Sunday, January 29, 2012

Joyce: 2nd Year Update!

If you haven’t read about taking Joyce to school last year check it here. (You might want to read that one first, but dont have to)

The second day I was back in Kenya, I was driving into town and came across a group of local girls who were walking to town. Now Im normally not one to take the dangerous option of picking up hitchhikers especially teenage girls, but considering that they had an hour long walk ahead of them and it would take 15 minutes by car, I decided to live a little and take a risk.

It turns out the girls were students at St. Francis Secondary school in Dol Dol. The same school Joyce and Lekerimba attend. I asked them if they knew the girls and if they could tell them hello for me. They responded that they did, and they would say hello.

The next day at 8 am I was walking by the gate and I saw a girl staring at me smiling. I had no idea who she was, so I smiled politely and walked by. Ten minutes later I walked by again, going back to my house. The smiling face was still there, so I smiled again and continued to walk by. I heard a muffled voice proclaim “Matt!” and turned around and walked closer. It was Joyce looking much older and more radiant than I had ever seen, with the biggest smile on her face. I approached her ready for one of her limp-wristed greeting and was met with a bear hug.

(Joyce, with her new smile)

“I have missed you so much,” she said. “I have just been praying that you would return here safely, and here you are!”

It was Joyce…but not at all the Joyce I remembered. That Joyce wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t smile and definitely wouldn’t hug me. This Joyce wouldn’t STOP smiling. Later I was to find out, she wouldn’t stop talking either.

“One of my friends from school came to visit me and told me that I was greeted by a certain Mzungu and I knew it must be you!”

I asked her to make a list of things that we needed to get before school started next week and hand it to me. She sat there for a long while. After ten minutes had passed I asked to see her list. Her smile showed her embarrassment, as she walked to me and put the list in my hand.

The list said: “Money for shopping”

I tried to stop myself from laughing out loud, but I am pretty sure I failed. “I know you need money for shopping,” I said, “I need to know WHAT you will be shopping for.”

She shyly looked away and whispered “you know, there are some things that girls need.”

The cultural differences on this subject are great, so I tried to convey to her that she could treat me as though I was family. I understand though that even between male and female family members some of these feminine issues remain taboo. Because of these reasons I was very pleased when she finally handed me a list that included “under garments” and “feminine napkins”.

We agreed to meet the next day to go shopping and I bid her farewell. Five minutes later I walked by again and there was Joyce standing at the gate blushing. I walked closer to her and when I finally got to whisper distance she said to me, “My grandmother has invited you to come to our house, will you come?”

“How far away is your house?” I asked her.

“Just over this hill”

45 minutes later I am hiking through completely uninhabited hillside with Joyce by my side shooting out questions for me. “How was your trip to the United States?” She asked, “How are your nephews?” “Please tell me about your Aunt and the rest of your family.” “Do you think one day I will be able to visit the United States?” “Why are you not married?”

“-good question,” I began, and was about to explain that in order to get married you need to find a partner who is willing to be with you.

“If it were not for you, I would be married,” Joyce said, in a matter of fact matter

“What do you mean?” I asked, not understanding.

“Last year when I met you,” she started, “I was in a very bad place, I was very sad, and everyone said that if I was unable to go to school that I must marry a certain old man.” Arranged marriages are very common amongst the Maasai, and if a family is unable to take care of a girl the marriages often happen at a young age, oftentimes even younger than Joyce, who is 17. I was not aware that Joyce was to be married off. “My grandmother does not like the man, so she said that I could just stay at home, even though there would not be enough food.”

Just then we reached a clearing and saw her family in the clearing. “Ah, here we are, they will be so happy to see you!”

(Joyce's family in the clearing)

I came into the clearing and greeted Joyce's family. It was her Grandmother and her Uncle's wife and children, and another elderly woman who she said was related to her in some way or another. The older people did seemed pleased to meet me, but the babies were visibly afraid of me. It is likely they had never seen a mzungu before.

(Joyce's family, baby clearly not happy to see me)

Joyce welcomed me into her house and showed me around. The inside of a Maasai manyatta is amazing to me. First off they are built hobbit short, I had to bend over at the waist to get in the door.

(The entrance to Joyce's family manyatta)
The structure is partitioned off into four distinct rooms, one of which is a kitchen with an open flame and a very small hole or "window" to let the smoke out and light in.
(The Kitchen with it's "window")
This results in an inside that is always smokey, always smells of smoke, a ceiling that looks like it is charred and an inside is so dark that it was almost impossible for me to navigate.
(The "charred" roof which lets in very little light)
The family was very congenial and Joyce kept apologizing and explaining to me that they have no animals and no food to offer me. In Maasai culture animal ownership (along with a number of children you have), is the prime indicator of wealth. The fact that Joyce's family has no animals at all, no cows, goats or sheep is a sign that the family is very poor and possibly in danger of starving. Joyce's grandmother was walking around without shoes which is kind of dangerous since she lives in the bush. Even though it is not a common practice for the Simama Project, I made an exception and bought the grandmother some shoes (which she showed off the next day by unexpectedly walking to see me...she was visibly pleased with them).

As you may remember last year when I brought her to school for the first time I had my doubts about whether she was the right girl to sponsor. Now I feel so lucky that I chose to sponsor her. Everyone who see's her remarks that she seems like a different girl, much more confident, much happier. She is also in the top third of her class academically. Last year when I dropped her off at school it was the only time she was affectionate towards me, when she held my hand and wouldn't let go. This time it was very different dropping her off at school. She had shown so much affection the week before and almost treated me like her family. When we got to school I asked her if she wanted me to walk her in and she looked at me horrified shaking her head "no". I imagine this is what its like to drop your daughter off at high school.

(Joyce smiling from far away when I dropped her off)
Joyce, myself and the entire Simama Project would like to spend a special thanks to my Aunt Nancy and her partner Susan and their family, for sponsoring Joyce and making this great opportunity possible for her. There are plenty more students like Joyce who are unable to afford education, and the cost of supporting one of these students for a whole year is so low (relatively) for those of us who enjoy a western standard of living. For more information email me:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Matching Grant Funds Matched!!!

Thank you to everyone who helped make the matching grant a success. The Simama Project is currently looking for other matching grants or other sources of funding to help the kids. Scholarship season has arrived so if you or anyone you know might be interested in getting a needy Kenyan child through school please email me! ( Thank you for those who already sponsor kids!

A special thank you to my dear friends Angela and Nate who threw the first ever Simama fundraising event. It was a huge success and got the ball rolling on the matching grant. In addition it gave the generous folks in San Francisco a chance to learn about the situation for the youth in Kenya, and more importantly, a chance to do something about it (which they did).

(The hosts, Angela and Nate, next to the amazing assortment of cheeses which actually probably deserves its own picture)
(There we go. Yeah definitely picture worthy)
(Bonded with the best we could being thousands of miles away)
(Lovely people)
(and of course....Dessert)