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.
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.
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.
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.
Last year, while on a safari with other CanAssist supporters, Kingston teacher Nancy Grew was drawn to the small community of Ramula in Siaya District of Kenya. In addition to several others, the safari group visited two schools there, St Catherine Primary School and the Ramula District Secondary School, both having been beneficiaries of CanAssist support in the past.
Nancy is also a dedicated basketball fan and had brought basketballs and school supplies donated by Truedell Public School and a few uniforms from Kingston Impact for the kids at the schools. She was astounded to find that they had heard little about basketball and did not know how to play the game. Fortunately, one of the teachers at St Catherine school was keen to learn and over the next while he coordinated with another coach in the district to start to introduce the sport to the Ramula community.
Knowing that sport was a great way to develop teamwork, discipline, strategic planning and physical fitness in students, Nancy decided to encourage the community to develop a basketball programme for students in the district. She corresponded with coach Donald and was supportive, both financially and through encouragement, of a Ramula district basketball initiative.
Students of the very rural St Catherine school were joined by others in nearby communities and formed a team. Nancy learned that they had the opportunity to participate in a tournament in Kisumu, about 90 minutes away from “the rural”. She wished that she could go to see this game and to encourage the development of basketball in the district, but thought that was a pipe dream.
But pipe dreams can become reality. Nancy applied for a brief leave of absence from her teaching position with the Limestone District School Board and was grateful and delighted that it was approved – for five working days. This gave her a week to make the 14,000 km trek to Kisumu to see her team play in the tournament, have a brief visit to the community, and return home.
I was planning a trip to review CanAssist projects in Kenya and Uganda so I arranged for part of my safari to overlap to include the basketball tournament, too.
On Saturday January 14, we had the pleasure of watching these kids compete. The tournament was similar to any junior basketball tournament in Canada. It was held on an outdoor court at a Muslim school in multicultural Kisumu. The temperature in the sunshine on the court was about 32 degrees C. Despite this, the kids were energetic and motivated. There were five local teams and the games were for half the usual regulation time. The Ramula district team was entered with the name “Kingston” and our team sported donated Kingston Impact uniforms. Balls used for the games had been supplied by the Lakers Basketball Association of Kingston.
I know little about basketball but Nancy was impressed by the level of skill of these players, on all the teams. We were also pleased to see that one of the teams was made up of teenage girls – a reflection that girls and women in this country are being encouraged, at least in some circles, to be empowered to have equal opportunities.
We were delighted to cheer on the Kingston team and watch them win their first two games. Then they won the semi final game and advanced to the finals. Prior to the final game, the kids were all given a big lunch. The outcome? The Kingston team won the tournament, collecting a little trophy to take back to the rural Siaya District community.
What does this all prove? Anything is possible. These rural kids, through hard work and perseverance were able to learn enough in a few months to perform competitively. Nancy, also with determination and support was able to attend the tournament, half a world away. She is now even more motivated to continue to encourage the Ramula community by helping to set up a local league at two schools in the next year. She will look for support to build two sports pads that can be used in the community for basketball and other outdoor sports activities. She hopes that the lessons learned through participation in sports activities will benefit the kids throughout their lives. Stay tuned to see how this story ends.
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.
Near the town of Ramula in Siaya District of Kenya, CanAssist has been working to provide infrastructure improvements to two schools – St. Catherine Early Childhood Development Centre (150 students) and the Ramula Secondary School ( 100 students). We received rousing welcomes at both schools. Last year at this time the St Catherine School yard was an empty field. It has been amazing to see the growth. For Ramula Secondary, we provided much needed water tanks that have been very much appreciated.
St Catherine School is a 30 minute hike into the valley.
This is the “kitchen” at Ramula Secondary School where lunch is prepared for 100 students. CanAssist plans to soon upgrade this kitchen.
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.
It is an absolute delight to report that the Jim Owen Computer Classroom at the St Gorety Secondary School in Nyatike District of Kenya is built.
Friends and family of Jim Owen, who passed away early in November, wanted to remember him with something lasting. Jim was always interested in computers and things electronic. He could spend hours just wandering the aisles of the Canada Computers store and if you had a problem with your laptop or anything else electronic he was happy to spend hours tinkering to get it fixed.
It was appropriate that a memorial to Jim be directed toward a planned computer classroom that the CanAssist African Relief Trust was about to fund. Donations flooded in – he was well-loved – and I am happy to report that the building has been constructed and four complete computers purchased and installed.
The school is delighted. Students realize that they are in a much better place to acquire post secondary employment if they have some computer familiarity. In rural areas like Nyatike this is to easy to achieve. Most of the students at the school may not have electricity at their homes let alone a computer.
CanAssist is happy to report this progress and thank all who donated to this memorial. The school has mounted a plaque with Jim’s photo on it in the classroom.
Imagine this. You are a single mother of three children living in Kenya. You desperately want your children to get an education, hoping that will boost their chances of living more comfortably than you do now. You can barely afford food. The local school is about three kilometres away and has crowded classrooms.
The toilets at the school look like this.
Your kids are often sick with diarrhea and vomiting. Your thirteen year old daughter is in class seven. She as just stared menstruating. These toilets, with broken doors, are the only place she can tend to her monthly needs. So she stays home from school four or five days a month and subsequently gets behind with her studies.
At CanAssist we hear stories like this all the time. We see these deplorable sanitation facilities at schools. It startles us to find that in busy village markets there are no sanitation facilities at all. Adjacent fields and gutters turn into raw sewage minefields.
With the support of our donors, we try to help.
In the past couple of months we have been gratified to follow the construction of latrines at the Twiga school in Ruriru district of Kenya. For a cost of about $7500 we have been able to provide rainwater catchment, new latrines for students and teachers and hand-washing stations for the school. Hand washing has been shown to reduce the spread of many diseases but without the proper facilities this becomes impossible.
This week we received this report from Michael Gichia who works with the Murera Community Empowerment and Support Organization (MCESO) . It reads, in part:
Benefits realised from the project.
Inscription on the latrine wall reads ” Twiga Primary School water & Sanitation enhancement project. This project has been funded by CanAssist African Relief Trust in conjunction with the Grey Gates Foundation /Vancouver and the family of Ruth and Donald Redmond.”
“The project has brought about the following benefits to the school children in TWIGA PRIMARY SCHOOL;
o 555 school children and 15 teachers at TWIGA PRIMARY SCHOOL in Ruiru district have
safe sanitation and drinking water facilities.
o The school enrolment ahs gone up by 20 more children by the beginning of second term
thanks to the water and sanitation enhancement project
Hand washing station
o The project has improved access to water supply at TWIGA PRIMARY SCHOOL in Ruiru District
o The project has brought positive perception among the school children on sanitation and personal hygiene e.g. hand washing practices, proper disposal of wastes and economical use of water as well as improved knowledge about hygiene and environmental sanitation;
New CanAssist-funded teachers’ latrine at Twiga School.
o The project has brought about reduction in water shortages at TWIGA PRIMARY SCHOOL
and therefore more time for learning for the children.
o The project has reduced diseases associated with drinking dirty water and observing unclean hygienic behaviour among the school children.
o The school has functional hand wash facilities for the promotion of health and hygiene
o Preliminary training on sanitation and cleanliness has been conducted.”
Now, imagine again, as that poor African mother, how pleased you would be that your children had decent sanitation facilities at their school.
CanAssist has been happy to be able to improve the sanitation facilities for these 550 Kenyan pupils. We have had specific support for much if the cost of this project from the Grey Gates Foundation in Vancouver and from friends and family of Ruth and Don Redmond in celebration of their 65th wedding anniversary last year.
CanAssist has just taken on similar projects in other schools in Kenya and Uganda. If you or your family would like to help to bring smiles to the faces of African students and their teachers, you can give a tax-deductible donation to CanAssist by mail or online. Details about how to support a project like this a re available on our website www.canassistafrica.ca
I put many hours a week into the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Sometimes I wonder why I do it. Today I received an email that reminded me.
Last year CanAssist received an application from a development group in Kenya asking for support in providing desks for three schools in Rachuonyo District near Homa Bay. We did not know the schools or the AFORD development organization but thought that they presented an organized appeal and, in the past, we have found provision of school desks to be satisfying. Not only do the children of the schools receive furnishings to help them learn better, the desks are locally made which gives carpenters and suppliers some income.
In December, I visited some elementary schools in Canada and they have donated about $1000 toward the $5000 needed to build 170 desks that will serve 450 students.
Last month I asked the school for some photos of the school so we could help promote this project. Today I received these grainy photos taken recently at two of the schools. I will let them speak for themselves. I think you will agree that they are heartbreaking. Although the Kenyan Ministry of Education does offer “free” education to elementary school students, this is the quality in some of the remote districts.
The Kamser Elementary School. Crowded conditions not conducive to learning. There are 450 students at two schools like this one and they are requesting 150 bench desks to accommodate the students, many of whom sit on the floor.
Students at the Kamser Secondary School. This school requests 20 individual desks.
Our Kenyan field representative, Dan Otieno, will visit the schools sometime in the next month and we hope we can to move ahead with the funding and construction of new desks very soon. If you would like to help with this, CanAssist appreciates gifts of any size. The average cost per bench desk will be about $40. Can you afford to donate one? (or two would be nice.)
One of the mandates for the CanAssist African Relief Trust is to improve education opportunities for children in East Africa by providing infrastructure that will achieve this.
One of the schools funded by CanAssist is the Oltaraja Elementary School in a remote Maasai community in the Rift Valley, Kenya. CanAssist has built one classroom there and in 2014 will build another. Children who would otherwise have had to walk several kilometres to a school (or not go at all) will have the opportunity to get some Primary education closer to home.
This is Edward. He is the oldest of three kids living with a father who is intermittently ill and absent from the family. For much of the past three years he and his siblings have had to manage on their own.
Christopher and his older brother, Edward at the Hope for Youth School in Uganda.
Edward and his brother, Christopher, are just finishing up their studies at the Hope for Youth School in Uganda – a school that has been supported in several ways by the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Fortunately the staff and administration at the Hope for Youth school have been there to offer an element of stability to the lives of these kids and a bowl of porridge mid-day when food was scarce.
I have visited the school three or four times and have watched Edward and Christopher grow up. They both are involved with the traditional dancing and drumming entertainment that the school.
Christopher serves up some posho for lunch to visitor, Dave Kay, at Hope for Youth School
When I visited the school in September I asked the boys if they planned to go on to Secondary School. Their response was downturned eyes and shrugged shoulders. Their family has no money for them to attend secondary school (it would take about $550 for each boy to provide tuition and books for a year).
Their final exams are happening in December. The teachers at the school imagine that both boys will qualify for secondary school entrance. (This little school is leading the pack in terms of grades for their district.)
I also met a girl named Prossy who has received top marks at the school but who has no money to continue her education. The teachers report that her academic performance has also been good but she lacks the resources to go on to secondary school.
What will become of these kids, I wonder.
This is a familiar story. African kids may get through elementary school but to go on requires some tuition, books and uniforms and this is often out of reach for a family living in poverty. Even fewer go on to post-secondary education. Most rely on outside support to continue their education. But there are so many pupils in this circumstance all desperate for some assistance.
Enjoy Christopher, Edward and some of their classmates as they do some Ugandan Traditional Dancing at the Hope for Youth School in Uganda. And realize how lucky we are that most of our students are able to complete secondary school with public funding regardless of their background or family situation.