Sawa Sawa

Sawa sawa = OK!

It’s been a busy week, for sure. The past several days have been spent meeting with school headmasters, visiting schools, trekking to the Maasailands, working out budgets, and generally sinking my teeth into this project.

I know I had said I would be focusing on only one school, but I have the opportunity to also help the school where the beautiful Gifte attends (neighbor daughter of Mama Gladness, the matriarch of my former host family (and mother of Lema)). I have seen this girl grow from a shy child to a confident and uber-smart tween, and am anxious to help her along in any way that I can. The main — and longer term — project will still be in the Maasailands, but since I’m here and because I can, I’m going to be helping both schools.

So…the Mavunini School in Tengeru is now on the list as well. This is a Meru school in the town where I originally stayed during my first two visits here. I had donated books and supplies to the school on both of my previous visits. The needs for this school are relatively small. The school is in pretty good shape and the classrooms are not nearly as overcrowded as the Maasai school (which you will hear about shortly). They have an additional classroom structure built already, but it is not finished (i.e. no roof!). The government was supposed to provide a final round of funding for this and did not come through. So Lema (and I ) are taking it upon ourselves to make it happen. Lema is doing fundraising directly with the community to raise money for the roofing, desks, and teacher’s table and chair. I’m planning to add a little from my fund for this as well. We are hoping to be able to roof it by late August so that the classroom can be ready after the August break. Again, my contribution to this will be fairly minor, but it’s a great way for me to have a “practice” run with a school in fairly good shape so that I can learn how to handle the hiccups and set benchmarks for the Big Project. For more photos of the Mavinuni School, see my Facebook album:

The Big Project — and it will definitely take some doing — is at the Maasai school. Now that I’ve seen it, in session, and in all of its dusty glory, I realize how big an undertaking this one is going to be. There are definitely milestones we can reach in the short-term, but I foresee this one being some seriously Kasi Kubwa (Big Work). This school is beyond overcrowded. It is in the middle of nowhere — there is barely a road to get there. Kids walk upwards of 10 kilometers to attend and are anxious to be there and learn from their teachers (there are 9 teachers for a total of 1,038 students)…but it’s not easy to learn when they are crammed into a classroom like this. It’s going to be Kasi Kubwa for sure. Good thing I like a challenge!

There are currently two unfinished classrooms and a teacher’s office already built. One is missing a roof (and everything else!), the other is just missing a ceiling, windows, desks, door, and teacher’s desk. The good news is that since my last visit (January 2009), they were able to finish one of the new classrooms (three structures were built), so there is definite progress happening at this school — just not enough to keep up with the population of children.

Each class I visited (Grades 1-7) was overcrowded by at least double and in a couple of cases, triple +. The target number of students per class is 45…and they are nowhere near that figure.

Here’s the breakdown per class:

Grade 1: 288 students — broken into two sessions, since there is only 1 teacher. The class is taught in shifts, so the kids only get a 1/2 day’s worth of schooling per day. (145 boys, 143 girls). My beloved Esu is part of this class.

Grade 2: 110 — all in one classroom. (57 boys, 53 girls)

Grade 3: 123 — all in one classroom. (43 boys, 80 girls!)

Grade 4: 86 — all in one classroom. (43 boys, 43 girls)

Grade 5: 157 — all in one classroom. (72 boys, 85 girls)

Grade 6: 108 — all in one classroom (51 boys, 57 girls)

Grade 7: 141 — all in one classroom (57 boys, 84 girls)

Overall student population: 1,038 (480 boys, 558 girls)

Total number of teachers: 9

Roughly, here’s the plan:
I’m working out the basic budget to finish the two standing classrooms and teacher’s office. That will be Phase 1 of the project. Phase 2 will be constructing an entirely new classroom. Phase 3 will be finishing the teacher’s houses behind the school. Basically, the government won’t provide additional teachers to the school unless there are houses for them. The structure is already built, it just needs to be finalized. (Phase 2 and 3 might switch depending on which is the greater need to the school: more teachers, or more space). Phase 4 will be renovation of the existing rooms. Phase 5 will be maintenance. Phew. Big Work indeed.  To see more photos of the Maasai school, check out my FaceBook album:

The “other”part of this project — and this was inspired by a friend’s daughter (thank you, Hanna Vincent!) — is to set up a scholarship fund at each of these schools. I’m looking into logistics of this now. The idea is to have at least one, if not several, children sponsored throughout their Grades 1-7 schooling. Further scholarships/sponsorships, could be awarded for their Secondary schooling (our “high school), if things go well. This is just in the concepting phase right now, but I’m exploring options here and will hopefully have a better plan for this in the next few weeks.

So, how can you help, you ask? Well…

1) I’m still needing some assistance on the legal part of filing 501(c)3 paperwork…so again I’m putting the call out to my (many!) lawyer friends and family — or anyone else who can help. Please email me if you have any insight into applying for non-profit status. Really need some help on this!

2) If you haven’t already donated, please do! Paypal is the best means at this point. Here’s the link:, If you are not comfortable with that, you can mail a check to my attention at 233 E. 89th Street #2A, NYC 10128. My wonderful roommate Suzanne will be collecting my mail in my absence.

3) Several of you have asked about sending supplies to the schools. I’m checking with the headmasters on those queries and will get back to you with specifics.

4) Finally, if you know of any foundations, non-profits, churches or other organizations that are looking to donate or have grants or other funds available for this type of thing, please forward their information my way. I’ll be applying for grants on behalf of both local organizations and am looking for opportunities!

Asante sana (Swahili)
Ashe nale (Kmaasai)
Thank you so much!…for all of your support, well wishes, and love as I move forward with this endeavor.

Heidi Henneman


2 responses to “Sawa Sawa

  1. Heidi!
    So good to read your words – I can almost hear them coming from your mouth. You certainly have accomplished a LOT in your short time there (just want you to take that in and realize how much has already happened), and it sounds like there is a lot more to come. Looking forward to reading more and hearing about your amazing work. We are all proud of you!
    Much love,

    • Tom,
      Thank you so much. That is really nice of you to say…and a good reminder for me! Things do move very slowly here, so it’s not as easy to get things done in the high-speed way I was used to, LOL! Little by little, it’s all coming together, though. Thank you for your wonderful support and please tell everyone at MAC I miss them and think about them often.

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