A letter from our first intern, Calum Bowden recapping his Jitegemee experience From our July 2011 Newsletter
There is no way to envisage what life is like in rural Kenya and much of the developing world until you experience it firsthand. Coming from white, middle class America, no matter how many generalizations about Africa you’ve heard, there is no way to understand the overwhelming lack of opportunity that plagues places like Kenya. As I discovered, Jitegemee exists to provide opportunities for those who have the least of them. I spent four months volunteering in Kenya, just under three of which I spent completing Jitegemee’s first internship program.
I lived with Norman and Francesca Mwanzia, an elderly husband and wife who adopted me as their American son and gave me the opportunity to fully experience Kenyan life and Kikamba culture. They took me to church with them, to their family farm, and they introduced me to their family, friends and neighbors. Norman and Francesca have spent their lives creating their own compound complete with a house, corn fields, two small houses for rent, a preschool class room and a mango tree. Every morning I would walk 30 minutes from where the Mwanzias lived in Miwani to Jitegemee’s center in Machakos Town, or if I was running late, I would take a matatu (a shared taxi). To get to the main road, I would pass through Miwani, greeting and being greeted with “Jambo!” at every smiling face. “MZUNGU!” (foreigner) the little kids exploded at the sight of me, a strange, slightly red American man strolling through their rural community.
I hope that the risk Jitegemee took in sending a fresh, qualification-less high school graduate to Kenya paid off. In an environment that could not be more different from my suburban home town of Brookline, Massachusetts, my age gave me a common ground with many of the Jitegemee scholars; it gave me an initial way to connect with them.
I worked in collaboration with Mike, Elizabeth, Mwelu, and Alex to find the areas where I could be of most use. My duties included developing a basic computer skills curriculum and lessons, and creating a networked computer lab and a litter management and environmental awareness program. While I hope that my work there will have a lasting impact in Machakos, I know that what I learned from Jitegemee’s students and staff will forever impact the way I approach life.
Through conversations with courageous people, I saw just how invaluable faith and optimism are in surmounting dire situations. The first day I arrived at Jitegemee, I was introduced to three girls who wanted to tell me about what they had been through. The girls, whom I later got to know well, recounted horror stories about life on the streets, drug and alcohol abuse, and not having enough food to eat. They were two years younger than me and already they had been through an incredible amount of hardship. I thought about people I know from home who, in spite of the privileges they have, chose not to do their homework, who chose to go to class high or skip class altogether. How come when opportunities and necessities are provided, people abuse them? Every Jitegemee student I met craved education. Learning is their key to a better life.
One of the girls, exuding the confidence and maturity of a person much older than fifteen, continued her story. She wore a long, floral-patterned skirt and a simple button-shirt, caringly scrubbed cleaner than anything I owned, and she appeared cool and at ease under the hot sun. She was ready to open up her heart to a complete stranger and share her love for Jitegemee. She spoke softly and thoughtfully in English, a language she had only learned up to the Kenyan sixth grade level. She explained to me how one day, instead of being ignored and looked down on by passersby, she was approached by a well-dressed teacher from Jitegemee. She was offered a daily meal and the chance to learn a trade and do something with her life. This was an opportunity she seized with her entire spirit, and she is now a certified hair dresser and was one of the best students in my computer classes.
While it is not always this easy to get children off of the streets, Jitegemee is extremely successful and has a high retention rate because there is so much need for what they do; most street children just need to be given the chance to succeed. The students are so grateful for Jitegemee and I was touched by the weeks of effort they put in to welcome a family of donors with dance and songs. I will always be grateful for the opportunity Jitegemee gave me and I am already planning my trip back to Machakos. I will forever remember the stories, songs, dances, expressions, jokes, and smiles. I hope to continue being a part of the Jitegemee family and the great work that they do. Tutaonana.