Day 2 – Gathaithi Home for Orphans & Vulnerable Children

Headed out this morning about 10am for Gathaithi Home for Orphans and Vulnerable Children and thankfully did not hit any traffic, allowing us to arrive by 11am.  The school was loud and alive with singing and dancing and drums and flutes as Simon had arranged for a multitude of talent to entertain us for the day.

Patricia greeted us and we headed inside to get the business of the day taken care of before anything else. However, Simon kidnapped me before I chance to even sit. He had a classroom full of students who had been anxiously awaiting our arrival and needed to be greeted immediately as they were heading out.

I returned a few minutes later and we spent at least an hour engaging with the Gathaithi Board of Directors, discussing the events of 2017 and their hopes and dreams for 2018.

Last time we visited, they were extremely excited about a new and almost completed well water project. Their hope was to be able to produce enough water, to bottle and sell and this would help to create income for them. However, when the project neared completion, the neighbor, who owned the actual property on which the well was situated, reneged on the deal and took the well for themselves, allowing Gathaithi only a small access to water, merely enough for washing.  Saddened by this unfortunate turn of events, most would be devastated. The staff and volunteers at Gathaithi however have looked past the negative and moved on, with bigger and better – and smarter ideas for the future, wasting no time on regrets or anger. Manager Patricia adds, “That’s part of life, we don’t complain.”

Our Kenyan Kids currently supports 91 children in total at this project. Ninety-one on site and four in colleges and transition.  There are forty-five in primary school, seventeen in boarding school and the remaining ones are on site.

What Gathaithi hopes to provide these children with is:

1. Food

2. Shelter

3. Clothing

4. Healthcare

5. Education

The biggest challenges being high school fees.

They are sponsored by local churches, have self help groups, and the government will chip in with small bursaries for high school fees. Primary school is free, but high school is not, and most cannot afford it. They do everything they can to help offset costs so that they are not solely dependent on donors, but working diligently toward self sufficiency.

Their most successful efforts have come through three particular fundraisers each year. In April of each year, they have a 25km walk. Neighbours, friends, family and anyone they can reach, will make a donation – much the same as we would hold a walk-a-thon fundraiser. Last year, they raised 300,000 Kenyan Shillings ($3610.85 Canadian) from this event.

In July, they hold an event that they call “Friends Day”. On this day they invite all of their friends and family to big, old fashioned, family fun day. In 2017, they had over 200 in attendance and raised 250,000 Kenyan Shillings ($3009.04 Canadian)

A third fundraiser earned them 500,000 kes more.

Their dedication and positivity gives us great joy.  Set  backs are not something they focus on, but rather, they live to see the positives; to be good people,  to be good to one another and to live and to learn.

Currently they are running a dairy program. They have one cow, and three heifers. The one dairy cow produces enough milk to supply the school with all of their needs PLUS allowing them to sell up to 25kg of milk per day which in turn helps them to feed the children and supply enough grains to feed the cattle. Milk is currently sold to 5 neighbouring schools as well as members of the community. They are hoping to have three milk producing cows by year’s end.

Their next Endeavour is to begin a tailoring business through the school. Students will produce uniforms for children at the neighbouring schools, and hopefully down the road, even more. In order to be able to accomplish this task, they will need supplies to get it up and running and are looking for donations of sewing machines, (5 different types of machines – two of those being sweater knitting machines, and sewing machines). This not only helps to teach their own students advanced sewing techniques, but also allows them to create an income.

They have recently been nominated as the Best Children’s Home in the country and because of such elite title; the government recently rescued 6 children just last month and brought them to Gathaithi.

They are still actively running the only jiggers program around and have just this month treated two new cases successfully.

After our update, we were given a short tour and then entertained by the children, and by visiting children who were all ecstatic to see us.

The greenhouse, which was donated by “Maitland Garden of Hope” is suffering a wee bit due to lack of water, however as you will see from the photos, it is in the process of re-growth thanks to a recent replanting. They are currently brainstorming ways to increase water supply so that the greenhouse may flourish all year round.

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End of Day 1

The team’s first day began in Kawangware, but ended in Kambui.  We arrived just shortly after lunchtime, and although we could hear the commotion of students around us, there were none to be found. Lunchtime afterall is lunchtime to children in any language.

We began our visit by being sent to the office! Margaret, who is considered second in command, greeted us and spoke of some of the accomplishments and challenges the students have faced in 2017. She was most proud of their recent accomplishments – having received (very large) trophies for Best Primary School in the District, another for academic achievements and a third for best signing.

The Kambui School for the Hearing Impaired is one of only three in all of Kenya. They currently boast an enrollment of 250 children (30 of which are orphans), ranging in age from 6 to 16 with 24 teachers, and 24 support staff including house parents and kitchen staff.

Principal of the school, Connie Mutiso was away when we arrived at a government evaluation of the school but was able to sneak away to greet us for a short time to discuss some of the schools recent achievements as well as hopes and goals for 2018.

We saw a multitude of improvements as we walked the grounds and visited the dormitories. We were thrilled to discover that all of the asbestos has been removed and the dormitories are all sporting bright blue sheet metal roofing and a fresh coat of paint inside as well as new security doors. The new mattresses, supplied by the Retired Teachers Association made a world of difference in the appearance (as well as the comfort level we are certain) of the bunk beds. Dormitories were neat and tidy, beds made, shoes neatly lining the walls, side by side – the girls of course a wee bit tidier than the boys.

We examined the cubbies in the entrance ways, which for years have been used only to store the children’s shoes, and house their trunks. However, Connie and Margaret explained that they would like to have the old and dilapidated cubbies replaced with new, sturdier wood, doors on the cubbies and locks on each. Therefore they could do away with older metal trunks which are awkward and sharp, causing a daily safety hazard.

They also have a dire need for improvements to the bathroom including a handicapped washroom. They would like to be able to accompany that with new tiles to replace their current broken flooring. The new mattresses, recently received are proving to be better than they had ever hoped and now would love to see a donation of more of the same so that each child may have one.

They are currently working on opening a “Hair and Beauty” training classroom. This will help the students to learn a trade, other than the sewing, knitting and carpentry that they already offer – allowing the students just one more option to become self sufficient, wage earning adults. To do this however, they will need supplies such as furniture (table’s chairs, wash basins) as well as teaching tools such as mannequin heads, trade tools and teaching supplies.

We visited the new library – which was non-existent at our last visit – is now an entire classroom filled with tables, chairs, books, games, learning tools, skipping ropes, and so much more. The children were ecstatic to receive and are getting unbelievable use of this new facility, also donated by the RTO.

The school currently raises enough cattle that they supply their own students with ample milk supply and the rest is sold to the community, providing them with enough funds to buy future feed for the cattle and the remainder of the funds going back to help the children. Every quarter, the children are offsite for one month. It is during this time that they are able to sell 100% of the milk they produce, which greatly helps with keeping with other livestock and future needs of the children.

For the children, their happiest moments are spent on their brand new playground. Principal Mutiso hopes to one day be able to raise enough money to enclose the playground with fencing noting that the playground is the first place the children race to when they wake and the first place they rush to at the end of the  day and she would like to see it enclosed to help with safety issues.

Before departing we were able to distribute a wide range of toys and learning supplies that we were able to gather and bring with us, including Rita’s dolls which were given to four (of the 7) students that Our Kenyan Kids supports through tuition there. The other three are now housed in other facilities since passing their most recent exams but are still supported by OKKids.

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Day 1 – A visit to Kawangware

Waking up to 25 degrees has definitely got its advantages, but recognizing that those temperatures also mean the land is dry, the soil is in dire need of watering and the crops are suffering may have you rethinking your momentary sigh of relief.

Our first morning came quickly since we had arrived so late the previous night. None the less, the team was anxious to get started and so up and out we were, at 9am. Steve Lombo, the Chair of our Advisory Board in Kenya came to greet us at our hotel first thing in the morning, before our day began, and of course Winnie, our Project Administrator was also there, bright and early, eager to begin the project visits.

Kawangware Community Tailoring Shop, was our first stop on the day’s agenda. The school was almost full when we arrived, a very rare thing to see since the upheaval caused by the elections last fall. Monica was outside, anxious to greet us and so our visit began.

After our own introductions, each of the students stood to introduce themselves and give us a brief synopsis of why they were there; what drew them to enroll in Monica’s tailoring school and what they see for their future.

One student, 25-year old Jennifer, stood out for me.

Young, (as most of the students are), married and not living at home with her parents as many of the others were, Jennifer spoke of the empowerment of women, women’s rights, that now is the time for all women to step up and out of the shadows of men. She longs for the day when all women can stand tall, walk proud and no longer fear the demoralization that so often happens – on a daily basis here. For one day, the sex-trade, to be a distant memory.

Jennifer lives right in Kawangware, which is beyond the scope of most of our Canadian friend’s imagination. The streets are not paved, the homes and shops are huts, at best, many of which have little or no electricity. Since the upheaval of the fall elections, many of these buildings have been badly vandalized if not burned completely to the ground. It is what she has always known, which is perhaps part of the reason that she is not a bitter and angry individual, but rather, sports one of the biggest smiles and jocular laugh we have heard all day.

Jennifer has been enrolled at the school for only six months. She is a strong supporter of women’s rights, women in business and in society and in the support of one’s self. It is her wish for, “Every woman out there, to step out and believe in their passion.”

One of the greater needs today at the Kawangware Community Tailoring Shop is for constant and reliable electricity. The back of the shop is nearly always in a state of near darkness. Their ancient Singer treadmill Sewing machines have most definitely been through the ringer and with the recent vandalization in the village, the entire contents of the shop had to be packed up and moved – practically overnight to prevent theft  – and virtually, the end to the shop. However, in doing so in such a hasty manner, many of the machines were damaged – not beyond repair, but damaged none the less. Most are missing the post on the tops where the thread is poised. Others are in need of that little spike-type wheel that lays beneath where the needle is placed, that feeds the material through properly. There is a need for new tables for the machines, and new stools – as many were also damaged in the move.

The level of quality that these young men and women produce is far beyond the quality of clothing you would purchase in our own daily shops, and still available at a fraction of the price that they are worth.

After a visit to the school, we traveled further into the village to visit in Monica’s shops where we chose material for her employees to create for us, medium sized travel bags. The visit was a not marred by any uneasiness, though we were certainly the centre of attention. Karen distributed Canada pins to  the employees and to the students that were donated by MP Gord Brown’s office and hats to the employees in Monica’s Tailoring shop that were donated by Hakim Optical. Everyone was overjoyed by these small tokens of our appreciation for allowing us to visit and learn of way that we might be able to help them.

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Day 1 – Our adventure has begun.

The team of three left Montreal just after 9pm on Wednesday evening, and we must make mention of Andrew, Andrew and Valencia! All three British Airways employees who gave exemplary customer service – which as most of you know is completely unheard of in Montreal. (Not because it was British Airways, but because it was Montreal!) Their courtesy, attention to detail and jocularity went above and beyond – repeatedly.

We had a tight connection in London – and here I will say, we were far less than impressed. With only one hour and forty minutes from landing to departure – there was no reason for some of the ridiculousness. For starters, we landed in terminal 5, had to walk to terminal 3, where they put us back on a bus to go back to terminal 5 and then back to terminal 3 again! Once finally on our way – or so we thought – apparently Heathrow airport feels this overwhelming need to make you go through security AGAIN – and this is just with carry on’s as we did not retrieve our checked bags. Quite frankly, not sure what they think we were going to stash away in our carry on between security in Montreal and switching planes in London – but hey – gave me something to write about tonight! They searched and actually questioned things like toothpaste! If that wasn’t enough, the gentleman who was originally putting us through, put two of our three bags to the side –for further checking… and then just left – seriously… left the area without a word to anyone. It wasn’t until the grumblings got loud (no mention of names) that another attendant stepped in and proceeded where the earlier attendant had decided he “needed a break today.”

None the less, we got through it – had to walk the entire length of the dang airport – from gate 1 to our gate…. 35! And boarded with 10 minutes to spare. The second flight was very long. Perhaps it just seemed that way because of the time changes. It was 10 am in London when we boarded and 11pm when we arrived – but that was in Kenyan time. It really was only just over 9 hours in the air for the second flight… but seemed like forever.

Wifi was not working in London airport – though it said it was… so John was not receiving any of our messages. When we finally arrived in Nairobi – the airport appeared to have wifi – which floored us – until we realized it didn’t actually work. lol We had to run back and forth between two luggage racks as some of our bags came out on one and some on the other, but none the less, they were all there and all intact! And it really just added to the adventure.

Once outside, we were puzzled that John was nowhere to be found. We stood around just a short distance from the airport, taking in the warm temperatures (19 degrees when we arrived) and after 30 minutes or so, I asked an airport attendant if I could use his phone to call John. Our local phone was not charged (we left the charger here in Nairobi last year) and so we had no way to reach him with no phone and no internet. But alas – he picked up on the first ring and as luck would have it, he was asleep in the parking garage, waiting patiently for us – just across the road.

It was a short journey from the airport to the hotel and a wee bit quiet as we are all quite tired. Karon was still excited about the wildebeest statues, then Zebra statues along the roadside outside the airport. When suddenly there was another zebra – and it moved – her reaction was hilarious. We were able to get all checked in and settled, sorted our donations for tomorrow (Kawangware at 9am and Kambui at 1pm).Shared a short conversation and prepared for our day tomorrow.

Alarms are set for 7am, (its 2:06am now here), which gives us only 4 hours of sleep before meeting in the morning and catching up with John at 9.

Stay tuned….. the adventure continues.

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A Message from the Chair

Do you wake up every single morning, thankful for all that you have? Grateful to have clean water, a roof over your head, clean clothes to wear? Of course you don’t! Not very many of us do. We take for granted all that we have – mainly because we’ve always had it. We become accustomed to our surroundings; we expect that to which we have always had. Now that doesn’t make us UNgrateful, but we can become complacent because of it.

The country of Kenya is filled with people just like you and I. There are high office towers, beautiful parks, and gated communities; but there are also, in some cases, just a few feet down the road, slums (sometimes settlements).  In the centre of Nairobi you would find many of the same amenities that you would find in downtown Toronto or downtown Ottawa. They would be a bit dated, appearing perhaps as they would have looked here in the ‘70’s, but none the less, you would not experience what we call “culture shock” by visiting there.

Travel a short distance however, to the edge of town and you are faced with a much different scene. The streets are no longer made of pavement or even gravel; they are mud and sand. The buildings are no longer glass and steel office towers, but instead they are made of concrete, crushed stone, brush or wood. In this neighbourhood you no longer see cars or trucks, but outdated motorcycles, push carts and buggies. In these areas, the people struggle. They are not unhappy; they are not sitting and begging in the streets. They work very hard and struggle financially, but they are happy and loving but often unable to provide the necessities of life to their families due to a variety of circumstance; the worst of which is illness, largely HIV/AIDS.

A helping hand can go a long way sometimes. Our Kenyan Kids focuses their efforts currently around 7 projects. We communicate with each of them on a regular basis and visit once a year. The goal is always to help them to become sustainable, to a point where they will not need our help- but for now, today, they do

Raising the potential of one child, raises the potential of that child’s present family and future family. By giving a child an opportunity to develop skills and gain knowledge we are creating a sustainable way for that child to have a better life circumstance. That child will be employable, or have the skills required for entrepreneurial opportunities that will ensure they can support themselves and their family. Please join me in giving to Our Kenyan Kids either through a one-time donation or a monthly donation. No donation is too small as just like the star fish even a dollar can help change the circumstance of a child. If an entire organization of say 100 employees all gave a dollar the dollars have added to a critical mass of $100.

 

 

Jan Murray
Chair, Our Kenyan Kids

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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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