Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The 'pilgrimage' of children and youth to their rural homes

The December holidays when children and youth visit their rural homes, resembles a pilgrimage. Pilgrims travel to rekindle their connections to a sacred place and thus to nurture their relationship with the divine. Their journeys bring them, if not to a physical home, then to a “home within”, a restful, familiar, healing place that reminds them of who they are. The sacred site to which they return is connected to their roots.

It is a tradition in our children's village that children and youth visit their rural homes over the December holidays to get to know their people. It is one of those avenues through which we integrate our children to the community. Life for them in the countryside is indeed very interesting.

For those who are used to the life in SOS, you will forgive some (but not most) of them for cringing each time the village director and the mothers make plans for a trip to their homes. It means days on end without running water or proper electricity. It also means no television and plenty of time with old people. Rural home visits remind the children of the connections between them and their relatives. They feel an attachment to the countryside, nurtured by lasting ties to family and friends from whom they learn their language, know their relatives better and most importantly, are able to compare life at home and that of the SOS Children's Village and be motivated to work harder in whatever they do.

Many of our children and youth indeed look forward to this time of the year and are eager to meet their relatives. It is a comforting time to be at home. The journeys themselves are very interesting. The villages that disappear as the bus hurtles past them. Visions of riverbeds flanked by rows of trees. Children chasing passing motorists. Cattle co-existing with people in a way that make them more human than animals. Wheat spread out on the roads so that the passing vehicles could thresh them. Villagers carrying produce and baskets on their backs or heads. The sudden lurch of the bus to avoid hitting a donkey that was not fast enough to avoid its path. The appearance of a familiar sign board that announces their village. The eagerness to get off the bus and walk down the small road that leads to the house.

This 'pilgrimage' is a good practice to prepare our children for community life where water is drawn from a well and people bathe by its side. In community life children learn to share and to know that at times one must lack one thing or the other. In the process of living with the community, they also learn resilience. When they come back their stories are often varied and interesting. But one fact that is clear is that all of them want to visit their relatives during the long holidays in December and remembering it always brings a smile to their faces.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A playing child is a creative child

I grew up near a river and lake in a village with a trickle of a creek down the center that kept me endlessly entertained as I hunted for the frogs, tadpoles, worms and lizards. From these fond memories gone by, I spent this Sunday watching the kids play in the village. The play ground was unusually packed with children playing all manner of games.

It is amazing to see how much time kids spend playing either in the swings, pushing each other round and round, jumping from one monkey bar to another, playing soccer, or communing with cows, birds, insects and more. Nature is truly a laboratory for curiosity. The shortest walk can reveal never-before-seen wonders: live things, dead things, flora and fauna.
Sometimes we tend to moan over the amount of time our children spend playing. Remember when the goal of parenting was to develop a well-rounded child? That concept seems to be getting lost in the hyped-up quest for excellence and achievement that characterizes childhood these days. The demands on our times are great, leaving children with few possibilities for adventures. But we all know the numerous and undeniable benefits of allowing children and youth to play any kind of game they want, from staying physically fit to learning discipline and teamwork. But there are other lessons to learn about in childhood as well, like their relationship to the earth and the living things around them. They soon learn to appreciate what is around them.

A playing child is a creative childThe outdoor activities offer children and youth opportunities to learn, inspire them to explore, to wonder, to listen, to dream, to play fantasy games and build forts and sand castles, to dig holes and float sticks down streams and skip rocks across water. In those moments, they can feel powerful in a different way from when we score a point or catch a pass. It is not that it is better, but it’s different. And our children in SOS deserve lots of different experiences. As caregivers, let us not forget the value of getting kids out in the great outdoors. Show them a place where things grow wild, no one is keeping score and they will have memories to last a lifetime. Let us remember that a playful child will always be a creative child.

by Fredrick Ochieng - Youth Leader Coordinator

Thursday, February 21, 2008

SOS Children’s Village Eldoret Celebrate Valentine’s Day

I was walking to work on Thursday morning and was treated to an exciting start of the day when I met some of our youth. They were all jovial and greeted me with “happy valentine” I had almost forgotten about Valentine's Day since I was more preoccupied with pressing work. Then I shifted gear.

Two days ago, I bumped on 3 of our Kindergarten pupils on their way from school with all sorts of flowers and they were singing, and jumping. Indeed this was a tell tale sign that St. Valentine had arrived and that the infectious mood had caught up with all and sundry. Every child had a flower, never mind the colour, which they gave to teachers, mothers and their friends. The signature tune before any conversation was “happy valentine”.

The most romantic day of the year is upon us and there has never been a better time to show the special someone in your life how much you care. Valentine's Day matters. Like it or not. Some love it - embracing the opportunity to express their feelings for someone special. Others hate it - dreading the pressure of coming up with just the right card and gift, or being reminded that they have no Valentine.

For us here in the village, Valentine's Day sneaked up on us and we agreed not to make too big a deal of it. Our Village Director in a kind gesture took us out for a meal.. The weather was a good one, hot and humid. It was very romantic.We went to the Kenmosa restaurant. We'd eaten there many times before and the food was good. The restaurant was decked out in white and red table cloths. The spacious shaded grounds provided a comfortable area for sitting, eating and sharing.. You could not ask for a better time in celebration of St. Valentine's Day and no better friends and acquaintances to share the occasion.

The mothers were outstanding and looked sharp in their black skirts and red or pink tops. Everybody was filled with happy and relaxed faces.

We sat in a circle after the meal and shared our experiences about the day.. “May this love transcend to the children we take care of”, one member of staff said.

The Village Director, Mr. Peter Mungai observed that he who loves also receives love and urged the staff to stick together and show love to one another".

by Fredrick Ochieng Youth Leader Coordinator

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

School programmes disrupted by post-election violence

The effects of post-election violence in Kenya continue to reverberate throughout the country. Though the fighting has subsided from its peak immediately after the elections in late December, tension remains high with political opponents divided along ethnic lines.
Many lives have been lost in the ongoing violence and thousands of families have been displaced in most parts of the country.

The situation is probably more precarious for school going children whose fundamental right to education has been disrupted as arsonists have destroyed homes, churches and schools. Such devastating events have especially affected the Rift Valley, where the SOS Children’s Village Eldoret is situated. The magnitude of the violence has not spared the teachers some of whom have borne the brunt of the mayhem.

Although schools have reopened many students have not reported back. Students were stuck in their home areas, as roads were barricaded and public transport made insecure by gangs armed with crude weapons. Fears for the safety of some of the SOS high school children, who were learning in different schools across the country (some of which have been burnt), have led to their transfer to the SOS Hermann Gmeiner Secondary School in Eldoret. Many other students are still in IDP camps where they have sought refuge. There seems to be no chance of going back to their former schools anytime soon.

According to the principal of the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School in Eldoret, Elijah Omobe, the post election violence is weighing heavily on the school programme. "We are experiencing frequent disruption of our daily programmes due to fear" he said. "Any slight unease sends parents in a panic rush to get their children out of school for their safety." Recently, a member of parliament was shot dead in Eldoret causing more violet protests.

Teachers in the school admit that they might be forced to push the programmes into the school holiday so as to cover what has been lost. The principal acknowledged that the teachers are not settled and are fearful of their security. One of the teachers received threats to vacate his home. Another teacher had his house vandalized and household property looted. He is now living with friends as he comes to school to teach. His parents are living in the displacement camp in Eldoret. Fellow teachers have expressed solidarity with their colleague and assisted them with clothes. Yet another teacher had her house vandalized.

Some of the teachers from the targeted communities are already considering transfers, while others consider quitting. “We are trying to reassure the affected teachers and asking them to calm down on the assumption that things will improve", said the principal.

Many students have suffered emotional and psychological trauma and may be unable to cope with high demands of schooling, added Mr. Elima, the acting SOS Herman Gmeiner School head teacher. “We are experiencing a strain in obtaining school resources because our suppliers cannot access the required educational materials," he explained. “This is the fourth week since we placed our order to the supplier, he laments. Nothing has been forthcoming”.

The current Form Four candidates have been hardest hit, having lost nearly four weeks, and considering that they will be sitting a national examination at the end of this year. The school is trying to reach out to the children and has established counselling services through the guidance and counselling department while the children try to catch up on their work.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

SOS Mothers Elect New Representative

On 16 January, the SOS mothers assembled to elect their mother representative for the next two years. The proceedings took place at the Village Director’s Office where Mama Peninah was elected the new mother representative. Mama Ngudi was elected the new assistant mother representative. Mama Peninah will be taking over from Mama Lavinia who has served her two year term.

Mama Lavinia expressed her thanks and appreciation to the mothers and staff for their support throughout her 2-year in term. She stated that many good things had happened during her term in office and that her duties and had been varied and interesting. She hoped that the mutual cooperation between the mothers and the management would be further strengthened in the years to come. She urged the mothers to give the new representative the same support, adding that the work of a mother rep is quite challenging but can be made easier if the mothers stand solidly behind their representative.

The Village Director Peter Mungai congratulated the newly elected rep. He is confident that the Mama Peninah will be equal to the task.

The mother representative interfaces with the administrative office in the running of the village.