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.

Feeling proud…

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.

Maia 3In 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.

You can

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.

Thomas and friends enjoying a filling lunch thanks to Canadian friends.

Thomas and friends enjoying a filling lunch thanks to Canadian friends.

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.

Little S.P. hands out spoons to the children lined up to get their lunch.

Little S.P. hands out spoons to the children lined up to get their lunch.

Portions of this  article was printed in the Kingston Whig Standard on Thursday April 9, 2015.

Would you want your kids using these school toilets?

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.

The toilets at the school look like this.Twiga Girls Latrine

Twiga Boys Latrine 3

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.

Inscription on the latrine wall reads " Twiga Primary School water & Sanitation enhancement project. This project has been funded by CanAssist African Relief Trust in conjunction with the Grey Gates Foundation /Vancouver and the family of Ruth and Donald Redmond."

Inscription on the latrine wall reads ” Twiga Primary School water & Sanitation enhancement project. This project has been funded by CanAssist African Relief Trust in conjunction with the Grey Gates Foundation /Vancouver and the family of Ruth and Donald Redmond.”

“The project has brought about the following benefits to the school children in TWIGA PRIMARY SCHOOL;

o 555 school children and 15 teachers at TWIGA PRIMARY SCHOOL in Ruiru district have
safe sanitation and drinking water facilities.
o The school enrolment ahs gone up by 20 more children by the beginning of second term
thanks to the water and sanitation enhancement project

Hand washing station

Hand washing station

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;

New CanAssist-funded teachers' latrine at Twiga School.

New CanAssist-funded teachers’ latrine at Twiga School.

o The project has brought about reduction in water shortages at TWIGA PRIMARY SCHOOL
and therefore more time for learning for the children.
o The project has reduced diseases associated with drinking dirty water and observing unclean hygienic behaviour among the school children.
o The school has functional hand wash facilities for the promotion of health and hygiene
o Preliminary training on sanitation and cleanliness has been conducted.”

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

 

 

 

Graduation Day photos from Kenya

My day was brightened considerably yesterday morning when I received a sheaf of photos from Kenya showing the children at the SP Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre celebrating graduation of some of their students. I am not sure who is more proud, the kids or their parents. In the past month I have had greetings and announcements from a few of our CanAssist-supported schools in Kenya as they celebrate the end of their school year both with standard exams and graduation gatherings.

The  Canadian Flag flies proudly in the SP Geddes School compound.

The Canadian Flag flies along side the Kenyan one in the SP Geddes School compound.

The photos remind me of 64 years ago when I graduated from the nursery class at the New St James Church in London, Ontario. Always the organizer, I was the first one through the little white gate at the front of the choir loft and held it for the other “graduates”.

In the past two years, this little school has had many improvements funded by the CanAssist African Relief Trust and particularly by my father whose name is now both in the school and a little fellow in the community who, I see from the photos, is growing.

imageThis community has felt very isolated in terms of “development”. They are proud that their young kids are now able to get some early education which will make them more ready to enter the public school system when they are old enough to walk the several kilometers to the government school. Marking their graduation allows the children to feel pride and accomplishment as well and encourages them to continue.

I thank Meshack Andiwo for sending these delightful photos and send the congratulations of Stewart Geddes, CanAssist and all our Canadian supporters to the beaming graduates, not only of this school but also from Hope School in Mbita and Kanyala Little Stars on Rusinga Island who have held similar celebrations in the pars few weeks.

Little Stewart Geddes is growing.

Little Stewart Geddes is growing.

Improving access to Health Care in East Africa

Sometimes in East Africa, health care is not readily available due to the distance to a Clinic or Hospital.  People lack means of transport Ambulances are few or non-existent. Very few people have cars and “roads” are often bumpy overgrown pathways.  This results in people waiting until they are very ill before they look for competent care and by that time it is even more difficult to transport the sick person to a clinic. Many die en route to finding a qualified health care provider.

CanAssist has helped with construction of clinic buildings and provision of hospital equipment, sanitation and water for clinics in

  • Olimai, Uganda,
  • Mbita, Kenya,
  • Gembe East, Kenya
  • and Nyatike District, Kenya.

One of CanAssist’s first projects in 2008 was to complete a laundry facility for a hospital in Tanzania.

In 2012/2013, CanAssist has helped the Kared Fod Women’s Group in Nyatike District of Kenya to build a clinic/dispensary.  A nurse and two community health workers have been supported by grants from the Stephen Lewis Foundation but they had no building from which to work.  CanAssist constructed a clinic building with examining rooms, a small lab and pharmacy in 2012. In 2013 CanAssist put rainwater catchment and latrines in the clinic which opened to serve the public late in October.

An opportunity for better nutrition …

In addition to providing desks and chairs and hospital equipment and classrooms in East Africa, the CanAssist African Relief Trust has also helped establish gardens like this one at the Kanyala Little Stars School in Mbita, Kenya.  The garden’s help to provide a steady source of nutritious food and a modest income-generating activity which helps other expenses.

CanAssist has most recently funded development of a garden like the Little Stars one for a patient support group a the Tom Mboya Hospital in Rusinga Island, Kenya.

Mama Benta of Kanyala Little Stars explains the benefits of this support to African families and groups.

Helping educate African children…

One of the mandates for the CanAssist African Relief Trust is to improve education opportunities for children in East Africa by providing infrastructure that will achieve this.

One of the schools funded by CanAssist is the Oltaraja Elementary School in a remote Maasai community in the Rift Valley, Kenya.   CanAssist has built one classroom there and in 2014 will build another.  Children who would otherwise have had to walk several kilometres to a school (or not go at all) will have the opportunity to get some Primary education closer to home.

Helping Women in Kenya

In the week leading up to Giving Tuesday, CanAssist is happy to show some examples of infrastructure support work done by the CanAssist African Relief Trust in East Africa in the past several months with some short YouTube videos.  Please share them with your Facebook friends.  And on Giving Tuesday, December 3 (or any time, for that matter) please keep the CanAssist African Relief Trust in mind. Your support keeps us moving ahead and helping communities in Africa.

Today we highlight work that CanAssist has done in Nyatike District to help women and girls in that community be safer and more productive.

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It’s about giving …

For several years I worked in Bosnia and spent a lot of early Decembers in Sarajevo, a multicultural city that was still predominantly Muslim, before returning home for Christmas.  The country was also in a post-war period and struggling to rebuild.  I was always struck by the contrast between their society as it prepared for the winter solstice and year-end and mark varied religious celebrations and the onslaught I got when I came home the week before Christmas where I was bombarded with the pre-Christmas hype and commercialism that we endure in North America.

In the past few years, retailers have developed special shopping days to encourage people to buy, buy, buy – Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  The aim seems to be to offer bargains for people buying Christmas gifts and help the retailer get everyone in the spending mode.

This year, for the first time, Canada will mark Giving Tuesday.  Instead of focusing on getting, on December 3 there will be a country-wide effort to think about giving back – either through donations or volunteering.

africaleaf 2The CanAssist African Relief Trust depends on donations from people across Canada to do the infrastructure support work in East Africa that we know helps communities to improve their well-being.  We fund school classrooms and desks, hospital equipment and beds, rainwater catchment equipment in schools, clinics and communities, latrines for vulnerable children and adults at schools and in villages where no facilities have existed.

Each year CanAssist attempts to fund about $100,000 work.  We rely on the generosity of donors to do this.

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This Giving Tuesday we hope you will consider the CanAssist African Relief Trust in your charitable activities. And a bonus is that a donor has agreed to match the first $3000 in donations to CanAssist on December 3.  So the value your donations (which already can buy about 4 times as much in East Africa as it would in Canada) will be doubled. Your donation will also be tax-deductible.

A study in the U.S. last year showed that the majority of people would prefer to have money donated to a charity than receive a gift that they could not use or did not really want. In this Holiday Season, please put CanAssist on your Giving list.  Donations can be made with a credit card on the Canada Helps link below or by searching for CanAssist on the Giving Tuesday website.  Or you can mail a check to 582 Sycamore Street, Kingston, Canada K7M7L8.

In the next few days, I will post some videos that highlight some of the work that CanAssist has already done in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.  We plan to continue to do similar work next year with your support.

Listen to members of various CanAssist partner communities as they express their appreciation for the generosity of Canadians that is making a difference for them and their families.

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