Thinking about the “What’s Next?”

Cross-posted from the TWB Canada Ning:

The suitcases are unpacked, the souvenirs mostly distributed, the jet lag has almost worn off, and the photos are slowly been sifted.

Fortunately, I had a few days to catch my breath and slowly digest the experiences, conversations, and encounters of the past 7 weeks. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to start letting go of it. My dreams every night are filled with African faces and African landscapes.

Practically speaking, though, it is time to move to the next stage. Maybe for me the raw emotions generated from the trip are still too close to the surface, because I am finding it difficult to focus on what is the “what’s next?”.

I am starting to make lists of what to do and who to contact. This next stage is very likely a critical one as we seek to maintain contact and further develop relationships with teachers in Africa and supporters of Teachers Without Borders.

Any thoughts, comments, or advice would be most welcome!

30,000 Km later

Acacia Tree in Maasai Mara

I am trying to catch up on blog posts….

Here is a letter I wrote to my colleagues upon my return two weeks ago. It contains a fairly good overview of my experiences in Africa.

The original was written on Aug. 14th:

30,000 Km later….

Hi all,

After an uneventful 44 hours of traveling, I returned home yesterday from an incredible and intense 6+ weeks of experiencing education firsthand in South Africa and Kenya.

It was a privilege to be a member of the two Teachers Without Borders CANADA (now known as Education BEyond Borders) teams – the very first teams to go abroad from Canada. My team members were first class educators from across the country. Due to a prior commitment, I left the Kenyan team a week early; this week, they are presenting workshops to about 70 elementary teachers in the rural Naivasha district (about an hour outside of Nairobi). I am feeling as though I am going through withdrawal from being a part of “the collective”.

Our visits to South Africa and Kenya exceeded our expectations. Not only did we meet with hundreds of teachers in large and small groups for workshops, meetings and school visits (where we met thousands of students), we also formally met with District Education Officers, officials from the ministries of education (in both countries), principals and heads of schools, heads and members of various NGOs, the Kenyan Institute of Ed. curricula advisors, and the representatives of CIDA at the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi. We were warmly greeted by all. The content and delivery of our workshops made quite an impression on all the educators (phew! this was a big concern) and we laid an important foundation for many, many return visits in the future. Our goal is to invite South African and Kenyan educators to be on the teams presenting workshops next year. Our vision is to build both sustainability and capacity as we move forward.

Of course, I also went on safari and had a good deal of time to have fun along the way. My team members had extraordinary senses of humour and I laughed my way across half a continent.

In the next few days, I will upload some videos for those of you who would like to hear singing and watch dancing of the African students. (That is done and you can find them here:,, )  Some awesome Maasai dancing there!!

I was the team member known for her enthusiasm about technology – and was teased almost relentlessly about the XOs. I do tend to get a bit passionate about their potential in developing nations…. 🙂

The two XOs donated from LEARN were gratefully received by Fezeka High School in Gugulethu township, Cape Town (a Xhosa school) and by Longonot High School in Naivasha District of Kenya. I brought with me a total of four XOs which had been donated. Each of the schools mentioned received two XOs. Once again, a very sincere thanks to LEARN!

The Flip camera was given to an inspirational principal I met on our recon mission to the Laikipia District (Mt. Kenya region) who is connecting with a school in Canada with an organization called Kenyan Sister Schools Project. Next year, we will be offering workshops to teachers in that district as well.

Overall, I have been very humbled by the exceptional individuals from the NGOs (Edunova, Comfort the Children, Khanya) and talented educators who I met along the way.

As for what’s next, it is very likely that I will be one of the leaders of a team returning to at least South Africa next year – and I am looking for willing recruits to be on my team! Let me know if you are interested….

I hope you are all enjoying your last few weeks of summer….



Education in Maasai Land

Giraffes in the Maasai Mara National Game Reserve, Kenya

Another report from my summer mission with Teachers Without Borders Canada (now known as Education Beyond Borders):

After another day of being bumped and jolted along the Kenyan semi-arid savannah (and an extension of the Serengeti), I am now sitting at my tent contemplating the last few days. It is difficult to call a structure a “tent” when it has a paved flagstone balcony with a hardwood floor interior. I am overlooking a lush gully and a tree with a mommy hyrax with baby on a branch not 12 feet from me. I blame them for my poor night’s sleep last night – hyraxes are incredibly loud nocturnal rodents!

In the last two days, I have seen many lions, lionesses and cubs, giraffes, wildebeest by the thousands (it is migration time from Tanzania to the Mara), wart hogs, cape buffalo, dick dicks, zebras, monkeys, baboons and even the very rare black rhino. The lions and wildebeests have been particularly fascinating – not at all shy in our presence. I have been within 20 feet or so (in a vehicle) of lions many times. They are completely nonplussed by our presence – even the majestic black-maned male who had no problem sharing his attempt at a love life with one of the females in the pride!

Our trip to the Maasai Mara is our TWB’s “break” after a grueling two weeks of workshops and visits to officials and schools. On Saturday, we experienced an incredibly memorable visit to a remote Maasai school near Naru, They invited us to share their environment day and we all planted trees to commemorate the event. Of course, this was first preceded by a long 3 hour ceremony of speeches (translated into 3 languages!) and some memorable dances and songs by the young people at the primary school where it was hosted. Can’t wait to post my videotape of the dances onto Youtube!

Imagine the pastoral Maasai planting trees! This tribe has been one of the most resistant to cultural changes of all the tribes in Africa. Even now, they are a migratory people who rely mostly on tending herds of cattle, sheep and goats for survival. But some of their people realize that the land is running out and it is time for the Maasai to make changes to their ways. We heard many many appeals on behalf of gender equality for Maasai women during the speeches on Saturday. Many are trying to find a way to prevent early marriages of the young women (at age 12 or 13) and to promote further education of the young men and women. The numbers of Maasai students drop significantly between Standard 6 and 8 (grades 6 and 8). The young women (still young teenage girls) are being given away in marriage and the young men are undertaking the responsibilities of minding the herds.

I think I witnessed a small part of history on that day when I heard passionate appeals by Maasai women for their young girls, trees being planted by a pastoral (not agricultural) people, and education being touted by the Maasai as a way to preserve their culture. The issue of female circumcision was barely touched upon, but the women serving on our team had a lively and heated discussion about its practice afterwards when we debriefed.

During our visit to the school, we were also shown the well which had not been dug deep enough (hence little water during dry season) and told that the drought this year in Kenya (which has hit the nation very hard) has resulted in no food being available for the students for their lunches. Imagine my discomfort when I was later served a bowl of rice, ugali, lentils and precious meat for lunch as an honoured guest.

Tomorrow we return to Limuru and travel up to Laikipia the following day in order to spend three days visiting schools in that region and laying the groundwork for another TWB team to work there next summer. We have a meeting with the District Education Officer in the area and will make a formal request to work in that region in a year’s time.

In the last five weeks, I have had the incredible privilege of meeting the most extraordinary people who have a heart for the education of Africa’s students and who have made incredible sacrifices and contributions to that end. I hope that their faces and names will remain seared upon my soul. Already I am going through a certain amount of withdrawal as I anticipate my return to Canadian society. Reverse culture shock is almost certain. I think it will take me some time to process the conversations I have had and the events I have witnessed. This trip has exceeded all my expectations and then some.

I have visited many places in the world; Africa hits one in the gut at an elemental level. It is more than just the people – it is the variety of cultures, the sights and sounds of so many languages, the give and take in trying circumstances, the creative improvisation when something breaks down or gives way, the sense of time not being a real pressure. And, of course, being a team member of TWB has given me access to real people in the culture living in real circumstances – not just a tourist who sees the nice parts of the country. Indeed, our “vacation” to the safari of Maasai Mara has placed us in the situation of being a “mzungu tourist” and it has been an entirely different experience for us – somewhat uncomfortable after seeing the grittier side of Kenya.

Somewhat like parenthood, I was not adequately prepared for Africa. One can read and be informed; living it is another thing altogether. I have picked up some literature about Africa by Africans when I have been here – I plan to be that much better informed for my next visit!

“Jambo! Karibu Sana, Mzungu!”

“Jambo! Karibu Sana, Mzungu!”

Students at a Primary School in rural Kenya

Teacher and Noble Kelly with XO in Kenya

Students in the doorway of their classroom in Kenya

When we arrived at the Nairobi International Airport, our Kenyan hosts greeted us with “Welcome to Kenya! You are very welcome here (white person)!”

And so we have been treated throughout the past two weeks. Below is a brief explanation and report of our time in Kenya so far.

Form 3 Students at Miti Mingi High School in rural Kenya

What happens when you take ten Canadian teachers from four different provinces and education systems and have them meet for the first time in a foreign African country in order to create PD workshops in three short days for teachers in that culture?

One might be tempted to think they would not have much success.

Maasai Classroom

This was our initial challenge as we arrived in Limuru, just outside of Nairobi. We had very little time to acclimatize to the culture and understand how the education system in Kenya operated. On our first day we were invited to the office of District Education Officer (DOE) in Naivasha so that we could learn more about the area and schools. He was an enthusiastic supporter of our initiative and had arranged thirty-five of the high schools to send two teachers each to our workshops. The following day, the directors of the Kenyan curriculum invited us to Nairobi to the Kenyan Institute of Education (KIE). They gave us an overview of the Kenyan curricula for English, science and maths. As well, they invited us to provide a report of our visits to the schools and with the teachers.

Fortunately, we have been very well supported by our partner NGO, Comfort the Children (CTC), who are on the ground here in the Naivasha area and who arranged our visits with the DOE and KIE. They have gained a good deal of respect here for their own initiatives supporting the local economy through micro-businesses, health care and the environment.

Nonetheless, I had a certain amount of apprehension about the expectations placed on the success of our workshops. We are the very first Teachers Without Borders Canada (now known as Education BEyond Borders) team to work in Kenya. The short visits to one or two schools before our workshops provided insights into the stark realities that teachers face in Kenya – overcrowded classrooms, very very few resources, pressure to succeed at state standardized tests that seemed to focus exclusively on evaluating trivial minutiae through trick questions. A very limited number of university spaces are available each year in Kenya, which exerts great pressure on students to succeed. In fact, a limited number of high school positions are available as well, so the Standard 8 (gr. 8) exams also have high stakes associated with them. Also, while caning was banned a few years ago, we were left with the impression that this mode of discipline was still used in some places by teachers in order to maintain control.

Of course, we also faced a certain amount of tension within our group as we groped to understand the differences between our provincial curricula as we created the content for our workshops. Just struggling to find time between our visits so that we could prepare was trying for us as many of us were attempting to deal with jet lag and huge cultural differences. By the third day, though, we had worked through our differences and had created some great resources and materials for the teachers.

For each of the 7 workshops, we began with a brief 20-30 minute overview of the topic and then broke into groups to promote interaction and dialogue between the Kenyan teachers. The ministry of education here does not provide professional development in Kenya. Teachers have had very little formal professional development opportunities. Two of our workshops challenged the teachers to consider models of informal self-driven professional development within their own learning communities. Other workshops on the topics of project-based and objective-based learning, cooperative learning, assessment, learning styles and study strategies were provided.

The feedback from the teachers was very positive. They especially enjoyed the interactive sessions where participation was encouraged. This is a very different model from the typical Kenyan classroom where teachers lectured from the front to a passive audience of students.

My Canadian colleagues very much have impressed me with their professionalism and creativity throughout the workshops. It has been a privilege to work with them and I have learned a great deal throughout this experience. As well, I have been awed by the professionalism, knowledge and creativity demonstrated by my new Kenyan colleagues.

Noble Kelly, our TWB prez, had hoped we would quietly make our way into Kenya and do a few workshops with some interested teachers; instead, we have made quite a splash here. In rural Kenya, it is difficult not to notice ten wazungu (white people) visiting schools and small towns. At times I have felt like we are a traveling freak show on wheels. This past week, we had follow-up visits to schools at their invitation after the workshops. A few times, while standing amongst hordes of students, I would feel my long fine blonde hair stroked, handled and caressed. Small children have no shyness and run to greet us wherever we are. They especially LOVE to have their photo taken, so at times we have caused near riots by simply bringing out our cameras.

The Kenyans particularly enjoyed Konrad Glowgowski’s workshops. He has been a great companion throughout my TWB experience in South Africa as well as Kenya. Konrad’s fascination with photography knows no bounds. I can confidently report that we now know that he will take photos of absolutely anything and has come close to causing international incidents. He has not been able to upload many of his photos due to bandwidth limitations here in Kenya (my chief frustration here), but I encourage you to check out his flickr site late in August when he has been able to get to a reliable connection. We have had a great deal of fun discovering strangely-stated signs in South Africa and Kenya – we should have a fine collection by the end of the trip. This morning, when we were invited to the Canadian High Commission, we were told not to bring any cameras. Of course, I couldn’t help asking Konrad after FINALLY being admitted, “So Captain National Geographic, what part of NO CAMERAS did you not understand?? Not one, not two, but THREE cameras?!”

Speaking of connections, I have come to a new appreciation of the high speed bandwidth so readily available in North America. Here in Kenya, we have one connected computer in our hotel and although we have rented a modem for wireless access, we might as well not even try to get online in the evenings when the rest of Kenya also seems to be trying to use the Internet. Electricity often fails, but life goes blissfully on. Of course, we are in the coldest part of Kenya in the coldest part of the year, so we have had fires in our cabins every night in order to stay warm.

Our aforementioned visit to the Canadian High Commission went very well as we met with those associated with CIDA (Cdn International Development Agency). They provided us with greater perspective into the roles of NGOs in education in Kenya as well as some ideas of where to look for further support and funding.

We have visited a number of schools and witnessed some astonishing situations where teachers have extremely challenging conditions. Yesterday we visited a primary school in Maai Mahui (pronounced “My Maw Hoo”; where our workshops were held; the “armpit of Kenya” and where the sex trade flourishes) where teachers had classes of 100 students. These students come from very poor circumstances – some are orphans and some are displaced from the recent violence that occurred back in January. The HIV infection rate in Maai Mahui is about 60%. We were able to have a brief meeting with teachers who gave us a glimpse of the harsh situations of their communities and the teaching conditions. When we tactfully attempted to bring their situation to the attention of the Canadian High Commission folks, we were told there were many schools in even worse dire straits.

I have been very moved by a number of the Kenyan teachers with whom we have spoken. They are dedicated, well-educated and articulate men and women who are giving their best in difficult circumstances. The students I have seen (and I have seen thousands by now) are well-behaved, polite, and curious about who we are and what Canada is like. The other day I showed my laptop to a group of Form 3 students (gr. 11 – however, many were between the ages of 18-20) and they told me they had never seen a computer before.

Tomorrow, we will visit a Maasai community who is celebrating an environment day. On Sunday, we head out to the Maasai Mara for a 3-day safari. When we return, we will head north to Laikipia, just past Mt. Kenya, to visit a school there in order to lay the groundwork for another TWB team next summer. Any volunteers for that team?

On August 10th, I return to Canada, a full week ahead of my TWB colleagues. They will be giving workshops to about 80 elementary teachers during the week of August 11th. I have a prior engagement at a conference in Vermont, so I will be very reluctantly returning early.

Students taking video footage in rural Kenya

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