Summer Institute Week One & Two

It's been a busy busy busy two weeks here in Kenya. We've hiked and climbed and sang and danced -- and that's all outside of the school. Our wonderful SI assistant Lily Samuel is back again to share her thoughts from the first two weeks. As a participant on last year's Summer Institute, Lily's animal group -- small groups of students assigned to a particular participant for the duration of the program -- was made up of Third graders, the oldest girls at the school. This year, Lily has a group of Pre-K students that are very .... energetic. What a difference a few years at KSG makes, huh Lily?

I’m happy to report that over the course of three days (Wednesday-Friday), my students’ group name has evolved from the Ostrich Animal Group to the Other Ostrich Animal Group to the Flamingoat Animal Group. Yes, I spelled that correctly. It feels like a small win for me. At least we’ve got the first syllables I wanted. My girls are adorable. They’re no more than two feet tall and are consistently out-sassing me. They are a more advanced literacy group, so we get to read books like My Garden: “I have blue flowers. I have red flowers. I have white flowers. I have a garden!” The End. It’s gripping, really. 

Cursive is hard to copy, and so Cujotlls George was born. 

Cursive is hard to copy, and so Cujotlls George was born. 

The scariest elfant I've ever seen.

The scariest elfant I've ever seen.

In reality, Literacy Hour for Pre-K is actually Literacy 10 Minutes and Come-up-with-something-to-do 50 minutes. I have two other volunteers in my homeroom, an American guy from Wesleyan and a guy from the SHOFCO Youth who was also here last year. The three of us must constantly come up with ways to entertain the girls lest they start to get rowdy. And let me tell you, these girls can get rowdy. Girls coloring on tables, girls spilling entire jerry cans of water, girls squirting toothpaste all over their hands, girls getting their faces tangled up in bubble gum, girls ingesting crayons. I have yet to encounter this last one, but Jolie, another Pre-K teacher, has. One of her students apparently likes to eat everything and has accomplished the feat of eating her entire name tag and part of her sleeve. Good luck there, Jolie! 

Wednesday marked the first full day of the Summer Institute. Each of us assisted or led two lesson plans (two groups of girls for one lesson in the morning and two groups of girls for one lesson in the afternoon), as will be the schedule for the rest of the trip. I assisted in an origami lesson with the older girls, taught by Nicos and assisted by the other Lily on this trip. Nathan and Alix found this funny, as did all the girls. In the afternoon, I assisted in a spelling test lesson for Pre-K and K, led by one of the SHOFCO Youth. Successful for Kindergarten! Not so much with Pre-K. They were permitted to color instead. Thursday followed similarly, with the same lessons. We teach classes to each grade individually for 1st-4th grade, but for Pre-K and K, because there are so many girls, we teach the class six times. THERE ARE SIX CLASSES WORTH OF TINY CHILDREN. EIGHTY CHILDREN.


Both days required two cups of coffee in the morning and a cup of chai at KSG (a delicious tea drink and the only reason I can out-last the children), but they went smoothly, and I never REALLY lost the attention of any of my girls. I increasingly appreciate Pre-K nap time. The girls PASS OUT. It takes them a couple minutes to come in and settle down after lunch and recess, but once they’re out, THEY’RE OUT. They fall deeply asleep, snoring and drooling, only to be woken up 10 minutes later for their afternoon lessons. I have to admit that one of my favorite parts of the day is trying to wake these poor girls up. They always look so confused, and every time I turn my back, they pass out again. I feel like my mother, making these girls stand up to prove that they won’t go back to sleep. Anyone from last year’s Summer Institute can attest to how fun it is trying to wake them up. Stacey in particular, a Pre-Ker last year, became famous in our group for this. She’d hold her head up and it would crash back down on the table. She’s a little bigger now (too old for nap time), and her voice is a little lower, but she still gets what she wants. All little children with eyes that big do. It’s just the rules.

Friday I led a morning class called relay race jeopardy for older girls. They’d split into two teams and run through an obstacle course. At the far end of the course my two assistants, two wonderful SHOFCO Youth, had a list of questions involving geography, capital cities, animals, and KSG trivia. The girls had to answer a question before they could run back to the next in line. Correct answers were tallied and one team is declared the winner. It looked a little like:    

2nd grader runs through the course.          

Teacher Lily asks what the capital of Uganda is.        

2nd grader answers The capital of Uganda is Kampala.        

Teacher Lily ponders how 2nd grader knows more than she does.

2nd grader runs back to her team screaming with happiness.

Friday afternoon, after the girls went home, the American volunteers stayed behind to participate in a dance rehearsal with the SHOFCO Youth. The first hour required push-ups, sit ups, squats, high jumps, pain, some more sit ups, and some more pain, among other things. The second hour started with warm-up dances that proved surprisingly difficult for the Americans. Sorry I can’t move the lower half of my body independently of my upper half. After warm ups, the boys and girls split up and each group had to come up with a dance to show to the other group. The boys performed first with a dance which involved many complex and exhausting moves. Then the ladies performed and it was essentially 2 minutes of shimmying supplemented by arm movements and a few leg steps. Unbelievably fun. Unbelievably embarrassing. I still feel sore, and that was a week ago. 

I finally slept in on Saturday, waking up at 8 as opposed to 7, and what a difference it made. Once we were all up, the group went to a nearby mall to register our phones and shop around. We went to Java, a cafe chain and a favorite of last year’s group. We went every weekend last year, so I was very pleased to finally return there. 

Saturday night, the Oberlin girls made plans to meet up for dinner with two friends of ours from school. The two brought a few friends with them to dinner and we all ended up having a blast. At the same time, the rest of the group was out to dinner. After dinner most of us met up at a bar and spent the night mingling and enjoying ourselves.

Sunday, I am happy to report, I slept until 9:30. A new record for me in Kenya. I sat around all day and felt very pleased about it. Monday marked the first day of our second week, and I led a Pre-K/K class, creating a class mobile. Girls drew and colored pictures of KSG and other SHOFCO-related things and cut them out. The teachers then hole-punched and hung the pictures up on a coat hanger. It was easily one of the messier experiences I’ve ever had. Paper littered the floor, the tables, and the girls’ hair. Although it has been brought to my attention that I have yet to use paint with these girls. Point taken. 

The week passed with lessons in mornings and afternoons, split up by lunch, recess, and nap time. I like nap time less now as I realize it means less time spent jumping rope with my girls. They are a BLAST to play with, and I find myself thinking just FIVE more minutes?  


Wednesday night the whole group, both American volunteers and SHOFCO Youth, went to dinner at a local Ethiopian restaurant. To my siblings at home who frequent the delicious Ethiopian restaurants in Atlanta: this one was way better. I felt like such a know-it-all, correcting the pronunciation of injera, the spongy bread used to eat the other foods on the plate. I tend to avoid talking extensively about my family demographics as the conversation often drags on a few hours too long, but going to that restaurant, I couldn’t help but make comments like Wait til I tell my family how good this is and No, no, thats shiro. It’s made of chickpeas or Careful. That wine is strong. People gave me How do you know this? looks, and I was obliged to explain my position as part of a minority of white American-born children in my family. The night itself was a blast, and we were all really excited to get a chance to hang out outside of school, where our conversations are limited to Have you seen the Horse animal group? Can I borrow some hand sanitizer? or What do I do with a girl who just had an accident? 

Aaron and Nicos show off their clean ethiopian platter. 

Aaron and Nicos show off their clean ethiopian platter. 

Thursday was 4th of July, and the group went out to a celebration at the Chapin teachers’ guesthouse restaurant. They reserved the entire space and decked it out with ribbons, flags, and red, white, and blue Kanye West shutter glasses. We had another great night of hanging out, the Americans and SHOFCO Youth, and I particularly enjoyed talking to the Chapin Teachers. They’re wonderful smart women.

Then came Friday, and Fridays mean Field trip! Eighty Pre-K/K girls in a charter bus headed for the giraffe centre. Eighty Pre-K/K girls in a charter bus headed for a crocodile park. Eighty Pre-K/K girls vomiting from car sickness. Eighty Pre-K/K girls screaming bloody murder as the crocodiles moved slowly around in their pens. It was hot and stressful, but it was all worth it to see those girls experience the thrill of a near-death experience by caged crocodile. 


The older girls (grades 1-4) went to 14 Falls, a park surrounded by waterfalls. They walked around, took boats across the water, hung out, laughed, enjoyed maturity, while my eighty 5-year-olds hoarded hot dogs in their pockets and got lost in giant crowds. Fortunately my bitterness was assuaged because their bus ride to and from the waterfall park took 3 hours. If our ride had taken 3 hours, all sanity I ever had would no longer exist. 

My animal group on the field trip. 

My animal group on the field trip. 

Yesterday, Saturday July 6th, the whole group (which I’ll just use from here on out to describe American volunteers and SHOFCO Youth) went to Hell’s Gate, a park about an hour and a half outside Nairobi. We took a bus and sang the entire way there. The SHOFCO Youth sang beautiful traditional songs, harmonizing perfectly, and then gave us the floor. We sang songs like Wagon Wheel, Ignition Remix, and some Backstreet Boys classics. Sorry?

Our hike consisted of two parts. The first was a 7 km walk along a dusty road through low hills and grasslands, populated by zebras, warthogs, buffalo, and giraffes.


The second part took place after we stopped for lunch. We jumped down into a gorge and hiked through there for several hours. UNFORTUNATELY seven of us got separated and ended up taking a wrong turn. We wandered in one direction for twenty minutes, only to realize we were walking in the absolute wrong direction. We turned around and walked for a while through a part of the gorge I vaguely recognized from last year. At one point our small crew saw the word SHOFCO written into the mud. We took this as a sign that the rest of the group was looking for us (they weren’t). We walked longer, asking passersby occasionally if they had seen a large group of white people walking that way (they had; we’re hard to miss). We finally heard voices around a corner and found our group! We ran to catch up and began to hug everyone. Some of the group looked confused and others hadn’t noticed we were missing. So much for the glorious reunion. Nathan claims he saw us walking just ahead of everyone else. We still felt very brave, and I feel almost closer now to my group of lost souls. The rest of the hike was spent climbing up and down rock formations, exploring the gorge. 

At the end, we climbed out of the gorge and ended up on top of the world (too cheesy?). It was exhausting but incredible, as the cliff on which we stood was apparently the inspiration for the unspeakable gorge scene in the Lion King. You know, the scene that caused the end of my happiness when Scar throws Mufasa off a cliff? WHY WOULD SCAR DO THAT?


That night, after dropping off the SHOFCO Youth, the Americans went to...another Ethiopian restaurant (our third this trip). I realized last night I have eaten more Ethiopian food in the span of two weeks than I ever had in that span of time before, which I find surprising as there is always Ethiopian food brewing in my family’s kitchen. 

That brings me to today. I slept til 9:45, and at 3pm I am still in my pajamas. I won’t apologize. 

[Are you an undergraduate student interested in participating in the 2014 Summer Institute program? Great! Send an email to Nathan at and we'll notify you with important information and deadlines as next Summer approaches!]