Nothing could have fully prepared me, or my husband Lloyd, for six-months in Kenya. In April 2004 we crisscrossed the equator travelling from Lake Victoria to the lush highlands of Kakamega. It was as if we’d landed in a postcard. Along the road women balanced baskets of sticks on their heads. Children hurried homeward, some herding goats, some carrying chickens and many barefooted. Upon arrival at the ACCES compound, we were welcomed like returning relatives by the askari (guard) and the program coordinator, Enock Mambili. Within days we were immersed in varied programs.
We discovered that in order to get Canadian federal grants, ACCES had to broadly interpret “education.” New programs included: health & gender, micro-credit, agriculture, as well as, nine literacy centres. These were like elementary schools for those too poor to pay public fees. Over the months Lloyd travelled by boda-boda bike to meet loan recipients. I found it exhilarating to join Enock while he monitored the literacy centres and interviewed post-secondary students. Alumni meetings brought together confident scholarship adults who aptly confirmed their motto, assisted to assist.
For me it was gut wrenching to visit our literacy centres (grades 1-8). At our non-formal schools, ACCES paid for the forty teachers and also supplied a basic ugi-porridge lunch. What a thrill I had seeing determined youngsters learning, despite mud-buildings, no electricity and no running water. Some did so well they later received post-secondary scholarships. But what Lloyd and I remember most is the commitment to others. They were proof of education’s huge multiplier effect. Rather than thinking of themselves, students of all ages spoke of going to school to help their families.
April to October 2004, Maureen Macdonald