Travel Update – Day 8

We departed Rabai early, 5am, for Salt Lick Lodge in the Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary near the city of Voi, Kenya. As we were leaving Kazameni yesterday, we thought it would be our last day on rough, bumpy roads but we were surprised to see how bad the two lane Mombasa Highway really is. This road connects the port city of Mombosa to Nairobi and is not maintained very well. Think of washboard dirt roads connecting two major cities where you jockey for position with semi trucks.

With an early departure we thought most would sleep but in one van we spent the first 90 minutes of the drive talking about the magnitude of the impact the new Kangakamo school will have on the village and school children of Kazameni.

Two years ago Boyani was not a place you could find on a Google Map, now you can find “Boyani School”. We fully anticipate “Kangakamo School” to show up on Google Maps in the near future. As Trevor spent the night in the village with Job and his family he mentioned this cool fact to Job who took so much pride knowing the world could find Kazameni. He even go a little emotional.

Steve and Trevor went to see Rahima last night to deliver a few items and to interview her. She is a friend of Koins for Kenya and the Littlefield Family as well as being a local educational official. Rahima commented to them that now that Kazameni has the Kangakamo school they can apply to be recognized as a government school. She feels it will be accepted. This is a big milestone to reach as it will allow government funds to pay the teachers. Currently the parents pay the teachers. Rahima also indicated that the beautiful school in Kangakamo will increase the confidence of not only the children but of that of the parents which should help further the community. Steve and Rahima are confident test scores will increase.

On the way to the wildlife sanctuary we made a few stops to take a break from the stressful drive. One stop was at Jonah’s favorite Souvenir shop.

After five hours of driving we finally arrived at the wildlife sanctuary. It’s been a dry season with little rain so the wildlife has to travel to get water. We’ve seen the following wildlife: Cape Buffalo, Elephants – which come to the watering hole at the base of hotel, we’ve seen fifty or more, Giraffes, Water Buck, Elands, Lions, Baboons, Antelopes, Hart Beest, Grant Gazelle, Impala, Burt¹s white tummy made a brief appearance but had to be covered because our driver said it was a strange animal, Buffalo Weaver, Super Starling, Guinea Fowl and Ground Hornbill Bird.

Tonight we ate a good meal and it reminded us of some of the food we ate in Rabai. Last night before leaving Rabai, Brandy learned to cook the Cabbage Stir Fry meal and the chapati. Chapati is similar to a tortilla. Dinner at Jory’s on Monday!!!

Tomorrow we leave early to return to get our luggage in Rabai and head to the airport.

We may not be able to give an update tomorrow so if we don’t, please know how humbling this experience has been. We thank each of you for your support and prayers. It takes many hands and a huge effort to be able to do this type of humanitarian project that will bless the lives of so many in Kazameni.

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Travel Update – Day 7

We started our day delivering supplies to Kasidi High School. The students were in class studying and doing lab work as it is an achievement to make it to High School. The administration was extremely appreciative of the school supplies and Days for Girls packets. As we were preparing to leave they wanted a group picture and asked when we would come back.

The next stop was at a Dispensary (medical clinic) where we dropped off the last of the ibuprofen, children’s blankets and medical supplies. As we visited with the head nurse, we learned that they’ve been out of ibuprofen since the last donated pills ran out (almost a year ago). We also learned that this clinic delivers thirty babies a month. Just like the clinic we visited yesterday there were a lot of villagers waiting to been seen by the medical staff. We handed out pencils with dum dums taped to them just like yesterday to each person waiting. The pencils and dum dums were donated by Preston Scarborough which he collected as part of his eagle project.

On our way to the Kanyumbuni school where we would teach for the last time we found a school along the road and felt the need to give them a futsol (small soccer) ball. Burt also donated some children’s books donated by his neighbor to the head teacher. Since we still had a lot of pencils and dum dums left, we handed one to each child in this school. We were surprised about how polite these children were and waited for one to be handed to them rather than pushing each other and swarming us. Glade and Katelyn performed a little magic by taking a picture with a Polaroid style camera that would spit out a picture that develops. The teachers said it was a miracle to see the picture appear.

We arrived at the Kanyumbuni school along with some dignitaries who would participate and speak in the handing over ceremony at the Kangakamo school. The excitement was so high for the entire school of 460 students. The classes were so much larger than the prior days. The weather was a bit windy so when Jory and Brandy took their class outside to fly the paper airplanes, the wind carried them longer distances.

After leaving Kanyumbuni we made the short drive to Kangakamo for the handing over ceremony. The children, their mothers and teachers greeted us a few hundred yards from the village and sang songs very loudly as we walked to the school, this was a huge event for them. We were escorted to sit under a large tent in front of the school for the handing over ceremony to begin. We were treated to a program with so many different performances. We heard from the children’s school choir, poems, traditional dances where we were asked to participate. Kelly has the moves so she was asked over and over again to participate. Prior to the dancing, they invited all of Grant Victor team members to be dressed in traditional clothing and given a Kenyan name that represented someone in the village heritage. As part of the name giving, they asked us to say the name over the microphone. After receiving our names and clothing we were given three goats as gifts, one for Grant Victor, one for Crossfit and one for the Littlefield family (Steve’s family).

After the presentations we heard from a number of political and education officials. Prior to Todd, TJ and Steve speaking and handing over the classrooms for Grant Victor, Crossfit and the LIttlefield family, we heard from Mister Kamoti, a Member of Parliament. It was an honor to have him there. We have been staying in his mother’s house the last week. They have been so kind and generous.

After all the speaking, we participated in the ribbon cutting for each classroom, the teacher’s lounge and the water cistern. Katelyn had the highlight of highlights with the ribbon cutting and cut the ribbon for the four outhouse restrooms donated by Grant Victor.

Once the ribbon cutting was done the final part of the ceremony was to plant a tree in front of each classroom in the flowerbeds. The entire ceremony took over three hours. We ended our time in Kazameni by handing out more candy, toys and other items to the children.

What a miracle it was to see this school finished and delivered to the people of Kazameni.

A few updates from Trevor from the previous day. He left Monday morning and went to spend the day and night with a Kazameni family. The father of the family is Job, a former nurse who speaks very good English and is a leader in the village. He helped Trevor get around the village to meet and interview families, teachers and children. Trevor commented today that the highlight of his time in Kazameni was being able to see the same people and recognize them as they recognized him at the handing over ceremony. The conditions for Trevor were tight as he slept in Job’s family home. He took a separate mattress to sleep on but they didn’t want him to sleep on the floor and insisted he sleep in one of their beds. He commented that during the night a spider tried to join him in bed but couldn’t due to the mosquito net that tucked up Nader the mattress. He named the spider Jim as it was almost the size of his hand 8 – 10″.

The work Trevor did was vital to telling the story that will be part of the final video so we won’t give too much detail but one thing did happen that won’t make the video. Job and his family were extremely hospitable, insisting Trevor take a shower. As we’ve driven from village to village we’ve seen small 3′ X 3′ palm leaf structures that serve as bathrooms and showers. Trevor went to the shower built by this family with his solar powered flashlight to take a shower after dark. He quickly realized that the shower only had three sides and Job insisted on guarding the one side. Trevor was the first white man to stay overnight in their village. They followed him everywhere and while showering, he heard kids giggling as he showered. Job did his best to chase them away.

This expedition has been long but has gone so fast. We are sad to not be able to return to the villages and do more with the children but this must come to an end so we can prepare for our journey home.

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Travel Update – Day 6

Our first stop for the day was at a medical clinic in Bwagamoyo to deliver blankets for the newborns and ibuprofen and other medical supplies for the patients. There were a lot of people lined up on the bench of the clinic waiting to be taken care of. We went into the office of the medical staff (three nurses) to learn about their three room clinic. They care for 20K residents of the local villages with the primary services being care for pneumonia and malaria. An interesting fact, the nurses deliver on average seven babies per week. The new mothers are allowed to rest for six hours after birth and then are asked to return to their homes (mud huts). The staff was thankful for the supplies and asked if we will come back to which we said we would like to. They then asked if we can come back next week.

We then headed to Kazameni to find Trevor, work on the mural and teach some classes. On the way we passed two schools with soccer fields. On one of the fields the kids were playing with a rolled up ball of rags. Jory grabbed one of the soccer balls and headed to the field, the excitement with the school kids was incredible.

We arrived on Kazameni but didn’t find Trevor waiting for us like we thought we would. Trevor was amongst the villagers filming but heard the kids start to sing and headed to see us being escorted to the school. We haven’t had much time to learn about Trevors’ experience so we’ll include updates on the next email.

TJ and Jory didn’t waste anytime getting started on painting the mural. The rest of us began teaching classes. In the village there are two classes taught in a mud hut and the others are taught under large cashew trees where their chairs are uneven rocks and their laps serve as their desks. Brandy commented that the kids in the outside classes were not bothered by the wind, dust or cattle and goats walking around but these items were definitely distracting to us Americans teaching.

Todd and Eric taught the second and third graders how to use yo-yo’s, play with juggling balls and to blow bubbles with bubble gum. Thanks to Dillon Anderson for donating the yo-yo’s and to the Kona Public Charter School in Hawaii for the juggling balls.

Glade, Katelyn and Seth taught the kindergarten age children an English song, the color pattern of a rainbow, played a matching picture memory game, did a small craft project and topped it off by painting their faces.

Brandy and Sarah taught the first graders about transportation, specifically how they got from America to the village of Kazameni. They also taught them about the animals of the world.

Kelly and Abby taught the pre-kindergarten children about animals using paper bag puppets. The kids were able to color the animals on the bag. Abby and Kelly were surprised to learn that these kids didn’t know what the animals on the bags were, which included a rhinoceros, a turtle, an owl, a frog or a fish. They did recognize the crab because only a few had been to the beach.

After teaching classes most went to help TJ and Jory on the mural while Todd, Eric and Kelly did a number of eye tests. All the kids passed the test with exception of two who were too shy to answer the eye test questions. The enlightening moment doing the eye tests was when the teachers came in and asked to be tested. At least three of them needed glasses for reading. A village elder also wanted to be tested. After fitting him for glasses he looked out of the classroom towards the mud hut classroom a few hundred yards away and was soooo surprised to see the people down there. He wore the glasses the rest of the day and talked to the team frequently about what he could now see.

TJ and Jory worked for more than eight hours non-stop on the mural. To give a little insight, the wall is in the direct sunlight and was radiating heat. The humidity made it feel even hotter. When asked about the experience, they each answered about how excruciating the heat was. The thing that kept TJ going was knowing that the villagers work all day long, non-stop, on their daily chores to survive. The team helped as much as possible and we are happy to report that it was finished and looks incredible thanks to a team of perfectionists.

Kelly, Abby and Sara took a break from painting to teach “Days for Girls” to the women of the village. Each woman received a feminine hygiene kit. When Kenyan women get excited they use a very distinct high pitch screech or yell (it’s hard to describe unless you’ve heard it). It’s safe to say the excitement was heard throughout the village. Prior to this, they didn’t have any products to care for themselves with. It was obvious basic hygiene was not part of their daily routine.

Brandy had the opportunity to sit with a few women villagers and put on fingernail and toe nail polish. She felt part of the group and was able to hold one of the children while the women put on the polish. She commented that these women are just like her girls in that they wanted to put on designs and multiple colors.

We are now back at the place we are staying preparing for tomorrow when we will deliver more supplies to a different clinic, teach classes to a different school and do the official handing over ceremony of the Kangakamo school.

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Travel Update – Day 5

Here are a few updates from a very long and busy day. Trevor left early for his overnight stay in Kazemeni – we are confident he is doing well.

As soon as the new van arrived, the rest of the team loaded up the lamps and teaching supplies and headed to Boyani, it’s a long drive on some very rough dirt roads.

As we approached the Boyani village, the children met us 1/2 kilometer from the village singing songs and full of energy, we quickly climbed out of the van and walked to the village with them. What a treat it was for those of us who had not seen the schools and the mural painted by the Grant Victor team last year. This building is truly a landmark along that long dirt road connecting the villages.

The Senior Teacher, Amos, and the teaching staff put together an opening ceremony introducing us to the community and the students. We were able to make a small presentation where a few things were announced.
1. The school has a need for blankets for the 8th graders who are boarded at the school. We were able to let them know that 16 blankets were donated for Todd’s son Connor’s eagle project that we were able to leave with them. After the ceremony we asked Amos about where the students sleep and he said the classroom is used as a class in the day and a dorm room at night with the kids sleeping on mats on the cement floor.
2. Glade announced that money had been raised to build a larger cistern for the school. This announcement received a lot of applause. Boyani is a village in a very dry desert area that typically gets a few rainstorms a year with the large rain storm in the March, April and May timeframe. As we were walking the kids to the village, Voya, the equivalent of the PTA President, told Steve that the village is struggling because of the lack of water. They have not received any rain since February, the current cistern is dry.
3. Glade also announced that Grant Victor and its customers have donated enough solar powered lights for each house in Boyani to have one light. This, too, was received very well. The lights were handed out later in the day, after a short soccer game where the school team defeated the Grant Victor Team 2-0. We gave a very valiant effort but was beat by barefooted kids running around on very uneven ground with small weeds and bushes growing. As the lights were handed out, the goal was to give one to each household. The community gathered together and a process was put together. The orphans were first followed by the single mothers and single fathers. For those of us who can’t speak the language felt the loud discussions were a sign of hostility for people who may or may not be getting a light but later learned there were discussions about how to deal with the polygamist families and those who were unable to attend. We learned also that approximately 50 more families need lights so we will have to send more soon.
4. After Glade’s announcements, Burt announced that a water truck was on it’s way to fill the buckets for the families and the cistern would be filled. The excitement was so high with this announcement. As mentioned above, the lack of water is having a huge impact on the community. Due to the lack of water near by, the women are walking close to 20 kilometers round trip each day to fill up one 5-gallon bucket. The women were excused to go get their buckets. The truck showed up a little while later and the line of buckets was endless. We later learned that some families were able to get four buckets filled. Unfortunately, not all buckets were filled and the cistern is still dry so two more trucks were ordered, one for the cistern and one for the remaining buckets. Their needs should be met within the next 24-hours.

We also taught four classes. Details of the classes will be shared another day as we have the opportunity to teach again tomorrow and Wednesday.

During the Grant Victor fundraising event, Ben’s wife worked with the eye doctors she works with to donate multiple pairs of children’s eye glasses. We were able to meet the needs of six children who have been struggling to see the chalkboard. What a joy it was to see the eyes of the children light up when they could read the eye chart after struggling during the initial eye test. Unfortunately, a few children’s eyes were so bad that we couldn’t help them. It was gut wrenching to tell them we couldn’t help and the best thing was to sit close to the front of the class.

We are all very tired but are excited for the opportunity to paint the mural on the Kangakamo school tomorrow and teach more students.

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Travel Update – Day 4

We left the house at 9:00 am today to attend church in the Changamwe Branch of the LDS Church. After church we made a brief stop at the carving place called Akamba where the craftsmen carve the animals and figurines, this is the same place that carved the Grant Victor customer gifts of Elephants and Rhinos the last two years. These craftsmen use authentic carving tools like those used many years ago. There is a Blacksmith in Akamba that makes tools for the workers. Due to heavy traffic during the week the tourist companies now bring people on Sunday’s so it was very busy. There was small shop selling cold Coca Cola, something we haven’t tasted for a few days.

We had planned to head to a historic site on the other side of Mombasa but due to some activity near the police station that shut down many roads in the city, we had to change plans.

We ate a very late lunch and then went to do some shopping at a grocery store to get food for our lunches for the next few days. We won’t return from the villages and schools during the days this week to eat lunch so PB&J’s are on the menu.

The living conditions we have are not anything we were used to a few days ago but Trevor is setting the bar high as he and Buffalo will head to Mazeras to buy a mattress and then be dropped off in Kazameni to live for the next 36 hours interviewing and filming the life in the day of a family with kids that will go to the new school. Trevor and Buffalo will be sleeping in the mud hut with a Kazameni family. We have heard that they will even bring in the animals during the night (goats and chickens). We purchased enough food for Trevor to eat while living in the bush conditions.

Our transportation from place to place is in two vans with drivers. Burt and Steve were asked if they’ve ever driven on the Mombasa roads. They said it is not something they would ever do. Even on a Sunday the traffic was crazy. On the way back tonight one of the vans broke down. We consider it a blessing it didn’t happen five minutes earlier in the Mazeras shopping district and intersection. With a little coordination we all made it back to the house safe. We hope the van troubles will be solved by morning.

Buffalo, the construction foreman was given a gift of steel toed boots this week. The excitement on his face was priceless. As he talked about the boots he received he shared a comment that he received his first pair of shoes as a kid when he started the eighth grade.

Tomorrow we head to Boyani to teach classes, do eye tests and hand out the solar lights to light up the village. Eric is going teach a few kids to juggle with the juggling balls we received from the Kona Pacific Public Charter School in Hawaii.

Time for bed, we have big day tomorrow.

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Travel Update – Day 3

Our first night in Rabai was filled with very strong wind and rain storms causing many to wake during the night. Breakfast was ready early so we could eat and then leave to the village of Kazameni where the Kangakamo school is located. Getting to the village, as with most locations, requires travel on bumpy dirt roads. We drove to a certain point where the drivers said it was no longer safe to drive on the wet and muddy roads. They told us we would have to walk the remaining three kilometers. Seth and Trevor quickly learned that the Kenyan clay soil is very slippery when wet and fell on the muddy road. Trevor was happy that he didn’t damage any camera equipment. Butt (err Burt) happened to be recording Seth when he fell, be sure to watch for the graceful fall in the first out takes video.

As we neared the Kangakamo school we were greeted by singing children who were singing a special song, “Welcome, welcome to Kazameni. We are happy to receive you.” These children will move from their classroom in the mud hut and the stones under trees to the new school with desks on Thursday, a day after the handing over ceremony.

Once we arrived at the school we were greeted by Buffalo (a Koins employee) and his team of forty workers which he introduced to us. It was an honor to applaud them for the fine workmanship. We met the Foreman and his assistant, the brick masons, the painters and the general laborers.  Lastly, and most importantly, the women who walked a few kilometers each way to get water for the cement and mortar were introduced. They collected on top of their daily chores. Buffalo said “getting water for the school was hell.” It was approximated to be almost 1,000 five gallon buckets of water carried on their heads.

We went to Kazamemi to build desks, work on the mural and have the five American women in our group shadow the Kenyan women in the village. They started by doing a few chores including sweeping the dirt floors, making tea, going to the fields to pick some plants (weeds) to boil and prepare to eat (note they didn’t eat with the Kenyan women), shucking corn, shopping at the store (a small mud hut in the village) and finally heading to the watering hole to return with water buckets on their heads. Katelyn had a baby strapped to her back while doing a few chores. Abby said “the work these women do every day is very hard”.

The men assembled desks. Seth commented that the guy with the small hammer could strike the nail three times and it went in perfectly. TJ lead the crew to start mapping out and drawing the mural designed by Mandee. It was hot and arduous work but with the help of Jory and Todd we were able to get the mural drawn and ready to be painted on Tuesday.

After returning to Rabai for lunch, we headed to the Sean Michaels School, a school for disabled children. Some of the children attend a nearby elementary and we learned that a few the children, despite their physical disabilities, have become the top students in their class of 80 or more students. We were able to play games similar to Duck, Duck, Goose. Todd was declared the winner (err loser) in two games. The Sean Michaels School once had solar power but it broke and they no longer have power. We were able to leave them solar lights donated by Grant Victor customers.

As we left the school, the children sang a song over and over which had one statement: the words are: “Thank you, Thank you very much for what you have done”. Despite their disabilities these children were very happy. It was an inspiring moment for each of us.

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Travel Update – Day 2

Our expedition is in full swing having arrived at the Kamoti household in Rabai which will be our sleeping and eating quarters for the next week. From here we will head out each day to the villages, clinics and schools.

After a short nights sleep we started our day eating breakfast at the hotel and taking an opportunity to walk on the beach, a few even took a chance to ride a camel. Leah, who is the Executive Director of Koins for Kenya, came to the hotel to tighten the plans for building desks, teaching classes and the ceremony for handing over the school. Buffalo, another Koins employee, announced tonight that the construction of the the school in Kangakamo is complete. The school took less than six weeks to build. After lunch we loaded the mountain of suitcases in a van and in the back of a small bus and took the long ride to Rabai.

Along the way to Rabai we learned new driving techniques, how to navigate without street signs or stop lights. The two lane road would magically grow to four lanes as the smaller vehicles would pass the semi trucks on the dirt shoulder of the road. Our driver even took us across the oncoming traffic to the shoulder on the opposite side of the road to get to our destination faster.

After arriving at the house and learning about the shower and toilet facilities our bunk assignments were made. We unpacked the supplies to be distributed which just seemed to multiply. We are so excited to distribute the supplies many of you helped put together, collect or donated. Burt and Steve commented this is the largest amount of supplies ever sent. What a blessing each of you are to this expedition.

Just before dusk we walked on the narrow trails through the fields, passing many households, heading to the Crossfit Dam. The dam has been a great blessing to the villages as it provides a closer location to get water in the morning and evening. Along the way we greeted hundreds of children, handed out dum dum suckers and tried to learn a few Swahili words.

Miriam, Saudu, Lydia and Riziki prepared a wonderful Kenyan Dinner. After dinner we discussed the profound thought or observation of the day and two were mentioned: Sarah held a baby and realized quickly that the baby wasn’t wearing a diaper which started a very detailed discussion on the proper way to squat when a porcelain toilet is not available. The second observation was that as horrendous as the traffic was, the drivers were polite and the horns were used for communicating intentions and not a source of anger.

We look forward to building desks and having the women spending time experiencing the day in a life of a Kenyan Woman tomorrow.

 

Travel Update – Day 1

Well, after nearly 30-hours of travel we are here in Mombasa, it’s 2:30 am Friday morning. Here are a few updates: The send off party was incredible with a mini concert from the Grammy Nominated African Children’s Choir. The timing of the group traveling through Kaysville hours before departure made for a perfect experience to get us ready.
After the send off party we headed to the airport to get our luggage tagged and get everyone checked in. The team was ready to board at the gate when we learned of a maintenance delay, which only increased nervousness as the new departure time was schedule 40 minutes later yet we could see a lot of activity around the plane. The departure time passed and the update came that the aircraft had been struck by lightening on an earlier flight and the maintenance crew was confirming the aircraft was safe for a 10-hour flight. The delay extended to 4:00. Our fearless leader Steve put his sharp mind to work calculating impacts to our layover Amsterdam. No impacts were expected. We finally pulled out of the gate at 5:23 pm, three hours later than expected.
The team had opportunities to tell the person next to them on the plane about the journey we are on and that there were so many people who raised money, donated supplies and helped prepare items for this amazing experience. One person said “What an incredible thing your company is doing, it will make a difference in the lives of those you help in the villages.” We arrived in Amsterdam just before 11:00 am local time with a little over an hour to make the connecting flight to Nairobi. Once in Nairobi we collected our luggage and made it through customs and to the last flight to Mombasa.
The flights were uneventful with only a few kinked necks and a little restlessness from the long flight times.

The wisdom from one of the team members about 30 hours of travel is profound: “Don’t sleep through the times when they handout the meals on the flight because you’ll wake up hungry.”

We are now in the hotel, looking to get some rest and are mindful of the support from each of you.

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