Sunday, February 25, 2007

Journal: Mission Trip to Meru Kenya Feb 3-17, 2007

Eight dedicated Volunteer in Mission members met at Will Rogers Airport, Oklahoma City at 2 p.m., February 3, 2007 to begin a mission to Meru, Kenya in Africa. An inauspicious beginning of a snow and ice storm delayed the proposed flight two and a half days. But this made the team all the more eager to get on with our objectives of putting the Kaaga School for the Hearing Impaired Library into operation.

Jean Warner, 61, OKC VIM coordinator of the project had been assisted by Florence Mubichi of OKC and Meru in this project. Florence and her family of Meru: husband Stephen and daughters Fridah, 32, and Ravena, 27, established this project as part of a memorial to honor their middle daughter Kanana, who was tragically killed in an auto accident four years ago. Jean recruited volunteers, raised monies to build, equip and supply materials for this library. Now, in its second year, with the building in place and books on site, the team aimed to do as much as possible to stamp, catalog, card and arrange books so as to make the library operational. Also, shorter shelves were needed to serve the youngest library users.

Members of the team were: Jean, with a PhD in political science and an interest in women’s empowerment; Neal Baumwart, 69, retired Methodist minister and counselor at Integris Medical Center, OKC; Kathy Baumwart, 66, retired professor of Early Childhood Development at Rose State College, OKC; Bob Macemon, 51, electrical engineer with RS Information Services, Norman, which works with weather radar and choir director of UMC of the Good Shepherd, Yukon; Margaret Macemon, 52, Media Assistant at Mustang Trails Elementary School; Katelyn McLain, 20, part-time college student, Edmond; Nicole Winters, currently a stay-at-home mother of a 2-year old daughter and former teacher and librarian, Broken Bow; and Nan Lacy, 76, semi-retired librarian, former library science teacher, Madill.

Team members had volunteered to take on various responsibilities including: Kathy – snack coordinator, hotel menu coordinator and name tag distributor; Neal – team banker/bill payer, devotion leader and head organizer of the religious library that last year’s Oklahoma VIM team donated to the MCK Kaaga Church; Nan – journal keeper and co-director of book sorting and cataloging; Bob – carpentry supplies overseer, music director and overseer of the construction of eight low wooden book shelves for the beginner reading room; Margaret – bottled water supply monitor and co-director of book sorting and cataloging; Katelyn – weblog mistress and (because she had picked up some sign language and the children adored her) liaison to the deaf children; Jean – mission and logistics coordinator and occasional speech giver; and Nicole – luggage manager, official team photographer and co-director of book sorting and cataloging.
On arriving at the airport, there was considerable shifting of materials as team members worked to fill each of their two checked bags to the overseas allowable weight maximum of 50 pound limit. This was quite a project as team members were bringing enough cataloging materials for 5,000 books, gifts for Kenyan friends and dignitaries, more books for the library, supplies for the Mubichi Foundation, snacks, carpentry tools, cameras, binoculars and work clothes, church attire and safari garb for the next 15 days. In spite of her heavy schedule as a doctoral candidate and teacher of nursing at the University of Oklahoma, Florence Mubichi came to the airport to wish us well (and show us how to “really” pack a suitcase to the limit)!
As the first team member tried to check in at the ticket counter, she was questioned about a visa as this was necessary to travel to Kenya…consternation, consternation! Finally, the ticket agent admitted an entry visa could be purchased in Nairobi. Then the clerk said, “There’s no ticket for you!” After explaining that our tickets were scheduled for Thursday but that flight was cancelled due to icy conditions and rescheduled for Saturday, the ticketing agent “found” the ticket reservations and the rest of the group went through much more smoothly.

The layover in Memphis of two hours went fairly smoothly. But the 9-hour flight to Amsterdam was definitely a “longie,” not to mention losing seven hours more through time zone changes. There, the team secured an oval seating arrangement where luggage could be easily secured by minimal persons. The youngest two (Katelyn and Nicole) plus Kathy and Neal set off via trains to visit the Anne Frank Museum. On returning, they were exhilarated by the sights seen: the great number of bicycles and riders, the boats and canals, some of the “red light” district. The rest had eaten, visited the Rijks Museum’s small exhibition in the airport, window shopped and rested. Then there was another 9-hour hop to Nairobi, plus losing two more hours to time changes. Our bodies were getting a bit numb after two full calendar days in transit.

Monday, February 5, 2007

We arrived in Nairobi around 7 am, converted some US dollars into Kenyan shillings in the airport, bought our Kenyan visas, claimed our luggage and passed effortlessly through customs. Daniel Kibe, owner-administrator of Danvelo Tours & Safari, and his drivers Simon and Sammy were there to greet us. We knew the end of our journey was in sight. The vans were loaded with trekkers and our mountain of luggage. Then we were off to the city of Nairobi and points northeast.
We decided Kenya Airways had the best food, KLM was next, with Northwest Airlines last. But all did their best to make our travel time pass as pleasantly as possible. Some of the sights of Nairobi were: The National Museum with its six piece statuary out front, depicting the evolution of humans from Cro-Magnon to modern man, a woman sweeping the street, lovely shrub and flower plantings at street intersections, “Church Corner,” where seven churches are located close together, the intricately carved Indian temples and the many, many carefully dressed workers walking, walking to work. And still the vehicular traffic was quite slow as people made their way to work between 8-9 a.m.
We stopped about 10 a.m. at a lovely lodge with nice plantings and a nearby waterfall. Here, we had fresh fruit and drinks and most had tasty breakfasts in the open air dining room. Neal blessed us with our first devotion. But time was passing, and after an intro to various flora, we loaded up to drive on, stopping only once more for a pottie break before reaching the White Star Hotel in Meru. On the way we passed by the largest open air market in Africa--open year round and located in one specific tribal area. Weary, feeling dirty, we stumbled to our rooms at the one-story clean hotel. There we had less than an hour to shower, change clothes and unpack before being met in the lobby by the Mubichi family.
Stephen, Fridah and Ravena Mubichi whisked us away via a pickup, an SUV and a white sedan to their nearby home. This was enclosed by a high stone wall and guarded by dogs after 7 p.m. A vibrant family with many interests and abilities, they each had one or more cell phones. Stephen has restaurants, farms, does hauling of building materials, among other enterprises. Fridah is CEO of the Mariam Kanana Mubichi Foundation. Quite vocal and knowledgeable with two master degrees from the U.S., she is civic-minded and wants to improve the lot of the Meru citizens, especially women and children, via the foundation. The foundation promotes social economical development and aims to do that by engaging in projects that center around education and literacy, health and nutrition and resource management. They give scholarships to children, have provided a water pipeline that comes from a mountain stream for the Meru School for the Mentally Challenged, and now a library for the Kenya School for Healing Impaired.
Ravena, short, quiet and less outgoing, is said to be great at getting the most for her money. She, apparently, is the best family cook, and is currently working on a degree in microbiology and doing research for various companies, including the Kenyan and German governments. Their welcoming home was well-arranged and attractive, had several couches and pull up tables. We were feted with typical Kenyan food, served buffet style. After dinner we were treated to a tour of their yards which features a wonderful vegetable garden, various trees and plants, including bananas, mangoes, papayas, and Kanana’s grave site which is covered over with many flowering plants. Fridah is an animal lover and speaks fondly of her various dogs, which includes a new litter of seven puppies.
Back at the hotel, Jean offered post cards and stamps as mail was being taken to Nairobi on the morrow. Thus, we could send messages back home. After this, we quickly fell into beds for some sleep. Our time clocks, upset by jet lag, caused some to awaken earlier than wished, but all felt sure that tomorrow would bring clearer thinking as God has taken care of our needs so far.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A new day brought renewed energy and excitement. After breakfast, the library supplies and gifts were gathered in the hotel lounge to be sorted: some going back to the rooms, others being packed to go to the library site. A large number of college students were standing outside the library waiting to volunteer their time in order to help us when we arrived. Imagine the situation: Books, dusty and discarded from other libraries, were piled atop most every library shelf and table; time was at a premium; shelves were situated every which way; volunteers, eager to work, awaiting directions; VIM team, two days late, hoping to turn this chaos into an orderly library in five days. Everyone pitched in, doing their best. But frustration did ensue.

some of our wonderful volunteers

Work was accomplished, though not efficiently. But by day’s end, a system did evolve. Some books got sorted by category: E for early readers, F for fiction, B for biography, non-fiction by Dewey Decimal Classification number (without the decimals!). Not having worked with pre-school, Nan tried to classify non-fiction Easy books, but the other librarians said, “Just put an E, plus the first three letters of the author’s last name and send them on their way.” Floors got swept of debris. Tables got cleared and were labeled by the above categories. One table was set aside to receive books, which were dusted. Another person would remove old book pockets, another put in new pockets, another would stamp books, another sorted and distributed them to the various tables where librarians or team members would instruct and guide the volunteers in how to process books.

Meru Teachers College students were a great blessing

Again we went to the Mubichis for dinner where Stephen told of his young manhood. The English recruited likely young candidates and took them to Scotland where they were trained as detectives. Then they were sent out to work as janitors, painters or construction workers in order to infiltrate questionable organizations and gain evidence of wrong-doing. Once the criminals were convicted or evidence was obtained, the detective was moved to a different locale to start over again. He told of Florence getting a scholarship to Oklahoma City University in order to received nurse training. So all the young family of Fridah, 5, Kanana, 4, and Ravena, 2, accompanied Florence for the four years of study. While there, Stephen took care of the girls, got some vocational training and worked. At the Mubichi's home, team members were able to send off a few email messages home. (The picture is of Steven Mubichi and Josephine Mraya who served as our general coordinator on Tuesday - a thankless task to be sure!)

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Jet laggers got more sleep and were eager to face work day # 2 with a situation geared to use more workers efficiently. And a mission team from Illinois joined us for the morning and were most helpful. They supervised and – after only brief instriuctions – filled many process positions including book sorters, book dusters (a nasty job; next time bring face masks for this task!), pocket removers, pocket and book stampers, and pocket inserters, etc. The work began to flow faster and smoother. Some of the nastiest work involved emptying books off shelves so that they could be moved to better locations (see pictures). At 1 p.m. we stopped for lunch, again at the Mubichis, where we were joined by young student volunteers from an area technical school. (Click on any photo to enlarge it.)
Left: KEMU missionary volunteers (thank you). Right: Geoffrey Mutiga with East African Educational Publishers Ltd (right) donating 500,000 KES (over $8,000) worth of text books and reference books (in boxes).

These student volunteers helped with some of the nastiest tasks - like cutting out the old pockets, stamping the books and sticking the new pockets onto the back cover of each of the library books.
Nan was a wonderful mentor for the students working on non-fiction coding.

Water Line Dedication - School for Mentally Challenged Children

On Wednesday afternoon, we went to the Kaaga School for the Mentally Challenged for a dedication ceremony. Margaret and Nicole volunteered to stay and work at the library and direct the volunteer students in the afternoon. We were told it would be a 1-hour affair and we all promised to be back soon to help. At this school, physical conditions were clean, painted and up-to-date in appearance. The children appeared to range fro 6-18 years of age with problems ranging from hyper-activity to autism, from Down’s Syndrome to mentally deficient.
We toured a number of classrooms. When students were able, they were shown and taught simple life skills such as brushing teeth. One classroom even had a small garden growing in a corner area. Some were taught weaving, sewing, and beadwork. Their modern woodworking shop was turning out furniture. Here we saw some attractively made bed frames. Employed workers were preparing a concrete foundation for two more classroom. The girls were dressed in simple brown-checked dress with two large pockets in front and featured white collars and cuffs. Boys wore short pants and shirts. One fleet-footed boy was being chased after he’d discarded his pants.
After this tour, we were led to a canvas covered area with chairs for the dedication service of a piped water line to the school. The school has often been without water or had intermittent water for drinking, cleaning and cooking. Last year’s VIM team included and architect and an engineer who had walked a considerable area and determined that water could be brought via a pipeline from a nearby mountain stream and thus supply a steady supply of water to the school. So VIM and the Miriam Kanana Mubichi Foundation supplied funds to do this. We met some of board members of the school, a woman missionary from Oregon, a banker and the Methodist district superintendent. The program began with the students singing an original song entitled “Water Is Life."

Water! Water! Everywhere
Water! Water! Everywhere
Water is life

Solo: In the kitchen
All: Water is life
S: In the office
All Water is life
S: In the bathroom
All Water is live
S: In the dormitory
All Water is life
S: In the Shamba
All Water is life
Thank you for giving us water.
Water is life.
The young woman student soloist had a strong, clear voice and was backed by a chorus. The head mistress gave a talk on the project as well as other needs of the school. We were most proud of our VIM members. Neal had on a suit, tie and hat and looked most dignified as he gave a speech on this project and what it would mean to the boarding school. Jean, ever open and vibrant, expressed her joy in seeing the project being brought to fruition. She was gifted with a stool in the shape of Kenya. Fridah and Stephen were given another stool after Fridah spoke on the Foundation and how it hoped to empower the people to use their abilities and resources to continue making improvements in the area and in the country. The president of the school’s Board of Governors gave a talk of appreciation for what this facility would mean to the school. Then all were led across campus to a small courtyard where the pipeline ended in a water spigot enclosed in concrete and rock housing.
We had an extended devotion that included two prayers. The district superintendent of the Methodist church spoke briefly. The plaque memorializing the Mubichi Foundation and VIM was opened to view by Fridah and Jean. The spigot was turned on and some students came forward and filled their cups with drinking water. Another student put his hand over the spigot and gave those standing nearby a shower with this blessed water. The whole ceremony was dignified and meaningful. Kanana would gave been thankful for this memorial.

We adjourned to a hall for refreshments of tea, coffee, doughnuts and biscuits where team members visited with others. Fridah had said we’d be there an hour, but Kenya time prevailed and we returned to work at the library at 5:30 vs. 4 p.m. We worked there until dark, cleaning up debris from the day’s efforts and setting up for the new day. Then it was back to the Mubichis for another tasty Kenyan meal. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were all too glad to fall into bed.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Jean was seriously directing the movement of books and shelving on the upper level when head mistress Rhoda Kabiti asked her to please realign a totally shelf filled with books and get all the books up off the floor within the next half hour so that her cleaning crew could come in to sweep the room for tomorrow’s dedication. This put just a little extra stress on Jean, who moved into high gear. She instructed student volunteers to stuffed as many books as they could onto available shelves two rows deep and then covered those up with a third row of matching textbooks. Thank goodness for deep shelving. The books on the upper level are not cataloged and are unsorted – but they look great!
On the lower level, piles of non-fiction books were quickly sorted into stacks by 000’s, 100’s, 200’s, etc. and then moved onto shelves, with no sub-arranging. This continued with all the books of fiction were sorted alphabetically from A to Z by author’s last name; then, onto shelves they went. Ditto with biographies, sorted and then shelved by subject’s last name. Meanwhile, other workers were working on the Easy books in the small room.
We picked up and boxed up remaining supplies and put them in Stephen‘s pickup.. Students from the school moved in dusting and mopping. (We had thrown away some books as too dirty, worn, out-of-date, etc and the cleaners sorted through the pile and took most of the books home with them!)
Part of our crew moved out to the Mubichis for dinner, plus special treats of sambusas (deep fried pastry triangles stuffed with spiced meat) and roasted corn (had much the flavor of popped corn). Fridah, Bob and Jean were slow in coming as Bob was committed to finishing some details on eight small book shelves he was building for the Easy book area.

Stephen told stories of his youth. He was from the Maasi tribe, noted for tall, strong warriors whose ear lobes are split and have long dangling earrings falling from them. Women are adorned with many bracelets on their arms and necks. He told of the Meru tribal negotiations leading up to marriage, which is quite costly to young men.. Stephen is part Meru. These are cousins of the Maasi. If a young man is marrying the first marriageable daughter, he’s asked to provide a suit for the father, a blanket for the bride’s mother, a drum of honey in an animal skin, a bull with a hump on its neck--else two bulls, a pure white lamb, and always, five cows! Amazingly, the tradition is still valid. In the meantime, the prospective groom’s background is checked for mental alertness and stabili6y, whether the family is hard-working, so the bride will be provided for. If all goes well, the marriage proceeds.

Stephen’s early courtship of Florence was erratic because he was loud and forceful, carried a gun, and brought dead and injured to the hospital where Florence worked. So Stephen became quite inventive about hiding his gun in his clothing.

About 7 p.m. Jean, Fridah and Bob and we ate. Most were exhausted and ready to turn in but first Neal led a brief devotion session. All except Jean, returned to the hotel. She and Fridah were holding a meeting with a small group of local women leaders on women’s empowerment programs.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Today was the big day for dedicating the Miriam Kanana Memorial Library at the Kaaga School for the Hearing Impaired. We arose, dressed in our VIM shirts, breakfasted and were on our way to the school at the same time, about 8 a.m. There, Bob and the Shop Team proudly brought up their almost finished book shelves (not varnished yet). Other team members straightened up books on the shelves, shoved tables in the youngest readers area into more pleasing positions.

Attractive books were placed atop and within new book shelves and atop tables in the main section of the library. The overall effect was attractive and inviting. Many photos were taken to commemorate the occasion. Fridah came in an attractive dress. (We’d only seen her in jeans before.) Finally, the honored guest, a member of Parliament arrived, the Honorable David Mwirari. He was short of stature, intelligent looking with eye glasses. His round face sported a lip moustache. An air of dignity, geniality and repose emanated from him. Also, among the dignitaries was the current bishop, Kiogora, of this section of the Methodist Church which is very active in East Africa. He had eyes that seemed to encompass much and appeared very traditional. Rhoda Kabiti, head mistress, looked very nice in a light green pants suit with jacket.

After Jean and the MP unveiled the plaque commemorating the opening of the library (Sadly, the Mubichi Foundation name was not even on this plaque, after all they had done to make this possible.), the dignitaries walked into and up onto the higher level of the library where the bishop led in a dedication service and in singing of “To God Be the Glory.”

Then the dignitaries were led on a walking tour of some of the classrooms. The first room had a shampoo bowl. Here, Girls were taught hair care and how to do corn row styling. The teacher was very fast. Next room featured boys’ hair care. Here the teacher was shaving the head of an apprehensive youngster of about eight years. In the last room visited, domestic arts for girls were shown: hand-knit sweaters, men’s tailored shirts, women’s dresses, aprons, etc. A colleague praised her, saying she was the best! She was proud that even if the girls did not have sewing machines at home, they could still hand sew clothes. We learned this institution was only established in 1990’s by previous Bishop Mwiti and had 180 students between 8-23 years.
After the tour, groups were dispersed: dignitaries, including heads of other schools and Board of Governor members were seated under the center tent. Other seating was placed at 90 degree angles to either side of first tent, leaving a large open space in the middle. Students in their best uniforms of gray skirts or pants, pink shirts and royal blue sweaters were seated to the right of the dignitaries while adult visitors were seated to the left.

The program began with a girls dance troupe, garbed in native costumes. Rhoda Kabiti welcomed all and introduced her faculty and the heads of other schools from the area. The Chairman of the Board of Governors stated how pleased the school was to have this very nice facility to serve the students of this school as well as the community at large, a message reiterated all afternoon. (This somewhat assuaged our concerns that the library might go unused.) Fridah, CEO of the Miriam Kanana Mubichi Foundation said this blessed library would honor Kanana who had a heart for the invisible children: those poverty stricken, the disadvantaged, the disabled. She said she looked forward to the time when the Kenyan people would feel empowered to solve their own financial and social problems.
Jean Warner, our VIM leader graciously thanked all those who volunteered their efforts to make the library a reality: people from several states and churches in the U.S. and many here in Meru who had helped in raising funds, in purchasing books, in volunteering their time and services. She gave enough photos of each of last year’s classes so each child would have a photo of him or herself. She gifted Rhoda, the member of Parliament and others with tokens of appreciation. She said the books in the library were not all cataloged, but a start had been made. She challenged the people to finish the job. In the meantime, it is an operational facility to help turn the community into a reading society. Also speaking was the Director of the Compassion Program, and education officer and the chief guest. All praised the Mubichi family and the foundation for having the dream and then providing the inspiration and the leadership to turn the dream into reality. They were also appreciative of the VIM teams, who had come, working hard to show their love and compassion for those in need. Rhoda, assisted by a staff member, called the VIM team to the front where each was given a lovely, footed, round wooden bowl and lid. The dedication ended with a prayer and the serving of a delicious Kenyan lunch.