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.

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Safari 2016.  Part 11. Winding up.

On the last two days of our safari we visited yet another two schools in Uganda,  the Kyabazaala Elementary School near Kayunga and Hope for Youth, near Mukono.  We experienced a torrential rain at the Kyabazaala School which slightly cut short our outdoor festivities but had us huddle with a gaggle of students, teachers and parents in a classroom under the tin roof.  A memorable downpour of fellowship and much appreciated water to fill the water tanks.  At Hope for Youth, we received the usual warm welcome and lots of hugs.  What a delight to see some of the kids I have known for about 7 years.  Some of the fellows who danced for me at age 8 are now 16 and in secondary school.  We remembered each other and relished the short time we had to visit once again.  And I promised that I will return.  

We cut the ribbon on a wonderful teachers’ accommodation building which will also have a health/first aid room.  Thanks to the Green           , the Sasamat foundation and to the benefactors who attended a fundraising dinner in Nanaimo last February for making this possible.

It was fitting that the last musical entertainment we had from students (we had a lot over the two weeks) was a blessing from them to us.  We all left East Africa feeling truly blessed by the opportunity to visit that we had with ten very different associate communities and are safely home – jet-lagged, adjusting to winter temperatures but hearts warm from our safari to spend time with our global family.

  

 
  
   
 

Cholera, then and now.

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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.

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.

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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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

Development – A two-edged sword

Excitement and adventure to be found at Bujagali Falls .... or not.

Excitement and adventure to be found at Bujagali Falls …. or not.

If you look at the travel books like Lonely Planet you can find lots of things to do around the city of Jinja, Uganda. One of the highlights is touted to be a visit to the Bujagali Falls, more a series of rapids that are about ten kilometers north of he city on the Nile River. (The Source of the Nile is another tourist must – the place where John Speke discovered where the 4000 mile long Nile River begins as it flows out of Lake Victoria).

Photos of white tourists bouncing through the rapids in large rafts show just how much adventure can be had in the Bujagali Falls rapids.

But…. it seems there is always a but…

The need for electrical supply for East Africa is great and is mostly supplied by several hydroelectric dams. The biggest one is just below the Nile source in the city of Jinja. In the past few years, a second dam has been constructed just below Bujagali. It opened last year. My understanding is that much of the electricity is sold to neighbouring countries although I must admit that on my recent trip to Uganda there were not the long power blackouts that I had experienced there before.

This is “Development” and it will benefit the region, the government who will sell the electricity, and those who can afford electrical supply. It comes, however, with a price.

The Bujagali Falls are now completely submerged under 15 feet of water. The restaurant that once served tourists has been flooded and dismantled. Young men who once acted as spotters or guides are now trying to convince any visitors to take a sedate boat trip on the resulting lake which was calm as a mill-pond. Large rafts sit piled on the shore. Not a ripple is in sight.

Although I have been to Jinja a few times, I had never visited Bujagali Falls. Last week I took a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to see the falls. There was one other tourist family of four at the site and me. The spot which had been bustling with tourists four years ago was quiet.

This fellow points to a picture of himself in 2009 working with tourists who were white-water rafting on the Bujagali Falls. He is now unemployed with no income source.

This fellow points to a picture of himself in 2009 working with tourists who were white-water rafting on the Bujagali Falls. He is now unemployed with no income source.

I ended up talking to a couple of the fellows who were trying to convince me to take a boat ride. They said that they received nothing to compensate them for their loss of income. Many people have moved away from the area in search of work. Despite being so close to this power source, they have no electricity. I offered to buy them a soda, both to support the fellow who had a kiosk and to thank them for talking with me. The one fellow asked if he could forgo the soda and get some food with the money. He had not eaten for a while. I ended up buying him both food and a soda.

This story or theme is not uncommon. This kind of Development is deemed to be something favourable to the general economy and it may, in fact, help. But the “little guy”, the less than a dollar a day person we hear so much about, does not seem to benefit and often suffers. On the other side of Jinja there is a fish processing plant that receives, cleanse, fillets and freezes Nile Perch caught in Lake Victoria. The plant is owned by internationals and all of the fish are sent to Europe and beyond for consumption. The local people can not afford the fish at the price that the plant can get from the North so they go without. Resources (fish) are depleted from the lake to feed the developed world in exchange for a few low-paying jobs.

The rich get rich and the poor get poorer.

What used to be a waterfalls/rapids is now flooded and calm.

What used to be a waterfalls/rapids is now flooded and calm.

Continue reading

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.