Monthly Archives: July 2011

Kenya Diaries – Day 8

5:30 am – I am awake. It is pitch black. In 10 minutes the mullah will start calling the faithful to prayer. The cockerels are warming up for a good old rousing start to the day and the lion in the impala park at the end of the street is clearing his throat. This is just a prelude to the dawn chorus – all those multi-coloured birds who inhabit this aviary have something to say about the joy of their existence for another day and it seems like everyone else has to get in on the act – the crickets, a lot of dogs, then the lorries, cars, motor bikes and something unrecognisable with a piercing call. So no chance of dozing then! It is loud because the windows are invariably open, apart from during the storms. Even at this hour with the windows wide open, it is hot.

As arranged, we were all assembled ready for breakfast at 6:30, out of the door by 7 and boarding our boat at Hippo Point at 7:20. Pippa’s friends Titus and Fisherman John were taking us out, John steering and Titus (a walking natural science encyclopaedia)  guiding. Charlie agreed with them that the trip would last an hour.

Once seated in the converted wooden fishing boat, we headed straight towards an overhanging tree full of nests and stopped about 3 feet away, cameras ready.  Right in front of us were cranes, weaver birds, egrets, kingfishers and fish eagles. This was our own natural aviary.  As we turned and motored up the coast, Titus pointed out the flora and fauna, giving us background information and stories. Fairly soon we came across a family of about 8 hippos. My shot of one yawning was much more luck than camera prowess but I was still chuffed with it. Hippos are dangerous creatures and it was slightly unsettling to be circling them in a fairly flimsy craft but they ignored us.

As we went on, we hugged the shoreline. There were almost biblical scenes of fishermen hauling in their nets or bringing their catch to shore. Everyone smiled and waved. Some women washed their clothes from the bank; a naked man stood on a rock washing himself, head to toe; other women came down to collect water in large pots which they carried back, balanced on their heads.   The villages comprised mud huts and corrugated iron shacks.

We sailed on to the floating mangrove forest – full of pythons and cobras, so Titus informed us. He spotted a basking monitor lizard, about 2 metres long. We cut the motor and drifted in very close, getting some good pictures before the lizard had enough of us and crawled off.

As we drifted past the trees, 2 of the most beautiful, tiny but perfect kingfishers swooped across the lake from branch to branch. Their colours were so vibrant – deep iridescent blues and reds.

After this, the boat was finally turned round and we headed back to Hippo Point, arriving 20 minutes later. Our ‘hour’ ride finished 2 ½ hours after we had set out.

John told Pippa to pay him what she wanted to. The 5 of us from the UK paid 1000 shillings each (£8). We reminded ourselves that both men have 5 children each to feed.

After breakfast back at base, we drove back to New Life where we helped feed the babies. The staff were very grateful. To sponsor another member of staff, to cover both shifts, would cost about £2000 a year.  We talked about how we could make this happen when we return to England.

We went back to the house for lunch and continued writing up our notes from the training sessions, to leave for the staff.  We returned to the home to say our goodbyes. The staff thanked us for coming; they blessed us and our families and sent greetings to our partners and children. It was very emotional saying goodbye to the special needs girls – Edwina, Lina, Ashley and Rhoda, all of whom we had become very attached to over the last 10 days.

Our meal that evening was Talitha, a local fish, served with mixed vegetables and mashed bananas. Mary, the house maid had prepared this for us. It was delicious.

Tomorrow, we leave for Nairobi, some sightseeing and the opportunity to visit projects in the slums. It has been an amazing experience here in Kisumu. We have met some amazing people, experienced wonderful hospitality and been moved by much of what we have seen and heard.

Kenya Diaries – Day 7

Today was a re-run of yesterday’s training programme with another group – the alternate staff shift. Having the experience of the previous day, we were more relaxed as a team and probably more confident. Some of the timings differed slightly as we interacted with the group, extending some of the questions and discussions. The session on life stories started again by asking staff about their earliest memories. The lady sat next to me told me about escaping fighting in Nairobi, strapped to her mother’s back, dodging bullets as they fled. She said all of this in a very calm, matter of fact way.

When it came to my session, even though I had used the same material the day before, for some reason today I found it really difficult mentioning the deaths of my sons, Samuel and William. Even after more than 20 years, sometimes the depth of emotion takes me by surprise.  I nearly lost it, but managed to pull myself together and get back on track. As you can imagine, this had an effect on the group. Several people came up afterwards to tell me they were touched by what I had shared.

The lady from the Simon Newberry nursery was frustrated because she has 30 children on her own every day, who all come in wanting to be fed at the same time. She feeds as many as she can and then tells them to fall asleep on their desks whilst the others eat their porridge. How different to the situation we are used to.

After the training session, we drove to a house to look at some baskets. A lady collects them from a local group of women who make them. She sells the baskets for them and gives them the money. There were no prices, she just asked us to give something. I bought 6 baskets for 200 shillings (about £16). This was double the suggested donation and worked out at just over £2.50 each. When we returned to England, I saw some similar baskets on sale for 10 times this amount. I also bought 2 children’s dressing up outfits for 500 shillings (£4).  Good job we now had some empty suitcases to fill up with stuff to take home.

We drove back to Charlie and Bev’s, picked up news from home and reviewed feedback  from the last 2 days’ training.  The comments were very complimentary and quite humbling actually. We felt as though we had managed to achieve what we had set out to – to be helpful and supportive without coming in as “experts” with all the answers. We hoped that we had left something that could be built on to improve the experience for the children.

There had been a strong demand for handouts from our training so we spent most of the evening writing up what in my case were very scrappy notes, into some kind of sensible bullet points.

Tomorrow will be an early start – we are going hippo watching on a boat trip on Lake Victoria


Kenya Diaries – Day 6

We were up and out promptly today. Ahead of us was a full day of staff training at New Life Home starting at 8:30.  The training was to take place in the outdoors shelter (banda) with a metal roof – nice and open for breeze but with a tendency to heat up over the day. We all sat on the wooden benches round the sides. There were not many staff there when we arrived. The seats gradually filled up over the next hour. Eventually there were about 30 trainees.

We started with a thought for the day from Pastor Ezekiel followed by an introduction from Charlie. Pippa started with an ice-breaker, asking staff how long it takes them to get to and from work and what they do when they get home. I think the longest journey was 1 hour 50 minutes on foot and the same in the evening after a 12 hour shift. On returning home, food has to be cooked from scratch on a charcoal stove. The main ingredients are rice and beans. Meat is too expensive. After the meal, children have to bathed and put to bed by 9:30 before starting housework. One of the workers does not get to bed before midnight and then she has to be back at work for 7am the next morning, having got up, made breakfast and travelled an hour into work.

After Pippa’s session, we stretched our legs with a song! The Kenyan singing is amazing, unlike us poor Brits, they all seem to be able to hold a tune and have a great sense of rhythm.

Emma led a session on Life Stories and how it is important to capture the significant events in a child’s life. The staff were asked to share their earliest memories.  Some of their stories were tragic – bullets, beatings, hunger. For a culture where it is not usual to share in a group setting, we were amazed by the candour and openness. There was something poignant and powerful about these personal contributions. The session provided an understanding of the importance of each of us knowing our identity.

Carolyn continued with Assessment where everyone had a go at completing an assessment sheet for a child in their area. This proved quite easy. Interestingly, the common area of opportunity for development across all the sheets completed, was invariably language and socialisation skills.

There was another song. We tried to clap along – and failed.

My session focused on valuing children for who they are; why love matters ; positive behaviour management; language development and experiential play opportunities. Talking about my own children’s birth and development was an emotional experience. Once again, there was a connection with the staff. It was evident that we shared a common purpose in wanting the best for children. We were not the outside “experts” coming to tell them how to do it. We were sharing our stories and our hearts.

Lunch was a communal meal of rice, beans and vegetable stew. Several times the cooks apologised for the lack of meat as if this had somehow caused offense! The food was good. I was full up but I only ate about a third of what most staff had. Perhaps they were making the most of an available meal?

After lunch, it was getting very hot and I was glad to go inside and sort out video clips on the computer whilst the next session looked at Learning Through Play. Staff divided into groups to look at activity planning with some of the resources we had brought with us.  There were some interesting cultural attitudes thrown up in discussions – eg I don’t want to let children play with sand because they might get dirty! – and then I’ll have to wash and change them.

Groups were rotated to come and view some of our video clips of early years practice we had brought with us from England.  Some of the questions asked revealed the differences in approach – Why are the children allowed to talk during activities? What do you do if a child moves from one area to another? Why are the children playing in a teaching time?

We all came back together for a final Kenyan song and a Question and Answer session. The Home Director thanked us profusely (and very movingly) for coming to be with them. Several individuals came up afterwards and said how they had been touched by what we had said.

We packed up, said goodbye to the staff and some of the children and drove home exhausted. It had been a long, hot day.