Thursday, 5 April 2012

Nyasae Ogwedhi

This will be my last post from Kosele for a little while. My wife Judi has just been diagnosed with breast cancer so I'm flying home tomorrow to be with her, Tom and Ellie, (our children). It would be great if blog readers of the praying persuasion could pray.

I'm leaving Kosele in good hands. Our key managers, (Mary, Duncan and Madam Nyangwe, the Head Teacher), are keen, conscientious and committed to success. Isaiah and Harrison, our Agriculture College teachers are also an inspiration, (to me and to the students).

As I type it's raining steadily. The rainy season does, at last, seem to have arrived. The maize is sprouting, our sukuma wiki, (kale), patch looks like a small forest and all our seeds are planted. It will be a busy week on the farm next week. All the pupils and students are on their Easter break but should be coming in during the morning so they continue to receive breakfast and lunch. They will be able to use the energy to make sure our entire farm is a weed free zone.

I'll continue to post the blog from England, (though possibly not every day). As they say in Kosele, "Nyasae Ogwedhi" - God be with you.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Open source - opening minds

The joys of modern technology! As part of our aim to make the Agriculture College a really excellent place to study I'm setting up a learning zone website so the students can access up to date information in lots of formats, (audio, video and  pdf files). It's not rocket science and this type of material is taken for granted in the west. Over here it is a different story. Slow and unreliable Internet connections make it difficult to depend on as a way of delivering this type of content. The solution is to run the website from the computers rather than on the web. The site still looks like it's on the internet and runs at a cracking speed. It's been good fun setting it up. I've been hoarding all the resources that the website links to for some time now, (“for a time such as this”). I'm on a bit of a mission to make ICT affordable in our part of Kenya. I'm a great fan of open source, (i.e. free), software. Two programs in particular have helped me with my current ICT projects.

For the day to day business of creating documents, spreadsheets and presentation I've been using an office suite called Libre Office. It's completely free and is a total replacement for the much more expensive Microsoft Office. It's also very easy to use as it hasn't upgraded to the MS Office ribbon style of interface, (those of you who have experienced this 'innovation' and found it less than impressive will know what I'm talking about). Libre Office has done all that I need it to for the last month and I've just installed it on our school and college laptops. It opens and saves MS Office files, (including files saved in the new versions). If you want to find out more go to

The second piece of free software that I'm really keen on is called kompozer. It's a web site design program and gives the much more expensive Dreamweaver a run for it's money. I've just created the whole Learning Zone website on it. It's easy to use and will help our students to learn all the basic skills they need, as well as providing them with a great learning resource.

Go to the link below to download the program

If tonight;s blog seems a bit of an advert I must apologise. I have nothing against Microsoft or Adobe, (the company that produces Dreamweaver). They produce great products. The problem is that schools in Africa just can't afford them, even with generous discounts. Open source software opens important doors for our students and will 'scale' fantastically well. Talking up the ICT revolution in the developing world is no substitute for making it legally accessible to the next generation of African citizens.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Back on the exam treadmill

It's been a very long day today. The exam season has started early and our oldest pupils in the primary school are, yet again, being put through their paces. In November they will be taking an exam called the KCPE, (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education), so they have started practising now!

We were up at just before six this morning so the pupils would have time to have some breakfast and then walk to a school quite close to our place to sit their exams, (the zonal mocks). There are about twenty three schools in our zone and it's a very competetive business. Quite why our pupils had to go to another school to take the exams I don't know. Probably to avoid cheating. Cheating in public exams is an annual scandal in Kenya. The education minister has just made a major speech about his plans to eradicate cheating in the exams.

Because it was a very early start and the 'porridge', (don't ask – it looks disgusting but is full of goodness and the kids like it), wasn't ready. Fortunately there were some eggs and bread in my house so it ended up with tea and eggy bread all round before the pupls set off on their exodus to Nyapara school. In true TIA, (This Is Africa), fashion there was a short discussion between Mary and the Standard 8 teacher about how the children would be fed at lunchtime. It was easily resolved. The Landrover has just discovered a new role as a 'meals on wheels' service provider. It lumbered off up the road at lunchtime loaded up with big pots, (sufurias), containing eggs; ugali and sukuma wiki. It did make me wonder what arrangements would be made for pupils from other schools. I'm sure I could live here for ten more years and still not understand the logic behind most of the arrangements that are made about standard 8 exams.

On a positive note the puils did say they thought the exam had been fairly easy and that they thought they would do well on it. Time will tell. At least they know what's in store a little bit better now

Monday, 2 April 2012

HR day

So, yesterday was a day for contemplation and spiritual renewal. Monday must mean it's back to work and the delights of checking up on job contracts and making sure that all of our recently appointed staff have a job description and contract. It's a necessary evil making sure that we comply with employment law and good practise but it's very tedious. Fortunately I did the real spade work on it a few years ago, so today was just a case of making sure the details are up to date and that all the staff concerned have got their own printed copies of the documents. This being Africa even my printer seems to have developed a TIA, (This Is Africa), functionality – stopping and going slow seemingly at random.

In need of some fresh air at one point this afternoon I had a walk around the farm to see how we're doing now that we've had some rain. Duncan, our farm manager, told me this morning that the maize we planted last week has already started to germinate so I was keen to see for myself. Sure enough we have lots of little green shoots poking through God's Blanket, (our mulch). Having been cooped up in the office all day it was nice to be reminded how nature quietly gets on and does the 'new growth' thing. It's amazing how much food is wrapped up in a tiny seed – that a huge plant can develop from such a tiny shoot. We are hoping that successful germination is a good sign for a bumper crop. It will encourage the students so much to see the fruit of their labours. All that remains in the preparation stage is to plant our sweet potato plot. The rest of the farm is looking good as well. The goat enclosure will be ready for occupation very soon.

Now that they have broken the back of the heavy work on the farm the students will be free to get their own plots of land planted. Working in pairs they each have a small six by six metre plot for growing whatever they think will make them the most profit. We've told them that we will buy all that they are able to grow on their plots at whatever the current market price is at harvest time. We are hoping this will encourage them to hone their entrepreneurial skills and develop a healthy spirit of competition amongst them, (without creating the kind of rivalry that exists amongst village fĂȘte gardeners in the UK). It will be interesting to see how the students respond. I'm sure we have some budding Richard Bransons amongst our little group – all they need is the incentive to unleash their entrepreneurial spirits.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Cold shower

And on the seventh day …..... I've been trying to get some perspective on Kenya and our part in it's future today. That probably sounds a bit pompous, (or preposterous depending on your point of view). Such a lot has been happening in Kenya since the beginning of the year that it's important for me to keep a positive take on it. It would be relatively easy to get demoralised by the usual 'African malaise' – corruption, inefficiency, “African time”, poverty, greed, cruelty and broken political systems to name but a few.

At the moment the papers over here are full of stories about the 'Ocampo Four', (four Kenyans, including two potential presidential candidates, who will be tried by the ICC in the Hague for crimes against humanity on the next twelve months), the date of the next election, the downside of the recent discovery of oil in the north of the country and the usual collection of personal tragedies. Not to mention the recent pledge by the Education Minister to stop cheating in the national school exams which are an acknowledged disgrace. It could get you down if you let it. There are some days when the glass seems half full, some when it looks closer to empty. On the whole I'm an optimist and have a faith that tells me there is a good plan. (Jeremiah 29:11 if you want to follow it up).

We've had a lot of rain in the evenings over the last few days. This has meant that it's been too cold, (or wet), to go out and have a shower, which is really the only way to get thoroughly clean. This morning I decided to warm up some water and have a good wash. The warm water was nice but a 'bath in a bowl' doesn't really do the job. I decided the only way to feel fully refreshed and presentable was to bite the bullet and have a shower. The day got off to a chilly start, (by Kosele standards), and the sky was overcast. The showers had been filled up overnight with fresh, cold, rain water. The scene was set for a less than enticing experience. Much to my surprise the shower was one of the most enjoyable I've had all year – it felt so good to be really clean! You may be wondering where this story is meandering off to. The point is that sometimes you have to take the cold shower. Thinking about it is worst than doing it. Once you take the plunge it's so obviously the right thing to do.

My current thinking about the situation here in Kenya is that our community needs to take the cold shower. There's a great verse in the bible that goes

“If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land”. (2nd Chronicles 7:14)

If ever a land and people needed healing I'm living in it at the moment. (The same thing could be said, for slightly different reasons, of the West, but that's another story). The easiest thing to do would be to let the status quo continue, with all it's attendant ills. It would be wrong though. I hope that we will have the courage in the future to be advocates for the cold shower – and show our commitment by being the first to take the plunge.