What would you do?

Peter Singer starts a recent TED talk with a dramatic video of a small child in China being knocked down by a car on the street. As she lies there, injured, three passers-by totally ignore her. The incident is reminiscent of the Good Samaritan story from the Bible, where a priest and a Levite ignore the plight of the injured traveler on the road before the Samaritan stops to help.

Singer asks the audience – “How many of you would have stopped to help?” Not surprisingly, most of the hands go up.

African Child - can you overlook her needs?

African Child – can you overlook her needs?

Singer then says something like “Well, there are children all around the world who live in poverty, vulnerable to preventable violence and disease – millions of them. Are you paying any attention to them?”

“Unicef reports that in 2011 over 6.5 million children under age 5 died of preventable poverty-related diseases.”

Singer is an Australian philosopher and humanist who writes and speaks out about many ethical issues including poverty and animal rights. In 2009, he wrote a book called “The Life You Can Save”. In the book he encourages readers to commit to helping developing communities with a small portion of their income. If you can afford to pay $2.00 for a bottle of water that is free from the tap, do you not have money to spare – to share, in fact, with others who are living without many of the necessities of life that we take for granted?

His message is not a guilt trip. He encourages us to enjoy the fruits of our labours and our good fortune at living in a community where there is law and order, fresh water, social responsibility and enough food but to share a portion of that with others who must live without those amenities.

We are constantly bombarded in the media with photos of children in North America who have perished in the natural (or unnatural) disasters like the recent tornado in Oklahoma City or the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Our hearts go out to the families of these children and we feel sad and that these deaths seem unfair. These are a very few children whose stories touch us because they are in communities like ours.

Nairobi slum

Nairobi slum

But what about the mothers of the 19,000 children who die in the developing world every day from preventable poverty-related problems? Do we give them much thought? Do we pour money into the developing world to help these 19,000 like we do to help families of the few North American families touched by tragedy?

Think about this for a minute. It is sobering. 19,000 per day.

The CanAssist African Relief Trust is attempting to so something, however small to help these families in East Africa. Rather than pick a few children for special attention, CanAssist funds community infrastructure projects like school classrooms, water and sanitation improvements, food security through local agriculture and health care facilities. We have funded around $300,000 in projects since 2008. Our Canadian community helping communities in Africa.

If you are interested in what we do, please look at our website http://canassistafrica.ca We are always happy to receive support, moral or financial, for the work we are committed to do to lessen the effects of poverty for vulnerable East African families.

(If you would like to participate in what CanAssist is doing to help communities in East Africa you can donate using the Canada Helps link below.)

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Here is a link to the Peter Singer TED talk. If you have 15 minutes please listen to what he has to say.

CanAssist announces its upcoming project season…

In an effort to simplify the process whereby CanAssist selects new projects to fund, we set up a six-week application period this spring during which we received 81 very worthy applications for infrastructure funding in communities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Our resources are limited. We could only promise to fund 14 of these projects in the upcoming year. Nevertheless we chose a variety of projects throughout East Africa ranging from rainwater catchment to latrines to classrooms to hospital beds. Here is the list of projects CanAssist will implement in the next several months. (*Canadian dollar estimates may vary slightly depending on International exchange and bank rates)

  •  Twekembe Association Centre for Rural Systems and Development, Nakiwaate Village, Uganda. Rainwater collection tanks for a community school. $4600
  •  Action for Research and Development (AFORD), Rambira Community, Kenya. School furnishings for three schools. 535,200 KSh ($6500).
  •  Rieko Kenya, St Gorety School, Mikei, Kenya. Completion of a computer training building. 800,000 KSh ($9200)
  •   Tom Mboya Peer Support Group, Rusinga Island, Kenya. Irriga6on of an agriculture plot. 506,000 KSh ($6000)
  •  Stewart Geddes Kamin Oningo Early Childhood Development Centre. Osiri Village, Kenya. Repair of classrooms and school furnishings. 378,288 KSh ($4500)
  •  Nyandema Water and Sanitation project, Nyandema Village, Kenya. 4x 10,000 litre rainwater catchment tanks. 400,000 KSh ($4800)
  •   Gombe District Hospital., Butambala District, Uganda. Repair of Hospital Beds, replacement of matresses and bedding. 12,030,000 USh ($5000)
  •   Kamin Oningo Beach Management Unit, Osiri, Kenya. Community Latrine. 140,789 KSh ($1800)
  •   Olimai Clinic, Olimai, Uganda. Hospital beds and rainwater catchment . (6,685,000 USh and 24,289,456 USh) ($9500 and $2650)
  •  Oltaraja School, Nguruman, Kenya. Permanent Classroom for school. 813,450 KSh ($9800)
  •  TESO Children Chris.an Development Org. Soroti, Uganda. Tailoring equipment for community income generation. $1200
  •   Murera Community Empowerment and Support Organiza.on. Ruriru, Kenya. Sanitation for TWIGA Primary School. 466,700 KSH ($5700)
  •  Badilisha Ecovillage Founda.on, Kaswanga Beach, Kenya. Sanitation. 277,810KSh ($3400)
  •  Kanyala Little Stars Organization. Rusinga Island, Kenya. Conversion of two temporary classrooms to permanent. 357,200 KSh ($4400)

Luckily, we do have some regular supporters who are eager to help. This week we received a donation from one Kingston family that will look after two of our proposed projects. One of these is to supply sanitation facilities to a wonderful little beach community on the shore of Lake Victoria in Kenya.

Over the next few months, I will provide updates and challenges and successes as CanAssist looks ever forward to help communities in East Africa. Stay tuned.

This short video outlines the need at the Kamin Oningo fishing village … one we are now ready to move ahead with, thanks to generous and caring supporters.

Every day a school day…

Earlier in the month I posted a blog about the dilemma faces by African girls who attempt to cope with the monthly need for sanitary pads with no money to purchase them.

Here is a video of Mama Benta Odhiambo of Kanyala Little Stars on Rusinga Island, Kenya outlining that need.

I have also written a complementary article for the Kingston Whig Standard published on April 4, 2013. If you are interested, here is a link to that article.

Congratulations are in order …

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

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

LS WP banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

A letter to my grandson, Noah …

Dear Noah

This week I visited the Kanyala Little Stars school on Rusinga Island in Kenya. I have come to this school every year for the past nine years. The school is quite small in size but there are now 306 students registered at it from nursery class to grade 8. Last year they graduated their first Grade 8 students who are now eligible to go on to secondary school. Unfortunately many of these kids don’t have parents who can afford to send them on to high school. Their academic performance in the standard exams was very good – one of their students was second amongst hundreds in the district.

imageWhen I went into one classroom their first quesion to me was “How is Noah Budd?” They remembered that last year on your birthday you told your friends not to bring presents to your party but to bring some money to buy supplies for these students in Kenya. When I visited the school last February,I took them school supplies and a soccer ball and
a picture of you that they have hanging in the school office. The students in grade 3 wanted me to say hello to you. I though it was better if they do this themselves so I took this short video to bring their greetings back to you and a song for you as well. I hope that you enjoy it and that you are glad to know that your kindness to these students who you don’t know and who live far away in Africa is something that they know is special and they are grateful for your caring.

In one class they were studying mathematics, doing algebra equations. I told them that you, too, like math and that some day I hope that you can come and visit these kids in person.

In the schoolyard is a tree that I planted in July 2011 when I brought some CanAssist supporters to Kenya and we visited the school on what they called “The Big Day”. The tree is growing just like the students and hopefully will soon be providing some shade in the small play area.

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Noah, I want you to know that the kindness you showed to these fellow students by giving up a few birthday presents last year to send school supplies to Little Stars School was a generous and thoughtful act which they remember with thanks. And I, too, am proud of you for your kindness in sharing with others.

Love,

Dedo

Getting the jump on jiggers

A couple of years ago, while I was traveling in Uganda, I thought that I had a blister or a plantar wart on the end of my little toe. I even bought new running shoes to try to remedy the situation.

Little did I know.

When I was sitting on a patio in sandals, one of my African friends looked at my foot. “You have a jigger.” he said. I pooh-poohed this suggestion but he insisted. ” I know jiggers. When I was a kid I had so many of them. Sometimes when I was going to fetch water, I would sit down and cry because my feet hurt so much.”

I was surprised when my friend “delivered” this cyst full of jigger eggs out of the tip of my right pinkie toe.

“I can cut it out for you.” he offered.

He could have started that sentence with “I’m no doctor, but …”

So as he whittled away at my toe, extracting a lump that was the size of a small kernel of corn from the tip, I learned about jiggers.

Jiggers (quite different from chiggers) are little fleas that live in the soil. They are a common plight in East Africa. The female finds some flesh into which she can burrow and produce hundreds of eggs which are encased in a cyst-like structure that gradually grows within the flesh of the host. Eventually the cyst bursts and the eggs scattered back into the dirt where the cycle starts again.

These fleas live in tropical environments where people are often barefoot or wearing minimal footwear. In addition, traditional homes and even schools and churches often have dirt floors, the perfect environment for the jiggers to flourish. Children’s feet in crowded, dirt-floored classrooms are particularly vulnerable to infestation.

The CanAssist African Relief Trust learned of this plight for children in the Hope for Youth School near Mukono Kenya. The teachers insisted that cementing the floors of the classrooms would help eliminate this scourge. So, with money raised by the children at Sweet’s Corners School near Lyndhurst, Ontario, CanAssist set about cementing the floors of the Hope for Youth School.

The children of Sweet’s Corners Elementary School helped their African counterparts by funding the cementing of school floors to prevent jiggers.

The children at Hope for Youth school were happy to show me their healthy feet after the classroom floors had been cemented to prevent jiggers.

With development projects it is often difficult to evaluate outcomes. But for this one it seemed relatively simple.

I had the school check the feet of all 107 children in the classrooms before the flooring was installed. 74% of the kids had jiggers and more than half of these had more than three in their feet. A few months after the floors were cemented, I was in the school and personally checked the feet of all the same children. The prevalence of jiggers went from 74% to 7%. The children were delighted.

The cost of this project was in the range of $1500  It brought relief to over 100 children and also demonstrated that cement floors that can be washed and swept can stop a jigger infestation.

A dilemma

A recent article that I wrote for the Kingston Whig Standard about little Jerry O, a 4 year old Kenyan orphan that I encountered earlier in 2012, brought several responses that included questions about adoption. Here is a response that I sent to one couple who inquired about adopting this child.

“There are many, many children in Africa who are vulnerable in so many ways. Your offer to help is kind and generous.

By “adopt” I am not sure if you are meaning a true adoption – bringing a child to Canada – or a distance adoption which amounts to sponsorship and support from here.

The true adoption process is long and complex and I really know very little about it. African countries tend to be pretty strict on the process of adoption to another country, requiring that the adoptive parents actually live in the African country for a period of time prior to any adoption happening. Private adoption would also likely entail similar restrictions. But I am not familiar with all the laws and rules. You may have explored them already.

Sponsoring a child is often the support from a distance that an individual child needs for schooling, food, security. Some individuals decide to do this through an organization or on a one-to-one basis. It certainly provides good support for children in need and is much less expensive and also keeps the child in their own cultural environment. (This piece entitled “A Small Act” was on CBC radio a few months ago can illustrate the value of this kind of support. http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2011/09/26/a-small-act-chris-mburu/ )

Individuals who support a child through organizations like World Vision can be sure that money that they donate is being used in the community where the child lives. Your “adopted” child benefits through the supprt that is given to the community for sanitation, education and health.

At the CanAssist African Relief Trust, we realize that it is impossible to help any one child specifically without overlooking someone else who may be as deserving. Our preference has been to provide help within a community or school that will, in some way, benefit all. CanAssist does not facilitate individual supportive programs for school fees, etc, but rather works to help within the community, using community leaders, teachers and health care workers to guide our work there.

You may have heard this talk that I did at a Chalmers United Church service in Kingston, Ontario a couple of years ago. My talk addresses this dilemma. A Youtube link to it is here:

I commend your interest in helping these vulnerable children.

There are, no doubt, families in Canada who would gladly “adopt” a struggling orphan child from a developing country. But it is not simple. Not only is the adoption process encumbered with discouraging red-tape, but rescuing one child leaves many others behind who are equally needy and deserving of support.

Through CanAssist we try to do what we can to help a community to improved water access, sanitation, health or education. Hopefully there will be many children who will benefit in some way from this process rather than by plucking just one for exceptional attention.”

Digging in to help Africa

Food security is a major issue in Africa. The cost of living in East African countries has risen substantially over the past couple of years and, coupled with erratic climate changes, this has resulted in a situation where people who are already living on the edge are having trouble affording basic foods, let alone nutritious diets.

The CanAssist African Relief Trust has sponsored  school garden projects that have been very successful. Our first project related to this was with the Kanyala Little Stars school on Rusinga Island, Kenya. The first step in starting a garden here was to put up fencing to keep hippos and other grazing domestic animals like donkeys and goats out of the garden. If you think think squirrels and rabbits are a garden nuisance, imagine the havoc that can be created by a family of hippos lumbering up from Lake Victoria to graze overnight. For the Little Stars garden,  CanAssist also arranged appropriate irrigation through a pump and sprinkler system and set up a work shed, toilets and provided seeds and fertilizer. The garden has proven to be a great boon to the school and community, now producing fruits and vegetables that supply the school children with better nourishment, and provide a bit of extra income to help with other school expenses, provide nutritious supplements to needy families in the community at reasonable cost. It has worked well.

In other schools in Kenya and Uganda we have supported similar projects which are also proving to be equally successful.

Earlier this year, we also helped a local youth group in Migori district of Kenya and this week we received an encouraging report from Edward Kabaka, director of Rieko Kenya, a local development organizaton.

The Nyaruanda Youth group provides the manpower to till and maintain their local garden.

“The Nyaruanda Youth Development Group is a community based initiative started in March 2010 in south Kadem Location, Nyatike District in Kenya. It was started by a group of orphaned youths who were left behind as head of households in their families. When they were 10-12 years old, many of them lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. They have graduated to replace their deceased parents in roles of fending for their siblings. As they grew up together, they realized that they were facing the same challenges and started organizing themselves in small groups. They need to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care and above all schooling for their families.

A first harvest of Tomatoes, Watermelons and Sukuma wiki (a staple African green rich in iron and vitamins) from the CanAssist-supported Nyarunda Youth Group garden.

In the beginning of 2012, Rieko Kenya had the opportunity to be visited by John Geddes, the Executive Director of CanAssist African Relief Trust (CAART). Rieko Kenya considered Nyaruanda Youth as one of the groups to be visited by John. John agreed to present an application to CAART to help support the group, through Rieko Kenya, with small scale irrigation equipment and materials. The support from CAART was realized with Rieko Kenya providing training and facilitating the purchase of the irrigation equipment and materials (Water pump and pipes) and presented to the group. After a period of a half a year and following this life saving and transforming support, the Nyaruanda group is very excited and happy to report a huge financial gain. They are now able to be self reliant and meet their financial obligations.”

CanAssist is delighted that these local agriculture projects are not only providing better nutrition to communities; they are helping to stimulate economic development.

A letter from Africa

One of the three completed latrines that will dramatically improve sanitation for students at the Mutundu School in Kenya – funded by CanAssist African Relief Trust

I am happy to share this letter of appreciation from Michael Gichia who has been the African contact with the Murera Community Empowerment group and the Mutundu School where the CanAssist African Relief Trust has funded construction of new latrines and provision of clean water.

See these earlier posts for background on this project.

Sanitation…or lack of it
Sanitation..making progress
Not just new latrines

Dear John,
I hope you are doing fine as we are here in Kenya. I would like to let you know that we have completed the proposed project successfully and I’m taking this opportunity on behalf of MCESO to thank all the trustees, board members, staff and the friends of Can Assist African Relief Trust for their generosity in support of our project titled, provision of clean portable drinking water and construction of enhanced sanitation facilities in Mutundu primary school in Ruiru District 0f Kenya. Your financial commitment has incredibly helped and has allowed us to reach our goal. We would like to let you know that your financial inputs towards our proposed project have greatly helped the project turn into a successful and replicable model and the situation at Mutundu pry school has improved from worst to best.

We pray that may God keep continue giving you good health as well as good will to keep on helping marginalized communities.Please find attached our end project for your files.Too, we have kept all the project invoices safe.We look forward to submitting another project proposal to Can Assist African Relief Trust soon.

Thank you once more and God bless.
Sincerely,
Michael.

Read Michael’s full report on this project here.

Mutundu school latrines

Before and after photos of the boys latrines at Mutundu School. In addition to the latrines, sanitation has been improved by the construction of handwashing stations. CanAssist has been delighted to have funded these sanitation improvements.