My Dad, Stewart Geddes,  passed away this morning.  Although I am saddened to know that he is gone, there is also a tinge of relief since, over the last month, he has been subjected to one indignity and loss after another.

Dad 1 8x10A few weeks ago, Dad said to me ” I am not worried about being dead. It’s the dying part that concerns me.”   Dad had led a very independent and productive life for almost 95 years so to end up weakened and dependent and bed-ridden was not something he relished.  We would all like to just die in our sleep when the time is near.  Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen.

I will miss Dad’s sensible guidance and advice.  His level-headed approach to dealing with life’s problems was always welcomed.  His generosity of spirit and resources to family and community was a model for me.  I am who I am today, in great part, not only to the genes I inherited from my parents but from their guidance and example.

For the past while I have recognized that I have been the proverbial filling of the sandwich generation with my family relationships and concerns ranging from my youngest granddaughter at 3 to my father at 94.  With Dad’s passing, there is a generation gone and a recognition that I am now one of the pieces of bread on the sandwich.  I hope I don’t get crusty.

I have mentioned Dad i in several of my blog articles in the past. You can find these articles here if you want to know more about him.

Father’s Day 2012

 A surprise at the Stewart Geddes School

A dinner I will always remember

Balls, Christmas ones.

Savouring every last drop.

Our family will gather from across Canada for a memorial celebration of Dad’s life on October 4 – a family Thanksgiving for a life that we are grateful to having had part of us for so many years.

 A family Christmas past.  The endif a generation. You can see from the choice of red clothes that my parents were loved life.

A family Christmas past. The end of a generation. You can see from the choice of red clothes that my parents  loved life.



Savouring every last drop…

I’ve spent the past couple of weekends sitting on a commode chair – the lid closed – visiting my father who is in University Hospital in London Ontario. Dad is 94 years old. His body is wearing out. He is been very lucky to be extremely active and independent up until the last few weeks. At the end of July he went with me and my daughter and granddaughter – four generations – to see Crazy For You at the Stratford Festival and three weekends ago, he spend a couple of days at my brothers cottage in Kincardine. He just reluctantly gave up his internet account last month, disappointed that he would have to miss out on Facebook messages. We have told him we would read them to him when we visit.

But his old body seems to be edging toward its expiry date.

For the shifts of the new caregivers that have never known him but now look after him, he is a frail, blind, teetery, somewhat muddled old man. I brought an old photograph to his room and put it over his bed so they could remember that he, indeed, was once young like them.

L and S 2  sepiaThe picture is one of my favourites. It was taken by a London Free Press photographer in late December 1945. It shows my dad returning to Canada after being in Europe during World War II and being greeted by my mom at the train station. They had not seen each other for 2 1/2 years. By mid 1946, they were married and remained together until my mom passed away over 60 years later.

The old man in the bed seems to be a different person. But I know that underneath his frail, deteriorating body, the essence of that  young soldier still exists. 

stew 1a 5x7

It is difficult to watch someone who has been so independent and “in control” of his life become totally dependent. A few weeks ago, dad said to me “it’s not being dead that bothers me, it’s the dying part”. In addition to being sad that dad is suffering one indignity and loss after another in an accelerating  cascade, I  also reflect that living to a “ripe old age” is a two-edged sword.

Dad was initially admitted to the cardiac ward of the hospital and, as such, receives a “cardiac” diet. He keeps asking me where dessert is. “Is there any cake to go with that?” he asks as I spoon in the canned fruit cocktail. So I smuggle in donuts from the Tim Hortons shop in the lobby.

Whether it is a pre dinner gin and tonic or life itself, Dad is working on savouring it to the last drop.

Whether it is a pre dinner gin and tonic or life itself, Dad is working on savouring it to the last drop.

Last Friday he insisted that in a cupboard somewhere in the room there was a bottle of Beefeater gin that he had purchased last week.  He really wanted a gin and tonic before dinner.  On Saturday I went to the liquor store, bought a  little bottle of gin and a couple of tins of tonic, smuggled two  glasses from the hotel that I’m staying at into his room, got the nurse to bring us a bit of ice and we had a gin and tonic before dinner.  He sat back and enjoyed it and ate a good supper – complete with ice cream and a cookie.  

And why not? He’s earned it. 

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 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.

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.


A surprise at the Stewart Geddes School

My father, Stewart Geddes, has been generously supporting the development of a small rural school in Kenya for the past couple of years through the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Today I headed back across to the mainland on the ferry to visit the community and the school which has about 75 students from age 3 to 8. Without this small school these little kids would have to walk several kilometers every day to receive education … or not get any at all. Girls, in particular were at a disadvantage and only two girls in the community of 500 people, have gotten beyond grade 4 until now.

I was enthusiastically welcomed and treated to demonstrations of counting and identifying animals in English (remember this is a seoond or maybe third language for these young pupils.) The name S P GEDDES EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT CENTRE is emblazoned on the school gate and the children were happy to chant a Thank you message that they wanted me to take back to my Dad.

Me and little  Stewart Geddes at Osiri Village, Kenya.

Me and little Stewart Geddes at Osiri Village, Kenya.

But the big surprise for me was when the head teacher showed me her six month old Grandson. “We have named him Stewart Geddes”, she said. “At home he goes by Geddes.” I found this both amusing and touching. When I got back to Mbita, I called Dad to share with him the deep appreciation that this community has for his gift to them. I plan to visit a few CanAssist project sites in the next several days and I know that this is just the beginning of the wonderful expressions of gratitude to Canadian Donors through CanAssist that I will receive. I wish that this was something that I could bottle and send back to share with all of you who have supported what we do through CanAssist. Perhaps this little video clip will give you a taste.