Anyone who has frequented the 10,000 villages stores is familiar with the wonderful soapstone carvings that come from Kisii Kenya, known as Kisii Stone. We visited where these are made, saw the artisans who make all this stone and send it internationally and got a chance to purchase some for ourselves. The quarry has a unique stone that is now known all over the world.
Kingston Ontario’s history includes a cholera epidemic that, between 1932 and 1934, killed ten percent of the city’s population. Kingston residents are all familiar with the downtown McBurney Park ( known locally as Skeleton Park}, now home to an annual summer arts festival, where many of the victims of this epidemic were buried 180 years ago. Kingston’s popular home-town band, The Tragically Hip, even have a song that references the outbreak. The Hip Museum website has a great summary of the cholera epidemic that basically closed down all the stores in town with the exception of lumber outlets to make coffins.
Cholera was then, and remains now, a serious consequence of inadequate sanitation and clean water. It was not until John Snow traced an outbreak in London to a water pump on Broad Street that we understood that the disease was spread through water exposed to fecal contamination from other infected people.
In Canada today, 99 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation and clean water. Cholera is a disease of the past. But for communities in developing world countries, including those in East Africa, where, by comparison, only 60 percent of people have access to improved sanitation, it remains a serious threat.
Just last week I received an email from Dr. Karen Yeates, a Kingston nephrologist who is currently with her family in Tanzania. She writes:
“I just managed a cholera epidemic over Christmas at the little hospital I am doing some part time consulting at. I never thought I would see it in my lifetime as a physician…..its incredible that we have the ability to do everything we can in this world with technology and medicine but, the poor and disadvantaged in sub-Saharan Africa struggle with diseases of more than a century ago. We have had over 30 cases but no deaths thankfully. We traced it to lack of toilets and clean water in the three communities where it came from. They had stopped boiling water due to lack of ability to afford wood for their fires…its a choice of make food or boiling water but not enough wood for both. Inflation is high here right now due to the strong US dollar and everything has become more expensive for families here.
I was thinking about CAN-ASSIST and how many toilets you have built over the years….we can’t forget about these simple things…..:).
Keep doing what you all do so well. “
The CanAssist African Relief Trust continues to work to improve water and sanitation for schools and communities in East Africa. This week we are starting a latrine project at a school on Ukerewe Island in Lake Victoria. In 2015 we installed clean water supply and toilets in ten different schools, clinics or lakeside villages.
There is little specific treatment for Cholera other than aggressive fluid and electrolyte replacement. Prevention through sanitation, protection of water supplies and hand-washing remains the key. This YouTube video is in Swahili and aimed at instructing African people about the importance of these prevention measures. It is simply presented and without knowing a word of the language it is easy to understand the message.
I suspect that your family didn’t gather last month to celebrate World Toilet Day. You would have visited a toilet, however, likely without acknowledging that it was actually a luxury that many in the world don’t have. Try to imagine, next time you flush, what it would be like to live in a community where no sanitation facilities exist.
Access to improved sanitation is something that we take for granted. In Canada, nearly all the population has access to some sort of private sanitation facility. I say “nearly” since, sadly, there are still some aboriginal communities who still struggle to have access to clean water and sanitation – hopefully something that our new federal government will finally address.
In cooperation with several schools and communities in East Africa, the Kingston-based, CanAssist African Relief Trust continues to help improve access to toilets and clean water in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It is sometimes a hard sell to donors. Toilets don’t seem to have any charismatic appeal. But they are an easily-achievable improvement to well-being that can reduce disease, cut health care costs, give some dignity, protect women and girls from assault and save lives.
Here are some United Nations figures posted recently in the Globe and Mail. Many other sources have similar figures. Improving sanitation definitely helps individuals and the society in which they live.
2.3 billion people worldwide do not have access to a private toilet and almost 1 billion of those defecate in the open.
Over 300,000 young children’s lives could be saved each year by clean water and improved sanitation.
Children will lose 272 million school days each year due to diarrheal illnesses.
For every $1 invested in eliminating open defecation, there is a $6 economic return.
Worldwide, more people die from unsanitary conditions than from AIDS, malaria and measles combined
In 2015, CanAssist installed clean water, toilets and washing facilities in ten communities and schools. These water and sanitation projects will serve at least 3000 people who otherwise would have had inadequate or no facilities. We almost always have a project related to sanitation being implemented.
For example, CanAssist is about to start a new latrine project at the Kabuhinzi School on Ukerewe Island in Lake Victoria. Several volunteers from the Kingston area visit this community regularly with a medical caravan. Hopefully the addition of improved sanitation to this community will head off some of the bowel infections that occur without proper latrines. Prevention can be more efficient and effective than treatment once disease occurs.
Women and girls are particularly vulnerable when no sanitation facilities exist. Having to use open spaces and public fields when there is no toilet is not only degrading but it exposes women to the risk of assault. Teenage girls who have no school latrines miss classes for a few days every month because they have no place to tend to their menstrual sanitation needs.
Sanitation also includes accessibility to appropriate washing facilities. In many communities, there are no private area to wash or bathe. A hand washing opportunity near a latrine has been shown to be as essential and effective at preventing intestinal diseases as the toilet itself. CanAssist works to provide a source of clean water for schools along with latrines.
In two communities we have also built washroom facilities with showers from water drawn from the lake to an elevated tank. In Osiri Village, where we just installed such facilities, Tobias Katete, the Beach Management Unit chairman reports “ The facility is in use and now attracting even our neighbours who also come to bathe. Within the first month we have had 750 showers taken. For many, it is the first time they have had a private place to wash. More people are now using the latrine instead of the bush as it is close to the washrooms. We expect this will reduce spread of cholera in the community.” The community has formed a local P.U.C. to collect 5 shillings (6 cents) for use of the showers. This money will be used for maintenance and any necessary repairs. We are also soon installing a hand-washing tap beside the latrine to complete the sanitation effort here.
At Christmas and year-end, folks like to open their hearts and wallets to charities or to help others less fortunate. You might consider a tax-deductible gift to the CanAssist African Relief Trust. CanAssist pays no Canadian salaries or expenses and our Canadian administration expenses amount to about 5%.
There will be no doubt that your donation to CanAssist will benefit East African men, women and children directly.
Infrastructure. In the last few weeks Canadians, during a long election campaign, have heard their now newly-elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal party talking about it. In fact, reporters couldn’t ask Trudeau any question without ending up at his talking point which is ““Every dollar we spend on public infrastructure grows our economy, creates jobs, and strengthens our cities and towns.”
“What time is it, Justin?” “I’m glad you asked that question, Peter. We think it is time to run a deficit to invest in infrastructure because every dollar we spend … ”
We got the point. I happen to agree with it. And it appears that a majority of Canadians did too. Trudeau’s Liberals were elected with a majority government.
Since its inception In 2008, the CanAssist African Relief Trust has been investing in infrastructure in East Africa for exactly that reason. We have built school classrooms, bought hospital equipment, constructed toilets, provided clean water catchment and bought school desks and books.
We know, because we visit the communities we help, that this is making a difference to the men, women and children who live there. Better educated girls are more likely to become self reliant, have better opportunities for employment and be more informed as mothers. Children who learn about the benefits of sanitation, clean water and sexual responsibility will be able to apply that learning to manage themselves, their families and lead in the community. People who can read and access the Internet will make more informed decisions about their governments. In short, improving the infrastructure relating to education, health and sanitation will allow the “human capital” any community to flourish.
Another benefit that is not quite so obvious is that by providing funding for these projects, CanAssist donors also have the opportunity to give work to many folks who otherwise are unemployed. We don’t send goods made in Canada or old books or microscopes. We send money. Our African associates tell us what they need and we respond with funding. Almost all of our money is spent in Africa, our unavoidable Canadian administrative expenses being in the range of five per cent.
When we build a classroom or a latrine in Africa, the project purchases the materials locally and employs local labor. Amuge Akol is one of our associates in Olimai, Uganda where we are currently constructing two latrines at a clinic where previously the toilets were falling apart and full, (can you imagine no clean toilets at a clinic?) She recently reported that, in addition to improving the sanitation for staff and patients, the project has given several people work. “The project has provided 3 months employment to 12 people who otherwise would probably not send their kids to school this term or have no income for their families.” The total cost to accomplish this, to CanAssist donors, by the way has been a meagre $6000.
In another Kenyan community CanAssist is in the process of having desks constructed for a local school. In 2013, we completed classrooms at the Hope School but the building has been without furnishings. CanAssist, is having 200 chairs and 100 metal-framed desks locally built to furnish the empty Hope School classrooms as well as others at the school. This project will provide durable furnishings for the school but it is also employing three workmen over several months and acquire materials locally. The community benefits twofold – employment and infrastructure.
This is what the Liberals are proposing to boost our Canadian economy…only the money for this will come by running a deficit rather than from well-wishers from Uganda.
“Why should individual Canadians support projects like this in Africa through organizations like CanAssist?” you ask. “Doesn’t our government give money for development in poor nations?”
The short answer to that is “Not enough.”
In 1969, Canada’s own Lester Pearson headed a commission at the UN that determined and recommended that poverty could be significantly reduced or eliminated in the developing world if the rest of us applied 0.7 percent of our Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Developmental Assistance (ODA). Many countries have achieved that goal. What has Canada done? Despite repeatedly committing to reach this goal, the highest Canada ever reached was about 0.5 per cent in 1986. Over the last few years, as other countries increased their assistance to record highs, Canada’s contribution to ODA has actually dropped below .028 per cent of the GNI. Not the kind of record internationally to be proud of.
And do you know how the Harper government was able to present, in an election year, a balanced budget? In part, it was by reducing or freezing spending on ODA, and actually not spending over 125 million dollars that were already approved for development work. It is easier to balance your budget if you simply just don’t honour your commitments to poor countries.
Your gift to CanAssist can help provide tangible resources to East African communities and, at the same time, stimulate the local economy by providing employment. We welcome your support of the work we do though tax-deductible donations by mail or online.
When my grandson turned six, he decided that, instead of having kids bring him presents for his birthday party, he would have them bring a bit of money that he gave to me to take to Kenya to share with school kids there. I was able to buy a soccer ball and books for three schools with the money he collected. I also took a photo of him to each school.
When I returned to one of the schools a year later the children asked me “How is Noah Budd?” They knew that he had helped them and were wanting to send greetings. Last year it took me by surprise when I was in the office of yet another school and saw Noah’s photo on the wall. I was delighted to make Noah aware that these children were grateful and appreciative of his generosity.
In May, Noah’s sister, Emma, sent me $10 of her birthday money and this afternoon, in the mail, I got a note and $10 fromtheir sister, Maia, who turns five today, money for the CanAssist African Relief Trust.
I am so proud of these kids (and their parents) for sharing their good fortune with others.
I have also gone to elementary schools where the kids have been very enthusiastic and motivated to help others in Africa. Ms Paré’s Grade 4-5 class at Glenburnie School gathered $1300 this spring and this money is now being put to use to construct school furnishings for the St Catherine School in Kenya.
CanAssist has also had generous support from children at Sweet’s Corners School, Rideau Vista School, and Inglewood School in Toronto.
These kids seem to just realize that with really very little effort and sacrifice on their part (mainly enthusiasm and motivating others) they can make a really significant difference to the lives of children in Africa.
I am moved and proud of all of them for their altruism and I hope that their parents and neighbours and aunts and uncles can take a lesson from them and reach out to help others both at home and in the developing world – because we can assist.
Kids at the Kanyala Little Stars School in Mbita Kenya sing a song for Noah Budd.
I started today with a delightful email from a school in rural Uganda that we are helping through the CanAssist African Relief Trust. At this remote area near Kumi, the community is trying to improve educational opportunities for students of secondary school age who have no local school to attend.
In Africa, most kids who go to secondary school, attend boarding schools. This is deemed to be a better education as the students are kind of corralled at the school and not as easily distracted by other activities or even household duties demanded of them when they are at home. For girls this is also thought to be more important so that they are not subjected to sexual advances or even abuse. Unfortunately the cost of attending a boarding institution is prohibitive for many.
In some communities there is an attempt to provide day schools when boarding facilities are not close by or out of the financial reach of so many. Students attending these schools sometimes feel like second class citizens. When I visit them I let them know that day schools are by far the most common form of secondary education in Canada and are by no means inferior.
Parents and community members at Kadok are trying to build up classes for teens in their district. They are quite prepared to sacrifice to have their kids become better educated. The school operates out of some temporary buildings and rooms at the back of stores along the village street.
They have had no sanitation facility that can be used by the students at the school (or by others who live along this street or frequent the village for shopping). CanAssist is building latrines to help with this deficiency and hopefully improve sanitation for both the pupils and the community.
This progress report is a real treat to me and I hope that our supporters find it equally delightful. This is only one of many projects currently underway with CanAssist funding.
The total cost of this will be about 20,000,000 Ugandan Shillings ( approximately $8000 Can)
In July, CanAssist mounted a challenge to our donors and were excited with a response that netted over $20,000 in donations, a number that will be matched by the Sasamat Foundation in Vancouver.
The Kadok school will be the first of many communities that will benefit from these gifts to CanAssist. They have already received half of their allotment and today sent photos of the progress so far. Notice that the work is all done manually and with no access to safe work gear.
Paul Abunya reports some of the challenges they have encountered including:
- During the digging of the pit, the bedded rock got blocked reducing the speed of digging.
- Also trucks could get stuck on muddy grounds as we were ferrying building materials.
- It took time for the beam and Nero cement to set. Extending days to put the slab since its rainy season.
- Despite the challenges we have accomplished the following:
- There is overwhelming feelings and support from the community.
- Community has donated more land for the expansion of the school.
- There has been continuous increase in enrolment of students.
Things are moving ahead. Labourers in the community are being provided with some small work, construction materials are purchased locally and eventually the community will have toilets for the first time.
Thank you to our CanAssist supporters – feel good about what you are doing to help.
Sometimes it is easier to turn a blind eye to poverty and suffering than to do something about it.
In Canada, because we have social assistance programmes funded by our various levels of government, we tend to let others provide the help rather than deal directly with the people in need.
Do you know that a single person receiving social assistance (we used to call this welfare) only gets about $650 a month to sustain them? Could you find accommodation, food, clothing, and transportation for that? How could you find a job if you have no phone, or a computer connection to communicate with prospective employers, or transportation to go to an interview? If the social assistance recipient finds even a part-time job to supplement his/her income, that money is deducted from the social assistance check. This must remove incentive to find low-paying work, often the only jobs available.
Now … imagine what it is like in much of sub-Saharan Africa. There is no government social assistance, or employment insurance, or social security, or pension plan. Unemployment rates approach 40% in Kenya (in Canada is is 6.8%) and the food inflation rate in Kenya in 2014 was 8% compared to ours at 3.9%. Although primary school education in Kenya is claimed to be “free”, many families can not afford the required school uniforms, or additional payments needed to support poorly-payed teachers. Classrooms may have sixty or more pupils per teacher, no desks, and no books.
The burden of illness in much of Africa from infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS and ebola far outweighs ours. In Kenya, one child in fourteen dies before the age of five and the chances of a woman dying of a complication from pregnancy is 1:250 compared to 1:9000 here.
Despite their poverty, patients are required to pay a small user fee for health services and medications are often not available or too expensive.
Those of us who have visited communities where this is the situation come home wondering what we can do to help. This is poverty beyond what we, in Canada, can comprehend.
When faced with these overwhelming statistics, it might be natural to feel sorry but give in to the thought that the problems are just too great and vague for individuals like ourselves to do anything about it.
Let me tell you about one Kingston family that decided to help.
Last year, Marcia O’Brien, her two young sons and her mom, Gabriella Zamojski traveled to Kenya. During their trip, they visited some rural community schools supported by the CanAssist African Relief Trust.
While visiting the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre in Osiri village, they were impressed by how the community was attempting to provide early education to the young children at the school. They also saw that many of the pupils (and teachers too) come to school hungry. One young fellow named Thomas caught their attention and represented the rest. His father is deaf and mute and his mother had died the day prior to their visit to the school. Yet, the child was at school, is best opportunity to receive some caring and support. He was, like many of the other children, hungry.
The image of this child haunted Marcia and Gabriella for months after they returned home. They decided to do what they could to help Thomas and the other children at the school.
In February, I took money from this Canadian family to the school in Kenya to start a weekly lunch programme. CanAssist bought plates and spoons, the children will bring sticks of firewood, parent volunteers will help stir the pots and serve the food and their Kingstonian friends will provide $100 a month, money that will allow the school to feed 120 kids a nutritious lunch once a week.
Although it may be tempting and more appealing to our hearts to provide individual help to one needy child, at the CanAssist African Relief Trust we believe that by helping the community with infrastructure like classrooms, clinics, latrines and water tanks, we are contributing to the well-being of many rather than just a few. Marcia and Gabriella have also adopted this stance with their direct donation to the Kenyan school to feed the whole group, even though their hearts were particularly touched by one student.
What can you do to help? Realize that your support, however meagre it may seem in the big picture, does make a difference to the people in need who live in our own community, or to those who are even more impoverished in developing nations. Every individual effort helps. Combined small contributions add up. Believe it. You can assist.
Portions of this article was printed in the Kingston Whig Standard on Thursday April 9, 2015.
I am worried about Ebola. It is rapidly spinning out of control.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a four-year old African child whose mother is dying of Ebola and I can not hug her or comfort her as she is dragged off by people looking like space travellers. I can not imagine what it is like to be a health care worker in a facility where there is no clean water supply, limited resources and few beds and knowing that just touching someone who is infected to provide care for them or make them more comfortable is risking my own life.
It annoys me somewhat when I see the panicked response of the U.S. or Spain when they get one case that is treated in health care systems that have funding many, many times that of the West African countries that are struggling to manage it. When the outbreak affects thousands in Liberia, far away, the response is muted. When one person in North America is treated with it, the response is a cascade of protective efforts, likely costing billions in the long run. I am not saying this is wrong, just imbalanced and so self-absorbed.
It frustrates me to know that the international community has dragged their feet in responding to this outbreak … until it becomes obvious that, with international travel, it is only a matter of time that the disease reaches us. It worries me that other African countries will soon be at risk and that their health care systems will do their best, but are woefully inadequate to cope with the anticipated exponential spread of this virus. It troubles me to know that economies in many African countries, already struggling with poverty, will be decimated. Tourism is a major source of income. What traveller is going to pick an African vacation for their family with all this negative press and uncertainty?
When I graduated from medical school in 1974 there was no AIDS. Well, there were a few cases, scattered somewhere, but we didn’t know about it. Now millions have been infected and died of AIDS and although we have medications to manage it, we do not have a cure, nor effective immunization against it. Will Ebola be the next AIDS? Or worse?
What can we do about it? What can I do about it? So far the Canadian government has allocated about 5-6 million dollars to this crisis. They have also just approved an air bombing campaign in Iraq of undetermined cost but with estimates of 100 million dollars or more. It costs close to $17,000 per hour to operate a CF-18 and each JDAM-equipped bomb that is dropped costs about $25,000. Can we get our priorities straight? Or at least balance them? How do we influence these decisions?
I have worked for the past five years to help to provide infrastructure improvements for schools, clinics and communities in East Africa through the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Will this be at all helpful if Ebola spreads eastward in Africa? I would like to think it will help. Education about spread of the disease and protection from it is essential to avoid infection and schools are a resource to help with that. CanAssist has supported clinics in several communities and has provided improved water and sanitation to communities and schools. Hopefully this will help if the need arises. Without adequate sanitation or access to clean water, how can anyone avoid contamination? CanAssist’s work involves only a few communities – we have limited resources despite a never-ending need. But hopefully, by preparing some communities a bit with infrastructure to help manage any possible outbreak (of Ebola or any other health threat) we can, in fact, save a few lives.
I plan to return to East Africa early in 2015. In addition to continuing to monitor and support new and existing projects through CanAssist (at no cost to our donors, by the way) I will be thinking about helping to provide some medical information about Ebola to the communities that I visit in preparation for what I fervently hope does not happen there. I have often felt that if Africa was educated about HIV/AIDS early on that this scourge would not have taken hold the way it did. Maybe with some warning and information, countries neighbouring those currently affected by Ebola can prepare to prevent it from engulfing in their communities. Not a panicked, emergency response but a practical preparation for a possible threat. It is worth a try.
“If I am only for myself, then what am I? And, if not now, when?” Rabbi Hillel, 50 BC
Imagine this. You are a single mother of three children living in Kenya. You desperately want your children to get an education, hoping that will boost their chances of living more comfortably than you do now. You can barely afford food. The local school is about three kilometres away and has crowded classrooms.
Your kids are often sick with diarrhea and vomiting. Your thirteen year old daughter is in class seven. She as just stared menstruating. These toilets, with broken doors, are the only place she can tend to her monthly needs. So she stays home from school four or five days a month and subsequently gets behind with her studies.
At CanAssist we hear stories like this all the time. We see these deplorable sanitation facilities at schools. It startles us to find that in busy village markets there are no sanitation facilities at all. Adjacent fields and gutters turn into raw sewage minefields.
With the support of our donors, we try to help.
In the past couple of months we have been gratified to follow the construction of latrines at the Twiga school in Ruriru district of Kenya. For a cost of about $7500 we have been able to provide rainwater catchment, new latrines for students and teachers and hand-washing stations for the school. Hand washing has been shown to reduce the spread of many diseases but without the proper facilities this becomes impossible.
This week we received this report from Michael Gichia who works with the Murera Community Empowerment and Support Organization (MCESO) . It reads, in part:
Benefits realised from the project.
“The project has brought about the following benefits to the school children in TWIGA PRIMARY SCHOOL;
o The project has improved access to water supply at TWIGA PRIMARY SCHOOL in Ruiru District
o The project has brought positive perception among the school children on sanitation and personal hygiene e.g. hand washing practices, proper disposal of wastes and economical use of water as well as improved knowledge about hygiene and environmental sanitation;
Now, imagine again, as that poor African mother, how pleased you would be that your children had decent sanitation facilities at their school.
CanAssist has been happy to be able to improve the sanitation facilities for these 550 Kenyan pupils. We have had specific support for much if the cost of this project from the Grey Gates Foundation in Vancouver and from friends and family of Ruth and Don Redmond in celebration of their 65th wedding anniversary last year.
CanAssist has just taken on similar projects in other schools in Kenya and Uganda. If you or your family would like to help to bring smiles to the faces of African students and their teachers, you can give a tax-deductible donation to CanAssist by mail or online. Details about how to support a project like this a re available on our website www.canassistafrica.ca