Tracy Guion

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The Lord Has Something to Say

The Lord Has Something to Say

Newcomers

When Tracy Guion, EC’s Messages of Mercy Program Coordinator, William Aludo, EC’s Kenyan Program Coordinator, our driver David Kiboi from Nairobi and I visited the Miruya Primary School in Migori County last month we were treated to a song called “The Lord has Something to Say”. The students who sang it were shy, waving at us from a distance but clamming up when we got close to them. That made sense; their worlds involve home, school and the 3 – 4 km walk between those two places. The sight of these newcomers was a bit startling, especially given the differences in our skin color and vocal accents.

The Lord Has Something to Say with Children sitting outside at Miruya Primary School
Fifth and sixth grade students sitting outside at Miruya Primary School

A Song

A group of fifth and sixth graders were seated outside when we arrived, their desks balancing precariously on the rocky ground. These students share a classroom in the school building, but they had taken their desks out into the school yard to make space for a meeting that would take place later on with “the visitors” (i.e. – us). Despite their displacement and timidity, they managed to sing a call and response song for us. I’ve posted a video with the lyrics below:

Children singing the song “The Lord Has Something to Say” at Miruya Primary School

“The Lord has something to say,

The Lord has something to say.

Listen, listen, pay very close attention.

The Lord has something to say.”

Taking Notice

I’ve been around young children too long not to sit up and take notice when a child says something that sounds like a message directed at me. There have been many times when a student has said or done something that catches my attention. Educators call this a “teaching moment”, which usually pertains to an adult teaching a student and not the other way around. After the second chorus I decided that I was the student and this was one of those times to be especially attentive. The message eluded me at the time, but in the days that followed their song came back to me over and over again.

A Scenic Area

This was the second day of our trip and Miruya Primary School was the first of several schools we planned to visit. I had been to Migori County in western Kenya one other time and was once again awestruck by the beauty of this area. The hillsides were covered with a checkerboard of fields, looking for all the world like a scene from Ireland or Vermont.

Beautiful fields and rocky dirt road leading to Miruya Primary School
Beautiful fields and a rocky dirt road leading to Miruya Primary School in Migori County, Kenya

But the moment we stepped onto the school grounds we became aware of the challenges that people living in this rural area face every day. The schoolyard was riddled with rocks, making walking hazardous and a game of tag an impossibility. Classrooms held little more than a chalkboard and rough wooden benches attached to planks that served as desks. Two or three students shared dog-eared books. The windows had glass, but there were no educational posters on the walls and teacher’s desks were non-existent. Most of the 165 students enrolled wore the school uniform of green and blue, but children who had just joined the school wore hand-me-downs or whatever was available at home.

poor students at Miruya Primary School
Fourth grade students at the Miruya Primary School

As we moved through the classrooms, children reacted timidly to our small group, some smiling shyly and waving, but most viewing us with wide eyes. It was plain to see that they knew William, who is Chairman of the Board of Management at the school, but we were unfamiliar to them.

Sharing lunch

Not long after we arrived it was time for lunch. We went behind the school where children were lining up at the new kitchen that EC supporters helped to build last year. We had brought along a “Kateri’s Kitchen” plaque to put up on the building, dedicating this kitchen to the memory of our dear friend Sr. Kateri Walker who was so instrumental in building EC’s orphan feeding program.

Students holding a Kateri's Kitchen plaque
Students holding a Kateri’s Kitchen plaque

The children ate their meal outside, leaning against the wall of the building, some waiting for others to finish so they could share the bowls which at that time were too few for the growing enrollment. I shuddered at the thought of the germs that were also being shared among the children. (Since then, 200 cups and bowls have been purchased and brought to the school.)

The Lord has something to say to us about feeding children at Miruya Primary School
Lunchtime at the Miruya Primary School

The Lord Has Something to Say

After leaving Migori County, William, David, Tracy and I spent the next four days visiting other schools where for the past ten years supporters of Everyone’s Child have provided meals, uniforms, clean water, classrooms and connections with peers in other countries. As we traveled from school to school, I thought about the song I had heard at the Miruya Primary School and wondered what I was meant to learn from those shy children and their little tune.

Students at Lanet Umoja Primary School in Lanet Umoja, Kenya

Everywhere we went we were met with smiles and laughter. Students were pleased to show us what they had learned in school. It was encouraging to see the changes that had taken place, especially as several of the schools we visited had started in rocky fields with less than a hundred students and few resources at hand. Enrollments have increased, and children are happy and proud of their schools, as evidenced by the smiles on their faces and the high scores they receive on their national exams.

Ruth with orphaned students at Nakuru Teacher’s Primary School in Kiti, Kenya

Another major change has been the establishment of partnerships between EC and the school administrations. Several of these schools now share the financial responsibility of supporting orphans in their programs with us, a first step in building self-sustaining programs on the ground.

Tracy Guion with children at the Lord Ranjuera Primary School in Kampi ya Moto, Kenya

Every Journey Begins with One Step

As our trip came to a close it became clear to me that the message hidden in that song was for us to stay the course and continue building at the Miruya Primary School. The children in this area are poor and need a school within walking distance of their homes. The changes I had seen in the other schools we visited reminded me that every journey begins with one step, and that rather than be discouraged by the enormity of the task, we should be encouraged by what has already been accomplished.

Addressing the Needs

There are many needs to be addressed at Miruya Primary School; the most pressing being to continue providing students with a daily lunch program. The school yard needs to be leveled and a security fence has to be installed. The funds raised with this summer’s Matching Challenge will build a classroom for next year’s seventh graders. The administration expects the enrollment to increase each year, so additional classrooms will need to be built.

The Lord has something to say: smiling children at Miruya Primary school
Preschoolers and kindergarteners and their teacher at Miruya Primary School

The EC Board of Directors and I are excited about the opportunity that lies ahead for us to help the children at this school, with an eye toward building a successful partnership and eventual self-sustainability.

If you would like to contribute to this effort, or to any of our programs serving orphaned and vulnerable children, please click here to make a secure online donation. Feel free to send us an email at everyoneschildren@gmail.com to learn more about our programs. We’d love to hear from you!

As always, asante sana – thank you very much for your interest in and support for what we do for the orphaned and vulnerable children in our world. You are making the difference that brings the change for them!

Blessings,

Ruth

Value Added Moment

Value Added Moment

I’ve just returned from an amazing trip to Kenya with Tracy Guion of Waitsfield, VT. It was a whirlwind of activity, beginning with one “value added moment” that I continue to unpack in my mind over and over again.

Tracy & Ruth at the Giraffe Center in Nairobi - a value added moment
Tracy & Ruth at the Giraffe Center in Nairobi

Harwood Students Making Change

Tracy Guion works for Project Harmony in Waitsfield, VT, implementing an exchange program for students in the USA and several eastern bloc countries.  Last May she helped to restart EC’s Messages of Mercy writing program between students at Harwood Union Middle School (HUMS) in Duxbury, VT and William Aludo’s Mentorship students in Kenya.  William is EC’s Program Coordinator and has been running camps for orphaned and vulnerable students for the past two years. 

The response to the writing program has been tremendous, especially on the part of three HUMS girls who decided that they wanted to do more.  They had learned that students in Kenya will be sent home if they can’t pay their fee of $36 per term, so they formed a group called “Harwood Students Making Change” and spent their summer vacation reaching out to family, friends, and area businesses in VT, raising funds to help orphaned Kenyan secondary students with their school fees.  By the end of the summer they had raised over $2,000, enough to send 12 students to school for one year.  They also made a short video introducing themselves and letting their new African friends know that they had raised these funds (see below).

Harwood Students Making Change

A Meeting

We had arrived at our hotel in Nairobi at midnight and then spent the following day traveling six hours by car to Rongo. Needless to say, Tracy and I were whipped. But we had an important meeting to attend, which was to meet with the Mentorship Camp students at William Aludo’s home.

mentorship students with Tracy & Ruth in Rongo experiencing a value added  moment
Mentorship campers with Tracy & Ruth in Rongo

Nine students met us that evening, three of whom were students that EC currently supports. It began raining not long after we arrived, and the house had a tin roof, so the sound was deafening.  Despite the storm we managed to share a meal and learn about each other. 

Connecting Students

Tracy was in her element.  She sat right in the middle of the students and began asking them about their lives – what they liked to eat, how far they had to walk to get to school, and so on.  Then she asked them to tell her what they had learned from their pen pals in America.  The answers were interesting and revealing.  Martin said, “I learned that there is not much difference between we and them.”  Gordon said, “It gave me a chance to explore America”, and Brayton said, “I learned that most Americans only have two children.”

When Josephine mentioned that her pen pal was Arianna, Tracy pulled out her cell phone and showed the group the video that three Harwood Union Middle School students had made, explaining that they had spent their summer vacations raising enough money for 12 students to go to school next year.  The children watching were amazed, and responded by saying, “Thank you for what you have given me”, and, “I really thank you for what you did for me, especially for motivating me.”  But it was Gordon’s response that floored me.  After thanking the three girls he said, “I would also like to raise funds and share it with the orphans so they can also go to school.” 

a value added moment - Tracy showing the video to the students in Rongo
Tracy showing the video to the students in Rongo

I was stunned.  In all the years that I have been coming to Kenya, very few people have ever suggested that they might want to look for ways to raise funds to help students in their country.

Value Added Moment

When I first began Messages of Mercy in 2007, my goal was twofold.  I wanted the Kenyan children who had lost their parents to know that they were special and someone across the world was thinking of them.  I also wanted children in the USA to tap into their compassionate selves and understand that there were children on the other side of the world who had the same dreams and aspirations.  Over the years I have seen these goals be achieved over and over again.  But sitting in William Aludo’s house in the middle of a thunderstorm and hearing this student express his desire to partner with students in America to raise funds for his fellow Kenyan students was a first, and something that I definitely saw as a “value added moment”. 

Bishop Donovan students enjoying a value added moment with tracy & Ruth
A visit with EC sponsored Bishop Donovan Secondary students

Another Visit

Later in the week, we scheduled a meeting with 13 EC sponsored students at Bishop Donovan Secondary School in Nakuru, six hours away from Rongo.  Over 100 students showed up for our meeting that day, but once again Tracy was in her element, holding their attention with stories about her life and the lives of students she knew in the USA. She also told them about the students who had raised funds to help their fellow students in Kenya, using quotes like “Be the change you wish to see in the world” to describe what these girls had achieved.

Mentorship students at BEDSS having a "value added" moment as tehy watch the video make by the HUMS girls
BEDSS Mentorship students watching the video made by the HUMS girls

Afterward Tracy showed the video that the three Harwood students had made to students we support. They too were amazed, having no idea that this was taking place on their behalf.  She asked them how this made them feel, and they responded with words like “Special”, “Loved”, Encouraged to study” and of course, “Happy!” Then she asked them what they had learned from their pen pals. One student said, “God can use anyone to help others.” Another said, “No matter where you come from, no matter your race, someone somewhere is thinking of you”. Tracy replied by saying, “I have been thinking of you 13 students since I first heard of you last March!” Once again, a value added moment was tucked away in my head and heart, showing me that the Messages of Mercy writing program had far exceeded my expectations.

Three BEDSS Mentorship boy students
Three mentorship students from Bishop Donovan Secondary School

We ended the meeting by going outside and taking pictures. Tracy also videoed the 13 sponsored students to show to the HUMS girls back home. Two of these are inserted below:

Grace at Bishop Donovan Secondary School
Cindy at Bishop Donovan Secondary School

Being the Change

That value added moment was one of several that occurred during our Kenyan adventure, all of which will be written about in the months to come. I left Africa with the hope that EC’s work is reaching Kenya’s youth in a new way, inspiring them to also get involved and be the change that makes the difference for their country.

Next year we expect there will be 25 to 30 orphaned secondary students who will need help with their school fees. If you would like to make a difference in their lives, please click here to learn how you can make a secure donation to Everyone’s Child.

We are grateful for your help, and echo the voices you have heard and seen above: “thank you so much for what you have done for us”.

A Handwritten Letter

A Handwritten Letter

When was the last time any of us received a handwritten letter?    Nowadays people almost never take the time to write a letter or note.  It’s so much easier to send a quick text or email.

The Activity

This past month William Aludo held a mentorship camp for students from his hometown of Rongo in western Kenya.  One of their activities was to compose a handwritten letter to send to students at Harwood Union Middle School in Duxbury, VT, rebooting our Messages of Mercy Writing Program between students in the USA and Kenya.

A Handwritten Letter: April 2019 Mentorship Camp (William Aludo in the middle)
April 2019 Mentorship Camp (William Aludo in the middle)

The students who wrote these letters come from varied backgrounds, but they hold a few things in common.

All of them speak at least three languages: English, Kiswahili and their native tongue.  They enjoy football (soccer), basketball, politics, acting and singing.  Several of these students have lost if not both, then at least one parent, and almost all of them have faced the challenge of coming up with sufficient funds for school. Each one of them have dreams and ambitions far exceeding those I had at age 14 or 15.  Some have large families that include cousins who have lost their parents and have nowhere else to go.  Many say they want to help others who are in need by building health centers, feeding the hungry and helping people who have less than themselves.

Joyce - another Mentorship camper who sent a handwritten letter
Joyce – a Mentorship camper who sent a letter.  She enjoys acting, playing basketball & singing.

William scanned their letters and photos to me, and this week Tracy Guion, EC’s new Messages of Mercy coordinator brought the letters and photos to students at Harwood to introduce them to friends on the other side of the world.  William even wrote one to Ms. Jacki McCarty, the classroom teacher!

Tracy Guion a handwritten letter Messages of Mercy coordinator
Tracy Guion – Messages of Mercy Coordinator

The Update

Tracy called to give me a quick update after the presentation was over.  She said she had put all the scanned letters from Kenya into envelopes and printed photos of the students who wrote them.  When the Harwood students began to open their letters, the anticipation in the room went from excitement to engagement.

a handwritten letter - two Harwood Union middle schoolers reading letters from their pen pals in Kenya
Harwood Union middle schoolers reading letters from their pen pals in Kenya

One of the letters opened was from a 14 year old boy named Martin, the youngest in a family of five. Both of his parents are gone.  His hobby is fixing electrical equipment and he says that he wants to become “one of the greatest electrical engineers in the world”.  He can speak and understand three languages and is learning a fourth. Martin knows that his career choice needs creativity and perseverance.

Martin - one of the students who sent a handwritten letter
Martin – one of the students who sent a handwritten letter

Martin's handwritten letter page 1
Page 1 of Martin’s letter

Martin's handwritten letter page 2
Martin’s letter page 2

The Impact

Tracy walked around the room, asking students what they learned about their pen pals.  She heard comments like: “Wow, this is beautiful handwriting!”; and “She loves novels, I already love this girl”; to “He speaks three languages!”; and “She loves to sing and dance, which are my my favorite things too”.   By the time she left the students had already started to write their replies.

students at Harwood Union Middle School reading their handwritten letters from Kenya
students at Harwood Union Middle School reading their letters from Kenya

Tracy spent a year teaching in Thailand, so true to her profession, she has given them until this Friday to respond, and hopefully sometime next week we will be able to scan their replies to Kenya.
I’m pretty excited to get this program off the ground again.  I’m also very glad to have found someone who loves to see connections happen!

a handwritten letter - Lavender Achieng - a Mentorship camp student who wrote a letter to a student at Harwood
Lavender Achieng – a Mentorship camp student who wrote a letter to a student at Harwood

Tracy contacted me again at the end of this week to tell me that the Ms. McCarty at Harwood Union held parent conferences this week.  All of the parents were supportive and grateful that their children could participate in this work, and kept thanking her over and over for the opportunity.      

reading a handwritten letter
reading a handwritten letter

If you would like your young adult to write a letter to a student in Kenya, click here and let us know and we’ll help you get connected.  Friendships like this can last a lifetime.
Blessings,
Ruth