schools in the area and make sure they are running properly. It is a stressful job, one that they choose willingly because, although they love working at the micro-level within the schools, it is necessary to have a strong, educated, equal male female partnership DEO at the mezzo level to ensure Wareng county schools will be running successfully.

To finish our meeting, we got into quite a heated debate with staff member J. Chelimu about female representation in Parliament. I stayed out of the discussion but eagerly listened to the arguments in which DEO Otheno said that only 12 out of the 210 parliament members are female – which is less than 6%. The Staff member’s argument was that women are still gaining their political rights and that 6% is an ok number to start with and that more women could run if they wanted, but they don’t. Well I don’t know if he realized or not, but he was in a room with 8 other women and no other men. Needless to say he was outnumbered and they began telling him how difficult it was for MP Kamaar of Eldoret East to get into office and how MP Simam was only endorsed by her male counterparts to get former MP Koros out of office.

It was a great afternoon with dedicated women really giving it their all to obtain change. I could honestly tell that they each wanted to be back in the classroom, but they know that by working for the Ministry, they are paving a way for future teachers. There was an article in the Daily Nation in which at an assembly, the secretary of education asked who wanted to be teachers when they were older, and not one hand raised. Why? Because students do not see teaching as a respected, successful profession. Unless something changes, no teachers will be there to teach the next generation of students. These women are making sure that change is put into effect and for that I applaud their efforts.

Posted by WendiBandi 09:36 Archived in Kenya Tagged educational Comments (0)

Following James Michener’s theory of travel

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener

sunny 63 °F

I’ve found my best glimpses into the Kenyan culture and lifestyle has been during my time spent with my friends in Nairobi and Eldoret. I’ve accepted the food, learned the customs, embraced the religion and the people. James Michener would be proud. This weekend, after my IU friends left on their grand adventures to the coast, I went with Professor Naiomi Shitemi to attend a traditional Kikuyu wedding. Although we didn’t make it to the wedding due to an accident involving a pothole and a huge rock (the roads are horrible as most are not paved and the rains wash away the dirt road unearthing huge rocks). But, sans wedding, the weekend was really nice. Professor Shitemi, the Kiswahili director at Moi University and an Arts and Sciences (SASS) lecturer, was the professor for my Mwalimu Leonora. She invited me to stay the weekend at her home. I actually got to visit two of her homes – one in Soy, Kenya about an hour west of Eldoret and in Kimumu, Kenya, about ten minutes outside of Eldoret. In Soy we attended a women’s group meeting and there was A TON OF FOOD. The one great thing about Kenyan events is that you’ll never go hungry.

The Women’s group of Soy is comprised of the women who hold property in Soy. They set up projects for women in the group. For example, their most recent project is a microfinance lending program where with the dues each month, they give two people in the group each half of the money and then with that they are to buy a new cow or setup a chicken coup or fix the fence on their properties, etc. The women are all middle class/upper class but they can make decisions for the betterment for their family and property without relying on their husbands to make the initiative. And of course the women are all friends so there was lots of talking, catching up and gossiping to accompany the food and planning.

The one similarity between Spain and Nairobi is that families eat dinner exceptionally late (according to American standards). Usually we take dinner between 9 and 10, which is fine with me as that is how I grew up and have been eating late all my life. I stayed with Professor Shitemi’s family in Kimumu, right outside of Eldoret, and by doing so, I became great friends with her two nieces, Lydia and Carol. Carol is 20 and Lydia is 28 and they were so welcoming and it wasn’t long after I set my bags down that we were drinking chai and talking for hours. I really wish I would have contacted Professor Shitemi earlier into my trip as I would have loved to spend more time with her family. P. Shitemi also has a daughter Marcy who is studying at Indiana University (and who the family concluded that I act like and we have the same personality) and a son Ken and a daughter Rosie who just finished form 7. Rosie goes to a boarding school which is popular for families who can afford private school costs (still inexpensive compared to the US).

As I come from a big family, it was really nice being around a big Kenyan family. Although Lydia and Carol are P. Shitemi’s nieces, they live with her family as their families are in the US and they are studying here. Jamii or family does not necessarily mean intermediate family and by the end of my time in Eldoret, I caught myself calling P Shitemi Mama like the girls do. I think I came out of my shell because I had such a good experience with both Dr. Wanjiku’s and Mama Shitemi’s families and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

On Sunday we went to the Shitemi’s Anglician church in which this particular Sunday was ‘Choir Mass’. There were 5 choirs from all over the country joining St. John’s congregation for a musical mass of traditional African Christian songs and instruments. It was gorgeous and the music was beautiful. After mass, we all stuck around and had lunch and listened to an encore performance.

All in all it was a great weekend full of good food, great company and beautiful music.

Posted by WendiBandi 21:48 Archived in Kenya Tagged events Comments (0)

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