On a dreary, wet day, early in January, I opened a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, thinking that I would tackle it over the next several days. I was soon hooked on the challenge, settling on the common strategy of finding all the straight-edged bPuzzle 2.jpgorder pieces then filling in the centre. After the border was complete, the next step was to find recognizable pattern snippets that would go together to make part of the image. Occasionally, needing some help,  I would refer to the puzzle box to
get a clue.  Eventually I was down to the last hundred and fifty pieces and they all looked pretty much the same. Colour patterns now were very similar, so I had to switch tactics and rely on shapes and sizes to make them fit.  Most of the picture was visible but the last bit was much slower and, in the end, didn’t add that much more to the overall image. After about 15 scattered hours, over two days, I had the puzzle done.

There was one piece missing and  two of the other pieces fit together themselves but refused to squish into the space where they looked like they belonged.  Marilyn Monroe’s visage was missing her forehead. I crawled around on the floor under the table but the piece was not to be found.  I never did find it but in the end it really didn’t matter to me.  After a day of congratulating myself when I looked at the completed work, I tore it apart andIMG_3618 (1).jpg it went back into the box.

I had thought that I would put on some music while doing the puzzle but I did not. The only noise for those 15 hours, apart from my muttering to myself, was the tick tock of the 125-year-old clock that has been in our family since the late 1800’s.  Sometimes the rhythm reminded me of a tune that I would hum to myself. I was always surprised, when the clock struck the hour, that the time had gone by so quickly. One night I spend from 6pm until 1am non-stop working on the puzzle in silence. Those who know me will wonder at the silence part.

When it was all done, I reflected how this venture was like life itself.

The puzzle started as a lot of seemingly unrelated little parts but it gradually took shape into something that was recognizable and had a pattern that made sense.  The process had challenges and sometimes it seemed like it would not work out but eventually, if I persisted and stayed the course, I was able to find a piece that fit.  Finding one piece might lead to a cascade of success which soon returned to the usual plodding on another section of the puzzle.  In the end, there was a clear picture even though a couple of pieces would not fit in and one was missing. Overall it made sense even without those three missing units. After all, I had found links to 997 of the 1000 pieces, not a bad record.   Then, after I had a chance to rest and appreciate the picture for a short time, the whole thing was reduced to how it had started and went into a box.

IMG_3633.jpgLike life, the end point was not the goal. It was the process that was important.  The ticking of the antique clock made me conscious of the passing of time as I tried to make sense of the numerous pieces. Because it was a family heirloom, I also think that, in the silence, it also was a connection with those who had gone before me and who had also contributed to my own life picture. When I was finished the puzzle, I looked at what I had accomplished and was quite satisfied with the effort but also content to have it fragment back into 1000 – or as I had discovered, 999 – unrecognizable pieces.

We are all given a different life picture to work on. We may reach places where we are stalled or have to put one area of our puzzle aside for a while until we find pieces that help it make sense somewhere else. Progress comes in bursts and the closer we get to the end, the slower the process becomes and each piece added may have less impact on the whole image we are creating – more like finishing touches. We acknowledge the effort that it took and hope that it makes some sense even if every piece does not fit. And then we must  be prepared to let it go. It is the process that provides the satisfaction, not the final picture that can, and will,  be quickly reduced back to unrecognizable fragments.

A variant of ashes to ashes?

Jigsaw header

A successful July for CanAssist

Our July 2013 drive to fund two water projects in East Africa went over the top!

Students at the Nyandema Secondary School have to walk about 5km every day to get water... and then it is from this muddy river.  CanAssist will fund four rainwater catchment tanks at the school to provide a clean accessible water supply.

Students at the Nyandema Secondary School have to walk about 5 km every day to get water… and then it is from this muddy river. CanAssist will fund four rainwater catchment tanks at the school to provide a clean accessible water supply.

Earlier in the month, we were challenged by the Sasamat Foundation, a charitable organization in Vancouver B.C.  with the offer that they would match donations received by CanAssist in July that were allocated to a rainwater collection projects at the Olimai Health Clinic and the Nyandema Secondary School in Nyatike District, Kenya.Well, our supporters rose to the occasion and as of July 31 we have collected $6708 in donations toward these projects through our 2013 Sasamat Challenge.   Donors will be pleased that the first $5000 will be matched by Sasamat. Even better, Sasamat has offered another $10,000 toward these projects.  Great news for CanAssist and the project partner communities in East Africa.

Putting guttering on this building and providing rainwater storage tanks will help the community to acquire clean water.

CanAssist will fund construction of  guttering on this building and provide rainwater storage tanks to help the Nakiwaate community  acquire clean water.

The good news doesn’t end there.  With the money donated this month toward rainwater collection projects, we are able now to fund THREE of our approved 2013  water projects at the Olimai Clinic in rural Uganda,  the Nyandema Secondary School in Nyatike District, Kenya and the T.A.Crusade Institute of Professional Studies in Nakiwaate Village, Uganda.

We are all excited.

We are in the process of signing the Memoranda of Understanding with the groups and will forward the money to them by mid-August so that the projects can be started as soon as possible (and before the anticipated rainy season in October and November).

CanAssist extends thanks to all who supported this effort and to the Sasamat Foundation for their generous funding and confidence in CanAssist to get this work done!

Here are some responses we have received from these groups when they were notified of this funding availability on August 1.

From Amuge Akol at Olimai Clinic : “I woke up to heart racing news. We are so hapi with the successful fund-raising drives. We shall write directly to supporters to express our our sincere grattitude. I will go to town tomorrow and
process the MOU and return it. Thx a million.”

From Ronald Lutaaya in Nakiwaate Village, Uganda: “We are so happy to hear this great news! Thanks so much for your effort in making this dream project come true. You have saved life in this poor community. I have just passed on the news to our Staff Members and some of our beneficiaries. They are all thankful and happy about this news.”

From Hellen Omollo, Nyandema Secondary School: “We are very happy indeed to hear from you.Once againwe do say THANK YOU for considering the life and health of our
Nyandema students and the local community a priority.
Good luck, good health and Gods peace and Mercy be part of you in yourdeserving work to East Africa.”

Canassist has had an ongoing relationship with the Olimai Clinic for the past three years. Here, some Canadian CanAssist supporters visit the clinic in 2012.

Canassist has had an ongoing relationship with the Olimai Clinic for the past three years. Here, some Canadian CanAssist supporters visit the clinic in 2012.

Now look what you have done!

On July 1, I issued an appeal/challenge on behalf of the CanAssist African Relief Trust to raise money to build two classrooms at the Hope School in Mbita, Kenya on the shores of Lake Victoria.

The Vancouver-based Sasamat Foundation had offered $10,000 and up to another $5000 to match 2:1 donations that were received from CanAssist supporters to build the school.

This is the schoolyard of Hope School in mid August 2012. The site of proposed CanAssist classrooms.

By the end of July we had reached our goal and in late August the money to start construction was sent to the Hope School.

The CanAssist Hope School Classrooms are coming along in leaps and bounds. I could not believe my eyes when I received photos today of the construction under way. The barren piece of ground in the schoolyard is quickly being converted into a learning setting for the children of this community who have previously been taught in a rudimentary building or under a tree. Most of the children in this neighbourhood are disadvantaged and some have simply not been able to attend school even up to age 9 or 10.

The CanAssist Hope School Classrooms are coming along in leaps and bounds.

This project will transform the community for these kids. And as I have mentioned previously, this not only provides the classrooms for the children, it gives some employment to local workmen who struggle to find employment.

Thanks to everyone who rose to the challenge. I hope you are gratified with the way that your gift to these children is working so quickly. I look forward to visiting this school in early February and participating in a Grand Opening celebration.

Read earlier blog posts about this project here:
A Canada Day Challenge
Canada Day Challenge Met.

My thanks, as well, to Kennedy Onyango for the photos and for the ongoing responsible supervision of this project.

Canada Day challenge met!

A huge THANK YOU is in order for everyone who responded to the Canada Day Challenge I wrote about in this blog on July 1. Through your generous donations and a bonus from the Sasamat Foundation in British Columbia, CanAssist has secured the money to build the two needed classrooms at Hope School in Mbita Kenya. Everyone is delighted. I will be sure to provide updates as the school classrooms rise from the dust.

Kennedy Onyango is our contact and the founder of the Hope School. I first encountered him in July 2010. He exemplifies the typical story of relatively ordinary Africans (but motivated ones) who see a need in their community and they dedicate their personal resources and time to finding ways to improve the plight of the people who live around them.

In Kennedy’s case this was to help vulnerable young children in his region – kids who lived in poverty or were orphaned – get a start at being educated. He founded a “school” which is divided into two locations. One is in two crammed classrooms behind a bank in the town of Mbita and another on a larger property in the hills beyond the town. There are 160 kids who come to these makeshift classrooms.

In addition to giving them education, the school also provides a mid-day meal for the children. Sometimes this is the only food that they get for the day.

Kennedy Onango holds up a sign that marks the beginning of the CanAssist Oasis of Hope Garden for the Hope School at Mbita Kenya

Kennedy first asked CanAssist to help develop a small farm where they could raise vegetables and fruits to supplement the otherwise bland gruel diet provided to the kids. In early 2012, CanAssist gave the money to start this up and very soon Kennedy had created what he calls the “Oasis of Hope” on the rurual school property.

In mid July, I got this report from Kennedy. It surpassed my expectations for success in the early months of developing this garden. Kennedy writes:

This month in CanAssist funded ‘Oasis of Hope Garden’, we take a deeper look at this farm, which is celebrating its first harvest. In a single 3 month production cycle, 480 kilograms of sourghum, 120 kgs of beans have been harvested so far from a 2 acre ploughed open farm. The same 3-month production cycle is also projected to yield a 120 kilogram of maize (corn). This has clearly reinforced our earlier thought of making the garden both food granary and source of funds to support key school operations. It’s true, a good income can be realized from the selling of sourghum.
Why is this important? 140+ children at Hope School have never had an opportunity to drink nutritious porridge from the initially barren school farm yard. Rural peasant families of Mbita don’t have the money to take a chance on unproven technologies. Demonstration farms like the CanAssist funded ‘Oasis of Hope Garden’ give families a firsthand look at the income increases they can achieve with an investment in appropriate technologies for improved on-farm yields
You can see how CanAssist’s approach of working with poor, marginalized rural communities of East Africa transforms lives on our first ever bumper harvest in this school farm.
We remain appreciative for CanAssist supporters and with special thanks to Sasamat Foundation for having donated funds towards classrooms construction at Hope School, besides nutritious meals, the children will now get conducive learning environment!”

The first step in creating a garden was to fence the property to keep protect the garden from wandering neighbourhood goats. This dry corner is the same place where the banner picture of maize plants was taken three months later.

I hope that this enthusiastic endorsement of the work that we are doing through CanAssist makes our donors smile with satisfaction. With the support of Canadian donors, Kennedy and others in his community have been able to take a barren piece of land and turn it into a veritable Oasis of Hope for the children at Hope School and those who live around it. We are making a difference to individuals and communities in East Africa. Asante sana for your help in achieving this.

A Canada Day Challenge

Every year around July 1, I unfurl a big, red and white Canadian flag over my balcony with pride. I consider myself fortunate to live in a country where people value the notion of respect for one another.

Collectively, we respect our democratic government process, even if we don’t always agree with our politicians.

We respect and protect the rights all Canadians despite religious, cultural or ethnic differences. Diversity makes up the colourful fabric of our nation. On Canada Day, new citizens from around the globe are welcomed to Canada in ceremonies across the land. I remember attending one such occasion a few years ago when the family of one of my co-workers from Bosnia and Herzegovina officially became Canadian. At that ceremony, the Mayor of Kingston had been born in Scotland, the Governor General in China (both were women, by the way) and the Ontario MP was born in Holland. That tangible recognition of our varied backgrounds reminded me of what it is to be Canadian.

And we are generous to the rest of the world with our support – military, moral and financial.

This week I was reminded of this generosity when I received notice that the Sasamat Foundation in British Columbia will donate $10,000 to the CanAssist African Relief Trust to be put toward building two classrooms for the Hope School in Mbita, Kenya. This gift is being given with no strings other than the accountability of CanAssist and the recipient community to use the money for their school. It is independent of other obligations and given without cynicism or suspicion, cultural or religious bias, but with trust that the community in Africa will utilize it to benefit their children. I think this is a very “Canadian” gesture.

In addition to their generous $10,000 donation, the Sasamat Foundation has presented CanAssist with a challenge. They will donate another $5000 to the school, matching donations that CanAssist receives 2:1. But this has to happen within the month of July.

Are you be willing to support this initiative with a donation of $50 to CanAssist and the Hope School? You can make a secure, tax-receiptable donation online now with a credit card by following the Canada Helps link below. You can even select a small monthly donation option through the Canada Helps link. Indicate that your gift is to bolster the Hope School Fund.

Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!Faire un don maintenant par CanadaHelps.org!

CanAssist is always happy to receive a donation by mail.
CanAssist African Relief Trust, 562 Sycamore Street, Kingston, Ontario. K7M7L8

Happy Canada Day!

Check out out the CanAssist web page about Hope School at http://canassistafrica.ca/Mercy.html

Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!Faire un don maintenant par CanadaHelps.org!