About johnageddes

Kingston, Canada based family physician, photographer, grandfather, thespian and philanthropist. Founding Trustee of the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Development work in Bosnia and Herzegovina and East Africa.

Amboseli Safari

It seemed a shame to be traveling to Kenya and not experience the magic of a Safari to a game preserve to see some of the diverse wildlife that Africa offers.

So Stephen and I set out for a 24 hour trip to the Amboseli National Park in the southwest corner of Kenya in the shadow of Kilimanjaro.

We stayed one night at the Serena Amboseli Lodge that is within the park and handy to access the many dirt roads that wind throughout. We had a great time driving around in our own vehicle which gave us the opportunity to just stop and observe the animals as long as we liked. At times we were within a few meters of elephants and hippos and wildebeest and as long as we just sat there quietly they went about their business and paid us no heed.

Video: Sixty seconds of our game drive highlights.

The park was very dry as there has been a prolonged drought in the area so the savannah portion was brown and dusty and lacking much for the animals to feed on. Amboseli Park does have several small lakes that are fed from springs so there is water and even aquatic vegetation that the animals could feed on. The peak of Kilimanjaro often hides in the clouds and unfortunately we didn’t get a clear period to see it although the base is evident from the park.

The stars of the show are the Amboseli elephants and there are lots of them. I have put together a 5 minute YouTube video of the elephants we spent time with. (Below). Put it on full screen. Elephants are big. Enjoy.

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This school visit choked me up a bit

Last week while visiting a school in Nyanza Province with Dan, I experienced a particularly touching moment.

Two schools, Nyangulu Secondary School the adjacent primary school, also called Nyangulu are in a valley (Nyangulu apparently means “a place of valleys”) that’s down a very bumpy road that gets partly washed out by the rain. It rivals a bumper-car ride at the fair to get there. The schools are virtually on the equator.

The secondary school looked orderly and well managed. We were there to bring greetings on behalf of the CanAssist Trustees and donors and to officially turn over a new 10,000 litre water tank that was already full to the brim because of the late afternoon rains we have received in the past week. While I had been visiting the district for the previous week, the mornings were often bright and sunny and hot and then, at about four, thunder rolled in the distance and brought a brief but torrential downpour. Then the skies cleared in about an hour.

Video: Typical short afternoon cloudburst in Nyanza Province.

The Nyangulu secondary school has about 700 students who all met outside during their morning break to receive our greetings. One of the girls thanked CanAssist for their contributions to the school. She requested that CanAssist help next with some kitchen improvements. After the assembly, Dan and I strolled over to see where three cooks work to provide two meals a day for the 700 pupils. It was a tiny smokey shack with a couple of huge pots and a lean-to beside it with another open fire. It was unimaginable that they could provide food daily from this environment for all of these kids.

Video: Can you imagine preparing lunch did several hundred high school students in this “kitchen”?

Then we walked next door to the primary school where another water tank had just been installed. Once again we were greeted by staff and students and I went from classroom to classroom to say hello. In once class they sang for me.

Video: Grade 5 at Nyangulu Elementary School welcome me with a song,

As we were about to leave, we were directed to a group of very young students under a tree by the primary classes who wanted to greet me with a couple of poems.

One of the poems was about being a Good Samaritan and thanking CanAssist for the contributions made to the school.

Video: Outside under a tree, a grade three class recited a poem they had practiced about CanAssist being a Good Samaritan to them.

“A Good Samaritan becomes a good neighbor. A neighbour is anyone in need. We were in need of hand-washing containers, latrines, storybooks, balls for play and fresh water to drink. CanAssist was there for us. You provided all these. You are our Good Samaritan, a wonderful partner. God bless you and thank you.”

I found this very touching. I told them that I remembered a stained glass window depiction of the Good Samaritan in New St James Church in London, Ontario beside the pew where my family usually sat when I was a their age. I probably spent a lot of time looking up at that colorful window and daydreaming during the sermon.

This stained-glass window is like the one I remember from my childhood.

I realized as I heard these kids and thought about this childhood memory of the Good Samaritan window that the message of that parable must have had an influence on me in choosing both my vocation as a physician and the development work that I have done over the years. I reflected on what a privilege it has been for me to be able to work with communities in East Africa, to meet so many friends there and to have unique interactions with them. My life has been incredibly enriched by these experiences. Hearing the children recite this little poem triggered a surprisingly emotional response in me as and will be a moment that I will long remember.

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My tree at Kona Baridi

I have visited my friends, Liz and Stephen Moiko and thief family several times over the past 18 years. They live on a farm-like property near Kiserian, Kenya, about 45 minutes southwest of Nairobi.

On every visit (and when I have traveled with friends to Kenya) I always take time to hike up the hill to visit a tree that hangs out over the edge of the Rift Valley.

A visit to my favourite tree in January 2012. Two weeks later, Liz had Charles who is now 10 years old. Time flies. But somehow this spot remains constant.

The valley below is often lush and green but this time it is dry and brown. There is always peace and quiet there with a refreshing breeze and maybe the tinkle of goat bells in the distance. It is one of my favourite places on earth.

Video: Some moments with my tree near Kona Baridi in 2022.
It never disappoints.

Once again I hiked up to my tree and soaked up the ambiance, reflecting and remembering. And taking the same photo I have taken for years of the tree arched out over the valley like in a group of seven painting.

Video: Finding my tree on Google Earth. A half hour hike from the Moiko homestead.

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Adam Nkuyan School – A Success Story

Driving to the Adam Nkuyan School deep in Maasai territory on the floor of the Rift Valley in Kenya has always been a bit of an adventure. Once, with a group of 20 CanAssist supporters in safari truck we ran out of gas, with no fuel available for miles. This time, my friend, Stephen drove me out to the school and once we got half an hour away from the main Magadi Road everything started to look the same. We took one (or maybe more) wrong turns and basically got lost in the middle of nowhere and with no phone service. We asked the few folks we saw for directions and eventually arrived at the school about 90 minutes late. On the bright side we did spot zebras and giraffes by the side of the “road”.

Video: Wildlife by the side of the road on our drive to Nkuyan School.

I had not been to the school for about 7 years and when I arrived I was very pleasantly surprised.

The Nkuyan School was CanAssist’s first project. We officially opened it in 2009. There might have been 30 students in the single tin classroom.

Alex and Judith Adam open the tin sheet classroom that started the Nkuyan School in 2009. Now there are 8 permanent classrooms and three din sheet classrooms including this original structure.

Gradually a couple of permanent classrooms were added as well as water tanks and latrines. Eventually the school became registered with the Government who ended up paying for 4 more classrooms. The school now has enrollment of 250 students and 11 teachers, four of them paid for by the government. There are another couple of tin structures for the very young kids and they have students from preschool age to class eight.

The school now has 250 students from preschool age to Grade 8

In the National exams last year for the Class 8 students they had the best marks of the 40 schools in their district. In addition, the enrollment at the school is equal numbers of boys and girls.

Fifteen more pupils have joined the Nkuyan school since this chart was made.

We were met by the Chairman of the School Board, the teachers led by the Deputy Head Teacher, a group of parents, including three that are on the parent’s committee. The whole community is involved and supportive and most grateful for this school in their very remote community. Without this school, children in this community might have to walk as far as 13 km to school each day which would mean many would go without their basic education.

The bottom line is that this school has grown incredibly, and has even received some government funding to help it grow. The community is taking care of the resources that have been given to them, is actively supporting the school and encouraging their children to acquire and education. The pupils are showing excellent academic performance. The help that CanAssist provided and continues to provide in partnership with two Kenyan NGO’s (MPIDO and MANDO) has kickstarted a school that is making a big difference for this remote Maasai community. This is the kind of success we dreamed about when we started the CanAssist African Relief Trust 15 years ago.

Video: The students of Nkuyan School entertained me with traditional song and dance.

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I came across this photo of the Nkuyan School in 2009

Malaria, HIV and COVID. What’s changing with health in Kenya?

Kenyans are used to dealing with illnesses that threaten their well-being.

Malaria is ever-present. I figure that malaria poses a much greater threat to me as a visitor than COVID as I visit Kenya and I take daily prophylaxis to protect me. Malaria can cause fever, malaise, muscle aches, headache and sometime death. Better medical management choices, rapid tests for malaria, and recent introduction of immunization for infants will soon reduce the prevalence and morbidity in Kenya (and other tropical countries) from malaria.

Africans have also been living with HIV for over 20 years now. Although HIV/AIDS was devastating a few years back it has become manageable with education and effective management. New cases of HIV are now much less common.

Preexposure Prophylaxis (PREP) and Postexposure Prophlaxis (PEP) are now available and medical management of AIDS has come down to one pill a day and an every six month checkup at a local health facility instead of 10 pills daily on a regimented schedule and monthly visits to a special clinic that is not close to home. A test and treat model whereby newly diagnosed cases are immediately put on antiretrovirals rather than waiting until their health indicators are deteriorating has reduced morbidity has made a huge difference.

When I traveled here in 2004 the prevalence of HIV was over 40% in one of the communities I frequently visited. Today I am told that new cases are much, much less common and most of the patients with HIV are long-standing and receiving effective ongoing care. In 2004, Kenyan life expectancy was 48 compared to Canada’s 81. Today it averages 68.

What about COVID? The recent COVID pandemic has disrupted the Kenyan economy and health as it has around the world.

During tHe height of the pandemic last year Kenyan Public Health authorities instituted a strict lockdown. Schools and most businesses were closed for over a year. There was a curfew imposed from 7pm to 6 am for over three months with the penalty for breaking the curfew being arrest. Hand washing and masks were required, along with frequent temperature checks before entering indoor establishments or stores. Gatherings for funerals or weddings were restricted. Masks were required in all public transportation including matatus (the ever present taxi vans often stuffed to the brim with 14 passengers) Vaccination was delayed but gradually became available (AstraZeneca) in mid to late 2021. Pfizer boosters have recently become available but, as in Canada, calling it a booster rather than a third scheduled shot to complete protection is making it seem optional to many and uptake is less.

Dan rolls up his sleeve to get his Pfizer “booster”.

There has been no easy way to determine how many were infected. My friends tell me that older folks were dying of short catastrophic illnesses but there was no way to know if it was COVID because testing was not readily available.

Businesses and individuals who worked in the hospitality/tourism sector suffered financially. Small street vendors were limited in how they could sell their wares or foods. There was no financial social assistance. It was a struggle.

Now, in September 2022, things look like they are returning to normal. Some people tell me that they think they probably had COVID as they had the common symptoms but no one really knows for sure. I have seen no one wearing a mask in the week that I have been living in this rural community. When I arrived there were a few masks in the airport and on the plane. This was requested but not required. No one talks about COVID unless I question them.

Higher income countries have an older demographic. Look at the map of Old Age Dependency ratio, the darker areas having an older demographic.

Western countries, Have an older demographic and have more diseases associated with aging like heart disease and diabetes and cancer. More people in these countries will require intensive management of COVID or even die from it because of the increased vulnerability caused by advanced age or co-morbidities. These cases do exist in Kenya, too, but they are difficult to diagnose because of lack of testing and little management that patients could access (ventilation or even oxygen therapy) unless they are well-off and live in a larger urban centre.

World death statistics from COVID show much lower death rates per 100,000 population for Kenya (in blue along the bottom) than the western world. Is this because the deaths are just not being identified or because the lower average age means less severe illness, or both?

So Kenyans have a couple of things going for them in terms of COVID. The much younger population are not as likely to become severely ill and if they acquire COVID at school or in the community they will develop natural immunity that might be boosted with recurring mild infections. They also have a warm climate here and folks spend most of their time outdoors. Weddings and funerals and other gatherings are mainly outdoors and homes have open doors and windows much of the time to improve ventilation. Vaccination is now available to them as well. The challenge now is how to encourage them to get it . The poorer uptake of the “booster” is mainly due to thinking it is optional rather than the resistance seen in North America by folks who think it is impacting their “freedom”.

(Video) Socializing after church outdoors. Some get a COVID booster under a tree while others remain inside to sing some more.

What’s next? There has recently been a small outbreak of Ebola in Uganda and another suspected case in Kenya. The border between Kenya and Uganda has been closed. Hopefully, this will be contained as in the past. We have seen how HIV and COVID can insidiously invade a community.the fear is always that Ebola will become more difficult to manage as well.

To end on a cheery note, here is the hibiscus I have been looking at this afternoon beside the porch at Dan’s house as I write this post.

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Important note to my subscribers

Those who are subscribed to my blog receive an email announcing a new post.

I have just started to include a few videos have discovered that they don’t play if you read the post in your email.

To steam the video you can tap on the post title in the email and that will take you to the WordPress site where the video will play.

The post today about the SP School has videos. In the future I will note if there is a video in the post so you will not miss it!

Cheers, from Mbita Point, Kenya

S.P. Geddes School in Osiri Village, Kenya

In 2011 I met Meshack Andiwo who lived in a small Kenyan village near the Luanda K’Otieno ferry that takes passengers and cars across Homa Bay to Mbita Point. He told me that small children in his community were struggling when they went to Primary School because they didn’t have the basics of English and arithmetic. They were too young to walk the distance to the nearest Primary School. Once the were old enough to walk the distance to school they were behind many of their peers and they became discouraged and lagged behind. He wanted them to have some early childhood education so they would not struggle or be discouraged and quit when they were old enough to walk to school.

I told my late Dad who was about 92 at the time,about this challenge and he offered some financial support through the CanAssist African Relied Trust to start to build a school for the community and it began with one small tin classroom and a latrine. And so it began.

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* video Come, come, come. Come to SP Geddes School for a better foundation. A young child will grow and grow and later become a doctor/teacher.

I visited the school today. There are several buildings now, a kitchen, clean new latrine, a fenced playground and a small office. There are currently about 50 kids at the school from preschool age to grade 4. They are learning the basics and being fed a breakfast of porridge and a lunch of beans or rice and vegetables, sometimes their only nutrition in a community that struggles with food security.

*Video* How wonderful is this welcome?

When we formed the CanAssist African Relief Trust in 2008, we determined that it’s mandate would be to provide sustainable tangible infrastructure and not programming or management costs (like teachers’ salaries or feeding programmes. This is for two reasons. One is that it would commit for a longer term and limit the number of communities that CanAssist donors could help. It also would foster reliance on outside help and May might foster dependency rather than encourage financial planning and self sufficiency. The latrines, classrooms, water catchment, text books, solar panels, fencing etc are tangible gifts to give the building blocks for running a school or clinic or community sanitation programme. Responsibility for managing and funding the programming is up to the recipient.

Feeding these kids two meals a day is an important motivator to have them attend the school and ensures that they get some sustenance.

.Food supplies for the fifty kids at SP Geddes school cost about $15-$20 per day. Parents pay a small fee to cover the cost of the food but by the end of the week, they sometimes run out and Meshack and Caroline have to dip into their own means to support this. I plan to send a bit of money every so often to help them with this expense. If you want to help a bit with this, let me know as even a couple of dollars a week would be of great value to sustain these beautiful kids.

* video Children at the SP Geddes School washing their hands before lunch.
In addition to early academic education they are taught other life skills.

Caroline and Meshack’s grandson was named “SP” in recognition of my Dad’s generosity and the school was named the SP Geddes School. I met SP as an infant several years ago and what a treat it was to see him again today. He is now 9 years old.

Reuniting with young SP, named after my Dad.
Meshack and Carolinr

Meshack and Caroline take good care of the children at SP Geddes School

Visit to a rural Kenyan Elementary School

This morning, Dan and I dropped in to the Ramula Primary School, a rural public school that has about 700 pupils from grade 1 to 8. Although I am no longer a Trustee with the CanAssist African Relief Trust, the CanAssist board asked me to look in on a few project partners while I am here in Kenya.

The purpose of Dan’s visit to the school this morning was to sign an MOU with the head teacher of the school to confirm the building of an 8 stall pit latrine for the boys. Last year CanAssist built a girls latrine at the school and also supplied some much needed desks.

Dan Otieno, CsnAssist’s African Field Representative signing an MOU for a new boys latrine with the Head Teacher, chairman of the school board and chairman of the PTA of Ramula Primary School.

You would not believe the state of the current boys latrines. They are old and in very poor condition (I won’t disgust you with photos.) I watched as three or four boys opened doors looking for a stall that was useable. Toilets that are collapsing and I’m poor repair are not uncommon in Kenyan elementary schools. Although these schools are publicly run, there seems to be no money for many basic needs, like text books and sanitation. CanAssist has helped several schools in East Africa over the years to help with water collection, sanitation and other infrastructure.

Girls’ latrine built last year at the Ramula Primary School.

CanAssist does not work on a cookie-cutter mold. Every project is different and tailored to the needs expressed by the school or hospital or community. This morning a young woman in grade 8 asked if they could have a couple of cupboards for books – essentially asking for book shelves. I told her that I would pass on this request to the CanAssist trustees. And one of the teachers who teaches language and English asked if they could get some storybooks in English and Swahili to help with reading and literacy.

Literacy teacher Frederick Kolanyo
Student Lucy Atieno

For the past few years the Ontario Teacher’s federation has generously funded purchase of requested books for two or three schools annually through CanAssist. Dan usually asks the teachers what they need and the books specific to their needs are purchased from local booksellers. I am sure that when this funding comes through later this year he will be asking this teacher for his recommendations. (Thanks OTF for your ongoing support.)

We were received warmly. The students, the teaching staff, the Chairman of the school’s Board, and the head of the Parent-Teachers Association all expressed appreciation for the gifts that Canadian donors make to the school through CanAssist.

I was happy to bring greetings from Canada on behalf of the donors and trustees of the CanAssist African Relief Trust.

A delightful Sunday morning

This morning I wandered down the road with Dan and Mercy and Heather Maddie to go to St Ann’s Catholic Church, a small tin-roofed church at the top of a hill by the main road. I am not a church-goer in Canada but have always felt uplifted after going to Church in Africa. This morning was no exception.

The church was packed to the brim. This was taken from about half way back.

There were no empty spaces on the wooden bench pews that were packed tightly with people of all ages and I was the only “muzungu” in the congregation of about 250. Although the church was Catholic there was minimal ritual and formality. Down the road there was another evangelical church with a preacher blaring into a microphone.

I ended up sitting with Dan in the choir section right in the midst of the music. How delightful was that? The choir director played on a digital keyboard that was hooked up to a car battery.

I found myself swaying and humming along not understanding many words as it was mostly Luo language but the energy and joy needed no translation. Everyone was singing and dancing. What a treat! A dramatic contrast to church services in Canada!

After Church I met outside with a Youth Group that Dan mentors and there was also folks from the nearby community hospital giving COVID vaccines under a tree in the yard. I will write more about COVID in an upcoming post.

The local hospital had an outreach COVID vaccination clinic under a tree in the churchyard after the service.
When we got home, Heather Maddie suggested that we do a family photo.

Arrived in Siaya District, Nyanza Province, Kenya

 After a long day of travel (my Kenya Airways Flight from JFK in New York direct to Nairobi was almost 14 hours!) I am now comfortably ensconced at Dan Otieno’s place near Ramula, Kenya. We are quite literally on the Equator.  I can cross the equator, changing hemispheres back and forth within an half hour’s walk along the road.  I haven’t (yet)  done the test to see if water drains in a different circular direction in the North than in the South.

Morning coffee in bright African sunshine.

I have known Dan since 2004 and have see him one place or another in East Africa almost annually up until the COVID pandemic shut down international travel. We are like family. I am not sure who adopted whom. I have been to this homestead three times previously. The last time was to attend his marriage to Mercy, who is a Clinical Officer at a clinic about three hours away. His 4-year-old daughter is named Heather Maddie. We have quickly become fast friends, bonding over Paw Patrol. She speaks pretty fluent English with a Kenyan accent and will soon learn both Luo and Swahili as well. She looks at books, turning the pages and taking in the photos and when she closes the book she says “and they all lived happily ever after.”

Reacquainting with my African “granddaughter” over Paw Patrol.

Like my family at home, they all call me Dedo here.  I took on that name when first granddaughter, Maddy, was born 21 years ago. I was working in Bosnia at the time and wasn’t quite ready to be “Grandpa” so I took on the Bosnian name for Grandfather, Dedo. It stuck.  Now adults and children alike here in this household call me Dedo.

Dan has hired a young fellow from Kisumu named Evans to help make food when I am around so he and Mercy won’t be preoccupied with meal preparation .  He is working in a little kitchen area that is just outside the house. It is quite common for Kenyan homes, in addition to an indoor kitchen, to have an separate building with a wood-burning stove that they use for cooking. It is a bit of a throwback to the traditional ways of preparing food.

Evans preparing our lunch in the separate kitchen

I was amazed to hear that this building was actually made out of mud. To build it, a frame was made out of wood and mud from the yard was packed into the frame and allowed to harden for two to three months during the dry season. Another layer was later applied and smoothed and than the outside was painted. It looks like stucco and feels firm. The paint protects against rain damage and termites. It is not expensive and reasonably durable. Rainwater from the roof of the main hose supplies all the water.



The finished mud house kitchen

Tomorrow I am going to show Evansf how to make focaccia!  He works as a cook in Kisumu so he can return with a recipe for Focaccia to impress his friends.  We are having lots of fresh fruits including pineapple that we picked up at a street market on our way here. It was picked yesterday and is ripe and sweet and totally unlike the pineapple we get from Costa Rica in Food Basics.

There are chickens in the yard that produce a few fresh eggs.  There are also a few goats, a couple of geese, a stray cat and some vervet monkeys in the trees.  

Network coverage in this very rural setting is a big hit and miss so posting might be more of a challenge than I anticipated.  Hang in.