Thursday, June 16, 2011

East Africa Day 30 (Sun June 12): Daraja Blue Sweater Book Club!

What a great, satisfying day! I woke up before sunrise today, and managed to get out of bed just long enough to open my banda door and look at the beautiful skyline:) I then got my Blue Sweater notes out, and began re-reading the chapters I’d assigned to the students for today’s Book Club meeting: the prologue, Chapters 13 and 16. Fellow volunteer, Sue left campus today to return to Marin County. She’s planning to come back next summer, to coach the students for the Nanyuki Music Festival; at least everyone knows that she’ll be back in less than 12 months! After saying goodbye to Sue, I took my materials out to the quad, and listened to the Catholic students singing in a classroom to my right, and the Protestant students singing in a classroom to my left. It was beautiful morning – sunny, but not hot.



I created my outline for Book Club as the students were finishing services. I then found two Form 3 students who were out behind the dormitory building closest to my banda, doing their laundry. (Pamela had told me that she learned how to do wash last weekend, and that it was a lot of fun. Plus, I had some clothes that I really needed to thoroughly wash:) I watched the students do their laundry and received a very detailed lesson.

First the white powder soap goes into a bucket with running water from the tap. Then the clothes go into the bucket, to be scrubbed. (Darks are washed together, lights are washed together, and clothing that might bleed is washed in its own bucket.) The dirty clothes are scrunched around in the bucket with the suds. Then a bar of soap (not specifically labeled in the store, for clothing – I asked – the soap is multi-purpose) is rubbed into the clothes, into stains or heavily soiled areas. Then you scrub the bar soaped areas, holding the clothing above the surface of the water. You must take the type of fabric into account when scrubbing with the soap – for example wool sweater sleeves should be scrubbed between your hands, from shoulder seam to wrist so that you do not stretch out the sweater sleeve. Heavily soiled areas include cuffs – the students made sure that I applied the bar soap to all of my sleeve cuffs! Next, after using the bar soap, the clothing is again swished around in the suds-filled bucket. Then you wring it out, and put the clothing into another bucket.



If the clothing was particularly dirty, or if the water in the suds bucket is now pretty dirty, then you know that it needs to be scrubbed again. (The students were supervising me, and deemed that re-scrubbing was necessary in my case:) So then a student re-scrubbed my clothes in a second bucket of sudsy water, again using the bar soap. Then, the clothes wound up in a third bucket where the second student also scrubbed the parts that I hadn’t done thoroughly enough. I tell you, these are going to be the cleanest clothes that I will have ever put on my body!

Finally, the soapy but wrung-out clothes were put into a bucket of clean water, to be rinsed. When the bucket is full of soapy clothes, the bucket is pushed underneath the spigot, and clean water is poured over each item of clothing separately to make sure that the soap comes out. Then the clothes are wrung out and hung up outside in the sun to dry. Athletic shoes are left to sit in a soapy bucket for a bit, and are scrubbed with a brush – especially if the shoes are white. Apparently they get quite dirty and it’s a process to clean them, based on the students’ looks when I asked them about the shoe-washing process:)

I asked who washes the clothes at home. One student does the family’s laundry with her mom. The other student’s sister washes the family’s clothes. Sometimes brothers will beg or pay their sisters to wash their dirty clothes. The wash is done once a week, and apparently wash for one family – especially if there are little kids who like to play in the dirt – can be a lot of work. I can imagine, based on my experience this morning, with my limited amount of dirty clothing! I also learned that washing clothes is a profession – persons go door to door in a community, to ask if you need your clothes washed. Some families use the same launderer each time, because they know that they can trust the launderer. Some launderers steal your clothing when you hand it over, to be washed. But I had a great time washing my clothes this morning, and it was very satisfying! (Unfortunately it rained this afternoon so my damp clothes are now hanging up inside of my banda awaiting tomorrow’s sun, but that’s OK. Except undergarments – those must be hung up to dry in a place where Kenyans will not be able to catch a glimpse of them.)

I then held my Book Club meeting from 2-3pm, directly following lunch. On my way to my chosen spot on the quad lawn, underneath a tree, I passed this student reading the book. She was so engrossed in it that she didn’t even notice that I snapped a few photos of her from various angles:)



I sat down underneath the tree to wait … ten students came, Vice Principal Victoria, Pamela, Maria, and Car stopped by to snap these photos for me with my camera. I was so touched, particularly because the students start exams tomorrow. Some students have four exams tomorrow – covering everything that they have learned since school started a month ago. Since the students hadn’t had a chance to complete all of the reading, we primarily used The Blue Sweater to discuss the bigger picture – the definition of an “entrepreneur”, some examples of entrepreneurs from the book (Jacqueline herself, plus two entrepreneurs she writes about), and Jenni and Jason who started Daraja. We talked about the obstacles that these entrepreneurs faced – such as people who told them “no”, and the amazing things that can happen when you listen to your inner voice and don’t give up.



We also discussed Acumen Fund’s model, the Kibera Book Club, “patient capital” vs grants and traditional loans. I likened the Daraja students to the entrepreneurs that we discussed, and made sure that they knew through much repetition that they will be great, and that they just need to stick with it until they divine their own purposes. I used the example of the entrepreneur in The Blue Sweater who was a well-respected eye doctor in India, who then created a new product that wound up aiding the poor around the world. This Indian man was a doctor, yes – but he took a different path, turned down an offer to buy his product because he believed there was another, better way to serve the poor, and he made a huge difference. I perhaps over did, through much repetition, that you can be great in a variety of ways – there is no one “right” way to be great, no one “right” profession or job, and that everyone has their own talents that will lead them to their own paths. I encouraged risk-taking, entrepreneurship, and big dreams. I told them that we were talking about the Blue Sweater because Jacqueline’s story inspires me, but that it’s Jacqueline’s story, and her idea for making the world a better place. I told the students that they each have their own stories to tell, and their own ideas, and ways to contribute – they just have to figure out what it will be, and try out their ideas, no matter what anyone else says! I made sure the students know that they are already great – and that one day when Daraja has many more students, the students will look back at the great ladies of Daraja who helped the Dougherty’s start the school. I told them that I heard that there was no other school like Daraja in the whole world – they are very special young women. I told them that Acumen Fund believes that, too – the chronicle about how Jo-Ann weighed the book for me, I decided I could take 25 pounds of books in my luggage, and then carted the plastic bag of books around NYC before packing them In my luggage and bringing them to campus. I wrapped up by reading the students the “Dear Students” letter from Jacqueline, that accompanies the Student Book Club guide available for use, on the Acumen website. We also talked about the story behind the book’s title – based on their knowing smiles, I could tell that they loved and related to that story:) We are indeed one people, one planet, one world.

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During the course of our talk I had the students open the book many times, as I read aloud from the book to illustrate my points. They are so attentive – it’s amazing. Each time I glanced up between words, the students were all following along in their own copies of the book. It was great to see their smiles and bright eyes, to see them seriously considering all of my questions, and to hear their thoughts. I hope that the twenty-five copies of the book that I left in the Daraja library will receive much use! I also recommended “The Boy Who Inherited the Wind” – it’s in the library!

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I noticed this afternoon that two students are reading “Three Cups of Tea” today – sweet! After Book Club I started ”Stones into Schools”, by the same author – Greg Mortenson. Tomorrow might be my last full day at Daraja. Hard to believe – the month has gone by too quickly.

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