Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Day for Fathers and the Library Project Part 1

Wow, what a weekend. Actually it started off very, very busy with our first meeting of volunteers for the library (yah!) on Saturday morning and then tapered off as we approached this evening. It's been a rather slow evening here at the hostel in Mbale so I felt like I ought to take a few minutes and share a little bit more background about our current projects while I have the chance.

Oh and before I forget, Happy Father's Day, Dad Schumann and Dad Mudrick! We love and appreciate you both very much. And to all the other fathers we know in America -- Dan, Sam, Ben, Josh, our uncles and grandfathers and the many wonderful teachers that we've had as well as all the great fathers we've met here in Kenya -- Jackson, Joseph, Frances, Emmanuel, and all you other great fathers -- we love and appreciate you, too. Please keep teaching your children to become peace-loving men and women and responsible citizens of the world.

A house in the village. I just like the clouds in this picture. 

Now there is something that I want to talk about briefly before I explain the library project...

As we may have noted before, there are LOADS of children in Vihiga County.  Vihiga has one of the highest population growth rates in the world (over 3% -- maybe that doesn't seem like a lot but it is, just do the math...) and it is a serious problem. As much as we love the kids here in Vihiga, there are just too many of them being born. Perhaps Father's Day is not the right time to bring this topic up. Or perhaps it is the perfectly right time. But I feel very strongly that men need to be more involved in family planning.

Here in Vihiga County and elsewhere around the world, men should be actively helping their partners decide what is the appropriate number of children for their family (based not just on the family's material ability to care for the children but also on the amount of time the parents can spend with them and potential risks to the mother and future children) and then acting on that decision through family planning.

It is just not responsible to bring more children into the world than you can handle. But the pressure to have as many children as possible is very, very strong in many areas of the world. I don't think that Kenya should forcibly limit parents to a certain number of children or that people shouldn't have big families. I am thankful every day for my husband and his five siblings and all of their wonderful families. Every single day. But women and men do need to make compassionate decisions about how many children they will have and how they will space those children.

The youth here in Vihiga County are suffering greatly because there are not enough jobs for them nor enough land for them to productively farm. The children here are also suffering for lack of education, nourishment, and health care. But although the lack of family planning has obvious and visible consequences here, this is not simply a problem of Vihiga County or of Kenya or of Africa or of developing countries. It is a problem of how we all treat the responsibility and blessing of making new people. Family planning should not be the burden of women alone.

We proudly noted this week that we have already gained readers for our little blog on almost every continent! (Still hoping somebody in Antarctica will happen upon us...) So, please dear friends and family who are of child-bearing age, if family planning is not something that you have spoken with your partner about lately, do it today. Don't let outside pressures dictate the number of children that you decide to bring into your family but plan together with your spouse so that you can be the best possible parents. Or not become parents if that's your decision - and it is perfectly acceptable, too. But whatever you decide, please do it thoughtfully and with equal input.

Phew, OK. I am stepping off my soapbox. Sorry about that. I will try not to inflict any more moralizing thoughts on you for a while. But this topic has been on my mind a lot for the last few weeks and I had to say something before I exploded.

On to more uplifting thoughts! The library project!

As I was about to say before I interrupted myself, Jacob and I have been working with the community to create a children's library here in Kivagala/Gisambai. We have identified a building in the village that is almost perfect. It is a (relatively) large house that was built by a man named Charles and his wife Jescah some years ago. Sadly, Charles passed away and Jescah decided to move with their children back to her home village so the building has remained vacant for almost fifteen years. However, Jescah is also a primary school teacher and a generally wonderful lady so she is renting us the building on very good terms. With the financial support of Serve-a-Village, we have been able to make some repairs on the building already and we are planning more.

This week we have thoroughly cleaned the building, killed some very large and poisonous spiders (I'm sorry, spiders), repaired small holes in the roof and put on one new iron roofing sheet, replaced some broken window panes, and renovated and painted a large cabinet to serve as our first bookshelf. We have also engaged a local craftsmen to produce traditional papyrus reed ceilings for three of the rooms in the building. According to at least one study, these ceilings can reduce mosquitos! I wish we had them in our hostel... We mostly wanted the ceilings to muffle the noise of rain on the roof and keep any stray raindrops off the books. The papyrus ceilings won't let last forever but they should last for many years if they are made well and the roof holds up. We also intend to get a library cat to help with pest control. And because it will be fun to have a library cat.

A rather blurry picture of Purity but I've cropped it so you can still see a bit of the papyrus ceiling above her. 
Over the next two weeks we plan to have someone repair the wiring in the building so we can have electricity and finish the cleaning and painting. We also hope to engage some more local craftsmen and craftswomen in producing some furnishings for the library- chairs, tables, and curtains. One local lady, who goes by the name Mama Timber, has offered to help us purchase a tree to use for making the tables and chairs.

Serve-a-Village has been able to collect around 500 books in a very short time and we should be receiving them in the next few weeks! Shipping is quite expensive so if you would like to donate something towards our shipping costs or purchasing books in Kiswahili, you can either donate through Serve-a-Village (there's a donate button in the upper right-hand corner) or leave a comment and we'll direct you to a site where you can select books in Kiswahili or books by African authors for the library.

Oh my, it is past midnight and I haven't had a chance to mention our volunteers, our first meeting, or the first ever Basic Library Skills Training Course! All that will have to come tomorrow since it's late late here and we are supposed to be up early to catch a bus to Bungoma.

Please be patient and come back later to hear more about the (tentatively named) Kivagala Community Children's Library!

The lot behind the library where we'll be planting veggies. Pictures of the building to come. 


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  2. Hello Julia and Jacob I live in Champaign illinois and was just surfing some stories from home in Vihiga county when I saw your blog.What a beautiful thing that you did to start a library;something that I never thought of when I lived home and yet here in the united states, the library is so central and critical to our day to day life .Anyway I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your work-Kudos.I come from Mbale near Mbale high school about fifteen minutes from Majengo market,I was a teacher there too at one point.

  3. Let me know if you get my message...just wondering if you still live there or back in Virginia