Feature Story

November 3, 2011 | By Pam Besel

The Children of Changamwe

Megan Bachelder '13 is pictured here teaching English and basic number recognition to children in Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Megan Bachelder)

Editor’s Note: The following is a story about one of the many Ohio Wesleyan theory-to-practice projects, this one taking place at an orphanage and schoolhouse in Changamwe, Kenya, during the summer. Words cannot adequately describe the daily environment and challenges faced by the children there, or their bravery, strength, and happy spirit. Members of the Connect2OWU staff seized the opportunity to gather around a table and talk with the professor and students who have made a lasting imprint on the lives of those children.

The “schoolhouse “in Changamwe, Kenya, is an abandoned building, with sheets of tin for a roof and cracked plastic walls all set on a dirt floor. There is a chalkboard and desks, each shared by two students, with the youngest among them seated on the floor on mats. And there is no glass in the building’s windows, so when it rains … the three teachers and 100-plus students spanning eight grades just carry on with their studies. No electricity, no running water, and overly-full outhouses — the norm for these children — were conditions greeting two Ohio Wesleyan students and their professor during their summer theory-to-practice journey focused on “Promoting Education Globally.”

From July 15 to August 12, Black World Studies professor Ali Skandor and students Megan Bachelder ’13 and DeLaine Mayer ’12 offered children ages 3 to 16, support, education, and hope for the future, however brief the timeframe. Their goal, Skandor says, was to establish a library facility providing sustainable learning resources for the children’s educational growth. The OWU group accomplished that and much more.

“I wanted to create a room at the orphanage with a table, chairs, and a library for the children to sit as a family,” says Skandor, also emphasizing the inherent educational opportunity, and what he hopes will be a continuing promise of support and hope for the Kenyan people. A native of Kenya, Skandor acknowledges the opportunity he has had to reconnect to his childhood years there and explore new teaching and learning opportunities — while encouraging his students to be involved.

With input from Paula Travis, an assistant in the Black World Studies program, who accompanied Skandor and eight students on a mission trip to South Africa in 2006 to work with HIV positive children (often abused, from multi-ethnicities), Skandor developed the proposal for the 2011 project. Once the proposal was approved for funding, Skandor invited Mayer and Bachelder to participate.

“Our funding was limited, so we agreed to raise money for the project,” says Skandor. Blending creativity and moxy, the group raised more than $4,000 — enough to buy 14 chairs, a table, and a month-long supply of food for the orphanage. They all volunteered three days each week, teaching English, Swahili, basic math, and letter recognition. Their teaching days began with a breakfast of jam and bread and a 6 a.m. bus trip from Mombasa (where they were staying) to Changamwe. There, they were greeted by the smiling faces of the children and warm handshakes.

“The kids wanted to know how old we were, if we were married and had children, and whether we were Muslims or Christians,” shares Bachelder. Many of the children were orphans, living in the orphanage about a half-mile from the school. Others lived at home, often taking care of their younger siblings while their parents struggled to find food for the family.

“These children, who have nothing, often with no parents, love each other and anyone who is willing to love them,” says Bachelder, a politics and government and international studies double major, who had never been outside of the U.S. before her trip to Kenya. “I wanted to find a more lasting venue for reaching out to others and exploring myself as well.” For Mayer, a self-designed peace and justice and conflict resolution major planning on Peace Corps work after graduation, the theory-to-practice project also was a great opportunity.

“We all came away from this experience with a new idea of what it means to have a lot, but also with an urgency to develop something more long-term and sustainable for these people,” she says. Of his students, Skandor speaks with the greatest pride and praise.

“DeLaine and Megan did not go to Kenya as tourists. They devoted their time and conscience to teaching and understanding the suffering of the children. After returning from Kenya, they didn’t abandon their mission — in fact — they have been mobilizing other students to be involved. They have experienced what it is like to help and understand the needs of others. Out of these experiences, we can expect great leadership, great pioneers, and great educators.”

Hoping for approval for a summer 2012 theory-to-practice grant, Skandor and his students plan to raise $15,000 for the purpose of providing clean water, plumbing, beds and mattresses, and school uniforms for the children.

Megan Bachelder '13, Professor Ali Skandor, and DeLaine Mayer '12 are shown here in front of the furniture they made for the orphanage in Changamwe. (Photo courtesy of Megan Bachelder)