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

 

 

 

Desks to schools in Kenya…

I put many hours a week into the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Sometimes I wonder why I do it.  Today I received an email that reminded me.

Last year CanAssist received an application from a development group in Kenya asking for support in providing desks for three schools in Rachuonyo District near Homa Bay.  We did not know the schools or the AFORD development organization but thought that they presented an organized appeal and, in the past, we have found provision of school desks to be satisfying.  Not only do the children of the schools receive furnishings to help them learn better, the desks are locally made which gives carpenters and suppliers some income.

In December, I visited some elementary schools in Canada and they have donated about $1000 toward the $5000 needed to build 170 desks that will serve 450 students.

Last month I asked the school for some photos of the school so we could help promote this project.  Today I received these grainy photos taken recently at two of the schools. I will let them speak for themselves.  I think you will agree that they are heartbreaking.  Although the Kenyan Ministry of Education does offer “free” education to elementary school students, this is the quality in some of the remote districts.

The Kamser Elementary School.  Crowded conditions not conducive to learning. There are 450 students at two schools like this one and they are requesting 150 bench desks to accommodate the students, many of whom sit on the floor.

The Kamser Elementary School. Crowded conditions not conducive to learning. There are 450 students at two schools like this one and they are requesting 150 bench desks to accommodate the students, many of whom sit on the floor.

Photo3_Kamser primary 2

Students at the Kamser Secondary School.  This school requests 20 individual desks.

Students at the Kamser Secondary School. This school requests 20 individual desks.

Our Kenyan field representative, Dan Otieno, will visit the schools sometime in the next month and we hope we can to move ahead with the funding and construction of new desks very soon.  If you would like to help with this, CanAssist appreciates gifts of any size. The average cost per bench desk will be about $40. Can you afford to donate one? (or two would be nice.)

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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.

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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Giving Tuesday 2013 50

Dimes 4 desks

Kids!  Their enthusiasm is infectious.

Last month I visited the Grade 4 class at Glenburnie School to tell them a bit about Africa.

Here is a “campaign” that resulted from my visit. This short video presentation, created by Ashley, one of the students in the class,  speaks for itself.

Ashley had originally had “With a Little Help from my Friends” as her background music but YouTube is picky about copyright so we changed it to some original African sounds. I recorded the music in the video when I was visiting a CanAssist project site in the village of Olimai, Uganda in 2011.  The thumb piano band had welcomed me to the community in the afternoon and serenaded me again after dark. What a delightful treat for a visitor.

The money raised by the class will go to the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre to provide furnishings (they have none at the moment).

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.

Everyone is a winner…

I am always happy to be part of a win-win situation. Last year I enjoyed one that was win-win-win. If I think about it I could add more win’s but you get the point, I am sure.

The St Gorety School is a secondary school in a small village called Mikei, Kenya. It is pretty rurual, about 20 km inland from Lake Victoria and in Nyanza Province, one of the least advantaged districts of Kenya.

Through CanAssist, and with my Canadian friends, Virginia and Suzanne I met Edward Kabaka a couple of years ago. Edward is a founder of a local support group called Rieko Kenya. Well, to make a rather long story shorter, Edward brought the needs of St Gorety School to our attention. Basically the school, serving secondary students from the surrounding region, was overcrowded and needed more classroom space.

St G classroom 2013So in 2012, CanAssist agreed to construct one classroom and complete another which had been partially built with Kenyan government funds which dried up before the roof could be put on the building.

Virginia and Suzanne, secondary school teachers themselves in Kingston, promoted this project to some of their students who responded with fundraising to help with this building.

At the same time, the Queen’s Health Outreach group, university students whose mandate is to promote Health education to students and youth in various parts of the developing world, were looking for a new district in Kenya to work. I have been an ad hoc mentor to this group for the past several years and it seemed natural to put them in touch with Edward and the St. Gorety School.

QHO students visited several schools and community groups in the Nyatike region in 2012.

QHO students visited several schools and community groups in the Nyatike region in 2012.

Last year the QHO group spent several weeks in the Mikei/Nyatike community, living in a house overlooking the rolling Kenyan hills and interacting with schools and women’s groups in the region to educate and promote healthy living practices. Another group of six QHO students are excited to be returning to the community in May/June this year.

When I visited the St Gorety School and other groups in the region in February, they all lit up with smiles at the mention of the QHO students and were ecstatic to hear that there would be a group returning this year.

So where do all the “win’s” come in?

  • CanAssist has been delighted to be able to provide infrastructure support to the school (and three other community groups as well…more about those in later posts).
  • The QHO group has found a welcoming community where they are able to do their outreach work to promote education about health to young Africans.
  • The community which was actually quite neglected and off the beaten track for development has been excited to welcome visitors from Canada who are eager to help them improve their living circumstances. Kenyans love visitors.
  • Edward Kabaka has found support for his dream of improving well-being in the community.
  • Some of the students at KCVI and LCVI in Kingston have established pen-pal relationships with students in Kenya and have the satisfaction of having been able to help their peers in Africa.

And I sit back and smile. It’s all so good.

Treat yourself to the joyous music from the St. Gorety school choir in the Youtube video below.

A delicate matter …

Imagine being a 14 year old girl heading off to school with your menstrual period and not having a clean place to tend to your sanitary needs – or any money to buy sanitary towels for protection. This is the dilemma faced by young African women have no money for the luxury of sanitary pads.

Young African women have enough to contend with but when I visit African schools, the female students are quite vocal about this disadvantage. Schools recognize that girls miss a few days each month because they have no means of dealing with the problems caused by menstruation. This slows their ability to achieve at school and causes them to fall behind the boys.

Sanitary pads are expensive. Particularly if you are barely getting by with other school expenses or even food. In some communities there are initiatives for producing reusable, washable sanitary towels but even this requires a private place to look after your needs which is often not available.

The women at St Mark’s Church in Barriefield, Ontario heard about this problem at one of the schools that has been supported by the CanAssist African Relief Trust for the past few years. Provision of ongoing supplies and consumables is not within the mandate of CanAssist so we approached this Anglican Church Women’s Group for help. And they responded.

The ACW at St Mark’s have been providing funds to purchase sanitary towels and undergarments for the young girls at Kanyala Little Stars School for the past 18 months. And the reward has been better attendance from the girls who now can match the boys in academics. One young woman even got top marks for the region in the last set of standardized exams before secondary school.

Another Kingston couple came forward with a donation to CanAssist to build construct improved latrines and washing areas for the girls. What an improvement!

This problem is huge. But I commend the women at St Mark’s who have determined that they will help the young girls at Kanyala Little Stars with this somewhat delicate problem.

The school is running low on supplies and the St Mark’s ACW will be looking to send another $450 to help for the next few months. In order to keep this ongoing, I’m sure they would welcome a $10 from other Canadian women (or men) who would like to contribute.

Next time you see me, pass me $10 and I will be glad to send it on to the St Mark’s ACW and thence to the Kenyan young women. Evelyn Bowering (ebowering@cogeco.ca)would also be happy to be the intermediary to help bolster the ACW funds to keep this program going.

ACW friends
To quote Mama Benta “I have to congratulate those Anglican girls. They are good ladies!”

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.