When I posted to my Facebook page that I was back in a Kenya I received a number of comments from my many African friends that could be summarized as “Welcome home.” The Swahili phrase is “Karibu Nyumbani”. ” Come and visit. When will I see you? I hope we can have lunch? Are you coming my way? ”
This social media welcome extended to our first couple of days here where school principals were asking if we could visit them. Even the students at one secondary school we anxious to have a school assembly to welcome us and they insisted that all of them get in the picture.
Africans are generous and excited about welcoming visitors. They extend that greeting to me but it feels more like family to me in so many East African communities.
I have a theory that there is some of my DNA that recognizes this as a place of my ancestral origin. If Monarch butterflies can find their breeding ground in Mexico without ever having been there or salmon can swim back to their birthplace to breed, I am sure that there is some little chemical part of my genes that know this as the place where my genetic being began.
Over the next three weeks I will visit at least ten communities and will try to share some photos of my visits. On Friday we went to the St Catherine School to open a new classsroom building and to the Ramula Secondary School where we constructed a new kitchen several months ago. Both are well maintained and are serving the students and teachers well. They are all grateful for the support of the many donors to the CanAssist African Relief Trust that have made these improvements to their communities possible.
Yesterday we attended a basketball tournament in Kisumu – food for another longer story. Stay tuned.
Today we are heading to “the rural” for an overnight with Dan Otieno’s grandmother, Ann. How fortunate I feel to be able to experience this association with my numerous African families.
We cross the equator every day going from Kisumu to Ramula. In fact the Ramula Secondary school is situated on the Equator!
These are the students at Ramula Secondary School, taken near the water tanks, installed with CanAssist donor support. Before these tanks were put in, the water for the school was brought in by donkey from a stream. The student have much less gastrointestinal illness with this clean water available.
Nancy looks out through the window of one of the new classrooms at St Catherine school as the kids sing and dance in celebration in the yard.
When I visited this community two years ago there was nothing here. The kids learned under a tree. Now there are six classrooms, an improved latrine, rainwater catchment and school furnishings at the St Catherine school, thanks to the support of CanAssist donors.
Signing the guest book at St Catherine School in the principal’s office. The last time I signed a document here it was in his office on a table under a mango tree.
Cutting the ribbon to open the new classroom at St Catherine school with a butcher knife. No scissors available.
Harambee is a Swahili word that means “pull together”. It is Kenya’s national motto. There are times when their government should pay more attention to it. I want to tell you about my spontaneous Facebook Harambee experience this week.
Yesterday afternoon I saw a post on my Facebook News Feed from a friend in Kenya. Tobias Katete is the Beach Management Unit chairman in a small community on the shore of Lake Victoria, a little district that has become dear to my heart over the past few years through projects supported there by the CanAssist African Relief Trust.
Tobias reported a fire that had wiped out the home and all the belongings of a family that included a newborn infant in the remote rural village of Agok, Kenya. He appealed to locals to help find shelter for this family. His request for assistance was directed to people in his region and I wondered how many of them would have Internet access. This is perhaps a wrong assumption since I now correspond regularly with friends in Africa through email and Facebook and I notice that his Facebook friend list is 95% African faces.
I saw the post and wondered how I could help. At 3pm I shared it on my Facebook page asking my friends to either send me or promise $10 to help this family. Within 8 hours I had either collected or received an IOU for about $400. By midnight I had sent 25,000 Kenyan Shillings to Tobias who I trusted with the responsibility of seeing that this money will be appropriately used to help this family recover. Since I continue to receive notes promising support, this will be augmented in the next couple of days with another transfer. As I went to sleep last night I knew that this community would be waking up to the news that friends – strangers – in Canada have shown this compassion. Several of my African Facebook friends have also offered support to this family. It chokes me up when I think about this sharing of our humanity.
It is now not even 24 hours from the time I read the initial post. Your money has been transferred and received in Kenya and Tobias had purchased construction materials and delivered them to the family devastated by their loss. How cool is that?
I sincerely thank my friends for their response to this request. It is the best Christmas present that I could receive. Your generosity validates the work that I do in Africa and encourages me to keep it up, despite the many challenges. Just as I have witnessed Canada’s welcoming reception of Syrian refugees, it reinforces my belief that most of us have goodness and kindness in our hearts. Every day I become increasingly aware that we are, indeed, a global community, made ever closer by our ability to correspond and reach out across oceans and borders.
This has been a satisfying way to wind up 2015. Best wishes to all in the New Year.
(I have asked for only $10 from each person. As you can see, when we pull together – Harambee – this adds up to something significant. If you want to join us, the easiest way to send me $10 is by an Interac bank transfer or by PayPal. Message me for the correct email address to use for this. I promise that very cent will end up in Kenya to help this family recover from their misfortune. This is a personal gesture, not an official CanAssist one. CanAssist remains actively involved with community infrastructure development in this and other East African districts. You can read more about CanAssist here.)
A small group of us here in Kingston are mobilizing. We are partnering with a local organization that has brought one family to Kingston in July, and are in the process of getting ready to receive another family at the end of September. They are currently in a bunker in Lebanon. Learn more about who they are and their story here.
This incredible work has been done by Dawn Clarke, a Minster at the Perth Road United Church, and a team from the Four Rivers Presbytery in Seeley’s Bay, and the Kingston Islamic Society. They still need $25,000 to make this happen – to sustain the financial one-year commitment to the current family, and have the funds for the second family. The hard work of receiving approval from Citizenship and Immigration Canada is already done, but missing link is the financial resources.
John, I can assure you that aside from the cost of printing some pamphlets and setting up a website, this group is putting every single dollar raised toward sponsoring and settling these families.
An overpaid CEO, you ask? In fact, Save A Family From Syria is a 100% volunteer group.
As far as having “a concrete plan in place to actually bring a refugee family or families to Canada”, you’ll be pleased to know that one family is here, with children starting school next week, and another family (with 4 children) will be arriving in the last week of September.
It is the intention of this group to continue to sponsor more families in the future.
I have reviewed all this and made a donation to this group. I will await other responses to see if there are more local groups doing something similar. I encourage you to look into this one, however, and open your hearts and your wallet to help them achieve their goals. It’s the Canadian way, is it not?
Once again – Here’s a quick link where you can donate right now using a credit card to a local group actively sponsoring Syrian refugee families to come to Kingston area. Tax receipts are issued for donations to this cause.
As the crisis in Syria enters its fourth year, the Aljalim family needs your help.
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.
In 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.
Sometimes it is easier to turn a blind eye to poverty and suffering than to do something about it.
In Canada, because we have social assistance programmes funded by our various levels of government, we tend to let others provide the help rather than deal directly with the people in need.
Do you know that a single person receiving social assistance (we used to call this welfare) only gets about $650 a month to sustain them? Could you find accommodation, food, clothing, and transportation for that? How could you find a job if you have no phone, or a computer connection to communicate with prospective employers, or transportation to go to an interview? If the social assistance recipient finds even a part-time job to supplement his/her income, that money is deducted from the social assistance check. This must remove incentive to find low-paying work, often the only jobs available.
Now … imagine what it is like in much of sub-Saharan Africa. There is no government social assistance, or employment insurance, or social security, or pension plan. Unemployment rates approach 40% in Kenya (in Canada is is 6.8%) and the food inflation rate in Kenya in 2014 was 8% compared to ours at 3.9%. Although primary school education in Kenya is claimed to be “free”, many families can not afford the required school uniforms, or additional payments needed to support poorly-payed teachers. Classrooms may have sixty or more pupils per teacher, no desks, and no books.
The burden of illness in much of Africa from infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS and ebola far outweighs ours. In Kenya, one child in fourteen dies before the age of five and the chances of a woman dying of a complication from pregnancy is 1:250 compared to 1:9000 here.
Despite their poverty, patients are required to pay a small user fee for health services and medications are often not available or too expensive.
Those of us who have visited communities where this is the situation come home wondering what we can do to help. This is poverty beyond what we, in Canada, can comprehend.
When faced with these overwhelming statistics, it might be natural to feel sorry but give in to the thought that the problems are just too great and vague for individuals like ourselves to do anything about it.
Let me tell you about one Kingston family that decided to help.
Thomas and friends enjoying a filling lunch thanks to Canadian friends.
Last year, Marcia O’Brien, her two young sons and her mom, Gabriella Zamojski traveled to Kenya. During their trip, they visited some rural community schools supported by the CanAssist African Relief Trust.
While visiting the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre in Osiri village, they were impressed by how the community was attempting to provide early education to the young children at the school. They also saw that many of the pupils (and teachers too) come to school hungry. One young fellow named Thomas caught their attention and represented the rest. His father is deaf and mute and his mother had died the day prior to their visit to the school. Yet, the child was at school, is best opportunity to receive some caring and support. He was, like many of the other children, hungry.
The image of this child haunted Marcia and Gabriella for months after they returned home. They decided to do what they could to help Thomas and the other children at the school.
In February, I took money from this Canadian family to the school in Kenya to start a weekly lunch programme. CanAssist bought plates and spoons, the children will bring sticks of firewood, parent volunteers will help stir the pots and serve the food and their Kingstonian friends will provide $100 a month, money that will allow the school to feed 120 kids a nutritious lunch once a week.
Although it may be tempting and more appealing to our hearts to provide individual help to one needy child, at the CanAssist African Relief Trust we believe that by helping the community with infrastructure like classrooms, clinics, latrines and water tanks, we are contributing to the well-being of many rather than just a few. Marcia and Gabriella have also adopted this stance with their direct donation to the Kenyan school to feed the whole group, even though their hearts were particularly touched by one student.
What can you do to help? Realize that your support, however meagre it may seem in the big picture, does make a difference to the people in need who live in our own community, or to those who are even more impoverished in developing nations. Every individual effort helps. Combined small contributions add up. Believe it. You can assist.
Little S.P. hands out spoons to the children lined up to get their lunch.
Portions of this article was printed in the Kingston Whig Standard on Thursday April 9, 2015.
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?
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.
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.)
Here is a link to the Peter Singer TED talk. If you have 15 minutes please listen to what he has to say.
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.
So 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.
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.
No wonder English as a second language is challenging. Sometimes I have trouble with it myself.
I wanted to write a blog item about two projects that CanAssist has funded recently in Kenya and Uganda. Both were to construct a roof on a building. So there are two roofs. Does that seem right? When I say the word, it sounds like “rooves” – but then that doesn’t look right either. The plural of hoof is hooves; thief, thieves; half, halves; but rooves? My word processor spell checker rejects this spelling. So I looked it up. It turns out that either spelling is correct, but that “rooves” is the archaic form. I’m not sure whether to take that as a complement on my historical knowledge or an insult that I am getting to be…archaic.
Regardless, it seems that the roofing business has been stimulated by two projects in Africa, thanks to CanAssist.
The first was for St Gorety Secondary School in Nyatike District of Kenya. As often happens in Africa, this community received some funding for a needed classroom at their school from a local governmental initiative. CanAssist was already building one classroom so they thought that they would add the second at the same time to save costs. Unfortunately the grant only covered the cost of the floor and walls. The second classroom was left without a roof and the community did not have access to the $3500 needed to put one on.
They became worried. Bricks that are used to make these buildings are all locally made and if not protected with a roof when the rains come, the structure may become damaged. Students at Loyalist Collegiate and Vocational Institute (LCVI) and Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute (KCVI) heard about the plight of fellow students in Kenya and took up the cause. Through their fundraising efforts, CanAssist has received donations that will cover the costs…and cover the building. It didn’t take long for the Kenyan school to get moving with this once they knew the funds would be available. This week I received notice that the roofing is completed and the classrooms are able to be used. The Kingston secondary school students, through their Quarters for Classrooms campaign were able to raise the roof!
Volunteers from Queen’s Health Outreach celebrate the completion of CanAssist funded classrooms at the St Gorety School in Nyatike District, Kenya. Students from LCVI and KCVI in Kingston raised the money to “raise the roof” on this building.
In addition, in early June, a group of CanAssist supporters from Kingston and Whitehorse Yukon (yes we have supporters across Canada) headed to Eastern Uganda to visit two communities there where CanAssist has funded projects at schools and a clinic. These travellers managed to raise about $9000 in donations which were spread between a secondary school in Kyabazaala, Uganda and the Olimai Health Centre. The clinic needed equipment but the priority was to put a roof on a new building for the facility. Like the St Gorety School, walls had been constructed but the money to roof the building was not there and the concern was that the structure would become degraded by rain and weather the longer it was left uncovered. In early June, I sent the money for the project. The Olmai Clinic in Uganda was quick to put CanAssist money to use to roof their new building. Last week photos arrived of the roofing completed. When these folks get to work, things happen quickly. The new structure, along with other improvements that have come through CanAssist, will raise the status of this facility from a Level 2 to a Level 3 clinic – thereby qualifying it for increased programming for the community.
The Olmai Clinic in Uganda was quick to put CanAssist money to use to roof their new building.
So, the work has been done. The school and the clinic have new buildings completed thanks to the generosity of Canadian supporters of the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Now all that is left is for me to decide – roofs or rooves in the report. Since my spelling checker rejects the latter, I will go with roofs. And bring myself into the 21st century.
As a reward for making it to the end of this post, here is a CanAssist Youtube video about the St Gorety School roof project with music by the St Gorety choir. Mission Accomplished.
We may have been busy celebrating Canada Day in Canada but would you imagine that it is a special day in some African communities as well?
I received some great pictures from the Hope School in Kenya this week. This school is the one I blogged about last week – the Canada Day Challenge. I spoke with the Director of the school on the weekend and advised him of the generous donation from the Sasamat foundation towards classrooms at the school and he was ecstatic.
“We will all celebrate Canada Day and the generosity of your Canadian friends at the school on Monday when I announce this gift to the staff and students.”
Children at the Hope School in Mbita Kenya, celebrating Canada Day 2012.
On Monday the children gathered to celebrate their Canadian sponsorship and express appreciation. With home-made signs they gathered for juice and acknowledgement of the help their Canadian friends have offered.
But there are Canadian flags flying elsewhere in East Africa as well, thanks to CanAssist.
A group of CanAssist supporters recently returned from a visit to Uganda and sent me photos of their trip. Included was one of the Canadian flag that flies proudly over the school compound. When I visited the school last year, the principal laughed and said “That Canadian flag is made of nylon and it flies well in the breeze. Our Ugandan flags are heavier material and it takes much more wind to get them going. So Canada is always brightly represented even when our flags are limp.”
The St Gorety Secondary School receives a Canadian Flag, and support for two new classrooms at the school.
When I visited the St Gorety High School in Nyatike District of Kenya last year, I took with me a flag for the school – one that was sent by Virginia Puddicombe, a teacher at KCVI in Kingston. Virginia also sent along photographs and letters from Canadian students to their counterparts in Kenya and the Africans have sent greetings back. A kind of pen-pal relationship has begun. We hope that, in this digital age, some face-to-face interaction can happen through Skype and the Internet.
While we proudly celebrate Canada here, there are people around the world who also pause to be grateful for the generosity and support that Canada and Canadians offer to them.
P.S. We have raised about half the $2500 necessary to get the Sasamat promise of another $5000 for the Hope School. If you have not yet takent the opportunity to help us reach this goal in July, more information about how to contribute is available on the CanAssist Hope School web page.
The children at Hope School celebrate Canada Day in appreciation of the generosity of their friends in Canada who have supported the school.
Every year around July 1, I unfurl a big, red and white Canadian flag over my balcony with pride. I consider myself fortunate to live in a country where people value the notion of respect for one another.
Collectively, we respect our democratic government process, even if we don’t always agree with our politicians.
We respect and protect the rights all Canadians despite religious, cultural or ethnic differences. Diversity makes up the colourful fabric of our nation. On Canada Day, new citizens from around the globe are welcomed to Canada in ceremonies across the land. I remember attending one such occasion a few years ago when the family of one of my co-workers from Bosnia and Herzegovina officially became Canadian. At that ceremony, the Mayor of Kingston had been born in Scotland, the Governor General in China (both were women, by the way) and the Ontario MP was born in Holland. That tangible recognition of our varied backgrounds reminded me of what it is to be Canadian.
And we are generous to the rest of the world with our support – military, moral and financial.
This week I was reminded of this generosity when I received notice that the Sasamat Foundation in British Columbia will donate $10,000 to the CanAssist African Relief Trust to be put toward building two classrooms for the Hope School in Mbita, Kenya. This gift is being given with no strings other than the accountability of CanAssist and the recipient community to use the money for their school. It is independent of other obligations and given without cynicism or suspicion, cultural or religious bias, but with trust that the community in Africa will utilize it to benefit their children. I think this is a very “Canadian” gesture.
In addition to their generous $10,000 donation, the Sasamat Foundation has presented CanAssist with a challenge. They will donate another $5000 to the school, matching donations that CanAssist receives 2:1. But this has to happen within the month of July.
Are you be willing to support this initiative with a donation of $50 to CanAssist and the Hope School? You can make a secure, tax-receiptable donation online now with a credit card by following the Canada Helps link below. You can even select a small monthly donation option through the Canada Helps link. Indicate that your gift is to bolster the Hope School Fund.
CanAssist is always happy to receive a donation by mail.
CanAssist African Relief Trust, 562 Sycamore Street, Kingston, Ontario. K7M7L8