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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Power of affirmation

The power of affirmation

Yesterday I was struck in the most amazing way on the power of affirmation. This came from pupils from Mang’u Primary School where I schooled many years ago. The inspiration to start the ‘Dare to Dream mentors’ was this same school. I felt that something is missing as far as school's academic performance is concerned. At the time that I schooled in this school, we had kids going to national schools, and during my year we set a record where four girls were admitted to national schools while many other pupils were admitted to provincial level schools following excellent performance in the

Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams. In Kenya, the admission to schools is based on performance in the region, hence the quota system. In the recent years, the school and many other schools in the locality have been performing poorly barely getting any children admitted to secondary schools! I felt this strong urge to go back to the school and the dream was realized in April 2010 when we had our first mentorship forum.

Since then, with support of friends, we have been carrying out mentorship forums where we engage on life skills with pupils in class seven and eight in the school. The sessions have been inspiring for both the mentors and the mentees. We have focused on various issues around growing up, skills in academics/ study skills, relationships, setting goals, self awareness and self esteem among others. We hold the sessions monthly. Every day that we get to interact with the young one is a lesson learnt for us. I believe that as the children get a safe space to discuss these life issues it will not only impact on their academic performance but also on their life skills outside the education system. Sharing and encouraging words from the friends involved in mentoring these pupils has been greatly appreciated by the pupils and the teachers.

One of the key highlights is the annual prize giving where we award the best pupils as a way of affirming and motivating them. We have held two successful prize giving forums which have played a great role in motivating the children. Apart from the best performers in class six, seven and eight, we also award other categories of pupils. These are best in sports, discipline and neatest pupils. In August 2011 we had a prize giving day that was quite a success. In the process of doing this, we wondered what other motivation we could come up with for the class eight candidates as they prepared for the final exams.

After brief consultations, we promised them that those who will have improved by 40 marks in the October (mocks) exams would be rewarded. As we left the school, we kept consulting and the general feeling was that the target was a bit high, not easily attainable. There was a proposal to adjust this, but somehow we never got to doing this. The determinant exams were being done between 11 and 13th October. In a mentorship forum that we held on 8th October, the kids made it clear, they remembered the promise if they added 40 marks!

Later on, the head teacher called me to clarify the issue and he was of the opinion that this may be a target too high to achieve but promised to check on the same and get back to me in two days’ time. I instructed him to check up to 30 marks and above. He was not very optimistic though, neither was I! When he called me back, it was with excitement in his voice! He was also shocked, 18 of the ‘average’ students had improved by up to 61 marks. Two pupils had improved with over 50 marks. In total 18 of the pupils who are not in the top 5 in the class had improved by between 32 and 61 marks!

The power of affirmation!

As we prepare to keep our promise, I can’t help marveling at how positive motivation can work. I realize that most of the times some students can sit back and not work hard, after all their fate is sealed! They can not be among the top students. I am inspired and encouraged as I look forward to a day with these kids before they sit for their final exams. No doubt, motivation and affirmation has a great space in the lives of children.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wangari Maathai - Unbowed

Unbowed- celebrating a great life

It has been two weeks since I set to write this, but no words seemed fit enough. How can one say anything about this great lady of the universe?

Wangari Muta Maathai – Rest In Peace.

Monday 26th September 2011 will remain significant to Kenyans. Mondays are interesting days, mostly the bad day. I have made a conscious decision to love Mondays, after all I have to experience one every 7 days! I have realised that attitude is everything and that this works. However, on this day I woke up feeling sluggish and even as I prepared I was not sure I was going to enjoy this day. I therefore didn’t check my phone messages as I woke up as I normally do, but when I finally did in the middle of preparing myself to go to work, I was shocked. I received two text messages from my brother and my sister in law, with one core message “Wangari Maathai is dead!” I felt numb, somehow I still feel like some people are not meant to die, they deserve more than a lifetime, and Wangari Maathai is one of them. I was shocked, and I screamed, “how, why”? I didn’t know Wangari Maathai personally yet I felt at that moment that I did, that I had lost a friend, a mentor, who didn’t know that I existed. At first I felt a loss, a loss of a great woman who I felt needed to live longer and make more impact in this world. But after a few days, I felt I needed to celebrate her life, a life well lived.

Who can ably eulogise this great woman? I do not think any words can be fit enough to express who this woman was for Kenya. She was simply an enigma.

My memories of Wangari go back to the former president Moi era when she was often mistreated, mishandled and beaten up. I particularly remember the day her hair was plucked out, and she was on national television with blood running down the back of her head. How one’s hair be pulled out, and wake up the following day to have the same fight is beyond me. However, this was just one of the ‘minor mishaps’; she had experienced enough, far much worse. She was the founder of the Green Belt Movement that started as a movement of women, mostly rural illiterate women to conserve the environment.

While she was on national television often, mostly injured or hauled to prison by the government, reading her memoir ‘unbowed’ leaves one utterly challenged. I first read this book around my birthday in 2010.I had planned to purchase the book, but somehow didn’t get to until a friend asked me what book I wanted for my birthday present; and voila I was in possession of that great story that seems unreal. Reading the book, what struck me as I read the book twice is the simplicity of this woman. She describes a rural girl, growing up in the village; the determination of an African girl in an era that educating kids, let along a girl was out of the ordinary. How such a girl got to pursue PHD degree, in that era is just amazing. She describes her love for nature in the simplest words of a rural girl’ trying to catch the tadpoles in the river. She describes a young woman who knows the gender roles in the cultural context of her times. I still smile at the description of how she had gone to the farm but harvested more than herself and the donkey could take. By the time her and the donkey got home they were so tired and collapsed at the gate!

Her professional life was not smooth, being the first woman from East Africa to get a PHD and lecturing in an institution that had not accommodated the possibilities of women professors in the policies. When Wangari Maathai won the Nobel peace prize in 2004, it was a day of rejoicing for Kenyans and for all women in the world. However, reading the book makes one realise just how much she deserved the prize. Her love for conserving the environment was amazing. She suffered severally in the hands of police and in jail with her undeterred efforts to conserve the environment. Uhuru Park is one of the significant places that will always be associated with her. She persistently lobbied to prevent a skyscraper from being erected in the public park. She also led a non-violent action supporting women of political prisoners in a sit in and strike for a full year. The persistence and determination saw her cross paths with the former president many times, sometimes even fearing for her life.

Her death was not without lessons and shocks as her will stipulated the out of ordinary burial with cremation. Her coffin was not to come from wood- the trees that she had defended all her life but from bamboo and hyacinth, a plant that had caused problems in the Lake Victoria was put to good use.

Prof Wangari will be remembered in Kenya for a long time to come. I feel privileged to have lived in a generation that this great woman lived. Her death has caused action, whether out of guilty or realisation among Kenyans on tree planting. Her legacy is all over in nature, a true daughter of the earth who hugged the soil and trees and any opportunity.

One of the great stories that will be told and retold is the story she tells of the hummingbird.

“One day a terrible fire broke out in a forest - a huge forest was suddenly engulfed by a raging wild fire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the forest. They felt overwhelmed and powerless expect this little humming bird. It said “I will do something about the fire”. It swooped into the stream and picked up a few drops of water and went into the forest and put them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again and again. All the other animals like the elephants with its large trunk that could bring more water; watched in disbelief; some tried to discourage the hummingbird, "Don't bother, the fire is so huge, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too little, it’s only a drop, you can't put out this fire."
And as the animals continued discouraging it, the hummingbird turned to them without wasting any time said “I am doing the best I can”

Wangari Maathai concludes by saying “that to me is what all of us should do. We should always feel like a hummingbird. I may feel insignificant but I certainly don’t want to be like the animals watching as the universe goes up in flames. I will be a hummingbird; I will do the best I can”

She certainly did her best, in a world that barely recognized her efforts and make a big mark in conservation.

May her legacy live forever and ever.

Rest in Peace Maitu, rest in Peace mama, rest in Peace great mother of Africa.