Local Students Enlisted As Penpals For Counterparts In Kenya

By: Rowan Wood

Topics: Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School

Verity Norman-Tichawangana, executive director of Jitegemee. COURTESY PHOTO

Homelessness has always been a big problem in Africa. A small organization called Jitegemee (jit-teg-umay), currently based in Kenya, has decided to do something about it.

Their website states, “[We] exist to provide street children with access to formal and vocational education. We believe every child with the desire to learn and the will to succeed should be encouraged to do so. We are dedicated to removing the obstacles that prevent children from attaining their educational or vocational goals—whether these obstacles are hunger, homelessness, or lack of schooling.”

            Last week, Verity Norman-Tichawangana, executive director of Jitegemee, came into the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in Harwich and gave a presentation about Kenya and the organization for sixth graders. After the presentation, the kids were each given a letter which had been written by a child under the Jitegemee schooling program, and will be writing back their own letters soon. The teachers hope this will set into motion a pen pal network between the school and Jitegemee.

            However, writing to America may not be easy for the students at Jitegemee (which means “sustain yourself” in Swahili) because English isn’t their first or second language – it’s their third.

“We think if someone can’t speak English, they’re not all that smart,” said Norman-Tichawangana. “But they are actually very smart.”

            Jitegemee doesn’t exactly school the kids themselves. “In Kenya you have to pay to go to school,” explained Norman-Tichawangana, “but Jitegemee helps those kids because some of their parents can’t pay for the requirements: uniform, shoes etc.” In addition to going to school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the nearly 200 kids at Jitegemee get meals every day and have a health day every November.

“We would love to have a doctor on set, but we’re not there yet,” Norman-Tichawangana said.

            Jitegemee itself is still in its early stages; until recently, it didn’t even have an official headquarters. They used to rent out an office but now they have a building where they are situated permanently. They are also in the midst of building the first-ever library in Machakos, where the building is located. “We’re very excited,” said Norman-Tichawangana.

            The first section of the presentation was more about Kenya itself than Jitegemee. Norman hoped to educate the sixth graders on the country in order for them to better understand why Jitegemee was founded.

“The things we take for granted don’t really exist there,” she said. “No movie theaters, no shopping malls…” The majority of the kids at Jitegemee hadn’t even been out of Machakos until recently, when the entire organization took a field trip up to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, to visit an animal park.

            “We do a lot of fundraising,” said Norman. “We are a completely non-profit organization. It’s for students who have been on the streets, who have had all sorts of troubles. Now they are really excited to connect with the students at CCLCS. This is the first time they are writing to anybody outside of Kenya. I hope this will be the start of an interesting and educational exchange for the students here and in Kenya. The students that are a part of the program are really happy to be there.”