From 2-9 September, a small group of visitors from the United States of America came to Jitegemee. This group included David Woods, a longtime friend of Jitegemee, along with Abby Kral and Catherine Mosca, both board members in the U.S.A. Here’s David’s report from his visit to Kenya, Machakos, and Jitegemee:
I have known Farah Stockman since before she founded Jitegemee. I was a colleague of her mother, Ida Stockman, at Howard University. I served on the board of Jitegemee for a few years more than ten years ago. I was unable to visit Machakos in the past when the opportunity arose. So, a few months ago, when I visited Farah and Ida in Cambridge (MA), I heard of the plans for a trip to Machakos. I decided to join the trip, thinking that I was going as an observer of a program that I have supported. I was not prepared for the complete immersion in the Jitegemee program. I was met at the airport by the new Director Verity Norman-Tichawangana and her husband Fungai.
When we arrived at the colorful gate of the Jitegemee building, we were greeted by many students singing and dancing. “Karibu!!” they cried and we felt the enthusiastic Welcome! Soon we were shaking hands with students and staff. I was not a quiet observer. I was a willing participant in Jitegemee.
My visit was about people. The leadership team planned activities that brought us into contact with students, staff, and parents. We helped make a meal of chapatis in the kitchen with the students. We traveled to Lake Naivasha with the students. We hiked with the students. We shared ideas and meals with the teaching staff, who were always available to guide and stimulate the students.
When two of us talked to the students about the Martin Luther King “dream” speech (shown to the students in a video), it was the staff who interpreted our difficult American English into a more comprehensible KiKamba. It was the staff who helped stimulate the students to articulate their own dreams. And we sat with the parents in the lovely yard of Villa Machakos, where we learned to make saleable products out of beads. We all (students, staff, parents, and visitors) were immersed in the spirit of Jitegemee.
The leadership team (Verity and the staff) have developed a vibrant school spirit with a growing sense of community. The basic needs of the children are provided for, which enables them to be alert students. Students and staff are part of the local Kamba community. Yet there is growing awareness of the need for greater exposure to the world outside of Machakos. Our trip by bus to Lake Naivasha extended the children’s experience. Jitegemee’s director is herself a symbol of the outside world. Her roots are in South Africa and Zimbabwe. She has lived in the United States. It is an ambitious goal to raise student awareness of the outside world. I believe that good communication skills are vital to that awareness. I found “Kenyan English” difficult for my old ears. Some of us spoke of expanding and organizing a library for Jitegemee. Reading and travel expand horizons. Excellence in English will serve the students at home in Kenya and abroad, when they have opportunities to travel.
This observer became a member of the Jitegemee community. I was welcomed and immersed in the energy of Jitegemee.
With love, David.