Mothers University & Magic Birds in Kenya

I am far away right now, in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya with our LitWorld Delegation working with the Children of Kibera Foundation to strengthen local teachers and community members as literacy leaders so that all children and all people can partake in the wildly miraculous world that is the world of words. I am thinking of you. I am thinking of how the world is in need of justice and fairness. I think this can only happen if we fortify the world for the world's children. Like vitamins in milk and fresh air itself, literacy pumps power into minds and bodies.

Today, we meet in a dark room on a busy dirt road in the hum and din of the complex, deeply challenging, profound life that is Kibera, Kenya, a community living in extreme poverty in Nairobi. The women who gather with us are all HIV/AIDS positive mothers. They have created a sanctuary for themselves here, teaching themselves how to bead to stay alive, to pay for their own care. Their microbusiness sustains them. They very carefully set one part aside for savings so they can grow the enterprise. They keep a special fund for when one of them dies, so they can give her a proper funeral.

They meet every week to talk about the catastrophic isolation this disease has brought to them, pushing them out of their own homes, out of work, away from families. There are hundreds of thousands, no, millions of women just like them around the world, but these women have found something special, something that is replenishing them, giving them hope. They have found each other's stories. And in those stories, comes the hope and joy of friendship, of trust, of becoming known again.

Here, we have the first meeting of the Moms for LitWorld Initiative. It begins here today in this dark but bright place today on July 12, 2011.

None of these twenty women finished sixth grade. Several never went to school at all. When they share their hopes and dreams, they are all, every single one, for their children. It is mothers who will change the world, we all agree, and stand and cheer, and we gather hands and commit to this:  We WILL be together. We will not forsake one another.

The first session of "Bead and Read" will happen via video chat in four weeks time. Mothers in New York will learn to bead and will teach these earnest beautiful courageous women in Kibera how to read. For they long to do it. "We want to create brochures for our business," one tells me. Another beautiful woman says with a smile: "I want to write you an email." I say there is no shame in HIV/AIDS and there is no shame that they did not finish school. None of this is cause for shame. Together right here, right now, with an online call, we can create our own Mothers University. We can give each other a degree.

Just down the road, we journey back to the Red Rose School to meet with the Girls LitClub for another session this week, with the radiant Mercy and Diana and Sharon and Quinter and all the amazing girls. They say: "I never knew what a friend was until the Girls Club started." They say: "When can we read again? Let's read all day and all night until you leave." They say: "Sometimes I daydream at school that I am a mermaid."

They are just so young, these extraordinary young women, ages ten, eleven and twelve. Their whole selves are set and ready to leap off from childhood into adulthood. They write without wanting ever to stop in their writing journals. They soak up the read aloud, their eyes turned to it like we turn our faces to the sun on the first warm day of spring. They are hungry, so hungry, hungry for it all. Their mothers did not go to school. They share about how hard it is to stay in school, that the pressure all around them is all about leaving school. The LitClub is a life raft.

In one of the classrooms here at Red Rose School where LitWorld is working alongside teachers and students, the child, age six, is asked to start a story for us. We will all add a line and finish it with her. She is the first. She loves stories. She says: "There is a small village with no food. There is a big village with lots of food. A magic bird arrives to the villages. He is going to solve this problem." She sees a story as a route to solving a problem, and how right she is.

Stories belong to all of us, and stories are the key to building a literate life. Every human being has them. It is simply a fluke of chance we do not live in Kibera, but we could easily be Kiberans. I would be proud to be Kiberan. Resourceful in an underresourced environment, joyful in a painfully deprivational circumstance, hopeful and optimistic in a catastrophic set of circumstances, stories are what make people sing, dance, laugh and love each other. It's what makes everyone happy. There is a lot of that right here. So it makes me so hopeful too, but also with this sense of extreme urgency: We must do this work now. We cannot wait.  Learning to read and write is the fundamental human right that is going to catapult the girls club girls away from the danger and perilousness of their mother's hard lives. They are growing up right now. Before our eyes. Let's all join together and be with them all.

Be with us in this journey any way you can.

- Pam

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Share our links with friends and family to spread the word:

Make a contribution to support this urgent need:

- $100 will support video chat trainings with Moms for LitWorld Kibera

- $300 will fund books and bookshelves for a classroom library at Red Rose School

- $1,000 will launch a new Girls LitClub in Kibera with a LitKit and training sessions

With special thanks to our awesome partners the Children of Kibera Foundation.