Monday, June 4, 2012

Kenya: Contradictions Continued

Wherever we went in Western Kenya we saw children walking to and from school, most dressed neatly in school uniforms. In fact, my observation was that even the poorest here seem to do their best to dress in clean and presentable clothes. Despite the heat that I felt, the locals thought that it was cold and the children and adults alike all wore sweaters, long sleeve shirts and even winter coats. It is difficult to get over the irony of being at the equator and watching people complaining about the cold. Of course, I did my own Parkinson related "shivering" due to stress of a heavy travel schedule, sleeping in a new bed most every night, missing my nap in the middle of the day and, perhaps most importantly, dealing with the constant barrage of "newness". Traveling, especially into areas of the world that are different than anything you've experienced before, can be exhausting. After more than a month on the road I am feeling the effects. Hopefully, this is not the forerunner of some illness, but just a reminder that people with Parkinson's need to be of very aware of the disease-caused limitations (without being a slave to them).
Our interest in going to West Kenya was, in part, to see the work being undertaken by Hands-On Development Initiatives International (HODI), a small charity operated in large part by a Kenyan family with links to British Columbia. We got to know a little bit about this work through Jarvis, a member of this family, who is also a fellow student and a friend of my daughter. In fact, we were met at the airport by Jarvis's father, who also has made arrangements for accommodation and transport is to be community where HODI carried out most of its activities. Of course, getting there was an adventure in itself. As was typical in rural Kenya, the roads were obviously not a priority. However, this did not seem to slow down any of the local drivers, who barely missed pedestrians, livestock, and other vehicles by a few inches/centimeters.
In a number of respects, HODI, has adopted the home village of Jarvis's family, Muhanda, located approximately one hour away from Kisumu. Upon arriving at the preschool, built and operated through the efforts of HODI, we were greeted by approximately 150 preschool children between the ages of 3.5 and 6 years old, all dressed in uniform. Led by their teachers, the kids sang a queue songs in English, most of them with enthusiasm and smiles. Having spent a portion of the morning observing the teachers and children, it was obvious that this was a good work, benefiting the children by feeding, educating, and providing an encouraging environment for their growth and development. Were it not for this school and its programs many would go hungry for the day, lack the preparatory work some of them need to engage in primary education, and, perhaps most importantly, live in unhealthy circumstances that discourage personal development. Speaking with the teachers, it was obvious that they are passionate about helping the poorest and most helpless children. This took the full child into consideration. For one child, it led to a constant battle between the teachers seeking to treat that child's "jiggers" (a type of flea found in Kenya and other countries, which burrows into the skin and causes infection, particularly of feet), and his unsanitary home environment where the situation was being re-created or worsened. The picture shown above was not staged, but simply resulted from the taking the initiative to pick up one of the smaller ones (whom, I learned later, was also one of the most underprivileged children coming to the preschool).
The second project that we viewed was a water project that supplied a significant portion of the village with clean (chlorinated) water to their homes, some schools and other establishments. Without this system, the supply of water (not necessarily clean) within some distance away, requiring transportation by hand. This system was built by HODI with the assistance of the community, and is now owned by the community through its own user-elected Water Committee, which ensures that the system is fully functional, modified where required, and that the amount users are charged (assuming they have the means to pay) is fair.
Two other HODI projects are either in process or just beginning. There is a medical clinic that we visited, where expansion is installed due to process and funding. We saw how the existing clinic premises were full, with at least 30 or 40 people lined up to see the one doctor. One project that was just beginning, in terms of construction, was a community-oriented micro-finance concept. This involves the construction of a small dairy facility, housing several milk cows, with a rabbit hutch mezzanine and biogas facility to be added later. This is all next to the school property , which has attracted a lot of the students' attention . The foundations were being dug, and the simple type of mud/rock concrete "poured", the morning we were there. Other than shovels and one wheelbarrow, the two barefoot laborers and a "foreman" (who was actually the pastor of a local church congregation) had no tools whatsoever. In fact, the whole time we were in West Kenya I saw no more than one or two pieces of farm machinery or other types of equipment. Mechanization is a luxury in this part of the world. Hard, back breaking long hours of labor with inadequate tools and equipment are normal here.
What struck me strongly about our visit to the western parts of Kenya, and particularly the HODI projects that we saw, is how much can be done with so little. This is as opposed to North America where so little is done with so much. I wonder, have we in the developed world forgotten the lessons that were taught to us by our ancestors and that made our countries what they are? If so, what are the consequences?


  1. awwww I hope you have extra room in your take home bag for some of those adorable kids! Patrick could use a little brother or sister! Hope your well. Can't wait till your home.

  2. What a blessing to have your refections. Thank you, Bob.

  3. Will focus some prayer toward your health for the second half. The kind of traveling you are doing is wearing. I hope you find a way to get those short but sweet afternoon naps.