TEACHING-EMPOWERING-MENTORING-BUILDING OPPORTUNITY Mission: to partner with individuals and communities in Western Kenya to support entrepreneurial activities, education and health through training programmes, scholarships, water and sanitation projects

Friday, December 16, 2011

Best wishes

We leave today for our Christmas break, this year to be spent with family in Ankara and Istanbul. We wish joy and peace to you all.
Often people ask us what brings us back to Africa every year. There are many answers, and this quote provides one of them:
“Westerners arriving in Africa for the first time are always struck by its beauty and size – even the sky seems higher. And they often find themselves suddenly cracked open. They lose inhibitions, feel more alive, more themselves, and they begin to understand why, until then, they have only half lived. In Africa, the essentials of existence – light, earth, water, food, birth, family, love, sickness, death – are more immediate, more intense.” Richard Dowden

Monday, December 12, 2011

Independence day

Today is Jamhuri Day, the celebration of 48 years of independence. It is hot and sunny and some are taking advantage of a day off to rest with family. Others continue to work, especially the manual labourers finishing the construction in our compound.

The country still has major problems. Doctors in public hospitals have been on strike for the past week. There are some initiatives for treating emergencies but many cannot afford to attend private clinics. A doctor in a public hospital earns about $300 per month (plus some allowances),about one seventh the income of an MP. The medical staff are also protesting the deplorable state of most health centres. Drugs and machines are often lacking. Health clinics close regularly a few days each month because of no drugs.

At the same time there are protests over cost overruns in redecorating the Parliament building, where each individual chair is estimated to cost over $200.

There is on-going argument over the new Constitution. When the British pulled out in 1963 they left a Parliamentary system with two houses and potential decentralisation. The new MPs immediately proceeded to dismantle the document with at least eleven major amendments, abolishing the upper house, regaining power for Nairobi, eventually leading to a one-party system. This changed a few years ago and the people voted in a new Constitution last year, removing much of the power of the President and instituting checks and blances. Corruption will flourish less easily. Those seeing the possibility of power slipping through their fingers are busy trying to change clauses even before there is the first election of new representatives. The election is supposed to be in August, but that will mean sittng MPs will leave a few months early (they were voted in in December). They are clamouring for 'compensation' for their lost salaries, or else to switch the election date to December. Tensions are running high.
MPs have paid no tax on most of their income under the old regime and the government has already agreed to pay back taxes for each of them, amounting to several million shillings each.

Yesterday we visited the third major supermarket to open in Kakamega in the last two years. The variety of goods and the layout are astounding in a town where ten years ago we tried in vain to have the local grocery store bring in cans of tuna, mayonnaise and olive oil. There is obviously plenty of money in the town itself, leading to an even greater divide between urban and rural polulations. We have just finsished the shortlist for our job training applicants. For some, the future already looks brighter.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Students, wells and teaching

These last three days have been full. On Thursday last week we met our 'academic' students for reporting their marks and taking fee sheets for next year. All are working hard and they wrote careful letters to their sponsors. Dorcas is in second year of Electrical Engineering and beaming. One boy won a place at a 'National' (top level) school and we sent him there for a year. But fees have shot up and are double those at a good 'Provincial' school, so we shall have to move him.
Lewis was top of his year in Form I, Dorcas and Mildred are pictured here together with Mildred and Dickson writing their sponsor letters.
On Friday we went to a community to hand over a well. About thirty women came with their water containers, some with a baby on their hip. They have been drawing water from a dirty pool and this will make life much easier for them.
Today, Saturday, we continued with the business training group who are definitely, it seems, moving toward the formation of a cooperative. We were given some reading glasses and some of the participants were able to use them right away.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Job training achievements

We just met our job training students who will be continuing next year. Some of the young men have finished short courses and are working away from Kakamega. Five women and one young man reported their marks to us. Two of the women have little schooling and are married with children. They all reported excellent marks near the top of their class in tailoring, hairdressing, catering. One is taking a diploma in social work. The young man finished a certificate in motor mechanics and wants to take a driving course to enhance his chances of employment. Two of the women had no funds and left home at 6 am to walk to the office, arriving at 9 as requested. I was happy to give them their return fare and something for a cup of tea and a snack. This was a moving morning and a true validation of our mandate to help people who have little hope of earning any income whether because of lack of education, isolation or family circumstances.

Three springs completed

Three protected springs are now in operation. It is difficult for those of us used to turning the tap for water to realise how some people collect their water from dirty pools. Where there is running water in a stream (even if polluted) we can tap into it closer to the source, protect it against run-off from manure, fertiliser and latrines, and build pipes for easy collection. Most springs are situated at the bottom of a slope, which can be steep and slippery in the rains--especially if you are carrying 20 litres on your head. So in many cases we build steps to make life a tiny bit easier for the women and children (Men do not carry water!)
On Saturday we visited the three new installations and received tearful thanks from the women. here are some before and after shots:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Call Hope for Soap

On Friday and Saturday we showed the Hope Youth group how to make liquid soap. As well as the demo they set up sub committees for research (prices), manufacture and marketing. They are enthusistic and determined and we look forward to a successful small business

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Composting latrines

Yesterday we visited the secondary school where we will install the Rotary gift of eco-san latrines for girls. They had just started to dig but yikes! with the wrong orientation! We are almost bang on the equator but the sun does move a few degrees north or south for 6 months of the year. So if we orient N-S we will have sun on both sides during the day and for most of the year to help the composting. Urine collection will be made and stored for urea for the fields. The solid waste will eventually provide manure.
In January we will hold a meeting with the girls to explain their use. We have some very simple (but explicit!) illustrations.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


December is a crazy month here. It's the end of the school year, so mark taking is held for scholarship organisations and students bring their fee schedules for the next school year for payment. Our job training students follow the same schedule.
Big exams are held in schools in November, then there's a marking frenzy to get results of elementary schools out by Dec 28. Then students are 'called' to schools and those fortunate enough to have marks high enough for scholarship applications can be called for interview. We have two girls moving up to a Provincial school in the second year of HS, so we shall have to get all their 'shopping' (a long list of items and uniforms) completed by Jan 3.
We shall be interviewing for new scholarships at the beginning of January since form 2 (second year) doesn't enter school until February.
There are many choir festivals during the month and confirmations and bapstisms are traditionally held at this time. A whirlwind of activity!

Monday, November 28, 2011

hand up, not a hand out

Succesful workshop on Saturday with 30 leaders from self-help groups. Our trainer is great and doesn't pull any punches. They are beginning to gel and to plan constructively together. We are holding our breath to see if they will come together to form a cooperative. Although it is helpful to give funds directly in certain circumstances, the international NGOs have created a culture of 'we are poor, we need help'. Yes, help is needed but of a thoughtful, discriminating kind. Africa has received billions in aid, but is still the poorest continent. Africans need to empower themselves to move forward.
We are also inundated with requests for job training support. This is where there is a huge need: vehicle maintenace, food and beverage certificates and so on. So few students progress any further than the lower levels of secondary school, that a formation to earn a living is lacking for most. Unfortunately we will not have the funds to accept more than half a dozen of the candidates.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

workshops and planning & a new logo

We are busy planning the teacher seminars in January and Read for the Top in a Primary school. We can purchase the 'story books' now and consult the school staff, but the new school year starts in January when we will be able to confirm class numbers. At that time we will squeeze in a full presentation for the teachers as we set up the teams.

Yesterday we traveled an hour from town to meet a community group for Virtues training. They are so well organised and eager that we think we will be able to incorporate them into our business training model in the new year.

We have a new logo! Thanks to the wonderful people at GoVolunteering we now have a professionally designed log. We love our elephant family and may continue to use it for some things, but here is our new, eye-catching design. You can see us featured at

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dedication of Virtues Centre

During the past year we received donations from the Virtues Facilitators mentorship in Victoria, Canada, and a shipment of materials from the Virtues Founders in memeory of John Kavelin (co-founder) It has taken a while but last Saturday we dedicated our centre in Kakamega to the memory of John. We hosted a number of Virtues-trained people (and some who aren't yet) and had a few of our facilitators on hand. We set out a display of sample materials.

A proud grad

On Friday we were invited to a graduation celebration for Tony, who obtained his B.Ed with distinction in Geography and KiSwahili.Tony and his fiancee Caroline have been doing some of the business training for us in that they go out to rural groups and teach poultry keeping (for example) and basic bookkeeping. Tony struggles all through his schooling relying almost entirely on 'well wishers' to stay in school. Because of his excellent results he is hoping for a junior teaching post at the University and the chace for a schoalrship to continue to the Masters level.

Friday, November 18, 2011

a word from Nancy, our agent in Kenya

It is so beautiful here in the early morning. Dark, natural honey from local beekeepers in my coffee, meusli and Kenyan fruit juice; roasted groundnuts bought from the local market which I roast in a 275 F oven for an hour after sprinkling with sea salt dissolved in water, stirring every 15 minutes.
Fresh papaya, mango and pineapple diced on my cereal and Kenyan yogurt. Brown oatmeal bread. Local peanut butter and a little tin of jam. Everything from Kenya.
I am not suffering.
I beat the 'water demon' this morning and brushed my teeth before the water went off. I think it's still on. About to have my breakfast. When the water is off I have half a glass of boiled water. I brush my teeth and try to rinse my mouth, rinse off the outside and clean my toothbrush, then do something about the wee sink. I prefer doing it when the little tap pours forth its miracle!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Well committees

Went out today to visit and sign contracts for three wells. The first (Kwamujumbe)was down a terrible road, the committee was not assembled, the chair lady was away and they have done nothing to procure a legal agreement to put the well on private property. The water source they use is appalling, but we are handling donated funds that must be properly managed. We left amid wringing hands and said we would be back when they have their legal affairs in order. Too many wells (not ours) in the past have relied on promises from land owners that the water would be available to the community, only to find it fenced off for the owmer's use.
The second was a delight (Wandugu). The committee (on the left)was waiting for us, they have no outstanding issues, so they will hopefully have their clean water supply by Christmas.
The third site was also well organised. Some bright, articulate women who are also asking for business training in the new year. I am hopeful we can do that. They have one legal issue that should be settled tomorrow.
On our way back we stopped at a spring (Mudede) where work to protect it is in progress.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Read for the Top success!

Wonderful day at Mwiyenga Primary for Read for the Top. This is a poor rural school that used to be bottom in results of their division of 54 schools. This year the grade 7 who did R4T last year captured the top three places in English and one girl had 100% in math. The teachers are ecstatic. I mentioned this is a Virtues school and about 30 of the students recited their virtue for us, which I have on video. Unfortunately it needs some captions before I can post it as the accents are hard to understand. I'm adding a couple of shots of the students in the competition (Concentration and Consultation), the staff and one of the flat tire that greeted us as we left. The road was very bad and stony!

Here's a different story

The newspapers are full of Somalia skirmishes, university closures because of the strike by profs, costs of staple foods and exam cheating. All getting quite ho-hum. Two days ago the news was that Maasai morans (young warriors in beads and red cloaks and spears,) had invaded a girls' boarding school looking for wives and attempted to abduct some of the girls. They were repulsed, the girls fled and hid in the bush. The young men claim they are not being provided for by their elders.The Principal is putting in more security (which the parents will have to pay for)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pace of Grace workshop

Twenty eight highly focused people attended the seminar on Satusrday, Their evaluations of their day are humbling. Here are some pictures: the Virtues table with meaningful things from Kenya and Canada; the working group, and the ladies who prepared tea and mandazi (delicious small donuts) and a very substantial lunch for us. Many people travel with little or no breakfast, so we like to give them a snack at the break. Then we usually continue to the end of the workshop (maybe 2 or 3 pm), eat a meal and everyone goes home with a full tummy

Friday, November 11, 2011

Two weeks of silence!

So much has been happening that I had no idea it is nearly two weeks since I posted.

Rod has flown to Canada for his medical appointments. He is booked to return Dec 4 but we are hoping it could be sooner. So I am alone and busy boiling & filtering water and taking care of all the other little tasks that need to be done when you live in rural Africa. Our agent, Nancy, has arrived and settled in to her cute little apartment on the compound. maybe pictures later.

Johnstone, our medical student, passed his exams and went to Nairobi for
his certificate. He has an internship at a public hospital about 30 minutes away and not too far from his home. Here he is proudly showing his qualification.
We have contracted six water projects, three shallow wells and three protected springs, bringing in all clean,safe water to about 2,000 people. Next week we shall start to visit the communtities who have to set up a management committee to take care of the well. The shilling has dropped against the dollar, so we are hoping to have enough remaining funds to put in eco- san toilets in a school where the girls' latrines collapsed. The school cannot reconstruct in another spot because the water table is too high and the latrines will contaminate the ground water.
The news here is full of the rise in prices. Our Advisory Committee chair says he has never seen anything like what has happened in Kenya over the last four months. Prices of basic foods have tripled and those already constantly hungry are in a desperate way. There are real fears that hostility and violence are on the rise and that next year's election could go badly. We are putting together a plan with our Kenyan facilitators to expand Virtues training to more communties to promote Civic Education and peace. We very much need funding for this effort.
There was a scathing article this week about the public universities and the so-called parallel program. Anyone with enough money and a mediocre pass can get into any prgramme including the formerly tightly controlled medecine and engineering faculties. There is a low fee subsidized program for 'A' students. The universities are coining money but have not added staff or facilities. Instead they are investing in commercial enterprises. Classes run to the hundreds and lecturers pay others to teach the class. There is little research anywhere. Now the professors are all on strike, students have been sent away, graduation ceremonies (usually in Dec) will probably be cancelled and exams have been interrupted. All this only reinforces our focus on job training for those who ahve not been able to continue their education.
Our meeting with our Advisory Committee this week set our dates for the next few weeks:
Pace of Grace (advanced Virtues) seminar Nov 12; Read for the Top at Mwiyenga pri (their own initiative) Nov 14; Visit to Isecheno to set up Read for the Top and hopefully a feeding program Nov 17; Dedication of our newly painted Virtues Centre Nov 16; Business training for leaders of the groups Nov. 26, soap making for the Youth Group Nov 25 and interviews for job training scholarships Nov 30.
I think I'll leave December's plans for later!