Our day at Kamuketha School was a rollercoaster of emotions for me and Tristan. For the families at Kamuketha, it was a day of celebration. As one student put it, her school had gone from “laughing-stock” to one she was proud of. At the same time, it was heart-breaking to read Callum’s name on the plaque on the side of the wall and know that he can only be with us in spirit. But I certainly felt his presence there today in so many ways.
Getting to Kamuketha is the first challenge. To call it a “rocky road” is an understatement. Taylor was walking ahead of the Combis, rolling boulders off to the side and filling in giant potholes. We had to walk about 3 kilometres once we got out of the vehicles so they weren’t riding so low to the ground. A cart pulled by two oxen sped by us at one point, filled with the plastic chairs that we would soon be sitting on! When we were about half a kilometre from the school, a welcoming party of Scouts came out to greet us, marching , singing and playing a drum. It was a foreshadowing of the colourful celebration that lay ahead.
The students were all in their burgundy uniforms but their mothers were dressed in a dazzling array of colourful prints. You could instantly tell this was a day of great importance in their community. And the women started to sing as we walked onto the school grounds. The song seemed to be a mix of every Swahili word that we might know: Habara gani (how are you?) Rafiki (friend), Karibu (welcome) , asante sana (thank you). Some of the braver students came up and took the hand of members of our group. The others just watched us, wide-eyed.
Our first order of business at Kamuketha was planting sunflower seeds. Sunflowers are very symbolic for me: they bloom around Callum’s birthday and so every year we ask people to plant them in his honour. We also grew a field of sunflowers last year at Wood’s Farms. We raised $1800 in one day selling the sunflowers – and that money was sent to Kenya to finish the 3rd classroom at Kamuketha. So now giant sunflowers will grow around the entrance to Kamuketha school, as well as in our gardens on P.E.I.
Then it was time for the official program to start. We knew from Buuri school that there would probably be some singing and dancing. We soon realized that the Kamuketha students had obviously been preparing for a while for today. There were poems including one entitled “Education, education, education” about the importance of school. There were dancers in tribal outfits, doing a fierce dance right in front of our tent. And then there were some great young dancers. And when they got us up to dance, well, let’s just say that Miley Cyrus may have learned some of her dance moves from Carolyn Francis!
When the principal introduced the performance by the parents, just two women got up to start. And no one seemed to want to join them. But then they started drawing us up from the crowd, one at a time. And then all the women joined in. Soon we were all dancing. And these are not short songs, let me tell you, especially under the equatorial sun! We were all grabbing for our water bottles when we finally sat down.
The formal part of the ceremony involved the principal speaking about the history of Kamuketha, which started in 1997 with just two classrooms. He spoke very kindly about what the new classrooms mean to the community. He was followed by a stream of ministers, speaking in English and Kimuru (the local dialect) about the importance of doing good. They were quite dramatic in their presentation – waving the bible and shouting!
Then it was time for our part of the presentation. Sadie and Daniel, who both knew Callum, read a short script about him. Two students read the same script in Swahili. Cara from our group then performed a beautiful solo version of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”. They all did a fantastic job and I thank them so much for doing that for us.
Tristan and I cut the ribbon to officially open the classrooms and unveiled the plaque. Somehow I was able to read it for the audience and not cry. (there is a photo of the plaque below) Then we went inside the classrooms and took more photos.
The final part of the celebration was a surprise for all of the families of Kamuketha! The Sunday School at Kensington United Church has been twinned with Kamuketha for five years now and has sent money for many improvements at the school. They decided they wanted to donate a solar light to every family at Kamuketha. The lights are really important because it gets dark at 6:30 p.m. So students have no way to do homework! Many families had been using kerosene lamps in the past. But they cost money for the fuel and the fumes are unhealthy. The solar lights also double as a phone charger. There are lots of cell phones in rural Kenya because they are relatively inexpensive and they use them for banking and commerce. But they usually have to pay to charge them at a local store. The women burst into cheers and some even jumped up and danced around when Jennifer Murogocho announced they would be getting solar lamps today. *Farmers Helping Farmers has advanced the money so we could give all the families a solar light today. But Kensington United and me, through Callum’s Classroom, will be continuing to raise money for them in the months ahead if anyone is interested in helping to pay for one!
We had lunch in one of Callum’s Classrooms before saying good-bye and heading back down the rocky road to Meru. The women sang again as they waved farewell. The entire event was a flurry of colour and sound and energy that will stay with all of us.
There were some tears shed today, by me, and by some others. But I feel as if Callum was there with us. And so were all the other people who were part of creating these classrooms in his honour. There was so much appreciation from the families of Kamuketha. We have given their children an opportunity that they would not otherwise have had. It’s expected that the school population at Kamuketha will grow because more families will want their children to be at a school with nice classrooms and a cookhouse and a healthy garden. The future of this school is secure, and that can only mean good things to come.
One of my favourite memories of Callum is one time when we had to absorb some difficult news and I got through it without crying. On the way, walking out of the hospital, he punched me on the arm and said, “Good job Mom.” I think I felt that punch again today.
Asante sana to all who have been with us on this journey.
PS: We will be heading on safari tomorrow. We will be heading out on our first “drive” as it is called at 4:00 Friday afternoon. Then we have two drives on Saturday, at 6:30 a.m. and again at 4. And one more early morning drive on Sunday before heading back to town. We are not sure what the Internet situation will be there so I may not be posting to the blog until Sunday afternoon P.E.I. time. But hopefully I will have some amazing photos to share when we are connected again! Kwaheri – bye for now. Nancy