A stroll through Mbita town

I really enjoy strolling through Mbita town on the shore of Lake Victoria.  I have visited Mbita, Kenya about a dozen times in as many years.  As you can see from the photos, I am the only muzungu for miles around.  I get many greetings and stop to talk with vendors or pikipiki drivers.  I feel very safe and welcomed.  I love the vibrant color that surrounds me there.  The town also has special signficance for me which I will note at the end of this post.

The photos can speak for themselves.


Below is one other reminder of my special connection to this town. In the middle of the local hospital grounds, now behind some trees, is a water tank bearing my name.  It was the first infrastructure project that I tackled in Kenya in 2005 and the benefits it gave to this clinic led me to establish the CanAssist African Relief Trust in 2008.  Since that time, CanAssist has provided more than a million dollars of infrastructure support to communities throughout East Africa.  Little did I know, in 2005, what a profound effect that water tank in Mbita town would have on my life for the next several years.




Heading northward.

I start the 35 hour trip home this evening. Going from 30 degrees C to -10. I may look a little dazed if you see me on the street in Kingston in the next few days – Jet lag, season lag, culture shock. There is always more of an adjustment coming home than when I arrive here.

This is where I have called home for the past three weeks. I have, not once, shut my patio door, day or night. Have had the gentle and sometimes not so gentle slosh of the waves from Lake Victoria to lull me to sleep and the cries of eagles, hammercops and ibises to wake me up in the mornings.image

I have had a beer watching the sun set over Mfangano Island before my dinner every evening but one when I was staying at Dan’s family’s homestead away from the lake.

This brings me to good news for my Canadian friends. I have been watching the sun slowly inch northward over the three weeks. The two photos below show its progress northward. Here’s hoping it is bringing some of this warmth to Canada eventually. I just wanted you to know it is on its way!


Sunset on January 22

Sunset on January 22


Sunset FEBRUARY 10. It is on its way to you, Canada.

Sunset FEBRUARY 10. It is on its way to you, Canada.


The boats in front of the ICIPE station are always anchored there. In fact, if you look for Mbita Point on Google Maps and get the satellite view, you can see them from space!


While I was writing this post I heard a rustle outside my door  and looked up to see this 3 ft long monitor lizard who had come to say goodbye.  The first time I saw one of these I thought I was hallucinating.

While I was writing this post I heard a rustle outside my door and looked up to see this 3 ft long monitor lizard who had come to say goodbye. The first time I saw one of these I thought I was hallucinating.






An opportunity for better nutrition …

In addition to providing desks and chairs and hospital equipment and classrooms in East Africa, the CanAssist African Relief Trust has also helped establish gardens like this one at the Kanyala Little Stars School in Mbita, Kenya.  The garden’s help to provide a steady source of nutritious food and a modest income-generating activity which helps other expenses.

CanAssist has most recently funded development of a garden like the Little Stars one for a patient support group a the Tom Mboya Hospital in Rusinga Island, Kenya.

Mama Benta of Kanyala Little Stars explains the benefits of this support to African families and groups.

Planting seeds in the Oasis of Hope garden

Today, our associate in Kenya, Kennedy Onyango posted this message on the CanAssist African Relief Trust Facebook page. I want to share it. It read:

“Yesterday (6th August, 2013), I found myself thinking about all the seeds our friends, well-wishers and supporters has sown down through the years. The CanAssist African Relief Trust family have given an enormous amount of money to help hurting children of Usare Village, Mbita District, Kenya. There’s no telling how many lives we have touched through your infrastructural support. Beyond that, for nearly half a decade, Hope School has been a lighthouse, not only to our own community but beaming a message of hope and encouragement to people all over the world as it provides an opportunity to lend a helping hand of caring for the poor. 

There is never a quiet day at Hope School, and every day is different. It is most certainly an exciting and challenging place to be. It is amazing to watch as seeds of hope are planted, nourished and encouraged to grow. Teachers and counsellors plant these seeds, the little angelic girls plant these seeds for each other, sponsors plant these seeds, donors and other partners plant these seeds. It is a wonderful privilege to both plant and to watch the seeds grow.”

This classroom was constructed in early 2013 at Hope School, Mbita with CanAssist funding (helped greatly by the Sasamat Foundation)

This classroom was constructed in early 2013 at Hope School, Mbita with CanAssist funding (helped greatly by the Sasamat Foundation)

In 2012, the CanAssist African Relief Trust partnered with Kennedy and the ETDC organization in Mbita Kenya to help them with development of a school for vulnerable young children in their community. The school is called HOPE SCHOOL. Our first project with them was to fence and irrigate a garden at their rural school property. The school said that they would name this garden The Oasis of Hope. It has turned out to be just that.

In Africa latrines are hand dug, often to a depth of 40 feet, through sand, gravel and stone.  A long labour-intensive job.

In Africa latrines are hand dug, often to a depth of 40 feet, through sand, gravel and stone. A long labour-intensive job.

Later in the year with significant help from CanAssist donors and donations to CanAssist from the Sasamat Foundation in British Columbia and the Toronto Rotary Club, we were able to build two new classrooms for the school. Right now we are in the process of installing latrines at the two school sites.

Kennedy Onyango sent me photos last month of the garden that is thriving and will be able to offer nourishment to the children at the school. Prior to CanAssist’s involvement here, this was a barren piece of land. Last year there was a bumper crop and Kennedy anticipates even better this year. Here is what he reports from the yield last year :

Kennedy Onyango outside the school gate in early 2012.  Along with CanAssist he was ready to "plant the seeds" of development that will help his community.

Kennedy Onyango outside the school gate in early 2012. Along with CanAssist he was ready to “plant the seeds” of development that will help his community.

“Last year we harvested 900Kgs of sourghum, 360Kgs of beans and 120Kgs of Maize in the Oasis of Hope Garden. The sourghum was mixed with cassava which we bought to make porridge for the children. We bought 4, 500kgs of cassava and this served from July 2012 up to April 2013. It served the two campuses of Hope School with current enrollment of 275 children in total. Thanks a lot to CanAssist Relief Trust and Donors for having made this possible. We look forward for a similar or more Kgs of sourghum this year.”

(Sorghum is a cereal crop that is not common in Canada but a staple in many tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world. It is relatively high in fibre, iron and even protein and is a whole grain that is added to other carbohydrates to supplement nutritional needs. Cassava is grown as a bush-like plant with large white tubers that are harvested and cooked like potato as a good filling source of carbohydrate. Cassava may be filling but contains little protein so admixture with sorghum or beans is important to avoid protein malnutrition, a common problem in poor tropical areas.)

The thriving school farm - CAART fundedThe children who attend the Hope School come from very vulnerable situations. Many are orphans or partial orphans and most live in poverty. Many come to school on an empty stomach so the bowl of sorghum and cassava or maize that the school provides may be the only sustaining nourishment the children get. Provision of a school meal has proven to be beneficial to African children and has been one of the strategies endorsed by the Millennium Village Project, initiated by Jeffrey Sachs. The prospect of receiving what may be the only meal of the day is a vital encouragement to them to attend school where they are able to receive an education..

I hope that donors to CanAssist can feel as satisfied as i do that the gifts that they give to CanAssist are being used effectively to improve the well-being of many, many people in East Africa. I am proud of the work we do and also proud of our African partners who work hard to make ensure a successful outcome for our joint projects.

The Oasis of Hope garden in February 2012 and April 2013. Seeds that flourished.

The Oasis of Hope garden in February 2012 and April 2013. Seeds that flourished.

At a loss…

I was stunned this morning when I logged onto my Facebook page and started a chat with one of my friends in Mbita, Kenya. As we talked he received news that CanAssist’s dear friend and associate, Mama Benter Odihambo, had just died at the Mbita Hospital. Kennedy lives across the street from the hospital. I was getting the news before most of her community knew.

This is indeed sad news for everyone who knew her.

Benter was a cheerful, gentle, nurturing leader in her community on Rusinga Island, Kenya. A widow with a large extended family, she was the epitomy of the strong African grandmother who is wise and caring, not only to her family but to her entire community. I will cherish the memory of the afternoon she and I spent together in February, chatting as parents, grandparents and dear friends.

She founded the Little Stars Academy – an elementary school for vulnerable children that is on the edge of Mbita town.The school has grown from a few tin buildings with about three classes to a larger school that graduated students last year who will now go on to secondary school. Their school had top marks in the region and both the top boy and girl won scholarships to continue their schooling.

Benta banner 2

Benter was a dear friend and an adopted mother to many Canadians as well. She was always cheerful and helpful to students from the McGill Canadian Studies in Africa Program, some of whom came to know her well after their studies. She worked with the CanAssist African Relief Trust to improve her school and established the prototype school garden near her home which provides nourishing food for the children and income for the school. She worked with the women of St Mark’s Church in Barriefield Ontario to help establish a program to supply sanitary pads for the older girls at the school so they would not miss school during their monthly cycles. She, along with other members of her family, even had a part in the upcoming movie “Nightrunners”, shot on Rusinga Island in February of this year.

The sadness I feel at her passing is like losing a family member. I know that many people in Rusinga, Mbita and Canada will mourn her loss. At the same time we must resolve to continue in her spirit to help people who are vulnerable.

I will append some photos and videos of Benter that will remind us of her grace.

Mama Benter Odihambo.

Mama Benter Odihambo.

In 2013, CanAssist will continue the good work started by Mama Benter by helping to renovate classrooms at the Kanyala Little Stars School.  Friends who would like to donate to this project in her memory can do so at : http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d95557

Sanitation improvements on Rusinga Island

Rusinga Island, on the shore of Lake Victoria, is off the beaten path for development and in a very poor region of Nyanza Province, Kenya. The people in lakeshore beach villages rely on fishing for their meagre incomes and the population of the villages fluctuates with the season. Declining fish stocks in Lake Victoria and lowering sale prices for their catch has made living conditions difficult for these people.

Kaswanga Beach - Rusinga Island, Kenya

Kaswanga Beach – Rusinga Island, Kenya

The CanAssist African Relief Trust has been looking to improve sanitation in four of these lakeside commnities. The villages may have a population of between 100 and 400 inhabitants throughout the year and have had no toilets or washing facilities. Bathing has been done in the lake where there was no privacy and near the same region where household water was drawn for both cleaning and even drinking. The fields near the village were makeshift night toilets and became both contaminated and a health hazard. When it rained, fecal contamination was washed into the lake close to the bathing/water retrieval areas. This, of course, provided a significant health hazard for diarrheal diseases like typhoid and cholera.

CanAssist has been working through the Badilisha Ecovillage Foundation on the island to improve this situation.

VIP (Ventilated Improved Pit) latrines and a washing room at the Kaswanga Beach community.

VIP (Ventilated Improved Pit) latrines and a washing room at the Kaswanga Beach community.

We  built latrines at four of these villages around the island. Although four stalls may not really seem adequate to serve the population of the village, these are four more than zero and the communities are grateful for their addition. The fields adjacent to the villages are much cleaner. Fecal contamination no longer is washed into the lake near the village where water for drinking, washing and cleaning is gathered.

The communities have also asked for washing facilities so that they can have some privacy when cleaning themselves and also discourage contamination of their water supply with detergents and soaps. Last year, assisted by a specific donation from the Mission Committee of St.Peter’s Cathedral in London, Ontario, CanAssist built two washing rooms with cement floors, four private stalls with doors and drainage into a grey-water underground pit.

I visited the Kaswanga Village in February (see the movie trailer here! and was assured that these improvements, which may seem rudimentary and even crude to the North American reader, were making a grand difference to the people who live there.

The treasurer of the Beach Management Unit smiled and added ” If we could get a water pump to bring water from the lake to a raised tank near the washing facility it would be warmed in the sun and we could have warm showers.”

Some things that we just take for granted are deemed luxuries to many African villagers.

Congratulations are in order …

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

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

LS WP banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birdwatching at Mbita Kenya

I am not the most patient individual so sneaking around in the bushes and the trying to snag a photo of an African bird is a healthy activity for me. I have to stand still and wait for the moment. Good discipline training for someone who likes to keep moving. It can sometimes be a challenge to get the bird to sit still long enough for me to get the shot and often I am torn between gawking up into the trees or stepping gingerly through the grass to avoid snakes or monitor lizards.

Here are those of the birds I have seen in the past week.

Black Bishop

Southern Red Bishop

Yellow-backed weaver

Yellow-backed weaver

African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle

A pied kingfisher figures out how he will eat the fish he just caught. Eventually the fish went down the hatch.

A pied kingfisher figures out how he will eat the fish he just caught. Eventually the fish went down the hatch.

Bronze sunbird

Bronze sunbird

Bronze Mannikin

Bronze Mannikin

White-browned Coucal

White-browned Coucal

And this bird is driving me crazy. It has a lovely musical whistle and inhabits a tree outside my door. When I hear it whistling I head out with my camera only to find the bird hopping quickly from branch to branch behind the leaves, never giving me more than a second to get it. On my bucket list is to get a good photo of a Black Headed Gonolek! This is the best I could manage this week.

Black-headed Gonolek

Black-headed Gonolek

Beautiful Kenyan kids …

In July I related the story of Jerry O, a young Kenyan orphan boy whose story surprised me and touched my heart.

You can read the blog article here : The story of Jerry O.

Today I visited the Hope School in Mbita Kenya and in one classroom the teacher plunked this kid into my arms. “Here is your friend, Jerry”

His problems continue but the child looks robust and is obviously being cared for by the school and his adoptive mother. A delight to see him again.

Me and Jerry O.  - 2012/2013

Me and Jerry O. – 2012/2013

On Tuesday morning I also met Lorraine Kathryn, six month old daughter of Kennedy Onyago who was name was taken from that of my mom (Lorraine) and my daughter (Kathryn) and granddaughter (Cate Lorraine). I introduced you to little Stewart Geddes last week … Well, meet Lorraine Kathryn (Kathy) today! Another Geddes namesake – an honour for our family.

Lorraine Kathryn (Kathy) Onyango

Lorraine Kathryn (Kathy) Onyango

A letter to my grandson, Noah …

Dear Noah

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

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

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

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


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