Thursday, October 4, 2012

We visit Ndandini and the Kyaithani school cluster - 19Sept 2012

Below is an extract of our day at Ndandini Village, taken from Jan's travelogue at .

Also, click HERE to watch a video of our visit.
It's been 12 months since we last visited the community where our successful 300 foot deep clean water well was drilled back in June 2010. The well has been producing clean water since then and this year the sponsors' project completed a project with tractor and water bowser to distribute the water from the well to each of the 6 schools in the community and to the community greenhouse. Today we are visiting the community and the schools. We were awake before 4am after getting to bed at 1:30am! We were excited to be going back and see the results and take along some more computers and communications equipment.

Opening at 6am the breakfast buffet at the TRIBE was splendid - fresh fruits, cereals and pastries; cheeses and cold meats, and everything you would want for a hot breakfast: eggs to cooked to order, lamb and pork sausage, onion potato wedges, garlic spinach, coconut rice, stewed tomatoes, bacon, red bean stew and fresh juices, tea and wonderful Kenyan coffee. By 7am we were ready and waiting for Duncan (our Project Manager) and George, our taxi driver for the last many years who has spent many nights sleeping in his van in Ndandini while we slept in our tent.

By 730am our ride had arrived and we had packed our supplies for the day (water and cookies) and the supplies for the village. The traffic through Nairobi was very busy but nothing compared to the horrendously busy traffic heading into downtown. It was quite the ride for Jackie and Neil since they had arrived at sunset the previous night - the roads here are not for the faint of heart. By 8:45 we reached the Machakos turn off (on the Nairobi to Mombasa road) and took a 5 minute stop at the Quik Stop gas station to stretch our legs and straddle the holes in the floor, but the toilets were quite clean and well maintained. It was quite cloudy which was good for us since as soon as the sun started burning off the clouds, the temperatures rose rapidly!

The scenery gets very pretty here as you drive through the Chula hills - beautiful rock formations, and lots of stone everywhere with men sitting by the sides of the road with a hammer breaking the tones into smaller stones. Trucks come by to purchase the slabs of rocks and pebbles - in fact this is where our drilling rig stopped two years ago on the way to Ndandini to purchase sacks of gravel to pack around the drill casing. Much of the hillsides are terraced to retain the soil and grow produce.
Our next stop was at Wamunyu Craft workshop where we spent 30 minutes looking around the workshops where men from the Kamba tribe were sitting cross legged on the floor in the chips from all their wood carvings carving elephants, nativity scenes, and other items - making beautiful pieces with pretty crude adz and rasp. One chap was sawing through a tree trunk that was probably 18 inches diameter with a hand saw - no wonder he had such a slim waist - it was very hard work! There is also a showroom with finished goods - each with the number of the carver so that they receive the proceeds from any sales, less the 10% that they pay to the co-op.

This was our last stop before turning off the highway at KwaVonza (before Kitui) for the last 45 minute drive on the red dirt dusty road past Kusiani town into Kyaithani and the 5 primary schools that are part of our project. This just felt like coming home for Terry and I - we have been here so often now and notice any changes which are usually not many! Jackie and Neil were excited and so anticipating seeing and meeting the children and adults - but I'm not sure they expected the greeting that they would receive at our first stop which was the Nthilani Secondary School. The parents and children were lined up at the school gates waiting for us - just overwhelming and spectacular. They sang and danced as they welcomed us into the school yard. First let me tell you that the Kenya School Teachers who are on strike for better salaries - they earn about $179 per month (15,000 Kenya shillings)- so there have been no classes for the last 2 1/2 weeks. Because we were coming to visit, the school kids all put their school uniforms on, the parents put on their Sunday finest to come and meet us, and the teachers were also dressed in their best to meet us - it was so overwhelming and so special. Please do put a visit to our wonderful community on your bucket list for travel - we simply can't put words to the experience and the welcome that you will receive.
We first visited this dry and barren area with a wonderful group of friends and clients in 2007 - now we have made some progress with the help of our own Rotary Club: Rotary Club of Sunshine Coast - Sechelt BC Canada, and 27 other Rotary Clubs around the world, as well as our own wonderful supportive friends. The successful 300 feet deep well was drilled in June 2010 and this year as we visited the 6 schools in the cluster we are finally seeing positive results of providing clean water to the schools and all the community. We were told at each of the 6 schools how the clean water has meant healthy children and parents, and a vibrant community working together with hopes for the future. The last 6 years have been so full of challenges - some of them overwhelming at times, but today we saw so many smiling and happy faces - how we wish every sponsor could have been with us to see them!
We sang with the children, we shook as many hands as we could, we took photos of their smiling faces, we had photos of us taken with them. We listened to their successes, and their needs and hopes for the future, and every time we told them we could not promise anything, we had no funds for future projects, but we would try to help if we could. We did this again and again, at Nthilani Primary, Ndunguni Primary, Muusini Primary, Kyaithani Primary, Ndandini Primary and lastly Kyaithani Secondary School- at every stop the kids in uniforms, the teachers and the parents waiting to greet us and talk with us.
This always requires an interpreter since many of the adults speak only Kswahili or their own tribal language - but don't think that stops anyone! They have so much to tell us that they come up, they grab our hands, and start speaking - we just smile and nod and say yes - and they excitedly keep talking and telling us everything they have waited to tell us. Kimali (the Kyaithani School Headmaster) manages the school cluster and has been hugely instrumental in getting the 6 schools and their communities to work together for academic goals and for the goals of the Ndandini water project.

Just days ago Kimali's younger brother collapsed and passed away unexpectedly but Kimali spent the day with us today, with smiles and words of encouragement for every child and parent - and us! The burial is this coming weekend, and we were honoured to spend a short time with Kimali's family (mother, sister in law, children) and pay our respects as the community gathers around and supports the grieving family while the grave is being dug on their familial lands.

We also visited the well site by the dry riverbed - Neil said "is that the river?" - it is a massive sand bed perhaps 200 feet wide, not a drop of water in sight, that has seen one night of rain this year - the drought has lasted for over 15 years now. The deep well facilities are fenced and utilised every day by the driver of the tractor and bowser water trailer (the Rotary project completed this year) to deliver water to the water tanks installed this year at each of the 6 schools in the cluster. Horror of horrors, 11 days ago the wheel hub (the flange around the bearing) disintegrated and no water could be delivered to the schools. This was fixed by CMC in Nairobi and today the tractor and water bowser were very busy filling the tanks at the schools which have been emptied over the last 11 days. (I could tell you how the Kyaithani Secondary School took photos of the damage, emailed them to us in Canada, we contacted our Project Manager Duncan in Nairobi and he looked after the inspection and repairs by CMC) - this is almost like science fiction in this environment - and all made possible by the camera, and internet-enabled computer donated last year by sponsors to Kyaithani Secondary School and their great teachers working so hard to help the kids progress and have a chance at a better future.
It was an overwhelming day full of laughs, smiles, serious issues, tears, dust and more dust!! We visited Ndandini Primay School and met the new Headmaster Joshua -a wonderful man facing serious challenges. His greenhouse is full of tomatoes just about ready to harvest - due in large part to Eric who has spent so much time learning how to look after the tomato plants for the benefit of the Ndandini School's meal program. We also looked at the Community Garden Greenhouse - a huge greenhouse almost twice the size of Ndandini Primary School greenhouse and jam packed with masses of tomatoes almost ready to harvest. Without the water this area would still be destitute and dry. All the problems are far from being solved but are able to be addressed now one at a time as long as there is water available. During the past 11 days, the parents at all the schools and at the community garden have fetched water from the dry riverbed or from the wellsite by donkey to keep the crops in their school gardens or in the greenhouses alive and growing. Now that's dedication!

Anyway - it was very busy! The Secondary school kids finished the afternoon with singing and dancing, a funny skit which they loved to act, and huge cheers when we confirmed that tomorrow they, all 135 of them plus teachers, would be going by bus into Nairobi - where they have never been before - to visit the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, the Giraffe Centre, and the Nairobi Natural History Museum. They will leave school on 3 sixty passenger buses at 5am, and we will meet up with them at the Sheldick Elephant Orphanage. They have never seen the wildlife that Kenya is so famous for - just imagine what a day this will be for them!

We finally left Kyaithani at 830pm and George drove us the 3 hours back to Nairobi to the wonderful TRIBE hotel. It's now 2:00am Thursday morning - we must get some sleep since in the morning we are responsible for ensuring every one of those kids gets a box lunch when they arrive at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust at 1100am!!
Jan & Terry Umbach

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