The Nuts and Bolts

I hope this first report gives you some idea of the essence of the work and community as well as a glimpse into the nuts and bolts day-to-day work. It is powerful and effective and transformative. I believe it is also laying the groundwork for much broader impacts in the area of literacy training, resilience and healing in the face of harsh, harsh living conditions and experiences, and giving children their childhoods and real hope for the future.

There is ceaseless noise in Kibera. The weird buzz of sparking grinders on the metal of security fences being constructed in a metal shop in the middle of the road. The sizzling zap from the hot white arcs of the welds securing the security fences. The clanging of huge metal security gates squealing open as someone enters. The smash of those gates against the metal barrier wall. The noise of the craving for security and safety.

There is ceaseless noise in Kibera. The thwack thwack thwack of hammers from the construction of the addition to the schoolhouse, pounding into the room while the students take the national exams. The bizarre, unidentifiable squealing of some sort of transportation device passing by unseen outside the gates. The bang bang bang of big stones being pounded into smaller stones in the streets. The noise of creation and building.

There is ceaseless noise in Kibera. The beautiful singing of the teachers singing together as a group. "How are YOU?!" smilingly asked by virtually every child in the streets. The lilt in the students' voices when then raise their hand in class, pleading to be called on, calling out "Teachah, teachah!!". The unstoppable, indefatigable, fabulously beautiful sound of people laughing and laughing throughout the day. The noise of learning and love.

There is also endless silence in Kibera. The things that go on in the places that remain silent are the scariest. The vicious stepmother. The women with AIDS who gather in the streets, watching, hoping. The "home" to "rehabilitate" "runaway" boys which makes hell sound wonderful in comparison. The stepfather who makes clear what will happen if you tell anyone. The silence of hopelessness, massive stress, inhuman physical living conditions.

The entry into this world for an outsider is immediate, intense, emotional, exhilarating and horrifying. It is an extremely complicated place, vastly more intricate in its social dealings than the US because issues of status and power are issues of real life and death. These are not people on a deserted island waiting for a food drop. They are people living in a complex, loving, corrupted, and deeply violent place -- both emotionally and physically -- trying to interact with the world in the best way they can.

With that backdrop always in mind, the team from LitWorld set out to do its work at the Red Rose School. My brief impressions so far:

Annie Foley is leading the team. She has established an excellent rapport with the students and teachers from prior trips here. The trust level is clearly established. She oversaw and planned the work. Jennifer Goodwin, volunteering with the team, explained the theory underlying effective reading instruction and explained how to do it -- the discrete element chosen as the teaching and implementation vehicle was tableaux. This in a nutshell consists of breaking a story down into five or so important scenes, breaking the kids into the five groups, and having the students discuss them and "freeze" in a scene they imagine from their storypoint. Her husband, Lucas Rotman, another LW team leader volunteer, led a session on using music to teach reading, along with using music as a storytelling vehicle. Teachers asked many questions based on their efforts and experiences in implementing teaching techniques from prior visits. Annie guided the discussions, always focusing on responding to the teachers queries with an eye to making sure they will be able to do it in their own classrooms, and they will see the enormous value of doing it.

These teachers at Red Rose are receiving the best BEST staff development that is occurring anywhere in the WORLD right now, and I meant it. The teachers are REALLY into it. Their appreciation is especially pronounced because we are providing so many tips on how to do this work in the face of the day to day realities they face -- mandated government curriculum that is very lecture oriented, a desperate lack of materials, and never having experienced this kind of teaching instruction in their own learning lives. The teachers are very brave and open. Annie, Jen and Lucas did a really wonderful job of supporting the teachers as they spent the afternoon trying out the new lessons with the students in front of and with their colleagues. From a morning spent learning a new and powerful teaching technique, to jumping right into trying it themselves in the afternoon, to achieving success due to the gentle support provided during their trying it with the kids -- I have never seen teachers move so rapidly and genuinely through the process of learning to implementation.

Today we also interviewed Teacher Rose at length. Rose leads the Girls' Club and the club is so amazing -- it is very energizing for the girls. Some are now attending from schools other than Red Rose because the girls told their friends about it. Visitors from Nairobi said the girls are much more engaged and assertive than most of the girls seen in Nairobi, and especially more so than the girls from the countryside. The girls have asked if the program can take place every single day. I will have more details when we attend the next meeting on Friday afternoon. This is personally my favorite project of LitWorld's. So much springs from this Club, all of it good and powerful and worldchanging and lifelong.

The Lit! project with the solar powered lanterns has been prescient in seeing the potential of these amazing devices. Demand is spreading in Kibera and throughout Nairobi as people seek to break the cartel of the kerosene providers hypercharging the poor for light. This is a worldchanging device in its own right, and we will be distributing more of them while we are here.

Finally, we believe we have figured out a successful solution to the internet accessibility issue that we will be trying out over the next two days. It should provide reliable and reasonably fast internet connectivity at a very reasonable fee for Red Rose. The ability to continue the conversations with the teachers on a regular and easy basis between actual visits to the school would be profoundly powerful.

I hope this gives you some idea of the nuts and bolts day-to-day work. It is powerful and effective and transformative. I believe it is also laying the groundwork for much broader impacts in the area of literacy training, resilience and healing in the face of harsh, harsh living conditions and experiences, and giving children their childhoods and real hope for the future.