The weeks before I left for Kenya were some of the most hectic of my life.  I moved out of my apartment, transferred my things to storage, packed for my journey, and saw my family for a few days. I did all of this in the midst of finishing my dissertation, defending it on May 31st, doing revisions, and graduating with a Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Irvine on June 9th (the day before I left for Kenya). As I sat in LAX airport on the morning on June 10th, I finally had a chance to catch my breath and start to mentally prepare for the next challenge ahead of me.

When I arrived in Isibania on June 12th, I did not know quite what to expect.  My team had already been there for a week, and I wondered what the response would be from not only the expat staff, but also from the 10 local members of our education team. Would I be far behind everyone?  Would my staff accept me?  These were all thoughts I had running through my head as I got off the Transline bus on the side of the road and hopped on a Boda (motorbike) down a windy dirt path towards “Nuru House”.

Fortunately, my counterpart from Foundation Team 7, Jessica Hansen, had a great plan in place to catch me up to the rest of the group as quickly as possible. Jessica worked with me to show me the town, direct me to the regional training center, catch me up on the most recent developments in the education program, and introduce me to what seemed like hundreds of people. When we would walk or ride along the streets, the children of Isibania would shout “Jessica Matinde!”, and I knew right away I had big shoes to fill.

Finally, I was introduced to the education team. Vicky, the Program Leader, and the other staff members had prepared a welcome sign, “Karibu, Jimmy!” and walked me through the history of the education program.  Over the next few days and weeks I began to learn more about each of our staff members and had the opportunity to witness them as facilitators in local schools.  I realized quickly how lucky I was to be working with such a talented, dedicated, and selfless staff. They are truly committed to improving children’s literacy skills in Kuria, and are always looking for new ways they can improve their teaching and facilitation. Beyond the time at work, I have been able to meet some of their families, eat at their houses, and celebrate birthdays with their children.  Even though we have only been together a short time, I already feel like I am a part of the team.

As Foundation Team 7 transitioned out, and our team has taken the reigns, my initial concerns have faded away. We will face many challenges in the coming year including, scaling to new locations, improving lesson planning and feedback, working with a larger staff, and finding new techniques for facilitation, but I am confident with the help of my staff, my senior program manger, and my foundation team these goals will become reality. For now, I would like to say asante (thank you), to all of the people here who have welcomed me…with open arms.