Monday, August 15, 2011

East Africa Day 91 (Fri Aug 12): Coffee with John, East Africa Acumen Fellow & Precious Blood Secondary School Visit

After the Acumen event on July 28, I reached out to John, the Executive Director of Junior Achievement Kenya, to see if he would meet me for coffee. I was really looking forward to hearing more about the East Africa Fellows Program from a fellow's point of view, and love the work that John is doing, so I was looking forward to hearing more about what he is up to. We were able to coordinate our schedules and met up this AM at Java House, for coffee and tea.

We sat and talked for a long time. It was one of those conversations that makes you think and question yourself, even as you are talking. Wow - our meeting had a big influence on me, and the way that I have been thinking about some things. I really appreciated that John allowed me to share my observations with him, and the feedback that he gave me. Really, really significant stuff. I was also so inspired by him, and the work that he is doing. Too bad that I won't get to have conversations with all of the East Africa Fellows, but two of them ARE speaking at TEDxKibera tomorrow, so at least I'll get to hear more from them!

After coffee, I was able to make last-minute plans for the afternoon. I called Jacinta, the Principal of Precious Blood Secondary School-Riruta, and asked if I could come visit campus. She welcomed me to visit this afternoon. I was so excited!!!! I headed right over on the bus.

The school is located in Kawangare, another one of Kenya's slums. Precious Blood is affiliated with Amani, the school for street children where Angela holds her Art Club on Saturday mornings. In fact, Amani's campus is right next to Precious Blood's campus. So once the bus entered Kawangare, I actually knew exactly where I was and felt very comfortable finding my way to the Precious Blood compound gates. Though to be fair, Kawangare is a lot less intimidating than Kibera so finding my way to Precious Blood was really no different than finding my way to the Center for Tropical and Travel Medicine's building from the Nakumatt Mall, across the street from CTTM:)

I had wanted to visit Precious Blood in part because the national (public), secondary boarding school for girls was founded in 1964 and is one of the country's top secondary schools for girls. As soon as I arrived on campus, I was impressed by its beauty. It reminded me of a Victorian garden.

I met Jacinta in the principal's office, and saw the many trophies that the students had won this year alone! (As I mentioned in a previous post, Precious Blood's choir is attending the Equity Congress because they placed in the top (if not 1st place) in the national music competition this year. The Precious Blood choir has been performing at the Equity Congress - and wow, they are GOOD!) Jacinta was so nice and welcoming. I learned so much about the school, and how the faculty and administration work very hard to foster self-confidence, and how the students are encouraged to try new things and give back to the community. It seemed like a very entrepreneurial approach, which is very exciting to me. I learned that since Precious Blood was founded in 1964, that they have many alumni. I was also very interested to learn more about alumni programming. I think it's in my blood:)

After a really wonderful talk in her office, Jacinta gave me a tour of campus. The Form 3 and Form 4 students were on campus and in class, even though it is a holiday month. There is just so much material to teach - Precious Blood has students spend part of their vacation in the classroom. I got to sit in on a Government Form 4 class, which was led by two of the students. I was immediately extremely impressed by the students' self-confidence, public speaking skills, the collaboration, the fact that they were not afraid to ask questions or to appear like they did not fully understand something in front of their peers, and the close attention that they paid to the lesson. It was a very engaging conversation, and there was so much great energy in the room. The teacher sat in the back of the classroom and closely facilitated the lesson, and supplied information and guidance when necessary. The class was running like clockwork - it was amazing:)

At one point a student put me on the spot, and asked me to essentially explain the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, without realizing that was what she was asking me about. I enjoyed the challenge of pulling something up that I had not really had to explain to someone since law school:) Fortunately I got it right:) I later raised my hand and asked if I could give an example of why federal legislation is important in the context of commerce. (We were studying Kenya's relatively new Constitution.) I talked about the need for federal climate change legislation in the context of state tailpipe emissions standards. I am always happy to talk about semi-wonky environmental law and policy, especially to a room of students who seemed interested in the topic and eager to hear an example (from the US).

After class ended, a handful of the Form 4 students led me on an enthusiastic tour of campus. We visited the library, which has beautiful tables and chairs for studying, and books carefully arranged by subject matter.

I noticed that one wall was decorated with US university admissions posters.

When the students learned that I am a Lehigh alum, they brought out the (old) Lehigh course catalogs from the bookshelf! I had them pose for this photo:)

They told me that they used to have a Lehigh poster hanging on the wall. They specifically requested the new course catalog, and another poster. We then had a great conversation in the middle of the library about their university aspirations, and plans for the future. I really, really enjoyed hearing about it.

I learned that one of the Precious Blood students wants to go to Lehigh. I got to meet her, and she asked me a bunch of questions about the school. A few of the other students listened in, and I seized the opportunity to encourage them to take advantage of every opportunity that they can in university, no matter where they go - academically, leadership, extra-curricular, extra help resources, etc. Kind of building on some of the things that I really started to think about after talking with Suraj yesterday afternoon. I then had to leave campus, because the sun was starting to set, but not before saying goodbye to Jacinta, giving the some of the students my email address, meeting the Vice Principal, and being escorted to the compound gate by a lovely student who aspires to study politics, law and economics at Yale, I think she said. What a beautiful and inspiring way to spend an afternoon! I feel so fortunate that I got to visit Precious Blood - I learned so much. I was also reminded of exactly how much I love that particular age demographic. High school women are high school women no matter where you go - absolutely awesome:)

I had such an inspiring day! Felt so lucky to have this one follow the previous day - Shining Hope for Communities visit, and coffee with Suraj.

I was trying to get home by 6pm because two Belgian friends from my Maasi Mara safari are staying at the apartment tonight, and tomorrow night. They flew in from Zanzibar today, and fly back to Europe on Sunday AM. They're staying with me for the weekend, which is a lot of fun. Trying to pay back Elaine for hosting me in Kampala, or perhaps rather "pay it forward". Fortunately I arrived at my compound before my friends did, so I was there to welcome and let them in. They aren't feeling well - think it was the fish they ate in a market in Stonestown, Zanzibar ... so it was a low key night of catching up, and planning for tomorrow. Suraj extended the TEDxKibera invite to them, and they are going to join me tomorrow. Fun!


  1. That is a photo of me and that is such a long time ago.. Sigh! Glad to have come across this post.. :-)

  2. I love that you found this post, and the photo of you:) Thanks again for the warm welcome to your school, and for the wonderful tour. It was so nice to meet you. I hope you are doing great?


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