Their recent visit to Makindu Children’s Center in hot southeast Kenya provided them with an opportunity to use their leadership abilities and mentor children of all ages. They also had a chance to try out the new van generously donated to EaSEP by Stabex International. With a modicum of oversight from EaSEP staff, the students organized and made the trip on their own. Vivian Kiniga (headed to Cornell) and Shadrack Lilan (Penn) were key organizers.
The 11 students (nine from the current EaSEP Class) divided into groups to mentor and conduct activities for very young children, children close to their teens, and high school students. The EaSEP group also conducted informal needs assessments to better understand the many pieces which make the Makindu day center a success as it serves a large rural area which is home to foster families for 1400 orphans and children with HIV.
A sample of observations from EaSEP mentors:
Talk of resilience
• “(My group) spoke to high school students…topics ranged from careers to teen relationships. I believe we guided them how we know best. They told us of their hopes. One wants to be a cardiologist, another, an engineer. Although, I must add, the boys were severely underrepresented in the group. One of the girls had been accepted to a national school but couldn’t attend due to fees. Amazingly, she still has an almost insane drive to pursue her dreams of Electrical Engineering. Talk of resilience. I wish you were there to see her eyes beaming as she spoke.”
• “We began by talking to (the middle age-group) about education—working hard in school and being motivated… they told us about the different challenges they face such as walking long distances to schools, lack of enough textbooks in schools and not being motivated. For example when we were discussing the various high schools they intended to attend, most only aimed for nearby schools. But after the talks they promised to be more positive.
“… We were also told that AIDs is prevalent in the area because the drivers for trailers sexually abuse the girls there (the Center advocates for the victims)…
"Program directors really encourage the children to read. Many of the children were among the top five in their classes.” (Vivian Kiniga)
Makindu is their parents
• “Makindu Children’s Center is an amazing initiative. The children are very happy and look hopeful. They play merrily oblivious of the many world challenges of poverty, disease and hunger around them. I guess this is the beauty of childhood—being happy to be and exist.
“…(Perhaps the older children) could undertake community-based activities to raise awareness about the center and also help the children develop skills. When we asked around in the community it was evident that it was not well-known (and staff acknowledged poor community support).” (Christa Sitienei)
• "To the children, Makindu is their parents, giving them their daily needs, providing security, giving them a sense of belonging, and inculcating moral values and important life skills. To them, Makindu is their mother, who wakes up in the middle of the night to soothe their cries. To them, Makindu is the medicine they take to cure an infection that threatens their lives. You would appreciate the importance of the center if you ask those children what they would be going through if they had not been at Makindu." (Samson Kipkoech)
• “The internet access in the area is superb…(but the) center therefore doesn't have any computer lab with which to teach the children computer skills…A computer lab will be worthwhile. There are some students on internship at the center who I'm sure wouldn’t mind manning a lab and teaching the children some basic skills. Some children can't even turn on a computer so it will be a great learning experience for them.
“The strong internet connection has proved useful to the running of the center. The workers are able to network with their donors without any hiccups. Computers could be found in most of the offices. The center supports the children up to the end of high school. After this, they link the high school graduates with one of their staff who is working with the Higher Education Loans Board to ensure that the graduates transition to the university with ease by giving them funds to finance their higher education. This smooth transition from high school to the university can be credited in large part to the strong internet connection in the area.” (Vincent Bett)
• “Makindu has very well-maintained buildings. Because the area receives inadequate rainfall, the center has a borehole and uses the water for irrigation, providing food for the children. The program can, in future, produce more food from their irrigation farm to supply to the town. The center operators informed me that the children also use the farm to learn agricultural skills that they can use to earn a living later in their lives. (Getrude Ndungu)
Strengthening foster families, advocating for children
• “The Makindu day center is dedicated to helping the foster parents as well as the children. The administrators reasoned that it is crucial to support the foster families, which in turn will result in the kids being well taken care of at home…The center provides food to the foster families (and) has a small farm where they train the kids in efficient farming methods. The kids in turn take these acquired methods to their homes.
“The center pays for school fees for high school students. The primary school students are usually enrolled in public school, therefore no school fees are paid. Students who won't make it to university are placed in vocational institutes so that they can learn skills that can help them to earn a living… the percentage of students transitioning to university is around 90%.
“The center also provides healthcare services for the children and the foster families. The staff believes that if the foster family is also cared for, they will feel motivated to continue supporting the child at home.”(Shadrack Lilan)
Help from many
• “The government supports the center immensely. The center received a 5-acre land donation from the government where two iron-roofed buildings now stand. The county government allocates some relief food to be distributed to the center and area chiefs help in settling differences between families and in enhancing community awareness of the program. Government court officials represent abused children in court. It was heartbreaking to hear that the center was currently following up on four pending sexual abuse cases involving its children.
“Program director Thomas Mwanzia advocates for the center with the government. He tries to establish strong relationships with local officials, the Makindu people and NGO's which support it. The Makindu staff believe that the government is able to contribute more in alleviating childhood suffering in the area by dealing with secondary factors affecting the center which include insecurity, unsupportive locals and drought.” (Gideon Cheruiyot)
The shoes we find ourselves in
• “(The younger children) have great goals and aspirations for their future; some desire to be pilots and they could draw beautiful images of themselves flying in aeroplanes. Others want to be doctors, nurses and teachers. However, some of them (10-12 years), do not really know who they want to be after school (and need an inspirational boost) once in a while so that they can get motivated in their academic pursuits and discover their passions, interest and talents.” (Joyline Chepkorir)
• “The Makindu children were vibrant, sociable and energetic when it came to playing games, especially volleyball. (Even) though they didn't even have a volleyball net, they drew boundaries with a stick on the dusty ground and played so passionately and skillfully, we were shocked. I hope the center can get them at least a volleyball net to nurture their talent and even make a competitive team out of some of them.
“The simple 'volleyball experience' reminded me that though sometimes we do not choose the shoes we find ourselves in, we should fearlessly love the shoes we wear however worn out they are and just like those kids, continue walking in them as if they aren't worn out.” (Elsie Odero)