Several years ago, when I was considering taking on the role as Vision Africa’s Fundraiser, there was a lot of debate about whether the role should be based in the UK or Kenya. Last week proved to me that the right decision was made when it was agreed it could be based in Kenya.
Last week was simply amazing.
A few weeks ago, we shared the story of Patrick and Simon – two boys from Mbeere Children’s Home who needed fees for secondary school. Within a couple of days, we had received donations totalling 10,500ksh in Kenya. One of our board members in the UK was touched by the story and started to work on raising funds for the boys. She managed to raise enough for the two boys to enrol in school but their future still wasn’t certain as it takes a lot to fund a student through their four years of secondary school. In fact, from our work with students at several of our projects, we now budget 215,000ksh for each student going through secondary school. This covers their fees, all their purchases at the start of Form 1, pocket money, fares and shopping for each term and all those random costs that secondary schools always manage to add throughout the year.
For students from children’s homes there is often no family to pay secondary school fees and they depend on someone hearing their story and responding. If you have ever met a student who is passionate about their education but gets sent home because their fees have not been paid, you will know how despondent this makes them and how much it can affect their studies. This is why Vision Africa likes to know when students start Form 1 that they will be able to take them all the way through to Form 4 without the students being stressed about where next term’s fees will come from.
Ivory Kathue knows what that stress feels like. So when she heard about our appeal for school fees, she decided to take matters in to her own hands. As well as writing an article in Spyce Magazine, she started a Twitter campaign called #BeTheSparkWith100 asking KOTs (Kenyans On Twitter) to donate 100ksh (80p) towards Patrick and Simon’s future. And she kept on asking….and asking….and asking! The response was immediate. Our phone started beeping with messages saying we had received donations. In fact over 180 people responded with donations ranging from 100ksh all the way through to 47,000ksh. An office in Nairobi raised 30,000ksh by skipping breakfast and lunch one day.
The campaign is now a week old and I have just been to collect a cheque for 22,000ksh from an anonymous donor. This takes our total raised in Kenya to 151,921ksh with another 2,750ksh (£22) donated online by a Kenyan living overseas. So in total 154,671ksh (£1,237) was raised through #BeTheSparkWith100.
When a child completes primary school, we usually remove them from our general child sponsorship programme as the monthly contributions paid by sponsors are not enough to cover secondary education. However, as we have managed to get Patrick and Simon enrolled in secondary school and we have money towards their ongoing fees, we have spoken to their sponsors and they have agreed to their monthly contribution going towards Patrick and Simon’s secondary education.
So in short…..we can now ensure that Patrick and Simon can stay in school all the way through to Form 4 and will never have to worry about school fees. Henry, the administrator of Mbeere Children’s Home delivered the good news to the boys on Monday. He told them how the funds had been raised and that over 180 Kenyans are supporting them through school. Henry says the boys were very, very happy and really appreciate everything that has been done for them.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to our appeal for school fees and to everyone who responded to #BeTheSparkWith100 either by donating or helping to spread the word. And thanks especially to Ivory for being a spark that made the future bright for Patrick and Simon – I hope you’ve caught up on your sleep after those late nights tweeting!!
Now, I have to go and help prepare for a concert and exhibition taking place in Nairobi next week in aid of Vision Africa.
I’ll blog about that next week!
Well, I’ve now been back in the UK for a couple of weeks and I guess I should get around to telling you about the final part of my visit to Kenya. So here we go…
Yesterday was a really early start to get the flight to Kisumu, so it’s nice to have a lay in bed this morning – we only had to leave at 6:30am! First the drive back to Kisumu from Kisii, which is reasonably straightforward, except for quite a long stretch where there are roadworks so we are forced off-road for a bumpy, dusty old ride. Never mind, at least there are not too many pot-holes… yet!
At Kisumu we drop into the Nakumatt City store to pick up breakfast supplies and some drink for the road and a welcome stretch of the legs. Then it’s back on the road to head out west, past Lake Victoria which has a massive infestation of water hyacinth making it look like grass! Climbing up the escarpment west of Kisumu we soon reach one of those iconic milestones that is a must-do picture opportunity – the equator! One past Luanda the road deteriorates. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but there a potholes a-plenty which slows our progress significantly, plus a back-road detour which takes us off the tarmac for a couple of miles. So after a couple of hundred kilometers and the best part of five hours after leaving Kisii we finally roll into Nyamwanga Primary School on the outskirts of Bumala – just a few Km from the border with Uganda.
Nyamwanga is a school which we have done a lot of work with over the years and where we have a good number of sponsored children. I have always had a soft spot for this school because they have always gone out of their way to make us welcome, and it is obvious from the gathering crowd and the benches laid out that this will be no exception.
First things first, and it’s into the Headmaster’s office for introductions and to agree the plan for the day. We’re on a bit of a tight schedule as we have to get to Busire Primary School (just up the road) before the ECD children leave at lunch-time, where photos are due to be taken of children needing sponsors. So, after introductions and being served up some breakfast- and the obligatory signing of the guest book, we quickly make our exit (to the consternation of the assembled crowd) with a promise to be back in time for lunch.
Busire Primary is another school that we have supported with some building work - some classrooms and, thanks to one of our generous donors, an ECD classroom block. However, until now they have not been included in our sponsorship programme. This is about to change and, after meeting with the head-teacher we enjoy a visit to the ECD and enjoy meeting the children. Kirsty does her bit with taking the photo’s and the rest of us make a general nuisance of ourselves! I enjoyed this short visit and I found the headmaster to be a very nice gentleman – and, of course, the kids were great.
So now it’s back to Nyamwanga where we will spend the rest of the afternoon. First up, it’s a guided tour of the school. Things are looking good and I am pleased to see the classrooms, Kitchen, and ECD which we built all still in good shape. Russell makes some new friends and manages to disrupt the headmaster’s tour by getting half the kids chasing him across the school field for action photos! But it’s nice to look around and see that the investment that we made really paying off. There are now around 800 children at Nyamwanga – almost four times the number from when we first got involved with replacing some very sad looking mud and reed classroom. You can read more about that in our project pages.
We start to realise just how hot it is in this part of the world when we visit the school’s shamba. Here they have recently harvested over 400kg of maize and 60kg of beans to supplement the school supplies and they are keen to show us the land. But it’s a bit of a walk in very hot direct sun and it’s not long before we are cooking ourselves! The heat becomes a bit intolerable for us soft Brits, so we quickly head back to the cool and shade of the school – where a great surprise is waiting for me…
Carole (my wife) and I have been sponsoring a young lad from Nyamwanga for a number of years. It started back in 2003 when we were visiting to open the new classroom block. Some of the children did various presentations (songs, poems, dance etc.) to us and one small boy stood up to recite a poem – he said, ‘Hello, my name is John, I am eight years old and I am an orphan… Well, we were just bowled over, both by his presentation and by his story. We decided there and then to sponsor him and we’ve been supporting him ever since. So it was great when Jane-rose (a former teacher from Nyamwanga who has looked after John all these years) and John came to see me. John is now 18 years old, had completed secondary school and is waiting to start studying medicine at university in Nairobi. It was wonderful to see him again and I am very, very proud of him.
Then it was time for lunch! I am very happy that the headmaster invites Jane-rose and John to join us. We enjoy a good lunch of all sorts of local dishes which are very tasty (although I pass on the ugali as I’ve never grown a taste for it) and we are also pleased to see the school feeding programme is still going well and the children all get lunch. Then it’s time, after a few bits of admin, to enjoy the afternoon entertainment.
The children and some parents are gathered under a large tree where sofas have been set out for us in the shade. I have no idea where these sofas come from, but I suspect the village next door has been raided! Then the children do us proud by performing some great traditional dance in costume. This is such good fun and it’s so good to see everyone having a great time. The hospitality here really has been second to none. Of course, you can’t have a gathering like this in Kenya without the obligatory speeches and after kind words by the headmaster and the chairman of the school it is my turn to speak. I am grateful when Janerose gets up and translates into the vernacular for the benefit of the parents and children (not that the children would have been very interested anyway, I’m sure) and it’s good to share a few words of thanks and encouragement with them.
The afternoon slowly winds down with a little more entertainment before it’s time for us to say our farewells and go pot-hole dodging back to the airport. It was a really good day and I cannot thank the folks from Busire and Nyamwanga enough for how welcome they made us feel. We got back to Nairobi late and tired, but with some fond memories to ponder upon.
My final day in Nairobi. Today (Saturday) was a chance to meet up with the Vision Africa team, our local Council of Reference members, some of the project leaders and former students to hold a strategic planning workshop. I won’t dwell on this too much, but it was a great opportunity to just think about what we do well, what we could do better and just interact with each other and bounce ideas around. This will feed into a strategic planning day that we are holding with the UK team later in the summer.
Then it was time for one last meeting, this time with a group called Friends of Kianjai who are interested in partnering with us on a project to build a respite care centre for children with special needs. A constructive meeting I think, but more work to do before we know whether this is going to fly.
And that, as they say, is that! It was back to have an evening meal with Deborah and Kirsty before heading to the airport again for a 5 minute to midnight flight back home. What an amazing few days I’ve had and although completely exhausted I am really gratified to see the work of Vision Africa going so well. I am proud (I know it’s one the the 7 deadly sins, but..), very proud, of our team and all that they are doing to help so many children who would otherwise have little hope.
Thanks for reading my blog – or perhaps more accurately, my ramblings. And thank you for supporting Vision Africa. We couldn’t do it without you!
After the marathon day yesterday it’s nice to have a quieter day today. Spent the morning getting up late! and then working on the Vision Africa web site with Kirsty – you can view some of the results of that by visiting our Special Needs project pages under ‘What we do’ on the Vision Africa web site (or click here to go straight there in a new window). The afternoon was a chance to catch up with Deborah to plan our staff day on Saturday and also take care of some of the legal business of running a NGO in Kenya – not very exciting to write about I’m afraid, but necessary.
Time for the next Marathon! Up at 4:30am today to head to the airport for our 6:30 flight to Kisumu. Today we start a two day trip to Nyanza and Western Provinces to visit three more Vision Africa supported projects in the company of our friends Russell (from Boo Charity) and Jenny & Maddy who are supporters of VA and Boo. We meet up rather bleary eyed at the airport at 5:30am in time for the short flight out west. Many moons ago we would have driven this journey, but it was not for the faint hearted as it was a looooong drive on some pretty terrible roads and added at least an extra day to the trip; two if we wanted to spend more than an hour or so at each location.
So, we arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed at Kisumu airport at about 7:0am where we are met by our driver for the next two days, Saul. We all pile into the 7 seater and first stop is Nakumatt (a supermarket chain) in Kisumu to grab something for breakfast / snacks / water for the journey, then it’s time to fuel up and hit the road. After a good couple of hours we arrive in Kisii, the main town in this district, where we will be spending the night tonight. However, no time to stop now as it’s still another hour to get to our destination for today – the Seed of Hope vocational training centre at Nyamache. This centre is sponsored by Boo and this is the first time Russell has been able to visit since we built the facility in 2004 so it is a special day for him.
We arrive somewhat road weary after our early start and long drive and the car is quickly surrounded by children from the adjacent primary school who are anxious to see the mzungu (meaning foreigner). White people are pretty rare in this part of the world so you soon get used to hearing children shouting out ‘Mzungu’ when they spot us! Anyway, we arrive safely and our weariness is soon put aside as we are greeted by the effusive head of Nyamache Seed of Hope, Ednah. She is as enthusiastic as I recall from my last visit three years ago and after a warm welcome she quickly points out that I have lost weight! I’m not sure if she regards that as a good thing or not, but at least it makes me feel good about all the hard work I’ve been doing in the gym!!
After introductions to staff and a brief meeting with members of the committee we commence the obligatory tour of the programme. I am happy to take a back seat this time and let Russell be the centre of attention as Ednah shows us around. It’s good to see that the fabric of the centre is still in good condition and the students are doing really well. It’s a bit disappointing to see that the local government office has snaffled a bit of the land to build an office building, but thankfully the remainder of the land is secure and is being put to good use in growing crops. In addition there is a cow and a good number of chickens around the place and these, together with the crops, provide food for the students and a small income generating opportunity.
Now it is time for some lunch together and to spend some time with the students. Some of the girls treat us to song and dance in the traditional style, then two previous graduates talk with passion about what Seed of Hope has meant to them. One of them, Edna, is very inspirational to the students in her challenge to them to set high goals for themselves – she is a fantastic ambassador for the work that our Seed of Hope centres do. This clearly inspires us all as teacher Gitau invites several of the students to speak about their situations and they all rise to the occasion and share something of their stories. Then it is time for Russell and I to say a few words with the students before we all head outside for a team photo opportunity.
Our time at Nyamache Seed of Hope at an end we now walked into the local town where we had the chance to catch up with several graduates as we visited their ‘Roots’ businesses. Roots is a Vision Africa initiative which provides seed money and equipment for groups of Seed of Hope students to set up in business when they graduate.
Apart from being free to attend our centres, this is what makes Seed of Hope unique among vocational training establishments and really does give a helping hand to get the graduates started as they come to the end of their time with us. The girls we saw were all doing dressmaking and they all seemed to be doing pretty well and said their businesses were making a modest profit. For all of them this is a big difference to the situations which they found themselves in before coming to Seed of Hope and is a real testimony to the way that the Seed of Hope programme really is giving children a hope for the future.
After saying our goodbyes to Ednah and Gitau it was time to pile into the car for the trip back to Kisii and our overnight stay at the Mash Park Hotel. It is fairly basic, but it is clean and we had some good food to end the day before we retired early after a very tiring day.
So that’s about it for today. I think Russell and team were pleased with what they saw and it gives Boo a new impetus to continue supporting these wonderful students at Nyamache Seed of Hope. Next up for us is the trip out to Western where we will visit Busire and Nyamache schools – watch this space!
After a pretty manic start to my visit to Kenya I was glad that Sunday was a bit less taxing. A bit of a lazy start followed by a meeting with our Kenya Council of Reference Vice-Chair, Julian Rowa, at the local Java coffee house and then I was pleased to accompany him to church at Nairobi Chapel for a really uplifting service.
Following church it was time to grab a quick sandwich and then Kirsty and I, in the company of our newest Vision Africa staff member, Benson, took the drive up to Kandara Children’s home where we were going to spend the night…
After a tour round the home with Mary and a bite to eat we were invited to join the children doing their homework studies. After sharing a few words of encouragement with them the homework was quickly finished and the fun began. First the children sang for us and then we had a great little celebration for one of the older boys birthday. Benson had all the children singing and Kirsty had supplied a treat of fresh pineapples directly from the Del Monte plantation – you can’t get fresher than that! It was lovely to see the children all having such a good time and it was a special evening that a few words really can’t do justice.
I particularly enjoyed meeting Ezra. He is one of the older boys from the home who has graduated high school and is now working at the Early Childhood Development (ECD) school on site at the home as a teacher. Ezra shared with me his plans and ambitions and it seems we have a great deal in common! Firstly, he wants to be a pilot! I always wanted to be a pilot and, if you were not aware, right now I fly and instruct gliding at London Gliding Club and it was nice to be able to show him a few pictures I had taken in the air just the previous week. And secondly, he plans to study Telecommunications at university. Well, in my other job (my day job) I work for British Telecom as a senior manager and my studies were all in Telecoms! He is a smart lad and has great vision, I feel sure he will achieve his goals if he keeps working hard for them. I really do wish him well.
Then it was back to the volunteer house to spend the night. Unfortunately the electricity was out so we sat and chatted by candlelight. I went outside to look at the stars and marvel at the beauty of God’s creation. In Watford we never get dark skies as there is so much light pollution and I had remembered how amazing the sky looked when we climbed Mount Kenya in 2007. So I was not disappointed at Kandara. It was just beautiful looking up and seeing the milky way stretched out above us. I tried to take a picture, but I think it was a bit of a failure so that will be a challenge for another time. I read recently that every star that we can see in the sky is in our own galaxy and our galaxy has between 200 and 400 billion stars! Nobody knows how many galaxies there are, but estimates range from 125 billion to over 500 billion galaxies! Truly awesome.
A marathon day today. We started the day with the children from the Kandara ECD doing their morning parade where they all sang songs before heading into their classes for the day. The children were wonderful and there were a few parents there too who were clearly very impressed. The ECD has a mix of children from the Home and outside children whose parents pay a small fee for them to attend, which helps subsidise the school. It is obviously working very well because the school has really grown since I was there three years ago; they now have four classrooms and my next duty was to open a new one which was converted from former offices. A real success story here and lots more potential to come.
From Kandara we made our way to Kirunguru special school, which is just up the road. This was our first project for children with special needs and is now really well established. When I first visited there were a handful of children that were getting the best care that they could under the circumstances, but it was a pretty sad sight if I am honest. Well, what a difference a few years makes! We have built classrooms and dormitories there and the government has since come in and added to the facilities once they saw what we had instigated there. But the big change for me was in the way that the children are cared for. Previously they had basic lessons and were kept amused, but now the children are really engaged in all sorts of activities and they are doing so well as a result. I was particularly impressed with how they were helping out with looking after the animals there and the shamba (vegetable garden). They were even growing strawberries. This, together with the much improved teaching philosophy and available materials means that many of these children will go on to live meaningful and happy lives instead of being hidden away for shame.
From Kirunguru we headed out to our Seed of Hope Centre at Kariti Muranga. This is a purpose built vocational training centre and it provided me with one of my favourite moments of my visit this time. After being shown around the centre and their grounds, all of which are doing really well, we were treated to some entertainment and testimonies from the students. This was a really good and happy time, but for me the highlight was when two graduates stood up to tell us, and the students, what Seed of Hope and Vision Africa meant to them. They were great examples of how, if you hang on to your dreams and work hard, you can achieve your aims and make a success of your life. However, one of the graduates, after somewhat reluctantly taking to the floor, talked with real passion about her former life and just how much difference Seed of Hope had made to her. I can’t sum it up here and do it justice – let’s just say that we were all close to tears and I will remember her impassioned speech for a long time to come.
Next up was Percy Davies special school at Kambiti. This was our second project for special children and our first purpose built from the ground up. This is a very dry region and is classed as semi-arid, which means that water is the most significant issue for us outside of the care and nurture of the children. I will come back to water in a minute, but meantime – first up was a guided tour of the facility. Not a great deal has changed since last time, with one significant exception; we now have a purpose built and well equipped therapy room thanks to the generosity of some of our supporters. The home receives regular visits from specialist therapists and the staff are being trained to carry on with the therapies between times. This is great for some of the children who have all sorts of challenges to overcome. The staff at Percy Davies school are great and they really took time to explain to me what they were doing and how it helps to develop the children – marvellous and really dedicated work. We also met a young man who had attended a special needs school and is now working as a cook, which is a great example of how these schools really are helping to give these children a meaningful future. I was also pleased to see the electrician on site getting ready to wire up the home to receive electricity – again thanks to the generosity of our supporters.
So that was about it for our day, but before I close I said I would come back to water. This is a great story. As we were shown around the grounds of the school by our project administrator John Kiboro he showed to us a spot with a couple of manhole covers. He explained that this was where they had been digging to install a couple of new toilets (of the ‘long drop’ variety) and in the process they had struck water! This now provides them with a reliable supply that can be used for cooking, washing and for watering their shamba. A real miracle in this hot and dry place.
Today we made the long drive out East to the remote location of Mbeere Children’s home in Riandu. This is about a three hour drive from Nairobi with the last 20 minutes being on Murram (dirt) roads which can be a bit of a challenge. It is a very dry area normally so the roads are really dusty and the soil is a deep red colour, so you end up arriving home a different colour to when you left! But the drive is worth it to see this Vision Africa sponsored project in action and the lovely kids that it supports.
The Riandu home was opened in 2004 and has been run ever since by our friend Henry, the Administrator of the home and former Vision Africa employee. The home currently houses about 60 children of all ages, both girls and boys, and from several areas in the country. If you’ve looked at our facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/visionafrica) you will have seen the great pictures that Kirsty took and it is obvious the kids are healthy, happy and well cared for.
After our dusty drive we were warmly welcomed by Henry and his team an immediately sat down to enjoy a cup of coffee and pancakes! This is something of a tradition and I always look forward to my pancakes at Riandu and, as a treat, we had some mango fresh from the tree – lovely!
On the visit today we were accompanied by our newest VA staff member, Benson. So a full guided tour was the order of the day. It was good to see the infrastructure of the home being well looked after and Henry was keen to show us the new window ironwork being installed to provide safer windows and the new metal door frames to combat the perennial termite problem. However, there is always more that needs to be done and one of the water storage barrels had split and needs to be replaced at significant cost (about 80,000 Kenyan Shillings) and new gutters are required to try to capture precious rainfall when it comes.
The home is built around a large quadrangle to provide a safe and secure area for the children after dark and it looks lovely just now with lots of planting and flowers. Outside the quadrangle the home is surrounded by a large shamba (vegetable garden) of around 12 acres which the home uses to provide for some of the needs of the children and allows a small income from any excess. They have chickens which produce 300 eggs a month for the home, and goats and a cow for milk. New since last time I visited is a large pond which is stocked with fish (Tilapia) which can be harvested a couple of times a year to give the children an alternative to their normal diet and provide a small income. It’s really good to see the way they have taken the initiative to develop the use of the land.
Next was the highlight of the trip for me… we had a games time with the kids on the football pitch of the adjacent primary school. This was a real chance to have some fun with the children and let them let their hair down. Benson got them organised into four teams (the cheetahs, the Lions, the Tigers and The Elephants) for a bit of healthy competition, and I was the judge. After getting the children all singing a team song the games began with the sack race, which was absolutely hilarious! Then followed the egg and spoon race, the three legged race and the football relay. It was delightful to see the children having such a good time and really getting along so well with each other and just laughing so much. My job as judge was easy because, surprise surprise, each team won an event so it was a draw! As luck would have it we had four bags of sweets for each team to share, phew!
That about sums the day up, a day of fun and happiness. After a short bit of business to take care of and a photo opportunity with the children it was time to make the dusty journey back to Nairobi. Another full day and a lot of driving for Kirsty, but worth every minute.
Tomorrow is Sunday, so a bit of an easier day with a chance to go to church in the company of our Kenya Vice Chairman, Julian, before heading up to Kandara on Sunday afternoon ready to tour the several projects we have in the area on Monday. More on that soon.