Award-Winning Darfur Video Project: How to turn a teenager into a global citizen

Six years and many global projects later has brought quite a few special people and learning opportunities my way and for that I have been blessed and very grateful. The Darfur Video Project, supported by Take2 Videos for Students, was extra special.

Imagine what happens when a National Geographic photojournalist embeds herself in areas of global conflict for weeks at a time in order to provide high definition video footage to North American students so that they can create their own products. Karin Muller has made this commitment and has now produced two sets of footage and supporting materials from Chad/Sudan and Cuba. She has also made herself available to skype and email the participants of the project.

Imagine managing a group of exceptionally dedicated and engaged students who push themselves to producing the very best documentary for an audience of peers. These students sifted through nearly 38 hours of footage to select themes and topics which examine issues such access to health care and education as well as issues relating to the environment and gender discrimination in the refugee camps of Darfur and Chad. Their documentaries effectively blend image, text, music and even humour to depict the stories of the people in these difficult circumstances.

Imagine that an online social networking site has been created to support the students through collaboration, communication and showcasing their work. Students can upload podcasts of news events of the areas of global conflict, critique “rough cuts” of each other’s work and share reflections and resources.

Put all these ingredients together and you have the first place award-winning (ISTE’s SigTEL Online Learning) Darfur Video Project. With great pleasure, I traveled to Washington DC to accept the award on behalf of all those who made this such a terrific and noteworthy project. My students told me that their involvement in this project made a significant impact on their appreciation and understanding of the issues surrounding Darfur. Some of their reflections of what they learned along the way actually made me cry!

The project was displayed at last week’s National Educational Computing Conference in Washington DC; many teachers expressed interest in participation in next year’s project. The footage and materials from Cuba will be made available in late August. If you are interested, please contact Karin Muller and Take2 Student Videos. She is a very special lady with great vision and passion for her work!

The videos of the students speak for themselves:


Find more videos like this on Take 2
Find more videos like this on Take 2
Find more videos like this on Take 2
Find more videos like this on Take 2

Twitter: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

I haven’t yet decided whether it was in a moment of sheer madness or sheer genius that I signed up for a course in emerging technologies two months ago with George Siemens and Dave Cormier as the instructors to the online course (out of the University of Manitoba).

As part of the course, we have been asked to provide a presentation on one of the applications that could be said to represent an emerging technology. I believe I was the only one of the course participants to claim twitter as my presentation topic.

I settled on the title “From the Ridiculous to the Sublime”, although I was tempted to use “How Twitter Saved My Life and Made Me Lose My Job” (this is a joke; I am gainfully employed!).

Twitter remains an object of ridicule and disdain as well as ferocious loyalty and praise.

In my five minute Jing screencast, I demonstrate my twitter home page and show off a few of its capabilities.

However, those five minutes went by screamingly fast, so I wanted to briefly include a few other questions here in my blog.

To understand JUST how viral twitter has become, you might want to look at the links I have collected in my delicious bookmarking.

Why are we fascinated with Twitter? My response is based on my observations of teenage behaviour (I have access to quite a few of those!). The need for instant gratification from our network is huge. Being able to receive almost instant feedback about our thoughts, ideas and experiences, as well as our questions is a powerful force.

Why are we repulsed? For those of us who want more – deeper, and more thoughtful from our communication may find twitter quite mundane and even narcissistic. For some time after I returned from Africa, I found it hard to take.

How is twitter a learning tool? The value of twitter definitely relies on the quality of the network – those that you are “following”. I happen to think that I follow some amazing folks who challenge me and make me think. Most of whom I follow are educators. We help each other out when we are confounded with problems and seek answers. We support each other when we are feeling down or frustrated. We share resources with each other and alert our network to breaking news around the globe. Twitter has become replacement for email because I have found recently that “direct messaging” a person in my network gets there faster than an email (or as fast).

Where does the learning take place? I think the learning takes place in the short, abbreviated conversations we have with each other. We don’t always agree with each other, but we can challenge thinking and offer different perspectives. Often I have to resort to emails when 140 characters just isn’t enough.

Who is twitter for? Twitter is for anyone who wants to build a network of excellent minds whom they can tap into.

Why do I use twitter? I will be honest here – much of what I twitter falls into “social twittering”. However, I am a firm believer that sociability (or sociality) is an important ingredient to learning. I observed this amongst my teenage research participants for my thesis work. My twittering often involves an exchange of information and ideas as well. I try to share as much as I “take” from my network. And I cannot stress enough that it is the quality of folks in my twitter network (those that I “follow”) that make the difference between narcissistic nattering and conversation that matters.

I would love some feedback on this brief presentation about twitter! Apparently, I have to improve this preso for next week’s class, so where did I lack clarity? What information is lacking? Let me know!

Does Education Need to Change?

George Siemens asks for a response to his post, Need Help: Does Education Need to Change?

  1. Does education need to change?
  2. Why or why not?
  3. If it should change, what should it become? How should education (k-12, higher, or corporate) look like in the future?

I decided to just freethink some ideas onto a document – giving myself 20 minutes or so. For the last six months or so, I have given much thought to the creation of best case learning environments. Observing classes in two African cultures has certainly influenced my thinking!

Here were my most immediate, top-of-consciousness thoughts:

Does education need to change?

Doesn’t that depend on the context and needs of the learners?

What is the goal of education?

If I believe the ultimate goal of education is to empower and maximize the potential of an individual to the benefit of greater society ( and there is an implicit value system in all of those statements, I will admit), then these are the changes I see as necessary:

  • A more humane way of evaluating “success” and competency development
  • The creation of a learning environment that is positive, encouraging – rewards success and permits a good deal of formative assessment that provides scaffolding along the way for the struggling learner
  • Opportunity for reality-based learning with a “real” audience or outcome that benefits from the learning and investigation
  • Opportunity for reflection and development of metacognition
  • Opportunity for more advanced learners to seek out their own approach to inquiry-based learning that crosses over the traditional boundaries of many disciplines
  • Opportunities for learners to experiment with their own voice and the power of their voice
  • Opportunities for learners to collaborate and communicate in problem-solving scenarios – where debate and conflict are embraced and accepted
  • Opportunities for learners to take risks; and where forgiven is extended when mistakes are made
  • Opportunities for learners to think outside themselves – beyond their own culture and socioeconomic status
  • Instructor/teachers become facilitators who are aware of best approaches because of the information they gain from participation in a network and/or keeping abreast of research
  • A sense of humour and/or sense of play is regarded as essential
  • Mutual respect and dignity between all participants in the learning process

What is missing from what I have written? I surprised myself.

No mention of technology.

So, if the tools of tech fit into the above best-case scenario of a learning environment, then that is terrific. If not,…

I would welcome any comments or critiques of my free-thinking results….

Continuing the Conversations Far and Near

Students in Kenya

Originally uploaded by sharonpe

So far it has been three weeks of following along with the Connectivism and Connecting Knowledge (CCK08) online course. I like the way it has multiple entry points and permits lurking as well as active involvement through the use of the moodle forums, the blog, the webcasts and elluminate discussions (all archived). This suits my style of learning in the 21st century – anytime, anywhere learning. But then, I have the tools and the access to the bandwidth ….

With a crazy new classroom schedule in a new school, it has been very difficult, if not impossible, to join most of the synchronous events. But I have been following the forum posts and watched, often in fascination, the conversations that have emerged from those who seem to have much more time than I do to process and engage in discussion. Listening to Stephen, George, Dave Cormier and other guests this week has often left me wondering if I had missed out on the four prerequisite courses (!) that are required to understand some of the headier ideas that are mentioned and discussed.

I am trying to do the readings, but they are not as interesting as either reading a debate or conversation in the forum, or listening to the archived elluminate and webcast sessions. There is just something about that dynamic exchange back and forth that is so much more appealing than the reading of text or even slides.

Because this is such an important topic, I have asked a couple of African educators to participate. One tried, but the high bandwidth demands of the online environments proved to be too expensive for him. And so the digital divide widens because of economics….

Thanaga is a high school English teacher at Miti Mingi School near Gilgil in Kenya. He sent me an email yesterday addressing my questions about the dangers of connectivity in African education. Here is his response:

About your questions, I would really want to participate in the course but our connectivity is limited and very expensive. However am glad to share my opinion through you.

I believe that change is inevitable and internet universal internet access is an eventuality that will catch on for every body eventually like the TV access. Just like TV access we cannot really be able to filter and edit the content for our learners. All we can do as internet people is to try and equip teachers with the information that they need to counsel learner on the wise uses of the internet. Granted there will be culture shock and negative effects when African learners eventually have unfettered access to the internet. But I believe these influences are far out weighed by the benefits we gain from the access. Just as you people in the developed world are grappling with this influence, we also fight to contain ti even as we enjoy the benefits of thee access in terms of the education.

Further more, issues like racism; pornography and hatred are issues that we already encounter even now without connectivity. In that connection then, they would mot be entirely new and I believe with training on what to expect, teachers can handle the influence. Therefore, what we should be striving towards is to enable the access even as we prepare parents, teachers and the children’s guardians on what to expect and the possible ways to deal with it. We should not fight change but embrace it. We should also proactively prepare for the effects than wait to do damage control when the harm is already done. Hope my views have shed a little light to you and your colleagues in the course. Feel free to write to me whenever you need my input.

I wish there were an easier way for us to communicate then just over email. Even so, he wrote his response on a Word doc and then attached to an email because of the cost of being online.

I discovered this summer how much we take our easy access to high bandwidth for granted.

My friends in South Africa have it a bit easier in terms of access, but the schools have monthly caps on their bandwidth usage that would make most of us blush. Unfortunately, they usually seem to run out of their bandwidth before the month’s end.

I also heard from a 16 year old South African student from one of the schools where we worked two months ago:

i was thinking of you this cold afternoon, how are thingz there?
any way we are doing fine here enjoying the XO’z as we always had.
ohh before i forget tomorrow we gonna be visited by S.A’z madam speaker
we also have an opening ,of our new Technology lab and we were given 20 new PC’z .
this is how thingz are this side of town.miss you.

It was encouraging to hear that the school had more computers donated!

We live in interesting times. From my office in Canada, I can communicate, albeit simply, with some educators and learners in Africa. My friend Konrad Glogowski has taken his African experience to an entirely different level by creating a Kenyan classroom showcase in Second Life. I very much look forward to the guided tour Konrad will provide to my students later this week – we will be in Montreal, he will be in Toronto. How I wish my African friends had the bandwidth to join us…..

Sometimes a theory of connectivism sounds like it is only for the elite who have education, access to tech tools and bandwidth. Nonetheless, I will continue to lurk, learn and advocate for ways in which we can promote education for all.

A Healing Balm – Week 1 on Connectivism course

It’s been one week into the course on connectivism and, while I simply cannot keep up with the critical thinking of many of the participants (due to time constraints mostly), I have discovered that it is providing a way of dealing with my re-entry culture shock after almost seven weeks in Africa.

I especially enjoyed the reading of the “Little Boxes” – it helped me see that I had moved from a position of networked individualism here in Canada to “little boxes” in South Africa and Kenya and back again to networked individualism. This shift back and forth was what I had found most disconcerting. I came to a place where I was comfortable with the “little boxes” in Kenya, because that was just the way things worked, and internet access was just so intermittent. Moving back to instant online access became just too much information overload in the first couple of weeks. Truthfully, I had just wanted to hide my head in my hands rather than go online.

Just being able to identify that shift helped me better understand what I was going through and my frustration with all of it.

Also, when we were there, we were trying to show African educators who did have access to a computer and the Internet the potential of networked individualism. New wine in old wineskins? Now I am wondering if it was a good approach. However, I think it would be ethically wrong not to show them tools that would help them connect to other educators around the world.

I enjoyed a very hectic, but gratifying, first week back in the classroom which prevented me from being all but a lurker in the course. At the end of the week, I treated myself to reading the articles and listening to the audio recording of Dave Cormier, Stephen and George. Slowly munching through the contents….

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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1Ckf8B2MMQ, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBnIrJu1kiI&feature=related, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSAu-yPoLq0&feature=related )  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….

cheers,

Sharon

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

Please leave a comment – I would love to hear from my friends!