Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Since our last blog, our group from Sechelt and Nanaimo (British Columbia, Canada) has had a fantastic safari.  We experienced a new luxurious lodge in Samburu.  Set very high on a huge rock outcropping, the open-air rooms looked out over the most awe-inspiring view of the huge valley with unbelievable views of the mountains and sunsets. 

This lodge has been built in cooperation with the local Kalama Maasai people so our stay was filled with cultural experiences as well as great game drives.  For me, it was a total contrast after spending a week camping in a tent out at Ndandini.  For Jan and the other four ladies who had just flown back from Mount Kilimanjaro after spending eight days climbing that mountain, it was like a completely different world!  We all had a few days to  give our bodies some needed rest and relaxation.

Then, after flying on to the Maasai Mara, we enjoyed four days packed full of the most unbelievable game viewing experiences.  The weather was much cooler and with more showers than we have ever experienced at this time of year but that seemed to keep the animals more active during the day - so it was non-stop action.  No one wanted it to end.  

But we were all also looking forward to our trip out to Ndandini for the dedication/celebration day for the well and greenhouse.

After flying back to Nairobi from the Mara on Saturday September 4th and then riding our bus for 3 1/2 hours to Kitui over some very bad and dusty roads and the very dangerous Mombasa highway, we checked in to the Parkside Villas hotel complex.  The sun was just setting as we arrived.  I wish I could tell you how everyone was feeling as our bus drove through Kitui, with each turn into a new street becoming less developed and poorer, until we finally entered a dirt track that the bus could barely negotiate.  I was at the front of the bus and could just feel the anxiety in the air as to "where is he taking us".  Then right at the end of the track were the gates to the hotel yard.  While still quite basic, for this part of the world it offers quite acceptable accommodation and food.

We soon all gathered for an evening group dinner and a chance to talk with Kimali, the chairman of the Water Management Committee and principal of the Kyaithani Secondary School.

But before I get into that, I need to mention a couple of things,  First is that we were joined in Nairobi by Aksel Nielsen, our project supporter from the Aalborg/Stigsborg Denmark Rotary Club.  It was great to have another of our partner clubs join us to visit the project and experience the excitement of its dedication.

The other is that when I had returned to Nairobi a little over a week ago, Duncan and I attended the Rotary club meeting of our host partner Rotary club, Nairobi Industrial Area.  There, I had the opportunity to update them with the progress that we have made at Ndandini.  I also told them about the excitement of the teachers at Ndandini Primary School upon receiving the new computer.  And I also told them that the teachers were in real need of some basic computer training. I asked them if they could think of any way that we could perhaps find someone to go out to the village for a weekend to conduct some computer training for the teachers.  Imagine my surprise when a guest at the meeting from Nairobi came over and told me that he would be interested in doing that!  This project has had so many magic moments like this one!  So I invited him to come along with us on our trip to the village for the dedication and he accepted - so Silas Oswe was also with us on the  trip.  More on this later in this blog -  keep reading.  Rounding out the group was Duncan, our invaluable project manager.

Everyone got the chance to meet each other and chat informally.  After dinner Kimali talked to us all for a short time and everyone was very impressed with his grasp of the issues, his plans for the Committee, his eloquance and his dedication to helping improve the lives of the people in the sub-area in which Ndandini and Kyaithani are located.

8am on Sunday saw us all on the bus and headed out of Kitui.  Very quickly we turned off the paved road for the hour and a half bumpy ride on the dusty road which quickly became single lane and ultimately not much more than a track.  

The dry river crossings with people scooping for water and miles of travel seeing mostly donkeys carrying jerry cans of water, or people carrying them themselves reminded us all about why we were here.  That water is so essential and that getting it takes so much time and effort for so many people in this and many parts of the world.

The official agenda for the day at the village was scheduled to start about 11am, so we had allowed about an hour and a half to take a very quick tour of the other schools in the area before going to the Ndandini Primary School to start the day.  Our bus driver did a fabulous job of negotiating what in most cases was nothing more than a double track footpath to get us to each of the school yards for the four other primary schools and the secondary school.

Our welcome at the very first school set the tone for the day.  Our arrival interrupted a couple of "Sunday School" classes where the kids were so cute and so excited at our arrival.  Everyone immediately got into talking with the children and teachers and enjoying the time together.  

At each school we also got to see the state of the school buildings and toilets and various attempts at trying to collect whatever rain might fall.  

Everywhere everyone looked we all saw lots of little potential "projects" that could help.  At every school we met interested parents who were so eager to show us the work that they had done to build the school or contribute to its operation.  We all wished that somehow we could share this experience with teachers and parents in the schools where we live.  These schools only function because of the active support of the parents on an ongoing basis.  And these little children walk miles to and from school every day so that they can get an education!

The six schools that we visited today were:
Nthilani Primary School  (motto: Strive to Excel)
Ndunguni Primary School
Muusini Primary School (Hard Work Pays)
Kyaithani Primary School
Kyaithani Secondary School
Ndandini Primary School (Education is Life)

With only 15 minutes at each school, all too soon we had to leave but by 11am everyone already felt that we all knew so much more about the area and the people who live here.

Our last stop before Ndandini was at the Kyaithani Secondary School.  This is a new school just opened in 2009 with only two grades and classrooms.  The challenge is to get a new classroom built each year so that the students can continue their education here as they strive to be able to move on to university.

While here we were treated to some singing by the entire school population - what an emotional experience - such fantastic harmony coming from these young people!  

We learned that it costs 8000 Kenyan shilllings for a student to attend for a year - that's only about $120 to us but an almost impossible amount for them.  A very sobering thought for us all as each of us thought about all the $120's that we spend throughout the year with little to show for it at the end of the year.

Some of the group got so caught up in the excitement of chatting with the students that they joined the students as they walked to the Ndandini Primary schoolgrounds.  Later we all laughed as they recounted to us their thoughts after a half hour of walking in the hot sun about how much further Ndandini was and how the answer each time was "not too far"!

Our driver managed to negotiate the bus all the way to the school for the rest of us and there we all got reunited and joined with four members of our host Nairobi Industrial Area Rotary club who had also come out for the day.  With each passing minute more and more villagers arrived and soon there was a large gathering.

It was impossible to contain the enthusiasm of all the villagers and ourselves.  Too much to see - to many questions to answer.  So for a few minutes everyone got to satisfy their most pressing interests - whether it was inspecting the greenhouse donated by St. Hilda's Anglican church or delivering some much needed sporting equipment for the students to the Ndandini teachers.  

While that was going on, we unloaded another big surprise.  While back in Nairobi and before we did our safari, we had purchased a 32" LCD TV and DVD player so that we could turn the one classroom (in which we had installed solar lights and power) into a audio/visual equipped training room.  Now we could display in high definition (HDMI) on the TV the images from the computer screen.  We can show to the entire class the Planet Earth DVD's from North America that we had brought.  With the new DVD player we could also show local and European DVD's on the TV.  

The excitement of the TV's arrival was something to behold.  

Even more interesting to watch was everyone's effort at unloading the large metal "cage" from the roof of the bus which will be installed in the classroom and house the TV securely.  

That was quite the effort and the students especially enjoyed trying to show us how "many hands make light work" as 10 or 15 of them tried to help carry it and manipulate it through the classroom doorway.  

Now that doorway was quite interesting and clearly had a height designed for primary school students as several Rotarian heads discovered (especially Aksel's) and carried home bruises to prove it!

Soon the short program of formalities at the school got underway - to dedicate the greenhouse, the solar system and the computer/TV/internet link.  

After appropriate introductions of Kenyan and international guests, an explanation by me (with translation) of how the project happened and all the people who had donated to make it possible, and a formal "thank you" from the village, we then were lead in a dedication prayer by the local AIC pastor Kitiwa.  Then the local villagers and students got to participate!

The singing and dancing were so special as each performance thanked us for the water and the greenhouse and for helping improve their education. 

The absolute highlight was a performance by 25 of the most adorable pre-school children you could ever see.  They had walked all the way from the very first school that we stopped at to get here!  As their performance unfolded, in absolutely clear and perfect English, we watched as sometimes groups of 3 or 4, or sometimes only 1, would continue to shout out the story line of what they hoped to become and how much they appreciated our help in giving them education.  We were so moved!  We asked them to repeat it several times so we could film it and just plain enjoy it over and over.

No important village celebration gathering can be compete without eating - and the village ladies had prepared ugali and veggies and cooked goat for everyone - so our carefully prepared boxed lunches on the bus remained on the bus and we all gratiously (if not enthusiastically) enjoyed the bowl of food that we were given for lunch.  They had even brought soft drinks for us!  

While eating lunch, Terry got to chat with the personal assistant of the Member of Parliament for the constituency that Ndandini is in.  He indicated that the MP was very supportive of the things that were happening in Ndandini.  That was encouraging as Terry wonders about what would be discussed at a personal meeting with the MP in Nairobi on Monday to which he was invited.

With a new burst of energy, after lunch in the heat of the day under a bright blue sky we all started our walk to the well site.  

We had arranged this specifically to give us guests an appreciation for what walking to the well is like.  Based on the reaction of the group, I am glad that I didn't have everyone carry a 20 liter jerry can of water as well!!  

Some thought it would be closer than others and all discovered what walking 2.5 km in the hot sun is like.  Everyone learned form the experience - especially those who took the opportunity to talk with all the villagers and children that accompanied us.  Afterwards, and every day since, we continue to be amazed at all the knowledge that we have gained from individual conversations that occurred during the walk.  It was an excellent time to mingle with the villagers.

At the well site, Terry gave a brief explanation (with translation) to the large crowd of how the well worked.  How water was pumped from 90 meters down in the ground into the three large tanks; how the machine in the building created electricity to run the pump; and how the water would flow to the kiosk and out of the four taps into their jerry cans.  He explained that if one used the hand pump at the shallow well and pumped very hard that you could fill a 20 liter jerry can in 1 minute.  And how that same jerry can could be filled in only 20 seconds under the new taps at the kiosk.  Terry then asked the crowd how long it would take them to fill that jerry can when scooping in the river - and got consensus that it would likely take 20 MINUTES!

A short dedication prayer for the water was given by the area Bishop and Kimali stressed to the people that the water was not owned by the white people - that it had been given to them and that they had the responsibility to use it for the benefit of the community. 

The Water Management Committee had asked Terry to also make a major announcement  - that for one month, to encourage them all to try the clean water the water would be FREE.  That was met with great shouts of happiness and thankfulness!!

We explained that the three tanks were already full of clean water and that there was enough water in them to fill 2,400 jerry cans.  We also told them that we would show them how much water the well can produce.  We told them to watch the overflow outlets at the top of the three tanks but to be careful that they did not get wet.  Then we started the generator.

Immediately the crowd made a mad rush to distance themselves from the tanks where they had been sitting.  Soon we all saw the first dribbles of water from the first tank and within a minute water was pouring out of it.  Soon water was pouring out of all three overflow outlets.  What an amazing sight ensued.  The children especially enjoyed touching the stream of water.  That soon became the enjoyment of splashing in it until their clothes were soaked.  One little guy enjoyed "showering" his shaven head.  Others rushed to collect whatever bottle they could find to fill and drink the water.

Everyone now knows that there really is water here.  We let the water run for a while to ensure that they knew it was for real and that there was lots.  Meanwhile other people were trying the taps at the kiosk and the local musical group set up and started performing.

It was a great climax to a lot of hard work and anticipation.  I wish that every donor had been able to be here to share in the experience.  And I wish that somehow we could tell the world how important water is to people like these who for so long have had it so hard to get water and now have hope of a better life.

All too soon it was after 4pm and time to head back to the school for the wrap up ceremonies.  It had been an unbelievably emotional experience for us and for the villagers.  We had told everyone that this was to be a celebration and no gifts - but they did not listen, so they enjoyed thankfully giving us their traditional hand carved (heavy and bulky) stools, gourds and baskets.  Along with their advice on how to only use the small stool (me) because the big stool was for the lady and head of the house.  And instruction for Jan on how to put the strap around her forehead to carry the weight of the attached basket!

Before the day's event concluded, Silas announced that he would be returning to the village in late September to conduct a teacher training course for the donated computer.  The teachers were really excited to hear that.   And we were so thankful that Silas had decided to get involved in the computer aspect of the project. 

Leaving was very hard.  But we all have the satisfaction of knowing that three years of very hard work and the donations of all our partners within Rotary, the individuals who donated to , and the generosity of the congregation of St. Hilda's Anglican church in Sechelt British Columbia have started to make a difference in the lives of many people here in the Ndandini area of Kenya!

God bless you - everyone!



  1. Congratulations Terry and all who have helped on this wonderful project. Cheryl & Karen

  2. Words don't seem enough! Congratulations everyone!