The Friends of Kinyambu is a project in support of the school and village of Kinyambu in Kenya. The project has two parts:
1) Friends of Kinyambu, will provide regular support funds to the school to purchase resources and
2) The Kinyambu Primary School Library project, working with Cardinal Leger School in Saskatoon, is raising money to build a library.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The painting project - Kenya 2020

In February of 2020 a group of five headed off to Kenya to paint some educational murals on the walls of the Nzavoni Primary School that Rainbow of Hope for Children had built the year before. Donna designed around 20 possible murals using information from their curriculum. Her daughter Erin, two cousins of mine, Esther and Chloe, and I were the crew. As is common in these situations, we had a plan but had to make lots of changes when we got into the reality. But I'm ahead of myself.

The first Safari
Before we got to Kinyambu area to do our project we went on a safari. We decided to do this first because Erin had to go home early. So off we went north to an area that Donna and I had been to years before. As we drove along with our favourite driver, Simon Mburu from A and B Tours, Donna and I kept remembering things, Mount Kenya of course, the second highest mountain in Africa. Not quite as dramatic as Kilimanjaro, but still impressive. The altitude required some getting used to, Nairobi at 1700 meters (almost 6000 feet), then north and up over the equator, also around 2000 meters (over 6000 feet), and the swell of the mountain and down on the other side.


We visited the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and saw the last two Northern White Rhinos in existence (the last male, Sudan, died a couple of years ago) and got to touch Baraka, a mostly blind and very tame black rhino who lives there also. Pretty amazing.



Umoja village
We also visited the Samburu Conservancy near Archer's Post where we had a very memorable experience. The small lodge we stayed at there turned out to be owned by a group of amazing Samburu women who some years before had  broken with their strict tribal protocols, left their abusive husbands and set up a village of their own where they can feel safe. Rebecca Lolosoli, the main force behind this whole process, told us some of her story and related the tale of how this group of women, not allowed to own property, managed to get title to the land we were on and built their community. We were mesmerized by the story and hope to contribute to their project soon.
Rebecca Lolosoli


We had a very emotional and memorable visit to their village with their small, two room kindergarten and their well-kept manyattas. They are still being harassed and sometimes even attacked by local men who resent their success. For more of their fascinating story, you can go to the following links:

Nzavoni school
Our first few days in the Kinyambu area where Nzavoni school is located were a flurry of meeting a greeting everyone, getting organized, figuring out how and what and where we were going to do things. The countryside was quite lush for that time of year, normally a very dry period. The November/December rains had been extensive and had carried on into January and even February. Flooding happened all over and affected us too. We had to take a very roundabout route to get to Nzavoni School every day which took a lot of time each day. We were out of the hotel by around 7 am and got to the school at close to 8 am.

The first week the students were all there and excited to see what we were up to. No TV, no travel, and not much excitement in their lives, so a visit from foreigners is really interesting. They helped us and sometimes got in the way in their excitement.

The second week was a break for them so things were quiet. Only Beth Muendo or another teacher was there to lock and unlock and for a couple of days young Ryan, Beth's grandson, 6 years old and also home from school, came to help and mostly play.

Here is the result of our labors. The school was very excited to have these murals and we felt quite proud of our handiwork.

Ryan helps Donna
Because we had two nurses with us, Erin and Esther, we organized some health related activities. Erin brought some gel that showed under an UV light and indicated where you had missed with the soap and water while washing your hands. This turned out to be quite prescient as within a few weeks the pandemic had been declared and hand washing was one of the most important things to do.
One of our relatives donated a lot of toothbrushes and little toothpaste tubes, almost 400 we think, and Esther hauled it all to the school for an activity around that. Chloe, a kindergarten teacher in Canada, had recently done a tooth brushing session with her students and so she managed to get several hundred very excited, chattering Kenyan school kids to learn about tooth brushing and sent them all home with supplies.


This is only the second time I've taken a volunteer group to Kenya to do a project and it has been very rewarding each time. We try to organize activities around the skills of the people who are coming along as well as have a core project that we are there to work on. The first time it was murals in the library we built at Kinyambu Primary and fence building around that school. This time it was educational murals.

A second Safari
We finished off with a short safari to make sure Chloe, who came for the final two weeks of the project, would experience the wonders of Kenya: the amazing animals of course, but also Mount Kilimanjaro and rivers of lava and Mzimu Springs and so on. She saw many leopards, which is a rarity. Each safari is different.


Our trip ended just in time for us to get home and get over our jet lag and then begin to deal with the COVID 19 pandemic which has changed all our lives. We are sending some of our funds to KRECD, our partner in the Kinyambu area to help out with their needs for basic food and sanitary supplies over this time. We all hope life goes back to some sort of normal soon.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Kenya and Tanzania, January 2019

There were six of us this time, a big group to arrange things for but mostly seasoned travelers. My brother Ted came for his first trip to Africa. He manages the Alphonse Gerwing Foundation, a family foundation that donates to Rainbow of Hope mainly for projects in Brazil that my uncle, Al Gerwing, worked with so tirelessly until he died in 2007. The others were on the board of Rainbow of Hope. Our main purpose was to monitor our projects in Kenya and Tanzania to make sure that the funds we send there are used correctly and things done well.

Our first stop is always Nairobi where we spent a day getting oriented. I met Simon, coordinator of our partner group in Kenya, several of his children who live in Nairobi now and who help with project work and Dr. Eglay Nyakoa who is a young doctor who I funded to go to high school some years ago.

The first night in Nairobi

We headed off to Kibwezi/Kinyambu area the next day. It’s always a busy time visiting several schools including a big opening ceremony for the new classrooms and offices we built at Nzavoni Primary School. This particular occasion was an interesting one. When we got to the school the children and parents and staff were all ready. They had taken the school desks outside to sit on and lined them up in the shade. There was a sound system – electricity is a new addition to the school in the last year or two. 

Waiting for the ceremonies to begin at Nzavoni Primary School
But the District Director of Education, the head honcho for the whole area, was late. Like most Kenyan professionals he does not own a vehicle and when he has to travel for work he uses public transit. This is rural Kenya so this means a bus and he was coming from about 100 km away. Someone also had to pick him up from the highway cause the school is about 5 km by bumpy dirt/sand roads too.

We waited. The kids started to look bored. One of the members of the Kinyambu Rural Education and Community Development group that we work with, Patrick Munguti, a retired music and drama teacher, got up and challenged one of the classes. “Grade 3, can we see how well you can dance.” One of the three songs on the sound system started up and the kids shuffled into the front. Soon they began to dance with some enthusiasm and the next classes tried to outdo them. Then it was the parents turn, then the men, and then the women. We all joined in and managed to dance, sing and laugh for the 2 hours we had to wait for the director.

Everyone danced!
That community is so thrilled with their new classrooms and the head teacher and staff with their new offices and staffroom. What an improvement from the old. And best of all, the local government decided to help the school out a bit and they built a couple of early childhood education classrooms and did a major renovation of some other classrooms. It’s all a huge improvement from the sad state the school was in several years ago.

Nzavoni classroom before and after
The next couple of days were spent visiting a few more schools who are always excited to have visitors from far away. We said goodbye to Kinyambu and Kenya on January 16 getting into Tanzania by late afternoon.

Our destination was Ussongo village in a remote part of the country but we made a stop at Katesh at a project funded by the Canadian Harambee Education Society that raises money in Canada to pay for secondary school education in both Kenya and Tanzania. Sara Williams, a Saskatchewan retired horticulturalist, raised money to build a hostel for the girls to stay in at Katesh when they came into the city to go to school. Good and safe accommodation is often a problem so this is a great help. We’ve stopped there before and had a great tour of their facilities with Naomi who manages the program there. We try to visit other projects if it’s possible as we travel in East Africa. There are always good ideas to share.

We reached Ussongo the second evening and were happy to be received by Fr. Chuwa and his staff who have several rooms that they rent to us. They also feed us and provide some transportation if we want to visit schools further away.

But the school we were there to visit is only a short walk from the compound and we were there on the first day for another opening ceremony for the two classrooms we had funded there. The children sang and danced for us and presented a short program of gymnastics and a demonstration of different types of African clothing. We clapped and shook lots of hands and chatted and saw all the improvements in the school since we were there last.

The opening ceremonies for the additions to Ussongo school
included a demonstration of different types of African clothing
Later that evening as Charlie, Ted and I walked through the village we were called over to a home where some of the teachers were enjoying some tea and chatting. We had some interesting casual conversation about the differences between Canada and Tanzania including about limiting family size – a concept not very familiar to them!

Our time there also included a visit to Ussongo Primary School where we saw some water tanks we had funded. 

Water tanks we funded for Ussongo Primary School
Just as we took a few photos the skies opened and the rain pounded down for almost an hour. We managed to make it into a classroom with a whole group of kids who kept us entertained. We also had a close look at their desks which had a metal frame quite solidly welded together. I took photos and sent them off to Simon back in Kinyambu because they had been having issues with the quality of desks there. He has since had a few made locally using those photos and will likely move to this new style; a good example of how we can help move good ideas from place to place.

Finally, on our last full day there we drove a couple of hours to Tabora, a smaller city south of Ussongo, where there is a School for the Deaf. This school started in the 1960’s and was the first in Tanzania. They had asked us for funds to build some new water tanks to replace some much older ones that were leaking. We had a tour and were entertained by dancing that the students did using much stomping and eye contact to keep together. They seem very happy there and are well taught but there are some very sad stories. Having a disability in Africa is still often seen as a black mark against the family, a sign that they did something wrong or have a curse on them. This is slowly fading but there are still some older children at the school who have lived there most of their lives because their families just left them. They have no idea where they come from or who their families are. 

We drove a few miles out of town to some workshops in which they teach carpentry and sewing to give the young adults some skills with which to earn a living. 

Older students learn sewing and carpentry skills.
They too need some new water tanks because there have been several diagnoses of typhoid fever in the students over the past few years.

We left Ussongo the next day with our new driver and safari guide, Bernard, to enjoy a week of safari in Tarangire National Park and the Serengheti. East Africa is full of warm and inspiring people trying to make a better life but also some amazing wildlife too.  


Monday, February 19, 2018

A cold day in February thinking about Kenya

This very cold February day has me reminiscing about my time in Kenya this past July and remembering the heat. Not that I really enjoy the heat but -37 isn't that great either. I am not a natural blogger, doing things trumps writing about them in my life and I've been very busy since the end of July but now these cold winter days I feel like I've caught up.

Our trip in July was a long anticipated teacher visit to schools in the Kinyambu area. My friend Simon and his wife Beth had both come to Canada early in their careers and found the experience of seeing the world and immersing themselves into another country to be a life changing time. They would love to come back but the Canadian government is very stingy with visas to come and visit here and so we've kind of given up on having Kenyans come to see our schools. But we can still go there and that is what we did.


Three teachers from Saskatchewan and one from Manitoba came with me. We spent a couple of weeks visiting schools in the Kinyambu area. In most of the schools we would pair up with a teacher in an area of interest and spend most of the day with them in their classes. We had brought a variety of teaching resources with us and used these in the classrooms as well as we were able. The teachers of the younger children had lots of fun with balloon animals, games and balls, lots of brightly colored materials that they totally lack in their everyday classes. They generally have a blackboard of poor quality, white chalk and notebooks. They take notes or recite and that's pretty much it. Having some colorful materials and books is very exciting to them.

One of the things we did was bring cash to purchase school supplies for three of the main schools we visited. We had raised this from various groups including a church group in Manitoba. We had a big day driving to the nearest school supply store about four hours away and picking up great packages of textbooks and reference material that the schools had requested.


 We were big hits as we presented these to the schools. Students, teachers and parents turned out in the school yards for the big presentations.

We heard from Simon at the end of the year that the students in these schools had done well in their national examinations. They are very focused on these exams. Students can't progress unless they do well. This determines which secondary schools they can attend and which post-secondary programs they can enter. Kenya is trying to move their system to include more creativity and innovation into the curriculum and focus more on skill development rather than just rote memorization. It will take time though but as a culture they can be very entrepreneurial and this needs to be nourished. Here is a website that describes the changes: How New Education Will Work

After our work there we left Kinyambu behind and started a five-day safari through Tsavo East and West National parks and Amboseli which is at the food of Kilimanjaro. These are all relatively close to Kinyambu.



We stayed mainly in a hotel in the town of Voi which was cheaper than the lodges in the game parks but had some traffic challenges.

We had a great time though, lots of elephants, giraffe, lions and antelope and gazelles. We even saw a couple of cheetah. Because of the lengthy period of drought many animals congregated around the watering holes which made them easy to find, for us and the predators which looked very fat!



Two of us came home after 3 weeks and the other 3 stayed and extended their safari to the western part of Kenya, Masai Mara, the Lake Victoria area and through the Aberdares and into the Mt. Kenya area. They too had a great time.

We have started a project to build 3 classrooms and some administration offices at Nzavoni Primary School (see Philip's blog below) and will need to go and monitor that project probably in November of 2018. We love to take  people with us. Newcomers to Kenya are always welcome.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Work Accomplished--More work to be done.

Philip
  Connie's son Philip has recently returned from Kinyambu and Nzavoni 
  schools, and other places in Africa, and sends his report.

   At the schools I was welcomed with lots of fancy ceremony,  dancing, and 
  singing, which was much appreciated. 

  Kinyambu

The new Kinyambu library
    The teachers and students 
  of Kinyambu primary are 
  really happy to have their new library. They recently got a lockable metal vault in the back of the building where they can store valuables. That's been really helpful now that they have a few laptop computers etc. to keep safe. 

They also mentioned to me that they are really happy with the fence at the school. It's already allowed more trees to grow in the school grounds since it prevents grazing animals from venturing through the area. The gate project has started now, as it was just funded while I was there. They were happy to hear that news. The finished gate will completely seal in the whole school yard. 

The kitchen at Kinyambu school needs replacing.
After looking over all the things that the Friends of Kinyambu and Rainbow of Hope for Children have provided for Kinyambu primary school (for which they are all very thankful), I had asked what the next priorities should be for them to improve conditions there. One of the top priorities was a new kitchen. The kitchen they have is quite small and starting to crumble. 

Other priorities are a new administration building. Theirs is also getting quite old (built in 1974) and showing some wear and tear. It's much too small to comfortably house everyone who needs to work there. They also thought that some permanent metal soccer nets would be a great benefit for the kids. 

Nzavoni

Next I went to Nzavoni school. There are 130 students attending the school.  The first picture is of their newest classroom with some of the kids at school that day walking by. That building is quite good, but unfortunately it's the only good building at the school. 

The newest Nzavoni classroom
The next photo is from inside the other classroom building, which you can see is really starting to crumble with a huge crack in the wall. Just above the crack, you can see that the rafter in the roof is nearly completely eaten away by termites. There is also a hole in the metal roofing there that lets a lot of water seep into the class when it rains. 

Crumbling classrooms that need replacing.
The much needed new building project for Nzavoni is now funded and will have three classrooms and a teachers' room with a vault in it for valuables.

My meeting with Nzavoni school was quite productive. Simon and I met with the parents of some of the students from that school who came out to talk about the project to build two new buildings for Nzavoni. They will be helping dig the foundation of the buildings and providing some security to make sure that none of the new building materials get stolen after they are delivered. The parents unanimously (and enthusiastically) agreed to volunteer their time to help with the project. We had 40 parents there who all voted in support of the project. I also presented a laptop computer to the principal of the school, and a soccer ball for the students. They were really excited about all of it!

These school projects are making a difference for the students and teachers, and are an asset to the whole community. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nzavoni - A School in Need

The last couple of times I've been to the Kinyambu area, I have visited a nearby primary school called Nzavoni. 
 The students and staff of Nzavoni

Last winter we brought them some educational gifts and they sang for us. They sing in their local Kamba language with great joy, welcoming visitors.
Nzavoni Classroom


Nzavoni Classroom
However, the poor condition of the classrooms there struck me both times. On the last visit, in March of 2016, I could see that things were getting bad quickly. We saw a couple of classrooms that had rotten rafters half fallen down, big cracks in the walls and evidence of a large termite mound that was forming in the inside walls. The head teacher's office was tiny and the teacher's workroom was in disrepair. 

Parents are concerned for their children in these rooms, consequently, the school has been losing students to nearby schools, causing overcrowding at those other schools. 


It kept bothering me after I got home and after talking to George Bunz and others at Rainbow of Hope we decided to put fundraising resources into building 3 classrooms and some offices for them. Kenya made primary school education free in 2003 but local communities are responsible for school buildings and maintenance. The government supplies teachers and some very basic school supplies.

There will be a water tank on each building to catch rainwater and we will furnish the classrooms with desks, tables and chairs and blackboards. The offices will have lockable storage for exams and materials and desks and chairs for teachers. Parents will provide unskilled labour and are excited to have a new building for their children.

I and the Kenya group we work with, want to make sure that we don't just focus all our efforts on one school and that we spread things around a bit. This will be a good start. We hope that parents bring their children back to this school and that the standards of education will strengthen.