Room B11 Ambwere Alliance Hotel

It is 0530 in the morning and I sit in a private room off the lounge area of the Ambwere Alliance Hotel in Chavakali.  Although I have my laptop plugged into the wall, I have no power and so my words will be limited this morning by the duration of my battery life, which is now down to 63%.  So much to tell and as I review some notes I took yesterday, I realize that the rich flood of sensations, experiences, conversations and recognition is overwhelming to the point of being not captured.  The sessions at Lugulu during the second day were fruitful.  Our team did some reworking of our scheme and our Kenyan colleagues kept at the work diligently.  We received much feedback in regards to the curriculum package.  We had tea at the conclusion of the workshop.  During this time, about 20 people remained and I had the opportunity to sit for an extended time and visit with several of the education secretaries.

This visit began with my inquiry of John about the Yearly Meeting had contained several tertiary vocational schools.   These schools were referred to as Youth Polytechnics. John introduced me to Hezron Mukavale, who is the education secretary for Central Yearly Meeting.  We were joined shortly thereafter by Zadock Males, who is the principal at Mufutu Secondary School and Masafu Timona, who serves as the Education Secretary for the Elgon East Yearly Meeting.  Zadock drew a nice map of Kenya and located each of their regions for me.

Due to my preparation and background as a vocational educator, I have been amazed at the lack of vocational preparation in Kenya at the secondary level.  The education system itself seems designed to sort the best and the brightest, preparing them for entry to the University and then leaving the rest of the school completers with few post-secondary options.  Therefore, when Hezron spoke about the Youth Polytechnics, I listened with great interest and hope.  John and I earlier had had an extensive conversation about the lack of practical preparation for secondary learners in the Kenyan schools.  The National curriculum, standardized testing and competition for slots at universities seems to have created a straight jacket on instructional delivery and curriculum choices initiated by local communities.  Tertiary educational opportunities then appear to be an appropriate approach in providing additional educational and training opportunities for youth.

Mr. Mukavale described the situation with the tertiary schools.  The primary programs of instruction are masonry, carpentry, tailoring and mechanics.  One school had some agricultural instruction as well.  From what I understood, the programs were two years in length and prepared the completers to take and pass a national certification test in the area of preparation.  While Hezron’s view was that the completers would be able to find gainful employment in the trade, John interjected that self-employment was a very viable option.  Hezron and the others stated their belief that the Polytechnics provided opportunity for the very learners they had the most concern about as elders and community members, those who were not the best students in high school (and perhaps prone to the violent and inappropriate behaviors which were causing concern).

John told me that his high school experience did provide practical experience in agriculture and during the two years that he took agriculture at Chavakali High School, he learned skills in tractor use and maintenance, carpentry and crop cultivation that continue to serve him well to this day.  Agriculture is now only taught as an academic subject,. However, I noted, on our brief tour of the high school prior to the start of our workshop yesterday, that there was a wood shop,  an agriculture shop, a slaughter house and row crops on a small farm located on the school grounds.

My conversation with Hezron and the others got me quite excited, in fact, to seek ways of providing assistance for the Polytechnics.  I committed to exploring external funds for them and immediately thought of Bob Tolar and the Echo Group. Bob had sent me to Namibia in 2003 on a project to assist local economic and educational development through the establishment of a cultural center, an English literacy program and a practical secondary agriculture program in Okihandja Namibia.  I believe that Bob might be of some assistance in exploring grant funding and intend to call him upon our return to Oregon.  The primary issue for the Polytechnics is securing adequate start up monies to secure qualified instructors and the equipment needed to supply the programs.  John had a clear vision for Polytechnics that would be self sufficient by marketing student produced items.  I can see the possibilities, though sustainability would be challenging as issues of marketing, competition, quality control and management all come to mind, based on my own experience as a high school agriculture teacher.

This project has the greatest personal interest for me, though, of all that have been presented to me so far on this trip.  The idea of providing assistance to the development and implementation, as well as the ongoing success of Youth Polytechnics has a great appeal to me.  The idea of infusing life skills and the peace and reconciliation curriculum into the vocational programs has great merit and needs to be explored.  Along the lines of sources of personal interest, some of the concerns cited by teachers at our opening session at Chavakali yesterday indicates to me that introducing and supporting the curriculum for informal education in the community and in the church should be considered, as well.

Paul and Debbie shared with me about their adventures in the countryside outside Lugulu.  They met a man named Patrick who walked with them a long way and actually took them home to meet the family and share a meal of roasted maize.  They had a wonderful time.  Patrick asked if they knew his friend, Pastor Frank Finley from Kentucky and asked that Paul get a message to him upon our return to the States.  After the long tea time ended on Tuesday evening, Debbie, Paul and I walked back to the guest house at the Lugulu Friends Hospital, making room for three ladies who were riding over with John , as they were staying overnight with us at the guest house.  We had a big dinner, though I wasn’t that hungry.  Grace, our cook and housekeeper at the guest house was a very kind lady.  She made a big dinner for us, which had all the usual dishes, chicken, beef, ugali, rice, greens, and broth.  She also made chipatis, a wonderful flatbread which reminds me a lot of a thick tortilla.  The after dinner conversation was about Kenyan politics and economics, with John holding forth.  The rest of us found it difficult to keep up with him, as he is a man of great passion and eloquence.  I did my best to ask appropriate questions and tried not to bring offense to our Kenyan hosts.

On Wednesday morning, I went walking for a few minutes.  I met Samwel Thambura, the hospital administrator.  He graciously granted me a tour of the Friends Lugulu Hospital.  Compared to American standards, it was Spartan, yet appeared to be clean and very well run.  The staff were friendly and quite diligent.  I saw a sign commemorating the work that Reedwood Friends Church had done at the hospital.  I saw a plaque commemorating a large US AID grant toward equipment purchase.  Samwel said that next on the list of needs was a printer for the imaging equipment and a mortuary.  Samwel has been at the hospital for four years.  His family lives in Nairobi and he only gets to see them once a month or on occasion, every over week.  He told me that his friends and family questioned his decision to come to this hospital and he cited the story of Joseph being sent to Egypt as the model for how he viewed his work at the Friends Lugulu Hospital.  I reflected back to my citing the story of Abraham being call away by God to an unknown place as the model for our move away from Colorado, so I can relate to Samwel’s example.

We left the guest house and journeyed by caravan back to the south.  Our luggage was placed in the back of a pick up truck, and so the van, the truck and a sedan carried our team and some Kenyan colleagues to Chavakali High School for boys.  We stopped along the way for petrol and the filling station was right in the middle of a large open market.  We were greeted with a cacophony of sounds, as loud, rhythmic music competed with shouts and laughter and distant equipment noises.  A police woman in a smart uniform strolled the crowd, her automatic rifle at the ready.  Clothes and food stuffs seemed to be the predominant goods for sale.

Proceeding on, I enjoyed the Kenyan countryside.  Everything in this region is green and lush.  We crossed over at least two rivers, not half the size of the Willamette, at Newberg, but carrying large volumes of red muddy water down stream.  We stopped at a place to view the Crying Stone. This is an interesting stone monolith, at least 30 feet tall, from which water trickles year around.  While our group stood taking pictures, we were greeted by a number of small children, who appeared by the road. Debbie took their photos and then shared with them in her viewer.

We arrived at Chavakali and were ushered into the principal’s office.  We were served soda and water and made conversation while John and the principal worked out the location of our workshop.  We were greeted by several people there, including the general secretary of the Yearly Meeting and the man in charge of the boarders at the school (all 1,008 of them).  This is John’s alma mater, so we did hear a little about his time here.  We also learned about the success of the choirs at this school in national competition.  The principal told us that if the choir did not do well in the national competition, the principal’s job would be at risk.

This school at one time was noted for having a strong vocational agriculture program.  The residual effects of that were evident.  There was an ag shop and a woodworking shop.  The wood shop was functional, the agriculture shop was piled high with old desks and other discards.  A rundown tractor, overgrown with grass was parked behind the shop.  I met the farm manager.  He told me that agriculture was important at this school.  Well…I did see row crops, cabbage and another crop which we ate a lot of were growing in the fields.  I asked if the students were involved with the cultivation and did not get a response, though I suspect that they are not.  There were cows and chickens and goats running all over the school grounds.  Even two turkeys were strolling around on the principal’s lawn.

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2 Comments on “Room B11 Ambwere Alliance Hotel”

  1. This is a very comprehensive report! I like it, I work for a school for the Deaf children near Chavakali, a place called Maseno. My job as a Manager is to coordinate Vocational training for the learners who fail to secure secondary school admission pass marks.
    I have a lot to share anyway, can we form a partnership?

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