Northern Michigan residents reach out to children in Kenya
Children dance at Kisima Academy in western Kenya, welcoming U.S. visitors to their school. (Courtesy photo/Mary Jane Doerr / July 13, 2012)
"Education is the key to life, let us go to school," sang the children in well enunciated English, the national language of Kenya. Around them stood nine well-dressed teachers including 22-year-old Robert, the head teacher. These children, all orphans or poor children are not able to pay for their schooling. Through the efforts primarily of Gerda Fink of Onaway, this is the fastest growing school in western Kenya and the reason all of us were there.
The attraction of Northern Michiganders for Kenya is historic (dating back to Ernest Hemingway and the white hunters) and extensive. Today numerous individuals are reaching out to schools to aid the education efforts of the 40 million Kenyans.
This fall, two groups are traveling to Kenya to teach in several schools. Among them is Carolyn Whittle of Harbor Springs. A retired teacher from the Pellston School District, she is a natural to teach for three weeks at the Echos of Mercy School in Kamayu. She is traveling with the Fruit of the Vine Ministries located in Charlevoix. Right now, she is busy making lesson plans and gathering teaching materials such as triominos and solar powered calculators.
This will be Whittle's first time in Kenya while Brenda Dean of Bay View goes as many as four or five times a year. She works at the little village of Escarpment north of Nairobi helping with the educational and nutritional needs of the Kikuyu people. The town was established by the British colonialists when they imported Indian laborers to build the Kenya railroad. Dean and her husband, Doug, have joined efforts with an Indian agency. They raise $90,000 annually and have sent 35 students to college or trade school. They were in Kenya in 2008 when violence erupted over the election results and are well aware of the crime levels. Brenda has also spent time in Mombasa, a challenging area.
Ken Winter, former editor and publisher of the Petoskey News-Review, has made many trips to Kenya and is aware of the dangers. For that reason he wasn't thrilled with his son Michael's choice of University of Nairobi for his junior year abroad. The Petoskey High School graduate loved it, learned Swahili, and returned to do charity work. He is now a medical doctor.
Miriam Solms of Bay View also speaks Swahili. She was raised in Nairobi when her father was a bush pilot flying missionaries in and out of inaccessible areas of the country. Now she has three children and works as a teacher in Virginia.
"Never a day goes by that I don't miss it," reflected Solms recently.
Debbie Hindle of Cross Village also loved it when she spent a year abroad as a student at the University of Nairobi. She returned with the Peace Corps to teach biology. She is now supporting a group in Scotland, the Ribban Children's Trust.
Kenya attracts 15 million tourists a year who spend $1.6 billion dollars in the country. These figures represent as much as 63 percent of the GDP but do not begin to denote the millions in donations imported by charity workers -- 100 pound allowance per person per trip. The country is largely Christian (approximately 75 percent), mostly agricultural (75 percent), and brags of a literacy rate of 85 percent. The economy is growing at a rate of nearly 5 percent per year.
This summer, no one needs to travel to Kenya to enjoy the country's talented artists. Soprano Jackline Madegwa of Eldoret, Kenya, has won the aria competition at the Bay View Music Festival and will perform with the Bay View Festival Orchestra at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 15, in Hall auditorium (see story above right). Later this summer, Madegwa will appear as Donna Elvira in Bay View's production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni."
Education definitely is the key to life.