Project Akilah

I pondered recently on this blog, about how to create change, where there was an opportunity to create educational opportunities to help young people to achieve their dreams. A team of Rwandans, Americans and Europeans is doing just this for young women in Rwanda and restoring an abandoned educational facility to create value for a new generation of young people.

The Akilah training and leadership institute will provide education and skills to young women to find meaningful employment in the Rwandan economy. The founders are working closely with the Ministry of Education, Workforce Development Authority, and private sector leaders to develop curriculum that provides the students with market-relevant skills. Read more at the blog.

How can you help?

Become a supporter (that means $). The funds will be used to equip the school with all the materials needed for their first class of young women in January 2010.

Here is to more initiatives like Project Akilah

From the Project Sunshine desk

Sunrise

I rarely get up before the crack of dawn, but today I got up and sat down to wait – for an hour, and another half hour, until the sun peered at me over the horizon. Isn’t it true that when you get up way too early you are probably meant to think and pray about someone who needs a prayer. This morning, as I was sitting and sipping my breakfast cup, I was struck by how fragile we are, and how much we depend on the sun for everything. I imagined the sun failing to rise and what confusion that would throw to the world. I thought about the people who were thinking that they might not have a scrap in the world, but if they had a sunrise, then everything they needed was in their hands. Sunshine, the focus of this blog, is the other thing that I considered.

It becomes difficult, three years into writing whatever you want on your blog, to start sharing with others that the blog is meant to illuminate, and share that with a wide audience, some of whom you know and others who you do not. Truth be told, if we were to share the news, most of the blogs would be about war and death and disease. In looking at yesterdays headlines, most of the coverage took on the shootings in the US and Germany, political conflict, the financial crisis, and other very newsy (read sobering) topics)

Where are the stories that you want to read, about the father who helped deliver his wife’s baby, or the child who finally learned how to walk on his own, or that homeless girl who everyone said would drop out. I understand that without the worst of the news we would have no news. So today, instead of cleaning my eyeglasses with the foam of decay, disaster and death, I decided to wait for the sun, and its rays (in winter, these do not mean heat) and the morning sounds, of the ducks quacking in the morning, of the construction workers moving machinery and of my own rumbling tummy calling my attention to the pantry yonder. The sunrise brought with it a new awareness of the fact that compassion needs to arise in the world that we live in – and that there needs to be storytelling once again about tall, strong and wise warriors of our communities, if we are to survive.

Last week, sunrise came in my mailbox. I used to be quite the letter writer when I was younger, and I submitted many a letter in high school. So it came as quite a surprise when a letter came stamped from miles and a country or two away. So, I slit the envelope open and out popped a letter requesting some advice to give to a girl who lives in western Kenya, who the donor supports, who needed to get encouragement. See, this high school girl, who shares a name with one of my favorite gal pals from high school, and her younger sister, both want to be doctors, however, it is difficult to imagine how they will surmount the obstacles and become more than subsistence crop farmers as their kin. It brought me to the question – how does PS blog change perceptions, is it merely talk, or is there action. And, if I wax on about Kenya and Africa, what steps am I taking to concretely address the question of tangible action. What are some viable options for a girl who dreams, when she does not have a rich pocket to sustain her?

Sun rising – dreams that cannot be deferred – a challenge and a call to action – post International Women’s Day how can I stand by and just watch? Words are powerful and mine have travelled as far as I can imagine, so how is it that we can change lives with education particularly for these two girls ?

Beat Me A Picture: African Kids on TV

Media in Africa has always had a mix of pretty standard images, and the most common of these is the children waving at the camera, and running after the car where the camera is. I love media and entertainment, and I can name a whole lot of people who graced African TV when I was younger. I only became camera shy only as a young adult. As I spend more and more of my time out here, I take in all the images of Africa that the mainstream media and others as well, through blogs by people in Kenya and other Africans at home and in the rest of the world. There are still kids running after the camera, and I recognize the need that the children have to be placed in the map somewhere. I still want to be on TV, as most every African child does. Its fun. It is alluring, to know that you will not be one of who lived in obscurity.

Growing up in Kenya, there were a number of ways to get on TV, one was the birthday greetings message on the national broadcaster, one could be part of the Junior and Senior Quiz shows for school children, part of Debate and Poetry recital teams, be part of the annual International Children’s Day of Broadcasting( where children hosted an afternoon of shows on TV) or even have your school sports day covered in the Sports Round up when the news in sports had a few clips of air time to fill. More recently, however, there have been a number of opportunities to audition for children’s television programs on the cable channel provider DSTV and the PopStars/Idol genre of reality TV. I always thought I would be in front of a camera, and still ponder the irony that I have become a media watcher and budding critic like no other, and not really a presenter. It is so important to let kids dream, but that is another post altogether.

Here is a running interplay of how the child gets discovered. The child must find a student/aid worker/development worker with a camera and a cause. If the child is in an area where there is fresh conflict, even better, so that the story is hot enough to land a front page. If the child is striking, like the Afghani woman who was first photographed by NatGeo as a child, and later sought as an adult, then his or her face is guaranteed a place in history. If not, then the child better have a story that can tug at the hearts of the audience, and the more tragic, the better.

Every time a child features on a cover story, I know that the same script I have outlined above will prevail. Africa and its children will continue to be portrayed as victims of tragedy. No matter or mind the brilliant boy who went to a village high school and attained top marks in the national exam, or the girl whose Physics acumen has her already designing local village solutions, or the glass mosaic artist from the slum, who just turned eight. These stories never make it to the top, unless they are couched in familiar terms such as Civil War, tribal clashes, HIV/AIDS, malaria, death, done, finished. While there are legitimate reasons why Africa faces problems and stories have to be highlighted, this is one which strikes me as a re-run script. Where are the hopeful stories.

If you know of someone who deserves a special mention, kindly send me their story and I would be happy to feature them on this blog. Video clips are also welcome.

Autobiography of this Kenyan Computer User

Greetings salutations, and spring greetings! I am back.

In the last week or so, I have been learning a tremendous amount of info on the explosion of the internet in Africa, and have heard leapfrogging heralded as the next frontier for our continent. I could not help but reflect on my own evolution in the last few years.

So after looking at some of the reference articles on the subject, I heartily concluded that there is a great need to tap into the fastest growing tech spots on the market. Mobile phones and the internet. When I returned home last year, I found that many of the computers and gadgets that many of my classmates and friends have here are available on the Kenyan market. So much is the infiltration of these products, but there are the chargers and adapters that make the differing electric specs fluid. Pretty standard stuff. I also found that very many people had internet email access, or at least went online to check their messages and to keep in touch with people abroad.

Before I get into that, however, I have to add that there has been more than just a small attempt to kill our traditional values such as self reliance in society, through the development project, that is meant to rid Africa of its poverty. Dont get me wrong, we need the aid like a thirsty man needs his water, but Africa and other developing regions, affectionately referred to as the Third World, have to see that we have lost our ability to self regenerate.Like this blogger, who has started many posts and left them mid sentence, so are many of the projects that development aid began. They sounded like a great idea when they were started, but they went into two and then three paragraphs(years and decades) and now they are all the way in the pipelines, the seeds of great plans that just fell off by the wayside. I am guilty or abandonment,a nd neglect, even though nobody pays me to air my opinions to the world, let alone to the tune of the millions that the West paid out to African governments to build dreams.

To many of those who are fortunate enough to breathe the fresh air and eat the yummy organic food in Kenya right now, I suppose rehashing these facts is rather redundant, but would you be surprised to know that up to date, people still ask whether I have access to the internet back home in Africa, and whether I know about global events.This information, is for the many who have questions about that.

I shall attempt to build a profile of an internet user in Nairobi, based on my previous experiences.

Pre-1999 Watching other kids at school play Tombraider Version 1 and wishing I had a clue how to use a keyboard to type. Dream for when I grow up, learn to be a fast typist, maybe administrative assistant.

1999-2000
I was finishing primary school and found it fascinating that a few entrepreneurs had started internet cafes in the neighborhood charging KSh 2.50 a minute.  My first question going into these cafes was whether I would have to pay to get an internet address. At the time, I had a cafe assistant help me to login and get my first Yahoo account. I am thrilled, after all, I am on top of the tech world. I see $$$$ in one day opening a cyber too, with wireless no less.

2000-2003
High school days. So now, I have an internet address, but no way to access the internet from boarding school, so I am limited to the breaks in between school terms. My first attempts to program in my high school computer class. C++ decidedly makes me cry. I continue to program theoretically.On the outside world, access charges per minute drop between KShs 1 and less in certain cafes. Dream for future career is much larger, perhaps to be an advocate for intellectual property rights, having seen an abundance of pirated CDs and movies trade hands. Most prolific are the cyber cafes with resident music burning youth who charge Ksh 100 for almost a GB of music.

Post 2003.
I learn that all websites open differently in cybercafes depending on the browser. My typing speed increases, as I spend all my ‘chips’ money on checking email. There is never enough time to do all that I want online. I notice the increase in the number of cafes in the city center that have private booths. In my naivety I assume, that like me, many people do not like the inbuilt nature of people at the cybercafe to read over their shoulder to the windows to the left and the right of them. Not wanting to be an advocate any longer. I pen this blog response about how I want to work in a cyber and there are few people who take women in computing seriously if at all.

FForward to 2007: I met more than a few people in KE  who proved me otherwise when I sat down to hear about their innovation; from Kenya-centric client side applications; the urgency of understanding IPv6 and migrating by the new dates. There are trained and passionate people in tech in Kenya. Here in the US, everyone with a M$oft frontpage thinks that they can create websites, but at home, I saw that not only are many designers working without many of the pricey software applications, but being innovative, but more than adept as open source software creation and integration.

My pride about being Kenyan is those working tirelessly to make those technology ideas come out of the discussion rooms and the thoughts to the forefront. And yes, few are willing to pay the initial costs, but we will reap a certain reward. Hongera!(Congrats) Kenya

Reflective: So there has been a marked hiatus from blogging, but I am happy to report that I am back. I realized when I do not blog there has to be an outlet, and I have yelled at trees for many many weeks without a few typekeys for my beloved blog.

I have to thank M for the poem on “Beginnings” that truly reflects how I went through a very positive reflective moment thinking of how life is precious. I regret nothing. I have opportunities and I will be the first to admit that I will be there, counting my blessings!

Woman Against Violence: A Beginning Should Be More Than A Start

Toni Morrison said, ” Beginnings must do more than simply just start.” Thinking over the last two months and the changes in Kenya, I see so much more in her words. Sitting, phoning, lying awake late into the night, I thought of the real victims in the post-elections violence, women. Since we have determined that Kenya will never be the same, this year 2008 is a new beginning for us. We must decide how to approach Kenyans once again, and relearn how to talk around tribe and ethnicity, and of course politics.

I must go beyond my anger with the politicians, who have much more in common with each other and with mutual political survival, and focus on how to do something tangible to empower( note that I cannot really help the situation if I aim just to hand out things and words of kindness) If we have to start donating, then this beginning is not yet mature, because our co-operation for the humanitarian crisis in Kenya cannot end there. This beginning is a call to re-build. As an African, as a Kenyan and as a woman, my activism has barely begun.

My angst one night in January knew no bounds and reached a crisis when I heard from female family members, and while I was so relieved that are all well, caught myself about to sigh for relief, until I thought of the other women who went to women’s group meetings with my mother, my grandmothers and my aunts. Ruefully, I reflected on my own efforts and saw the stark reality that I was doing nothing but sitting at a computer reading the news.

It seemed obvious to an outsider, but I did not realize how powerful an African woman’s voice is in the call to action. The pictures and the presence of those women and their children who had been displaced kept me up at night and kept my eyes wet with tears. It dawned on me that there was nothing that I had done that qualified me for my safety, my travel and my education. Any of them could have been me, and it could have been my cracked heels that dodged arrows, machetes and my wails could have pierced the night sky at the loss of a child, a sibling, a spouse or a neighbor.

Come February first, I had not taken any real steps to do anything about the story, the one of the silent rape of women, blamed on their tribe, being in the path of a gang, and those attacks on men, forcibly circumcised or sodomized, that those were my brothers, were leaders, my countrymen. Living in a nation now, where there are still not enough women in leadership, I remembered all the great women who had served as my mentors, and as my teachers, who believed that I was good enough.

I remember going to visit a Kericho family who had hosted me when I was ten and on a school trip to Kericho. Or those women who eked out a living as in Mombasa and Malindi, whose livelihoods depended on the tourist visits in the peak season, who would be laid off from their jobs and have to take to the streets. I remember taking a fourteen hour bus ride both ways to Kampala and back to Nairobi last summer, when I passed through Eldoret and Kisumu and across the border to Uganda, and all at night, since I prefer to travel. Was it true that if I took the same trip now, I may be pulled from a bus and killed for being from the wrong part of Kenya? Woman, girl and child, my memories of a happier time were not, unfortunately, the same as those of the children taken out of school to return to their homeland, with not a shred of their tribe language to their memory. But the violence was not mine this year, I could opt out of it.

The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women (1993) identified three main areas where violence against women occurs, namely in the family, the general community, and perpetrated or condoned by the State, clarifying that such violence can take physical, sexual and psychological forms.” The violence on ones emotional state has yet to find a scientific measurement that counts the level of abuse women take on a daily basis.

I believe that gender violence activism is the most under-reported effect of the recent violence in Kenya. Outside of Nairobi, where the harshest news emerged, amid the uprooting, women were still expected to continue their roles as nurturers and care-givers in the internally displaced camps. If she was the one who was from the minority community, she had to leave, and if he was the one who was a minority, he had to leave or worse yet, was beaten within an inch of his life, or killed. She still had to get up the next morning and fetch water and make a meal and take care of their home.

Was the violence perpetrated or condoned by the state? As policy makers debate these questions and broker peace, I am not alone in assuming that she did not have a choice as to whether the group of armed men could enter her homestead and ransack everything including her dignity and her body. Nor do I think that now, as the family sits in the camp waiting for the next inadequate ration of meals, that she can avoid the pressure to go and sell her body for a little more posho(ground cereal) for her baby. As I sit in my cushy seat trying to see who from the U.S is sending things in a container, I doubt that she can afford to wait for my secondhand clothes nor my canned string beans, or even sit to think about whether the peace will make our wealthy leaders more considerate, or not.

I doubt that the girl whose early marriage has been speeded up for more money to salvage the family will pen a letter to our overpaid members of parliament to buy her freedom, nor will the fresh wound of a newly initiated female genital mutilation(fgm) survivor cover the hole in her heart from the brutal rite carried out to prepare her for the new school year. Still yet, it is unlikely that the woman whose partner welcomes her return to their tent with a shower of patronizing slaps will stop because Kofi Annan and his team got our esteemed leaders to sign to a solution.

You can learn that one in three women is a victim of abuse. Yes, one in three,
If you do not know already, March 8 is International Womens’ Day, look for events in your area and attend.
If you have sisters, daughters, partners, spouses, mothers and other relatives, imagine how you would feel if anyone harmed them, and think about what has been keeping you from activism, from speaking to men about gender violence.
When you next read a story about Kenya, if you see a picture of a child, remember its mother, the siblings, and the future for a woman in rural Kenya today.

I dedicate this post to the women who have endured violence in war zones and conflict areas. Darfur, Bosnia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and here in the United States