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

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ekwanda Primary:Read for the Top and an appeal

This weeek we started Read for the Top finals in Ekwanda primary. The children received the books a few months ago and this last week the teacher in charge was transferred! We have two other dedicated teachers who have taken over, so on Tuesday we distributed the T-shirts to an eager class of fifty grade 6 (now grade 7 of course). On Thusday we will do the heats and on Tuesday of next week the finals.
Here are some of the students in their new T shirts with their books.

This school has a Special Education unit for mentally handicapped. The building has been condemned as unfit for use, so now the class is in temporary accommodation which will be needed by other classes. We are teaching interlocking brick making to a group of young men in a neighbouring community through a Rotary matching grant. We would very much like to use them to rebuild the special unit, thus rendering a vital service to the Ekwanda school community. We would have to raise some funds to pay the young men for their work. About $1,000 would allow us to do the work for two classrooms. I wonder if a school, a church, a teacher association would be interested in starting off the fund?

Rest and relaxation

1)The lush vegetation 2)relaxing 3)the forest canopy

These teachers are amazing for their stamina and tolerance. It is very hot right now and hard to find a cooling draft of air. After the wonderful three days of teaching we took off for some R & R at RondoRetreat Centre in the Kakamega Forest. When you fly over you can see how little is left of the trees that once extended from coast to coast. The beautiful trees, flowers and animals of the forest create a whole different world from the dirt and noise of the town.

The school where we interviewed students for scholarships recently is at the gate to the forest. There is a new head teacher and I wanted to be sure to leave him messages and information about the children we will be helping, so we stopped off to visit for a few minutes.

In the past the majority of places in Form 1 in National (the best) schools have been taken by students from private schools with small classes and sufficient resources. This year the Ministry made a new system whereby most places go to public schools, especialy in the district. There is a big outcry from the private schools, but it looks as if the system will hold firm. Two students from one of my rural schools have been 'called' to National schools. The only problem remaining is the issue of fees. Some students will not be able to take up the offer of a place because their families are not able to meet the fees. But it is a good start on equalizing the system which gives such an unfair advantage to privileged children.

so much to tell you!

The last couple of weeks have been extra full and there is a lot to tell you. I think I should break it up into smaller chunks.

I have mentioned the teacher seminars planned for this month. All the organizing by email went amazingly smoothly thanks to a positive and cooperative attitude from everyone. Four American teachers arrived in Nairobi on January 6 and in Kakamega on January 8, landing at the new commercial airstrip about 2 kilometres out of town.
After a couple of days looking around and finalizing the planning, the first seminar began in Kakamega on January 12. Three days of intensive work on methods and strategies for teaching English (at Elementary) and Math (at secondary) were received with delight by the Kenyan participants. The teachers in the rural areas rarely receive professional development training in their own districts and with their immediate colleagues. Just the opportunity to work together and share was so much appreciated. The evaluations all ask for More! More! More!.

It would be wonderful to be able to repeat this another year.

While familiarizing themselves with rural Africa, our visitors accompanied us to the hand over of a well at Mulaka (the pictures show the original slow spring and the new well with plenty of water)

and a protected spring at Shibiriri

The joy and gratitude of the community is always a very emotional experience.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

cell phones and banking

I continually sing the praises of the use of the cell phone in Africa.Technology enables many 'unbanked' to use their cell phones to send money for family, to pay bills and even hold cash while they travel. The system of Mpesa which is run by Safaricom (a partner of vodaphone) allows deposits & transfers by phone of up to 140,000 shillings (about $1800) There are other cell phone companies that do similar things. One has to register with mpesa and if there is money in the account you can use the link on your phone to send money to anyone else with a cell phone number. There is a small fee of about 30/- (35c)
Some of our women's groups are sending micro finance payments by mpesa when we cannot send someone to collect.

Another function is Mkesho whereby people can keep money in a secure account. I don’t think it pays interest, but is wonderful for those who are far from traditional banks or who cannot afford the high fees.

Cell phones are everywhere and have proved invaluable in communication Landlines have always been unreliable and expensive. I suspect they might eventually disappear. We already ignore the landline number in schools (which hardly ever works) and use the principal’s cell phone.

A ‘Line’ or SIM card costs 100/- ($1.20) and can be inserted in your phone yourself. ‘Airtime’ can be bought in units of 50/- by means of a scratch card whereby you enter the number of our line. One can also buy airtime from the mpesa account, and can send airtime to another phone for use by someone else.

I have even heard discussion that voting in the next election might be by phone.

We use the same system for our computer modem which is basically a tiny cell phone and has a SIM card which we top up with ‘airtime’ I should also note that there are no ‘long distance’ charges. We can call anywhere in Kenya for the same cost. And there is no charge for receiving calls. Text messages are also very cheap and used extensively.

When we have travelled to Uganda & S Africa our phones automatically switch to the local network (ugandatel or vodaphone) and we continue to use them as normal with local rates (even if we call Kenya or overseas). Calling Canada at the moment is 3/- per minute (2.5c)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Scholarship interviews

Interview team and Sheilla

Francine, Dickson,
On Tuesday this week the Tembo team went to Isecheno primary, a small rural school. A sponsor is offering scholarships and we were there to interview candidates. Three fortunate children will have fees paid at good secondary (probably boarding) school for the next four years.

Cape Town

Nelson Mandela statue at prison entrance

The famous 'Table Cloth' descends over the mountain

We spent ten days away over Christmas in delightful Cape Town, returning on Dec 31. We went to Christmas Day service in the Anglican cathedral where Archbishop Desmon Tutu used to be Dean. The city has changed even in the three or four years since we last saw it. Because of the World Cup, infrastructure (at least in the centre) has improved with new roads, a rebuilt airport and of course the stadium.

We wanted to hire a car for wider exploring but there was not one to be had at any agency--there were so many visitors.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The story of Esther

Girls and young women in rural Kenya struggle to go to school. They have huge family responsibities and little hope of escape, except through education. A friend sent me the story of a girl (I will call her Esther) who attends a very poor school in a rural area, about 20 kilometres from Kakamega. She has given me permission to use the story, but I have edited some elements. These are my friend's words:

Back in 2008 after looking at the photos of a beautiful 10 year old girl I'd seen over and over on my two visits to the school in 2007 , I send an email to a local resident asking her name and details of her life. When there, I had seen her daily either in her school uniform or carrying endless containers of water from the river.... back and forth all day, it seemed. But she was so photogenic......and shy and lovely....and luminescent.

It was at least three months till the contact went into Kakamega on his trusty bicycle and saw my email with photo of the girl and replied. Apparently the girl was a neighbour whose family compound was near his guest house that we stayed in. He gave me her name. Esther is the 21st child of a polygamous family. Her own mama had birthed 10 children and she was the second youngest. I had asked if she was in school and found that she was indeed in school in Standard 4 and at the top of her class. I was also told that her future was already determined since her father had promised her in marriage to an older man in the area by age 13.
I was shocked. I asked by email if there was any way I could ask for her to be educated instead, offering myself as her sponsor. And lo and behold... my contact negotiated this for me.
It was 2 or 3 months before I heard that the father had granted my request. More years of connection at a distance went by. I was now sponsoring Projects in the school. . I offered to pay her fees whenever she was sent from school for lack of them... and later provided sanitary pads for all the menstruating girls in the school so that they wouldn't miss out on classes each month. Esther became what my colleague called "our poster child" and we featured her in our photos for the projects and at the Grand Opening of the Well, she read a beautiful poem about orphans, I am told. She received daily 'honorary' orphans food rations and notebooks and pencils. My friend often remarked that she was a positive role model for the other children.
In Standard Six, she was doing quite well in her studies, Standard Seven, she wasn't doing so well. I had asked all my volunteer teachers to TUTOR her as much as possible. They all felt that she WAS A HARD-WORKING STUDENT but lacked the basic skills that were not taught to her in the lower standards. I guess they were unable to teach her from their own lack of skills???
And now in her KCPE, scoring 11th place out of 42. Anyway....that's the story of Esther and the marriage that wasn't.

Of note: Girls in this village still disappear from school into marriage, even mid-term.
Yet..this year 21 of the 42 sitting for KCPE were girls !!!

The Tembo team went to this school to interview for scholarships. Three students will be starting secondary school in February thanks to the scholarships provided. We were able to negotiate a place for Esther at a high achieving boarding primary school where she will 'rewind' her final year of primary school. This gives her a much better chance of fitting successfully into a high school the following year.
I will post some pictures of our interviews and more details in the next message.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

the end of the year: wishing all our friends health and happiness in the New Year

We can hardly believe we have just had our eighth Christmas in Africa! ten
years ago we would never have imagined the work God has led us too.
Looking over the past year our first surge of thanks must be for good health
and energy to continue the fairly hectic pace we live both here in Kenya and
in Canada.
The next source of joy is our grandchildren. We received the gift of a new
grandson in February. The other two (Maryn, 3, and Elijah, nearly two) are
equally precious and we miss them very much.

At the prompting of the Cathedral in Victoria (whose donations have
supported our work) we formed our own charitable organisation and received
our official status in Sept. This means we can give tax receipts for
donations. (TEMBO-KENYA stands for Teaching, Empowering, Mentoring and
Building Opportunity. Tembo means 'elephant' in Swahili) We received a flood
of donations for water and education as well as Virtues training.
-We are putting in 3 wells and protecting five springs. The joy of the
communities receiving the gift of clean water is moving.
-We interviewed for job training and will be sending a new list of young
adults to learn skills to help them 'put food on the table' Although we did
not intend to cover scholarships at secondary and post-secondary, we have
received dedicated donations for a few students. We will be interviewing
this week.
-Read for the Top has been a huge success and we start the heats and finals
in 10 classrooms later this month. We are reaching over 500 elementary
-This next week we shall welcome four American teachers who will be
conducting seminars in three areas: Language Arts for Elem and Math for Sec.
We expect about 300 teachers to attend in all. It has been amazing how this
has come together. We see God's hand in this. Our slogan is 'help the
children by helping their teachers.' If this is a successful endeavour we
hope that other teachers might be willing to come in future years. We would
also like to see young (college age) people who would like to spend some
time helping in the 'real' Africa

-Virtues training has a long list of requests. We did a training and a
follow up for all Anglican clergy in the diocese and have also run sessions
for other pastors.. A couple of teacher seminars and a few community groups
bring us up to about 800 people since we returned in Oct. We are fortunate
to have the full support of the Prov. Dir. of Ed who insists that we are
really part of his staff and keeping his schools safe and peaceful. We plan
to train more facilitators in March, just before we leave and some businesses
are enquiring about training their staff.

Our Kenyan advisory Board is a joy and inspiration to us in all the

What do we wish for? How about more hours in the day? We desperately need
some office help as the projects expand. We have a young woman now part
time. Isabella is an orphan and we have supported her through school to a
Higher Diploma in Bus management. We have tried to get her a student visa to
finish her degree in Canada (she has a place offered) but the High
Commission is digging in their heels and refusing to accept her despite our
guarantees of sponsorship, basically because she has no resources of her
own. (duh!) We continue to pray that there will be someone there who will relent
and show understanding and compassion.

I try to blog a couple of times a week to keep our friends and prayer
partners up to date. I can usually post pictures but videos don't seem to
work too well, since our connection is so slow.
Similarly our web site must remain static until we get back to Canada and hi -
speed internet. When I am home I expect to put a couple more movies on you

The sun is blazing, the birds are singing their hearts out We are now into
the dry season and likely will not see rain again until Feb. My prayers for
you all and best wishes for the New Year