Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why am I here?

After struggling for many days (and even weeks) asking myself the age-old PC question "Why am I here?" I think I finally heard an answer.  I was sitting outside my compound visiting with Mama Sam and answering her never ending questions about this very issue and I heard her say "You will make such a difference in the children you are working with.  You cannot leave because now people are starting understand why a mzungu would come to Kenya with no pay to help our people.  They will understand that we can help each other too!"  

As I think back on my 9 months at site and what I had hoped to accomplish and compare it to what I have actually accomplished I have two totally different lists.  I came to my site knowing I would make a difference - I would bring the accounting records of my school into the 21st century, and I would figure out ways to improve the bottom line of this business and solve all their financial problems and I would influence the students to LEARN and know the value of learning!  Boy was I wrong.

I have computerized the financial records, but to what avail.  The drought is impacting everyone in this area so no one is able to pay their school fees, so there is very little money to account for.  I plan on working on the computer, but in Kenya Powers' plan to ration electricity, this is the day they shut off power in my community!  My students, as great as they are, have limited English and a moderate level of Kiswahili and therefore speak mostly in their mother tongue - Kikamba.  I roll my eyes, and continue on in my Kimuzungu (part English, part Kiswahili) and hope they understand just a bit of what I have been saying.  Karibu Kenya.

I walk to work from my humble home and am greeted by dozens of school age children saying "Obama" and extended closed hands to meet mine.  One little runs hears the sound from afar and actually runs the equivalent of several blocks in her bare feet, over rocky, dirty streets to greet me.  That is why I am here.  I visit my ex-neighbor who is "bankrupt".  Her husband is another city going to teacher's college, she is left with her two children and no money.  It's okay because they know they will be better and are willing to make the sacrifice now.  I buy unga, mafuta, sukari, kabichi, viazi, vitunga (flour, fat sugar, cabbage, potatoes, onion) and have her cook chapati and cabbage for me.  I leave 2/3s with her family so they can eat.  They are so grateful.  That is why I am here.  The children in my compound have improved their math skills by playing simple games, tossing bottle caps into rings (drawn with chalk) and scoring their points.  That is why I am here.  My 11 year old neighbor needs help with math.  She is a good student, but struggles with math.  I invite her in and tutor her and dividing fractions and working with decimals.  (Granted, I needed to take a quick look at the book to review!)  That is why I am here.

So maybe, it is not what I planned on doing that is making a difference.  Maybe it just the fact that I am here that is making a difference.   I don't know, and may never know, what kind of a difference I have made in anyone's life, but I hope that there is even just a little.  


Jenna said...

Hey Pat, you don't know me, I had applied for Peace Corps last year and was invited to El Salvador, but for various reasons had to go, but later went to China to teach for 7 months......I love this post, it really shows all the little things you can help people...I know my kids in China, sometimes new classes or problem classes, I'd go in thinking I was going to change their mindset, get them really perfect, yada yada.......but sometimes the best things I could teach were things about my friends and family and my home, and show them how even tho it was different, it was also similar.......tell them how some of my best friends were friends from other countries who'd gone to school here.....and of course, let them teach me and endless amount of things.......I really love this post because it reminds everyone that it truly is the little things that the kids will remember for life!

alan.orth said...


We always ask those questions. Life sucks and then you die, eh? Errr, life's a beach/bitch. I bet you missed my cynicism in Tala!

I maintain to this day that volunteering is all about the cultural exchange. I'm learning Sheng now so it's all worth it!



Sus said...

Hi Pat,

I came across your blog through Peace Corps Journals Kenya. It's very cool- glad people like you are sharing their stories!

I'm a RPCV Botswana (04-06). I live in Corvallis, Oregon where I'm working on a graduate degree in International Health. I'm active in Oregon State University's Engineers Without Borders chapter who is working on a project in Lela, Kenya. EWB is an interdisciplinary group with professional and student chapters with the goal of helping communities meet their basic needs. This particular project is focused on water supply and quality, the specific plan of which is to be determined after an assessment trip in December. Lela is a tiny, tiny village outside of the still fairly small town of Migori, just north of Tanzania, south of Homa Bay. The other nearest sizable town is Kisumu (north of Homa Bay).

I'm contacting you because I am seeking a PCV in that area of Kenya to serve as a contact for us and I was hoping your might know someone in that region. There's so much about an area that we can't know without being there, hence, it'd be great to have someone who can field questions about the region, the environment, etc. I'm contacting other PCVs in Kenya as well, just to try and get help from anyone who might be able to point me in the right direction.

If you know someone in that region, please do let me know, especially if you can tell me how to get a hold of them. Thanks a lot, and good luck in the rest of your service!


My Great Family

My Great Family
Katie, Shannon, Lucy, Pat, Russ, Betsy

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Pat Novak, PCV
        PO Box 539
        Tala   90131