Day 226: Claire from Cancun

hey all--

Claire and I are groaning post Thanksgiving, and most Americans are groaning with us, we realize. Good day. Good tradition.

In lieu of a description of what and how much we ate (really not that interesting and really the only thing happening here), we are posting an update Claire wrote on some of our plans for the future. Please please please read through and think of ways to help us help people.

Dear everyone!

I hope this email finds you well as you prepare for the busiest flying day on America's holiday calendar: Thanksgiving!

There are many places to help do good things and learn new ideas in this big world of ours, and this is but one. However, it is a good one, and if you know someone who might be interested in hanging out with me and my traveling partner, Lara, in Africa in 2007, please let them know about this letter. We would be happy to meet with you in person (or on the phone) in the next few months to talk about any of this, as we will be in many of America's finest cities at some point. We are good at convincing people to do things they are not sure about, and are the kind of people you can suggest anything to (meet me in Tulsa for two hours on Tuesday, for example) and we just might take you up on it.

FYI: The nature of the setting is a faith based, Presbyterian organization, but anyone is welcome!

Thesis: we had the recent chance to spend some time at a fantastic place in Kenya that is doing a number of impressive things to help out our world and God´s little kiddies, and we are interested in taking some young people out with us in the Spring of 2007. College students on Spring break or anyone with time like us to do so are amply encouraged!

Bear with me as I explain:

The place is Nyeri, Kenya, about 60 minutes from Mt. Kenya (great climb there) and 90 minutes from Nairobi, which has the best climate in the world (this is a fact, actually). It is beautiful, green, and full of great food to be eaten. Nyeri has about ten protestant parishes in it, each with up to ten churches in it. There is one particularly fascinating Presbyterian parish there that has built up an awesome community, complete with a very well run four year old orphanage of 150 kids, a second orphanage for disabled children with about 90 kids in it, a brand new community health clinic, an up and coming old folks' home, and related primary and secondary schools.

Every building is named something symbolic (which we literary minds like), and the philosophy of their projects melds together Florence's Duomo (use all your resources to build it, and you'll find more) and Shoeless Joe Jackson's Field of Dreams (if you build it they will come – en masse!). It's a beautiful rural setting with gardens galore, and you aren't more than twenty minutes from one of the biggest towns in the province, Nyeri Town.

Lara and I will be there for a few months in the spring of 2007 and are looking to take a group (or two, or three) of interested people out. We can do most all of the organizing to get you there, put you up (it's free and nice accommodation), and make sure it's safe, but we want it to be a real community effort on the ground for what you want to do when you come.

We can small groups or bigger ones - but no matter the number we want to think big in terms of what this trip can mean for your life and in the lives of those you might meet in Kenya. I (Claire) work as an anthropologist studying international volunteer organizations, and firmly believe in the power of such efforts to transform the lives of the individuals that take part.

Over and over again, it seems that doing something worthwhile in this world is not about the toothbrushes you give out, but the experience you had trying to do so. A volunteer's experience in another place in the globe can certainly be worth the cost of a plane ticket to get there, and in the long run such an expense really can do more than sending money abroad - as it helps transform the nature of our global citizens' response to growth, aid, and healing change.

Ideally Lara and I are hoping to work on creating a tiny summer program at some point for a few interested individuals, and so these Spring reconnaissance trips would help to determine some of the possibilities that exist.

What is really special about this place is that it has a great infrastructure and funding base, a great setting with facilities to do your computing, showering, eating, church going in great comfort, but simply does not have many volunteers. It is connected with several cool churches in the US that we can tell you about, and has the capacity to hold up to 150 more orphans and innumerable old folks as soon as funding becomes available.

There are many, many things to do, and here are some. If you can think of anything else, you can probably do it, though.

Hang out at the libraries at the orphanage and primary schools.
Help with the video documentary for funding and information purposes that we'll be oh so professionally working on
Fill the new secondary school library room that sits empty, bookless, and lonely.
Use your large muscles to make a chicken coop so that the orphanage for disabled kids can eat more delicious eggs
Work on building (again, with the arm muscles) up the new old folks' home from the current foundation.
Play with kids
Organize stuff at the new health clinic
Do other doctor-like stuff with almost a med student Lara at the new health clinic
Paint murals to liven up the health clinic, guest house, kids dorms, and missionaries' apartments
Help with the orphanage choir and local recording studio to make a CD to raise funds
Help create a website for the place
Work in the sewing room on some of their projects (clothes for kids now, some items they are selling, *high* potential to sell more – even online – to get more funds)
Garden galore
Lead worship services
Run with Claire and Lara on the roads with the kiddies as Claire and Lara train for their next marathon to raise money for (duh) such causes as this very place
Teach Claire (or the children) the guitar
Do anything you want that is a not a bad idea (not sure exactly what bad idea you could come up with, but I'm sure it's there!)

To read about some of the current Flagstaff, Arizona missionaries Paul and Stephanie, check out their MySpace at They'll be there through August of 2007, so if you like what you see online you can even (gasp) meet these celebrities.

Who I am:
I am Claire! A travel writer and anthropologist who works with several different international non profits. You can read more about me and my traveling partner, Lara, at I have spent the years since college traveling, and am just winding up an eight month around the world trek. I plan head out again in February, after the Ninth Circuit wakes up and listens to my journalist father's appeal and does not send him to prison (see to be informed about the next February 12th court date)! I am Christian, and so this place holds a special place in my heart as it is fun to watch little kids sing about Jesus in Kikuyu. But Lara´s not BFF´s with JC and she still gives the following rousing endorsement: "It´s hecka sweet! I swear!¨ As for singing in English, I like to do so, but my friends say I am apparently horrible, which I'm not sure I agree with.

Peace, love, and blessings to you all for reading this long letter! Please get in touch and forward me on!


SavvySunshine said...

THis sounds like a really cool idea. I won't be able to make it this year (pesky thing called work), but I need to work on my thesis research for next year (2008).

I'm studying something vaguely about health and the disconnect between policy and actual practice and how to get people to practice. I might go to Ecuador, but Kenya's as good a place as any!

Anonymous said...

I must say that it is a shame that your willingness to help those with less than you is filtered through a religious structure.

Claire and Lara said...

well anonymous; we feel the important thing is the helping people. And as a non-religious-structure oriented person, I (Lara)still recognized that this was one of the best-organized and most well-run organizations I ahve seen after years of working with both secular and religiously affiliated non-profits. In other words, this is not only a way to distribute help, but an exceptional one. Thanks for the chance to clear that up.

SavvySunshine said...

That was a great response, Lara!

I am strongly non-religious (some might say anti-religious), but when it comes to helping people and not just asking for money to pay for a cadillac, does it matter how it happens? Seriously, all the more to the religious folks who are missionaries and whatevers, who, while prostheletizing (I have no idea how to spell that), do wonders for a community.


trippingonwords said...

anonymous annoys me. way to not know anything about us and be mean.

Doug said...

Sounds like a great organization to be donating your time to. I would love to help with that but alas I am stuck working back here at home...Keep me posted if you plan on doing this in the future. As someone in the medical field I've wanted to do something like Doctor's Without Borders but I don't think doctors are very fun people...unlike yourselves!

Anonymous said...

I offer sincere apologies for "annoying" you. My comment was written in a rush and did not properly express the point on which it was founded. I do appreciate both your recognition and value of the organization's advanced level of facilitation. Of course, typically it is most efficient to donate your time and labor through a system that is already in place and proven to be functional. Cheers to you for offering your time and service in the first place.

As you know, my weariness is directed at the religious nature of such organizations. While these organizations are not without their virtues, they tend to support a historical ignorance to the cultural heritage of those whom they are aiming to assist. I don't think you can participate in this organization, which advertises its "strong Christian role models", nor the Tumaini Children's Center which Paul and Stephanie describe as an institution which "shows what we can do as Christians when we really follow Christ" and honestly say that you are not involved in enforcing a sort of colonialization of the mind. I am wondering, for instance, which religious material is taught in Paul's Religious Studies classes. Is the doctrine, concepts, or practices of religions that were in tact in this region of Kenya (the ancestral religions of students) before European colonialists and missionaries arrived taught at all, and, if so, how extensively?

From the mid-1800s until mid-1900s, German, British, Belgian, French and Italian governments & missionaries have sent Africans the message that our societies were problematic. According to Christian values, our religious systems were improper. According to European values, our tribal governments were irrelevant, our agricultural methods were inefficient, our cultural habits were savage. Agriculture, democracy, religious heritage, and ecology are all defining dimensions and functions of culture. When these things are reevaluated, revised and retaught according to Western values or attitudes, this enforces the breakdown of cultural identity. Obviously, cultural breakdown has affected many cultures outside Africa - the Aborigines in Australia, the Native Americans in North America, and the native peoples of Amazonia, to name a few.

With the decline of culture, a community loses its sense of security and what we refer to as kwimenya. As we continue to view our communities from a mirror held up first by European colonialism and now by missionary organizations, our own sense of culture is distorted. Our culture disintegrates from within as it suffers a lack of identity, dignity, self-respect and a sense of destiny.

I am supportive of anyone who donates their time and effort. My wish is merely that those interested in helping seriously examine the structure of the organization in which they are participating. I have witnessed firsthand the enormous need to develop vehicles by which we may aid societies and simultaneously preserve their kwimneya and cultural identity rather than contribute to cultural disintigration. I hope you guys keep this concept in mind when you develop the summer program. Best of luck.

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