After hearing about Jitegemee for several years and seeing only glossies of the kids and staff, I finally got the opportunity to make the visit and see it all for myself, in August of 2004. I wasnâ€™t disappointed.
We arrived in Machakos to find the programâ€™s small classroom of energetic students on the first floor, nestled amongst other quieter businesses.
A class of 25 vocational students were convened in the classroom, where they were learning about things important to businessâ€”communication, business models, honesty, working on goals, being groomed, being on time, etc. The staff has done a good job on thisâ€”students who once couldnâ€™t even look anyone in the eye can now stand and talk about things, some even in English. They plan to be mechanics, hairdressers, tailors, welders, etc. and the Jitegemee plan is to help them by finding working mentors and lending basic tools. In exchange for their training, they are expected to help future Jitegemee vocational students.
On our second day, we met the parents at a picnic in St. Maryâ€™s schoolyard. Introductions were done, thanks were given all around, programs were discussed, problems were brought up, and songs were sung to blend it all together. Some of the parents are attending classes and some are making strides in speaking English. It was a great idea to get the parents involved, and an even greater idea to take them camping with the kids so they could help with the heavy task of food service!
On a Wednesday about 100 students, parents, and staff met at headquarters to board two buses for the 4 hour trip to Nakuru. We were going camping to see a million flamingoes and other animals, to sing, run, jump, dance, write essays, and mostly to bond to each other and our common goals. It could have been a tough trip with all the glitches, but there were few complaints. The students were very well behaved. Biting safari ants chased us out of our first campsite and we arrived at the new site when it was getting dark. But, it was a better site, and the parents were good at cooking in the late evening and the older boys were skillful at pitching the tents. Puzzled baboons convened around our camp each morning to study how well our group got along. There are lots of photos and video documenting a good camping trip.
Muli Kieti is one of several students I got to know during the visit. Muli is near the top of his class in a prestigious academic boarding school in Machakos. He is studying physics, math, and chemistry and hopes to be a surgeon someday. I also got to know Agnes Kavita, Muthoki Kiilu, and Muthoki Masive, who are doing well at that school. Muthoki Kiilu has the top rank in the school and wears an orange badge on her blue uniform to show that. Of course, each Jitegemee student has his or her own character, interests, and accomplishments. Many of them are doing well.
We have a great staff in Machakos and are getting good support from parents. Contacts and alliances are being made and we are trying to acquire new quarters. A larger classroom is needed for our classes and to keep all our students together, especially for a mealtime each day. (A hungry kid has trouble concentrating.) We dream of getting a few computers on the Internet as wellâ€”Iâ€™m sure that students themselves can learn to keep such a facility going. They can help cook too.
I enjoyed the Jitegemee kids more in real life than in the photos and am more confident in the program having seen it in action. I hope to go back in the future to continue to look after our investment in these kids. And, probably Muli will fix my bad knee.
By George Stockman
George Stockman is a professor of computer science at Michigan State University and a generous donor to Jitegemee. He is also Farahâ€™s dad.