Adam Nkuyan School – A Success Story

Driving to the Adam Nkuyan School deep in Maasai territory on the floor of the Rift Valley in Kenya has always been a bit of an adventure. Once, with a group of 20 CanAssist supporters in safari truck we ran out of gas, with no fuel available for miles. This time, my friend, Stephen drove me out to the school and once we got half an hour away from the main Magadi Road everything started to look the same. We took one (or maybe more) wrong turns and basically got lost in the middle of nowhere and with no phone service. We asked the few folks we saw for directions and eventually arrived at the school about 90 minutes late. On the bright side we did spot zebras and giraffes by the side of the “road”.

Video: Wildlife by the side of the road on our drive to Nkuyan School.

I had not been to the school for about 7 years and when I arrived I was very pleasantly surprised.

The Nkuyan School was CanAssist’s first project. We officially opened it in 2009. There might have been 30 students in the single tin classroom.

Alex and Judith Adam open the tin sheet classroom that started the Nkuyan School in 2009. Now there are 8 permanent classrooms and three din sheet classrooms including this original structure.

Gradually a couple of permanent classrooms were added as well as water tanks and latrines. Eventually the school became registered with the Government who ended up paying for 4 more classrooms. The school now has enrollment of 250 students and 11 teachers, four of them paid for by the government. There are another couple of tin structures for the very young kids and they have students from preschool age to class eight.

The school now has 250 students from preschool age to Grade 8

In the National exams last year for the Class 8 students they had the best marks of the 40 schools in their district. In addition, the enrollment at the school is equal numbers of boys and girls.

Fifteen more pupils have joined the Nkuyan school since this chart was made.

We were met by the Chairman of the School Board, the teachers led by the Deputy Head Teacher, a group of parents, including three that are on the parent’s committee. The whole community is involved and supportive and most grateful for this school in their very remote community. Without this school, children in this community might have to walk as far as 13 km to school each day which would mean many would go without their basic education.

The bottom line is that this school has grown incredibly, and has even received some government funding to help it grow. The community is taking care of the resources that have been given to them, is actively supporting the school and encouraging their children to acquire and education. The pupils are showing excellent academic performance. The help that CanAssist provided and continues to provide in partnership with two Kenyan NGO’s (MPIDO and MANDO) has kickstarted a school that is making a big difference for this remote Maasai community. This is the kind of success we dreamed about when we started the CanAssist African Relief Trust 15 years ago.

Video: The students of Nkuyan School entertained me with traditional song and dance.

NOTE: This post has a video image. If you are reading the post on an email you must click on the title of the post to be taken to the WordPress site where the video can be streamed.

I came across this photo of the Nkuyan School in 2009

Visit to a rural Kenyan Elementary School

This morning, Dan and I dropped in to the Ramula Primary School, a rural public school that has about 700 pupils from grade 1 to 8. Although I am no longer a Trustee with the CanAssist African Relief Trust, the CanAssist board asked me to look in on a few project partners while I am here in Kenya.

The purpose of Dan’s visit to the school this morning was to sign an MOU with the head teacher of the school to confirm the building of an 8 stall pit latrine for the boys. Last year CanAssist built a girls latrine at the school and also supplied some much needed desks.

Dan Otieno, CsnAssist’s African Field Representative signing an MOU for a new boys latrine with the Head Teacher, chairman of the school board and chairman of the PTA of Ramula Primary School.

You would not believe the state of the current boys latrines. They are old and in very poor condition (I won’t disgust you with photos.) I watched as three or four boys opened doors looking for a stall that was useable. Toilets that are collapsing and I’m poor repair are not uncommon in Kenyan elementary schools. Although these schools are publicly run, there seems to be no money for many basic needs, like text books and sanitation. CanAssist has helped several schools in East Africa over the years to help with water collection, sanitation and other infrastructure.

Girls’ latrine built last year at the Ramula Primary School.

CanAssist does not work on a cookie-cutter mold. Every project is different and tailored to the needs expressed by the school or hospital or community. This morning a young woman in grade 8 asked if they could have a couple of cupboards for books – essentially asking for book shelves. I told her that I would pass on this request to the CanAssist trustees. And one of the teachers who teaches language and English asked if they could get some storybooks in English and Swahili to help with reading and literacy.

Literacy teacher Frederick Kolanyo
Student Lucy Atieno

For the past few years the Ontario Teacher’s federation has generously funded purchase of requested books for two or three schools annually through CanAssist. Dan usually asks the teachers what they need and the books specific to their needs are purchased from local booksellers. I am sure that when this funding comes through later this year he will be asking this teacher for his recommendations. (Thanks OTF for your ongoing support.)

We were received warmly. The students, the teaching staff, the Chairman of the school’s Board, and the head of the Parent-Teachers Association all expressed appreciation for the gifts that Canadian donors make to the school through CanAssist.

I was happy to bring greetings from Canada on behalf of the donors and trustees of the CanAssist African Relief Trust.

TIFF Day 4 – An elephant in the room

There are over 400 movies at TIFF, including documentaries and short films.  My penchant for things African led me to see The Ivory Game, a recently-completed Netflix-produced film about the rapid decimation of the African elephant population  that, sadly, is threatening extinction of this largest of land animals.   The figures are startling.   The number of elephants in East Africa declined by 30%  or about 150,000 elephants, from 2007 to 2014 and continues at a rate of about 8% per year.  Part of this stems from human-wildlife conflict as human development  encroaches on previously protected areas. Elephants know no boundaries and may destroy gardens and local agriculture so people living in villages near these animals turn to killing the animals to protect their crops.

But the bigger problem is poaching of the animals for their tusks.  It seems that the main trade in elephant tusks is through China where ivory trinkets or carvings are seen as valued pieces of art.  And poachers, gang leaders and corrupt officials can make a lot of money selling illegal ivory.  They are even banking on the approaching extinction of the elephant, a boon to their profit as ivory becomes increasingly scarce.

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In addition to educating about this crisis, the film turns into a real-life spy thriller as it follows undercover agents as they try to gather information to help capture and convict the poachers, including one of the  kingpins aptly nicknamed Shetani – “the devil”.

It appears that the only way for elephants to survive is for governments around the world to make sale of ivory totally illegal.  Until that happens the poaching will continue and the number of African elephants living in the wild become dangerously threatened.

You can read more about this at  www.theivorygame.com and the Great Elephant Census.

I give this documentary 4 stars of 5.  It was the only movie that I saw this year at TIFF that actually moved me to tears.  It will be on Netflix later this season.

I have peppered this page with a few of photos of elephants that I have been fortunate to see over the years in East Africa.  How many of these magnificent animals have survived the poacher, I wonder?

I took the above photo on my way to the airstrip in the Maasai Mara.  I was worried that having to stop as this herd of elephants meandered across the road would make me miss my plane back to Nairobi.  But even the small local airlines are on “Africa time” and the plane was an hour off schedule. Meanwhile I got to sit in a jeep and watch this extended elephant family enjoying their day.

And when I got to the air strip, the small plane was oversold by one – so I got to sit in the cockpit with the pilot.  A commanding view of the Maasai Mara and this memorable sight of another large herd of elephants crossing the Savannah.

aerial-elephants

Feeling proud…

When my grandson turned six, he decided that, instead of having kids bring him presents for his birthday party, he would have them bring a bit of money that he gave to me to take to Kenya to share with school kids there.  I was able to buy a soccer ball and books for three schools with the money he collected.  I also took a photo of him to each school.

When I returned to one of the schools a year later the children asked me “How is Noah Budd?”  They knew that he had helped them and were wanting to send greetings.  Last year it took me by surprise when I was in the office of yet another school and saw Noah’s photo on the wall.    I was delighted to make Noah aware that these children were grateful and appreciative of his generosity.

Maia 3In May, Noah’s sister, Emma,  sent me $10 of her birthday money and this afternoon, in the mail, I got a note and $10 fromtheir sister, Maia, who turns five today, money for the CanAssist African Relief Trust.

I am so proud of these kids (and their parents) for sharing their good fortune with others.

I have also gone to elementary schools where the kids have been very enthusiastic and motivated to help others in Africa.  Ms Paré’s Grade 4-5 class at Glenburnie School gathered $1300 this spring and this money is now being put to use to construct school furnishings for the St Catherine School in Kenya.

CanAssist  has also had generous support from children at Sweet’s Corners School, Rideau Vista School,  and Inglewood School in Toronto.

These kids seem to just realize that with really very little effort and sacrifice on their part (mainly enthusiasm and motivating others) they can make a really significant difference to the lives of children in Africa.

I am moved and proud of all of them for their altruism and I hope that their parents and neighbours and aunts and uncles can take a lesson from them and reach out to help others both at  home and in the developing world – because we can assist.

Kids at the Kanyala Little Stars School in Mbita Kenya sing a song for Noah Budd.

Osiri, a Lake Victoria fishing village

Osiri village is a 15 minute walk from the Luanda ferry dock that takes me to Mbita town. It is a small fishing village with a population of about 500. The people there struggle with poverty and the unfortunate lack of adequate clean water and sanitation.

Osiri fishermen

Osiri fishermen

I was introduced to the community through Meshack Andiwo, a fellow who as had the opportunity for a bit more education than most there. He indicated that the community was concerned about the children not getting any schooling. It is near this village that CanAssist has built the Stewart Geddes School. Fishing had been the main source of income for people in the village but this is becoming more challenging for a number of reasons.

Firstly, as in the rest of lake Victoria, the fish stocks are being depleted. Nile perch were introduced to the lake in the 1950’s as a potential source of fishing income. This was both a blessing and a curse as these fish have a voracious appetite and have consumed many of the smaller species in the lake, upsetting the ecological balance. They can grow to be very large. Nile perch caught in the lake are packed in ice and taken to a larger city, Kisumu or Nairobi, for filleting and shipping to Europe.

Day catch of Nile Perch. These four fish weighed 38.5 kg.

Day catch of Nile Perch. These four fish weighed 38.5 kg.

Although the price that the fishermen can get for the fish has fallen, it is still an income. So the people who live here are forced to sell the fish and go without. Despite being close to this nutritious food source, they can not afford to keep the fish which end up in European markets.

Another introduced species that is causing problems in the bay is Water Hyacinth. You may know this as the lettuce-like floating plant on ornamental garden ponds in Canada. They sell for $4-$5 each in garden centers in May and June. They have a nice purple flower and spread out over the pond only to be frozen at the first frost.

Somehow, this native of South America entered the Lake Victoria system in the 1980’s and since then, they have rapidly taken over. Millions of them float in clumps or even large islands in the lake, being blown around by the wind and currents.image Although they may shelter the fish in some ways, the fishermen have trouble with their nets brewing caught up in the rafts of plants and when a large crop blows in to the shore at the village, it makes landing or launching a boat impossible.

Water hyacinth floating on the lake.

Water hyacinth floating on the lake.

They also act as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, thus increasing the spread of malaria and dengue fever.

I told the folks here that the poverty problem in their community could be solved if they could just sell these plant pests to North Americans and Europeans for their backyard ponds. Another inequitable obscenity, when you think about it very much.

This unventilated latrine is the only toilet for the 500 people living in Osiri village.

This unventilated latrine is the only toilet for the 500 people living in Osiri village.

There are few households with any toilet and most of the people in the community either use the bush or one small latrine found near the centre of the village. They collect their water from the lake but the lake is becoming increasingly polluted with sewage, laundry detergents and other effluents. Many do not boil or purify their water before consuming it as this takes time and money or consumes scrounged firewood that is needed for other cooking.

Kids swim in the lake and others bathe there. Many are infected with bilharzla, a parasitic fluke that can infest kidneys and bowel.

Despite these challenges, the people who live in Osiri Village are cheerful and optimistic and my visit to the community and the Stewart Geddes school was heart-warming.

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The butterfly in me …

A few weeks ago I went to the IMAX theatre at the Museum of Civilization in Hull to see the movie “Flight of the Butterflies”.  In addition to being a visually spectacular film in 3D it told another amazing story.

Monarch butterfies weighing only a few grams migrate from our back yards in Ontario to one particular spot in Mexico where they spend the “winter” months.  They then fly back to the southern US where they lay eggs and a new generation is formed which makes the second migratory loop to the northern parts of North America.  The generation that goes through the egg/caterpillar/pupa/butterfly phase here in Canada is the one that goes back to Mexico.  This journey is incredible enough, given the size of the delicate butterfly and the distance traveled.  But even more unbelievable is that the butterfly that migrates back to Mexico has never been there. It was her grandmother that spent the previous winter at the same location.

What could be the explanation for this?  There must be something inate that leads the butterfly to Mexico – something in its DNA that acted as a homeing GPS.

I have often found it remarkable that caucasian visitors from the northern hemisphere (including me) who visit East Africa are drawn to return there.  I have this unusual inner voice drawing me back repeatedly.  I have often wondered what this is all about.

Now I know.  Or think I do.

I imagine that there is some little piece of my DNA that knows where I came from – not last year but hundreds of thousands of years ago.  I think that some of us have some tiny piece of genetic material that recognizes East Africa as the place of our origin and, although we are not a migrating species, there is some biological inner voice that draws us there.  If it can happen to a Monarch Buttefly or Pacific Salmon, why not us.

Homo Habilis Maxilla

This is an actual 1.5 million year old maxilla and teeth from Homo habilis – one of my extended family members?

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to wander in the Rift Valley where humanity originated.  In a little museum in Arusha Tanzania, I have seen part of a 1.5 million-year-old skull of Homo habilis – one of my great, great, great, great, great, …x many greats ……..  grandparents, perhaps.

Science supports the idea that all humanity originated in East Africa.   It makes me wonder – does my DNA remember this in some primitive way and that is why, like the butterfly that returns to the place of its ancestors without a map, I am drawn to return to the Rift Valley of Kenya?

It is, I am sure,  my ancestral home.

The Rift Valley of Kenya - I am drawn to this place like a magnet is pulling me there.

The Rift Valley of Kenya – I am drawn to this place like a magnet is pulling me there.

A tragic death in Tanzania

I never met Susan Wells. The news that this 41 year old Canadian aid worker had been killed in late November shortly after arriving in Tanzania to do charitable work struck home, however.

I imagined her arriving at the Kilimanjaro airport, tired from the long flight from Canada but invigourated and very excited to be back where she felt she belonged in some way. She would have been eager once more to meet loving children who would swarm her and welcome her in a heartwarming way that is hard to describe.

But she never made it. Her body was found in a field near Arusha. What exactly happened is still not certain but the bottom line is that her mission to East Africa ended in tragedy.

The message conveyed to others by this horrendous assault might be that East Africans are cruel and heartless. It is actually quite the opposite. I’m sure that the people living in the community where Susan Wells worked are grieving with a deep despair. I know that she would have had loving associations with many. Why else would she continue to return?

There are bad people everywhere. We don’t want all Canadians judged by the likes of Luka Magnotta, Russell Williams or Paul Bernardo. All of America can not be measured by the actions of the young man who murdered children at a Connecticut school this week. Tanzania has the same population as all of Canada. A tourism sector report in 2010 reported close to 1,000,000 tourist visits per year. Foreign visits  – both by tourists and by community aid workers – are  an important contributor to the local economy. Violence of this nature towards foreigners is rare.

Travel anywhere has its risks. Visitors to East Africa are aware that crime rates there are much higher than at home. Foreigners are perceived (and rightly so) as having more money than the locals. It must be tempting if you see a visitor using an iPhone that costs as much as you live on for a year, to want to relieve them of it. Pickpocketing and theft is rampant. Even the locals are cognizant of security risks and the potential for them to be victims of crime. Caution is always required. I’m sure that Susan Wells knew that and in all likelihood she thought she was being safe. Most of the people you meet are friendly and helpful. It is hard to imagine that you may be the victim of of such a violent crime – whether at home or abroad.

It is very sad that a young woman who had dedicated herself to sharing with people less fortunate in Africa has been brutally murdered. I suspect, however, that she would not want this crime to taint the reputation of the East Africans who had provided many other loving moments that she must have experienced while living and working there.

Visitors to East Africa are much more likely to be greeted with welcoming affection than negativity.

Visitors to East Africa are much more likely to be greeted with welcoming affection than negativity.

The “D” word…Drought.

This is a slight variation on an article that I wrote that was published in the Kingston Whig Standard, on Monday October 22, 2012.

In Eastern Ontario it has been a dry hot summer. Ideal for vacations, swimming at the cottage and just living outdoors. But not ideal for farmers.

We tend to take water and even adequate rainfall for granted here in Canada. But this year farmers in Ontario were suffering. Apparently corn crops are miserable. Many farmers who raise livestock are having trouble finding feed for them. Grazing fields have been dry and wheat crops have failed. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, combined with the Mennonite Disaster Service have initiated a program whereby Western Canadian Wheat farmers can donate bales of hay for feed to ship by train or truck to their Ontario peers.

The first shipment of 200 bales arrived this week. They estimate that the need is more like fifty thousand bales.

I wonder if we are getting the idea that the climate is changing and that it will affect us. We have been relatively insulated from the shift in weather patterns. Air conditioning when it is hot. Ample supply of fresh water in lakes and rivers. Government subsidies. Social assistance.

In Africa the situation is more challenging.

Just for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of a Maasai herdsman in Kenya.

First of all, the shoes would likely be made from old auto tires. Or maybe you would have no shoes at all.

Your herd of cattle, even at their best being scrawny compared to what you see in Canada, are grazing in the open on land that is barren and dry. It has not rained in several months. You have to walk miles with your cattle to the local watering hole, a source shared by the livestock and humans alike for drinking, cleaning and bathing.

On the way to the water source one of your animals becomes weak and collapses. You have no choice but to leave her there. Hyenas and vultures will take care of the rest.

Traditionally you have always relied on your animals as your source of wealth and many years ago you moved with your extended family from region to region, building a new village as you relocated and following the rain and grass for your animals.

Early in the 1900’s the British colonialists arrived saw your land as being not “owned” by anyone. Ignoring your traditions, they quickly set to work according to their laws and customs to purchase land for themselves and erect fences. You and your animals became gradually squeezed to less favourable locales. The city of Nairobi now sits on land that your grandfather used for grazing his cattle.

Rain is essential to your survival. In the past few years there have been increasingly longer periods of drought, often lasting for months and months. Your animals stop producing milk. Many of them die. Your “wealth” is drastically reduced along with your supply of food.

You have nowhere to turn for social support. Food prices in general escalate, in part because of lack of local foodstuffs but also because of the increasing cost of fuel to transport food from further away.

What can you do? Where can you turn? You might give up your traditional means of livelihood and move to the city. But you are not educated, have never used a computer and when you get there would be forced to cram into slum living conditions with others who are flocking to the city looking for work.

So you pray for rain. Your children go hungry. You scrounge for any bit of food for you and your animals. You rely on handouts from International Food Aid programs or your neighbours. You hope.

Eventually rain comes. Within days there is a tinge of green on the landscape. You rejoice that you have survived this crisis, emerging more poor even than you were before, but ready to start over.

Every few years, this kind of drought event has occurred in East Africa for a long time. Now, the problem is that this pattern is happening with increasing frequency.

People in tropical climates have recognized these changing patterns for a while now. They are powerless to change them. The CO2 emissions that are leading to these climate variations are coming, almost entirely, from the more opulent nations in temperate climates – regions that have been somewhat protected from the resulting changes. We may be happy to shovel less in the winter, spend more time on the beach in the summer but eventually the penny will drop.

This year in Ontario we have had a significant drought. It has been a crisis for farmers and food producers here. Will it become more common as time goes on and the climate changes? How can we prepare for this?

And I wonder what will happen to the Maasai pastoralists.

Here are some weather observations that reinforce the notion that patterns are changing.

Not just new latrines

I’m delighted to have received further updates about the sanitation improvements that CanAssist is funding at the Mutundu Primary School in Kenya.

Toilet for girls at the Mutundu School – Spring 2012

I first wrote about this in a blog article in June (Sanitation – or lack of it) and subsequently updated it last month (Sanitation – Making progress) As you can see from the photos, the state of the toilets for staff and students at the school when our Kenyan assistant, Dan Otieno, assessed them was nothing short of disgusting.

Last week I received more pictures of the new latrines at the Mutundu School I would like to share along with some hidden advantages to the community from the kind of development work we are doing through the CanAssist African Relief Trust.

New CanAssist-funded girls toilet at Mutundu School. August 2012

I have come to realize that often the stimulus to a community provided by the funding of an infrastructure project such as this one has other less obvious benefits. The materials for construction are all locally purchased and the skilled (and unskilled) labourers to construct the projects are local tradesmen, often without much work. So we are not only providing the structure or item that will be part of the community and improve well-being there, we are also giving some employment to the locals, albeit temporary.

CanAssist recently sent money to another school in Uganda – Hope for Youth School near Mukono – to purchase 70 desks and chairs for the school. The cost comes to just over $5000 to do this. The bonus is that the desks and chairs will all be made locally by carpenters who will therefore benefit as well. This is a Win-Win situation. The school gets the needed furnishings and the local carpenters (and suppliers) benefit from the business.

It makes me happy to see this work at the Mutundu school progressing, knowing that the sanitation (and thereby health) conditions at the school will be greatly improved. I am also glad that the community are having some opportunity to participate in the construction and even earn a bit of money as they contribute to achieving these goals.

When money for infrastructure projects like the latrines at Mutundu School becomes available, it creates lots of interest in the community, a sense of ownership of the project and employment for tradesmen in the region.