Thursday, 23 August 2018

Reflections on travel in Kenya


We experienced a range of travel during our stay. I thought it might be useful and interesting to share some of our experiences here.
Most locals in Kenya rely on walking to get from one place to another. It is common to see them carrying huge loads - in the case of women, on their heads. (I gave rise to considerable amusement two years ago by carrying a box of solar lamps on my head - though I was not able to do so without holding on to them. I was astounded to see a woman carrying one of the sewing machines I gave out on her head.)


 
Some men and occasionally children ride bicycles. Women do so very rarely. Vast loads are carried on the backs of these cycles.
For those wishing to travel further, a boda boda ("border to border") or motorcycle taxi is a common form of transport. These are commonly seen clustered together at the corners of streets. Although it is apparently a requirement that a helmet is worn, we saw this only rarely.
 
The equivalent of a bus is the matatu. These minibuses are now much more strictly regulated than in the past, and are only allowed to carry the number of passengers for which there are seats. They travel on specific routes and are painted very individually. Their drivers are extremely aggressive in finding space to drive on the crowded roads.
 
A tuk tuk is a step up from a matatu. Three can sit with in these vehicles (two comfortably; I have been in one which carried six!) and I really enjoy riding in them. Like matatus, however, their drivers are assertive in finding space on the road - even when it does not really exist.
 
There is a growing number of private cars on the road, and we were fortunate to be given lifts by Susan to save us having to arrange other types of transport.
Roads are single lane officially, but thanks to matatu, boda boda and tuk tuk drivers using the verge and the centre of the road, often manage to hold six lanes of traffic. Apparently (and borne out by our experience) taxi drivers are the safest.
A lot of freight is carried by lorries, but the new Nairobi to Mombasa railway is changing this. The railway carries two passenger trains in each direction (on fast stopping only at each end of the journey and one slow stopping at every station) each day. We travelled this way several times. A four hour + journey from Nairobi to Mombasa costs only around ten pounds per person. Security is very tight (we and our bags were checked twice at each station) and it is now essential to buy tickets in advance, though this cannot be done online.


 

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

A letter from Said


Susan passed this on to me. It was written entirely independently by Said, who is the 15 year old second son of Sidi and to whom I gave a solar lamp:
Dear Caroline
Re: Thanks
First and foremost, I would say Thankyou for purchasing a solar lamp for me. Nothing could stop me to express my joy to you. Beginning with, before you bought me that solar lamp, I was using a kerosene lamp which sometimes goes off after the oil had run out. Due to ladk of that, I was forced to go to bed without going over my text books. Of course, when I am perusing my textbooks, the harmful smoke or soot enters my eyes which almost blinded my sight. Indeed, I was in risk of eye disease.
In addition, my mother sometimes got upset when she saw that I am using that lamp until the middle of nights. Because of that, I did not have time to study well. In my class, worst of all, pupils made noises which also distracted me. I only depended on the little time when a class or lesson teacher was absent. These disadvantages made my marks to be poor. But because of buying me a solar lamp, I do believe I will improve.
I would also thank you for buyin us a motorbike which was to do with our living. At first we used to count on mother for daily bread. She is industrious. However, when she is down with an ailment, we decided to take "French leave" so that we could run errands to make ends meet. It was not intentionally to play truant but because of hardship we encountered. In our classes, we were seldom attending lessons. But all our teachers knew facts about us.
Mother sometimes took a week when she had recovered from her illness. Because of that, we ended up missing lessons. It was sad indeed to see our future tumbling down. It did not take long when we heard you were ready to give us assistance. After buying that motorbike, we normally go on with our studies without any interruption. We also take our meals happily. For that, I am grateful for the kindness you have.
Yours faithfully
Said Bembaji

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Kenya reflections 4: Kithi family

Naomi and her husband struggled (as so many do in Utange) to find regular work. 
 
 I provided the materials to help this family to set up a shop. I am generally reluctant to set up shops, but Susan recommended this as a possible business for this family of siz.



 
 
When I visited the family I found that this business is doing well and providing sufficient income to feed the family (Kazungu, .Baraka, Kadzo and Amani).
 
Susan and I discussed how we can help the business to grow. Naomi does a good trade with the local school children, so a popcorn machine might be a good addition.
Will made a new friend in one of the neighbourhood children, who was fascinated by his watch! 
 

Monday, 20 August 2018

Kenya reflections 3: Sidi and family

Visiting Sidi was possibly the most moving experience of my time in Kenya. She is the lady who is a widow with three sons; she also lives with epilepsy and (a reflection of the dire straits she was in) has one hand which she can no longer use, having fallen into a fire while suffering an epileptic fit. She was unable to afford treatment for it. In fact, I learnt while talking to her that the doctor who eventually saw her wanted to perform an amputation.
 
Sid's three sons are a complete credit to her. All are bright, hard working and "disciplined" (a description given by so many of their teachers). Her oldest son, Mwando, is at Shimo la Tewa secondary school. This is a "national" school, one of the highest type of schools in Kenya, and his place there was made possible through the personal intervention of Jane, the head teacher, who contacted a friend at the school, and through two sponsors who pay his school fees. Secondary education in Kenya is not free. He is achieving grades of A-.Sidi's second son, Saidi, is even brighter than his older brother (a poor test result for him is a score of 490 out of 500). The youngest son, Idd, is also a capable student.


 
The family live in a tiny mud hut. Their only furniture is a bed frame (which they all share) and a wooden bench (at which the boys study). When I heard about the family, the two older boys were selling water after school each day to earn enough money to buy some food.
 
I paid for the setting up of a boda boda business (motorcycle taxi) for the family, along with the necessary insurance. Susan helped Sidi to set up a bank account and taught her how to deposit her income. Another teacher found a rider for the bike. This rider pays Sidi a set amount each week from his takings. The remainder of the money he keeps and uses to buy fuel. A third teacher has mentored Sidi in budgeting and planning purchases.
 
We visited Sidi at her home. She was proud to show me the sack of flour she has - "My family now eats twice each day, which we have never been able to do before." She asked me to look round her hut, "So that when you return you will see the improvements I will make." I noticed the hole in the roof. The lack of furniture (Sidi's first planned purchase is to be a table for her boys to do their homework at). I also noted the vast numbers of books which the boys have found and from which they study.
 
I was told that Saidi studies by kerosene lamp each evening till midnight, and rises at 5am to study before going to school - so I bought the family a solar lamp. Saidi's face when I told him what I was intending to do was pure delight.
 
Sidi has not settled for the income from the boda boda business. She has started growing vegetables outside her home. She buys a few extra vegetables every week and sells them to her neighbours. And she has begun to collect plastic water bottles which she sells for recycling. Susan told me that Sidi now has hope again - and this has enabled her to do more to help her family.




Friday, 17 August 2018

Kenya reflections 2: Sewing group


The first business I set up at Utange Primary came about in response to the needs of the school as well as those of the parents. I mentioned in my last post that the school is in a very poor area. As such, many families really struggle to afford school uniform for their children and as a result I noticed on my first visit (two years ago) that many pupils were wearing incomplete or very torn uniforms.

Susan suggested that I fund a business for a group of women so that they could make school uniforms, which they would be able to do more cheaply than the local shops. "Our pupils will look smarter and the families will have an income," she told me.
So this business was established 18 months ago.

Four women employed a tailor to teach them to make the uniforms (as they had no sewing expertise prior to this).


Through generous donations I was able to sponsor uniforms for around 15 children. On this trip I took out sponsorship, thanks to two large donations, for over a hundred more children. This will be used to provide both uniforms and school shoes.
In my visit this time, I immediately noticed how much better dressed the pupils are now (as the photos testify). Jane told me that this has had a large impact on the mood of the school - pupils have a new sense of self-worth. There are still a few pupils who will benefit from new uniforms,but by no means as many as there were two years ago.

The sewing group is doing very well and is branching out. They have been able to add another lady to their group. They are now making a wider range of items - traditional dresses, bed linen and table mats, for example. I took out the materials and patterns for them to begin to make washable sanitary towels to sell in the village and to the school (who provide sanitary protection for the girls, so that they do not miss school when they are menstruating).I also took out two of my bags, which the ladies were keen to copy. Finally, the group have successfully bid for the contracts to make school uniform for two other local schools.






It was such a delight to meet with these ladies and to see how proud they are of what they are doing. They are now acting as mentors for the more recent business start-ups.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Kenya reflections 3: Sidi and family

Kenya reflections 3: Sidi and family
Visiting Sidi was possibly the most moving experience of my time in Kenya. She is the lady who is a widow with three sons; she also lives with epilepsy and (a reflection of the dire straits she was in) has one hand which she can no longer use, having fallen into a fire while suffering an epileptic fit. She was unable to afford treatment for it. In fact, I learnt while talking to her that the doctor who eventually saw her wanted to perform an amputation.


 
Sid's three sons are a complete credit to her. All are bright, hard working and "disciplined" (a description given by so many of their teachers). Her oldest son, Mwando, is at Shimo la Tewa secondary school. This is a "national" school, one of the highest tier, and his place there was made possible through the personal intervention of Jane, the head teacher, who contacted a friend at the school, and through two sponsors who pay his school fees. Secondary education in Kenya is not free. Her second son, Saidi, is even brighter than his older brother (a poor test result for him is a score of 490 out of 500). The youngest son, Idd, is also a capable student.


 
The family live in a tiny mud hut. Their only furniture is a bed frame (which they all share) and a wooden bench (at which the boys study). When I heard about the family, the two older boys were selling water after school each day to earn enough money to buy some food.
 
I paid for the setting up of a boda boda business (motorcycle taxi) for the family, along with the necessary insurance. Susan helped Sidi to set up a bank account and taught her how to deposit her income. Another teacher found a rider for the bike. This rider pays Sidi a set amount each week from his takings. The remainder of the money he keeps and uses to buy fuel. A third teacher has mentored Sidi in budgeting and planning purchases.
 
We visited Sidi at her home. She was proud to show me the sack of flour she has - "My family now eats twice each day, which we have never been able to do before." She asked me to look round her hut, "So that when you return you will see the improvements I will make." I noticed the hole in the roof. The lack of furniture (Sidi's first planned purchase is to be a table for her boys to do their homework at). I also noted the vast numbers of books which the boys have found and from which they study.







 
I was told that Saidi studies by kerosene lamp each evening till midnight, and rises at 5am to study before going to school - so I bought the family a solar lamp. Saidi's face when I told him what I was intending to do was pure delight.
 
Sidi has not settled for the income from the boda boda business. She has started growing vegetables outside her home. She buys a few extra vegetables every week and sells them to her neighbours. And she has begun to collect plastic water bottles which she sells for recycling. Susan told me that Sidi now has hope again - and this has enabled her to do more to help her family.