Friday, May 30, 2008

Dagoretti 4 Kids goes 6-0!

Last weekend, we hosted Nairobi’s 3rd annual Ultimate Frisbee Festival. We had 6 teams, 80+ players, sponors, good food and lots of fun. We co-facilitated the event with another teacher from Mandy’s school that plays on a national team in Canada. Many of the participants came from the 25-30 people that come out on Fridays and Sundays to play pickup games each week. They were a huge help in pulling all of this together!

In years past, this event has always been a fundraiser for a local organization doing work with kids in the community. In years past, proceeds went to an organization, they occasionally came out for the day to watch and at best, were somewhat involved. This was not the case this year. We decided to work with a group of kids that had never played ultimate frisbee during the month before, teach them how to play and form a team to enter into the tournament. It was in the spirit of all of this that we were able to go 6-0 in the tournament. Here’s a quick summary of our wins.

  1. We taught 15-20 kids how to play a new game that they will likely hold onto in the near future. Teaching them the basics and providing the basic equipment, it was fun to rally them around a new activity.
  2. The improvement from the first time that we played to our last game was incredible! You have to imagine that most of the kids had never seen a frisbee before. They thought it was a plate or something that you throw to a dog. All of the teams commented on how well these guys had done for only playing the game for one month.
  3. We were able to build new relationships with a great group of guys that we may have never had the opportunity to spend time with. There is something about enduring competition together. It allowed us to connect with the leaders of the org as well as a great group of guys with a tough past.
  4. We were able to raise 75,000 Ksh (approx. $1300 USD) for the organization. All of the t-shirts, food and drinks were sponsored by local businesses and the regular group of frisbee players.
  5. We were able to help some of our expat friends in Nairobi gain a bit of insight into the lives of local stories. In many cases here in Nairobi, there is a huge gap between the international and local community. This was a way to bring people together in a fun and non-threatening way. Many of our friends from abroad expressed interest in visiting the dagoretti project and playing games in their area.
  6. Despite the fact that we didn’t win any games, the guys had a postivive attitude, encouraged one another and set a great example for other teams. People commented left and right on their attitude and politeness to each of the teams that we encountered.

This was an incredible experience for everyone. I (Joel) will always remember my first ultimate frisbee tournament and I am convinced that the kids of dagoretti will do the same.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A few cool things going on here in Nairobi

We Can’t express quickly time is passing over here. There were days in January and February when we thought time could not inch any slower. Now, things have changed and June 29 (our departure date) seems to be a blink away. Here is a brief snapshot of what is making time pass haraka haraka (quickly quickly) these days:


As many of you know, we have played ultimate frisbee with a group of people here every Friday and Sunday. In February, we began planning for the 3rd annual Nairobi Ultimate Frisbee Festival, a tournament to promote the game and activate local youth. We have been involved with planning the tournament and are coaching a team of former street kids that are connected to one of our partner organizations. The guys at Dagoretti 4 Kids have been awesome in picking up the game, practicing hard and using this as an opportunity to show how far that they have come. We practice, ½ times each week, have regular scrimmages against a team of kids from Mandy’s school and will play in the tournament this weekend. We have received sponsorship from the tournament from local sources and are excited to report that all proceeds from the tournament will go to Dagoretti 4 Kids. We will keep you posted on how the tournament goes this weekend!


Setting up a masters program thousands of miles away from the source, in a place where computers are few and far between and in a very different academic context is a lot of work. We have worked hard to help 25 people apply for a CTM/Bakke Graduate University and Carlile College Masters program for grassroots leaders serving in the slums. There are few systematic ways of doing things over here. While it would be nice to have everyone simply go to a website, fill out the forms and send them in, it doesn’t work that way here. Instead, we print all of the forms, have a meeting with everyone to go through the application, have them handwrite their responses, hand them in, scan the documents and send large files (that take 10 hours to send) to the US via email. Other kinks present themselves, such as only having access to 1 computer for 25 people, not being able to find the correct textbooks here in Nairobi, coordinating with Kris and Jeff how to set up scheduling issues, etc.

Kris and Jeff’s Visit:

It’s one thing to plan for a family visit, but when visits are related to CTM functions, it takes a bit more time and energy. Kris and Jeff will be arriving in Nairobi next Tuesday night. During their time here, they will be facilitating an intensive training for 150 people and will be launching the Masters program with 25 people. We will also spend time visiting various communities, visioning with CTM Nairobi, etc. It will be fun to have visitors again…although the reality is speaking clearer than ever: when they leave, we have three weeks left!


With our time here coming to an end, we are making sure that our work here this year doesn’t come with us. Equipping Gideon and others with helpful ideas and systems has become important as we think about leaving. Mandy is also transitioning from her work at ISK as her school year finishes in less than two weeks. We can’t forget the practical steps of moving and making sure that we can fit our year in Kenya back into 3 suitcases to return home.

So, those are a few things that are going on over here…others include a photo project in mathare, continuing to explore some partnership opportunities locally and abroad, hanging out with friends and members of the CTM network here, figuring out what we will come back to in American politics, taking Swahili lessons and learning how to cook Kenyan food.

One of those days...

To give you a little taste of the clashes within the slums and western visitors, I’d like to take you on a trip down memory lane to last week Thursday’s visit to a place called Lunga Lunga.

I am not really sure where to start…perhaps a snapshot of Thursday evening’s emotions would be appropriate. Frustrated, hurt, honored, exhausted, fearful and maybe even a bit of resentment toward those who have gone before us.

Thursday was a reminder of how far the CTM network has come here in Nairobi. Although we came home exhausted, frustrated, embarrassed and perplexed, it provided new perspective on CTM’s ability to come alongside in fragile circumstances and to walk the fine-line of western empowerment in hard places.

Mandy, Gideon, Moses and I ventured into a new part of town to visit with a group of pastors. Mandy and Gideon had visited before and were encouraged by the transformational work taking place within this community. Gideon invited us as he was hoping to film a few clips for a “signs of hope” video that he is compiling to be shared with mainstream and slum pastors in Nairobi in the beginning of June. Gideon’s objective defies the norm as he is trying to capture beauty in the stories rather than the typical cries for help. We graciously accepted his offer, hoping to simply listen to a few stories emerging from their community.

In retrospect, the signs early on that things might be a different were obvious. The fact that we arrived 2 hours later than they had expected us, yet a group of 25 pastors will still eagerly waiting was sign number one. Signs two, three and four came in the first 30 seconds of our encounter when Mandy and I were asked to sit in the front, when we noticed a table with crafts for sale off to the side and when Gideon and Moses were barely acknowledged. Sign five came when our primary reason for the visit (Gideon’s interview clips) were placed on the back burner and Mandy and I were issued “lead roles”.

As we walked around the community, we went to six different churches. The tour of the community was meant to be a show and tell amongst other pastors in the area of what each ministry is doing. Ideally, we would be a listening ear in the background and there may have been a little red light on Gideon’s camera glowing. Instead, it became a ploy for access to resources, a cry for help and a presentation for what they had been prepped for as “potential donors”. Don’t get me wrong, there is some great stuff going on in this place. Most of the churches have started schools as there are few government schools operating in this area, there is a strong network of pastors who know what is going on in the community and these churches remain agents of transformation in a place that is environmentally, physically, economically and socially impoverished.

One could have said that it was an honor to be treated the way we were. We were offered bottled water regularly to cope with the beating sun, they insisted on carrying our backpack, we were given a 3-course meal at the end of the day, kids waited 3 extra hours at the school simply to say hello to us (and see white people in their school) and we were asked to sign guestbooks in many of the places. One could argue that these people were simply honoring us. The scary part for us was when Gideon and Moses were side-stepped in order for all of this to happen. The four of us arrived as guests, but only two of us remained guests over the duration of the day. Gideon and Moses, for that we apologize, You should be the guests of honor in your own city.

One can’t help but think how things got this way. Was it the western missionaries that previously expected better treatment? Is if western missionaries that have viewed each encounter as an opportunity to give money? Did we imply something in earlier interactions that encouraged this behavior? Do some people not have the capacity to look past skin color and the dollar signs embedded in the pigment of one’ skin? Or maybe, these people are simply survivors-they saw and opportunity and went in for the kill.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Oh Boyye!

We first met Boyye during our second week in Kenya. His hospitality, interest in learning English and commitment to his community was unique, to say the least. Over the course of the year, we have gotten to know Boyye better and recently decided to sponsor him through secondary school. It was enlightening for us to peek behind the scenes into the lives of those that are on the margins, to understand what education looks like here in Kenya and to think about what a 4-year commitment looks like in Boyye’s world and in ours.

When Boyye’s father passed away in December, it was tough on him and his family. He lives with his mother and grandma and near his sisters in Mathare, an informal settlement on the east side of Nairobi. While his fathers’ passing was difficult to swallow, it also meant that he, as an only son, would have additional responsibilities in caring or his family. The first priority in considering going to school for Boyye was to cautiously gain approval from his family. 4 years in school could have been translated to 4 years away from the house and unable to provide for his family. Thankfully, he won his mother over in the process and gained full support from his family.

The second priority was building up Boyye to a point where he understood the complexities of joining 14-15 year olds in Form I (9th Grade) as a 19 year-old…the realization that he would be 23 upon graduation was not only a strange concept for us, but also for him. Boyye has been committed to helping out at the Inspiration Center in Mathare over the past three years. Going away to a boarding school is going be a stark difference for him…high structure, new friends, rural setting, etc. We have yet to see how this transition will go, but are confident and hopeful that he will make the best of it.

Perhaps the most peculiar thing for us in this process was learning how quickly things could happen. We have been talking with Boyye about going back to school for a few months now. He had shown signs of interest along the way, and became serious about things over the past month. Last week, when we decided that this would be our best bet in investing in him and the Mathare community, we approached a friend who deals with educational sponsorship. Coming into our meeting with her, we figured that we would have to wait until the following year since 3 months had already passed in the Kenyan academic calendar. 5 minutes into the conversation, we had a book list, a breakdown of costs and an appointment with the headmaster. Can you imagine? No application, no waivers, no admission process.

Another important learning process for us along the way was learning about the economics of education in Kenya. Kenya is supposed to have developed a “free education” government program for all primary and secondary students. This is an absolute joke! Boyye’s community, which is home to 500,000 people has only one government-run secondary school, leaving us with few options but to look elsewhere. We felt that being away from Mathare in a boarding environment would be more advantageous to his learning. When you add up the costs of tuition (which is the only part of government run schools that is free), transport, boarding, books, uniform, medical, an ID card and basic supplies, you are looking at $1,000 USD/year. Should we have chosen a “free” government school, we would be looking at $800 USD/year.

I joined Boyye, his mother, a good friend from Mathare and a volunteer from the sponsorship organization to his new school on Wednesday. It brought me back to our first weeks in Kenya as one of those breakable moments when any type of beauty is overwhelmed by affliction. After a 3 hour matatu ride on awful roads, we arrived at the school with a tin box of belongings, a backpack and 4 textbooks. Although the school’s setting was beautiful, the 6 years of its existence had taken a big toll. Perhaps the most startling realization was the dormitory, which I can best compare with a smaller version of my grandfather’s barn growing up. 10 x 25 meters, bunk beds lined up in rows, one big overhead light, nasty foam mattresses and a tin box for each bed. I was reminded of a college move-in day at PLU with moving trucks, TV’s, couches, carpet, computers galore…and people complaining about the size of our rooms. While the context is slightly different, our basic human desire for cleanliness and comfort remain the same. I began to wonder if we had indeed done a good thing by encouraging and assisting Boyye with going to school. 4 years down the road, we will know! In the meantime, if you can keep him in your thoughts and prayers with us, we would appreciate it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Different Kenya (for us)

When most people think of Kenya ani- mals and talented long-distance runners. It is true that the game parks are incredible…filled with animals that we only ever dream of seeing locked behind the electric fence at the zoo, and that the Kalenjin tribe produces some of the world’s best long distance runners. I hope that, they think with lots of of going on a safari people realize that we have done our best to scale through the surface of Kenya to a core that is hard, tough and at times scary.

Last week was a week of just the opposite. I took the opportunity to enjoy one of the things that energizes me most effectively and set off to the mountains for a few days. In true Kenyan style, I joined a guide, three cooks and a team of 12 English guys to the slopes of Mt. Kenya. This was the first time that I had ever been under the provision of a guide while climbing. While my independent nature initially screamed, “let me do it myself!”, I soon realized that guiding plays an important role in Kenya’s highest income generator (the tourist industry), and that letting guides navigate the unknowns around transport, cooking different foods, fighting off different animals and accessing proper equipment was a relief.

The trip was excellent-perfect weather, beautiful scenery and a successful summit bid. Starting at 8000 feet, we climbed to 11,000 feet for our first acclimatization night and on to 14,000 feet the following evening. The summit of Mt. Kenya, which sits about 35 km north of the Equator stands at 17,000 feet. The group was in good physical condition and had few setbacks. We met an interesting couple from Israel along the way whose lives have been shaped by war and confusion. It was one more incentive to appreciate the freedoms that have been afforded to me and to find opportunities to engage with our global neighbors who can’t say the same. Can you imagine living every day of your entire life with the uncertainties associated with war?

When I re- turned to the park gate, I caught a ride into the closest town and took a four-hour matatu ride to Nakuru, home of the infamous pink flamingo flock in Nakuru National Park. I met Mandy and some friends from her school for the weekend as we had some rest and relaxation time, as well as a few game drives. The animals were spectacular…rhinos, giraffes, zebra, hyenas, cape buffalo, warthogs, flamingos, pelicans, gazelle, baboons and monkeys just to name a few. It was a good time to refocus our energy for how we can be effective during the upcoming months and also got us thinking about the future. Our group of 6 adults represented 5 different countries and lots of international travel. It was fun to dream about the possibilities out there…but for now-we are off to OhioJ!

Driving back into the crowded streets of Nairobi yesterday was like culture shock. People everywhere, shacks, dukas and children playing. Part of me wanted to retreat back into the mountains, while another part of me wouldn’t want to if I could. I was reminded of a comment that I heard when meeting with the leaders in our network a few months back. Someone made a statement that mzungu (white people) will always have a chance to get away and retreat from the realities of life. He was right…we were able to get away, to clear our minds and to refocus-and now it is up to us to share this energy with others!

But, it’s going to have to wait a bit…we are both sick with sinus stuff and are completely exhausted-maybe the rhino got us sick.

Monday, May 5, 2008

More Pics!

Moses, Joel, Ken, Mark, Violet and Gideon after a fun-filled wedding day!

Joel and Mandy at Dan's going away party...fellow teacher and frisbee player

Mandy and her teaching the dream

Godfrey, Moses, Boyye, Joel and Mandy
Bowling 101 before Boyye goes to school!

The Girls at Catherine and Reuben's Wedding...Agnus, Mwix, Alice and Mandy. Mwix was the maid of honor.

The MC of the wedding...note the common Kenyan short tie...this was they guy that made us do the white man dance in front of everyone!

Gabi...perhaps our favorite hair style

Samara struttin' her stuff

Mark and Violet's Wedding...we were the official photographers! Mandy and the bride.