Thursday, April 14, 2011

Project Complete in Maralal

They named it the Blessing Kiosk!  ;)
The last two weeks were some of the most rewarding weeks of my life. Its hard to explain why, I'll try, but first I'll start with where we are today!

The girls now have a new grocery business, that after some time will split into two. One kiosk for each person. A community of 10 women and girls, mostly Turkana have also started adult education class!

The type of places Turkana are used to living in, though not in the city
After learning more about the community it turns out very very few Turkana women have ever gone to school, especially ones who have recently arrived from the north. This is one of the main issues why they are struggling so much with the transition to city life. They can not speak, read or write Kiswahili (the national language), Samburu (the local tribal language) and certainly not English. They can not read or write in their own language (Turkana) either. They also have the most rudimentary math skills only from selling small things, but can not write or keep a tally or items. So it obviously became very important to obtain training, mentors and education for Regina and Mbayen who were starting the business and assist with adult education for the greater community of women who are living in their most immediate neighborhood.

The desert landscape Turkana's are used to in the North
I spent most of the two weeks in meetings with my translators in the community finding out what resources were available and introducing the women to these opportunities that seemed appropriate.

Regina in adult ed class
It turned out there was an adult education class in the afternoons at the nursery school that was only a 3 minute walk from the kiosk we built and the community they were all living. The school can actually be seen from the kiosk, but they didn't know of the opportunity. The teacher was frequently going to class and just waiting around. No students were coming. She said several came from time to time, but none where there the several times I met. I was surprised she was still coming to the class room. I invited her to come to a community women's meeting to talk about the opportunity and some others that I found out about.

Tree nursery
Additionally I found out about a Tree Nursery where community women can go learn to plant and tend to different varieties of tree seedlings as part of a co-op. They can go individually and join an existing group or start their own. Big projects occasionally come in and buy up alot of trees and the women divide the profits. This adds to their own small business income and for some it's the only way they make a living. Its a great social, political, learning opportunity for them because they are often invited to governmental ceremonies to perform traditional dances and plant trees for peace.  It is connected to the Green Belt Movement started by Wangari Maathai and has a bigger picture focus on women's education and organizing to give women more of a voice than just planning trees.

Meeting with Pamoja Self Help Group (Pamoja means together)
One of the best things that happened was a meeting with a group called Pamoja Self Help Group. It's a group of small business people that have organized themselves and contribute the equivalent of 10 cents daily and eventually can take out loans to make business improvements at only 1% interest. The also have trainings for their members on health and business. I went seeking a Turkana women business person as a mentor for the start up kiosk. They really didn't have a mentor program but agreed to set up a meeting with a member in their group and see what she of extending a hand to these women. After hearing their story the "administrative committee" agreed to assist them and the mentor agreed on the spot after hearing their stories. So now the mentor is meeting the girls every morning to walk into town to go shopping for kiosk supplies and talk about how to enhance their business. In addition the organization agreed to look into which other members might be open to a similar opportunity to other women, though more as an apprenticeship. I met with a variety schools in the community to find out what is available. For adults with no prior education its tricky and they just need a skill to get started. They can go to adult education for free, but still are only learning the absolute basics. The one vocational school in the area that teaches tailoring, hairdressing computers, crafts, and food services is still too expensive inaccessible to these women who are only making a maximum of $3 a day doing washing or selling charcoal. The thing is though, many business people aren't making a ton more and could use the extra money if they were paid a few shililngs a day as an apprenticeship for these women to learn a skill. This is something that I suggested to the Pamoja group and they were amenable to setting up the connections for their business people, with the women I had been working with in order for their current members to make a little extra profit and mentor their community to create future members. Yay!
I also met with some other NGO's that serve the community and one of the reasons it seems that the Turkana is not being served is because they have few Turkana's that serve on boards or speak on behalf of their community. Its not that they didn't want to help them (it least it seemed, though of course they are not going to tell me that) but that they need to grow some leadership so that they could be represented. So this became the focus of my discussions with the women. They need to become role models for their community striving to educate themselves and their children to improve the future of their communities.

Bartholomew (the Turkana elder who introduced me to the ladies)
Getting a business permit at the town hall ($18 for the year)
I also met many times with the Child Advocate, a man named Simba (meaning the lion) a name that served him well and the Office of Probation about the girls that were in jail. The reasons these girls have remained in jail seems to stem from the same reason above - a lack of leadership from their community to represent them. Unfortunately the 3 girls that were caught making the illegal home brew (one a daughter of Mbayen) are still in jail. Simba did alot of leg work for the girls, and he still feels there is a good opportunity for the youngest one to get out if the jail officer writes a letter to the jail medical doctor for a medical/age evaluation. The problem is this should have already been done when they arrived, because it didn't it makes the officer in jail look like he was twiddling his thumbs and he may not write the letter for fear of looking incompetent. The other two the Child Advocate feels look older - I don't agree, but he says they look "hardened" and look more like 18 or 20. Well, I can imagine why these girls look "hardened." They have lived a difficult life thus far trying to scape by on nothing, living on anyone's floor who would let them, walking two weeks from a town full of violence only to come to another that isn't helping them and growing up too fast in the process.
one of the adult students first time writing
We became aware of a baptism certificate for Rose, Mbayen's daughter that I thought would be proof.
of her being under age. It had her name, age at baptism and date of birth. Perfect. She just hadn't went to retrieve it due to the cost of the trip. So I paid for her go and return total of $12. Unfortunately she came back and the name on the card was her birth name, different than her name she has been using in Maralal and on record at the jail. At this point I find out it's common for people to change their names when they go to a new place seeking a new life, as a new beginning in this tribal culture. So it became an invalid document for our case.  So things are messy for these girls. One positive is that their extended family of sorts (the women in adult ed and the women with the kiosk) is getting back on track and should be better able to take care of them when they get out. Fortunately government holidays around here generally come with a pardon for petty crimes. I have been told they will likely be out in a maximum of 6 months. I met with a concerned woman probation officer, who came over to sit with me while I was having dinner at a restaurant she happened to be in. I had met with her earlier and she remembered me (guess I stick out like a sore thumb.)We had a really long conversation about the girls and how there is no one in the community to act as representatives for them and she said she would take it upon herself to keep following up with them. She said she has been thinking about them since we met the other day. She said if there is any progress she could get them into a probation/education facility or at least see if she can link them up with education after they get out.  So these girls have fallen through the cracks because they are poor, unrepresented and uneducated. If they or their parents had any education, they would have known its not a good idea to just change their names as well as participated in the appeals process that is 15 days from the court date. I learned of them after more than a month. If any one in their community held any government office or power at all, they would help their community to get their documents in order. I made as much progress as I feel that I could with out hiring expensive lawyers, but tried to educate the women in the process about what their rights are for future situations.

Regina and her mentor returning from the market
So after gathering all of this information I had a meeting with the 10 women that have been hanging around Regina and Mbayen's kiok and a few others we invited from near by. The meeting was pretty good, though slightly awkward through translators. They talked about how they came to Maralal to seek a better life and of thier hardships and difficulty since they have arrived. I wanted to share with them what I had  learned that might help with this transition in hopes that they can share it with their greater community. The adult education teacher came and she invited them to class held M-F from 2-4 pm. The adult education teacher also agreed to help those who were interested in linking up with all of the opportunities I mentioned above. We talked about after they go to adult education class for a while considering forming a larger group that can eventually serve as a voice to their community. They can use the same group as a fundraising opportunity to help other members in need to start a business or similar by contributing 10 shillings each meeting. The teacher said one of the class's goals is to create income generating opportunities for the class so this would be something she would be willing to start for them after they get to know each other better. I hope to later link them up with the women's group from Nairobi who can help them organize further. (I decided I was jumping the gun too much to invite them up for the first meeting.)

It was a jam packed 2 weeks and I am excited about what I learned. I was happy about the little things I was able to do to help the community help themselves. When I left Maralal and these women, I left part of myself there. It's a strong thing that happens when women connect with each other especially for a greater purpose. I've never had super duper close girl friends. Certainly some, you lovelies know who you are but recently in past years I've been trying to make more and it's not always easy.  It just has to happen. Somehow with the last few months I've found some of that type of connection in the groups I've been working with with the women's groups Nairobi and now these Turkana women, even though I couldn't talk directly to them, we shared something.

Why else did it turn out to be such an important week for me? I guess it was because I was trying something that scared me, something I felt I had to do after meeting the Turkana women the first time I was in Maralal.  It was also because it combined everything I've been learning and reading about for sometime into something that was real. It combined everything I've learned about working with people and organizations and it felt comfortable and exciting. It was also that I tried to do it alone and I didn't know if I could. I certainly had my translators, but I needed to grow to trust them and fortunately they were really good guys and they will be available to continue to check in with the project (I wish I could have found women translators, but I couldn't).

I could say alot more, but I think I'll stop there, because if you've reached this far you are probally bored to death!  But on a side note I just arrived in Uganda! I have approximately one month left.  I'm hoping to meet some buddies in the next few days. I hear there is some good  hiking and some rafting on the Nile!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Construction Begins!

Grocery Kiosk for Two Turkana Women Refugees - a New Business in Progress!

Mpoyan (left), her son Kevin and Regina in their almost built kiosk!
Here's the back story. I came up about 1.5 months ago and learned a little about the Turkana tribe. This visit I have learned much more. The tribe has been moving to Maralal for the past 2 years or so to escape the fighting over cattle, little resources due to drought and old colonial lines that have always left the Turkana on the Eastern side of Lake Turkana without their own land or area to call home. The first refugees to move, connected with members of their extended tribe in Maralal and were generally able to get help from family and get plots of land. The more recent refugees have had no where to go are are in quite a bad situation.

The tribe elder Bartholomew gave me the full story over tea in a combination of broken English and through a translator I hired on the first day I arrived. The translator was a great English/Turkana/Samburu/Swahilli speaking guide on my previous trip. The elder talked more about what I had learned before about Turkana being excluded from assistance because they were now located in a predominately Samburu community. The few aid organizations here had board members made up of Samburu tribe, the government official was Samburu and he felt he had to help is own people most of who were all not that well off themselves.

I asked the elder to meet with some women who were struggling but were doing thier best to get by.

Turkana elder's home lounging area
The next day I met Mpayan a 30 year old woman. It turns out she had walked for 2 weeks to get to Maralal in May 2010 shortly after her husband died in the cattle violence. (It took me 15 hours by truck to cover the same distance last time I was there.) She brought 3 of her children, 15, 4 and a one year old at the time and left the other 2 others with a relative. After struggling for quite a while she and her oldest daughter started a home brewing alcohol business. This was lucrative because it was illegal and the goverment recently changed the liquor laws to make it even more costly and illegal. Men in this area like to take this potent drink to escape poverty for the few hours they drink it. Unfortunately this landed her now16 year old daughter and two of her friends (a 15 year old and 18 year old) in jail. They have been in jail for the last month and are sentenced to a year. (Side note:) Yesterday I was lucky to meet with the equivalent of a city council person, the only person in the government who supposedly helps Turkana. He showed me a place that he started - it was an old age home for Turkana's over 70! It was an amazing place to see. The tribal elders were sitting around on benches drinking tea in thier tribal outfits, with the darkest wrinkliest skin I've ever seen. Anyways I took this opportunity after seeing how much he cared about them to tell him about the young girls sentence. He seemed moved and asked if I could meet with the child advocate office on Monday, to tell this story. Hmm who would have thought I'd get involved in the Kenyan legal system. Cross your fingers - let's see if we can get these young girls out of jail and at least on probation or something. Supposedly they think they are over 18, but since they are young and couldn't speak the language of the officers or the jailers once they know the truth the might be able to let them out.  The problem is the 15 day appeals period is over - but I think if anyone can help this guy can - so we'll see.

A ride with the council person
Mpayan wants to figure out a way to live with out doing illegal activities and to try to get her daughter out of jail. She started to save, but that was when the police came and took everything. She now has no capital or even a place to live. She had been moving from place to place sleeping on friends floors and on the floor of the place she rents for $5 a month where she had brewed the alcohol.

Mpayan is like a mother to Regina who has been living on the floor of the place where the alcohol was brewed. Regina's father wanted her to marry at 16. She didn't want to marry this young or the man they were forcing on her. She was preparing to flee when her father was killed in the cattle violence. Her mom had previously died of malaria, so at this point she fled to meet Mpayan who she knew from living Baragoi. Regina has only gone to nursery school but both can do math and a business due to their home brew business.

Both said they could be successful at another business if only they had the money to buy the supplies and a place to start it. "But even I couldn't help with a business, could I help with a bed or blankets?  We are so cold at night especially now that the rains have arrived." They showed me the floor, how damp it was and the rice sack they had been sleeping on. I gulped and said to myself I think I have found my project.

Mpoyan, Regina, and 2 of Mpoyan's kids, the baby is a friend's on their new bed
So after alot more discussion about business planning, their pasts, their goals, who could be their business mentors, testing their math skills and discussing the best place for a small start up business I thought the situation seemed right to put some money towards a small grocery business. Oh and I definitely broke down and bought them a bed. Two budding business women can not be sleeping in the dirt, right, Maslow's pyramid of need needs eh? That is what I told myself anyways - but really their situation was so ugly it had to be done. Admittedly, it was really fun to whip through town on top of a truck with a bed for them. Even better to watch their smiles as they cleaned their house and made their bed and crawled up on the bed for the first time. I planned to get them a pillow, because it just seemed to go with the purchase and they said, instead of a pillow can we get a water canister instead - obviously they had their priorities in order.

Just getting started with construction
The next day, we had a community meeting with a bunch of people who showed up looking for hand outs at the time we had scheduled to do more business  planning and to find out what was going on. The community elder and I talked about issues of community support and overcoming jealously and the troubles these young women have had. After some more discussion everyone agreed to support them and help them market the new business to the community. We decided to build a kiosk near where they live, the property owner was friend so they agreed to waive rent fees. The spot has road access with pretty good foot traffic.

So this little project is starting fast! Here are some pics. This first one is going to cost about $150 to build it load the simple kiosk with some start up groceries and send the women to an adult training center to improve their business skills. In the process, I've learned how to make a cheaper kiosk and could start another for $100 with groceries. 
Regina and Mpoyan's son Kevin and my two translators/organizers behind her

Its been pretty easy to do and there are alot more people who could use similar help, if anyone would like to contribute to other small kiosks. I've even learned the local products, where the wholesalers are and the local prices charging for rice, ugali and even condoms. Ha!

I am going directly to the source - through the elders and to the community, buying supplies myself (after a local gets the best price) and supervising the building.

Some kids I caught trying to drown a boat on Lamu Island
The view from the ferry boat from Lamu
So I guess I'm going strong after a week at the beach.  It was just what the doctor ordered and so interesting. The Kenyan coast is so diverse.  I hopped to a few different beaches, strangely some are populated by mostly Italians, others by a bunch of Rastafarians and others almost exclusively Muslims. So many people would come up and talk to me in Italian, I had to stop them and tell them sorry - I don't speak Italian - who would have known I would have to learn Italian before coming to Kenya! I burnt my hide seriously because I haven't really been in a bathing suit since leaving CA in June. Worst burn I've ever ever had. I guess I should have thought about being pretty much at the equator. I could hardly sit for a week, as the back of my legs were yoosah burnt.

Lamu is a fishing village populated by the most friendly of Muslims. Its a UNESCO site full of old swahilli architecture and has sailboats called dhows sailing everywhere off the coast. I met some new friends and went sailing on a dhow and snorkeling. I felt better about my burn when a few people who got on the boat were from Iceland, the first Icelanders I've ever met. Turns out there are only 350,000 Icelanders in total.  No wonder I've never met any before!

Swahili architecture on Lamu
I stayed on Lamu an extra few days because there was so much more to this community that I expected. I returned by taking a ferry, and two buses -  one overnight to return to Nairobi. I had arranged to teach a computer class, that next day to the women's group in the Mathare slum and decided to milk my last hours on the beach, not knowing if I'll get time to go back.

Computer class in Mathare (I love the we have rights too t-shirt)
The computer class was good, though I forgot how sensitive a mouse is when you've explaining how to use one to folks who have never used one before. The women knew some English but I had to speak really really slow. The class took all my patience, but the women seemed to be excited to learn. Fortunately I had a friend teach the 2 hour intro class with me who I met working in Kibera at St. Catherine's. They are eager to continue learning basic computer skills and I am seeking a community partner to teach the classes in Swahili. The class will cost $200 to rent the cyber cafe with a teacher to teach 15 women for 8 weeks. The women have somehow (with out any computer skills) organized over 300 women in Mathare, 500 in Kibera and over 2000 women from other communities all over Kenya who are living in slum conditions to empower themselves to strive toward better lives. I feel a small computer class is such a steal for $200 for such a big impact. The women want to begin connecting with more people internationally - especially in regards to human rights issues and ease their troubles of taking public transportation to other communities so frequently. I will likely end up paying for this out of my pocket, but if you want to help with these or other classes for them please do! I have agreed to write a volunteer posting on for internationals who want to teach classes, help with capacity building projects, advocate for human rights and work with maternal heath issues, amongst other things. The leaders speak English so if you know any college students looking for projects or just with helping out I will add the write up about the volunteer opportunity shortly to this blog shortly. 

Thanks Sam, Chad and Kara for the recent donations. Sam - your money contributed directly to the building of this kiosk. Chad and Kara - yours will go to hiring a teacher at Watoto Wa Baraka - the orphanage that I started working when I first came to Kenya.  The next donation of $100 will complete the needed $1200 to hire the orphanage teacher. So exciting! Thanks for all of the support. It is making a huge, huge difference!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kibera & Mathare

Where over 2 million people live in the Kibera slum 
The past two weeks I have spent in Nairobi visiting and learning about two large slums called Kibera and Mathare.   Kibera is supposedly the largest slum in Africa. I initially learned about Mathare when I was looking for women's empowerment volunteer opportunities from home. I was told about an opportunity to work with women's groups in a slum of 300,000 people that just felt way to scary to start out in and instead I told myself, yikes girl let's go to the orphanage first, a homey, loving environment and see what I think I can manage from there. Since I completed my commitment with the orphanage, I started to think about Mathare again. I emailed the original organization that needed help and they didn't get back to me. I looked into some other things and nothing seemed easy to access so I tried word of mouth instead. 

St. Catherine's School
I ended up meeting a guy named Sequoyah who was staying at my hostel and had visited Kibera a few months back. He was going to start teaching at a school/orphanage called St. Catherine's and he invited me to join.  A man from the school came and picked us up and showed us the way by bus to the slum so we would know how to get their ourselves the next day. After a short tour of the tiny school, I was pretty much thrown into teaching English, Social Studies and a little Math for 6th graders. The kids were the most well behaved, intelligent kids I've ever worked with. The teachers, earning only around $300 a year were incredibly enthusiastic and the kids were fully engaged. They stood up to answer questions I asked, raised their hands and excitedly said "teacher, teacher" to try to get me to pick them to answer. They share 2 books for  every 12 kids. Despite the lack of resources and space in the tiny classrooms they are incredibly bright, in part because of the small student/teacher ratio.  They also know education is thier only way out of the slum. St. Catherine's school was started by a pastor who hated seeing so many street kids and orphans not going to school. He started by adopting one child himself and teaching kids in a tiny one room school with the kids sitting on the dirt floor. Things progressed as he received small donations from well wishers who have provided desks, and monies to build a very simple school house and kitchen for the kids to eat. If my last orphanage was simple this is the simplest set up you can have, with still alot of good going on. Most of the kids are still sleeping on the floor upstairs. 
bathrooms in kibera

In both Kibera and Mathare and the 5+ other slums around Nairobi there is no proper sanitation or garbage removal services and women are often raped in the middle of the night when they go out to use the squattie style bathrooms in the middle of town. Thousands of people use 10 bathrooms, slum dwellers have to pay monthly to use the bathrooms that can be miles away from their homes. Prostitution, AIDS violence and other diseases are quite common, but I found alot of good work and hope in these horrible conditions. People are gathering and trying to help each other rise up together as a community. Conditions are still harsh and seeing them has been overwhelming for me over the past two weeks.

Though it wasn't exactly what I hoped to get involved with, I was learned a ton just by being in Kibera and seeing what life was like there. Things also started evolving. It seemed they actually had enough teachers there and I didn't have enough to do, so I left and tried to find another project. I then met up with another man named Leo, 45 from Canada who had been working in Mathare for 5 years and was now filming his second documentary. I tagged along with him to learn about the group in his film called Bunge La Mwanchi or "women's social movement, " also known as The People's Parliament. 

Simple class rooms at St. Catherine's
The women started meeting several years back to find solutions to change their circumstances in the the slum, and just now are expanding to try to help other slum communities and people in other parts of Kenya.    I got into extensive conversations to learn about their work and the conversations became so extensive,that Leo began filming and who knows if that conversation will end up in the documentary!

Kids learning in the dark, when electricity frequently goes out
Even know I asked directly if they needed help at St. Catherine's before I left, it turned out there were some miscomunications and  they thought I was still going to teach there. Though I was no longer able to teach, now having other committments (I agreed to set up a computer class for the women's group and go to other meetings to learn more and support where I could) - I went back to try to mentor a young man Lukas, another volunteer teacher who had started to beg me for rent money. I don't like to give hand outs, I rather try to help people help themselves. I went to learn about his situation and offer to help him work on his resume. In addition I had an idea to discuss about employing him as a guide/security guard to help me find and meet other organizations in Kibera, hoping this talented young man might learn something and maybe get a job later. Turns out his situation was much tougher than I thought.

Houses along the river/outdoor bathroom/garbage dump.
He's an orphan, who was fortunate to find an American aid organization to feed, school and house him through high school.  A requirement of the school is that he must do 6 months of community service before going on to a fully paid university with room and board. Sweet deal, right? Yes mostly, but while he is volunteering he can only make 200 kenyan shillings a week. The equivalent of $2. He has to volunteer 6 hours at one school where he teaches, then he volunteers another 3 at the school I met him teaching,. He wants to continue there because it's likely they will offer a job at the end of his 6 month volunteer commitment. So he has little extra time to work to pay his rent. His older brother was paying his rent until he recently left to take a job outside the slum and left him to fend for himself. He lives in his one room corrugated metal shack on the second floor with his cousin also going to university but a 2 hour walk away, so he also can't work much because they didn't have any more room and board. Their combined rent is only $20 a month, which he needs for the next 3 months until he's hopefully offered the job. Through Lukas and James, the head of the school, I met many other organizations some that set up microcredit programs for people to start businesses, youth football programs, arts and technical schools, though most were run by male religious figures and few helped women.

I've been having a hard time figuring out my role as I learn about these projects and download all the information I am hearing and seeing. I'm finding that I can make the most impact by creating connections between people and groups. 

Boys dorm at St. Catherine's
So this is what I'm trying to do now. I'm going to connect the women's group with some of the organizations I met with while walking around with Lukas. And remember the Turkana refugee women's group? I've been pondering and trying to figure out what to do about that and it's been weighting heavily on me. I think the best way is to connect them is through the passionate and powerful women's group in Mathare. They have started  several 9 week sessions for young girls 12-22 and older women in various slums in Nairobi. I am starting conversations with several of the leaders of these women's groups about traveling to Maralal to meet up with the Turkana women's group to teach and empower them to gather, discuss their issues and find solutions, just like the women are doing in the slums across all of Nairobi. They have proved to be excellent leaders and I think developing the relationship and just supporting the connections and future connections might be most effective. I plan to fund the trip up to Maralal for 3-4 days for the women to meet as well as set up meetings with aid organizations and governement officials to see who else can get involved to help. This will all have to be done with some interpreters because of the three different languages Turkana, Kiswhailli and English. I'm curious to see what comes of it, hopefully a small microcredit program or similar for the women that I can fund though a generous donation I just received from this blog! Hooray - you know who you are, you are awesome! If others want to support this effort please let me know!

Meeting location of Women's group in Mathare
I am happy because I feel I'm finding my voice and how to use my strengths.  I'm building the confidence I've been looking for and finding my place and connection to other people on this earth. I've been able to find this a little through some humbling conversations, the supporters of this blog and connecting with these amazing women, men and children in of all places -  the slums of Nairobi. Who would have thought that I'd find what I've been looking for in part in the slums in Nairobi?

I'm a bit mentally exhausted after these last two weeks, and am going to take a few days to go to see the coast, dive in the ocean. Then I think I will be ready to head up with my crew to Maralal to see what kind of connections we can make for the Turkana refugee women. After that the tentative plan is to come back and teach the basis computer skills class, then head to Uganda.

In the next few days I have to decide when I"m coming back to the U.S. because of a flight requirement and some summer/fall job opportunities. I feel like time has been going so fast and I don't want to make that decision. I don't have all the information I need either to decide so it's stressing me out a little. Hopefully the beach, a little solitude and some calls for info will do the trick.

I miss you all and thank you dearly for the support and kindness you have shown toward my crazy efforts in Africa. 

Kids swimming at Watoto Wa Baraka for a birthday celebration 
P.S. The teacher at the Watoto Wa Baraka is almost a go! - please tell your friends to contribute a few dollars and help these  wonderful little ones have a better future. Oh, and the religious conversations have continued. I can't seem to escape them. There was a group of 20 missionaries bombarding the hostel where I was staying. I support what they are doing (to an extent), but so struggle with blind faith, ignorance and intolerance for other views. Anyways lots of good conversations - hostels are like a backpacker version of the UN. Yesterday I was sitting having beers with a German, Ethiopian, South African, Kiwi, Swiss guy, a few English folks, a few young American missionaries, a Dane a Norwegian and myself. I kept getting questions like "Are you part of the American missionary group? What do you think about all of this?" Oh and I met a guy from the Ivory Coast, a refugee who is traveling all over the world on his refugee papers begging for dinner, though classifying himself as a tourist. It's such an interesting world....... Love it!

Little Dorkas, one of my favorites from Watoto
Hugs, hugs, and more hugs!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On the way to Lake Turkana

It’s hard to know where to start. So much has happened in the last 2 weeks.

The extreme budget safari begins
I just returned from a wild and wonderful trip to the remote and arid area surrounding Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya. I went with two new friends from the orphanage, Amy and Sean. We had heard the area was unique in geography, was extraordinary in its diversity of traditional pastoral tribes and that we would be encountering some extremely rugged terrain and spotty transportation and wow it really turned out to be an adventure. 

It started with a variety of crowded matatu’s and got really interesting once we arrived in Nyaruru.
Sean is a talented photographer who wanted to capture some shots to document the Turkana and Samburu tribes. The initial idea was to go with an organized safari group in Ethiopia but it turned out to be too expensive so I tagged along and we created our own “extreme budget safari” of sorts using every type of public transportation and hiring our own local guides.
The trip got interesting in Nyaruru where we hopped on a bus called Maralal Safari – generally just a bus going to Maralal where we heard was the gateway to the surrounding tribes.  We were told it left at 7 am. We asked what time “Africa time” and were told 9 am. We arrived and they said actually 11:30 am. We came back and sat in the outrageously crowded bus until it finally left at 1:30 pm. I thought we weren’t going to hit dirt roads until after Maralal but I was wrong they started just outside of Nyaruru and went on for more than 8 hours. About half way through we started to pick up some tribal groups and the diversity on the bus was extraordinary. The combination of elaborate tribal dress, combined with students dressed in urban clothes and us. Outside we started to see wildlife in the increasingly more arid landscape filled with acacia tress and lots of scrubs. Over the course of the 2 weeks we saw 3 small wild herds of zebra, a giraffe, 3 ostrich, a tons of camels (though they are all domesticated).Seeing these animals in the wild, not even on a real safari in a park was amazing – the just roam the country side outside the bus, or as we are hiking. 

Folks from the Samburu tribe who got off the bus
could learn about the culture. We told them we wanted to go to a non touristy place and he decided to take us to his own village and took us to meet all of his family. We prepared for a 4 hour trek, which turned out to to be 8 hours. The open desert and the huge Kenyan sky was fabulous and really the first time I had been away from bigger cities.
At about the 7 hour mark we had sat down under the tree and a local Samburu tribes man came out to greet us. We were near his property and had just walked by. Initially he was very friendly. He left and then came back as we were walking away and became very irate, yelling at our guides and starting to hit them with sticks. Then he told us in English to “Get Out!” We said no problem and started to walk away. He pointed in one direction for us to go, and took our guides another. We walked alittle way and realized we might have a big problem because we had no idea how to go back or where exactly we were going. We had walked a long way and were completely exhausted. 

View from our camp
We hung back a bit out of the confrontation, but still watched while our guides continued to get harassed by a Samburu warrior. More of his friends or family came over to partake in yelling at our guides. One picked up a rock and each had a machete and club which they carry on them everyday. They walked farther away and one of our guides got hit hard by the warrior on the back of the head which made him fall to his knees. Fortunately our guides stayed calm and didn’t fight back and another local guy came over diffused the situation. What it came down to was the warrior was drunk and wanted money for having us walk over his property. Our guides gave them the equivalent of $5 and we were able to continue to walk on, but for a moment things looked like they might be ugly.  We got out of there and continued to walk to the guide’s family’s village compound and were relieved to have the warmest reception ever. We met his blind grandma and some of the elders and much of his extended family just in time for sunset. I showed them photos of my family and friends and photos of various places in the U.S. I’ve found this helpful many times now to build a rapport since I’ve been in Kenya. The kids and family seemed a little scared of us and there was little language communication, though our guides were able to interpret. It also tends to warm them up to the idea of taking some photos because sometimes kids in really remote areas are scared of the camera. I think they think it’s like a gun or something. When they can see themselves in the digital photos they laugh and make fun of each other. 

One of the guide’s wife offered us a local sugar cane wine next to a cooking fire inside a dark mud/cow dung hut with only 2 book sized windows.
We set up tents at another house outside of our guides brother in law’s fenced in hut where we were told the lions “normally” don’t come in. 

Samburu Culture and Traditions
Samburu warrior
While dinner was cooked so far the best meal I’ve had in Kenya and chatted with our guides about Samburu traditions and culture.  Samburu women accumulate the beads (they wear around their necks) from men who court them over the course of their lifetime and ultimately their husband. Women almost never buy beads from themselves. Women with a lot of beads often have quite well to do husbands. There are several age specific rituals in Samburu culture, for boys they enter a “warrior” stage when they are about 16-21 where they learn to hunt and can not be seen eating because they must be thought to almost never eat because it makes them look strong. They eat together in a remote area of the forest so no one sees them eat. If they do eat in a restaurant they go in the back door and eat in the kitchen! They are circumcised at age 18 and must not wince or they fear being ostracized by the community for the rest of their lives.  Some do actually go for days with out eating. Because the land is so arid and almost nothing grows both Samburu and Turkana tribes drink mostly blood and milk from their cattle and occasionally eat meat.   They often eat nothing else for long stretches of time especially when out tending cattle or goats for long stretches of time. They tie a rope around the cow’s neck and poke a hole in their neck to let about a liter of blood to drink. They will not drink from that cow for another 2 weeks.
While Sean set up his informal photo studio and Amy adjusted the light I was able to talk with the various family members and rest of the village and a ton.

Turkana Refugees
A Turkana elder
We stayed to nights in the Samburu village and then went to a Turkana tribe closer to Maralal.
This village was an entirely different experience – pretty much chaos arranging for Sean’s photos of village elders and some of my own.  It was a learning experience for all of us and the initial situation felt bad, they demanded money and it just feels wrong just coming in taking photos and leaving.  We learned to invite a few women away from the camp to take photos at the guest house we were staying at the next day so we could talk more individually to people and Sean could complete is set of photos of women, warriors and elders. We learned that Turkana tribe were actually refugees of mostly women who were forcibly moved from Baragoi a town about 10 hours north where Turkana’s and Samburu’s were fighting over cattle.
An tradition of the Turkana tribe that can lend to violence is that young Turkana boys are told to go out and find themselves cattle and goats as part of becoming a man – essentially stealing then where they can. Samburu’s are given animals when they are born and breed as well as buy them. In this arid landscape where cattle means life it has become a major source of conflict all over the northern region where the tribes fight to remain control of their herds. The fighting got so extreme in Baragoi that the government moved the tribe to Maralal to try to end the conflict. It seems to have worked, though the Turkana group of mostly women now in Maralal for 3 weeks has no means of survival. As Sean was taking photos of the extraordinarily beautiful women I learned that many of them hadn’t eaten in days.  I bought the 8 women a supply of food for 2 dinners that cost me around $5 and was told that the government gives them less than that every two months.  Many of the men have died in the conflict, some still live in Baragoi in hiding or trying to get their cattle back.  I continued to ask questions and was left very attached to the women. 

Sean, Amy and I are thinking about ways to help these women make a livelihood. I am looking in to the feasibility of helping the women open a small tea cafĂ© or a small store where they can sell some food staples which could be supported by Sean and Amy’s organization.  After I look into a few more things from contacts I made in Maralal and the surrounding community I may go back up there and with the help of my guides have some talks with the community women and see what might be possible. 
Ah there is so much more to say – that was really only the first three days of the trip. I hardly covered any of the random great conversations we had with tribal people who were just as intrigued with us as we were with them like the first place winner of the International Camel Derby or the other friendly folks that constantly were striking up a conversations with us on the street or from the table next to ours over tea.
After almost a month and a half in Kenya I’m unexpectedly even been reexamining my faith after so many Kenyan’s have asked me ‘Are you Christian?’ I haven’t quite had an answer to just a direct question at the beginning of a conversation before I even know their name. Most development projects seem to be run by faith based organizations and it’s given me a lot to think about as I navigate conversations and learn about the culture here.  Religion plays a huge role in the lives of African’s especially Kenyans and I guess it’s forced me to rethink about where I stand on that issue after a lot of years of pushing religion aside in my head. More on this later. 

I guess I’ll save the rest for the next blog as we get closer to approaching Lake Turkana. The transportation gets much nuttier with over night trucks, breakdowns, rides with geode miners and such thick dust we have to stop the car and blaze our own trail in part of the desert on the return trip.

I’m writing from Nairobi in a cozy hostel where we gave ourselves two days of comfort and even a movie  to recover from the body shaking transportation and digest our northern Kenya experience. I’ll be heading back to the orphanage in a few hours. 

Life is good. I am happier than I have been in a long time, learning so much almost every minute of the day and fully engaged in where I am right now. 

Send me an email I’d love to hear from you. Miss you friends and family! Hugs!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Methini Orphanage

One of the kids from Methini
This week I had the opportunity to go to the Methini sister orphanage to Watoto Wa Baraka. Methini isn’t really that far away but it takes around 2 hours to get there because the roads are so gnarly. I was surprised the orphanage and this town even had a matatu serving it after seeing how nutty the roads were. Fortunately we had a tough matatu (4wd Nissan mini van) but it surely was full. It’s a fifteen passenger van loaded up with around 25 people, animals and a lot of stuff packed in every cranny.

The Methini orphanage has only been open and having kids there for 3 months, right now there are 7 kids and two staff living in corrugated metal make-shift buildings. The metal for the walls is made of large metal drums that once likely had oil or similar in them and hammered out to be flat, then welded or nailed together.

They eventually want to build more permanent structures made of concrete, likely still with metal roofs but there is a need now, and only so much money to house the kids now, and these type of structures are commonplace and do the job.Methini is more remote and the kids speak very little English only a “hi how are you?” and a few memorized songs that I don’t think they know what they mean.
I was there with two other volunteers and a professional photographer/volunteer who is hoping to assist in marketing the orphanage. While he took his fabulous shots, I played with the kids and took a few simple shots of my own. We were planning to stay at the orphanage as it had been encouraged by most of the staff, but then at the last minute someone called from the main orphanage saying we couldn’t because they didn’t have security set up there yet. Unfortunately this word was a bit too late. We started to wait for a matatu, but we missed the last one. We considered taking motorcycle taxis but the road was horrible and it was getting dark. We ended up staying because we had no other choice. It turned out to be a lot of fun.
Two other kids from Methini
The transportation debacle pushed the kids dinner back a bit and the volunteers and the staff scrambled to make dinner before it got too late. I cut up the onions, tomato and cabbage and washed the dishes from lunch, next to the fire where I believe her name was Zebra, (like Debra but with a Z), made the ugali over the fire. Most rural Kenyans still cook over an open fire. The Pundamilia orphanage has a bio gas stove but, they still enjoy using the fire and don’t feel as comfortable cooking with a gas stove. The Methini orphanage doesn’t have a gas stove, nor a well for that matter and things take time to prepare.
Before bed we “took tea” and the kids sang 3-4 really spirited worship songs. They danced and made sure we participated, then said one prayer and then it was time for tooth brushing and bed.
Sean, Charita, Amy and I all slept in the same room on bunks and on the dirt floor on foam pads. They made us a little nervous regarding security so we holed up in there together creating a teenage slumber party environment where there were all kinds of crazy stories told while we tried to keep our voices low to not wake up the kids in the next room. The metal buildings really were not that bad, and the dirt floor was really not that dirty. Kenyans have an interesting way of cleaning a dirt floor. They sweep it so frequently and wet it a little and add ash that it may be a dirt floor, but its not crawling with bugs and its almost as clean as if it were concrete. I grew up sleeping on the top bunk, so I took that, everyone else seemed concerned they might fall off without a railing! It was a bit hot at first because the metal on the ceiling was still hot from the day. Later though it got pretty chilly as the night went on. Sleeping in a place like this is such a good reminder of how little we need to get by and to still feel happy and taken care of.
The next morning we arose to beautiful mountains and a breakfast of a porridge drink (actually quite nice and filling) and a mandazi (sweet bread).
Then it was time to earn our keep by helping fetch the water from the water hole and sorting the maize. It took 4 people making 4 trips with big buckets to fill up the tank. The water was disgusting, stagnant with an oily film on the top and full of bugs. I couldn’t believe this was the water they had to use. They also trap rain water into a large drum for drinking water but if it runs out that is what they are drinking (after boiling it). Fortunately they are in the process of digging a well to have clean water. It will likely take a few more weeks because a local guy comes intermittently and digs with a shovel to make the well. I’ve seen very little mechanized equipment for what we would usually use, especially well digging. Sorting dried maize also takes forever. The idea is to get rid of the extra stones, bugs, etc. you don’t want to eat from the bag of maize that is purchased from the market. This includes looking through every piece to see if a bug has bored a hole into it. It usually takes 4-5 hours a day for a woman to do this alone. With the four of us it took 2-3 hours. Its pretty boring and your neck gets tired just looking down but it’s the way a lot of families or socialize and is also the way I’m getting to know a lot of the kids. It’s a huge help to the staff to sort maize (beans or rice) to free up time for Zebra to do other tasks around the orphanage.

On the way back we almost missed the last matatu again. We were too concerned with buying a cold drink at the market after drinking very warm, somewhat chunky water .None of us got sick, well actually Sean did a bit, but not too bad.

When we returned to the Punda orphanage, three new kids had arrived. George age 10, Dorkas age 5 and Issa age 3 were surrendered by their grandmother who could no longer care for them as she was dying from spinal cancer. Their mom had passed away 3 years earlier from an unknown disease just a month after Issa was born and their father had divorced their mother and is MIA.

They seem to fit in well with the other kids, though they are obviously really nervous and the younger ones follow George around timidly. When it was time to go to sleep on the first day they arrived I was trying to find open beds and bedding. The kids informed me I made a grave mistake by putting little Abdellah on the top bunk as it turns out he wets the bed every night. Opps! So I had to rearrange even though Abellah was so excited to be on the top bunk, and so begins to cry. Issa and George were in the dorm and almost ready for bed, but George left to try to make friends with a few kids in the hall. Issa was already scared but started balling while most of the other kids were sleeping. There was nothing I could do to calm him. Tears were flowing and he was looking at me and the whole room like ahhhh! Where am I and where is grandma? So I take him to his brother and ask his brother to sleep with him for the night to calm him down. Watching little Issa terrified and sad his first night in the orphanage away from his family while his brother was trying to be tough was gut wrenching. I sat with them for a while just rubbing both of their backs and telling them it’s going to be ok and things will get easier. I do believe life is going to get better for them. The other kids seem to be treating the 3 of them well but what an adjustment to have to deal with -away from their family at such a young age, in a foreign place and rural village. These kids were from the metropolis of Niarobi.

Because I hadn’t seen any of the others arrive, it felt like they must have arrived almost all together when the orphanage started three years ago. But it turns out some only arrived a few months ago and this happens quite frequently. The other volunteers and I left the dorm and just looked at each other and teared up. We tried to talk but we were all really a loss for words. I think all of us went to bed feeling a lot of mixed emotions that night. We felt lucky we have parents – no matter how crazy our families are and felt so sad and horrible for those scared kids. Just as we were about to go to bed, I remembered the kids all still have to take an HIV test. Fortunately the result was negative or they would have had to be sent somewhere else, as this orphanage is not equipped to administer all of the meds necessary. Not to mention these kids play rough and are getting scuffed up all the time and it could be a it would be a hazard to the other kids.

Thank you to those who have donated for the teacher! Every $5-20 goes along way so please help if you can, by donating on the button to the right.

I am finishing this blog from Nyahururu - try to say that one to get on a bus! I am heading to the Lake Turkana region (with Amy and Sean) in northern Kenya for a week or two then will be back at the orphanage. Transportation is hit and miss up there and it will certainly be interesting. Northern Kenya is known for their pastoral traditional tribes including the Samburu and Turkana tribes. I’m looking forward to learning more about this remote and wild area that few people visit.Because the internet wasn't working well before I left the orphanage this blog doesn't have many good photos sorry! Hopefully I'll add a few more after the fact because I took a bunch of fun ones.

Big hugs!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

First two weeks in Africa

So I’m in Africa – Pundamillia, Kenya to be exact.

For starters it feels good to be here. Something had been drawing me away from my comfort zone, away from stability and the known for some time. Something has always told me to not accumulate much so I can sell it and go do just this – jump off to learn about the world, work and volunteer and see what happens. That spirit brought me here to learn and explore with an open mind what I can about Africa and see where I can help.

Why Africa? I’ve been reading about the Millennium Development Goals since I returned from my last big trip where I learned so much traveling in the developing nations of Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and much of Central America and some of South America. It was a whirlwind trip, escape artist style where I left on a leave of absence from a great job for 6 months. I felt I needed to know more about how the rest of the world lived, what was true that I’ve learned and what was a stereotype and what I could learn for myself. I was changed by the experience in so many ways. 6 months after I returned, I found it was time to quit my job and follow this passion learning and assisting where I can. Much of the Millennium Development Goals work is focused in poverty stricken Africa, so I have found myself here.

How did I pick this orphanage to start? – it was somewhat randomly, but decisively after a lot of web researching. Watoto Wa Baraka Children’s Home was started by Geoffry Ndungu. Being an orphan himself he always wanted to give back and open a home for other kids who needed the same help he was fortunate to get. Three years ago he opened this orphanage for children in the area whose parents have died of AIDS families, suffer too much poverty to provide for their kids or were otherwise not able to take care of their children. Watoto sounded like a warm place to start and learn about Kenya from a man whose heart is into caring for the future generation of the surrounding community.

The first two weeks have been a whirlwind of hugging little kids at the orphanage, trying to learn all of their names, getting sick way too much and taking matatus (crowded public transportation minivans, with blaring music) all over the region.
The kids are the best – so sweet, loving and each with their own personality. The really have a family here, each of the 7 staff lives on the compound with their own family and the kids refer to the staff as “Daddy Geoff, “Uncle Zacky” (Geoffry’s brother) Aunt Grace (the cook) and so on each taking an active roll in every aspect of kids lives. The older kids help the younger ones with brushing their teeth, leading the group to go farming or helping with meals. They get along surprisingly well for some rough and tumble kids.

Learning the kids stories is sad and heartwarming at the same time. For instance three brothers Steven, John and Francis otherwise known as Mwangi, Little John and Francis were street kids, placed here by the court in 2009. A good Samaritan brought them to the Children’s Welfare Office so staff can only estimate how old they are. They will never know their real birthdays, but are guessed to be 3,4 and 5 but they are fortunate to be fed, cared for by 7 loving local staff and a cadre of international volunteers here for a week to a year at a time.

I’ve been fortunate be able to join Martha, the orphanage’s community outreach worker to visit some of approximately 70 children who are sponsored outside the orphanage. Community outreach is one of the options I can sign up for during the week along with farming, kitchen help, laundry, homework and coordinating activities. We walk from about 8:30 am- 1 pm on village paths, down dirt roads and through banana and corn farms to visit the schools where we check on the well being of the kids, find out what they need and make sure they have a school uniform, books, food, pens and pencils and that their health is good. If their health isn’t good, Martha arranges to take them to the doctor or gets medicine for their ailment. Somehow this is all paid for by international sponsors who pay $25 a month to take care of all of those things. So much good for so little money. What an eye opening experience to see the variety of class rooms and headmasters offices and situations the kids are dealing with. The kids are so intrigued by their “Muzungu” (white) visitor whether it’s on the street, or at the school they all want to touch me, shake my hand or touch my hair. Some of the little girls dare their friends to run up, touch me, then run away laughing out of reach.

The kids in the public schools share books, two to a student and there are about 70 kids per classroom. Many of the books look so tattered you wonder if you can read the pages. Some of them share pencils, have really tattered clothes when they are required to wear uniforms. One of the orphans here was told by their teacher to walk all the way back to get a pencil because they had no more to give him. You should see them fight for a pencil with a good eraser during homework time. None of the public schools I’ve seen so far have computers for their students or teachers. There is a small vocational school which has 3 computers for 30 or more kids which I plan to help out with Monday, but they look like they are from the dark ages. Many of the schools have dirt floors and some of the kids go to school with bare feet. I was dragged over to a nursery class, one not on our list of visits to see the kids the teacher said needed more help. She said 10 of her 30 kids come to school regularly without shoes, the same tattered outfit (not a school uniform) and no breakfast or lunch and no shoes. I couldn’t help it but start to cry a little, I tried to keep it together but these kids really were a mess. I left feeling like wow, their parents still have hope and are sending the kids to school anyways. They say they will buy uniforms and bring food for their kids and pay the school exam fees when they can but they never do. They teacher’s hands are tied, she keeps them there for hope as well.

I’m beginning to work on fundraising for a teacher to help with homework for the students at the orphanage. I have been told $1200 will fund a live in teacher for one year who can help get the 29 boys and girls who live here up to speed with their studies. I’m torn, because the nursery kids need sponsors but you can only take care of so many kids well and first I feel like this organizations need to help the kids at their own orphanage. As you can imagine, many of them have arrived here with no schooling, are behind for their age and need additional support and mentoring to catch up. A live in teacher can help in the evenings with their homework and create custom learning plans for the kids, monitor and mentor them as they grow as well as help with other important tasks for this budding orphanage. I’ve been trying to help the students with their homework with some success, but as volunteers we can only help so much. We need a teacher who can further explain in their tribal language and Kiwsahili, because the kids only know so much English. I certainly can’t help with their Kiswahilli homework, but they keep pointing to it with confused faces like please, come on, your old you know it! The staff comes in and out to help a bit, but they must dedicate their time to the various tasks of the orphanage. They even have space for them to live. I feel like this would be an amazing asset to the trajectory of these kids lives and I hope you will consider donating a little bit to ensure a brighter future for these kids, any more can help sponsor individual kids like the nursery ones I mentioned above. The orphanage is committed to sending these kids through high school and university, given their grades are sufficient and the program will support them until they can support themselves.

So far I’ve had three sicknesses in 2 weeks, not exactly how I wanted to start off the adventure, but I’m hoping I run all of bugs through my system early to harden by stomach. The first version I’ll call a one bucket version was one super bad day, and 3 living dead days. The second is a rash over most of my body that remains – I think from hand washing my laundry and leaving too much soap in the clothes, but it could be from something like the manure we were spreading around the banana trees who knows and the third was a two bucket night (one for both ends) – one of the worst nights I’ve ever had but I think I’m ok now. The worst part is that I only had one bucket in my room, the one I use to bathe, and I had hope for a moments reprieve so only one was enough. The situation worsened and I had to search for another bucket in the middle of the night so I didn’t have to stay at the community hole all night. Ugh! Welcome to Africa! I don’t’ know if it’s the food or if it’s lots of bugs from the kids – either way it’s been a rough start. The other volunteers and I have started thinking about making a restaurant/meal review with the number of buckets you’ll need after eating. Never fun to be sick when you have to run to a hole in the ground and shower in a bucket, but despite this, I’m actually very happy here believe it or not!

Volunteers pay $90 a week to the orphanage, $80 or so goes to support the build out of a new orphanage called Matheni not far from here, the rest pays the other staff’s salaries goes to support the ongoing programs such as food for the kids, their school fees and community outreach programs. Volunteers wash their own laundry live in simple rooms on the grounds and eat very simple meals that cost likely less than $5 a week. It feels like so much can be done with so little money here, which excites me and is getting my mind cranking.

What I’m eating:
My breakfast is chai tea, which I really like actually, a mix of fresh milk from their cow, water and tea leaves and 3 slices of white bread. I buy something to put on it at the market 40 minutes away. For lunch it’s usually rice and beans or beans and maize the beans and maize version is really bland and horrible to force down (even worse when I was sick, blah). Dinner is ugali which is similar consistency to mashed potatoes but with corn and lentils. That is about it. I’ve seen the prices for these items in restaurants and why my calculations is about $5. When you grow it yourself like the orphanage does it’s even cheaper so I know the money is going to a good place. I have been buying a lot of cheap fresh fruit to supplement this bland meal and keep happy. They grow mangos, bananas and avocados but much of it isn’t ready at the orphanage yet.

I’m not sure what I thought, but I figured African’s love to dance, it’s sort of a spicy festive culture right?– I would have expected some spicier interesting food, well not Kenya so far at least! Fortunately there are a lot of pineapples and I’ve found some ripe mangos, bananas and papayas in the markets. Yum!

There is so much more to say, but I’ll save it for the next update.

Support the project
by making a donation, spreading the word or come for a visit and volunteer. There are so many ways that you can get involved. Email me to learn more or just say hi at Also video skypeing is free and fun, (though very finicky) but this way you can see the kids yourself and they are so cute!

Support a teacher or support in general by clicking on the pay pal link on the site, and indicating your interest of where to put the funds I will make sure the funds go to the right place. (This function will be added shortly.) You can also donate directly to the organization at