Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Annie Katz, An Interview

For me this trip is different because my daughter, Annie, is here and she is experiencing WISER for the first time.  I sat down with her and asked her about it:

How long have you been hearing about WISER?
Since your first trip, I was about 9 or 10. Then I did my bat mitzvah project to raise money for the school. All my friends came over and we did a car wash. But being here and meeting the girls is a whole different thing.  I felt an immediate connection.

So, what is your impression of WISER?
The girls are very intelligent. I am impressed with all of their skills. I know that getting into this school is a big deal so that's not a surprise. 

What are your impressions of Kenya and Muhuru Bay?
Everyone you meet in Kenya is always smiling and so friendly. I got to visit the homes of a few of my friends. They live very differently than we do in the U.S., but there is no shortage of love and pride. They welcomed us so graciously. I also got to play soccer. The field is mostly dirt and has some rocks. We played in the hot sun and my teammates wore flip flops without missing a kick. I never thought I'd play soccer in a skirt, but I did my best.

What did you bring to WISER?
My brothers taught me to play chess last summer so I brought some chess sets so the girls could start a chess club. I also taught them the Harkness Method which I learned at The Lawrenceville School where I am a Freshman. It's a great way to develop and express opinions, learn from your peers and treat others with respect when you agree or disagree. The rest of the volunteers on the trip are adults. They can really teach. I'm the same age as the girls, so this is more of a chance for me to share things I love from home and make friends.

What kind of perspective did this trip give you?
I've come to appreciate things I take for granted:  Affording an education, consistent electricity, clean water, not having to sleep under a mosquito net.

How do you plan to stay involved?
I got really close to the girls my age here at WISER and I would love to come back for their graduation.  I would also like to start a partner school chapter at Lawrenceville and do a trip here with them. I plan to advocate and raise money. I feel like WISER is my school now, too.

How can others reading this get involved?
We are doing a fundraiser during the trip. People can donate here

Annie and the Chess Club
Home visit with some of her peers
The kids are too cute for words
Annie Playing Soccer
Intro to Harkness

WISER - The Next Generation

It's amazing to be back at WISER!  So much has changed, but so much remains the same.

  • Alumni - When I attended the first graduation in 2014, they had no example. These girls have four classes of graduates to admire. We got to see Winnie, head girl in 2017, who is currently in university.
  • Numbers - In 2012 we did a fundraiser that funded a new class of Form 1 students, therefore making four complete forms for the first time. There were 90 girls here when I cam in 2013 for the first time. Now there are more than 200.
  • Diversity - There are no students here from both inside and outside of Muhuru Bay. The girls benefit from learning from a variety of perspectives now.
Some things have grown and evolved, but some things remain the same: World-class teaching and administrative class and girls with unparalleled dedication and passion for learning.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


Two years later, I embark on trip #4 to WISER in Muhuru Bay.

This trip will be special, as they always are, because this time because my husband, Michael Freidberg will be making his second excursion to WISER and my daughter Annie Katz, age 15, will be with us!

Annie is a Freshman (or Form II) at The Lawrenceville School. She's been hearing about WISER since my first trip in 2013 when she 9 years old. When she turned 13, she did her bat mitzvah project to raise money for WISER. And now, she will get to experience the magic of the WISER girls for herself as one of their peers.

We are on the plane to Nairobi right now.  We watched Queen of Katwe, which, if you haven't seen, I highly recommend (pack tissues).

So stay tuned for all the excitement of this trip!

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.