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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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.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Monitoring visit, February and March 2016

It's been several months since returning from my latest visit to Kinyambu. It seems to take me that long to process things and get down what the visit meant to me.
Monitoring Team

I had two friends with me this time, new to Kenya, who found the visit quite interesting and inspiring. Roy, my cousin, 10 days younger than me, who had spent much of his work life in northern Manitoba  found the whole trip an eye opener. He is someone who watched every National Geographic Special on Africa but kept saying how different the reality is. A TV show just can't capture the smells, the light, the sounds and the people. Cal, a new friend from Prince Albert, was most intrigued by meeting the local people. He enjoyed the dancing, visiting the schools, getting into the local life and eating the local food.

We met with Simon and the KRECD group on the Saturday afternoon of our visit. They are excited about possible programs we can do to improve agricultural production in the area. Their idea is to get better breeds of chicken and improved fruit trees and give them to the school children who would raise them at their homes. Kind of like our 4H programs. Sounds good to me.

Presenting a laptop
We also visited Kinyambu Primary School where we presented them with 2
computers and a printer and a lot of sports clothing for the teachers and t-shirts that the students can wear while playing so they look more like a team. They're enjoying those and the students are learning to operate the printer too.

Thange School Students
We also went to two nearby schools, Thange where Beth Muendo teaches and Nzavoni. We presented some gifts to the schools and they sang songs for us too.

Nzavoni has some classrooms in very bad condition. The termites have gotten into the rafters and they are almost non-existent. The walls have big cracks and the floors are rough. I came home determined to raise some money to build some new classrooms there which I've started to raise money for.

We left for Tanzania after a few days, driving around Mt. Kilimanjaro  to visit another Rainbow of Hope project.

See you next year, Kinyambu.