Monthly Archives: September 2011

Kenya Diaries – Day 11 (Part 3)

Ben drove us back to the city centre in a repeat experience of the hair-raising ride out to the slums. The ladies wisely all climbed in the back again. I did shut my eyes on several occasions, and prayed hard. We made it to New Life Homes unscathed where the ladies got out. I had volunteered to accompany Anne to the new ICRI centre in Karen. The place is an empty house which they are renting. There are a couple of desks in there at present, with computers. It was deserted when we arrived. I was told to get back in the car with Ben who drove me up the road to meet Ken Jaffe, the American executive director of ICRI who happened to be in Nairobi that day meeting a developer to arrange the fitting out of the new building as a nursery / teaching training centre.

Ken is a very interesting and charismatic character. I liked him a lot. A trained lawyer, he has worked in Early Years for many years. He shares his home life between the US and Sweden. Last year he had a brain tumour removed. ICRI works in over 50 different countries to improve Early Years Care and Education for all children. His role is very influential. The next week he was meeting the Malaysian Prime Minister. He had recently been in Haiti, Nepal, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Gambia.

While Ken met with the developer, I talked to Ben, the driver. He told me he was 1 of 9 children from the countryside north of Nairobi. He has a wife and a 2 month old son, Wesley. He finds life in Nairobi tough. That evening he had to drive us back into the city, dropping us at our hotels by 7pm, he then had to take the 4 x 4 to a garage and travel 1- 2 hours home, dependent on traffic. If he gets there after 11pm, the compound gate is locked for the night. He was afraid that if he was heard banging on the gate at that time, someone would come and rob him or possibly kill him. Such incidents are not uncommon.  He had to collect Ken from his hotel the next morning at 6:15 to take him to the American Embassy. This would mean the 1-2 hour journey from home to collect the vehicle and then a drive across the city to the hotel.  So having got home at 11, he would need to be up again at 4.

Kenya Diaries – Day 11 (Part 2)

In each class, the children sang, recited and followed the teachers’ prompting to read the words and numbers off the hand drawn posters on the wall. In one case, the teacher used a bent wire coat hanger as a pointer. That was it for resources, teaching and learning. In many ways, it was pitiful but talking to Pastor Stephen we understood something of his heart for this community and the importance of his struggles to keep this school going with no funding.

After our tour, we were seated outside on 4 plastic chairs behind the only 2 tables the school owned, donated by ICRI. The children came up, class by class and performed their songs again, followed by the parents who sang a welcome to us in Kiswahili. Pastor Stephen then stood up and in a very official way welcomed the honoured guests (us!). The chief spokesperson for the parents did likewise followed by the principal from a neighbouring school. We then introduced ourselves and thanked them for their welcome. I hope I managed to sound official in response. I congratulated them on their achievements and said that they must be very proud of their children.

We presented them with rice and maize. This had to be photographed to a chorus of cheers and ululations. We then went back inside to sign the visitors book. Stephen shared his challenges – no money, no food for the children, no resources and teachers leaving because he can’t afford to pay them. Many of the children are HIV positive. Many parental relationships fail and partners separate with children frequently being displaced. Stephen praised the community who work together to carry water each day to fill the container at the hand washing station. They also make blocks of soap for the children to use. Both of these actions have seen a huge reduction in disease.

Stephen asked the parents’ spokeswoman to join us. He told her very clearly that we had not given him any money. The only gift we had brought was the rice and maize which he had insisted we give direct to the parents. She was to go and tell the other parents this. I thought this was very astute. White faces represent wealth, donations and sadly, often corruption. We were struck by the sign above his desk – ‘Feed my starving children’

We were offered snacks of biscuits, popcorn and juice – which they obviously couldn’t afford but it would have caused offence to refuse. We did wonder how germ free it was.  After this, pastor Stephen stood up and pronounced a blessing on all of us then told us, without irony, that we were now free to leave! Outside we had to high-five what seemed like several hundred small black hands.

Driving off in a cloud of dust through the slum, scattering chickens and goats, we were pursued by a crowd of grinning children until we sped off back into Nairobi.

It had been a surreal experience and humbling to think that merely by being white and taking the time to visit, we had somehow bestowed favour and honour on this tiny endeavour to improve the lot of such an impoverished community. Their lives are incredibly challenging, they have nothing and yet there is hope, commitment and common purpose in their daily struggle. We experienced a genuine welcome and there was a lot of smiling. Are we better off in our society with all our material wealth?

Kenya Diaries – Day 11 (Part 1)

On Monday morning we were ready and waiting at 9:30 for our transport to the slum project. Hotel reception received a message from Anne that they were slightly delayed.  They eventually turned up some time after 11 just as we sat down for a drink. After a quick tea, we set off. I think it was Emma who described this journey as a theme park ride.

The ICRI 4 x 4 was driven by Ben who obviously committed his soul to the Lord every time he got behind the wheel. He overtook, undertook, swerved across 4 lanes of traffic, swerved round potholes and slammed right across a dirt central reservation, missing other vehicles by inches. I vividly recall at one point 2 buses coming straight at us on the wrong side of the road. We swerved at the last second.  As we sped on, the neighbourhood degenerated, the roads became more pothole than tarmac and at times we bumped along the dirt, sometimes 3 or 4 vehicles abreast. Eventually we turned off the ‘road’ onto dirt tracks and drove across a wasteland, narrowly missing a donkey cart. Avoiding boulders, we bounced on past ever more ramshackle dwellings, finally coming to rest in a cloud of red dust outside the “Jubilante Kids Educational Centre”

We were welcomed by the principal, Pastor Stephen, who handed us a printed timetable for our visit which included several speeches. Anne apologised for being late (only 2 ½ hours!). Pastor Stephen assured her it was no inconvenience even though it transpired that he had reconvened the school specially for our visit during the school holidays and asked the parents to come and meet us. They had all been sitting out in the baking heat for the previous 3 hours.

Pastor Stephen gave us a guided tour of the school facilities – four 3 metre square breezeblock and concrete rooms with no electricity or water. He told us that each room holds up to 17 pupils though I couldn’t quite understand how this would be possible. There was a toilet and a hand wash station but no running water. The children aged from 3 – 8 years had all dressed up in their uniforms (those that had some). There were a lot of knitted red jumpers and one little guy in a knitted balaclava – in 28º heat.

ICRI had provided a water container and health education so the children wash their hands after using the toilet, playing in the dirt outside and before eating. This has had a siginificant effect in reducing disease.


Kenya Diaries – Day 10

We were up early for breakfast, at 7:30 and out ready for the taxi at 8. We drove to the supermarket and cash point, took on food and water for lunch and then on to the safari park. It was already starting to get pretty warm.

I didn’t really know what to expect of a safari. I suppose my experience to date was Windsor and Longleat. There was no comparison with our 6 hours in the Nairobi National Park. It was a bit like the difference between a dry ski slope and the Alps. The scenery was breathtaking, changing from wide expanses of plains, to lush alleys with water holes, gorges, rivers and acacia trees.

We seemed to just come across so many different animal species, as we toured around stood up in the back of the safari wagon with our heads sticking out peering across the savannah between the raised roof and the body of the vehicle.

In the first 5 minutes, a lion walked up to us, closely followed by impala and water buffalo. Altogether we saw 5 lions and probably 25 other species including – giraffes, zebras, giant tortoise, water buffalo, impala, baboons, crocodile, terrapins, ostriches etc. And loads of different birds – eagle, vulture, king fisher, Jacksons widow, love birds.  Only the rhinos were being antisocial.

We ate lunch as we drove round – ham rolls, crisps and bananas from the supermarket, followed by their finest vanilla muffins. These solid looking objects suck all the moisture from your mouth. Fortunately, we had brought plenty of water.

There was a lovely breeze as we stood up in the dormobile to peer out across the surrounding countryside. The roof clicks up, providing an observation tower. Unfortunately, the back of my neck was exposed and was quite red the next day – as was my face.

Along with our boat trip on Lake Victoria, It was certainly one of the highlights.

Altogether, we were out for over 6 hours. It was very memorable trip.

On our return to the hotel, we went to our rooms for a brief rest. I woke up 3 hours later!








Kenya Diaries – Day 9 (Part 2)

In 2009, Anna and I attended the World Forum on Early Years in Belfast. The World Forum Foundation is a global charitable organisation committed to advocacy for children’s rights and the support and development of early years care and education.  When our visit to Kenya was confirmed, I made contact with the World Forum global leader for Kenya to ask if it was possible to meet up and learn about their activities. When we arrived in Nairobi, Janet and her colleague Anne met us at our hotel and shared about the projects they were involved with, working in the slums. They had both been working for middle class families before applying for their current roles, working for the International Child Research Institute (ICRI) Africa, a non-profit making organisation. Their responsibilities now are to support the set up and maintenance of preschool and primary education facilities in deprived communities. Projects include the establishment of food programs, hand washing and learning through play.

I asked Janet what had prompted her to leave her cosy job and go into the slums. She shared that she had lost her son, had had to give up work and stayed home, getting depressed. Eventually she saw an advert for this job and decided to apply. On her first visit to a nursery in a slum area, the first child she was introduced to had the same name as the son she had lost – Samuel. This happened at the next 4 settings she visited. She believed that  her Samuel had been taken from her but that she was being given many other Samuels to care for. When it came time for us to tell Janet about our visit and background, I told her that my first son had died, that his name was also Samuel and that this also had something to do with my working with young children. There was clearly a significance to our meeting.

Janet asked whether we wanted to visit one of their projects. It was arranged for a vehicle to pick us up on Monday, tomorrow being Sunday and our safari trip.

After we had chatted, Janet and Anne offered to accompany us to the Masai market in the city centre to buy a few more souvenirs. We walked across the park and up the road to the market square where we were accosted by “agents” who told us they would look after us. I hate shopping anyway but this was something else. It was not possible to look at anything, to consider any of the goods on offer or to think straight. There was a constant barrage of unwanted advice and exhortation to buy. In the end I told my minder to shut up but it had little effect. And why did he think I was a pastor? Our agents collected potential purchases for us as we went, with a view to negotiating a price at the end.  Janet told us not to pay for anything without her assistance. It was quite an experience – shopping aversion therapy, I think Carolyn called it! We all eventually escaped with some over-priced goods – probably 3 times what we paid in Kisumu. We lost Anne in the melee but thanked Janet, said goodbye and headed back to the safety of the hotel.