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Should These Moms Pay For Food? Pay For Light? Or Pay For Their Child's Education?

Madison Residents Terry And Sandy Kensler Are Working With Kenyan Widows Who Have To Make Hard Choices; Number Of High School Students There Being Helped Up to 42

Terry and Sandy Kensler are Madison residents who volunteer their time to help HIV/AIDS widows and orphans in Kasavai, Kenya, where they have visited annually since 2006 with CLOUT, the Center for Livelihood Opportunities Unlimited and Technologies. Sandy and Terry have two grown children and are the proud grandparents of five growing grandchildren, all of whom are working toward a better world. Below are some of Terry and Sandy's dispatches from their trip to Kenya.

Tuesday, Feb 2, 2011

Hujambo all,

We arrived safely on Monday after a great(!) flight on Ethiopian Airlines from DC through Addis Ababa to Nairobi, then rested.  We spent Tuesday resting during the day and then in a business meeting at night with our Kenyan CLOUT counterparts over "roast meat" (lamb and goat with accompanying dishes) at the Sportsview Hotel where we are staying.  The Tusker beer is good too.
 
Today, Wednesday, we went to an elephant and rhino sanctuary and the Rothschild's giraffe sanctuary in the Nairobi suburbs during the day.  See the attached photos.  We are going to Chris and Connie's house (local CLOUT folks) for dinner tonight just up the road from our hotel.

Tomorrow we head for Kasavai by bus and begin our work with the widows in earnest on Friday.

The weather is fine, mid-80's and sunny.   We hope the snow is not too deep there.
 
Kwa Hari, T & S

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Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011

 Hamjambo all,

Installment 2 of this year’s saga was composed at the breakfast table of the Siaya Guest House in Kakamega while you slept.  It encapsulates our journey since we left Nairobi on Thursday.  To recap earlier days: flew Sunday, arrived Monday, rested Tuesday, saw rescued elephants and rhinos in suburban Nairobi Wednesday, saw giraffes at giraffe manor on the same day, bussed to Kakamega on Thursday (8.5 hours, 250 miles).

 Our arrival in Kakamega on Thursday evening was met by no room in the inn - oops.  An hour later we had a room at the Sheywe guest house.  We had a very hard and very thin mattress and austere accommodations – but the only clean rooms in town, and only 2200 shillings (about $27) for two with breakfast.  We actually slept very well, perhaps soothed by the money we were not spending (but it made a big lump under the mattress). 

Friday was spent with trips to the ATM and shopping for a big celebration and meeting with the Watafutaji widows on Saturday.  There are 47 of them now.  We (CLOUT Cares) got them each two full bars of laundry soap, 250 grams of tea, ½ kg of salt, 2 kg of sugar, 1 liter of cooking oil, 500 ml of milk, 1+ kg of rice (50 kg total), two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ~4 kg of maize (360 kg total), 200 grams of petroleum jelly (for their skin), 10 boxes of matches, a bottle of soda, and a couple of Obama pops (for fun).  They fed us some very tough chicken – really too tough to chew – and ugali and carrots (that we had picked up from a vendor along the road on our bus trip from Nairobi to Kakamega).

 We spent all of Saturday meeting with the Watafutaji, celebrating, getting and overview of progress and issues from the past year, and distributing the food and goods we bought on Friday along with the 200 pounds of donated shoes and clothing and the duffle bags we brought them in from the US .  Everybody left happier and better off than they were when the got up in the morning.  By the way, almost all the Watafutaji ladies have new uniforms that they made at their sewing center – pink and white and very smart (see photo).  The big news from the meeting is that we will have 20 new Form 1 students (freshmen) starting school in the coming week, bringing the total number of high school students supported by CLOUT Cares in 2011 to 43.

All is well with us and we hope all is well with you too.

 Terry & Sandy

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Monday, Feb. 7, 2011

 What did we accomplish here in Kenya yesterday and what are our next steps?  How should we proceed while still keeping in mind that the objective is to help the widows become self-sufficient (with the eventual indirect help of their educated children)?

Yesterday, we reviewed our notes from Saturday’s meeting with the Watafutaji widows and identified some key issues.

 Poor KCPE performance.  It appears that the orphan children of the Watafutaji do not perform as well as their classmates on the Kenya Compulsory Primary Exams, KCPE, they take in November at the end of eighth grade.  We asked why and the widows opined:

  • Hunger.  The students often do not get supper because there is no food.  Many mothers use their food money to pay for “Sunday tuition” and for practice or mock KCPE exams.
  • Sunday tuition (we think 100 shillings or so) is paid so the students can get extra help with their studies from their school teachers at their schools on Sundays.  The normal school week is 5½  days, Monday through Saturday.
  • Practice exams are given often (as a school money maker, we wonder) and cost 50 shillings or about 65 cents each.  Most students have beans and ugali brought to them by their widowed mothers or grandmothers for lunch daily, but many do not.
  • We learned that the Watafutaji have started a program of providing a lunch of beans and ugali to the neediest using maize and beans they grow collectively.  But this does not address the issue of nighttime hunger and its affect on the ability of the students to concentrate and learn.
  • Kerosene.  The sun sets at about 6:30 pm year round.  Primary school students walk home daily, returning between 5 and 6 pm.  Often, there are chores that must be done before dark, like getting water from the stream.  The students cannot study effectively after dark because the only light they could have would come from kerosene lamps for which they have no fuel due to a lack of funds.
  • Availability of text books after school hours.  The primary school students cannot afford to buy the text books required for their classes.  Therefore, they must use shared books while at school and finish assignments requiring text books before they return home in the evening.  We learned from brief investigations at book shops on Sunday that the required texts for 7th or 8th grade can be purchased for about $25 per set (excluding “novels” required in language classes).  All schools do not use the same texts, so more than one set would need to be purchased for a CLOUT lending library, if that’s the solution and the way we want to proceed.  We face the same issue for secondary texts for day scholars (this reinforces the need for boarding schools where possible).

We’d like to point out that the definition of an orphan in Kenya is not what we normally think in the US .  Here, there are half-orphans and total orphans.  Half-orphans are those who have lost one parent, in our case, their father.  Total orphans are those who have lost both parents.  We treat them equally because a child who has lost his or her father in the village is in nearly as much need as one who has lost both parents.  The villagers and we consider them all “orphans”. 

Our orphans live with and are dependents of their mothers, their grandmothers, or their stepmothers who have lost their husbands.  The widows may have been the first or second wife of the husband who died.  It is common for men to have two (or more) wives at the same time.  The President of Kenya has two.  In some cases, the husband and first wife have both died and the children of both wives have become the dependents of the surviving wife. 

It’s all very complex and makes decisions about who gets what very difficult.  There are no orphanages in or near the village.  If there were, they would probably be overrun with orphans.

20 new Form 1 students.  Yesterday, Sunday, we sorted out the names of the 20 new orphan students who CLOUT Cares will support as freshmen in high school this year.  We confirmed their schools and confirmed that they are indeed the wards of the widows.  Today, Monday, we are off to visit a couple of schools to introduce ourselves, talk to the returning Form 2 -3 students to encourage them, talk about our expectations with the students and the school, and make sure that fees are understood up front – no surprises.   (Just after noon, we visited Samwel Asore, a Form 3 student at Kakamega High.  He ranks very high in his class at a Provincial school and has the potential to go far in a professional life.  He is pictured with us).  We don’t know yet, but we expect Term 1 (initial) fees for the 20 new Form 1 (freshmen) to total about $3000.  That’s a stack of 1000 shilling notes bigger than a Gideon Bible (see picture).  We begin distributing the funds directly to the schools on Tuesday (by money orders, bank drafts, etc., but no direct cash payments).

To be continued…

Kwa hari,

T & S

 

To find out more about CLOUT, you can go to their website.

More about Sandy and Terry from the CLOUT website:

Terry became president of CLOUT Cares, Inc. after retiring from Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2005.  Besides working with CLOUT Cares, he is on the Board of Directors of the Madison Land Conservation Trust and is vice-president of Madison ABC (A Better Chance). Terry is an amateur photographer and he dabbles in woodworking, art framing and matting, and various sporting activities including Petanque d' Madison.

Sandy is the secretary of CLOUT Cares, Inc.  Before she and Terry moved to Madison  she was a public and private school music teacher in Indiana.  She is now an established and well-known artist. Some of her work incorporating the people and habitat of Kenya and Tanzania can be seen at her website, www.KenslerArt.com.  One-hundred percent of the selling price of her African paintings goes to the widows and orphans of Kasavai through CLOUT Cares.

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