Oh la la! It’s Been Done! Storymoja Read Aloud Breaks The World Record!

The Storymoja Read Aloud final official tally has unofficially broken the World Record for Most People Reading Aloud from the Same Text at the Same Time from Different Venues!

The Storymoja Read Aloud held on June 15, 2015 managed to rally together 229,043 children from 1,097 schools across 44 counties. This number does not take into account the number of teachers, volunteers and reading ambassadors who joined up with the children to read aloud from the text of ‘Attack of the Shidas’. [Photos from the June 15 Read Aloud]

The current world record is held by the USA with 223,363 people in 909 venues.

The previous Storymoja Read Aloud Tally for the event held on January 30, 2015 was 160,190 children from 422 schools in 12 counties.

The Storymoja Read Aloud is part of activities held by Storymoja and Start-a-Library to excite children about reading for pleasure.

Start a Library also works to increase access to books by forming or stocking libraries in Primary Schools. This is in reaction to the fact that countrywide, there are more than 20,000 Kenyan primary schools without libraries. That means that only 2% of public schools have libraries!

Start a Libray works with partners to remedy this situation. Their most recent library partner, the Varkey Foundation helped to stock total of 22 libraries with 1000 books each. Each of the schools benefitting from the Varkey Foundation partnership also receives a furbished container room with book shelves and a librarian’s desk and chair.

Start a Library also runs reading clubs in schools. The reading revolutionary teams help to start these up and run them in partnership with school management and volunteer reading ambassadors.

Individuals and corporate organizations can sign up to donate books and funds to the Start a Library project as well as donate time to help run reading clubs as well as participate in the Read Aloud events. [Read Experiences from Volunteers who participated in the June 15, 2015 Read Aloud Event]

Corporate Organisations can sign up by writing in to startalibrary@storymojaafrica.co.ke. Individual volunteers can sign up by filling in a form on startalibrary.org/site.­­

The next Storymoja Read Aloud will be held on 29th January 2016. Start a Library hopes that with your assistance and support, 1,000,000 participants across the country can be rallied to read aloud!

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For More Information please contact:

Storymoja Communications Liaison: James Momanyi

Email: momanyi@storymojaafrica.co.ke

Phone Number: 0722472963

Growing Up Diary

I keep a little diary of things that happen to me. The entries are varied. Some sad. Some quite funny. Some just weird. Others life changing. I guess that has been my way of keeping record of the process of growing up. I usually sit down at the end of the year and read the journal I keep and choose the things that touched my life most, the things that stood out of all the others and the things that just make me laugh.

As I read the old journal and pick up events for my Growing Up Diary, I learn and relearn lessons. I laugh at myself sometimes. I cry for what I hadn’t allowed myself to grieve for. I see things in the light of retrospect. And I know that some things I will never repeat and that I would do other things just the same if I were given a second chance. I know what I would do differently if I were given the chance.

So one morning I looked at my diary and it reminded me of the time when fireants invaded my home in Mtwapa, Mombasa. I woke up to the strange rustle of the fireant armies crawling everywhere. In a panic, I peered over the side of the bed and the site of the crawly insects made me do the exact opposite of logic. Instead of staying on the bed where I was safe for at least a while, I jumped off the bed to try and make it to the living room. Bad idea, I soon found out that fireants can move very fast. One found its way somewhere I would rather not have had it and decided to take a bite, too. I tried to get to it but couldn’t do that fast enough. It bit me again and I kept trying to get it off while still running out of the house. Out on the little dusty street in the respite of the morning breeze, I decided that the best way to deal with my furious little foe was to deny it of clothes to hide in. So I took off the one little scrap of clothing I had worn to bed. I heaved a sigh of relief as the pesky little thing fell. Then I realized that my sleepy little village had woken up and everyone was out on the street. All of them….

Then there is the entry for November 10, 2001. It was a day that might have been very beautiful. By 8.00am there was blue sky and ideas of going down to the beach for a dose of beach soccer and a swim. That was cut short when my cousin showed up at the front door. I was excited because he lived all the way in Malindi and his job made him pretty much unavailable, so I hadn’t seen him in a while. But a look on his face killed my excitement and infused a feeling that something horrible had happened. By the time he sat down with my mother, I knew the horrible that had happened even without his saying so. My brother had died. That ushered in a period of denial before I accepted my loss and allowed myself to grieve for my brother.

August 15, 2003 was just weird. I walked into the Public Library on the Island, and bumped into a very short person. I felt a strange jolt of recognition but just could not place the face I saw, a face not old, not young, not unique in any way such that I can still not describe it in detail, yet a face I knew. I ignored the feeling and went into the library for a few hours of reading. When I came out again, I bumped into the same person. This time, he grabbed my hand forcing me to stop. I thought I was being mugged or something like that. But he looked straight into my eyes and said quite clearly, “You will find the answer.” To this day I still think I might have had a minor psychotic episode that day. I never saw that person again once he walked off leaving me feeling shaken. I still think I recognized him from somewhere. I am not sure what answer he meant I would find. But the thought comes to me when I am in pain or uncertainty of one kind or the other. That with time, I will find the answer to it all.

Two and a half years ago, I mourned the loss of a very good friend who taught me more about myself than I ever had the chance to learn on my own. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Khalid,

I am writing this letter now, not because I have figured the answers out, but I realize that without you, I have to work it out on my own, by myself.

It has been a very long journey, short for you, tall for me. I should have realized that I had very little time to learn from you but I was too busy being a brat to see it. Someday, if I should ever achieve any of the goals I aspire to, if I should ever become a voice of reason, a force for positive change, you will be one of the people who made it possible.  I haven’t got there yet, but I have reason to work harder now.

Today, as I took the long walk across the city, I thought of you, and all the lessons you have taught me. It has been very painful over the last few weeks coming to terms with your departure to what you called, ‘the better life’. Today, I could still feel the pain, but my mind was incredibly clear.

I remembered, I cried a little bit, people stared, I walked on, and then grinned aloud with the memory, people still stared, I laughed, then they stopped for a second and I walked on laughing and crying at the same time.

Do you remember the twelve-year old you took under your wings? I don’t think life has ever been as painful as it was then.

But you taught me to look at the best in it, to learn from the pain, to fight against it and be the best I could be. I know I have failed you so many times since then. I give up, break down and lose hope, but you have been here, far away but always close to me, teaching me to get up and back on my feet again.

I will have to do that on my own now; remind myself how to get back on my feet when life throws curve balls at me. Curve balls. I remember watching baseball with you, and hating it all the while. I still have no idea what that American sport is about. You loved it, and I loved you. And you insisted that there is a lesson in everything.

There have been a few more entries since then. Breaking up with a lover here. Some revelation there. A new friend here. Life in general. Keeping my diary reminds me. Decisions. Mistakes. Events. Changes. It reminds me of the course I want to take, and the mistakes I never want to repeat. It helps me to evaluate what is important now, and what isn’t. I can move on, because I can look at my past.

When the Chill sets in…

I grew up on a street, where I could come home from school, and play kati, bladda, and a weird kind of tennis – played with a piece of flat wood, and a tennis ball. The grown ups on the street looked out for each other’s kids, sometimes even disciplining their neighbours kids, but mostly just letting kids be.

No, it was not a century ago, and it was not in some Utopia. Shit happened on the street I lived in. The boy with manic depression who lived with his folks in the very last house on the street, was gang raped not very far from where we lived. No one really found out who did it, and if they did they kept their mouths shut. He ended up being institutionalized for a really long time.

The guy who lived in the house next to us was arrested in 1999. Apparently he had been an armed robber for a really long time. And to think he was kindest to us kids. But I think what confounds me is that no one really knew what he was until after he got arrested, and this in a place where everyone knew pretty much everyone else and their business too.

I left my little hometown at 21, and vowed never to return. That little town holds some of my very best memories, and some of my worst. I guess I never quite expected that I would miss that little town, but I do. I’ve spent the last few years loving the big city, the drama, the opportunity…

But during the quieter times, I miss waking up to the muezzin’s voice as clear as crystal against the early morning breeze. I miss the clear blue skies against the morning sun. I guess I feel it more now that the bloody Nairobi weather is so freaking cold. When the chill sets in, I am lost in nostalgia. I miss the jade sea that carried my tears, the cream sands where life is taught against the ocean wind, the palm trees that see it all, the mangrove strands that hide the secrets.

I guess I miss him too.

Teen Jaywalker – A Short Story

I turned 16 sitting in the backseat of a battered Navy Blue Double Cab Nissan pick-up truck that smelled of hay, cattle, sea and fish. I was smoking a tobacco and marijuana cigarette, studying for my High school Physics finals, hoping that my mum would make it through the second surgery that week and trying to ignore my scruffy 26 year old secret boyfriend’s horny groping.

6 days before, I called him in the middle of the night, because my mum was running a cold fever and complaining of intense stomach pains and vomiting blood. He came racing his pick-up truck and rushed my mother to the hospital. She had to undergo emergency surgery on an ulcerated duodenum to stem the bleeding. This second surgery had come up when she started bleeding again the day she was to be discharged from the hospital.

Mum first took ill with tuberculosis about six months before the bleeding ulcer. She had been under a lot of stress before that. The stress had come from the fact that she had had to move away from Nairobi to Mombasa in the hope that the distance between the two cities would be enough of a hindrance for her violently aggressive ex-husband. Her family had disapproved of her decision to leave her husband, and made it clear that they wouldn’t support her. Stubbornly, she had bundled me and herself into a bus and down to Mombasa.

Landing in Mombasa, with the last of her savings, my mum found a tiny little backroom in a Swahili house, bought a mattress and a stove, enrolled me in school and sent her self off to work as a typist at a large tea export company. There were several jobs after that, they got better as we moved on. I passed my KCPE exams a couple of years after the move and was accepted at a private prestigious high school on an 80% scholarship. We moved to a better apartment and there were all the dreams. Then mum got sick.

The neighbors and church people talked in hushed tones claiming that my mother was a prostitute, that is why her husband had kicked her out of home and was now dying of AIDS. No one offered to help. Those who came by would talk to me over the fence. My relatives chose not to help even though I called them collect a few times.

My scruffy friend broke the rules. He knew my mother from church and me from the community soccer pitch near the Chief’s camp. When he found out my mother was sick, he visited. He brought my mother food, drove her to the hospital appointments, stayed with her just talking about nothing, picking me up from school on the days I had late remedial classes and later on doing his best to stick his tongue in my mouth as far as it could go.

His parents, Reverend and Mrs. Githinji, were scandalized, though they would positively have died if they knew he was trying to hook up with me, too. All they knew is that their son was being kind to the unholy woman with AIDS. That bothered them. Perhaps, they were afraid he would be linked with her HIV status. Or they knew he was associating with us to underline his rebellion.

The Githinjis were an old farming family. The father, Charles had chosen to go into religion and was now the very charismatic leader of the Church in tiny Kikambala. He drew his flock from both the rich and the poor of the area. His wife, Perris, ran the women’s groups, visiting the sick and teaching the bible. They owned a farm which was bordered by the ocean. Their older son, Sean, ran the farm while advocating for Ocean conservation and ignoring his parents’ religious faith. Their younger son, Drew, ran an angling club for tourists and the wealthier locals, completely defying his older brother’s idealistic efforts and supporting his parents’ religion to a fanatic degree. Their daughter, Michelle just ran away from home as soon as she sat her GCE A levels. She became a doctor later.

Well, following my mum’s “diagnosis” with AIDS, things got positively harder for my mother and me. Desperate one Saturday morning, I decided not to attend my Saturday classes at school, and went into the village in search of our landlord who had been kind to us earlier. He was an old Arab businessman with a big heart. When I found him, he thought I was asking him for a handout. I told him I wasn’t and instead asked him to give me a job that I could do in one day and get food for my mother. That surprised him, and I suppose made him respect me.

I spent that Saturday painting rooms in his Swahili houses. Thank a deity that I had spent some time working as a volunteer the previous year and had acquired some skills in painting. My work was good enough for the old man to offer to place me on a permanent ‘contract’ for weekends. He also ‘recommended’ me to his friends.

Not long after this I made the acquaintance of a bunch of teens when I drifted to the soccer pitch to keep myself from crying at the idea of my mother dying and leaving me all alone. They were all boys older than me by 3 or 4 years, and amused that a girl could kick a ball good, never mind that most of the skill and energy behind that first kick was pure fear and anger. I became good friends with four of them.

I looked for extra jobs and shared them with the four. Katana, Ouma, Mbae and Kaingu. The deal was that they would give me a cut off all their payments as long as I was the one who got them the jobs. We washed carpets, cleaned cars, did laundry and painted more houses. And we all used Marijuana.

I paid the rent, bought my mum the protein foods her doctor recommended, and made it to school everyday. I wasn’t doing very well in school. In fact I was failing all my subjects except Physics and English. I was mostly too tired to concentrate on the studies. I was scared that my mother would die, and I hid behind my little power ride with the gang.

My mother had questions. Lots of them. Her little girl was coming home late, disappearing on weekends and sometimes in the middle of the night, and more than once she accused me of using drugs and whoring myself. I was using drugs, but in my head I measured my power on the control I had over the boys without having to drop my panties.

I was a jaywalker. Doing it more for the thrill than to cross the road. The more dangerous my thrill walk was, the easier it was for me to deal with everyday.

I might have gone all out into crime. I don’t know. Sean figured out early enough what I was up to. He kept an eye on me and when I was arrested late one night coming home from a ‘meeting’, with drugs on my person, the boys contacted him. I didn’t go to court. He bribed the Officer in charge of the station and I went home. Then he got the boys together and arranged for ‘scholarships’ at County boarding schools, leaving me without a gang to run.

Sean made a complete turn around from his usual horny groping when my mum came home from hospital. I was hurt when he seemed to have lost all interest in me, but I was soon busy with other things. Sean had used his ‘grown-up’ status to get me into intensive psychological therapy with an organization that rivaled his father’s church and to keep me in school. He got my mum on a free treatment program with the same organization.

Then he went out to sea on an underwater photography expedition and got himself killed.

My mother, however, didn’t die on me. In fact, she was not even HIV-positive although her illness and the way people treated her, taught me a lot about how HIV positive people should definitely not be treated. She got better and went to work at the NGO that had offered her treatment and support. I passed my High school finals. Just passed. Well, I got an A in English and a C+ in Physics.

I am going on 26 now. I still revert to my jaywalking once in a while, without the drugs and in a less organized manner. But today, I think about the situations that many young people find themselves in. I am alive and perhaps just slightly less scarred, but not because of any smartness on my part. I just slipped past the danger zones when the devil was distracted.

The Work – Lupus Balance – #LupusAwareness

I’Ve just spent a week in beautiful Nakuru working with the Storymoja Festival. It was an intense week of activity. And I was part of it as a communications liaison. This is not something I would have thought even remotely possible in my current condition.

When I had my first serious flare in 2009 I had to quit working completely for a few months. Being housebound, bed bound, with a failing body but still mentally alert was incredibly difficult. I am naturally a social being, one who loves being active physically and intellectually. 

So when my former employers offered me part of my previous job back – with the opportunity to work on remote – I was beyond pleased. The deal also meant I had access to computers and an Internet connection.

I worked from my bed – a few times from a hospital bed during those first few months. My work load and job descriptions have changed and evolved several times since then. But the most important thing to note is that I have been fortunate enough to find an employer who is willing to adjust to my circumstances while still expecting the very best from me.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve just spent a week working with the Storymoja Festival. Yes, special arrangements for transport and housing had to be made taking into account that I am more likely to get exhausted easily, get infections easily and quite likely need time outs in-session. But those allowances made it possible for me to engage the very best of my intellect to my job.

So as I close my month of Lupus Living highlights I think it is important to say: Lupus Fighters and other people living with chronic illness can still be valuable members of society, valuable workers. Adjustments on normal working hours and expectations might have to be made. The Lupus fighter has to be willing to see their worth beyond the illness and offer that up. Employers have to be willing to see the value of the person beyond their illness. It is not always an easy match to make but it is entirely possible.

Friends Indeed… #LupusAwareness

I started getting sick often soon after moving to a new town. I actually considered that I was perhaps allergic to this new town. I’d just lost a job, still trying to cope with the death of my brother, still in the middle of figuring out a whole other lot of other things. Getting sick was not very conducive to making new friends or keeping old ones who lived several hundred miles away.

It was at least 5 years before I got the SLE preliminary diagnosis. During which time I had trudged through several jobs, gotten gravely ill several times, made and lost a couple of friends, went through a failed relationship, plunged into severe depression, picked myself up and got myself back on track and then almost died from kidney failure.

No, things don’t get better. You learn to cope and to survive as long as there is breath in you. You learn to see the beauty and the light. And in that way it becomes easier.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learnt, is to Appreciate the support I have. In a way, it also means not tolerating negative vibes and petty relationship politics. If you are an energy vampire I steer clear of you, maybe I’ll even cut you out of my life.

At the same time, no matter how I am feeling, I try to bring positive energy to the people around me. And if I find that for some reason there is no positive exchange between us, I excise you out of my life. 

This might seem a strange thing to do, considering the fact that people suffering from chronic illness often have to deal with so-called friends disappearing from their lives. 

It is true. I am not the popular life of the party girl I used to be. Not very many people are inviting me to their parties. I get very few calls or texts from people just wanting to know how I am. I can count the people I call friends on one hand and still have fingers left over. But the point is, I do have those three people I can count on. And it is important that I be a positive addition in their lives. 

Because when I’m puking my guts out, or shivering in that hospital hallway – they are the ones who show up bleary eyed and trying to hide their fear. They are the ones who kick me out of bed for that walk I’m not so enthusiastic about. They are the ones who call me at 12.43pm to check if I ate lunch and have remembered to take my meds. They are the ones who point out how beautiful that flower in the garden is turning out to be. They are the ones who remind me that it is not all about me, that I have so much to offer the world. They are the ones you just cannot afford to neglect or take advantage of, because they are friends indeed.

Roll the Dice, Babe – #LupusAwareness

Here’s the thing about Lupus – You probably have to see several doctors to manage the illness. It can be bloody expensive, so a good insurance cover is always a good thing.

In the last 12 months, I’ve seen an endocrinologist, a cardiologist, an ENT specialist and I’m likely to be seeing a demartologist soon. 

The year before I more than maxed out my insurance policy and ended up with horrendous debt. The only other option I have is to accept and suffer under the public health care system which means long endless hours at Kenyatta Hospital or some level 5 hospital. 

That’s the thing about living with Lupus in Kenya. While there are doctors who are qualified to manage autoimmune disease, often they are overstretched and frustrated in public health care systems. Thus the quality goes down and to make matters worse becomes frustrating to access.

The other side of the street isn’t much better. It is expensive, for one thing. But there is also the very real issue of the fact that Lupus is such a mysterious illness that even the best healthcare practitioners have to play the guessing game sometimes. Now, if this is happening in a commercialized system then things really go to the pits.

Balancing healthcare for a Lupus sufferer is a challenging gambling game at best.