Sunday, June 5, 2011

East Africa Day 21 (Fri June 3): Public Speaking Competition Day

What a day – I’ll try to be brief.

This AM after breakfast the students jumped into the school’s main vehicle, and Teachers Doreen and Wycliffe, Pamela, Sue, myself, and one of the students Catherine jumped into Jenni and Jason’s personal vehicle, driven by Andy. We headed into Nanyuki, and then out of town to a Catholic-run campus that teaches and employs disabled Kenyans in textile work. That’s were the public speaking competition was held, today. We were on to the District Level, competing against other secondary schools from all over the region who arrived on their schools’ privately owned and lettered school buses, some with piles of mattresses strapped to the top of the buses because the students would presumably stop somewhere tonight and camp, enroute back to their respective campuses. Yep, today was kind of a big deal:)

We hung around for a few hours while the organizers waited for some of the schools to arrive, and watched the other schools practice. (Each school losely claimed a spot on the campus, and were on the lawn rehearsing for all to see – it was fun!) Well what also was happening was a good amount of flirting. I found myself under a tree, trying to get some shade, talking with Irene from Form 2. She is fantastic. We got into a very long conversation about the KCPE (taken at the end of primary school/grade 8), the secondary school admissions process, and the financial factor. Irene told me her story about how she came to Daraja, and about her primary school. I hope that I can transcribe everything that’s now in my head into my research outline, tomorrow when I sit down to do some work. Irene gave me a lot to work with!

I then asked the Daraja students to direct me to “the bathroom” which seemed to confuse them, so then we settled for a tour of campus that went by “the toilet”. I am not sure that what we located should really be called “a toilet” – and I’ll leave it at that. It was entertaining, and Irene got a kick out the whole thing. No, I didn’t memorialize the occasion with a photo.

Irene then suggested that we take a tour of the area, since she is from a village up the road, and knows the area very well. (Daraja requires each student to do community service over every break, and Irene volunteers at the Catholic-run center where we were for the contest, and at a nearby orphanage.) So we went on a really nice walking tour of the outskirts of Nanyuki. We visited the orphanage for orphans and street children, which is run by an Italian from Italy, who I saw from a distance but did not get to attempt to communicate with via my limited Italian. The woman who runs the center gave us a tour herself. I only snapped a photo of the gate, entering the center. I thought of Sharon and the work that she did in Tanzania. We also visited a Catholic-run hospital that houses mentally disabled, AIDS, and diabetes patients. (Irene also volunteers there, in the kitchen, so she filled us in and gave us the tour.) This center also had some connection to Italy. (I saw something of this on a plaque on the outside of a building, and the tile work on some of the structures gave it away.)

When we got back to campus, there were even more students on campus practicing – and flirting – and watching the competition. The singing and dancing took place in a big gymnasium-like building, the poetry recited in Swahili took place in another room in a different building, and the poetry recited in English took place in a third building. Later in the day the Swahili poetry room was used for chorus competition (I have no idea what this was – Daraja didn’t compete in this), and then later for public speaking. I’d briefly mentioned this earlier – each student was given a different topic and a few minutes in an isolated area behind the judges to compose a speech, and then four minutes to give the speech before the judges.) For the most part, all of these competitions were taking place at the same time. With Daraja students wandering, competing in different categories in different buildings at different times, and with no printed schedule, it could have been hectic if I’d chosen to let it be, but instead I hung out and wandered between buildings/competitions, trying to catch as much Daraja as I could. Here is Emily, waiting for her turn to compete in Swahili poetry. Emily and I love this one – I promised to send her a print of it.



I also got to see two schools perform a total of four Maasai tribal dances/songs in the gymnasium, dressed in beautiful costumes. Strikingly beautiful. I most enjoyed the women’s singing – almost gutteral, from the back of the throat, and then the men’s dancing. I’m not used to seeing a large group of men who can dance like that in unison. Wow – it was beautiful. I didn’t even attempt photos – it was too dark inside, and I was watching by peering through the windows, from the outside of the building. It also really wouldn’t have been appropriate. Aside from two women from another school who approached me and asked if they could take a photo with Pamela and I (they had a male friend use their digital camera to take the photo), I didn’t see any other cameras at the competition. It’s awkward to pull it out and snap. BUT I did manage to get this one, before the women in red entered the gymnasium to perform one of their Maasai tribal dances and songs. This is a pretty good idea of what the day and campus looked like.



I got to sit in the back of the room where the poetry in English took place. Not that that was special – anyone was allowed to sit in that room and watch the competition, so long as you were quiet:) So I got to see a few of the Daraja students perform. They did such a great job! I was so proud of them! As for the Swahili poetry competitors – the door closed behind them, so all I could do was listen with my ear pressed up against the door. (And no, I haven’t really learned much Swahili as of late.) When two of our students competed in the Public Speaking (topics I mentioned) the door was left open, so I was at least able to watch their gestures, even if I couldn’t really hear too well.

The organizers were still waiting for some students to arrive, so we were not able to finish up the competition today. We are heading back tomorrow, where I believe we have one more student who needs to compete – in Public Speaking (topics) – this one in English. (The two who went today, were competing in Swahili.) We only got the final results for one of the categories today, that Daraja competed in – and the Daraja student took FIRST PLACE, beating out five other students for a spot at the Provincial level, which will take place in the Kenyan city of Eldoret in the Rift Valley. I don’t know when that competition takes place, but likely within a month’s time. As for everyone else – we go back tomorrow to learn the results.
I snapped these two photos, right before we left – some of the Daraja team, Teacher Wycliffe, and then fellow volunteers Pamela, Sue and I. I love the Daraja t-shirts! One of the judges approached Sue this afternoon and told her that the judges were impressed by the Daraja competitors. I hope that that means that we are going to get some news tomorrow that will make the students happy!




As we were exiting the grounds and heading back to our vehicles, we ran into one of our Form 2 student’s mothers. Rosaria’s family lives within walking distance of the competition location, and so her mom walked over to see her. She talked with me for a while – I got the impression that she thought that I had a more important role at the school than I do, because she was asking me about Rosaria’s performance in terms of respect, responsibility, etc. I assured her that her daughter works very hard, and is very, very respectful. (All of the Daraja students are model-perfect regarding “ respect”, so that was an easy thing to assure her of!) Her mom spoke very passionately about the way that Daraja has instilled Roasaria with so much confidence and belief in herself. When Rosaria isn’t so good at one subject, she tells her mom - but that’s OK because I’m good at other subjects! Her mom is looking forward to seeing where this takes Rosaria when she leaves Daraja. I don’t think she meant Higher Education – I think she meant more about how Rosaria will feel about her life and place in this world. She said that so many students who don’t have people who believe in them like Daraja does, who do not teach them to believe in themselves, believe that there is no place for them in the world, and that they feel like they do not have anything to offer the world and are useless. I hope that no matter what happens to Daraja’s students after they graduate, that they will never feel like that.

I also continued to ask the students today about why they had voluntarily signed up to compete in this annual national competition. Catherine told me that she has never done anything like this before, but she wants to be a social worker so that she can help people in other countries, and knows that this means that she needs to be a good communicator. So she signed up for this – wow. When I asked Alice the same question this afternoon she paused, and then said that she wanted the certificate. Oh, she’s cute! In round one she was awarded first place in her category. She is a Form 2, but voluntarily signed up to compete against the Form 4’s. I can’t wait to see how she did today – she has a real talent for the performing arts.

When we returned to campus I found an email in my inbox from one of Kenya’s top secondary schools for girls, inviting me to visit campus. YAY! I can’t wait! I just finished “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”, which reminded me of the South African secondary school The African Leadership Academy. I need to check in with them to see if they know of anyone else who is trying to equalize access to higher education for women in East Africa, particularly Kenya – naturally! I am starting “Three Cups of Tea” tonight – another book borrowed from the Daraja library. I also saw that we have the next book by the same author, so you can guess what I might be reading, next …

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