Wednesday, June 8, 2011

East Africa Day 25 (Tues June 7): Introducing the Daraja Academy of Kenya Blue Sweater Book Club!

When Victoria and I met yesterday, I mentioned that I would like to hear Daraja’s (Kenyan) teachers stories about how they personally navigated the university process. The faculty and I were supposed to meet over lunch today. That’s been pushed back to Thursday - the students had an afternoon football (soccer) and volleyball tournament today with students from a Nanyuki secondary school. As a result, classes ended early and so lunch was shortened to squeeze every possible classroom lesson in, this afternoon. Since I didn’t have to plan for the lunch meeting, I decided to spend the AM preparing to speak to the students about my Blue Sweater Book Club!

Here’s a view of the office, with everyone who is currently using the space at their typical respective work stations. Mine is the one with the empty chair …

The members of the Book Club and I are meeting from 2-3pm on Sunday. I’ve selected the Prologue, and Chapters 13 and 16 for the students to read before Sunday, and then we will discuss those chapters at Book Club.

Why all of this talk about a book?? :) Some people might know that the author of The Blue Sweater, Jacqueline Novogratz, is one of my heros. Her story is part of the reason that I am here this summer, writing these blog posts:) In 2001 Jacqueline founded the NYC-based nonprofit Acumen Fund. Here’s a summary of her book, The Blue Sweater - I grabbed the text from the Acumen website:

The Blue Sweater is the inspiring personal memoir of a woman who has spent her life on a quest to understand global poverty and to find powerful new ways of tackling it. From her first stumbling efforts as a young idealist venturing forth in Africa to the creation of the trailblazing organization she runs today, Jacqueline Novogratz brings us a series of insightful stories and unforgettable characters -- from women dancing in a Nairobi slum, to unwed mothers starting a bakery, to courageous survivors of the Rwandan genocide, to entrepreneurs building services for the poor against impossible odds. She shows, in ways both hilarious and heartbreaking, how traditional charity often fails, but how a new form of philanthropic investing called “patient capital” can help make people self-sufficient and change millions of lives. More than just an autobiography or a how-to guide to tackling poverty, this book challenges us to grant dignity to the poor and to rethink our engagement with the world.

I don’t remember how I first heard about Acumen Fund, but I must have really liked what I had heard, because I joined the org’s email list:) In early 2010 I received an email from Acumen HQ, promoting the idea of Blue Sweater Book Clubs around the world. The email said that there would be formal Book Clubs in Nairobi and San Francisco, and that anyone was welcomed to attend those two events. I immediately signed up for the San Francisco Book Club. Long story short, I became a volunteer for the San Francisco Acumen Fund Chapter, and Acumen is now one of my favorite orgs. I’ve been so inspired by the people that I’ve gotten to know through Acumen – I realized it was really finally time that I did something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time – travel to Africa with an eye on the possibilities.

The football and volleyball tournaments went well this afternoon – Daraja won both! I snapped a few photos at the football match – some of our players in their uniforms, and the coaches – newly arrived return volunteer and recent UCSD graduate from Tucson – Car, with Teacher Peter, Wa, and Andy.

After the match I snapped this cute one of Maria and her fiance, Bennett, with some of the students. When not in Kenya, they live in Ocean Beach, San Diego.

I spent the rest of the afternoon preparing for the talk that Victoria and I decided that I would give to the students tonight, after dinner. Seventy-seven students attentively looking at me, while I practiced my own public speaking skills. Ashtonishingly, I did not ramble and probably spoke for ten minutes, max. I told them that I had come to Africa to learn what it is like to grow up here, but that I will never really know what it’s like. I can’t make Kenya a better place for women, because I don’t know what the problems are and what the solutions could be, like the students know them. So I told them that I came here to learn what their dreams are, and to try to help the students realize those dreams. I explained that I am here partly because of The Blue Sweater, and my belief that there are other ways to make this world a better place, other than the traditional careers that we all think of. I gave the example of how when I was in university, I thought that law was the right path because it sounded good, and it seemed that I would have the power to effect change. However I’ve since learned that there are plenty of other ways to go about making the world a better place – like the work that Acumen does, and the things that Jacqueline talked about in The Blue Sweater. I explained that I wanted the students to consider that there are so many ways that they can make Kenya a better place, and that I came because Caiitie Ireland told me about the Daraja students, and that I know that they can do it. I told them that Acumen Fund thinks that they can do it, too – and that the org donated twenty-five copies of The Blue Sweater to Daraja’s library, because Acumen thinks that it’s important for the Daraja students to read the book, too. I told them that the books would not be going anywhere – they will be in the library if they want to read the book at a later date, but that if they can read thirty-five pages before Sunday (the ones I’d assigned) then I would be holding Book Club on Sunday afternoon.

The students were so quiet – it was hard to tell if any of the students were moved to read the assigned text by Sunday. FINGERS CROSSED! But on the way out of the room where we held the meeting, I received a lot of silent hugs from students, and Mary N (a Form 1 student, and one of the students that I helped coach for the Public Speaking Competition) told me that I had done a good job with my speech, and I believe another student thanked me for sharing. We’ll see what happens on Sunday. I’d like to be able to continue the conversation about entrepreneurship and striking your own path with the students. When I said that the books would be in the library if the students wanted to read them later, I saw Emily, a Form 2 student that I also helped coach for Public Speaking, who was one of the three students who gave me my campus tour when I first arrived here, shaking her head – as if “I’m happy to hear the books will be in the library – I’ll read it later. So that was reassuring, at any rate:)
I then put the books out in the library …

After setting out the books with high hopes and crossed fingers, I helped Sue “test out” the projector, laptop and laptop speakers that she brought with her to donate to campus. We watched Rosalia’s favorite movie, “Twenty Seven Dresses”. It was cute!

1 comment:

  1. Wow I like your blog Nicole, I hope you have also been to our website love the pictures too!


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