Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Not Goodbye, Only Farewell

It's taken me a day to begin this post. I thought after my third visit, I would be able to leave WISER without much emotion. As I am so often, I was wrong. 

We stood and listened to the girls' assembly, heard them sing the WISER song in harmony and rounds, then said our goodbyes to the faculty and Madame Dorcas. I was caught off guard when a Form 4 (fourth year) student I spent time with came to the door. She handed me a note and hugged me. She ran back to class and I read the note that brought me to tears, "Dear Melissa, Having you for this short period of time has been so important to me, I want to sincerely thank you for giving me your time...you coming here enabled me to have hope that one day I will come to my dream." The note went on and reduced me to a puddle of tears. I promised her I would not violate her confidence, but suffice it to say this girl made an impression on my heart that will never go away. 

That's what WISER girls do. Without assumption, pure sincerity, and unending gratitude, they make an indelible mark. When I look at the grand scheme of the investment of time and money, time away from work and my own children, it is worth it to be touch by a group of girls who want to change their fate and then the world. 

If  I was a betting person, I would put all my money on them. 


Saturday, January 7, 2017

You've Got to Want it

The trip is amazing, the girls are inspiring, but the travel can be rough. So far we've had one person with a fever, one get stung by a wasp and go to the hospital (she's back and she's fine) and others suffering from exhaustion. 

The safari van ride here took us many hours over several days. The bunk house has mosquito netting over each bunk bed, running water, a button you press for hot showers, and indoor plumbing. It is luxurious by many Kenyan standards, but not necessarily by any  American ones. 

My point of mentioning it is to compliment the the volunteers who have taken time away from their jobs, their families and the comforts of home to teach here this week. They come from many backgrounds and geographies and are shining examples of success for the girls. I'm sure they would each attest that it's not easy, but it's worth it. 


Ash looking good in her new sling 

Guest Blog by Michael Freidberg

We visited the market at Muhuru Bay yesterday. The girls are all from this area, and many of their parents approached our group to hug their children and speak with our volunteers. One man proudly explained that his youngest daughter and his first granddaughter are both WISER students. 

We took a short walk to the fishing port on the shore of Lake Victoria. The girls, delighted by a chance to escape the equatorial heat, jumped in the water for a quick swim. They also used the visit to work on an assignment from their class on Entrepreneurship - they conducted a market survey to assess potential demand for one of their science fair projects: a solar-powered LED lamp to attract fish to the fishermen's nets. 

As we walked back to the market, I was struck by the realization that we are less than 400 kilometers from Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakeys discovered the fossils of Homo Habilis. We evolved here, and we have walked the land by this lake for millions of years. We have come home.

WISER Dad and Grandfather all in one 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy Place

Carrie and I are the only repeat volunteers this trip. The whole ride here I felt like the obnoxious return camper trying to explain camp to a newbie. It's hard to explain the joy that envelopes you like a warm embrace when you experience these girls. The girls greet you with a warm welcome, we are so glad you're here, we missed you. They hold your hands. Proudly show you the campus. Ask questions and always, always want to see the pictures on your phone and pose for more. 

The expectation is that Wiser girls will resemble the stereotypical American teenager: hard to reach, resentful, rebellious. I suppose when your life depends on your education, your attitude changes. Gratitude is your default position. The school that believes in you and invests in you becomes your "happy place." It has been fun to watch the presumptions of the new volunteers melt away once they get to know the girls. 

The entire energy of the campus is one of love mixed with joy. Even the most cynical among us is forever changed by the sweet smile of a WISER girl. 

This is a lame attempt to describe it to you, I wish you were all here with us to experience it as well. It's the best perspective you can get and it doesn't cost a thing. 


Guest Blog by the Millennials: Maggie and Kelsey!

Hi there!

It's Millennial time! We are taking over the blog for this post about our trip to the market in Muhuru Bay. 

After a morning assembly, the lorry (truck) transported 90 girls to the nearby market, an infrequent activity for the students. In true hospitality, the girls were eager to act as our personal guides. Taking us by both hands, they went above and beyond to ensure our experience was informative and enjoyable. 

The girls were elated to dive into Lake Victoria where they used to retrieve their water prior to WISER. It wasn't all fun and games, business boot camp was put to the test! They were instructed to evaluate the consumer market, pricing, supply and demand of an LED fishing light by surveying the environment. More to follow on this entrepreneurial business plan! Additionally, Matron, the caretaker of the girls at WISER and the chief's wife, taught the girls bargaining skills. 

Concurrently, a family member in the market asked us, "Why did you choose to come here and teach at WISER?" Our answer was clear: It was the heartfelt stories shared about life in the community and the impact of WISER to date.

During the evening session, successful alumnae stories from John (Kenyan board member) Muthee further solidified our "why." John shared, "Look how far we have come. Recent graduates are currently in med school, law school and studying to become nurses. What we are doing is working." These stories intensify the current students' hard work and dedication in making their dreams a reality. 

The other volunteers tease us for being millennials, but the truth is that the group's diversity in terms of age and geography is really what makes us gel as a volunteer team. 


Sales & Marketing Teachers

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Let the Lessons Begin!

 There are three simultaneous tracks being taught by the volunteer teachers this week:
  • Communications 
  • Entrepreneurship 
  • Finance 
The girls rotated through our classes 30 at a time. When used together the girls can start businesses learn how to manage them and communicate in ways that help them succeed.

Tonight we conducted a brainstorming about problems in the community that they could construct businesses to solve. Some of the first ideas were around energy management, sanitation and clean water. 

The girls are attentive and eager to learn. They are smart and quick to laugh. Being with them gives us energy and hope for the future. 

Tomorrow we will go into Muhuru Bay so the girls can show us their community and the market.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

At Home at WISER

It's so good to be back in Muhuru Bay at WISER!  

We began with a beautiful welcome ceremony. There are Forms 2-4 here at school - that's grades 10-12 to the Americans, and a total of 90 girls. While we moved our things in to the bunk house, young hopeful applicants interviewed for the Form 1 spots. 

The girls did a teambuilding exercise where they had to build a tower from dry spaghetti, tape, string and a marshmallow. Yes, they each got to eat a marshmallow afterwards (for all a first!). Holly also did some science experiments as well. 

The girls are warm, welcoming and so happy we are here. Tomorrow, classes begin!

Live. Learn. Be. WISER!


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Kazuri Bead Factory

Lady Susan Wood founded this factory to give fair employment opportunities. Employees can get healthcare, childcare and good wages. 

This trip we met Elizabeth, one of the founding employees starting 1975. She still works here along side her daughters and granddaughter. 


Giraffe Center

African Fund for Endangered Wildlife was founded in 1979 by the late John Leslie-Melville, Kenyan born of British descent. An educational institution to rescue the endangered Rothschild giraffe. 

We got to feed and pose with these gorgeous, graceful, warm and friendly creatures. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Arrived in Nairobi

 Half of our crew is here and we are waiting on the other half. Average travel time 24 hours. 

Left to right:
Michael Freidberg 
Jennifer MacDonald
Cindy Ellis
Holly Adams
Ash Patel
Kelsey Schmoe 
Maggie King