Wow. Ten days into the trip and it feels like I've only just arrived. Part of that is the first week being somewhat hazy thanks to our old friend Jet Lag, and the other just getting accustomed to being halfway around the world.
I will say that I have had a fine welcoming committee. Not only are the people here fantastic (much more on that in a bit), but I also had a wonderful introduction to the local wildlife on my very first night in Eldoret - bed bugs!
Turns out mosquito netting can't quite protect you from bugs that are living in your sheets. I woke up that first morning with lively red lumps that itched to all get out. A quick change of sheets, and a new mattress later, and I think that we've got the problem under control in our room, but other rooms have had the same issue in recent days as well. Not quite the introduction I could have imagined, but what would a trip like this be without a few obstacles?
Lest you think I'm all cynicism and vinegar (especially after my last post), I will say that this has been an incredible experience so far, and I would love to have had more time in Eldoret. Part of that is based on not being here quite as long as I'd love to be able to stay. I'll have had less than two weeks here when we head out for vacation on Saturday, which is just long enough to get a good taste of the city, its people, and what all can and needs to be done here.
While there have been a myriad of frustrations (none the least of which have been with myself), we've gotten a few things done while I've been here. At the first part of the week, we were able to get a wireless connection going in the Tumaini Children's Center.
I suppose I should explain what the Tumaini Children's Center is - this will be a brief and probably over-generalised description. Tumaini is a house open to all children in and around Eldoret that is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The purpose of the Center is to help keep kids off the street as much as possible while the center is open. Eldoret town has an overabundance of kids who are on the streets during the day because they cannot go to school - usually because they do not have enough money for the necessary supplies, uniforms, or tuition. Needless to say, this is not the best alternative to schools - while on the streets, many children develop addictions to substances, most predominantly huffing glue. They learn how about gambling in the alleys instead of learning about how to read, count, or have the opportunity to develop trade skills as they grow older.
What Tumaini does is give these kids a place to go within a short walk of the city to get off the street. While there, they are given a code of conduct to abide by, while at the same time getting lessons, food, medication, and just general care that they may not be receiving otherwise (as some of the kids have lost or been abandoned by their parents). It also gives them interaction with other children that doesn't involve street activity, which helps deter some of the gang mentality that living on the street may induce.
So, why is a wireless connection important at the Center? Essentially, it allows the adults that work there to use the Internet in any room they'd like. The office in the Center now has the capability to access broadband Internet rather than using their cell phones for access, which is far slower and can be costly.
Another part of Tumaini is rewarding kids for good behavior. Attendance is highly valued there, and each kid is given a certain number of points for coming into the center and attending class. Points are also given for tending to other functions of the Center, including working in the farm that provides food for the Center's meals, or even taking initiative to help out without being prodded by an adult. Those points can be used in the Tumaini shop, which includes donated clothes, a chance to watch a movie in the afternoon, or even play some of the video games that have been donated over the past few years.
This, too, is where the wireless connections comes into play. One of the things we would like to do is find a way to set up a channel through XBoxLive or Nintendo WFC that allows the kids to play music-based and educational video games with kids from all over the world. By doing this, we're hoping that it can expose these street kids to other cultures that are not their own and give them more incentive to be at the center, while at the same time giving American kids a glimpse of what life is like in Eldoret.
The first step in that is getting the XBox or Wii connect to the Internet, which we should now be able to do through the wireless connection. That part, however, has been fraught with obstacles, be it from my shorting out a power cord by plugging it into the wrong outlet (Kenya runs on a much more powerful electrical system which must be converted before used with American electronics), to both of the XBoxes available to Tumaini succombing to the Red Ring of Doom, which effectively means that they must be reparied before they can be used.
So, we've run into our share of brick walls, but something great came of all this. Through many things - the wireless connection, the laptop available at Tumaini, and a little groundwork laid back in Indiana before I left - we were able to connect the Center to an elementary school in Auburn, IN this past Friday. We worked with the mother of one of the founders of Tumaini to get a class in Auburn interested in forging a relationship with the kids at the Center, and were able to set up a time that worked for all the kids involved (despite the 7-hour time difference).
We kept our fingers crossed that everything would work as it was supposed to - but sure enough, after a few minutes of diagnostics, we could see 25 kids in Indiana, and they could see the 15 or so Tumaini kids grinning and laughing as they crowded around a laptop in Kenya. It was incredible to see, not just because it was a great first step in what we're hoping can be a valuable communication tool for the Center, but also becuase the kids here really seemed to enjoy it.
And focusing on that rather than the setbacks and the things still left undone that I'd had in mind is what has lifted me throughout this trip. I've been able to visit other places as well since I've been here - Sally Test Center at Moi Hospital and the Neema House most recently - and its incredible what is being done already.
What's more incredible, though, is that there is still so much more that can be done.
That's what keeps me looking forward to coming back here as soon as the opportunity presents itself.