Monday, December 5, 2011

$5,000 Matching Grant through the rest of 2011!

Dear Readers,
An anonymous donor has given the Simama Project a $5,000 matching grant! Every donation you make up to $5,000 will be doubled until the end of the year. Please take this time to donate and tell people about this opportunity to change lives. These kids are worth it, and every dollar goes towards empowering the most disadvantaged youth through education and work opportunities! The donation button is in the upper right hand corner of the page and all donations are 100% tax deductible as allowed by law.

Thank you so much everyone for your love and support.

For more information on the project contact me at info@simamaproject.org or take a look at the Simama Brochure.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Simama Project

Dear Readers,
In February 2010 I met a Kenyan boy, Alfred, who lived on the streets of Nanyuki. Many of you followed my blog as I chronicled the efforts of my friend Martin and I, trying to get him into school. Within weeks of getting him into a school he was ranked number one in his class, and two quarters later he was ranked number one in his entire district.

Being inspired by that, I returned to Nanyuki last November with the goal of finding more street kids with the potential to succeed in school. As seen in my blog post "David's First Day of School" my community partners and I were able to enroll three more street kids from Alfred's neighborhood. By the end of the quarter, two of those boys were ranked number one in their classes and the third, David, was ranked 2nd in his class. This educational re-integration has been more successful than anyone could have imagined!

The second target of the projects focus with street kids, are the children for whom education is not a possibility, either because of advanced age or lack of academic prowess. Two such boys, Richard and Joseph Geoffrey, through micro-finance loans, in conjunction with skills they already possess, have been able to get themselves off the street by setting up businesses of their own.

The third, and hopefully the target with the most long term societal impact will be helping the children who find themselves at risk of becoming street children. Many well-meaning boys and girls are kicked out of school in Nanyuki because of being unable to afford food, school uniform, and basic necessities, forcing them into a life on the streets. Ironically, education is easily the most effective tool for them to use to get themselves out of poverty, but they end up without an education because of their poverty. Working with the Head Social worker in Nanyuki, Mr Hezron, individual sponsors and other community partners, the project has been able to give scholarships to seven of these children, most of them orphans, who would not otherwise be able to continue their education. The project is currently raising funds and finding partners for a food and uniform project which would stop the vast majority of the children from leaving school and going to the streets.

This Project has been more successful than I could have imagined so far, but there are hundreds of kids still living in the streets of Nanyuki and many more at risk of losing their chance at education and a healthy, productive life.

For the past few months I have been back in the USA working hard to get non-profit status for this important project. Earlier this month I applied to, and was accepted, by my first choice for a fiscal sponsor, called Empowerment Works. Fiscal Sponsorship means that I use their non-profit status to collect tax-deductible donations for the project, the mission of which is in alignment with the mission of the sponsor organization. In this way I can concentrate on the work of the project and not get consumed with the day to day headache of having to run an organization.

The name of the project is "Simama" which means "stand up" in Swahili. The significance is twofold: first you cannot change someones life for them, you can only give them an opportunity, they must stand up on their own. The second meaning, lies in the projects belief that each and every one of us in the world has a responsibility to stand up for those who are most vulnerable.

The Simama project is a community driven project that uses both well established and innovative methods to provide marginalized Kenyan youth with opportunities to get themselves out of poverty. If you would like more information on the project, or would like to help support the project in any way, please use the email below. Thank you everyone for making all of this possible!

Info@simamaproject.org

The official mailing address for tax-deductible contributions:
PLEASE CLEARLY INDICATE "SIMAMA PROJECT" IN THE CHECK MEMO
but make the check out to Empowerment WORKS

Empowement WORKS
1793 Northwood Ct.
Oakland, CA 94611 - USA


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Re:Joyce

(Il Polei's famous Pride Rock...Ok its not really famous...and maybe no one calls it that, but they should)


Today was one of the most challenging, difficult days of my life, also one of the most rewarding. At 7am I woke up and prepared my belongings for the journey up north. It was to be Joyce’s first day of High school. I was to be travelling through some of the hottest parts of Kenya so I grabbed the biggest bottle of water I could find and put it in my backpack.
I picked up the thin piece of foam that passes for a mattress in Kenyan boarding schools, and with my other hand the large box with a metal bucket attached to it that held all of Joyce’s belongings, , and went to the gate to meet her. She was supposed to be there at 8:30 but the guard on duty said she had been there an hour early. I greeted her excitedly, and she limply grasped my hand and averted her eyes while muttering a shy greeting, as is her custom. I met her a week before, and she was still obviously not comfortable with me.
I had actually never seen her act comfortable with anyone. I had decided to sponsor her not because of her outgoing personality, but because of her family’s poor background, her solid academic record and intense desire to continue school. After scoring a very respectable 300 marks on her KCPE (the final primary school exam that determines your academic future) she watched as her friends, almost all of whom had lower scores than she did, went off to school while she waited and hoped for an opportunity. Living with her destitute Grandmother and two brothers she had no chance of her family paying her school fees. The drought this year had taken their supply of food and even eating was only possible through relief rations given by the World Food Program. When the few opportunities for scholarships slipped through her fingers she settled in a deep despair and cried for weeks.
Though she had stopped crying after I interviewed her and informed her that I would like to sponsor her, she still seemed melancholy and distant. On the day that I was taking her to school I have to admit I was having doubts about whether she was the right girl for me to sponsor, because to me attitude is the most important factor in success. We were on our way though, and we were far beyond the point of no return. We walked for ten minutes to the dirt road and were able to quickly hail a sand truck. They were not going all the way to Dol Dol (which was our destination) but they were heading to Il Polei which is about halfway to Dol Dol. We got in the truck and started on our journey.

(A sand truck traveling on the road to Il Polei)

An hour later at 8:45 am we were in Il Polei walking through the town with all of her equipment in tow. I followed her to the Matatu stage that would take us to Dol Dol and found myself sitting on a big flat rock with the hot rays of the sun beating down on us. I have spent lots of time in the hot sun of Il Polei and with time I have discovered that drinking too much water early on only makes your thirst more intense later. I decided to use this wisdom and save my water for when I really needed it. An hour passed in the unbearable heat and I became aware of the discomfort. I looked around for some shade but the nearest tree was 100 yards away.
(The exact spot: the Il Polei matatu stage)

Another hour passed and not a single vehicle had gone by. I became distinctly aware that the sun was burning my skin. Despite the intense heat of the day I found myself longing for a sweatshirt with a hood that would cover my arms and neck. During the second hour some groups of Masaai started walking by us. It served to break up the monotony a little bit. Joyce being a Masaai herself was greeted by some of the passersby and I was pleased to see that she was willing to acknowledge their presence, since she couldn’t seem to acknowledge mine.
By the time noon rolled around the sun had really turned the temperature dial up. I found myself thinking back with a longing fondness on the 11 o’clock sun. I knew this was likely to be the worst of it so I decided to bite the bullet and pull out my water. I reached into my backpack and to my profound dismay I found that I had forgotten my water.
The next hour (from 1-2) things got interesting. First I noticed that Joyce had picked a rock up off the ground and put it in her mouth. I was already having doubts about her and at this point I thought to myself “She is eating a rock, great, Im sponsoring an idiot”. (Later I found out that tribes who live in the desert often place rocks in their mouths on particularly hot days when they have no water to keep their saliva flowing…yes I am the idiot)
The other thing that happened was that people started passing by who knew her. They would come by smiling and give her a hug, greet me and pat me on the back. This is when the miracle happened. She started smiling. She would tell everyone who came by that she was going to school and give them a shy but proud smile. Every time a group would pass I would ask what they said and she would repeat it to me in Kimassai and translate it to English. She found it hilarious when I stumbled through phrases in her mother tongue. A large group of men came by and I decided to use my little Massai: “Enta Supa” I called out to them, and either I mispronounced the words or the men had little interest in talking because they walked by un-amused. I turned around to find Joyce rolling on the rocks laughing. Inspired by her display of Mirth, I broke into a loud laugh of my own.
Now I didn’t want to miss a matatu, especially because at this point it seemed as though they only came every five hours. I was however very thirsty. I decided to run to the nearest store. I got there and asked for water the whole time looking over my shoulder for a matatu. The lady shook her head at me. “Encare” I said using the massai word for water. Still nothing. “Maji?” I asked, switching it up to Swahili. The lady looked at me like I was crazy. “Okay, give me two warm sprites” I said pointing to the loose bottles on the shelf. I grabbed the sprites from her and started running back while opening the first bottle. As soon as top came off the sprite started spraying everywhere. I put it to my lips to the mouth of the bottle to try to stop the onrush of liquid. When the explosiveness was finally contained the bottle was almost empty and most of the liquid now resided on my face and clothes, unfortunately very little of it in my mouth. I quickly drank the rest and, already unsatisfied, ran to join Joyce. I handed her the sprite and she looked at me like I was crazy but she did take off the top and start drinking.
The stickiness from the sprite somehow made my sunburn feel worse and I began to wonder if it was possible for me to die because of the exposure I was experiencing. The contemplation of my mortality was short lived however because I was interrupted by screams of a passing Massai woman. Joyce immediately got up and started screaming…and smiling, so I knew it was ok. She ran to the screaming woman and embraced her. The woman was carrying a baby on her back and a plastic bag full of milk. She turned out to be Joyce’s Aunt despite the fact that she looked by age to be her slightly older sister. She had noticed the school equipment and had been unaware that Joyce had found a sponsor, so she was elated. She came to me and hugged me, turned around and made sure her baby got a good glimpse of me all the while smiling. She then put down her empty bags that were to be used to bring the relief food back to her shamba (homestead) and gave the bag of milk to Joyce with a smile. Joyce glanced at me conspiratorially and grinned big. “My Aunt has given this to you as a gift, will you drink it?” she said.
I laughed…and waited for her to tell me she was just kidding. “Of course Ill drink it,” I said hesitantly. She kept smiling but somehow looked relieved. She handed the bag to me and kept looking at me expectantly. “You want me to drink it NOW?” I asked incredulously.
She smiled again and nodded, “my Aunt was bringing the milk into town to sell it, but she is so happy that you are taking me to school that she wants you to drink it”. A list of excuses flashed through my mind but I knew what I had to do.
“Ok,” I said to her, “How do I drink it? Show me.”
She expertly pulled the outside plastic bag away, untied the inner one and poured a sip of the milk into the other bag. She then put the corner of the bag into her mouth and bit through it, sucking the milk through the hole in the bag. She then looked at me with a smile and handed the big bag of milk to me. The look on her face said “well, get to it”.
So I did. I bit the corner and started sucking the milk out of the bag. It was surprisingly thick, and surprisingly warm. I started thinking about pasteurization and the health benefits it had brought to our society and how I wouldn’t be experiencing any of those benefits because this milk came literally straight from the udder of the cow into this, most likely dirty, plastic bag. At Daraja we always boil our milk before we drink it, as I was enjoying that thought I started to wonder why we do that. I had guzzled about half of the milk and pulled the bag from my mouth. I looked at Joyce and her Aunt looked into the sun that was frying my skin and said “Its really hot out….Milk was a bad choice.” I guess neither of them had seen “Anchorman” or they just aren’t Will Farrell fans because they just looked at me once again like I was crazy, but they were also obviously pleased that I had drank some of the milk. I took the bag back to my lips and drank the rest of it.
Then, just as if on cue, a matatu appeared over the horizon. I have written about them earlier, but basically they are vans that serve as buses for the general public, most of whom cannot afford cars. I helped the loader tie Joyce’s items safely on the roof and squeezed in to a spot in the very back row, middle seat. I say squeezed because the matatu had 14 seats and literally 21 people in it. As soon as I sat down on the laps of the two people next to me one of them , a breast feeding woman, handed me her second baby who looked to be about two years old. He looked up at me and I smiled, praying that I wouldn’t throw up on him.
After a long adventure that day we finally got Joyce to school. My experience with her that day had left no doubt in my mind that she deserved to be in school. As I was about to leave her there and head home, she said goodbye to me and took my hand. She didn’t let go. I looked at her and told her that I was proud of her and that she was going to do well. She smiled at me and reluctantly let go of my hand.

(Posing with Joyce two weeks after she entered school)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Street Children Part II

My last post was about the street boys who have been re-integrated into school. After seeing the success they have had it would be easy to forget the tough environment that they have come out of. It is also important that we dont forget the hundreds of kids who are still living on the streets of Nanyuki. This video takes a look at their lives.

This is the third video in the series that the Action-Aid volunteers made. Once again, try remember that these are amateur videos that were edited in a matter of hours. Special thanks to Mikkel, Rasmus, Sidse and Mette, you guys did a great job!

The video doesnt seem to be working properly so take a look at it here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

David's First Day of School



(Joseph, Alfred, George and David in uniform at Il Polei Primary School)

When I first started sending kids to school and decided that it was something I wanted to continue doing, I became worried that I might not be able to find the right kids who really wanted to go. One of the tactics I used was to have the kids who were already in school recruit other kids that they knew couldn’t afford to go to school, and really wanted to.

David is my first student that was recruited by other students. Alfred and his brother Joseph came to me one day and said that they knew a boy who was really smart and could not afford to go to school. David had been at the same detention center as Joseph (although in a different grade). I said great, and not thinking much of it, invited him to one of our study sessions.

In the study session I was honestly not very impressed. Later I realized that I was kind of to blame because we ended up studying in a place that had a TV on. Kind of stupid I know, but there aren’t a lot of places in town that will allow a study group of street children. David ended up watching TV over his book for most of the study session, and I decided that he wasn’t a good fit for what I was trying to do.

Weeks went by and I was working hard trying to find a place in a school for George and Joseph. I didn’t even consider trying to convince a school to let David in, since he obviously didn’t want it that badly. He came to me day after day and asked about going to school. I told him that he didn’t seem very serious in his study session. He then started coming to town and showing me the work he had been doing in his notebook that I had given him (I found that giving the boys study guides was a cheap way of figuring out who is interested and who isn’t). He had done a good deal of work and done it well. A week later he came to me with his report card from the detention center. He was ranked number one in his class for the majority of his time there (and though both the competition and quality of education were suspect it still said a lot about his drive for education).

This document changed everything and it was easy to convince the principal of Il Polei Primary to let him attend just by showing his marks.

This is the second of four videos that the ActionAid volunteers made. The group spent the day with David and myself, visiting his home and bringing him up to Il Polei for his first day of school. Their video is aptly named: David’s first day of school. Please again, remember that these are amateur videos that were edited in a matter of hours. The sound on the video isn’t the best, but try to listen carefully to what these boys say. From David saying he is glad that he no longer has to eat “dust bin food” to Alfred saying that he has proved street boys are clever, this video captures a wide range of the ups and downs of poverty stricken youth.

I would like to give a special thanks to Amanda Brinkloev, Emilie Bak, Catherine Jesting and Signe Anderson (pictured above with the boys) for making an amazing video, also Il Polei Primary School!



video

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Meet George


(Left to right: Joseph, George and Alfred)


“Little George,” (as he is known to me) is a charmer. This has made his life as a street boy very comfortable. I first started seeing him around on the streets about a month into my first visit to Kenya. He was kicked out of school because his shoes had holes. In the street he always insisted that he wanted to go back to school but always had a huge smile on his face and was obviously having too much fun. He spent a few minutes on the street asking for money and once he had enough for the day he was off to play pool, or playstation, or watch a movie. George is so charismatic that people ENJOY it when he asks them for money. It reminds me of the Tom Brady Saturday Night live Sexual harassment video…which if you haven’t seen check it
here.


After a couple weeks George was able to get some shoes and go back to school. Two weeks later he was out again saying that his uniform was too ratty and he had been kicked out. Despite the fact that George probably made more money begging in a day than the average manual laborer he never went back to school. He was always just playing pool. We had many serious talks about the importance of school and he seemed like he understood. During tutoring sessions he always showed up, and paid lots of attention. I knew however that he needed to be sent to school out of town, otherwise the pull from the streets would be too much for him and he would likely run away.

Ill Polei Primary (the same school that Alfred and Joseph go to) agreed to let me bring kids from town to their rural school and in exchange we agreed that I would create scholarships for three of their poorest student at the school to become boarding students. Rural students are one of the most important demographics to target when it comes to education. Uneducated rural children in the best of circumstances stay at home and do what their families have done for generations. In the worst of cases (such as the drought that we are experiencing now) they are forced to venture into cities in search of employment or food. Their lack of education and street smarts make them easy targets for the people in the city and they often become the most vulnerable of street kids. Educated rural students often return to their villages and use their knowledge to improve the circumstances for their whole community. This is why rural education is so important to me, and why this situation was more than just a compromise for me, it was a win-win.

A British woman from town named Marisa heard that I was sending George to school and offered to help find some of the things he needed. She recruited her friends and in a week we had donations for almost everything he needed to go to school!


(Thank you to Marisa and Friends, pictured here with George)

George has also found his own sponsors! Some students from an American University met George and decided to sponsor him. George wasn’t quite ready to go to school at that time, and the students left soon after, but we have stayed in touch and they are looking forward to sponsoring him!



(George at Il Polei school showing off his skills as an acrobat)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Richard


(Part of the former Main Street Gang, from left to right, Joseph, George, David and Richard)

Richard is one of the first street boys I met in Nanyuki. I have always been impressed with his bright demeanor despite the fact that he has been in the streets for many years. He has always avoided doing glue because he says "if you do glue, the other kids see you and (they) will go do it". In order to make money he begs or carries water from the river to local businesses. At age 16 he is truly a positive role model to the other street kids. His primary caretaker is his grandmother who is unemployed and responsible for the well being of eight grandchildren. She is a sweet woman and when I met her she invited me in and showed me the death certificate for Richards mother who had been killed in a car accident.

I had hoped that Richard would be the first of the boys to join Alfred in School. At the tutoring sessions however, he showed a lack of concentration. Eventually he started forgetting his books and saying he would come "next time". After years being out of school it was obvious that Richard had lost either the interest or the concentration required for academics.

When I returned to Kenya from my trip to the US I was sad to find out that Richard was no longer in Nanyuki. Often the street kids will disappear, most of the time just relocating to a new place where they might find better luck. Sometimes however the kids disappear because they are arrested, have an accident, or are sometimes kidnapped. I was hopeful for the best, but you never know.

Two months later Richard returned. He had been in Malindi on the coast because his grandmother was ill. I decided that while he was here I wouldn't let the opportunity to help him pass me by. Richard (with help from some of his educated friends) has turned in a business proposal to me. If he has a bicycle he will be able to bring water to many more businesses per day. He estimates that with a bike he should be able to make over 100 shillings per day. This is easily enough money for him to live on, while paying back the loan for the bicycle. He will be getting his bicycle in the next couple weeks and starting his new life as a working man.

This past month I have been collaborating with the Danish NGO ActionAid (formerly MS) which has a platform located on Daraja's campus. I worked with some of their volunteers to create a series of videos on the street kids and their lives. This video is about Likii Village the area that accounts for about 70% of the street children in Nanyuki. It is also the proposed location of the kitchen project I am trying to implement. Richard (who is from Likii) is featured predominately in the video and watching it is a good way to see what he is all about. The video is intended to be an amateur introduction to the issues, it was made in one day and has some sound problems so don't be too hard on it!

Special thanks to: Marie Lunau, Ida Peterson, Simone Bakke, Ida Marie Odgaard for making a great film!

video

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Alfred's brother Joseph

It has been such a long time since I have written that I don’t even know where to start. The past month has been a busy and productive one, but also a difficult one for me concerning technology. I have had to deal with two of my most vital possessions (my phone and computer) breaking, and my most entertaining possession (my Ipod) being stolen. I have concluded that this is just part of life, and a part that ultimately reminds me that material possessions aren't that important.

Upon reaching Kenya, this most recent time, I received two pieces of good news from Alfred. The first is that he was no longer just first in his class. His latest test results had propelled him to being first in his entire district for his grade level. This is obviously a huge achievement and if he continues to do this well he can hope to get a scholarship to a top Kenyan high school.

The second piece of good news was that his brother Joseph had been released from a juvenile detention facility. Two years before he had been picked up off the street by police and sent to this facility. He was eleven years old and had committed no crime except for not being able to afford food and therefore leaving school. He attended school at the facility but most of the time the teachers did not. After being released from the facility he was again left up to his own devices and forced to find food on the street.

Joseph and his Father

I was very familiar with his family and his situation and after some study sessions with him I was thoroughly convinced that he was interested in going back to school. I was able to sponsor him without too much trouble and as of last week he had joined his brother at Il Polei Primary School.

Joseph (left) is joined by his brother Alfred on his first day of school