CanAssist working to improve the Hope for Youth School.

CanAssist trustee, Nancy Grew, is visiting project sites in Uganda this week and today sent this photo of the new school classroom (first of four) that is under construction at the Hope for Youth School near Mukono. This wonderful school has been one that CanAssist has helped over the years in many ways but, as you can see from the photo on the lower right, the classrooms were becoming dilapidated and beyond use. The new permanent classrooms will be an amazing improvement for the school and provide a secure and sustainable school for the community.

H4Y 2018

The first of four permanent classrooms at Hope for Youth School that will replace the old wooden structure that has served the school for several years but is now beyond repair. Photos taken on February 28, 2018 by Nancy Grew, CanAssist trustee.

I have a particular fondness for this school, having visited them several time in the past ten years. I have watched many of their students grow from children into young adults. I was delighted in 2016 to take a group of CanAssist supporters, including my granddaughter, to the school and visited them in early 2017 as well.

Maddy Edward and Christopher

In early 2016 I was happy to introduce my granddaughter to Christopher, Edward and other students at the Hope for Youth School.

One of the unique things about CanAssist as a charitable organization is that we don’t just send money. We establish friendships and visit the project schools and communities. This not only helps to assure donors that their monies are being spent as intended but it shows that we are interested in their wellbeing with a personal connection. My life has certainly been enriched beyond anything I can express by the person to person links I have been privileged to make over the years as I have visited many communities in East Africa. I do feel like I am at home with friends when I go there. I am sure that Nancy will come back to Canada with the same intense satisfaction that the time and effort that we have put into CanAssist work is well worth it both for the communities we serve but also for our own personal growth.

Nancy and Edward 0218

Edward sends a greeting to me today through Nancy who is visiting the H4Y school – Feb 28, 2018

Below is a video of the students doing a traditional dance for my entertainment when I visited them in 2013. The main boy in the dance is Edward who, along it’s his brother, Christopher, I have watched grow from young lads into young men. I was touched today when Nancy sent a photo of Edward who made a point of coming to greet her to send a special hello and remembrance to me.

The school will be greatly benefitted by this 2018 initiative and CanAssist is grateful for the generous donation from David Kay to kick-start this project.  Additional classrooms will be added over the next many months. The cost of adding a classroom like the one in the photo above is about $10,000 to $12,000 dollars – a bargain when compared wo what it would cost to do the same in Canada.   In addition to providing the permanent structure for the school, the construction and materials acquired locally give employment opportunities to local craftsmen.

Donations to CanAssist through the Canada Helps link on the CanAssist web page or by clicking HERE can be allocated to this project to keep it moving ahead.

Nyumbani – Home

When I posted to my Facebook page that I was back in a Kenya I received a number of comments from my many African friends that could be summarized as “Welcome home.”   The Swahili phrase is “Karibu Nyumbani”. ” Come and visit.  When will I see you? I hope we can have lunch?  Are you coming my way? ”

This social media welcome extended to our first couple of days here where school principals were asking if we could visit them.  Even the students at one secondary school we anxious to have a school assembly to welcome us and they insisted that all of them get in the picture.  

Africans are generous and excited about welcoming visitors.  They extend that greeting to me but it feels more like family to me in so many East African communities.

I have a theory that there is some of my DNA that recognizes this as a place of my ancestral origin. If Monarch butterflies can find their breeding ground in Mexico without ever having been there or salmon can swim back to their birthplace to breed,  I am sure that there is some little chemical part of my genes that know this as the place where my genetic being began.

Over the next three weeks I will visit at least ten communities and will try to share some photos of my visits.  On Friday we went to the St Catherine School to open a new classsroom building and to the Ramula Secondary School where we constructed a new kitchen several months ago.  Both are well maintained and are serving the students and teachers well.   They are all grateful for the support of the  many donors to the CanAssist African Relief Trust that have made these improvements to their communities possible.

Yesterday we attended a basketball tournament in Kisumu – food for another longer story. Stay tuned.

Today we are heading to “the rural” for an overnight with Dan Otieno’s grandmother, Ann.  How fortunate I feel to be able to experience this association with my numerous African families.

We cross the equator every day going from Kisumu to Ramula. In fact the Ramula Secondary school is situated on the Equator!

These are the students at Ramula Secondary School, taken near the water tanks, installed with CanAssist donor support. Before these tanks were put in, the water for the school was brought in by donkey from a stream. The student have much less gastrointestinal illness with this clean water available.

Nancy looks out through the window of one of the new classrooms at St Catherine school as the kids sing and dance in celebration in the yard.

When I visited this community two years ago there was nothing here. The kids learned under a tree. Now there are six classrooms, an improved latrine, rainwater catchment and school furnishings at the St Catherine school, thanks to the support of CanAssist donors.

Signing the guest book at St Catherine School in the principal’s office. The last time I signed a document here it was in his office on a table under a mango tree.

Cutting the ribbon to open the new classroom at St Catherine school with a butcher knife. No scissors available.

CanAssist tries to do no harm.

Primum non nocere – first of all, do no harm”  was a dictum that I learned in medical school and always tried to apply in day to day practice.  I remind myself of this principle, as well, in my role as a trustee of  the CanAssist African Relief Trust, an African charity that has consumed much of my energy over the last few years.

There are two schools of thought about providing development aid to some struggling parts of the world.

unknownPeter Singer puts forth the argument that we are morally obliged to help. If we see someone straining to survive and helping them would be of little significant consequence to our own well-being then we must.  Most of us would not hesitate to wade into a shallow pool to save a drowning child, even if it meant getting our new leather shoes wet and dirty.  Taken more broadly, giving up the cost of a night out at the movies to help vulnerable children in Africa follows the same moral responsibility.  A life saved is a life saved, whether in a Canadian water park or a Ugandan village.

Other writers wonder whether some forms of developmental aid are doing more harm than good.  A recent  documentary, Poverty Inc, refers specifically to the tons of rice that poured into Haiti after their disaster in 2010. This aid was certainly helpful for crisis relief but it continued to flow into Haiti after the crisis was over.  Free rice, bought from suppliers in the US and subsidized by the US government to provide “aid”, caused the farmers in Haiti who previously sold rice locally to go bankrupt.  Who would pay for rice at the market when you can get it for free?  This ongoing supply undermined the local economy and increased dependency while American suppliers were being paid.  There is a difference between humanitarian aid and ongoing developmental funding.

This debate challenges me to think about what we do through the CanAssist African Relief Trust.  How can we satisfy our moral obligation to help struggling communities but not create or foster dependency?  Like the primum non nocere dictum, it is partly what we don’t do that is important.

1-2First of all, CanAssist does not send goods; we send money.  We don’t flood the East African market with materials purchased in Canada and shipped overseas at great cost.

CanAssist does not deal with large multi-layered governmental departments but directly with individual schools, support groups and clinics. We don’t go to a community to promote our own agenda or ways of doing things.  We let the community, school, health facility come to us with their ideas of what sustainable infrastructure we can fund that will improve their well-being.

We don’t send unskilled volunteers to Africa in a “voluntourism”  holiday to build a school or do  other work that can be done more effectively by Africans. Our supporters don’t rob jobs from local carpenters and masons who need that work to pay for their family’s schooling or health needs. Instead, our funding stimulates the local economy, albeit in a small way.

dsc05459We don’t provide money for programming, staffing or other individual support. Once a donor starts paying for school fees for a young child, for example,  the student  becomes dependent on the benefactor’s help to finish secondary school, and beyond.  It becomes difficult to stop this individual aid.  And only one person benefits from this well-meaning generosity.  CanAssist provides communities with funding for sanitation or clean water, or for classrooms and furnishings at rural schools.  The materials are purchased locally and construction done by employing local workers, both men and women.  If parents are healthy, better educated and have work available, they can earn the money to look after their children.  CanAssist project funding, therefore,  provides two benefits – temporary employment for local people and infrastructure improvement to the community, benefitting many rather than just one or two.

CanAssist’s administrative expenses in Canada are about 5% of our budget. For some other development programmes, a large proportion of the claimed development funding stays in Canada, paying for salaries, airfares, office space, fax machines, hotels and computers. CanAssist does have obligatory administrative expenses like bank fees, Internet  access, postage and liability insurance and some unavoidable professional fees we can not get pro bono. All other goods and services are purchased in Africa.  We pay no Canadian salaries.   We provide casual employment to some Africans to help implement our projects but this, too, provides initiative to them to work to earn their money. It is not a handout.

We don’t fund  one group indefinitely.  CanAssist attempts to give a school or community a kick-start to help their development but ultimately they must figure out how to manage their own operational and infrastructure needs.  The goal is self-sufficiency and this would not be attainable if the group could rely on CanAssist support indefinitely.

For these reasons, I am convinced that that CanAssist can continue to provide help without harm African communities.  We are grateful to our many generous donors who participate confidently in this mission with us – knowing that they can help without fostering dependency.


Cholera, then and now.


Kingston Ontario’s history includes a cholera epidemic that, between 1932 and 1934, killed ten percent of the city’s population. Skeleton Park LogoKingston 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.

img_8862Cholera 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.

Cleaning up

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.

Kadok CanAssist latrines

CanAssist funded toilets at the Kadok Secondary School

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.

Kadok Toilets

Students at the Kadok Secondary school line up to use the old inadequate toilets prior.


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.


This simple washing room has made a great difference to sanitation in the fishing village of Kamin Oningo, Kenya.

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.


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CanAssist’s investment in African infrastructure boosts local economy

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.

12077310_10154277809299937_1675104093_nWe 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.

Some of the desks being locally made for the Hope School in Mbita, Kenya.

Some of the desks being locally made for the Hope School in Mbita, Kenya.

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.”

ODA 2012In 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.

Sharing good news from Kadok Secondary School in Uganda

I started today with a delightful email from a school in rural Uganda that we are helping through the CanAssist African Relief Trust.  Kadok MapAt 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.

These are the deplorable sanitation facilities previously the only accessible toilets for the students at Kadok Secondary School.

These are the deplorable sanitation facilities previously the only accessible toilets for the students at Kadok Secondary School.

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)

The work for community projects like this one is all done by hand. And with bare feet!

The work for community projects like this one is all done by hand. And with bare feet!

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:

  • Latrine 4During 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:
    1. There is overwhelming feelings and support from the community.
    2. Community has donated more land for the expansion of the school.
    3. 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.

CanAssist African Field Representative, Daniel Otieno visited the school in May 2015 to confirm project details.

CanAssist African Field Representative, Daniel Otieno visited the school in May 2015 to confirm project details.

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.

A heartwarming letter and ongoing need …

It is always gratifying to feel that the work that we do through the CanAssist African Relief Trust is helping kids (and adults too) acquire education, health care and improved water and sanitation facilities.

Kya Elem SchoolThere are about 300 children at the Kyabazaala Elementary School in Uganda.  CanAssist has had an ongoing association with that school, helping them in many ways.   I have visited the school a few times and can vouch that they do need help. The classrooms are somewhat dilapidated and they have few resources. The teachers are paid a meagre salary by the government and often have to find places to live as their homes are not close by.  When we first went to the school, they were getting water from a dirty pond shared with animals, to make the one cup of maize gruel served to the kids at noon, often their only meal of the day.  Their toilets were abysmal.

IMG_20140912_134515CanAssist helped by repairing their one water tank that had been damaged and installing new toilets.  Other Canadian well-wishers visiting the school (including Hugh Langley, Ann Marie Van Raay and Elizabeth Muwonge) provided funding for cementing floors of some classrooms and between us all, we got electrical supply to the school.
Last year, the Mayer Institute in Hamilton, through CanAssist, funded installation of two water tanks at the School.  This will be a grand improvement to their access to water.

This week, I received an email with a scanned letter of appreciation for the various ways we have helped.  It was, indeed, heartwarming, to get this acknowledgement of our support and I want to share it with those who have, through donations to CanAssist, contributed to all the work we have done at the school.1

Our next project at the Kyabazaala Elementary School is to help them construct teachers’ quarters on the school property.  This will help them to acquire and retain qualified teachers since the school will be able to offer some modest accommodation to the teachers whose salaries are woefully low. The community has already been accumulating locally-made bricks for this venture. The total cost for this six-room teachers’ quarters will be approximately $7000 CAN.  CanAssist (and the school) will welcome any support dedicated to this project so we can start it soon.

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Where is this heading?

I am worried about Ebola. It is rapidly spinning out of control.

Photo from internet

Photo from internet

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

Slums in Africa house millions of people with little access to health facilities, clean water or sanitation. How would you contain it if an Ebola strikes here?

Slums in Africa house millions of people with little access to health facilities, clean water or sanitation. How would you contain it if  Ebola strikes here?