Right after school on Friday, my family and I went to the airport to catch our flight to Nairobi, Kenya (sorry it took so long for me to post this reflection – I kind of underestimated the difficulty I would have accessing the internet here – I’m not exactly the most tech-savvy person). We’ve spent the last few days here, volunteering for an organization called Shining Hope for Communities, or SHOFCO for short (yeah, I don’t really understand where the O’s come from in that acronym, but that’s what they call it). We originally found out about SHOFCO because its founder, Kennedy Odede, was in my sister’s class at Wesleyan. Kennedy is originally from Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi and one of the largest in the world. Kibera has tons of problems stemming from its poverty, including a lack of plumbing and a shockingly low life expectancy. But Shining Hope lives up to its name and provides the community with many important services. These include running an elementary school for girls, running a medical clinic that sees hundreds of patients a day, providing clean water, providing legal assistance for victims of rape and domestic violence, and running a mincro-finance program that has helped hundreds of local businesses start up. My family and I have been helping build new latrines for the school. We have basically been following whatever instructions we get and doing whatever manual labor tasks are needed (my personal favorite is cement-mixing, but others seem to prefer bricklaying).
I have already learned a ton from working with SHOFCO, but I think the thing that has struck me the most is how much change can be effected with so few resources. Compared to many of the larger, international NGO’s that have worked in Kibera, SHOFCO is tiny, but seems to have had a much greater impact on the community. I have been blown away by the number of incredibly simple but incredibly effective solutions to problems I have seen here. The one that sticks out most in my memory is that the stove that is used to cook all of the school’s food is powered by methane gathered from the school’s latrines (I know it sounds gross at first, but I promise you can’t taste it. The methane is just for burning as fuel. Honestly, I really don’t know why everyone in the world doesn’t cook this way). This whole experience has really shown me that the most important thing in running a successful program is not money or resources, but rather it is having a few, hard-working people who know the community and have a few brilliant ideas.
SHOFCO’s website: http://shininghopeforcommunities.org/
Above: SHOFCO logo painted on a house, 400 metros away from the school.
Below: Part of the tour Kennedy Odede took us on involved visiting recess at the school SHOFCO runs. In the picture, my cousin is being swarmed by a group of 4th grade girls.
During the last few months of school I have worked with a 5th grade basketball team called the Brooklyn Kings. I have helped coaches and parents with pratice, teaching the kids basketball, and even mentoring then. The kids were great, I think I have learned more from them then they have from me! They were full of energy all they time, and a lot to deal with. Although they were rambuctious at times, they always knew when to settle down. I had a great experience and I look forward to doing that again.
One service experience that stood out to me this year was mentoring a group of middle school students with Cynthia. We took the group to Chelsea Piers. At first the small group of middle school students and mentors were very shy around each other. However once we got to the bowling rink they started to open up to us. Over bowling we were able to talk about school, interests, friends and much more. I found this experience so rewarding because it is rare, as an upper school student, to interact with younger students in such a comfortable environment. This service brought both my peers and myself closer to younger students in our community, while still having a good time.
Recently, I worked to paint a mural for the Spring Fair at Friends. It was really interesting to take part an event to special to community. The theme was sports, so I helped to paint footballs, baseballs, tennis rackets, and other sports related things.
It was amazing to see the main lobby transformed, once the mural had been painted. After hours of working, we had made something beautiful. I hope the kids who attended the Spring Fair enjoyed seeing it!
After becoming involved with the students at the Kisyoro school in Ruhiira, Uganda, I was inspired to become involved with the Girl Rising screening event at Friends. What inspired me to do this was actually interacting with these girls through our class service learning project. They have so much ambition to get an education, even though they face a lot of obstacles.
At the Girl Rising screening event, I facilitated the signing of a banner to be sent to the girls at the Kisyoro School. People who attended the screening could write personalized messages encouraging these girls to follow their dreams in becoming nurses, parliamentarians, doctors, and teachers. It was amazing to see some people write up to ten messages, all to inspire girls they had never met and most likely would never meet.
The community service that I completed this year was personally heart-warming to know what kinds of things my service effected. My job was to take two bolts and two screws from two huge sacks of them and place them into a small bag. Once I had fifty of those bags, I placed them into a large bag and continued my work. I was working for Getting Tools to City Schools, an outreach organization that did what it’s title entailed. The bolts and screws that I was sorting were for binders that this organization was making to give out to kids in need of school supplies. Although my community service was completed at home, and less social, the service was very fulfilling in that kids who can’t afford these materials can now have a binder or a backpack etc. I have always been able to have these materials and it is sad that so many cannot. I completed 100 large bags of these little bags, and was rewarded with 20 hours of community service, but since my work was so spread out, and since the work was for such a meaningful cause, I did not feel like it was work at all, and it became somewhat of a hobby. I hope these kids can now have a better education now that Getting Tools to City Schools is providing them with valuable materials for their education.
One of the service opportunities I participated in this year was helping out with the school’s mentoring program for the Lower and Middle Schoolers. I helped Cynthia as a chaperone on the trip to Chelsea Piers’ bowling alley and I was able to interact with the younger kids who were on the trip. The reason why I signed up for the opportunity is because I really support the mentoring program at Friends. I think it is a great learning experience for both the mentor as well as the child being mentored. The mentor learns how to exhibit their leadership skills and how to interact and speak to those younger than their individual selves. The child observing and learning from their mentor(s) gain invaluable skills just from being in the presence of someone older than them. This also includes leadership skills, as well as any “tips” or information their mentor(s) may give them when it comes to school and/or life in general. It also creates relationships that probably were not very likely to start due to the different ages. From being a chaperone on this trip, I got from it good memories and new friends. Hopefully, the younger party feels the same way.
I saw Girl Rising at the screening last month. I found the stories compelling and inspirational. I realized that, as a girl, I have taken my education for granted, and, armed with the power of an education, I can do whatever I set my mind to. A lot of the girls in the stories documented in the movie were expected to be simply wives or mothers and focus only on their duties as wives and mothers. It saddened me that they were restricted to their domestic responsibilities and forced to observe an ‘only-speak-when-spoken-to’ policy. If women like Gloria Steinem had not been educated and had only spoken when they were spoken to, I would fade into the background and my voice would be lost completely. Thanks to my education and the work of the women who came before me, I have been blessed with the opportunity to share my voice, and do so with eloquence.
This past November, after hurricane Sandy, I went to city hall to volunteer to bring food and medicine to those who needed it. We were sent to apartment buildings that had been devastated by the storm. The ground floors were completely flooded and all the power was out. We knocked on people’s doors and asked of they were alright and if they needed any prescriptions filled immediately. Everyone who answered seemed afraid because of what had happened only two days before, and also wary because we were just teenagers. Some peoples houses were torn apart and everything they owned was piled up in the gutter which was salary to see because it showed just how horrifying natural disasters can be.
As a part of my service this year I took photos of It’s my Park Day in Stuyvesant Park, a park that we are all very familiar with and is important to the Friends Seminary Community. It was nice to see everyone who attended working hard and actually finishing the work that we had to do well ahead of schedule. Everyone was happy to work together to be as efficient as possible. One of the photos is attached.