The hits just keep on coming …

I started blogging at the end of June in 2012.  I have always enjoyed writing and sharing my thoughts and observations, particularly about my travel experiences, particularly  in Africa.  So it seemed natural (after some encouragement) for me to blog. I have also hoped to inform people of the work that we are doing through The CanAssist African Relief Trust.

I am astounded that since that time there have been over 5000 views of the pages on my blog from 80 countries around the world.  i have often remarked that I feel like a global citizen and this ability to have interaction with people in so many parts of the world is extraordinary.

Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me and to every one of those 5000 reads.


A bit of Heaven on earth?

Rift cowWhen I visit my friends the Moiko’s in Kenya, we take a trek up the neighbouring hillside to Kona Baridi to feel the cool wind coming up from the Rift Valley and just enjoy the spectacular view.  It always refreshes and invigorates me. (Baridi means cold in Kiswahili.  Although it is cooler on the top of the hill than in the valley below,  it is still a long way from cold by Canadian standards.)

The climb through the hills passes goats and cows and rambles over rocks and a dried up stream that, I am told, gushes with water in the rainy season.

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If I look back as I walk, I can see the Moiko farm in the distance, the long laneway going up from the main road and the fields where their cows and goats (including Veronica’s offspring) graze.  In the past few months there have been African Buffalo coming down from the hills at night to invade the fields.  They are both dangerous and disruptive and are breaking down the fence to get into a natural salt-lick that is in the field. Stephen is not sure what to do about them. They are protected wildlife yet they are having an impact on his property.

At the top of the hill is a wonderful vista overlooking the Rift, or the start of it.  If one were to progress down the hill and along the road to Magadi there would be a series of slopes downward to eventually reach the floor of the valley and Lake Magadi, a hot, dry, parched, soda lake that is only fit for a few flamingos and some very tough workers who mine soda from its floor.

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I usually sit for an hour or so on the grass at the top of the ridge, opening myself to the cool wind and soaking up the surrounding silence that  is broken only by the buzz of a bee or the occasional bleat of a sheep on a far-away hill.

I visit with a couple of trees whose branches lean out toward the valley – outstretched like open arms to embrace the grandeur, feel the wind and gather up the freshness. I never tire of this hike and view which has become a traditional ritual for me over the past ten years.  Every time I go, I take photos of the vista and the trees – I must have taken hundreds over the years – but none come close to capturing the feeling that I get standing there.

Feel the breeze, absorb the silence, smell the clear air…

I fear that some day the hill will become cluttered with wind turbines.  I worry that these two  familiar trees will become victims “development”.

Although I am in no hurry, and as long as this place remains unaffected by “progress”, I think that I would like (some of) my ashes to be scattered to the wind here when the time comes. I have shared many pleasant moments with my African “family” on this ridge and they will know exactly where I want to be.

A perfectly heavenly place to spend eternity.

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Congratulations are in order …

The CanAssist African Relief Trust has been a supporter of the Kanyala Little Stars School on Rusinga Island for the past few years. We have become good friends, visited often and shared the friendship with other Canadians who, like me, love to visit Mama Benta and the kids at the school.

Since we first met the school in 2007, it has grown. When I first visited them there were four classrooms with students up to about Grade 3. There are now 300 students at the school. It is bursting at the seams. Despite this crowding, they are not compromising on academics.

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Last year they graduated their first Class 8 students and when I was there earlier this month they proudly showed me the results of the standardized country-wide exams that students write to gain entrance to Secondary School.

They had 19 candidates and all of them passed. In addition, one of the “Little Stars” was first on Rusinga Island and second in the much larger Suba District. They also proudly reported that the second standing at the school was a girl, Phelistus Ogola.

This week I also learned that Elisha Onyando has been “awarded a full comprehensive scholarship from Equity Bank Kenya based on his superb academic performance.”

I am so proud of the students, teachers and directors of the Kanyala Little Stars organization. They are all working to build a better Kenya.

Congratulations to Elisha Onyando on his academic successes and the scholarship to help him pursue his Secondary School education.

Congratulations to Elisha Onyando on his academic successes and the scholarship to help him pursue his Secondary School education.

A Lake View ?

The hotel that I stayed in last week in Kisumu, Kenya boasted a lake view.
Well there was a view, all right but you could not see any water. The whole of Kisumu Bay is covered in Water Hyacinth, a species introduced into the Lake Victoria ecosystem in the 1980’s. It has taken over some parts of the lake, clogging up any boat access to the shore, thus disrupting fishing and transport of goods by water.
When I looked out across the bay it appeared like a green field. There may be some benefit to smaller fish that can hide in the roots of the plant and thus escape another introduced species, the Nile Perch. It can cause deoxygenation of the water, however, which is another negative effect for the ecology of the lake.
I wonder if there will be some process found to make use of this pest, as compost, fertilizer or even to produce biogas!
This was the "lake view" from my Kisumu Kenya hotel room.  Kisumu Bay is completely clogged with water hyacinth.

This was the “lake view” from my Kisumu Kenya hotel room. Kisumu Bay is completely clogged with water hyacinth.

A CanAssist success story …

This morning, I received this report from Tracey Onyango of the Nyatike Women’s Group in Kenya. I visited them and was impressed that they had gained confidence and were absolutely delighted with the progress they had made due to the installation of five CanAssist-funded rainwater catchment tanks in their community. Two of these tanks are at schools, one at a church and two at personal homesteads. Adjacent to one of these they have erected a greenhouse and are now selling produce from that venture. They were very proud of their accomplishments which has given them some financial independence, lessened the time and risks of walking several miles to the river to fetch water, allowed young girls to go to school instead of being water donkeys and improved the health conditions in the community by reducing waterborne illnesses like cholera and typhoid.

Some of the women in the Nyatike Interior Women's Group

Some of the women in the Nyatike Interior Women’s Group

The CanAssist board has agreed to continue to support this women’s group by helping them install public latrines in their community. They will start at Nyaktike village where there is currently no public toilet. They will maintain the toilet 24hrs a day, and keep it clean in exchange for a small user fee (common in this part of the world for public latrines). The income generated will be used to support the women in the group and to expand other public service projects to improve living conditions in the area.

Here is her report.

I’m happy to share some success stories some of which you witnessed during your 28th January 2013 visit to Nyatike Interior Women’s Group (NIWG)

– CAART support has enabled Nyatike Interior Women’s Group to address the overlooked and unpaid economy, where women predominate. Women perform all domestic tasks. They are responsible for the care of children, the sick and the elderly, in addition to performing essential social functions within their communities. Nyatike women’s fundamental contributions in their households, food production systems and national economies are increasingly acknowledged. This is due, in no small part, to African women’s own energetic efforts to organize, articulate their concerns and make their voices heard. Interestingly, women have started to not fully economically dependent upon their husbands.

– There has been a growing recognition of women’s contributions which is translated into significantly improved access to resources or increased decision-making powers. It is noted that the dynamism that women display in the economic, cultural and social lives of our communities through our organization and informal networks has been instrumental into creating new models in women’s participation and leadership.

– Issues of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence including drowning and crocodile attacks are also are beginning to receive due attention/mitigation measures in discussions of women and children health. Also important to note is that women and children are relieved of labour, distance and time they walk daily in obtaining this basic resource. The beneficiaries are now able to translate the time and workload they usually face into education and other socio-economic developments.

– Evidence from our innovation, actions and replication has shown important links between improved HIV and AIDS outcomes and nutrition. The establishment of Water & sanitation facilities and the only green house established in Nyatike demonstrates the ability and viability of women in adequately responding to health and nutritional needs in a sustainable way. It is clear that nutrition is necessary to maintain the immune system, manage opportunistic infections, optimize response to medical treatment, sustain healthy levels of physical activity, and support optimal quality of life for a person living with HIV (PLHIV). Good nutrition may contribute to slowing the progression of the disease. Food insecurity and poverty may lead to high-risk sexual behaviors and migration, increasing the risk of acquiring HIV. At the same time, HIV weakens a household’s ability to provide for basic needs. Also, awareness on water and sanitation, the community have gained skills and knowledge on dangers of using surface water and benefit of maintaining hygiene and good use of sanitation facilities e.g. VIP latrines as such there is ensured access to equitable water and sanitation services in the community. It is evidenced from the impact assessment that fewer referrals on water related diseases are done to the local health facilities. Thus, it is our assumption that families livelihoods have improved.

The Nyatike Interior Women’s Group thanks CAART for your support. We hope future partnerships will impact more in the lives of the vulnerable in the East Africa.

Tracey Onyango , NIWG, Kenya

Executive members of the NIWG show off the tomatoes that are growing in their greenhouse, thanks to the availability of water from the CanAssist water tank.  This is both providing nourishment and income for the group and they report feeling somewhat liberated by this project.

Executive members of the NIWG show off the tomatoes that are growing in their greenhouse, thanks to the availability of water from the CanAssist water tank. This is both providing nourishment and income for the group and they report feeling somewhat liberated by this project.

Heading home …



On my way home.

Gradually watching my surroundings change. Despite being a high exporter of coffee to the rest of the world,Kenya tends to be a tea society. Probably has to do with lack of easy preparation of brewed coffee.

More commonly if you are served coffee it is instant Nescafé. Their local instant coffee is very good, however, when you can find it. I have a little tin to bring home with me. Finely ground and good coffee taste.

There are parts of Kenya that are particularly good for growing tea. The fields are an endless green table of waist-high bushes that are speckled with workers hand picking the young tea leaves for drying and processing and shipping around the world.

So much stuff …

This is an updated version of an article that I had published in the Kingston Whig Standard in December 2012. As I leave Africa for home these thoughts are in my mind.

In July 2011, I led a group of 20 CanAssist supporters (at their own expense) to Kenya and Uganda to see first-hand some of the projects that our charity was funding there. We had a wonderful visit. There were smiles, hugs and tears of joy throughout the time we spent mingling with African communities and schools.

Our trip started auspiciously with our flight out of Montreal being cancelled on the morn-ing we were to depart. Not postponed – cancelled. Thanks to our friends at Odyssey Travel we were all rebooked to bounce through Paris, then Amsterdam to arrive as scheduled in Nairobi but we had to hustle as our changed itinerary had us departing three hours earlier than originally planned. We jostled in large customs and security lineups at the Paris airport. It was hectic. By the time we reached Amsterdam I was a bit frazzled.

Then, as we were leaving the Air France plane and wondering if we would get to our last connecting flight on time, a smiling dark-skinned fellow in a red jacket appeared. With a reassuring and gentle voice, he guided us through the Amsterdam airport securi-ty and onto a special bus to the gate where our Kenya Airways plane, already boarded with 200 other passengers, was waiting. We were ushered to our seats and greeted with smiles by the attendants. They had held the plane’s departure a few minutes so we could get there on time. The pilot then announced that we would be just a few minutes more before departure to be sure our luggage had all been transferred.

The atmosphere had miraculously changed from frenzied panic to one that was calm and soothing. I felt like I was already “home” in Africa. I could relax knowing these people would help us to arrive safely at our destination. What a relief.

Often I get asked if I have any culture shock or major adjustments to make when I travel in East Africa.

In fact, I find myself immediately comfortable when I arrive and smell the air at Nairobi airport and feel the warmth both of the climate and of the people. It is this warmth, like the relief I had when we were finally in the hands of the Kenya Airways crew, that draws me back to Africa and motivates me to promote the work we do through the CanAssist African Relief Trust.

The difficulty adjusting happens when I come home. Today I am heading to the Kisumu airport to start the 30+ hour trip home. I have had a productive and pleasant sojourn in Kenya since mid January. The weather and people here are both warm and inviting. I will still have some winter to face when I get home. And the usual cultural adjustment back to my Canadian ways.

I am proud to be a Canadian. I know how fortunate I am to live in a multicultural, tolerant and respectful society and among the top tier of people in the world with regard to food, security and fresh water to spare. I choke up when I sing “God, keep our land glorious and free” in our national anthem.

But when I come home I start to look around me and wonder where our priorities are.

We have so much “stuff”. And despite having so much, our consumer-based society encourages us to want more. After spending time in a small African town where people do their shopping in kiosks or off straw mats on the street, I find that setting foot in one of our “Box” stores almost feels obscene.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a consumer, too. I enjoy comforts and unnecessary frills just as much as anyone. But when I look around me at all the “things” that we have – or think that we need to have – I start to ponder the differences between our society and the life I experience when I am in Africa. Their priority seems to be much more based on caring interaction with others, rather than with material accumulations.

These Ontario School Children donated $176.11 from allowances in 2012 to help children in East Africa.  Sharing.

These Ontario School Children donated $176.11 from allowances in 2012 to help children in East Africa. Sharing.

So how do I find balance? I have come to agree with the recommendations made by Peter Singer in his book “The Life You Can Save”. Singer’s suggestion is that we should enjoy the luxuries we are accustomed to – and work to acquire – but that we must also share our good fortune in some way with developing nations. If we have enough money to spend $4.50 on a ‘low fat, extra hot, vanilla soy latte” or $2.00 on a bottle of water that would be free if we get it from the tap, surely we have some to share with people who have no access to clean water, adequate sanitation, food security or basic health care.

I am extraordinarily lucky to have the opportunity to spend time in both worlds. I can ex-perience the comfort and security of a Canadian society and also the friendly, caring warmth that envelopes me when I visit communities in Africa. Through the CanAssist African Relief Trust, I hope that I can share my good fortune, and encourage others to share as well, with people who live in communities that can use our help.


When visiting the CanAssist-supported Hope School in Mbita, Kenya I am always astounded how many of the children ( the happy ones singing in the van, by the way) have desperate life circumstances. Many who go to the school live in nearby slum communities. Their families are poor and suffer from the consequences of that with the kids being malnourished and eking out existence from day to day.

Well, the adults suffer too.

I was introduced to one young man who happens to be albino. As such he had been plagued by discrimination and rejection throughout his life. In some neighboring countries, albinos are thought to be spiritually haunted. There are reports as late as 2009 of young albino men being killed and their body parts sold for potions. Imagine living in the fear that your skin colour ( or lack of it ) puts your very life at risk – essentially to be poached for your body parts.

The man came into the little office room and we greeted each other with a handshake.

“This fellow lives in the slum community next to the school,” I was told. “He likes music and has been volunteering to help out at the school so we have accepted him here, both to help him out but also to help the children learn not to discriminate or reject people who look different from themselves. It is something else that the school can offer back to the community.”

“Wonderful.” I thought.

“His wife was pregnant and two days ago she gave birth to a son.”

“Congratulations” I blurted.

An awkward pause. “Oh no!” I thought.

“The child died. This fellow needed 1500 Kenyan shillings to bury his child but he has virtually nothing. Not even money for food now. ” (1500 KSh is about $20 Canadian)

While this was being related to me the man buried his head in his arms on the table in front of him and wept. African men will rarely show this kind of emotion to others. As he sobbed I was told the rest of his story.

“We have offered him a place at the corner of the school yard at the rural school where he will bury his child today. It is the least we can do to help him out.”

The grave was pointed out to me when I visited the school the next day.

This story was heartbreaking on so many levels. But it also demonstrated the kindness and community orientation that many Africans can demonstrate. They are compassionate people who are genuinely responsive to the needs of others within their capacity to help.

I am so blessed to know these kind, generous people who teach me so much about life.