Follow Pittsburgh Rotarian Alexis Wukich this summer as she travels to Kenya to serve as a volunteer and representative of the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh at Hekima Place.
Hekima Place is a home in Kenya for girls orphaned primarily by HIV/AIDS. The name “Hekima” was chosen for its Kiswahili meaning: Wisdom. Founded in 2005 by Pittsburgh native Kate Fletcher, the home opened with just 10 girls but has grown to 60 members of the Hekima Place family.
It is hard to believe we have been in Kenya for 24 hours. We arrived last evening around 9:20 pm. We didn't get our visas until 10:40. Fortunately our bags were waiting for us as was our driver from Hekima Place. We got to Hekima Place a little after midnight. The city streets of Nairobi seemed so quiet at night, but it was nothing compared to the quiet out here in the hills.
Kate kindly stayed up to welcome us and showed us to the "Karibu House," where volunteers stay during their visit. We have lots of room - up to 17 could actually stay here. It is identical to the three residences were the girls live with their "mums" who act as total caretakers of the girls. We have a large common area and a kitchen with appliances!
After 22 hours of travel, Joe and I were pretty quick to call it an evening. Kate advised that we take our first day easy because we would be exhausted. I thought she was being over-cautious, but boy was she right. This morning ans afternoon I was struggling with jet lag that even my Starbucks Via couldn't cure! I went back to bed while my awesome travel buddy, Joe, went to explore (his jet lag set in while we were in a cab later that day when he fell asleep mid-sentence).
Once I finally got moving, Joe and I toured the grounds and met some of the "mums" and "uncles." The operation they have here is truly amazing! The uncles take care of the grounds, the animals and security. There are goats, cows, chickens (and chicks) and rabbits. They harvest corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and beans. They collect rain water from the roofs. Whatever resources they collect, grow or raise, they use and if the don't use it, they sell it.
After meeting and greeting, Joe and I headed to Karen to do some shopping. The drive through the small towns and markets was eye-opening. We had passed these towns, Ngong and Kiserian, on our way from the airport, but it was dark and there was almost no activity. Late afternoon was a different story! Thousands of people milling about, merchants, markets, goats and donkeys. I should have been taking pictures, but I was so awestruck and busy giving myself eyestrain.
In Karen, we bought lots of groceries and a modem so we can get Internet (and I could update all of you!!). We got back to late to have dinner with the girls, so fortunately we picked up some KFC carry out.
After our lovely home cooked meal, Joe and I settled in to watch "Half the Sky," a documentary about the struggles and abuses of women and girls worldwide. A timely pick given that Joe and I had the pleasure of meeting Hekima's newest guest, a beautiful ten year old girl named Yvonne who was rescued from Nairobi hospital after being enslaved and then repeatedly sexually and physically abused. Her attack was so brutal she was in the hospital more than a week. Rather than cower or hide, the first thing she did when we met was smile ear to ear and give me a HUGE bear hug. I can't even express in words the feeling. I don't think I ever can. Sophia, who works in the office said to me, "Of course Mum (Kate) took her in. She is a baby who was a slave and who was raped. She has no parents. She has no where to go, so she comes here."
Posted by Alexis Wukich at 1:12 PM
This morning we has the opportunity to go to the Good Hope School. The school goes from ages 4-5 in baby and nursery classes to 8th grade. The student body is made up of the elementary-aged students from Hekima Place, children from the Good Hope Orphanage and local children. The school is just 2 kilometers away but the road is quite hilly and in very bad shape. The girls go by bus every morning and afternoon.
The school system in Kenya works on a trimester schedule with one month long breaks in April, August and December. Since it is the end of their second term the students were talking their exams. We started our morning in the teacher's lounge with morning prayer and a ministry on forgiveness provided by the head teacher. Next we were off to help out in the classroom. Joe proctored the 6th grade social studies test and I gave some of the nursery students their exam.
The nursery students were quite intrigued by Joe and I. Kyla, a young girl was fascinated with my blue eyes and pointy nose. My hair, earrings and bangle also got a lot of attention!
After exams, we broke for tea at the Orphanage. We had an amazing chai tea while the little ones had porridge. After tea, the children had time to play outside while we got to take a look at the "conservation classroom" and their pet tortoises. Beginning in first grade, all students at Good Hope learn about conservation as part of their curriculum. Partly in an effort to preserve the 91% of Kenya that has game roaming on its land a d partly to teach the students from more rural areas how to be more effective in cultivating sanitary and prosperous lives. As an aside, did you know the ivory trade is still a huge problem in Kenya? Every day, 5 elephants are slaughtered for their ivory.
After learning about Good Hope's green education, we got to enjoy a special school assembly that was prepared for some special visitors. As special as we were (I am sure), these guests were BIG TIME: visitors from the World Bank. The show was amazing with singing, dancing, percussion, poetry and dramatic performances.
As we headed back to Hekima, the children went out to play a little football while the staff and teachers looked on. These kids all seem happy and well adjusted! It's amazing to know that half the student body comes from either the Good Hope Orphanage or Hekima Place. The other half live with their biological family - some in places where there is no running water. If you didn't know it, you wouldn't realize it because when you look around you just see a bunch of well-mannered kids enjoying their time at school, albeit some with tattered and torn uniforms, mismatched socks and tights, shoes that are flopping off their feet or clothes that are two sizes too small.
Posted by Alexis Wukich at 6:30 AM