This June I had the opportunity to return to Kilgoris, Kenya with The Kilgoris Project (TKP). While I was there I facilitated leadership enrichment workshops, taught various classroom lessons, and assisted with student health examinations and the administering of various medications at each of the TKP campuses. When asked about my time in Kilgoris, I continually find myself at a loss for words – and I am never one to be short for words. Kilgoris is the type of place, filled with the type of people that makes 36 hours of air travel, 8 hours of bus travel, dirty hair and bumpy roads feel like the biggest blessing you have ever been handed. It is the type of place that will steal a little more of your heart each time you leave – the type of place that you wake each day thinking of and yearning to return home to.
The Welcome Ceremony at Oloilale
It was our first Monday morning in Kilgoris and myself, and four other members from our U.S. team, were in a van driving through the Kenyan countryside along with 6 other Kenyans. We were headed to Oloilale (olee-LAH-lay), TKP’s newest school! Our Kenyan friends filled the van with conversation woven with laughter and more joy than I have ever experienced on a Monday morning in Denver. We abruptly stopped to ask some farmers if we could have some of the watermelons they were picking – and to my surprise they graciously gave us not just one watermelon, but three. After our watermelon pit stop we continued to weave through the rolling hills of the countryside with all of us enamored by the lush scenery accompanied by the most exquisite red dirt and the blazing Kenyan sun. 45 minutes later we came up out of a valley and found ourselves on a hillside that rang with the voices of parents, elders, and children singing the oh-so-familiar tribal welcome songs of the Maasai people. In this moment, it all came rushing back – the warmth, the familiarity, and the freedom that seeps out of the Kenyan people that had stolen my heart two years prior. As we all piled out of the van we began singing and dancing alongside the people of Oloilale like they were old friends we hadn’t seen in ages, yet we were the first team from the U.S. to ever visit this campus.
Height measurements at Oloilale
After dancing around this school under a tree, the welcome ceremonies commenced. Elders, parents, chiefs, and the like shared some words of welcome as it is always Maasai tradition to do so. I had experienced several of these ceremonies from my previous time in Kilgoris, but there was something a little different about the words of welcome of these people. They spoke with hope for the future, they spoke of their gratitude and excitement, they spoke with a belief that this new school was their community’s way forward – to say I was humbled by their words of appreciation would be an understatement.
Arm circumference measurements at Oloilale
Following the welcome ceremony, we explained what the day was going to entail and the health examinations commenced – but these were no ordinary health exams. To start, Oloilale is only comprised of 3-5 year olds (also known as Baby Class), which is usually how TKP schools begin. Our goal was to measure the height and weight of each child (for BMI calculations), measure the circumference of each child’s arm (for malnourishment assessments), and to listen to each child’s heart and lungs to assess for any abnormalities that may need attention from a physician at the district hospital (The intent of these assessments is to track students’ growth over their time in TKP schools to determine the effectiveness of TKP’s feeding program). The only issue was we had one sewing tape measure, 5 people, 60ish kids who barely speak Maa (the native language of the Maasai people that my team nor I speak fluently), 2 stethoscopes, and not a scale or an outlet for a scale in sight – some may call this whitewater, others may call this an opportunity for innovation. What we did have was an extremely helpful TKP teacher to translate, myself and 4 brilliant team members, a suitcase, and a luggage scale. So, doing what PLPers do best, we had one person measuring height and arm circumference, another placing kids in the suitcase and picking them up using the luggage scale to determine weight (some kids laughed, some cried), two people listening to hearts and lungs, and one person recording names and all relevant information for each child. A few hours, lots of laughter, and some terrified children later, we had successfully gotten through all of the kids. We decided to take a break in the shade to eat some lunch and to our surprise some of the men had prepared a traditional Maasai lunch for us complete with rice, beans, chapatti, and fire roasted meat cut fresh with a machete. What a gift it was to find myself there, in a mud hut, in the middle of the Kenyan countryside, surrounded by my friends from the U.S. and my friends from Oloilale, sharing a meal together basking in the goodness of the day and the hope that lies in the hands of this community.
Our makeshift scale made out of a suitcase and a luggage scale
Following lunch, my friend Calvin (a PLP alum and the nephew of the founders of TKP) and I had the opportunity to talk to the parents and elders about some of the health disparities present in rural Kenya. Calvin talked about HIV/AIDS, the nature of the virus, the causes, the symptoms, the complications, the treatment, and clarified some of the misconceptions to eliminate the stigma around an otherwise taboo topic. The parents and elders were engaged, they were fascinated, and they were intrigued by all that he had to say. Questions were asked and it was clear that all who were listening had gained insight into a virus that affects the lives of so many in communities like Oloilale.
The women of Oloilale during my talk on prenatal and newborn care
Following Calvin’s talk, I had the opportunity to speak with the women about prenatal health and newborn care. Standing up in front of these women without ever having cared for children of my own was so incredibly intimidating, but I soon came to realize that we all shared the same desire – to care for their children in the best way possible. Whether, that is achieved through a conversation with a 20-year-old girl from the U.S. or from a conversation with their neighbor down the street, all they want is to be the best mothers they can be. These women listened intently, they asked questions, and most importantly they shared with me the obstacles they face as mothers in tribal communities of rural Kenya. They were honest and raw with me out of exuberant love for their children. By the end of my conversation with the mamas of Oloilale, I was humbled by the way they continue to care for their children amidst a masculine tribal mindset that limits their access to vaccination and modern medicine, amidst a community that lies at least 10 kilometers from the nearest hospital and the nearest source of fresh water. To wrap things up, Calvin and I brought the mothers and fathers, teachers and parents, and elders together again to assess the community’s general needs. We asked them everything from where they get their water, to what kind of medical needs are common amongst their people – what a humbling conversation this was. Although difficult to face the realities of this community through this conversation, all of the information about the day-to-day challenges of Oloilale is important to how TKP can best elevate the community through their partnership.
The health team at Oloilale
At the end of the day they sent us on our way in true Maasai fashion, with songs and gifts of thanks and praise. We enjoyed a cup of Kenyan chai under the trees of the beloved Oloilale dressed in the gifts of these kind people. After being invited to stay the night many times and goodbyes said with lingering sadness, we found ourselves bumping along in the van again reflecting on a day of sheer goodness. About a mile down the road we found ourselves deep, and I mean past-the-top-of-the-tires deep, in mud. Two hours went by in the setting Kenyan sun as men and children came from around the area to try and get us out of the mud. It was in these two hours that I realized how this story would only make sense with an ending like this because that is why the people of Kenya and the town of Kilgoris mean so much to me. For they are people who amidst hours and days stuck in the mud of their circumstances are still able to find goodness in the gift of life and hope in the promises of tomorrow.
A lesson on the 5 Practices and Insights Colors
At the end of our day at Oloilale I found myself conflicted with feelings of success and amazement, yet consumed in feelings of frustration and ignorance. These feelings of confliction are important because they are what make us realize how complex our world is and how complex our world’s problems are. These feelings of confliction remove the vail of ignorance we are able to live with in an idealistic university setting and they are oh so very important in my development as a young person, as a leader, and hopefully as a future physician.
The Oltikampu leaders after receiving their new vests
The truth is, this is only one of my many days spent in Kilgoris. From teaching lessons about Insights colors, Kouzes and Posner’s 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership, and Servant Leadership to the leadership students of Intimigom and Oltikampu, all the way to administering deworming medication to 60+ students – my time in Kenya is something I will forever be grateful for. Having the opportunity to engage with students who have naturally assumed leadership positions in their own schools was amazing. Witnessing the way these students care for their peers, the ways they think and see the world a little bit differently than their middle school-aged friends, and the way they desire upward mobility for themselves, their classmates, their schools, and their community is humbling. Those students give me hope for a nation I have grown to love.
Oltikampu students practicing with their new stethescopes
I truly cannot thank PLP and all donors of the PLP Passport Fund enough for the opportunity to return to Kilgoris. Thank you for all the lessons learned and experiences shared. Most importantly, thank you for the reminder of the humbling circumstances of our world that we must not run from, but instead face straight on in complete recognition of the hurt and the struggle without forgetting the lives that are lived amidst these challenges each and every day. So, thank you PLP donors for your continued support, for believing in the work of The Kilgoris Project, and for letting me have a small hand in living out the mission of PLP – it is such an honor and such a gift.
Some TKP students after my lesson stethescopes and the heart and lungs
A little Pio Pride at the Leparan Cup
To learn more about The Kilgoris Project, their mission, and all that they are doing currently you can find more information at http://www.kilgoris.org/.
Post written by: Katie Coody
This project was made possible through the awarding of a Passport Grant made possible by the generous contributions of PLP Alumni and Friends. Thank you to all who empower PLPers to do amazing things!