Flight Crew – Day 3 with The Grandmothers

Every year, telling the story of the grandmothers is by far the most difficult to share and despite how many times I write it and rewrite it, I fear that I am just not getting the message across as clearly as it need be.

We begin our “grandmother day” with a visit to St. John Ambulance in Embu. Today we were greeted by the entire board, rather than just Nelson – who is our primary contact. We began with a full board meeting at the Doris Coons Centre in Embu, discussing the events of the last year, the plans for the future and the issues arising that they hope Our Kenyan Kids will be able to assist with. The board is very kind and welcoming, sharing with complete transparency, disclosing not only the positives, but the negatives as well, ensuring that we will be able to work together to find solutions to overcome the difficulties they face.

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Our first stop following our meeting is the fruit and grain market. There we purchase enough beans and maize to give each of the grandmothers their own bag. This is a gift to the grandmothers made by the travel team on behalf of OKKids each year. After our trip to the open market, we visit the Nakumat (grocery store) to attain yet another gift for each of the grandmothers, this one on behalf of the travel team. This year, we had already packaged toothpaste, floss and smaller items to donate but knew we wanted to give them a special treat. We had all thought how wonderful a little bag of candy would be for each but upon arrival at the Nakumat we discovered there was none… In hindsight, we would discover a much better treat. Nelson encouraged us to buy each of them a loaf of bread and a small container of milk. Seemed wise, we all agreed, the team purchased, splitting the cost equally among us and headed to the first group.

As always, we were greeted with open arms and huge smiles. Mother Margaret was at the roadside waiting for our arrival, the smile beaming from ear to ear. Mother Margaret was OKKids first recipient of Selenium.  Selenium is a nutritional supplement that has proven most successful in HIV patients. It is an immune booster and the results that we have seen, from the recipients taking this medication is staggering. The supply of Selenium comes from our partner Paul Willis from a pharmaceutical company in the United States – which is currently opening a plant in Uganda – which will make the steady supply much more successful. Without selenium, those that are HIV positive remain very ill. With it, their health is visibly improved, they are able to live a normal life, maintain a healthy weight and all round physical condition.

We could clearly see that each member of this first group was looking and feeling exceptionally well despite the challenges they have faced of late. The terrible drought in Kenya (not a drop of rain in the last 5 months in a very hot country) has caused monstrous problems with dry wells and no crops. The ground is hard and cracked, the dust fills the air in every region and this group of grandmothers is truly feeling the strain. The food they would normally produce is not only used to feed their own families, but also to sell at market, and without the rains, they are facing unimaginable hardships.

Among the small group that gathered was a father and his young daughter. His wife and other three children were not present. We were given a tour of their home. This heartbreaking moment was one none of us will soon forget. A tiny 6×8 shack, with holes throughout the roof and walls, a dirt floor, one bed, cluttered with their sole possessions including a cage for their chickens each night was home for 6 people! There is just no way for anyone to truly imagine this, without having seen it for yourself. We were devastated that this man and his family had so little.  Yet he, and each of the others, not only welcomed us with open arms, they shared their stories, they laughed with us, they proudly showed us all that they had and humbly asked us to keep them in their prayers and help however we could.

The second group of grandmothers was a short ten minute drive down the road. This group has been actively involved in doing bead work, making purses, wallets, necklaces, etc to sell at market. They support each other by sharing livestock such as bunnies and goats. They had also hand knit baby outfits that they sell at market and also brought to our meeting today for us to purchase and in doing so, support them. Again, the biggest issue was the drought and lack of water which made providing for themselves impossible. They are a very proactive group but need assistance with funds to get new projects, such as soap making, up and running.

The third group of grandmothers were also awaiting our arrival by the side of the road. They greeted us with song and continued to sing and dance as we followed them along a short path and onto the yard (and I don’t mean green grass and shrubbery) where we all pulled up a plastic outside chair and began our short meeting. During these meetings (with each group), everyone introduces themselves, shares the stories of the last year, the good, the bad and everything in between. Almost before we started one grandmother looked me straight in the eye and declared, “I’m hungry!” Jokingly I told her to hold her horses and carried on with what I was doing. Only moments later we distributed the grains, beans, bread and milk that we had purchased and were flabbergasted at the speed with which they actually ate.

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These people were quite literally starving.  The lack of water and lack of livestock has truly made their lives near unbearable, and yet their concern was not for themselves, but for one more grandmother, who belongs to their group and is currently in hospital having been recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. One can almost be certain that her selection of treatments will not be nearly as aggressive as what someone in North America would have.

The journey back to Nairobi was a somber one as it always is after a day of visiting the grandmothers. Such strong, independent, smart men and women, and yet they are faced with such unbelievable challenges each and every day. We know there is so much more that we should do for them, but we are just a small group; we need your help to help them.

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Day 2 from the 2017 ‘Flight Crew’

Monday morning we were up and out early. There were a few stops to make before we headed towards Gathaithi School for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. We had to check out of the Methodist Guest House as we will be spending the evening in Embu at the Panesic Hotel.

After an adventurous drive, we eventually arrived at Gathaithi School just before noon. Both JoAnne and Donna were flabbergasted to see the motorcycles being driven with chesterfields on the back – I think they didn’t believe Rita and I when we told them it really does happen.  But lo and behold they saw it with their own two eyes, not once but twice!… And the second time, as we passed, they noticed that between the driver and the sofa were also two coffee tables! The roadside scenery was similar to previous year’s visits, but for someone who has never witnessed a couch on a motorbike, or a cow or a goat or a donkey grazing along the side of the road, or somebody doing their laundry in the roadside creek…. It is all new, and all part of the adventure.

Once we had finally arrived at Gathaithi, we were (as usual) welcomed with open arms. Manager Patricia escorted us and some others into her office to sit and chat a bit. We discussed the many things that have happened over the past year and shared in their excitement for the future.

They had one cow when we visited in January of 2016; she is now the proud mother of a calf and they are happy to be able to use the milk in the kitchen for daily purposes. All of their ducks and chickens are prospering, allowing them to collect eggs on a daily basis, meaning they have not had to purchase them offsite all year.  In the past they have purchased their water from the community, however this option has become quite costly and frankly not sustainable for them any longer causing them great grief in trying to maintain a large enough food supply for the children. Really it has become prohibitive to watering their crops and using the greenhouse to its fullest potential. This explains why their biggest and most joyful announcement was that “Living Water International” has helped them to prepare a grant application and they successfully received funds from American General Electric which has enabled them to drill their own well. They have also received a cash donation to purchase the pumps required to use the well and are hoping in the near future to have the well fully functional and providing their water supplies. The cost of community water has become too much for them to handle and so to be able to have their own well was most joyful. The manager and staff at Gathaithi are such hard workers and have such positive attitudes their ultimate dream is that once the well is up and functional they will be able to bottle and sell their own water, making this another bonus, once again proving sustainability.

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The school actually educates close to 700 students and so the school is very active. There are 20 sheltered children, 10 boys and 10 girls – who live onsite at all times; 87 outreach, meaning they live at home but require some assistance from the school for food and care; 34 orphans who live with a family member or guardian that the school helps to support any way that they can; 53 vulnerable children, who may be at risk, have a close connection with social worker Joseph who works full time at Gathaithi. 

As the children, who are supported by Our Kenyan Kids gathered in the dining hall, Rita, Donna and JoAnne pulled the hockey bag full of school supplies and toys from the van and prepared to show the children all the wonderful things we had brought with us today.  Much to our surprise, they actually remembered us from last year! We handed out soccer balls, frisbees. skipping ropes, pencils, pens, crayons, colouring books, notepads and blank books. The children were all absolutely thrilled!

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We had a quick tour of a few of the classrooms, always grinning at their fascination with the colour of our skin and desire to touch us! Someone actually said to us yesterday, “You muzungus (white people) all look alike!” …. The laughter was contagious – you see…. We really are all alike; we even face the same issues!

We visited the kitchen where Millicent prepared us a scrumptious lunch, played a wee bit with the children before they had to return to class and then discussed the many trials and tribulations that lay ahead and how we can continue to work together to help them achieve their goals.

With the help of OKKids and the generous donations of people just like YOU, we can help them to achieve their goals.

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Day 1 from the 2017 ‘Flight Crew’

The day’s seemed endless waiting for March 30th to finally arrive, but then as it drew near, to within a few days, everything seemed to happen at once and before I knew it, it was time to go. But wait! My bags weren’t packed, my donations were not separated, I hadn’t checked off even half of my checklist, but no matter, it was time to leave. For the next 13 days, I would be on Kenyan time. Pole, Pole.

Bill Hoftyzer was kind enough to take the four of us to the airport (and even after having endured all of our craziness for the entire 2 hours, ) he promised to return again , late in the evening on the 10th to pick us all up again and ensure we all made it home safely. 

A slow start to our journey could have been negatively construed but alas my travel companions would have no part in this. Despite our plane being almost 2 hours late (just arriving at the gate!), it was conveniently referred to as a blessing that our wait in Casablanca would now only be 4 hours long, rather than 6. 

When you consider that we left Brockville quite promptly at 4pm on Thursday and didn’t actually arrive at our hotel until 4am Saturday, and nobody was complaining or whining or making much of a fuss (well, other than me, because I was sick when I left, and still sick, and a wee bit of a princess – but they weren’t beating me yet), I took this as a good sign. Now, it really was 4am (in Nairobi) and when you’ve been awake that long – it felt like 4am; the reality is, if we did the conversion, our internal clocks should have only felt it to be 9pm on Friday night.

With a roll of the eyes and a sheepish grin, we all filed into our rooms and set our alarms for three hours later when our first day of visiting the projects would begin. Winnie arrived at our hotel early (yes Bill… EARLY).  Although Winnie and I have chatted numerous time on skype, this was our actual first time to meet in person and for JoAnne, Rita and Donna, it was a first opportunity for them to become acquainted. John arrived at the scheduled time and we were off to Kambui.

The drive was much shorter than I remembered it, less than two hours in fact and that included our regularly scheduled stop at the local Nakumat first to ensure we had the required supplies for snacks and drinks back at the room at the end of the day.

April is a holiday month at Kambui and so our arrival was timed so as to catch as many as we could before they had all left to go home and visit their families. The principal was involved in a meeting regarding having the asbestos leaking roof replaced while the children were off site and so our time with her was extremely limited. She was able to peek her head in for a slight second and grab a photo shortly after our arrival and then we saw her again briefly as we were leaving. None the less, the school secretary —- was kind enough to sit with us and share what has been happening at the school. She reviewed the report cards and achievements of the four children that we support there and elaborated on the three others who were in our program but have just recently graduated class 8 and moved on.

During the month of April the school is able to play host to a wide variety of visiting students who are participating in “tournament games.” And so these students ran about as we were visiting as well. 

Some of the children gathered behind the classrooms so that we could interact with them for a time, share the new balls and other playground equipment that we brought for them (thanks to a grant from the RTO) and then escort us to the playground where we witnessed the joy that they are getting from the new playground equipment that OKKids has recently had installed (again thanks to a grant from the RTO); the merry-go-round and teeter tauter being the two most popular. There is still some work to be done, some swings to be installed and  a sandpit at the bottom of the slide – but it is so refreshing to see even as much as we have, in comparison to what that very playground looked like just one year ago when we visited.

We were given a tour of a couple of the classrooms as well as the dormitories, (where we were able to see the mattresses and mattress covers we recently purchased – thanks to the RTO) and had some moments of reflection and brainstorming power moments before we headed off.  

It’s easy enough to walk in, look around; share a laugh with the kids, play some ball and then head off – but take a moment to actually look around, let the reality of what you are witnessing sink in, and you leave with a far different perspective than that to which you arrived.

To explain. Imagine walking into your child’s bedroom. What do you see? Really think about it and take a second to write it down. Let me help you to begin.There are nice warm blankets on the bed, probably a teddy or two or maybe some dolls. There is likely a carpet or an area rug on the floor. You probably see a dresser, if like my children’s rooms – you can’t see the top of it because it is completely covered in toys, books, video games, clothes, etc. If you look around a wee bit more, you might see posters on the walls, pictures of their friends, napsacks and shoes strewn about on the floor – the list goes on and on. As we stood there in the silence, looking to our right, we could see a dorm room – usually consisting of 4-6 bunk beds (sleeps 8-12 children) and a bed in the centre of the room for the “dorm mother.” That’s it. No carpet, no fuzzy blankets, no toys, no teddy’s. No pictures on the wall or hand made cards from their friends. To the left were cubbies, where the children could store their shoes or something of that sort. Above the cubbies was a collection of tin trunks. Each trunk no bigger than my suitcase really. Each child has a trunk – inside their individual trunks is everything they own; everything they hold dear or precious to themselves – basically – their entire lives. If you rest here a moment, and let that truly understand why OKKids supports Kambui School for the Deaf.

The ride home is always far quieter than the ride there, or to any of the schools and orphanages that we support. The day was long, the team was exhausted; but the day was most definitely worth the trip.

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Exciting News

We are pleased to announce a new partnership with The Retired Teachers of Ontario (RTO/ERO), an organization of retired teachers and others who worked in the education field. RTO/ERO provides its members with comprehensive health and travel insurance plans, a travel program, and acts as an advocate for retirees, seniors, children and active educators. Each year this organization provides financial assistance to a number of education related and/or community projects at the local, provincial or world level. Last spring the local RTO/ERO Leeds and Grenville District 48 selected an application from Our Kenyan Kids to submit at the provincial level. We are excited to announce that the Provincial Project Service to Others committee has chosen our submission on behalf of Kambui School for the Hearing Impaired. We have received a cheque for $4000!

 

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2016 Provincial Service to Others District 48 Grant Recipient – Representing the Kambui School for the Hearing Impaired in Kenya: Carolyn Matheson and Donna McMillan (Board Members of Our Kenyan Kids); with Martin Higgs (Past Pres. RTO), Dave Heuther (Pres. District 48), Lisa Leroux (Secretary District 48)

 Project funds from The Retired Teachers of Ontario will address three areas of need at Kambui School. 

  • Library: Funds will be used to enrich the education of students by providing books and other learning materials for students and teachers.
  • Playground: Funds will be used to replace unsafe playground equipment with repaired and/or different equipment which will enable not only younger students to play with friends at recess or after school, but older students to benefit from physical activity and social interactions with peers as well.
  • Dormitories are crowded. Mattresses are thin, and mattress covers are stained, soiled or threadbare. Funds will be used to begin to improve the health, well-being and comfort of students residing in the dormitories. Fifty new mattresses and mattress covers will be purchased with funds from this project.

Watch for updates about this 2017 project at Kambui School for the Hearing Impaired. Thank you again to The Retired Teachers of Ontario.

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“Soup”er Lunch – 19th February

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Christmas is coming!

Christmas Shopping? Two ideas to consider:

Crafts from Kenya will be for sale at Yuletide Fare, Wall Street United Church Brockville on November 25 (10am-5pm) and 26 (10am-2pm) . All proceeds support the work of Our Kenyan Kids.

 

Meaningful Christmas Gifts: Make a donation to Our Kenyan Kids in honour of a friend or relative and a special card will be sent to announce your gift. Donations may be made by cheque sent to Our Kenyan Kids, P.O. Box 164, Brockville ON K6V 5V2 OR online at Canada Helps.org.  Include the name and address of the person being honoured.

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In the news

Board member, Jan Murray, has been in Kenya the last two weeks.  She has published the first of two articles on InsideBrockville.com about her journey.

You can read it here.

 

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