Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Almost Christmas!

It is the 21st of December and almost Christmas!!!! Many years ago, 1973-74 precisely, I spent about 8 months living and working in Hawaii. Everyday was sunny and warm with an afternoon shower. I remember Christmas day so vividly. It was not the Upstate NY Christmas that I always had experienced. It was so strange. I remember watching the Minnessota Vikings on TV,the balmy breezes blowing. This Christmas will probably be much the same. At home, we already have a record breaking December going for snow! Here, it is 85 and humid. I am on the coast for a break.

The news about the projects...We still continue to work with William Kabbis on a variety on small projects around the Mbaka Oromo Primary (now with a population of 600 and more a better students coming from long distances everyday seeking admission) and Mbaka Oromo Secondary School (which will in January have approximately 180 students, 9 through 11). We have the secondary about 70% built. WE have put a pause on the major building there and turned our attention to our latest project, the Mbaka Oromo Health Clinic.

About fourteen months ago, I was sitting in Mwalimu Mkuu (headmaster) William Kabbis' office. It was a nice sunny day and the children were out in the school yeard for recess. William commented to me how delighted he was with how many beautiful classrooms we (the builders, the parents, the teachers and children, William and Building Futures and all of our supporters at home) had built. I looked out with joy and a humble pride. Yes, pamoja (together) we had accomplished so much in just five years. "And yet, Jemo, we have so many sick children". My mind immediately flashed to our morning, school opening assemblies. Six hundred students and teachers (k-8) gathered to raise the Kenyan flag, say their Pledge of Allegiance, and sing their national anthem. Then William or one of the lead teachers will give the wanafunzi (students) a pep talk for the day. All the while, when I stand and watch the assemblies....children are coughing. Even in beautiful classrooms, sick children can not learn.

Why are so many of our kids sick? Poor diet causes malnutrition, leaving the children open to inffection and illness. Poverty prevents regular checkups or doctor visits when a child is sick. What could We do about that? I told William, "I am very comfortable building the classrooms and latrines and libraries....but I knew nothing about medical facilities. I would love to help, but it was a bit our of my league. And,, about 3 minutes later, I said, "Okay, William, let's go figure this out!" That was about fourteen months ago.

Today the clinic building is 100% built! However, that is not HALF of the story! My next blog will tell some funny stories and some sad ones about "Our ROAD to the Mbaka Oromo Clinic"


  1. I am, once again, inspired by you! You are certainly making a mark on the world and making a difference in the lives of so many. This is the 2nd time I have tracked you down over the years. I will continue to read your blog & hope to stay in touch this time. One of your former students... Debbie (Jerome) Alderson

  2. Jim-Great work you are doing there in Kenya! Mark and I are inspired by you and how you are living your life! We'll keep track of you as you continue to do such unbelievable work for the poor and marginalized! Merry Christmas!
    Donna and Mark Head

  3. Please Please tell me what I am hearing today is not true! Please God, Please!

  4. Thank you, Mr. Nowak for inspiring me to become a teacher. I will always remember Soc and Eastern Religions. I will remember my first day of high school when you came in wearing a dhoti and drew flowers on the board.
    Thank you for teaching altruism.

  5. Thank you, Mr. Nowak, for inspiring me to become a sociologist, and showing me that teaching is more than just grades and classrooms.

    Kevin Wright
    Fairport High School 2000
    Assistant Professor of Criminology, Arizona State University

  6. This is very sad news. Jim and I were in the same high school graduating class and had a chance to speak by phone in 2009. He was doing important work and will be missed. We can be consoled by the fact that he died doing what he loved. Godspeed, Jim.

  7. Namaste, Mr. Nowak. Thank you for all you have given the world.

  8. Very sad news about Jim-one of the nicest men I have ever met! The last time I saw him he had great pictures to show me of the children in Kenya-just so enthusiastic about the work he was involved in over there. He will be missed very much, and remembered always...

  9. Words can't really describe what Im feeling right now. It's been too long since I saw you, for I would have been so happy to tell you that I'm now in nursing school and hope to travel to Africa to help out people there. High school was a long road for me and you helped me get through it!
    May you rest in peace Mr. Nowak
    Katie W., class of 1999

  10. Although, you were never one of my teachers, I remember you very well! You left your mark on every person that met you! May you rest in peace.
    Stephanie M. class of 1997

  11. In this video Jim Nowak speaks about his personal philosophy and drive: http://prendismo.mobi/collection/viewclip/11379
    He ends it saying, “I do want to be the 85-year-old guy that looks back and says, well we did some good stuff, you know. Change the world.”

    He may have only lived here on earth for 59 years, but he’s done more good stuff than most that make it to 85.

    Thank you for being a phenomenal teacher in and out of the classroom.

    Laura LB - FHS '81

  12. Jim Nowak was a wonderful teacher and human being. He met all of his students where they were personally, and inspired them to individual greatness. We love you, and will miss you.

    Reid H, class of 2002

  13. Thank you for everything Jemo, I will never forget your enthusiasm, zest for life and kindness.
    Wendy and lil Leah

  14. Jim you will be missed. Comrades as teachers, comrades as human beings on this Earth. You taught so many you lived what you preached.

  15. Mr. Nowak was a great teacher...a happy and energetic teacher who greeted all students with a smile every day. I always thought he was the most handsome teacher I ever had! I am so sorry to his loved ones that he died so suddenly.
    Erin Class of '93

  16. Every once in a while if you're lucky enough, you encounter a great person, someone who is exceptional and who leaves a lasting impression, Mr. Nowak is that person. I was fortunate to have him as a teacher at Fairport High School and still have fond memories of his Eastern Religions class. That class was more than fifteen years ago but I still remember parts of it like it was yesterday. He was an amazing teacher and an equally phenomenal human being. Mr. Nowak, you taught by example and you will truly be missed.
    Swetha G. - Class of 1997