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Preview: ADVENTURES WITH AKILI DADA

ADVENTURES WITH AKILI DADA



What happens when a young Kenyan in the diaspora founds and tries to grow a non-profit offering scholarships to brilliant girls from impoverished families in Kenya?



Updated: 2014-10-02T23:58:49.269-07:00

 



Voices of Akili Dada Scholars

2008-12-05T15:36:28.350-08:00

I've decided to try and share the voices of the brilliant young women we serve by sharing some of their essays anonnymously on my blog. Hopefully these essays give you a better idea of the bridges that Akili Dada is bridging

"I am the last born of our family which consist of father, step-mother and eight children i.e. five girls and three boys. My mother passed away in the year 1998, when I was only four years old. Actually, I didn’t even understand what was going on because I was very young. After one year of difficulties, my father decided to marry a second wife, who could take care of me at that very age. At first, she treated me so kindly but afterwards. She gradually changed and till now, she was very negative attitude towards me. I have perceived such a tough life till now I used to walk about two kilometers to my former school. When my KCPE results were out, all my family members were proud of me, but most of the villagers and even including my step-mother felt so envious about it. Some of them started talking sarcastically because they knew that my dad couldn’t manage to educate me. All my sisters and brothers did not go through secondary education apart from only two who joined but were unable to complete due to lack of such school fees. None of them has a job. My elder brother had luckily got a house job in Eldoret but unfortunately, he was involved in a road accident where he was knocked by a car and broke his neck bone. It was replaced by a metal and therefore could not be able to continue working. My father has no permanent job. He only does a bit of iron roofing in which he is not even trained. He just does it for the sake of feeding the family. The work is just available once in a while. On the other hand, my step mother has no job at all, yet she came with her three children and my father has to care for all of us. When some of my father’s friends discovered that I had excelled in KCPE, they volunteered to donate some money for my school fees and equipment. However, that was only enough for first term. There is no other way my dad can get money to pay my school fee. Most of the things I came with in school were just donated by some of our kind neighbors. Some books which were required in school were just second handed to me by kind hearted people because my father couldn’t afford to buy me new ones. My father is really stressed about the increase in school fee because he has nowhere to get help.
I sometimes feel so depressed and neglected when people talk and boast about their mothers because I don’t have one. This feeling of motherlessness keeps tinting my mind. I am sure that if ever I get a scholarship all these feelings and stresses will get out of my mind. I just pray that God may work in my life. I am trying the best I can to work harder in order to achieve my goals in life. I happen to get sponsorship; I will be so grateful and even my depended on to uplift the family. I promise that if I ever get a chance I will double my efforts in academics. My aspirations are to get educated, help my father in his old age together with my step mother and also uplift our entire family. I would like to have a good desirable job and live a better life in future".



speaking at Barcamp Africa

2008-10-28T12:23:37.203-07:00

(image)
I had a wonderful opportunity to speak at Barcamp Africa held on the google campus on October 11th.

I spoke on the first panel and focused my talk on exploring political trends on the continent as well as sharing my experiences with Akili Dada.

I also led a second breakout session in the afternoon exploring strategies for women's empowerment on the continent.


It was an absolutely wonderful day with a lot of networking and learning including meeting one of my heroes, David Kobia of Ushahidi (what I think is one of the most innovating inventions/creations to come out of Africa)



Here are a couple of links about the day:



Still interogating the concept of giving

2008-04-29T21:31:07.478-07:00

The Interns (Allison, Maria, Briana) and I have been interrogating the concept of giving and how Akili Dada should mediate the relationship between our well intentioned donors in the States, and our scholars in Kenya. We're looking over this passage from one of my favorite texts, The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran:

It is well to give when asked, bu tit is better to give unasked,
through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy
greater than giving.

and is there aught you would withhold?

All you have shall someday be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not
your inheritors'.

You of ten say "I would give, but only to the deserving."
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.

Surely he who is worthy to revive his days and his nights, is worthy
of all else from you.

And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to
fill his cup from your little stream.

And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the
courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?

And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their
pride unabashed?

See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, an instrument of giving.

For in truth it is life that gives unto life- while you, who deem
yourself a giver, are but a witness.

And you receivers- and you are all receivers- assume no weight of
gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.

Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;
For to be over mindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has
the free-hearted earth for a mother and God for father."



Speaking at the University of San Francisco

2008-02-13T11:14:36.777-08:00

Since my dissertation is on ethnic politics and gender politics in Kenya I wanted to share with our supporters in the Bay Area an opportunity to come continue the ongoing discussions.

I will be giving a talk on my research and the ongoing crisis in Kenya at the U. of San Francisco where I am a doctoral fellow this year.
The talk is titled:

"Kenya in Post Election Crisis: A discussion of the historical and political roots of the ongoing post election crisis"
It will be in the Maraschi Room of Fromm Hall right on campus and is scheduled for Thursday February 14th from 5.00 to 6.30pm.



What Dr. King would have told Kenyans....

2008-02-13T11:18:10.943-08:00

This post is reproduced from the blog of MASH INC and is so good I just had to post it again!

On this day we mark MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY, and as fate would have it, his addresses almost 40 odd years ago seemed to have been directed to Kenyans just as much as to Americans!

To RAILA ODINGA AND THE ODM MASSES….
The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not
revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of
futility.
Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967.

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and
violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge,
aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Stockholm, Sweden, December 11, 1964.

TO ALL KENYANS “WA TABAKA MBALI MBALI”…
Man was born into barbarism when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence. He became endowed with a conscience. And he has now reached the day when violence toward another human being must become as abhorrent as eating another’s flesh.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait, 1963.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Wall Street Journal, November 13, 1962.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction….The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, 1963.

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, 1963.

Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy.
Martin Luther King, Jr., The Measures of Man, 1959.

TO ALL CLERGY….
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963.



Interviewed on KPFA

2008-02-01T14:15:06.807-08:00

I wanted to share with you an interview I gave to Africa Today on KPFA during my time in Kenya.

You can listen to the interview here:http://kpfa.org/archives/index.php?arch=24301

Mine is the second interview and starts at minute 32.


I also wanted to share a fascinating tool that some of my colleagues in the blogsphere have created to track the violence. http://ushahidi.com/

Ushahidi is a swahili word meaning 'bearing witness'. Ushahidi.com is a tool for people who witness acts of violence in Kenya in these post-election times. People on the ground send text messages about incidents of violence and the organization works with local Kenyan NGO's to get information and to verify each incident.



Kenyans in the Bay Area helping out

2008-02-01T14:21:10.615-08:00

January 9, 2008 Kenyans in the Bay Area launched the Kenya Relief Fund (KRF) to help in the relief effort to meet the needs of families devastated by the post election civil strife in this otherwise peaceful country of “Hakuna Matata” fame.

Recent estimates put the dead at 800 and the displaced at 500,000. The Red Cross reports that there is a great need for medical, food, and clothing supplies as well as shelter for thousands of people that have been forced out of their homes and or who have lost loved ones as a result of skirmishes and responses by local law enforcement.

The local Kenyan community in the Bay Area has opened an account at the California Bank and Trust, and would like to encourage those humanitarians that may or may not know the beautiful country and people of Kenya, to feel free to donate to the effort.

Funds raised would be donated to the Kenya Red Cross, one of the few organizations in the front lines providing on the ground assistance to individuals and families. The group is currently talking to the Palo Alto chapter of the American Red Cross to outline ways in which the two organizations could effectively collaborate to support the Kenyan relief effort.

For more information about the Kenya Relief Fund Please contact the following:

Mid-Peninsula: Meda O. Okelo @ medaokelo@sbcglobal.net or 650-714-3047

East Bay: Nduta Kimani @ mwkimani@berkeley.edu 510-334-5491

Stanford University Sangai Mohochi @ mohochi@Stanford.edu 650-799-1366

Sacramento and Central Valley: Peter Gathungu @ gathungupm@earthlink.net 916-564-9171

To donate to the effort please send contributions to:

The Kenya Relief Fund

c.o.California Bank and Trust

1735 East Bayshore Road,

East Palo Alto, California 94303

Account # 1890092591



CALL FOR HELP IN SETTING UP RAPE CRISIS CENTRES

2008-01-16T17:04:15.488-08:00

Urgent Action Fund-Africa has supported The Nairobi Women’s Hospital
to set up 4 crisis response centres (Women’s Gender Recovery Unit s)
in Mathare, Huruma, Jamhuri Park and Kibera to provide , shelter,
security, and more importantly medical and psychological care to rape
victims who are unable to access the services because the informal
settlements have been sealed off by security personnel and violent
protestors. The hospital is now FULL , it has dealt with 19 cases in
the last 24 hours. There are 75,000 displaced people in Jamhuri park
alone, majority of whom are women and children. Total numbers of
displaced Kenyans has topped 300,000 and growing daily.

Other contributors to this initiative include St Johns Ambulance and
Red Cross who have provided an ambulance and tents respectively. The
Red Cross is also providing food to the IDP’s . We are appealing for
more funds. We need Kenya Shillings 5.8 million (USD 90,000). UAF-
Africa is contributing $10,000. We see the action as contributing to
protecting the lives of the most marginalized in our communities;
women and girls living in informal settlements. Those who are most
vulnerable and subject to gender based sexual violence in this
situation of crisis.

If you want to assist, kindly contact

Vicky Karimi or Betty Murungi at
Urgent Action Fund-Africa
Life Ministry Centre
Jabavu Road, Kilimani
PO BOX 53841-00200
Nairobi Kenya
Tel +254 20 2731095
Fax +254 20 2731094
info@urgentactionfund-africa.or.ke or vicky@urgentactionfund-
africa.or.ke

or
Lucy Kiamaa at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital
Gender Violence Recovery Centre
Nairobi Women’s Hospital
Argwings Kodhek Road , Hurlingham
P.O. Box 10552 - 00100
Tel: +254 20 2726821/4/6/7, +254 20 2736845
Fax: +254 20 2716651
Email: gvrc@nwch.co.ke or lkiama@nwch.co.ke
Nairobi, Kenya



Most of our scholars are safe

2008-01-16T09:13:53.471-08:00

I just arrived back in the U.S. after a month in Kenya. We have made contact with all but one of our scholars and all are safe. We are working very very hard to make contact with the ninth scholar and I will post an update as soon as we hear from her or her family.
All of Akili Dada's Kenya based board members, advisors and intern are also safe.

If you are interested in keeping up with what Kenyan bloggers have to say about the ongoing crisis visit this Kenyan blog aggregator.



Crisis in Kenya

2008-01-04T05:48:23.411-08:00

I'm currently in Kenya and horrified and appalled by what is happening to my beloved country. http://www.pambazuka.org/en/issue/current/

Isaac (my husband) and I are safe and I am working on contacting our scholars and their families to see how they have endured the violence of the last few days.

This horrific experience leaves me that much more passionate about Akili Dada's mission for better leaders.

I firmly believe that it is our leaders who have led us to this crisis and that better leadership could end the violence.

Even though communication is difficult I will try to post updates especially of our scholars safety.



Khalil Gibran on "Giving"

2007-12-08T10:29:47.622-08:00

I wrestle with the idea of giving. Why should I give? Should I give? What does my giving and someone else receiving do to each of us?

I have been given a lot. I"m striving to give a lot.
Some moments of being given have left me feeling used. I'm working to not have our students feel like that.

Can you give in a way that respects the humanity and dignity of the recipients? Does giving necessarily need to create a hierarchy with the giver on top and the recipient humbled and bent in suplication?

What is a good reason to give? Because it makes you feel good?

I really like the passage on giving from Khalil Gibran's The Prophet:

"you give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when
you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your
possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them
tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying
bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy
city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full the thirst that is unquenchable?

There are those who give little of the much which they have -
and they give it for recognition and their hidden diesire make their
gifts unwholesome.

And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their
coffer is never empty.

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptisim.

And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they
seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue. They give as in yonder
valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space

Through the hands of these God speaks., and from behind their eyes he
smiles upon the earth.



Akili Dada updates!

2007-12-06T16:11:22.516-08:00

I've been quiet the last couple of days producing the inaugural issue of Sauti Ya Akili Dada (Voice of Akili Dada) to update our supporters on the organization's growth and development in the last year. You can find the full version of the report here. But below is the shortened version.Dear Akili Dada friends and supporters,As the end of the year approaches I am excited to briefly share our success in 2007, and ask you to continue your partnership with us as we continue full steam ahead into 2008. Please visit our website (www.akilidada.org ) for an extended report of this year's amazing success.2007 has been a year of incredible growth here at Akili Dada and we have already surpassed many of the goals we set at the beginning of the year. In one year we have more than doubled the number of scholars we support, significantly increased the size of our mentoring network and leadership team, strengthened our operations in both Kenya and the U.S., and are marveling at the multiplying effects of our work!Double the Scholars!This year we added five new young women to our program, more than doubling the number of scholars supported by Akili Dada. Our ambitious new scholars dream of becoming a computer engineer, a doctor, a neurosurgeon, an entrepreneur, and a children's charity worker. Without your support and Akili Dada, these would have been dreams deferred. Each of the scholars has expressed her commitment to give back to her own community, thus paying forward the opportunities that Akili Dada has presented to her. Please visit our website to read more about these remarkable young women! New MentorsAkili Dada's mentoring network continues to grow at an exhilarating pace. This year's new mentors are top Kenyan professional women who are committed to nurturing and inspiring our scholars. Among them are a gynecologist, an ophthalmologist, a commercial airline pilot, an economist, two lawyers, a director of an international Non-profit, and a program officer at a transnational trade organization. We continue to expand the number and diversity of mentors and welcome your referrals of motivated, professional Kenyan women interested in serving as mentors.Successful Mentoring ConferenceThis year's mentoring conference was a wild success thank to the engagement and energy of its thirty-one participants. The students, parents, teachers, mentors, and Akili Dada Board and Advisors participated in discussions that ranged from interviewing techniques, surviving life at a university campus, addressing sexual harassment, identifying career goals and ambitions, and pursuing careers in the specific fields of medicine, law, finance, aviation, and non-profit work.Diversifying our revenue streamsBook your travel to East Africa through Kairi Tours and Safaris and they will donate 10% of your total invoice to Akili Dada! This is because Akili Dada has recently signed a corporate sponsorship agreement with Kairi Tours and Safaris based in Nairobi, Kenya. Kairi is the oldest indigenously owned Tours & Travel Company in Kenya; it specializes in custom tours throughout East Africa. We are also diversifying our revenue stream by adding a fee-based portion to our increasingly popular mentoring program. It has become clear that young women from financially stable families would also benefit Akili Dada's growing mentoring resources. Under the new arrangement, these students will pay a fee to participate in our mentoring program while undergoing the same rigorous screening process as our scholarship students to ensure that we maintain our very high standards. Expanding our mentoring program will allow Akili Dada to both to increase its impact in the community while taking a step toward making the mentoring program self-sustaining. It also allow[...]



Hardest things and things I love about a start-up non profit

2007-11-28T20:44:12.257-08:00

The hardest things about running a start-up non-profit
1. Burn out. I’m tired often. There is so much to do and I spend a lot of time feeling like I’m doing a mediocre job of everything. With a dissertation over my head and a course to teach, I’m stretched thin and not getting enough sleep. I leave the house at 9.30 and don’t get back until 10.30 pm. Repeat five days a week. The routine gets old really quick.

2. Its hard relying on other people. I wish I could do everything that needs to be done by myself and not need to ask for help from others. But I can’t do everything. And I’m not the most patient person in the world. O.k. not even close. So I get frustrated waiting on other people’s timelines. And there is nothing you can do because they are volunteering their time so its not like you have any right to get fussy about it.

3. Its hard to balance friendship with work. Many of the founders of Akili Dada came on board because they were my friends. I knew them from different points in my life and through working with Akili Dada they have become friends with each other too. I have also created friendships out of the professional relationships that have grown of Akili Dada. Akili Dada is a friendly place to be! But that has its challenges I feel like I don’t talk to my friends as my friends very much. We all have busy lives so the little time we have to talk ends up devoted to Akili Dada emergencies. I’m working hard to carve out time for conversations that are about us and our lives outside of Akili Dada.

The most awesome things about running a start-up non-profit
1. I am so attached to our scholars. I feel like I became a mother with the firsts scholarships we gave. I worry about them, I love them, I want them to do well in life so badly. I’m completely invested in nine other lives.
2. I’ve met really cool people that I might have never met before.
3. I have learnt skills that I would have had no reason to learn before. From designing a website to fundraising. It may surprise some who know me but I’m actually not a big fan of mingling and being social. I’d rather spend any day or night at home in front of the T.V. Akili Dada has forced me to get out there and network for my girls.
4. I feel good about myself. I feel like I am making an impact in the world. My life is not just benefiting me. I set off to do something hard and it seems to be working. There’s fulfillment in that.
5. I love connecting people to resources and Akili Dada lets me be at the hub of these connections. Not just connecting our scholars to our donors through school fees and mentors, but connecting mentors to each other, Kenyan organizations to U.S. organizations... There’s something spiritual about human connections. I can’t explain it but its satisfies my spirit to be able to connect people with a need to people with a gift to give.
6. Akili Dada has brought me closer to God. Its humbled me and made me realize I can’t do this by myself. Its been a vehicle that God has used to speak to me about so many character traits (my impatience, for example). It has brought me to a screeching halt and to my knees in important ways that I don’t think anything else could have.



Coming to America

2007-11-21T12:16:34.076-08:00

Coming to America
Coming to America was a gift. A huge gift that changed my life forever (ya don't say!)!
For some years I had been penpals with my cousin and we had written about how we were doing in school. I remember drafting and re-drafting those letters before I thought they were perfect enough to merit the expensive postage that would take them 'abroad'.
I was a bright kid with academic potential. I was not the brightest kid in my classes (Ashiali, Richa and Tatua made sure of that!). But I was in the top pack consistently.

Recognizing the potential, my uncle (father's brother) and his family invited me to come live with them while attending high school. Being in the U.S. would make it easier for me to look for college scholarships. The offer was made and my family hesitated for only a second before taking it. I was 14 years old. I had only ever been away from home for one year of boarding school during the first year of high school and It had been a rough adjustment.

But this was the offer of a lifetime and we all knew it presented unbelievable opportunities for me. I was barely into my teens but off I went. On my own to relatives I had never met in a country I had only seen on T.V. and pictures.

That first trip was a collaborative effort and a joint investment. My parents tried their best to get me emotionally ready while hiding their fears. They must have been so anxious but I had no idea! Only now can I think back and imagine what it must have felt like to them.

The Ted and Sylvia Hatfield not only paid for that first ticket, they also met me in London, showed me around and made sure I got on the right plane to Denver.

Then of course my Uncle's family was going to be my new family for the next four years.

The impact of this past on Akili Dada is that I’m excited to find potential and to support and nurture it. My uncle saw potential in me and offered me opportunity. I think that’s an incredible chain reaction to continue. Akili Dada is my attempt to magnify the investment in young Africa’s potential.

For the right people, the right opportunity can unlock magic. With Akili Dada I want to find young women thirsty for an opportunity. I want to find tenacious, hardworking dreamers and give them the opportunity to just rocket into the stars.

And of course Akili Dada is a collaborative effort and a joint investment. Many give their money and even more encourage me and nurture my spirit so I can keep doing this. I tell our scholars that their lives are like an IPO and we are buying stock with a hope that it will appreciate in the future. We are investing in them and the profit is the success that they make out of their lives.



Life in Denver

2007-11-20T17:51:58.320-08:00

Family life was hard. It was hard for me and I can only imagine how hard it must have been to crate space in a family of five for one more teenager.

I channeled the challenges into school. I did well at accademics but excelled in Speech and Debate. One major accomplishment is that I won the Colorado State Championships in Original Oratory in 1996! Accent and all!

In high school I also met three women who nurtured me and became my ‘other-mothers’. Mrs. Dachman who I cleaned for, Mary Hanna who I babysat Jonna and Evan for, and Melora’s (my best friend) mom who let me stay with them the summer after I graduated high school. These women gave me jobs so I had some pocket money, gave me rides, let me cry on their shoulders, and overall fed my spirit. The clincher for me is that for Mrs. Dachman and Mary Hanna came and supported me at every single award ceremony during my senior year of high school.

Two very important things about Akili Dada came out of my experiences in Denver.
What would it look like if we helped bright young women without having to take them away from their families?
At the time I left Kenya for the U.S. there were very limited opportunities in Kenya. That is changing drastically. The new democratic dispensation is creating incredible opportunities for education and advancement within the country that I think that outweighs the trauma of dislocating young high school students by sending them abroad. It is also important to build the educational infrastructure in Kenya by supporting schools that are there. That is why Akili Dada identifies the best girls schools in the country and supports them by paying the school fees of their poorest but best students. What we are doing is helping not just the scholars, but hopefully building the institutional capacity of the schools our scholars attend.

It is important for young women to have access to older women who nurture and mentor.
The teenage years and high school is hard enough without an uncomfortable family situation and culture shock in suburban Denver. I would not have made it out of Denver without my other-mothers. Their emotional support sustained me through the most difficult period of my life. Its important to me to try and avail that to our scholars. Our mentoring program is one step but as I read their essays, I think we need to do more. I’m thinking of ways to do more. Any ideas? How can we organize a mentoring/counseling program that is not too institutional to be useful but still effective? Its an ongoing conversation with the Board and Advisors.



Staring out the window wondering about White people

2007-11-15T20:16:20.124-08:00

When I was a child I used to sit in my room, stare out the window into the clouds and wonder about people who lived in Europe and America. I knew they were white. But that only made me more curious.I only knew one White person in my childhood. The local priest. Father Thomas who ran Buru Buru parish in Eastlands. I went to nursery school at St. Josephs nursery school which was a Montessori school run by, and at the church.I remember Father Thomas came and blessed our house when we moved in. I must have been about four years old and I remember him sprinkling holy water around the house trailed by my parents and then we kids. They said a prayer in every room and then again in the living room. I think father Thomas was from Denver because when my father traveled to Denver in the 80s father Thomas was invited to come see the pictures.Now I'm married to a White man (well Jewish but are Jews White? We've had many long conversations about this one) and teaching at a Catholic University.....anyway, I would sit for hours staring out of the window into the clouds and wondering about airplanes and what it was like to live 'abroad'.My dad was an engineer for Kenya airways and he got to fly to foreign countries sometimes. He would bring back foreign newspapers and I would stare and marvel.My middle name is Nyaguthii. In Kikuyu it means 'one who travels' or 'one who goes'. Guthii is to go. I was named after my paternal grandmother. I wonder if, when they named me, my family had any idea. An inkling? A wish or a hope?Its amazing the journey from spending hours at the window staring at clouds and longing to see the world beyond my neighbourhood to living in America. Its amazing how many places 'abroad' I feel comfortable in. Its amazing how many cities I can navigate with the ease of a native. I am thankful for that. The dreams of a little girl did come true. And 'abroad' is a complicated term for me.Coming to AmericaComing to America was a gift. A huge gift that changed my life forever (ya don't say!)!For some years I had been penpals with my cousin and we had written about how we were doing in school. I remember drafting and re-drafting those letters before I thought they were perfect enough to merit the expensive postage that would take them 'abroad'. I was a bright kid with academic potential. I was not the brightest kid in my classes (Ashiali, Richa and Tatua made sure of that!). But I was in the top pack consistently. Recognizing the potential, my uncle (father's brother) and his family invited me to come live with them while attending high school. Being in the U.S. would make it easier for me to look for college scholarships. The offer was made and my family hesitated for only a second before taking it. I was 14 years old. I had only ever been away from home for one year of boarding school during the first year of high school and It had been a rough adjustment.But this was the offer of a lifetime and we all knew it presented unbelievable opportunities for me. I was barely into my teens but off I went. On my own to relatives I had never met in a country I had only seen on T.V. and pictures. That first trip was a collaborative effort and a joint investment. My parents tried their best to get me emotionally ready while hiding their fears. They must have been so anxious but I had no idea! Only now can I think back and imagine what it must have felt like to them.The Ted and Sylvia Hatfield not only paid for that first ticket, they also met me in London, showed me around and made sure I got on the right plane to Denver.Then of course my Uncle's family was going to be my new family for the next four years.The impact of[...]



How do I do this?

2007-11-15T14:28:48.669-08:00

So I've got this bee in my bonnet about sharing the story of Akili Dada as things unfold. I think its interesting to see how the process of growing the organization has not necessarily been a straight shot to where we are. And I'm sure even though I know where I want to be with Akili Dada in ten years, I might not end up there and even if I do, it will be through a series of interesting meanders.

So do I go back to the begining and detail the birth of the idea and work my way forward to this point or do I start here and just write about what happens from now on?

Maybe a bit of both. scattered and confusing but I know that in ten years it will give me perspective on how far we've come.....

I think i'll try a bit of both. Weeeeeee here we go.



re-purposing the blog

2007-11-13T18:21:08.024-08:00

O.k.
I've decided to re-purpose my blog from a once a year detailing of my adventures in Kenya and to become more active in sharing my experiences starting and growing Akili Dada.

I've been meaning to trace the history and growth of the organization for a while now and I think keeping a blog documenting things as the happen might be a good way of doing it.

There's a lot of books out there about how to start a non-profit but I've always wondered what it would be like to have a record of perceptions and experiences of things as they happen rather than having the 20/20 perspective 10 or 20 years down the road.

The downside of engaging in this project is of course that Akili Dada could fail miserably but even then this blog could end up showing others what not to do. But If we keep succeeding as we are, the blog could offer insights to others trying to do the same thing.

We'll see.....



Back in Bush country

2007-05-23T01:22:19.361-07:00

well friends,
I'm back in Bush country and I want to thank those of you who took the time to read the blog.
If you would like to catch up on what I wrote the posts are archived in chronological order at the bottom right hand corner of this page. Enjoy and feel free to post your own comments!

Now let me invite you to check out some pictures I took while in Kenya:

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A response to crazyfinger

2007-02-27T00:35:53.433-08:00

I thought you made a really good comment to my last post and it gave me a really good place to jump off from so i'm posting my response to your comment as a new post. Again thanks for your questions. They definately stimulated my thinking.

I hear what you’re saying and I do believe when you say you’re coming from a supportive and Kind place.

Here’s where I’m coming from with my frustration:
I’ve seen many a ‘development’ project go horribly horribly awry owing to the backgrounds of the people that made decisions to implement it and the people hired to implement it.

It becomes about me when I and my family pay dearly, often with our lives for projects driven entirely by outsiders who haven’t the foggiest idea about what is happening on the ground. ‘Professionals’ who approach Africa’s problem with incredibly slanted and biased misconceptions. That’s when it becomes about me.

You’re not the first to espouse the “wait your turn, you’re still young and you’ll get your chance to change things when you’re older”
Its not what you said but its what I get out of you telling me that the movers and shakers started where I am now. Actually, Bill Gates started off in a different city and class situation. Gender, Race, Class and position within the global matrix still shape who has access to power and who becomes a mover and shaker….. To tell me and others like me that if we’re good and wait our turn at the policy-making table we will get a go at it is a lie that is not supported by the historical record.

What I’m saying is that its important to actively create space at the table for people like me and my friends while we are young. Young Black women from the third world who do have ideas about how the problems of their home country can be tackled. Before we get jaded and cynical. There is so much we could do with this energy and it makes no sense to frustrate us into diverting our energies into other pursuits. I think of other things I could do with my life other than Akili Dada. Jobs that would pay me impossible amounts of money to make sure that African’s come out more screwed than before. I could use my background and training to negotiate loans to African countries at horrible rates and conditions. It would certainly pay… And a lot too.

But that’s not what is driving me. I actually am still naïve enough to think that I can make a difference. That naivete and energy should be captured and its impact maginified. At least I’m hanging on to the last idea that my time and energy have value. Something that so many other African women give up on so early.

And I was thinking also, even though it’s a thin line, this blog is more about me sharing my personal experiences and less about Akili Dada. At least it’s a line that I’m working to make thicker and the distinctions more clear. Akili Dada the organization is more than just me, there is a whole board behind it. This blog is all me. So I’m the one that’s hysterical and self-concious. And I think the situation the continent is in calls for some hysteria and self-conciousness!!!



young, educated, energetic, and frustratingly under-utilized

2007-02-25T02:54:11.554-08:00

There are two images of Africans: we are either filthy rich elites who have gotten fat off corruption and assorted other evils, or we are starving masses of children covered in flies.Nobody is seeing the young, well educated, ambitious, dedicated Africans who are coming up across the continent; Me, Betty, Wangui, Mueni and Laila…. A few who happen to be on the Akili Dada board.I’m watching a televised report of a conversation held at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. Don’t ask. Voice of America carries C-Span. Who knew C-Span was so globally ubiquitous that I can watch it sitting in my Nairobi apartment at almost midnight…..Anyway, there are a bunch of folk from around the world (including Bill Gates, Bono, Mbeki, and my personal hero, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia) sitting around a table discussing the challenges facing Africa.I can’t help but wonder, in all these conversations, so earnest and keen on improving Africa’s lot, are these people aware of people like my friends and I? Why are they not tapping into us and the limitless energy that we have?I mean, here I am, I’ve got a really good education, incredible energy to burn, and am willing and ready to work to change the continent. Yet even as hard as I am trying, I cannot find anybody to pay me what I’m worth to work in Kenya. Mind you, not that they are not willing to pay obscene amounts of money to Americans and Brits to do the same kind of work! (I’m working hard not to digress into so many topics including how little sense it makes to hire foreigners to do work that I can do just as well, if not better because of my knowledge of the Kenyan social and cultural context. And how if I applied for a job from Kenya I’d get paid a fraction of what a foreigner would get paid for the same job. Seriously, lets talk about brain drain and how I’m not going to come back home and tolerate getting paid a tenth of what my less educated and lower ranked foreign colleague is getting paid simply because of my nationality!)There is a huge and horrible double standard out there among external organizations working to solve African problems that African’s are unable to do development work. There is such blindness to the amazing numbers of young people like myself who are actually locked out of opportunities to work towards the continent’s betterment. And I do feel locked out. Excluded from something that I very much want to be part of.I mean, honestly, I’m busting my hump with very few resources to accomplish the work of Akili Dada yet with the proper kind of investments, a project like Akili Dada could reach so many young women in Kenya and across the region! But the sad reality is that even the moderate amount of success we have had, is directly attributable to the fact that I live in the U.S. and I’m able to meet people and make connections there. If I lived in Kenya, Akili Dada would not exist. And how incredibly sad is that!!!To me its incredibly frustrating to watch a group of world movers and shakers sit around a table and rue Africa’s lot while I, a young, highly educated young African woman sit at home bubbling with ideas and energy while my resources go untapped. That, I think, is truly Africa’s greatest tragedy.There is a generation of us dying for space at the policy-making table, ready and willing to do what it takes to turn the continent around, but we have no idea how to get heard. And those at the table are too busy talking to see or even listen to us. Its frustrating. If only they kn[...]



Babies and dogs....

2007-02-23T07:17:42.786-08:00

On a more mundane note….My neighbors in the apartment next door have a 10 month old daughter. She’s adorable. But she’s recently taken to waking up and crying bloody murder starting at 3am!! She’s got a good set of lungs on her and her screaming goes right through the concrete walls, through the windows. For the last two nights I’ve found myself thankful for the super loud fridge that I have because it somehow muffles the cries of the child. Its weird, the cries of a child can pierce right through you. Its virtually impossible to sleep through that. I’d rather a freight train really. It wouldn’t tear at my heart so. Then there are the dogs barking into the night... Kenya keep dogs for security purposes. Honestly, unless they are White, most Kenyans do not tolerate the idea of dogs as pets, all up in the house and on furniture.... Kenyan dogs live outside. But there is a history there. Dogs were used by the colonial state to terrorize Africans and were fed and treated better than Africans. I remember an interview with a colonial settler whose friend was attacked by the Mau Mau during the struggle for independence. She lamented how her friend’s dog was killed and neglected to mention the huge number of Africans that also died on that attack. That dog was more valuable in her calculations, than the Africans. From my time in Zimbabwe I know that dogs were also used in the same way by the Colonial and UDF Whites. Anyway, I digress… So most Kenyans now have dogs for security. They are often intentionally underfed so that they are even meaner towards strangers and across many urban Kenyan neighborhoods dogs are heard barking late into the night. My parents’ neighborhood has a stray pack of dogs that are a menace after a certain time of night. In a strange way they kept us safe. No thugs would be crazy enough to venture out with stray dogs roaming about. The thing with stray dogs in Kenya is that you don’t know if it’s a rabid dog or not. From my understanding (I admit that it could be misinformation), a rabid dog could act completely normal but then turn on you without any provocation since the disease gets into its brain. You could be walking along and cross paths with a perfectly normal looking dog that then turns on you and attacks you infecting you with the rabies. Because of this I’m always scared of dogs in the street. I hate it to in the States when some moron decides to take their dog off-leash while on a walk. You may know and trust your dog, but I DON’T!! grrrrrrrrrrr Anyway, its about 10.30pm as I type this. I’m in my apartment. Well fed, watching T.V. on mute, and listening to a chorus of dogs in the neighbourhood. Tomorrow I have meetings with different organizations that would make good partners and friends to Akili Dada so I will spend my time doing that. [...]



contradictions and frustrations

2007-02-23T07:16:26.513-08:00

Its so weird that today, Rotary International (Kenya) had a lunch. Present were both the current president Kibaki and the immediate president Moi!! At the same event!!! It must have been so weird for Moi to sit by and watch his successor enjoy the trappings of presidency that he had enjoyed for 24 years. It takes guts to sit back and and watch that. He’s gotten so much older and thinner! Its amazing that this man I loathed so much, who headed Kenya since I was born, is now someone that I can recognize as good, even admire! I do wonder though, in his secret thoughts, what made him step down. Why give it all up? Was it the winds of change blowing across the continent? Was it pressure from foreign governments? Is he ill and he knew the end was coming? WHY? Was it easy? It can’t have been. Its always hard to give up power…. For that reason, I admire the man. Simon Matheri has been killed. He was the most feared criminal in Nairobi suspected of being behind the much dramatized crime wave that hit the city. Instead of being arrested and taken to court, newspapers report that he was shot in the head from behind in a standoff with police at around 3am. I wonder if he really did brandish an AK47 as alleged or if the police just decided to shoot him down to prevent him getting out on Bail or bribing his way out of justice. Much as I have a crush on the commissioner of police, I am skeptical on this one. Speaking of which, the commissioner was on T.V. again tonight. What an eloquent man! I think he definitely deserves his job. He is the best advocate for the police force they have ever had. But back to the question of justice in Kenya… The justice system here takes so long that eventually one will find a judge to bribe…. Delamere, the grandson of our former colonial terrorizer, Lord Delamare, is still languishing in jail after making sport of shooting Black Kenyans. Apparently they are taking their time hoping that Kenyans will forget what he did. Twice in two years he shot and killed Black people on his farm. How sad is it that 40 years after independence race is still an issue for us. And Delamare, what was he thinking, did he forget for a second of his colonial history. It’s the last thing I would do if my last name was Delamare and I lived on the Delamare farm, is get into the habit of shooting Black people whenever I felt like it. He was able to wiggle his way out of the first murder but surely, he was stupid to commit the second! Its not just the justice system that drags its feet. So last year I officially changed both my first and last names. It was a long time coming and I’ll spare you the details here. After going through the legal part of it I submitted my application for a new identity card and passport in March of last year. I got my passport two weeks later!! I was totally blown away by how efficient the immigration department was in terms of passports. The National Identity card though is a different story. I kept checking up on it last year and finally gave up deciding to give the government one full year to sort the whole thing out. I went to pick it up last week, convinced that a year latter it should be printed and waiting for me. I was further prompted by a story in the news that the government department was overwhelmed by the number of uncollected ID cards. The card was not ready!! A whole year latter the guy had the nerve to tell me to try again next week! C[...]



Poverty and attitude

2007-02-14T04:28:23.235-08:00

I was standing in line for the bus no. 46 today after a long day trudging up and down town. First a bus came and let people who were at the back of the line get on. That got me because I’d been in line for a while and there is no reason for people who came after me to be able to get on the bus before me. Then, after some more frustrated waiting, this young woman comes up and just jumps in the queue! Granted it was behind me but that made me really mad still. I made a fuss about it despite the fact that I was not directly affected. I really hate waiting in line and I hate it even more when people jump the line! Anyway, I soon found myself targeted by other people in the line who she had cut in front of. They went after me telling me to mind my own business! I couldn’t believe it. The no. 46 serves Kilimani, the wealthy suburb where I’m staying (but most people who live here own cars and rarely have to take public transport I’ve decided), as well as Kawangware, a really poor suburb. My other experience queuing for a bus or matatu is the no. 58 which serves Buru Buru, not a wealthy area, but more white collar area of town where my parents’ house is. Had this woman jumped the queue on a no. 58 line, she would have been lynched! We did not take kindly to that mess and we made noise about it. The no. 46 folk seem to not mind. So I can’t help but wonder if the differences are class differences. Do poor people care less for the sanctity of rules? Indeed, is it that poor people don’t follow rules because they are poor or are they poor because they don’t follow rules? I see reluctance, through various interactions with people here, to follow the rules for the sake of following rules. If there is no-one to enforce the rules, then they don’t exist. For example, people don’t follow traffic lights unless there is a policeman around….. But I’d like to think that this is not just a Kenyan phenomenon. In the U.S. there are definite links between crime (talk about not following the rules) and poverty…… Is it that the poor just give up on the system because it seems to be so heavily weighted against them? Is it that they don’t get anything out of following the rules so why bother? Attitude Its all tied into attitudes. I talked to a jobless relative this weekend who was blown away by my suggestion that she could just walk into an organization, offer to work as a volunteer, and be accepted. She insisted that she needed connections and to somehow use neopotism to land a position volunteering somewhere. That is just how closed off the system has been to people…. Because of my experiences living in the U.S. I am able to walk into a government office and demand the service that is due me without feeling like the person rendering the service is doing me a favor. How long will it take to change Kenyan’s attitudes so they grow to expect what is truly theirs?[...]



Starbucks and development

2007-02-14T04:27:18.583-08:00

Starbucks has just signed a deal to buy coffee directly from Kenyan farmers. I’m glad for the deal but also skeptical. I’ve been boycotting Starbucks for years now because of the way they have historically traded coffee. My father was a small scale coffee farmer. Much of my family is. Its amazing the prices they get for their coffee compared with what multinationals like Starbucks make. So this deal is interesting. I think these are the kind of investments that Sachs talks about as being necessary to get countries up the next rung on the development ladder. Rungs of development. A ladder where India is one step above Bangladesh which is one step above Malawi….I’m wrestling with this one. This teleology of what human eventuality is about. I used to think that the whole idea of development was a sham. I went through a phase of questioning the whole value system inherent in the ‘development’ project. The superiority complex that comes along with labeling some developed and others developing. I’m past that now. No mother wants to watch her child die for lack of medicine for an easily preventable disease. If development is easing that mother’s access to the medicine, then heck, develop away!! I’m still not down with the superiority complex that many ‘development’ workers come with though. I’ve been exposed to one too many of them who think that because I’ve lived in the States I’ll join in roundly condemning the state of everything in Kenya. Eeeh No! There are a lot of things that we need to improve but at the end of the day, this is still my country. And there is much that I’m proud of. I watched the police commissioner on T.V. in a call-in show on KTN last night. He was completely open and vulnerable to the public. He took the criticism, explained the police approach to the current ‘wave’ of crime that is sweeping the country, and was the best ambassador the police could ever hope to have. I was so impressed by how articulate he was and totally bought into the vision that he was selling. I can’t believe it! Not only would this kind of public interview and scrutiny not have happened in the Moi days, its amazing for any democracy! Again I’m so impressed by the changes and improvements that the transition has brought. For example, Today I got interviewed by the CID (equivalent of FBI) about Akili Dada. This is part of the registration process for the organization. They have to make sure that we are not making Impressively, it was a really good experience. Hassan and I talked for hours and afterwards we talked about how he can help Akili Dada reach out to women in his home district. I hope something comes out of it.[...]