Before 6am: A response to tears in Jan 180

It’s Thursday at 6:16am as I write this post, though I’ve been up since 4am this morning.  I played my sudoku but I couldn’t get last evening out of my head.  I ended up starting to work on project management and group dynamic information.  
Last evening, after dinner, we had a class debrief that began with tears.  One student began the conversation with speaking to how overwhelmed she feels with the assignments expected for the class, her own fatigue, as well as personally negotiating the challenging stories of the orphans at her project site.  What do you do when you learn that a child was raped at 5, found their way to the streets, and then was rescued to be educated and provided a home at an NGO?  And in that moment, I realized that these women are writers, developing in their craft, but they are not community organizers (yet).  They take in a story and carry it as their own, which is admirable but not sustainable.  
My co-instructor/mother and I are human services people.  Our whole lives have been devoted to human services and working alongside and within communities. My mother grew up with an appreciation for elders and community work; I grew up surrounded by elders, though my own focus has always been on children and communities.  We are a social worker/poet and an educator/storyteller/poet respectively.  We know that there has to be a balance between recognizing the challenges, hearing the stories, and seeing the cultural wealth and recognizing what one can do to make change.  My students are just beginning in this journey.  None of my students will be able to instantly solve the problems that brought those children to a home and school.  They may not be able to make an infinitesimal dent, but they can do what they have partnered with an organization to do with a long term objective in mind.  They are still learning that lesson and will continue that, if they continue in doing similar work.  
There were also some pieces of the conversation that I wasn’t prepared to facilitate.  The students, in our circle, brought up 
how to manage homesickness and finding the time to call one’s parents; 
  1. the challenge of negotiating their emotions and NGO responsibilities with their responsibilities as students (the class is graded after all); 
  2. handling the timing of the day (access to fresh water from the cafeteria is only available until 8pm so they have to fill their water bottles before that time)
  3. wanting to have more free time to rest and connect with Daraja students
  4. points that seemed to speak to a focus on the deficits within a community rather than recognizing the complexity of challenges facing women and children and the community cultural wealth available to face those challenges
  5. the difficulty of doing a presentation of the projects when they are completed with organizations that do not do formal presentations
  6. and what it means to be a distraction in at a NGO that has such important work to do (for one team, the head mistress gave access to all students and teachers so that, essentially, dancelled classes for the day)  

I spent a long while thinking about these considerations and determined that I could
  1. address the students who wanted to go to a birthday party in Nanyuki on Friday night with a firm “no” as we are building professional relationships and this also adds another challenge onto organizing with travel and group movements and only one group was invited.  
  2. simplify the grading requirements and allow students more flexibility with when to complete their blogs.  Writing in this class has to be formal for NGOs and more informal and invitational for their biggs.  
  3. confirm schedules with the Daraja team, that they will be going to their site partners, Youth Hub, a little later on Friday.  
  4. talk with Team Jamie about the scope of their project and narrow it down to what they can accomplish in a reasonable time frame
  5. talk with Team Nyota about their concerns about being an interference on the school:

  • I told them that the organization is working in its best interest.  The Team is developing a website that needs content; that website, hopefully, will draw in support for the organization, and because of that, the organization can provide more services to children.  Hopes and Homes Recreation Center knows what they stand to gain. 
  • Also that it is normal to receive attention from the students there.  They are strangers, volunteers (though not the first or the last), and they stand out as white-presenting new people at the site who are taking pictures and talking to people.  

I really hope that all this clarification, project management, and thoughts on building professional relationships made a difference for the students.  
I also made notes for myself on questions for Stephen, the volunteer coordinator:  is it ok to take pictures of Daraja students?  Can we arrange the Team Daraja group to go to their site from 10-1pm on Friday with lunch at 1:30pm?  Can we arrange for the site leader, Carol, at HHRC to visit Daraja Academy on January 19 with van transport?  
I also need to check in with Denis to see if we can check out a computer for use by one of the students, though I think that this is not very likely.  Jenni is also going to come visit the class to talk to them.  I’m hoping that she can come tomorrow at 5pm.  

I did all of this before 6 am.  
After a brief morning meeting with the students (individuals and teams) to talk through my notes, I checked in with Team Nyota who are on campus today working on creating a website for HHRC.  They wanted me to come in to work with them at about mid-morning, so I was free to read the proposals from all of the students, read their second blog entries, grade, send some emails, and generally prepare for the coming days.  
Upcoming aspects of today:  
lunch, time to write and catch up on work, class meeting at 4:30pm in the car park to discuss the updated assignments list, dinner at the Tandala Birding Resort with the students and 15 guests.  I imagine that there will be tables of 5 people or so, with 2-3 students at each table with the echoing amount filled by our guests.  
Tonight there is no debriefing.  

On the agenda for this weekend:
Friday, I’ll be visiting the Youth Hub with Team Daraja to learn more about their work there and support them as best I can.  After that, it’s returning to campus for lunch; chores with the Conservation Team (there is a garden team, kitchen team, mentorship team); and a visit with Jenni from 5-6pm to talk with the students.  There will be no debriefing that night.  

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Saturday, all of us will go to the Permaculture Research Center then half of the group will go to the Twala Maasai Cultural Center, to stay overnight and do a baboon walk the next day and the other half will go to the Nanyuki Town for lunch and shopping with a final stop at the Animal Orphanage.  On Sunday, the teams will reverse.  Monday we go to Saint Mary’s Nyeri to visit their school site.  #twt

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