A Day in the Slums of Mombasa

15 07 2009

Today we visited the slums of Bangladesh, Mombasa.  We played with the children and kept them occupied as the adults got tested for HIV/AIDS. 


Our friend Jose took us on a tour through the narrow streets of the slum.  We were told that we would find a breathtaking suprise at the end of our tour.


We came across this… A little boy taking a bath outside of his home with just a bucket of water and a sponge in his hand.  He obviously didn’t mind me taking a picture.


We reached the end of our tour and were taken aback by the most beautiful view of the island of Mombasa, right from the slums of Bangladesh.



I absolutely love Kenya.


HIV/AIDS has no Cure

13 07 2009

Today was our first working day at the Child Development Center, a primary school in Kilifi, which is about 45 minutes away from our hotel in Mombasa, Kenya.


We are trying to accomplish two main goals by the end of our three-week volunteer program: construct a dining hall, kitchen and storeroom (that’s one goal) and teach a few classes that are not offered in the student’s primary education cirriculum (like art and first aid).

I was deeply moved by a student’s response to the first assignment I distributed in class.

To get to know the students a little better (and get a feel for their artistic abilities), I asked each one of them to complete the following sentence “When I grow up I want to be a…” followed by a quick sketch of themselves.  Doctors, pilots, teachers and drivers were amongst the most common career choices. 

This is one student’s elaborated response on her career choice:

“When I grow up, I would like to be a doctor, so that I can come and help other people in treatement when they are in troubles.  Or maybe they are sick some suffer from malaria, cholora and HIV/AIDS.  By the way, I will just be helping them with HIV drugs for some days, but HIV/AIDS has no cure.”

Goodwill Academy

10 07 2009

I have been in Mombasa for five days now. My life has already changed.

I don’t know whether I should tell you about Jackson, the nine-year-old street boy who carries a small cardboard box stuffed with all of his belongings? Or about Ashoora, the three-year-old girl who ties a rag around her head to hide her beautiful baldhead?

Every experience thus far has touched my heart in one way or the other, but it was my visit to the Goodwill Academy that restored my confidence in my thesis project. In fact, I have decided to work with the Goodwill Academy and provide them with an educational facility that would support their academic efforts and celebrate the harmony and respect that exists amongst the Muslim and Christian student body.

To get to the Goodwill Academy in Likoni we had to cross the ocean to the mainland of Mombasa by means of an industrial ferryboat. George, our driver, friend and gifted writer, drove our decrepit bus onto the ferry’s platform. Once all the cars had been loaded, the gate of queued passengers was released and a storm of workers, mothers and children ran towards the ferry, cramming themselves between cars and every other inch of free space. Our group of volunteers decided to leave the comfort of our parked car and join the people on their journey to survival. The crisp wind blew through my hair and the smell of the ocean filled my lungs. The ferry glided over the still surface of the ocean. We arrived at our destination and began to disembark onto the meek terracotta earth.

Our bus made its way up the hill and took a sharp turn onto a dirt road. Concrete structures, no larger than a car’s trunk, lined each side of the serrated trail. Some were used as an open kitchen, some as homes for families of six and some as a backdrop to a kiosk adorned with colorful fruits and vegetables. Barefooted children ran towards our bus, jumping and screaming for joy at the sight of foreigners visiting their humble terrain. I slipped my hand through the crack in the window and waved my hands enthusiastically, saying “Jumbo, Jumbo” to every beautiful child sitting on the side of the road. We were minutes away from our destination.


I will do my very best to describe to you the first glance of the shabby school in the heart of Likoni:

The landscape enveloping the school was a deep and unkempt emerald green. Nestled in the effortless beauty was a field of reddish-brown earth. The children, in their buttoned down shirts and navy blue skirts and shorts were anxiously awaiting our arrival. Their uniforms were stained with the residue of the earth. Behind them stood a proud ram shackled structure with a sloped tin roof and a baby blue façade. The children stretched their arms out to shake our hands, proud to be able to say “hello” and “fine” in English. I held each child, touched by their warm and genuine welcoming.



A little girl, slightly out of uniform in her navy blue skirt and bright pink shirt, tugged on my hand until she acquired my full attention. She raised her arms to the sky, motioning for me to pick her up and wrap her around me. Her scarred legs, innocent smile and youthful trust filled me with compassion. Untangling Ashoora off of my body must have been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. The headmaster of the school was ready to give us a tour of the classrooms so I placed her on the ground and promised I’d be back in a bit.


The headmaster walked us through the dark and dingy classrooms. Each classroom contained a few wooden benches, a blackboard, plastic bags for backpacks and a small window that emitted an ounce of light into the dungeon of a classroom. The teachers expressed their gratefulness for the books that were donated the previous year. Apparently, the books had become the talk of the village, and now the school is known for it’s exceptional resources. This  year they are requesting new uniforms and desks.  Unfortunately, K4K’s budget doesn’t permit us to provide them with everything they need, but we will do our best to supply them with essentials.


I have been reflecting on my life and the life of the people I know. We complain about everything; our meal, the weather, and the noisy next-door neighbor. At the Goodwill Academy, a handshake, a smile, a piece of sugar cane the size of a pea, and a game of “Camel Walking” brings the children stupendous amounts of joy.

From this day forward I will make an effort to appreciate the little things in life.

Aunt Nasty with the Cherry Red Lipstick

25 06 2009

This post is for the ladies who have had to be hospitable to their nasty aunt with the cherry red lipstick.  She visits once a month, twelve months a year for at least forty-five years of your life.  Sometimes her visits are an unexpected surprise and sometimes you long for her to appear at your door.  Most of the time, you wish she wasn’t related to you. 

Gentlemen.  There are some things in life that you will simply never understand (or feel, for that matter).  But wait, before you run off in intolerant anger, be patient and read on.  


Bloody, painful and sticky periods.  

Having said that, I’m sure the gentlemen are intrigued and eager to read on.  Some in an attempt to identify with their feminine side, some out of curiosity, and a few who just wish they had ovaries and a colorful variety of pads and tampons to choose from.  It really doesn’t matter what your agenda is, as long as I get the painful message across to each and every one of you (ladies included).

Don’t worry, I won’t delve into too much detail about the first time I had to throw away my favorite pair of Victoria’s Secret underwear.  I just want to talk about the emotions that were flowing through me on that special day (no pun intended, I swear).  I remember running to my stepmother in a fury of mixed emotions.  I was always told that I would become a woman one day, but I was never told how messy it could get. 

“Mama, Mama, I’m bleeding!”

She scanned my body looking for my frequent nosebleed or a bloody scrape from my rough play in the garden.  Embarrassed and discomfited, I pointed to my tight fitting denims.  She grinned in comprehension and walked over to her bedroom, returning a few minutes later with a cheaply wrapped gift.  I tore the pastel green wrap into bits, unfolding the cotton-like fabric within.  My family rejoiced my passage into womanhood in elegant silence.

That is a pretty emblematic reflection on a teenager’s first glimpse of blood, don’t you think?  Not so much for a young girl named Zoala.

When Zoala’s best friend pointed out the bloodstain on the back of her raggedy and faded brown pants, they both became tense and exchanged a gaze of anguish and despair.  They had witnessed their friend Natek’s passage into womanhood and the wealth that it had brought to her family, but the handful of silver shillings didn’t seem to be worth the excruciating pain. 

“Don’t tell anyone, Lamok.  If you don’t tell, I won’t tell.”

Lamok pondered the thought for a long minute and then nodded her head in agreement as she whispered a comforting promise in Zoala’s ear.  They exchanged their secret handshake and walked back to their village hand in hand. 

Their playful bickering and childlike giggles were interrupted by Natek’s stern gaze.

She was standing outside of her mud hut, with her arms on her hips, looking to start trouble.  Ever since she married the old man who sells the rotten mangoes, she had begun to rot as well.  She dropped out of school and started to resent all the girls in the blue and white checkered uniforms.  It was obvious that Natek was miserable and probably still in pain from the circumcision.

“Is that blood I see?” asked Natek, as she wiggled her index finger from side to side.

“No, I tripped on a rock on my way back from school,” said Zoala, impressed with her swift response.

Natek bent over to take a closer look, hoping to transport the pain below her waist onto the two innocent little girls standing before her.  Zoala and Natek quickly shuffled their bare feet across the mocha colored sand, looking for a place to hide.  They sat under the village’s acacia tree, holding hands and breaths, waiting for the ripe days of their childhood freedom to come to an end.

Aren’t you glad that your first experience – as horrific as it may have seemed at the time – doesn’t even compare to the fear and pain that these little girls in Africa must feel?

Genital mutilation, more commonly known as female circumcision, is a problem that still persists in many African nations (Sudan, Kenya, etc.).  Village girls are taught that circumcision will make them feel grown up and their bride price will help the family alleviate some of their poverty.  Female circumcision is also thought to prepare girls for responsible and happy marital lives.

There are alternatives and solutions to this issue.  First and foremost, we must work together to educate the young and give them the power to say “no”.  When educated, girls can withstand the taunting and the pressure from family, friends and schoolmates.  Female circumcision is not a subject that people discuss openly, but when the facts are brought to the people’s attention, a public debate can take place, putting the girls in a position that allows them to make their own choice. 

It’s the 21st century, people!  This should not still be happening.  Educate your mind and the minds of people you know.  If you want to take it a step further, here are a few organizations you can get involved with:

World Health Organization

World Organization for Human Rights

If you come across any other good sources, please share them with me!

Later Lafayette

16 05 2009

Dearest West Lafayette,

The time has come to say “see you later”.  Your spine crushing cold winters, unpredictable rainfall, infrequent sunshine and insect galore have left me dazed and confused.  I can’t decide whether I like you, hate you… or just need a break from you!

Truth is, you have made me stronger.  From the rats that infested my apartment to the friends that have come and gone within a year, my skin is a little tougher than it was before.  I might have bitched and whined (quite a bit actually), but now that I am preparing for my three month long summer travels, I realize that I’m packing lighter than I ever have before, because you’ve filled my heart with everything I need to survive in this cruel and selfish world.

Thank you for introducing me to a an extremely diverse group of people.  Thank you for allowing me to work with the brightest and most talented professors.  Thank you for providing me with a convenient public transportation system.  Thank you for the fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers market.  Thank you for Jimmy Johns, the fastest sub sandwich delivery in the world.  And thank you for free coffee on Tuesdays and Thursdays.   

Now can we talk about the things you need to work on while I’m gone?  Don’t hide any black ice patches under fluffy snow, you left me with a big ass bruise buster. Oh, and it’s totally not cool when you turn the electricity off for hours at a time, especially when it’s freezing cold.  When the seasons change, one of your blooming trees reeks of rotten fish – what the hell is that all about? I usually carry my umbrella around, but when it’s bright and sunny and doesn’t look like it’s going to rain, it does – send me a warning pah-lees!  Ok, now listen carefully, BUILD A FREAKING AIRPOT IN WEST LAFAYETTE!  It’s so bloody annoying to have to ride the Lafayette Limo to get to Indianapolis… don’t get me started on international flights out of Chicago.  One last thing, Greyhouse coffee is great, but why does it take years to make a small cup of cafe mocha?  I don’t care about the pretty flower they draw on the surface of the coffee, I’m going to lick that shit off anyway.   

So you see, it’s a love-hate relationship.  But if you work on some of your issues, I’m sure we can build a stronger, more intimate relationship next semester.


D Bills

Born Into Brothels

11 05 2009

This is a MUST SEE documentary… If you have a Netflix account, you can watch it on instant play…


This Oscar-winning documentary is a portrait of several unforgettable children who live in Calcutta’s red-light district, where their mothers work as prostitutes. Spurred by the kids’ fascination with her camera, Zana Briski, a photographer documenting life in the brothels, decides to teach them photography. As they begin to look at and record their world through new eyes, the kids awaken to their own talents and sense of worth.

Here are some of the remarkable pictures that were taken by the children of Calcutta’s red-light district…. keep in mind, they are only 10-13 years old:






I spoke with a member of my thesis committee about this documentary, and she suggested that I use the same concept to record the children’s perspective of life in a public primary school in Kenya.  As Westerners (or Middle Easterners), we tend to think that we know what’s best for people in developing countries, but what ends up happening is we strip them of their culture and way of life, forcing western influence onto them. I truly want to provide an environment that works best for the users… and not the designer.

So… the questions is… What can I do to effectively research the day to day routine of students and teachers?  


15 10 2008

Some might say it’s a little too early to start working on my thesis – I say, to hell with you (just kidding)! Project Kenya 2011 is going to be an exciting and motivating adventure and I want everyone (including Oprah Winfrey) to be a part of it.  Let me tell you how this brilliant idea came about.

My interest in pursuing a higher education was strictly to acquire a terminal degree that would allow me to teach Interior Design at a university level.  When I was asked what topic was of interest to me, I knew that I wanted it to involve design education, but I had absolutely no idea how to approach it in a visual manner, given that my field is entirely visual.  In an attempt to instigate a thought process, I made a list of everything and anything that came to mind when I thought of design.  There were three underlying themes that seemed to reoccur throughout my list: space planning, education and philanthropy.  The challenge was to unify the three distinct realms into a single unified idea.

It was very important for me to develop a piece of work that would interweave the design community with the outside world.  I didn’t want to lock myself up in the studio and spend sleepless nights trying to meet a deadline but rather, put my heart and soul into something that would make a change in the world.  Project Kenya 2011 will provide me with that opportunity to make a change.

Using my Interior Design education and practical experience, I plan to develop a comprehensive proposal to build a cost-effective and efficient learning environment in an impoverished part of The Republic of Kenya.  My proposal will include site analysis, complete construction documents, material and finish selection, as well as the overall management of the development of a K-12 school.  I plan to utilize local resources in an effort to revitalize the economic and social infrastructure of the community.

This blog will provide you with a detailed account of my thesis process.  This academic year will consist of a lot of preliminary research.  I’ll be initiating a lot of discussions and searching for pro bono talent to assist me in the documentation of my project (graphic designers, film majors, photographers, etc.).  Things will become more tangible after my first trip to Kenya, planned for the summer of 2009.  I will be joining K4K, a charitable Kuwaiti organization, on their annual trip to Kenya in the support and development of education at a primary and secondary level. 

In order to manifest my vision, I will need every one of you to participate in the development of Project Kenya 2011.  Any thoughts, ideas, advice and contributions to the project would be greatly appreciated.