Saturday, 11 August 2012

"Out of Africa"

Hello everyone, sadly this is our last blog for Kenya as we now have left the continent of Africa and move onto our vacation else where. There is so much to say that we do not even know where to begin.
We had an awesome time in Kenya. We enjoyed and immersed ourselves in a beautiful country and more so a friendly culture.

It saddens us that we had to leave Omwabini, the orphans, the teachers and staff there, the communities and their people and most of all our hosts the Bunyasi family. They took us in as part of their family and shared their thoughts, ideas and beliefs, their past, their dreams, and their future plans for Omwabini. (Mama Mary especially). They are strong Christians and they have a positive outlook on life, no matter how bleak things look at times.  They trust in God at all times.  We pray that God will continue to bless them - they really need His help! We will miss each person we met and we hope that some day God will bless us to be able to return.

After Omwabini we went on a Safari to the Masai Mara and Lake Nakaru (4 days, 3 nights). As far as Safaris go, there is no guarantee as to who your guide will be and what he knows and what types of animals you will see. Again we were blessed. Our guide’s name was Ikua (e-ku-ah), who is a Christian, was experienced and very knowledgeable and an all round great person. We had a lot of fun with him and learned a lot about Africa and the animals that we saw.  We couldn’t stump him on any question!  Miraculously the daily rain fall never occurred during a game drive. As for the wildlife, we saw just about anything and everything you could imagine to find in the plains and waters of Africa. Some were less visible than others, such as the lions (hiding in tress and grasses) and some had less numbers than usual such as the Flamingos (hundreds instead of a million or so), but that did not really matter, we still saw them. Again it was unbelievable to marvel at the wonders and diversity of God’s creation.

Thanks for following us and we hope that you enjoyed our blog. Email us at if you have any questions about what we did and saw in Kenya and at Omwabini.

Thanks, Ken, Marlene, Robyn, Jason, Andrew Eerkes.

The Bunyasi family and us.

Lunch under acacia tree on our safari

Yes those are Giraffes with no fence between us and them - only 15 meters away. Too Cool.

As the sun sets over the savanna, we say:

Saturday, 4 August 2012

A new home gives hope

How an “Omwabini house” is built

First we “square off” a rectangle measuring 18 feet (sides) by 14 feet (ends) and then we dig 20 post holes using iron rods and metal bowls for scoops.. The posts are all measured, cut, placed, levelled and back filled in a similar manner to putting up a fence. The posts are typically from cedar or blue gum trees. A top rail is then placed on the two side walls. Four trusses are built and placed on the rails, two being the ends and two spaced evenly in the middle. The end posts are now measured and cut so that they can be nailed into the end trusses. Additional rails are then assembled on the trusses to support the tin roof. All of the rails are from Eucalyptus trees as they are skinny long and narrow, very similar to Lodge Pole Pine trees. The roof consists of eight sheets of tin on each side that over lap and hang over the walls. When someone asks you how big your house is, you tell how many sheets of tin you have. While the roof is going up, we start strapping the walls. This is done by nailing branches and trees varying in length and width and they can come from any type of tree including bamboo. They are typically spaced 12 to 16 inches apart and are done on both sides of the walls. The purpose of the strapping is to support the mud that is placed into the “wall form” to actually “form” the wall itself. A wooden door is placed in between two posts to one side of the side wall, a window is placed on the same side wall and a second window is typically placed in the other side wall cross corner from the first window. Most houses then have a secondary wall built inside the house to form two rooms; this is to provide a sleeping area and living area. Mud is mixed and made from the soil right next to the house. The soil is mixed with water to form the mud. It is shovelled and turned over many times and the process includes stomping in the mud as you would stomp on grapes. The mud is shaped into “loafs” and carried to the house and placed directly into the walls. Once the walls are completed, the mud has to cure and dry for possibly one week. Once that has been completed a second coat of mud is placed onto the first layer of mud. The first layer of mud has a rough finish; the second layer fills in the gaps and has a smoother finish. After the second layer has cured and dried a third layer of mud is then placed on the walls. This third layer of mud is different; the mud is made from grey clay that has to be brought in. It provides for a very smooth, hard and clean finish to the walls. When the floors are made, they are made from a mixture of soil and cow dung. As strange as it sounds this combination makes for a clean and easy to maintain floor. Concrete would be better, however that is no where in the budget at this time.

The old house is now made into the cook house, no more fires in the new house that they will live in as it is unhealthy and unsafe. If the old house is unsafe, it will be “renovated” into a cook house.

The house also comes with a small table and two benches for eating inside and a mattress to sleep on. The recipient will also receive a goat for milk and seeds and fertilizer to start growing food to eat and sell. Alternatively, they may also receive a small amount of money of the seeds to start a “business” where will sell produce or product of some type.

Now for the “catch(es)” as this is a participatory project. Each community, family and recipient is assessed individually to see what the needs are and how they can participate.  Some individuals and communities are poorer than others and some are more equipped than others. The participatory process for a recipient also includes the community to assist in the project as the hope is to also strengthen the community. Some communities are better and stronger than others, so this has to be taken into account in the evaluation process.

Typically the wood is donated by the community. If it is not available or no one donates, then it is purchased by Omwabini, however the owner has to collect the strapping. The Omwabini crew does not come out to build the structure or supply the tin until the wood is on site. Omwabini builds the base structure with some help from the recipients and community and they also help start the first mudding process; however the recipient has to mix the mud. The recipient has to complete the first layer of mud before they receive the door and windows. And so goes the process; second and third layers and floors have to be done before the recipient receives the other components. They must also receive training on how to maintain their home to ensure that it remains clean and well kept.

 We've been privileged to be a part of building four homes - 2 widows (Gladys and Evelyn) and 2 families (Joesph and George) Two of these families had no home at all and were renting tiny spaces, all they could afford (ie - rather horrible).  The other two had homes that were falling down, leaking, and otherwise unsafe and tiny. 

It is a wonderful partnership to witness and be a part of. You can not imagine how happy, excited and thankful the recipients are. Follow up research and stats show how much better the recipient’s lives have become, both physically with less health issues, and emotionally with less worries and stress.  Most all  they now live with hope.

Evelyn's old home

Digging post holes

Strapping the walls

Moving the gooey mud

Adding the tin roof

The first layer of mud forms the walls

Evelyn's new home. Second layer completed on the inside and well on her way to working on the second layer on the outside. Some already live in their house at this stage as it is usually better that the original house.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Clean water!

Unprotected springs are great breeding grounds for Cholera and Typhoid, and humans and animals may use that same water source. A typical spring may feed thousands of people including schools and who knows how many animals? An unprotected spring is normally a pool of water fed by an underground water source. It is exposed to the sun, air, frogs, algae and more.
A land owner has to give permission for the protected spring to be built on their land as the unprotected spring is “their spring”. Typically this spring is already being accessed by the local community. Also an analysis of the community and spring needs to be done first and once they meet the requirements of Omwabini, a protected spring will be built.

A new future route (trench) for the water is dug close to the current water source without interfering with the water supply as people still need to use it. This trench from the water source to the new protected spring is lined with rocks to act as natural filter and these rocks are protected by a liner on top of them that prevents the soil from falling into the rocks. This trench and old spring are buried at a later time close to finalizing the project. Another trench is dug from the new spring to rejoin the current water path down stream. A reservoir is built that will be fed by the current spring. This reservoir has an inlet holes for the water to enter from the new filtered stream and two exit pipes raised high enough to allow buckets to fit under them. The inlet holes and exit pipes are high enough to let any sediment, if there is any, to fall to the bottom of the reservoir so that only clean water flows out.

Today was the commissioning of the protected spring we helped to construct. It was attended by people from different communities that have already received protected springs from Omwabini and communities that wish to have one. It was also attended by health officials and regional government representatives. Most important it was attended by those from the community who were to receive the protected spring and those that worked on it. There were many speeches from EVERYONE totally 3 ½ hours as we were informed by our children and “Mama Mary’s” was the longest. We, of course, had the seats of honour in front of everyone and strove to look keenly interested in every word. (Yup, that African patience did come in mighty handy).

Mary made sure everyone remembered who donated the land, who paid for the spring, who worked on it and more so who did not work on it and should have. Also who is responsible to maintain it and how it has to remain clean for health reasons. She also explained some more about Omwabini and what is does in the communities and told the “river story” reflecting on how to help and educate people (instead of continually giving them handouts). It was noted that this spring feeds 2900 people, some of who come from a few kilometres away.

The unprotected well being used
The unprotected well

Building the new protected well; digging the trenches and reservoir hole

Building with the bricks

Working with the finishing cement

More finishing with cement

Fresh clean water flows out

The protected well

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Just Snip it

Hello again everyone,

This has been a week filled with less work and more observation, a little hard on our Dutch Calvinist work ethic.  We have been checking into the progress of all the projects we have helped to start – three homes and a protected water spring.  Omwabini has a very strict and correct policy that the families and communities must be highly involved in all of their projects in order for them to take ownership of and care for the project themselves.  Otherwise people think they can just sit back and not only let the white mzungus pay for the project, but also do all the work and they will just reap the benefits.   It’s an excellent policy, but we feel much more useful diving in and working.  We have learned to sit back and let the African laid back culture soak in a little more.

It is also important to them that we see how the money we raised is being put to use.  Some of the money was ear marked for education, so we have also been introduced to a few students who are in technical schools or university and are sponsored by Omwabini.  Their tuition was in arrears and the fund had has allowed their fees to be paid.  These funds have also paid for tuition for many of the secondary school children (our grades 9-12), so we paid a visit to these schools again and took pictures of those students.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we could hardly complain about lack of work.  We worked really hard that day!   (Well, aside from the fact that we left 2 hours later than expected, getting up at 5:00 am for naught)  We drove about 2 ½ hours to get to a place called Busia, 1 km from the Ugandan border. (A journey we were told would take 1 ½ hours.  No surprise there).  There we were to complete an entire house in a day, up to the first coat of mud.  Well, due to our late start and a huge afternoon rain squall (resulting in thick, slippery mud), we only got as far as the framing.  However, this was a lot of work given the intense heat of the day and the extremely hard packed ground.  The 2 foot post holes are dug using only an iron rod and metal bowls for scooping dirt.  That took a long time and man did we fry!!  The roofs are also constructed differently there – a hip roof instead of a gable, so there was a lot more work to do on the trusses.  By 6:30 pm we were pretty tired and finally heading home – the rest of the house will be finished after we leave.  The recipient’s old home had partially caved in and they could no longer live there.  He is an HIV carrier and his wife and 6 children are all HIV positive.  His wife is not expected to live much longer.

(As an aside – I am now typing this by flashlight as once again the power is out.  It cuts out every day for any period of time and it usually coincides with our daily rain shower/downpour J)

I forgot to mention earlier that on Sunday Andrew cooked up the two boxes of macaroni and cheese that he had brought – his favourite comfort food.  Redempta let him use the charcoal cooker outside instead of cooking over the fire in the smoky cookhouse.  He gave most of the macaroni to the many people living in the other house in our compound, and they loved it.

One last thing of note…I may have mentioned that now that it is August, it’s a big month in this part of Kenya.  Every two years August is CIRCUMCISION month.  Yup, and we get to be here.  Could life get any better! Woohoo.  Boys between 10 and 16 are circumcised throughout this month.  What we have seen so far:  Boys in groups of 2-5 jogging up and down the streets rattling musical type instruments, blowing whistles and singing.  As the day goes on they are joined by more and more males (relatives, etc).  This will carry on all day and all night with lots of dancing and drinking of a home made beer.  Then the naked boys are covered in a coat of cold river mud and surrounded by these many people as they noisily make their way down the street on the way to the actual event.  The boys are kept closely surrounded by the others so that no curse can reach them (causing a botched snip).  Witch craft is very common here.  When we saw this crowd waving sticks and shouting coming down the street towards us, we at first thought is was a riot!  Thankfully, it was just a REALLY happy, if rowdy, crowd on their way to a SNIPPING procedure.  Just a note – not all boys have it done this way.  Many, including the Omwabini boys, go the hospital for the event.

Tomorrow we have the special ceremony dedicating the newly protected well for the community.  Many speeches in Swahili….sounds like we will make use of our acquired cultural patience!

How much mud can you work in and carry on your shoe?

Andrew cooking his Mac and Cheese supper by head lamp

Girls from Omwabini attending a girls secondary public school

Orphan girls from Omwabini

The Circumcision "riot" dancing down the street

The Busia house that is being replaced, house #4

Written on the Busia house wall: "Only God knows my problems so that shut out and leave me alone Jesus is able"

Here comes the rain again!

Monday, 30 July 2012

See what we saw

A "work bench" in the Lab used for testing blood

Sewing class


Cooking  a large pot of Ugali

A dorm room

Monkeying around on the one and only play structure

Where's the washing machine?

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Chicken and Church

It’s Sunday, just before supper.  It’s been a real African sort of day.  We thought we might try a different English speaking church this morning.  Well, that was the plan anyways.  But at 8:00 this morning Mama Mary came in for a lengthy visit and told us we were going to her church this morning.  Sure, we’re not fussy.  So what if it’s all in Swahili and we will not understand anything.  We get there at 10:30, but of course, being white, we first have to meet all the church elders and staff, then go see the vicar’s house (it’s an Anglican church).  Then the Sunday school children sing us a song in English, then we are told (against our wishes) to sit at the front of the church in “special” chairs.  By now it’s after 11:00 and church sort of begins. .  In total there were about 50 people in church including us (the Sunday school children have vanished).  There is a very nice man – the church secretary- who translates the goings on into English for us:  so far so good.  All the various “important” people in church then stand and introduce themselves to their “special visitors”, then we have to stand and I have to introduce all of us, etc, etc.  Still, nothing too unusual.

Of course, now that we are feeling well loved by these friendly people, and there has been some real nice singing, the “Bomb” is dropped.  “Ken, could you please preach for us this morning?’  I (Marlene) could not look at him for fear I would burst out in a nervous laugh, or somehow draw attention to myself and they would ask ME to preach.  Ken looked a little shell shocked, but pulled himself together nicely.  They gave him about 10 minutes to prepare (more singing, etc) and he did pretty well – about a 20 minute talk including the translating.   And, he actually had a point in his message.

Then even more “fun”…apparently the diocese has a project in a nearby city and funds are desperately short, so they began collecting money and totalling it right there.  Today’s total came to $1400 Kenya Shillings (about $17.50 Canadian dollars) and one chicken (Who was about to lay an egg, according the chicken butt-feeling expert). The chicken then went up for bid, and it was pretty clear that the “special visitors” should bid on it.  We were told the going price would be $300 - 400 KS, so Ken gave $500 KS ($6.25ish Canadian), and we became the proud owners of a chicken.  Sadly, we have no experience handling live chickens, so when they handed it to Andrew it flapped in his face and he dropped it in surprise, and then Ken had to deal with a flapping frightened chicken.  Too funny.  The congregation was then asked to try to match our $500 KS, and they came up with $345 KS (about $5 Canadian).  This is all BIG money for them; they can hardly afford these contributions as so many of them can barely eek out a living.

Needless to say we donated the chicken back to the church in the hope more little chicks will be hatched to “sell” to the next “special visitor” or to sell at market to raise more money for the church. A church member was then assigned to the task of keeping care of the chicken.

OK, enough about our fun service (and by now its 1:30 PM, by the way).  After lunch we went for a walk along the beautiful back roads of Kimilili. We met a very kind older man who chatted away with us and insisted we go to his house which was “just ahead”.  That turned to be more like ¾ of a km, and he REALLY wanted us to come in for a visit (only 10 minutes…like we don’t know by now that really means 1 hour minimum).  It was thundering and starting to rain, and we wanted to get to the orphanage to be with the kids, so we begged off, but he also insisted on walking us back to the orphanage.  It was pouring by the time we got there, so we couldn’t stay……so we will be back another day.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Happy Birthday Marlene

Today is July 28 and it is Marlene’s XXth birthday. She wanted it to be low key, so we did not tell anyone here about it. However we did do something unusual for her birthday, go figure as we are in Kenya. Instead of spending Marlene’s birthday in the usual way and camping some where in North America, Mary and her sons James and Victor Bunyasi from Omwabini took us on a trip from Kimilili to Kisumu, Kenya which is about a 2 1/2 hour drive. When doing so you cross the equator, so we had to take a picture standing on the equator.  How often do you get the chance to do that on your birthday? We enjoyed the ride through a very unique countryside, had lunch in Kisumu, tried to do some Hippo watching at Lake Victoria, did some shopping and went home. A long day, but a good day.

Standing on the equator

Lunch in Kisumu