Tuesday, 13 August 2013

In case you thought I was lost

Its been a long time since my last post and a lot has happened during the break. We are in the first week of our school holidays, though our older pupils have yet to see the benefit of any time off. In July the public school teachers in Kenya were on strike. As part of a somewhat protracted settlement to the strike the public schools have extended their term and will not finish until this Friday, the 16th of August. This brief study window has been snapped up by our District Education officers to stage a mock exam for all of the oldest primary school pupils. We are 'hosting' two other schools for this exercise which started today. Being part of a public exam is always an interesting experience. The team of supervisors and invigilators that have been allocated to our school have been very busy today, finalizing mark schemes and marking papers. To their credit all the pupils taking the exams have been very well behaved, despite occasional opportunities for cheating when the invigilators have been called out of the exam rooms. It will be a relief when the exams finish tomorrow and our young people can start enjoying their holiday.

We have had a very busy time over the last fortnight working with a group of visitors from Welford (a village close to Stratford-upon-Avon). Our friends Jon (the Pilot) and Fiona May and their children Jessica, Juliet and Nathan have visited our place a number of times over the last six years and were able to persuade a good number of their friends to join them on the journey this year. We started off with a total of eighteen visitors, staying with us for a week. The number went down to eleven for the second week of the visit. During their stay our visitors worked incredibly hard and were a great encouragement to our children and staff. Because of their efforts we now have a really nice playground, with swings, a rope ladder, balance beams and a tyre tunnel in our lower school area and are well on the way to finishing off our Vocational Training Centre building. The primary school pupils were able to enjoy upper and lower school Sports Days and our Secondary School students spent time working on a Happiness Project. We enjoyed an evening of song, dance and amateur dramatics as the children worked in teams with their new friends to put on a show that was, in the end, enjoyed by everybody. It is always sad saying good-bye to visitors to Kosele. We are hoping to see all of them again in the future. In the meantime a very special thank you to the Welford team for being such fantastic people and such good friends to Hope and Kindness.

At one point last week we were uncertain whether it would be possible for our visitors to leave Kenya on their scheduled flights. The fire that swept through the arrivals hall in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport,Nairobi, in the early hours of last Wednesday made news all over the world and caused a serious shock in Kenya. The airport is a major hub for East Africa and the temporary cancellation of all flights had repercussions all over Africa and the world. I think it is safe to say that the fire has been a wake up call to public services in Kenya. Because of its strategic and economic importance the airport will no doubt be quickly rebuilt and should provide a much improved service to travelers in future. It will be interesting to see what else rises out of the ashes of International Arrivals.

I have, at last, been reunited with my wife Judi and we are getting stuck into the work that went on hold while she was treated for cancer last year. We will be joined in Kenya by our two children Tom and Ellie next week so will be able to celebrate our 11th year of being in Kenya together as a family. Its been six years since we were all in Kenya together and we are looking forward to spending some very special time together.

This time of year is very challenging for our community. We are approaching a new planting season and everybody is trying to second guess the weather so that crops are planted t the right time. We have had a bit of a false start with rains in the last week so our own planting is currently on hold. Many of our neighbors have ploughed their land in preparation for the rains but will, like us, be anxiously looking to the sky for the first signs of the rainy season proper. The sun is great for tourists but, at this time of year, too much of it is a nightmare for farmers.

As ever there is never a dull moment in Kosele. I'm looking forward to the chance to review some of our projects in time for the beginning of next term and have new plans in the pipeline to mover us closer to the seemingly elusive goal of being self-sufficient. With Judi back on the scene we will, I'm sure, take some new steps before the end of the year. Challenging as the work is very often, I still count myself very lucky to be out here.  

Monday, 22 July 2013

Farming Today

And another week flies by! Busy as ever and racing on towards my wife Judi arriving on Wednesday and a large group of visitors starting their visit a week today. It’s all very exciting.

There are a lot of very tired young (and old) people here tonight. We’ve been working very hard on our farm, preparing for the next planting season and salvaging what we can from the horrendous weather conditions at the beginning of the year when it rained and rained. We had all the pupils from our upper school classes and all the Technical School students out digging, weeding, watering and slashing (this sounds worse than it really is – it refers to cutting the grass using a ‘slasher’). I was very proud of them all. The youngest class was especially impressive – clearing a large space of groundnuts, grass and weeds. The clearing work that they have done will now allow us to plant yet another plot of Kale to capitalize on the scarcity of kale caused by the poor conditions experienced by other farmers growing the same crop.

It really is a shock seeing how devastating a poor start to the year can be. We actually had about the right amount of rain during this growing season. The only problem is that it all arrived pretty much at once in about the first month, creating water-logging and washing out our crops. We have had very little rain for about the last three weeks, normally a critical time in the growing season. Most of our neighbours have experienced the same problem. There will be a lot of hunger in our community between now and the next harvest at the beginning of next year. Our borehole has been our saving grace as it has allowed us to continue watering despite the lack of rain.  We are watering quite a large area at the moment twice a day – in the morning and late afternoon.Watching our ‘bucket irrigation gang’ at work is an inspiration.

Duncan, our Farm Manager has just been discharged from a local hospital following treatment for malaria and typhoid – still tragically common around our area. In his absence his work has been carried out by his assistant, a really great guy called Calistus who has been a very valuable addition to our farm team.

We will have an equally busy day on the farm tomorrow, completing the clearing and weeding on a couple of large plots. The staff and young people have really caught hold of the idea that the farm is a vital source of income for us and work with a very positive attitude.  Our hard work this week should mean that we are well prepared for the next growing season which starts at the end of August. Whenever the rain comes we will be ready for it.

Monday, 15 July 2013

A Proper Burial

Time is certainly flying on this trip to Kenya. It seems hardly any time since I last sat typing the blog but a week has passed by. This is, I'm ashamed to say, very poor communication. On the other hand its good because it means I now have less than two weeks to wait until my wife Judi joins me here in Kosele. I haven't seen her since the beginning of May (the longest we've spent apart ever, I think) and I can't wait to see her again.

The work in our schools carries on at a good pace. Having devoted a significant amount of time to working on primary school projects since the start of the year I've spent the last couple of weeks building up our secondary school - training with the teachers and starting a couple of new curriculum projects. Our Form 1 and 2 students were shocked today when they were presented with a fairly tough maths test as the start of our 'Maths Boot Camp' project. We first started this approach to maths teaching in our primary school last term and will be developing it in the secondary school for the rest of the year. It has been very rewarding working with the secondary school team. Having time to work on team and relationship building is one of the joys of being in Kenya for a long visit (I won't be returning to the UK until the middle of December). It's very encouraging to be working with such a dedicated group of teachers.

It has been just over two weeks since we learned of the death of James, one of our security team. He was buried yesterday (Sunday) and we attended his funeral in the afternoon. Funerals in Kenya are a challenge to a Western view of life. A combination of religious and traditional customs ensure that funerals are massive social events. James' funeral was no exception. Funerals nearly always take place at weekends over here, giving time for relatives to travel to attend. Over the years I've read many accounts in the newspapers of the huge burden that funeral attendance places on the Kenyan economy and on the pockets of the bereaved family. In the UK excessive amounts of money are lavished on weddings. Over here lavish amounts of money are spent on funerals.

Attending James' funeral made me realise how much I still have to learn about local culture and how important it is to strike the right balance between 'western incredulity' over the amount of time and money that is spent on funerals and local community sensibilities about this important rite of passage. If I'm honest I find it extremely difficult to reconcile the abject poverty that I see all around me in Kosele and the knowledge that every funeral places a huge financial burden on the immediate family of the deceased. This fact hasn't gone unnoticed in the press.

The funeral 'celebrations' last for the whole weekend, starting with the body being transported from the mortuary to the home usually on Friday. This event is accompanied by wailing and a crowd of followers escorting the vehicle bringing the body. On the evenings, starting on Friday, there is loud music which, in the case of James' funeral, carried on until daybreak on both Saturday and Sunday. The funeral proper took place on Sunday afternoon. It was conducted very well. A number of speeches were made in honour of James and his life (including one from me) and he was laid to rest at about 3 pm in the grave dug by the side of the house he lived in with his wife and children

We were all shocked and saddened by James' death. He was only a young man with two small children and a lot to look forward to in life. It was sad, at his funeral, to be reminded by a good number of the people who made speeches that there are many widows in our area. I'm sure I wouldn't find it much of a consolation to know that I was a member of a rapidly growing club if I was James' wife.

For all my misgivings about the cost and conduct of funerals over here I hope that James' wife will gain some consolation from knowing that James' passing was celebrated properly with due respect and "all protocols observed." There seems to have been a funeral within earshot of our place every weekend for about the last month, all playing out the same rituals. I know that James' funeral won't be the last this year, but I really pray for some respite in the community from these sad events and in the long run a change of heart about the best way to conduct a burial.

Monday, 8 July 2013

The least of these

Every once in a while just stepping out of the front door of my house is the start of an unbelievable series of events. Tonight, at about six pm I guess I stepped out of the door and spotted Ian and Duncan (friend from Scotland and Farm Manager respectively), having a chat outside the office door. I joined them. As we spoke a wind was picking up and it looked like we could expect rain fairly imminently. Our manager Mary had been away from the compound for a short while and we needed to make a decision about who to send to a local hospital to stay overnight with one of our girls who has been suffering from malaria and put on a drip. Ian and Duncan were just finalizing the details. Given the likely turn of the weather we decided that the best bet would be to send Janet, our Stores Manager, fairly quickly on a motorbike to avoid the chance of dropping the Landrover off the road again. (See previous post from May). Just as the decision had been made Ian's wife Hilda returned from a visit in the community and told us that an elderly man, who had previously been treated at the same local hospital, had collapsed by the side of the road and would need transporting to his home in Kosele, just up the road. Ian and Duncan took the Landrover to pick up the old man, Mary arrived back with a motorbike for Janet and all seemed set for a satisfactory conclusion to the evening's 'cases'.

At some point during the comings and goings of Mary, motorbike, Janet and Landrover a young woman with a small baby had slipped in through the gate and sat down to wait for a chance to present her case. The unbelievable bit started to develop at this point. Over the course of the next hour and a half her story unfolded. She spoke no English so Mary and Ishmael, our night guard, translated between them. It was obvious from early in the proceedings that the young woman had some mental health problems. She told us that she had been to Oyugis, (our local town) because somebody had told her that a man there was in search of a wife. Despite being married to two men already (according to her account) our young visitor had taken herself to Oyugis from her home, some distance away, as she was desperate to get married. She was disappointed to find out that the man was married already (though it sounded like he treated her considerately when she spoke to him). She had walked from Oyugis in our direction on her way to her home. Somebody she had spoken to told her that if she came to see us she could receive assistance, hence her visit.

It was quite a difficult job to get any sense from the young woman. She was clearly very poor and hadn't eaten properly for a while. She made quick work of bread, milk, tea and peanut butter sandwiches as we talked to her. As Mary became more sure of the story it turned out that our visitor came from a village where one of Mary's aunts lived. Mary asked if the young woman knew the Aunt and was surprised to be told the nickname that the Aunt was known by. A couple of phone calls later and Mary was speaking to the Aunt, who was visiting Nairobi. The Aunt confirmed the girl's story and was able to fill in some of the details that Mary hadn't been able to establish. There is very little assistance for the mentally ill where we are. Mary's Aunt said that our young visitor frequently absented herself from her home and went wandering, seeking assistance where she could find it. This pattern of behaviour clearly leaves her in a very vulnerable position.

The young lady is now spending the night in a small rental house just over the road from us. In the morning Mary has arranged for a lady who lives in the rental houses to escort our young friend in a taxi to Kendu Bay (a town by Lake Victoria about seven kilometres away). Once in Kendu Bay she will be put on another taxi heading to her home. Mary was worried that just giving the girl the required fares would not ensure that she reached home safely. She'll take with her the clothes for herself, baby clothes and blanket that we were able to find for her this evening.

This young lady's story is not uncommon. We've come across similar hardship cases before. Sitting in our guards' hut listening to the story unfold and seeing how much hardship she had suffered made me think again of Thomas Hardy and his tales of rural woe and tragedy. You really couldn't make it up. The Mary connection was the most bizarre coincidence. It made me think that this young woman's visit wasn't just by chance.

In Matthew 25 Jesus explains our responsibility to the poor and needy. "Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, "When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?" The king will answer, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me." (Matthew 25:37-40). Ragged, confused and no doubt mistreated and exploited this young women matters to Jesus.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Scary People

Every once in a while I come across a story in the paper that is so unbelievable that I feel compelled to share it. The preamble before the headline of the story reads - "Eye for Eye: Group tosses duo in granary and sets it on fire to prevent their 'spirits' from protecting Karunyu." The headline itself said "Revenge as youth lynch wife, gang leader's mother".

The story continues .... "Young men armed with crude weapons have set out to hunt for a five man gang that killed 12 people in Nyanyaa village of village of Endui location in Kitui County. The youth numbering about 50 have a clear mission in their minds; to hunt down and kill Kilonzo Musyoka alias Karunyu, a man believed to be the leader of the killer gang.............

.....And to prove they meant business the youth raided the home of Karunyu where they found his newly wed wife and 70-year-old mother, Nzoka Mbulo. They tied the two women with ropes, tossed them in a granary full of sorghum and set it on fire. They stood guard as the women's cries faded away, thick smoke and fire enveloping the entire granary.............

..........Two more houses in the homestead were set on fire. "In Kamba tradition , when you commit murder and run, your parents must be killed because their spirits might protect you. Now that his mother is gone it will be easy to catch him" said a youth who participated in the macabre revenge attack............

........On Thursday three of the suspects were nabbed by the youths and clobbered to death .......[The] Deputy Commandant of the Administration Police Service .....said a police patrol car would be stationed at Mui to bolster security in the area."

This particular case is more extreme than the usual lynching stories carried by the press but I still don't know what to fear most - a belief system that condones brutal murder or the armed gang of killers.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Fantastic Week

I've had a really busy week this week and its been great. It started with two days of training with our secondary school teachers. Its the first occasion I've really had much time to work with them at all intensively so far this year. The training was very successful and I'm sure it will help us to take some important steps forward as a team. One of the highlights of Tuesday was watching the team perform a scene from Betrayal in the City - a set text for English Literature for the next few years. We have decided to get the students to put on a performance of the play. If they perform it anything like as well as the their teachers did it will be a sure-fire success.

We've also had a great time with our older primary school pupils for the last couple of days. They've been set the task of finding out how long our water supply would last if (heaven forbid) our bore hole stopped working. Tomorrow they will be telling us what they've discovered. Each group will doing a presentation, displaying a poster and performing a song to promote water conservation. This afternoon we had groups of pupils all over the compound practicing their their song and dance routines, aided and abetted by all of the teachers. I didn't realise we had so many frustrated choreographers on our staff. The finale tomorrow will end with a presentation and song competition between the three best groups with a small cash prize for each member of the winning team. We'll finish with sodas and biscuits for everybody. Seeing everybody working so hard and cooperating so well was a great reminder of why teaching is such a great job. I'm already looking forward to planning our next curriculum extravaganza.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Song and dance team

Just do it like this!
You mean like this?

Checking our project diaries

Great map of our compound by the Cheatah group

You can't argue with that. Poster by the Lawyers group.



Sunday, 30 June 2013

Young Leaders

After our shock on Friday with the sad news of our security guard James' death it is good to be able to write about a very positive event. I was really impressed with our youth group at church this morning. They were asked to lead a service a few weeks ago and their big day came today.

Most of the youth group live with us in the children's home so we were able to put in some good planning and rehearsal time this week - especially yesterday. Having commented on the blog about badly planned events in the past it was very encouraging to see how willing our young people were to commit their time and energy to making sure this morning's service went well.

I've taken responsibility for Sunday School for the youth group since I've been here so this morning's service was a bit nerve-wracking for me. It's like being the parent to a family of a dozen children at a major school performance. My faith in the young people is now at an all time high as they were brilliant from the first song to the last word of the preaching at the end. Our friend Ian videoed highlights of the service and the girls who were involved were able to watch it this evening. It will be the boys' turn tomorrow.

We celebrated the youngsters' achievements with sodas and sweets tonight. I'm looking forward to the next time they take the lead.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Sad News

We were extremely sad to hear today that James, one of our security guards, died in a local hospital. James was only a young man and had a wife, called Millie and two young children. James was a really good guy. Committed to his family and to our work. Always happy to lend a hand with a good sense of humour and a kind heart. We will miss him.

James had been sick for some time (about three weeks) and was initially treated for typhoid and malaria - two of the most common diseases out here. He was seriously ill with typhoid and experienced dehydration and delirium because of the illness. We heard that he was showing some signs of improvement in the hospital yesterday and were shocked to hear of his death this afternoon. His death is a reminder of the fragile hold that many of the people in our community have on health.

Our thoughts and prayers tonight are with James' wife Millie, the children and his sister Irene as they begin to come to terms with this sudden tragic event in their lives. We would welcome your prayers for James' family at this time.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Termite Queen Vacancy

On the grounds that a picture paints a thousand words I thought I would post a couple of pictures I took today as the "termites eating my house" saga continues to unfold. Further investigation in the house today revealed a bigger problem than I had initially thought. After identifying a termite mound in the making just outside our front boundary fence we resorted to buying in the services of our local Termite Terminator. We now have what looks like a small crater by the fence which, on closer inspection , revealed a couple of large underground chambers where the termite queen lived. Our ever diligent security guard Benson brought the evidence of the recently killed queen over to me on a shovel to show the results of operation exterminate. The two pictures below will give you an idea of the size of this insect. We have also poured copious amounts of poison down the visible cracks in the floor in my house so I'm hoping that we are getting on top of the problem now. It will be interesting to see what has happened by the morning.




Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Under Attack

Firstly my apologies for the somewhat intermittent posts on the blog over the last few weeks. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to manage the life/work/blog balance and the blog is losing out at present.

We've had the normal busy time over the last few days. This week is the start of the second half of the school term. Our Year 7 and 8 pupils immediately faced a zonal mock examination and sat papers in Maths, English, Kiswahili, Science and Social Studies. I've questioned the value of this particular exam before and this week's experience did nothing to make me any more enthusiastic about them. There were problems with the Maths papers which drew comment from schools around our zone. The English and Kiswahili papers were also of questionable value. We'll have to wait for the final results for our pupils for a little while as the Kenyan National Union of Teachers called a strike on Monday, so public school teachers have been out on strike since then. The marking of English and Kiswahili composition papers and final compilation of marks for the exams are now on hold until the strike is over. This could be some time. The union officials are predicting that it will be the "father of all strikes" according to a newspaper report. We will, in the meantime, get on with the next phase of our school's project to make learning more exciting.

Last week-end we were made aware of a very sad, but unfortunately not uncommon, case of hardship and suffering. A young widow came to see us and explained that she had been forced to leave her home just outside Oyugis (the nearest town to us) because of violence against her committed by members of her community. Her brother-in-law was involved in what sounded like a nasty fight during which he badly cut his opponent with a panga (machete). In retaliation some members of the community burnt the lady's house and its contents down, leaving her homeless and in fear of her life. She quickly took herself and her four children to her mother's house which is close to us. This is a far from ideal situation for her family. At least one of her children in suffering from malnutrition and the food situation for the whole family is very dire. The baby that she brought with her was born as a result of the lady having been 'inherited' by a man in her late husband's family shortly after the death of her husband last year. This practice does little other than cause unwanted pregnancies and help to spread HIV/AIDS. We were, once again, left in the unenviable situation of 'playing God' with this lady and her family's lives. We gave her some food to tide her over and will see what else we can do to help when Mary, our manager, returns from taking a few days leave tomorrow.

I wrote about some unwanted visitors to my house last year and the steps we had to take to dislodge them. I am unhappy to report that my house is, once again, under attack from termites. For the last couple of days I've been waking up to find a new heap of soil from their digging in the living room and a good number of termites, (which look like a horrible cross between a maggot and an ant) swarming around the hole in the floor that they come up through. I think that this termite activity was triggered off by the rain we had a few days ago. I've been trying my best to stop their activity by pouring washing up liquid and boiling water down the hole and then blocking it up with small stones. I thought I'd been quite successful until this evening,when I noticed a termite mound with attendant termites half-way up the door frame of my office. The battle has now entered a more serious phase and strong chemicals have been poured down the the most recent hole. I'm hoping this will deter the creatures from starting again in another part of the house for long enough to get any remaining holes in the floor sealed with concrete. I hate to think what it looks like under the house. I have visions of the whole house collapsing into a maze of termite tunnels. Unlike many of our neighbours I am fortunate in having a very solidly built house. The termites cause a huge amount of damage to the local houses which are made of compacted mud and timber - ideal materials for termites to destroy completely.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Noises off

It sounds like its trying to rain outside. This would be a good thing - we haven't had much rain for weeks now and could do with a nice heavy downpour to fill up our irrigation tanks. It might also help to dampen the enthusiasm of the party goers attending a very rhythmic event that started last night somewhere in the neighbourhood. As I sit typing in my room it sounds like the noise is coming from the field to my left but I know that when I stand outside it sounds like it's coming from the opposite direction. Whatever the 'celebration' is in aid of its obviously raking in a good attendance and will probably last all week-end. If I didn't know better I'd say the noise frequently sounds like the kind of drumming that usually leads to bad things in old movies.

Half-term seems to have flown past this week. We will soon be back in the thick of term two, starting off with exams for our two oldest primary school classes. Our manager Mary told me yesterday that we had missed a meeting of the local headteachers to confirm the arrangements for the exams. Its a serious business. All the primary schools in our zone (about 25 altogether) sit this exam and a league table is eventually compiled to 'encourage' us all. The last one was a bit chaotic so I'm hoping that this one will go a bit better. I'm not really convinced that this cycle of exams is especially helpful a the moment but we don't get much choice about them. When I called the headteacher responsible for convening the meeting to explain that we hadn't received any information about it he was very helpful and apologized for not informing us. I've become more philosophical about these communication problems and am working hard at building bridges with my colleagues in the area.

We have some good events to look forward to in the coming half-term. Once the exams have been completed we'll be trying a three day practical project, combining science, maths and social studies in a problem solving activity. The pupils will be given the task of finding out how long we could continue to run all of our activities if our borehole suddenly packed up. (It's actually quite a scary thought). Our primary school teachers are very positive about it and I'm hoping that it will build on our previous encouraging experience with a special maths project. Being in a position to take bold steps with our teaching and learning makes me feel very privileged. It's very exciting being able to drop the normal timetable and do something different. At the risk of sounding a bit corny it's what I first went into teaching for. Any similarly motivated teachers would be welcome to join us.

The drumming has picked up a bit now and the rain noises have stopped - looks like being another hot, noisy night. At least the 'music' has stepped up a gear - it sounds more like the rhythm section of a Santana concert now.

If you'd like to watch a Santana concert follow the link below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZI3z5cFgmMk

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Kisumu

Its been a busy few days since my last post. We are on half -term at the moment so there aren't as many children around as usual. The keen ones are coming in to do some revision for the exams they will be sitting next week. I've had some fun maths lessons with them (I had fun - I hope the children did too).

We are occasionally asked to provide a bed for children that have been brought to the District Children's Officer for one reason or another. Yesterday we were asked to look after a young lad who had somehow managed to find his way to Oyugis (our nearest town) from Kisumu which is about a two hour drive away. When we asked the lad how he had come to Oyugis he said that he had 'got on a vehicle' with his brother and somehow managed to stay on it until he was thrown off at Oyugis. He was brough to the the Children's Officer by an Assistant Chief yesterday and finally found his way to our place, where he stayed last night.

As we had been planning to go to Kisumu today we called the Children's Officer last night to ask if he wanted us to re-unite the lad with his family. The boy told us that he lived close to the airport in Kisumu and we were able to confirm the location of the school that he said he attended from a contact in Kisumu.

We set off for Kisumu at about 7.30 this morning, little boy in tow. On arriving in Kisumu Mary took responsibility for finding our visitor's school, home and family while the rest of us set off on a variety of shopping tasks - mostly buying school resources for the next half-term. It was a very successful day from that point of view. We now have a good selection of chemicals, scientific apparatus and new text books. I have been promising some of the lads who live at Hope and Kindness that I will teach them how to play the guitar and was very pleased when I managed to buy a decent guitar for them to learn on at a good price.

On our way home Mary filled us in on the story of our surprise visitor. Mary found the boy's school very quickly but he seemed to have been a bit economical with the truth regarding his attendance. The Head Teacher told Mary that the he hadn't seen the lad for a couple of years and that he was (in Mary's words) "a very bad boy". His story sounds, unsurprisingly, like something out of an earlier century. His parents are no longer together and his mother has effectively abandoned him. As he hasn't been to school for some time he is living a fairly chaotic life, in and out of trouble. When Mary went to the boy's home area she said the neighbours hid, as they thought she was an official of some sort and that trouble was in the making. Mary identified the lad's Grandfather who promptly completely ignored him. Mary eventually found a step-grandmother who seemed to care about the boy's welfare. Just before she left to meet us in Kisumu Mary noticed that our new friend was wearing a stop watch which we hadn't seen last night. He'd stolen it from one of our boys before leaving for Kisumu this morning.

It is sad but true that this story of neglect, abandonment and damaged character is played out daily all over Kenya. The West has its share of problems with children who do not enjoy the love and nurturing that they need but it takes on another dimension out here, where life is lived so close to the edge of death and desperation. It is heartbreaking to think of little boys (and girls) being so badly damaged by the circumstances they find themselves growing up in.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Day of the African Child

The Day of the African Child was celebrated up at Kosele Primary School with all due ceremony today. Speeches were made and children from local schools performed a variety of songs, dances and poems. As planned we set off at just after 10 a.m. and the day finally got started at 11.30. Celebrations like this follow a pretty standard format in Kenya. The guests of honour at the meeting (various sponsors, headteachers, local government officials and leaders from the local community) sat on the 'dais' at the front on plastic chairs under a couple of awnings. The children sat in rows of desks.

The meeting started with a prayer and over the course of the day the speeches and entertainment unfolded. Many of the children's performances were very good. One group of girls performed quite a long musical drama following the story of an unfortunate girl who suffers a variety of indignities but ends up being able to finish her education. In a society where the rights of women and the 'girl child' are still a serious issue the protection of girls is a major concern and the theme was presented in a number of ways during the day. The children were very well behaved and appreciative of the entertainment. I'm not really sure what they made of the speeches. As the 'token white' at the meeting I was also called up to make a speech. Trying to just occupy a place in the background is very hard, despite my best efforts not to draw attention to myself. Two of our children were called on, as guests of honour, to make speeches and did a very good job. I was very proud of them.

At the end of the meeting the head teacher of Kosele Primary School (the host of the event) called all of the heads to see him and invited us all to a meal at the Administration Police (AP) canteen just up the road in Kosele. I chatted on the way to the canteen to a fairly recently arrived head of a primary school about five kilometres up the road. He was a mine of useful information and encouragement. He is, amongst other things, an assistant chief examiner of English at a national level. I'm hoping to chat to him in the future about ways of strengthening our English teaching.

The Administration Police provide security for the District Commissioner's compound in Kosele. Their canteen is a very nice place and serves a very good chicken and chapati. There own security seemed a bit provisional though. Someone seemed to have stolen all the cutlery from the canteen so we all ate with our fingers! Still. When in Rome ...... The walk back to our place from Kosele was a welcome break from my normal routine and finished the day nicely.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Time flies

It seems hardly any time since I started this visit to Kosele but half-term is already here. Its been a busy time with a number of new projects started and so far going well. Our new remedial teaching in the primary school is probably our most ambitious new venture. It involves a small group of twelve pupils from our two eldest primary classes. Every afternoon they spend two hours together and receive intensive coaching in subjects where we have identified gaps in their learning and capability. The feedback I've had from the teachers involved has been very encouraging so far. One of the biggest gains for a number of these pupils has been a major boost to their self-confidence. Pupils who don't usually raise their heads above the parapet and get involved in lessons with a big group are finding their feet in this smaller group and are beginning to find their voices in their morning lessons as well.

The teaching part of our youth club session with the youngsters tonight focused on a similar theme. I have read a book by John Ortberg called If You Want to Walk on the Water You've Got to Get Out of the Boat a couple of times now. The author writes in a very accessible style and puts a serious message over very effectively. We talked a bit tonight about faith, trust and walking on the water. I often wish I'd taken the gospel message at face value earlier in my life. I think that RE lessons and a very boring experience of church in the first couple of years of secondary school built the foundations of a long period of being very anti God and any type of religion. I'm still not very fond of religion but I do regret the missed opportunities that were caused by my unbelief.

Tomorrow should be an interesting day. Instead of going to church and Sunday School all of our youngsters will be attending an organised event in a local school celebrating the Day of the African Child. There seem to have been a lot of these type of events this year (this will be the third that has involved our children). I'm not quite sure what to expect, as I have not been around when they have taken place in the past. Our invitation said that the proceedings will start at 9 a.m. The consensus is that we should set off at about ten to arrive in time for everything starting, hopefully, at around eleven. I do remember seeing a request for financial support for sodas at the event so there might be a bottle of coke in it as well as some entertainment and encouragement. Our girls have been practicing a turn in case they are asked to sing. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Improvisation

One of the things I really like about working out here is the variety of activities that I get involved in during a typical week. Every once in a while I find an opportunity to abandon the planning, management and execution details of running our schools and indulge in some much more basic practical work.

Giving students opportunities to carry out science experiments is a major challenge in many schools in Kenya. Funding difficulties, lack of resources and lack of training conspire to make many of the experiments and demonstrations that students typically experience in schools in the UK and the US uncommon for our young people over here. I walked in on a science lesson on electro-magnets this morning and felt compelled to spend a few hours assembling one for demonstration purposes. I had to scavenge round a bit for the materials and experimented with a number of nails, wires, batteries and windings before I found the best design but I ended up with a convincing piece of demonstration equipment. This then set me thinking about constructing some more basic electrical training equipment. Its certainly not 'rocket science' but it would make quite a difference to our children and teachers. We start our half -term holiday next week so it should be possible to find some time to experiment with a basic design for our 'electricity lab'.

On a completely different note we were mildly encouraged this evening by the first rain for a couple of weeks. Compared to the biblical scale of the rain earlier in the year tonight's shower was hardly enough to give our crops much of a watering. We're really hoping that the heavens will open soon. If they don't we probably have enough water stored in our irrigation tanks to last about three weeks. After that we'll have to resort to using water from our borehole. We've only really used the borehole in absolute emergencies so far. Its been a very reliable source of water for us but we had been concerned that it was slightly salty, which could cause problems in the long term for the fertility of our land. We had a visit from 'the man from the ministry' (Water Management Board) yesterday evening and he told me that our water salinity level was 0. (It was written down on his inspection form). This was something of an answer to prayer. After discussing the water situation with Duncan, our farm manager, I'd been planning to find out the best way of testing the water in the borehole. Right on cue our friend from the water board turned up with the answer to my question. Its good to know that if the worse comes to the worse our borehole is a good source of water for the farm. However, on the grounds that we'd like to continue irrigating with the water stored in our tanks from our 'roof harvest' we'll continuing praying for rain.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Thinkpad Nostalgia

As part of the drive to improve our use of laptops in the schools I've spent some time today restoring a very old IBM Thinkpad laptop. This particular model was first made in 1997 and is, I think, my all time favourite laptop design. Very early in our work I was given a couple of these laptops by the school I was then working in and for some time they were the mainstays of our admin system. They have since, obviously, been superseded by more powerful machines but I have a great fondness for them. Getting the Thinkpad into a usable condition involved a bit of fishing round on the Internet to find some software to make a memory stick work on it. When it finally managed to find the memory stick I was very pleased - laptop 0 me 1.

As I type the restored Thinkpad is churning its way through tidying up all the files it contains. Over the years the way computers work have been increasingly obscured from view so it makes a change to almost be able to see the computer 'thinking'. For any computer buffs among my readers this computer is running Windows 98 and I'm 15% of the way through defragging the hard disc. Anybody old enough to remember doing this will appreciate the beauty of watching the hard disc being re-arranged on the screen in front of you.

Writing my blog on a very modern laptop with the most recent version of Windows on it with a fifteen year old machine churning away beside it provides a powerful reminder of just how much computers have changed in a very short time. It will be interesting to let our students see the difference. I'm also reminded just how good the old equipment was. The Thinkpad was such a good design that a Chinese company bought it up.

The Thinkpad is going to be used as a basic administration machine in the Primary School initially. Recycling such an old machine is very satisfying. It will be good to see it in use again.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Machine vs Road

To describe the rough track that runs from our place to Oyugis, our nearest town, as a road would be an abuse of the English language. It is, currently, seven kilometres of potholes and ruts and is getting worse by the day. We are experiencing a hot dry spell at the moment with very little rain. If this continues it could be another threat to our farm but we are hoping for an improvement. During the unnaturally wet weather that we experienced earlier in the year the road to Oyugis became a boggy quagmire. Very deep ruts were formed as heavy lorries plied the route and the edges of the road became broken down leaving fairly large drop offs in some places. The hot weather has since baked these new features and they have become rock hard additions to the route.

At about eight pm. this evening I received a call from Mary, our manager, to say that she was 'stranded' in Oyugis because there were no vehicles available. It's incredible how quickly our area shuts down once it becomes dark. The only way to rescue Mary from Oyugis was to drive down in our trusty Landrover and pick her up. Since my last disastrous trip in the Landrover at night (which ended up with the vehicle stuck in a ditch and a damaged gearbox) I've been a bit reluctant to drive after dark. Fortunately this evening has been very dry so the only problem on the journey was the state of the road and the dust, which made it difficult to see very far after another vehicle had passed. I was accompanied by one of our night guards on the trip and we chatted about the usual stuff - the condition of the road, the threat of hijackers at night and other cheery topics. Lurching along in second gear was actually good fun - when the weather conditions are OK it's a good challenge to try and avoid the lumps, bumps and obstacles (dogs, bicycles and a lorry with only one headlight). We reached Oyugis safely, if somewhat slowly.

It's always been a mystery to me how a 'road' can look so different when you travel back along it in the opposite direction at night. The sections that seemed the worse on the way to Oyugis had miraculously smoothed out and the previously comfortable sections became more challenging. After dropping one of our staff members off close to her home we made it back to our place about an hour after starting out. I guess fourteen kilometres an hour at night is a decent enough average speed out here

Friday, 7 June 2013

Good Sports

Answers to yesterday's brainteasers are:

1) 6 one pound coins, 2 ten-penny coins, 4 one-penny coins

2) John can buy 156 bars of chocolate.

I've just finished a good coaching session with my fledgling maths group. Their appetite for improvement and practice is impressive and their willingness to put up with my coaching is commendable.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by Daniel (our oldest lad) if I would be up for a bit more active form of coaching. He is very keen to start up a football team with the other lads in our Technical School. I explained that I would be a very keen supporter of the team but that they would do better with anybody but me coaching them. I am probably slightly worse at dancing than I am at football but there isn't much in it. Dan wisely took my advice and went ahead with getting the lads sorted out. He came to see me tonight to let me know that he has arranged a match with Kosele Secondary School on Sunday at the 'stadium' in Kosele. To do justice to whoever is responsible for maintaining the stadium it does now have permanent goal posts (so we won't have to bring our own) and there is a small covered terrace for spectators - a big improvement on the situation last year. We had a really good supporters group last time we played a match at the stadium. While Dan and the team get on with practicing their football skills I'll see what we can do about making sure the supporters are geared up to cheering the team on.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Maths bug

It's no good - I've been bitten by the maths bug. It's been a fairly intensive week for maths this week so I guess it's not really all that surprising. The teachers' training day yesterday provided a good focus for strategies to make our pupils more confident mathematicians and was the springboard for a good deal of research for me. I have this tendency to go to town on the research for new ventures, especially if they have the potential to transform a situation.

In my research I've discovered a fascinating new condition called Dyscalculia. This is defined in a book called The Trouble With Maths as "a perseverant condition that affects the ability to acquire mathematical skills despite appropriate instructions." I've also been surprised by the pervasiveness of maths anxiety amongst adults (especially trainee primary teachers) and have found out that young people's maths difficulties are very difficult to pigeon hole. This makes me all the more determined to do what I can to help our teaching team to ratchet up our pupils' maths abilities.

My five 'guinea pigs' for a maths makeover have completed their first diagnostic test for me. Two of them volunteered last night after a coaching session, one was added at the beginning of homework time tonight and two more asked if they could have a paper when they saw what the others were doing. It's fantastic having such keen students.

If you fancy exercising your latent maths talents have a go at these two questions, taken from a book called Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers. (Real challenge is not to use a calculator and view them as mental arithmetic problems).

1) I have 34 one-penny coins, 29 ten-penny coins and 3 pound coins. Apply the principle of 'exchanging ten of these for one of these' to reduce this collection of coins to the smallest number of 1p, 10p and £1 coins.

2) John was given £50 for his birthday and thought he might spend it all on his favourite chocolate bars. They cost 32p each. How many could he buy?

Answers supplied in tomorrow's post. Give yourself an extra pat on the back if you worked both answers out in your head!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Darts

Today has been a very rewarding day spent training with our primary school teachers. We are continuing with our mission to make lessons more active, stimulating and enjoyable for the children and had a lot of fun trying out some new ideas and planning a new project. I'm afraid I ran out of time to write the blog last night due to the length of time I spent putting the resources for our training together.

I think the hit of the day was discovering that darts (as any self respecting darts player knows) is a great game for developing a number of maths skills as well as hand eye coordination. Only one of our teachers had played darts before so we had to start with the basics of scoring. Once we'd established the rules we had a mini tournament with three teams. The session lasted for about ninety minutes and was hilarious. The teams were very competitive and we had some interesting adjudications on borderline scores. We were using magnetic darts which have different ends to normal dart and tend to sit exactly on the border line between sections of the board. I can't wait to see the children getting started on this particular activity.

I ended up having a mathematical evening as well. Two of our Technical School students came to see if I could help them with some maths problems involving percentage discounts. It's been a little while since I tackled this kind of problem so I had to look up the solution method before getting started on the teaching. It soon became apparent that my two students didn't have a very good grasp of their multiplication tables so we ended up trying out some strategies to help them master these basic facts. We've agreed to have a few maths 'boot camp' sessions to boost their confidence and help them to understand the more complicated concepts and operations that they are encountering now that they are at secondary school. It might seem like an unlikely activity to develop a real enthusiasm for but maths is one of those subjects were you can witness the magical 'penny drops' moment when a student finally grasps something fully for the first time. I'm now honing my maths coaching skills in anticipation of some good results.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Words of wisdom

I've been working with our team of teachers again today to start some new initiatives with our older pupils. As part of the preparation for the meeting we had today and our training day on Wednesday I've been reading a book called Creating Tomorrow's Schools Today by Richard Gerver. It's very inspiring and contains some of the best observations I've read about teaching and learning for a long time. Including:

“Every day, I stand in front of these young people, their faces full of expectations and hope, their energy radiating across the stale air of this room, and as I look at them, I think to myself, somewhere in this room could be the person who finds the cure for cancer, the solution to world peace. Could be the person who writes the next great symphony that moves mankind. There could be a future leader, doctor, nurse, teacher, Olympic champion. I don't know, but what I do know is that they are out there and it is my job to identify and nurture that talent, not just for their own benefit but for the possible benefit of others. Is there any greater responsibility or opportunity than that? I am blessed, that is why I thank them.”
(From a 70 year old teacher in China who bucks the trend of the 'lecture style ' approach in China and tries to really engage with his students).

and

“Why is it that every generation mourns the passing of the last and fears the birth of the next?” (Anon)

and

“Three of the greatest crises facing humanity today – the economic crisis, the environmental crisis, the ethnic and social crisis – were all created by previous generations. Our children are aware of them, frightened by them and feel excluded by them. However, it is their generation that will have to find the solutions if we are to have a meaningful future.”

When you put it that way there is no more important job than teaching. It's certainly food for thought.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Changing Rooms 2

The transformation of the kids' sitting room is now complete. Over the last three days all of the children have taken at turn at scraping, sanding, washing and painting the walls and ceiling. Some of them made a pretty good job of painting themselves as well. The room looks great. It smells a bit overpowering just at the moment but should be ready for use tomorrow evening. The first job for the first group will be moving all the furniture in and making the room feel more homely.

I had a very rewarding afternoon re-arranging our Standard 8 classroom. It's a job I've been meaning to do for a while. Inspired by the activity in the sitting room I bit the bullet and got on with it today. I was surprised how many spiders and cockroaches had taken up residence in dusty corners – underneath the filing cabinet and book cupboard especially. I was also surprised just how fast cockroaches move. You have to be really quick to stand any chance of dealing with them. I have never really been the world's best at classroom displays (my wife Judi is the expert at it) but I did manage to rescue some posters and make a decent display of science topics on our notice boards and maps around the walls. It was interesting watching the children's reaction to the changes in the room. I've re-arranged the desks to create more space and I think they were surprised how different the room now looks and feels. I was encouraged when two of our older girls in the Technical School said that they had then gone and copied the idea in their classroom.

As far as I'm aware our mini earthquake zone has now gone back to sleep again after a bit of a rumble last night. Fortunately nothing was damaged.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

And the earth shook

Livewires club again this evening. Ninety minutes of fun, song and story-telling. This is session three of our new approach to Saturday evenings and the youngsters have really got into learning new songs and games. It’s a somewhat exhausting session to keep on top of but it’s a great reminder of how very simple fun and games can capture young people’s imagination and enthusiasm. They do, of course appreciate TV and videos but a good active workout still takes a lot of beating.

Living where we do we are subject to a little seismic activity every so often. I’ve visited homes where concrete water tanks have been built into the ground and seen how easily they can be cracked by earth tremors. It’s one of the reasons why we use plastic tanks for storing our water. Immediately after we had finished our session s this evening there was quite a strong earth tremor which took us all by surprise. I’m sure there is nothing prophetic in it but it does stir you a bit.

 ESPECIALLY WHEN IT HAPPENS AGAIN. As I was typing we had a second, even stronger tremor (strong enough to shake my chair). After a quick whizz round the compound everything seems OK. All the adults on the site are surprised by these tremors. Duncan, our farm manager, says that they are the strongest tremors he has experienced. I hope there aren't any more.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Taxi!

First of all apologies for not posting anything last night. I couldn't persuade our Internet connection to stay up for more than about a minute so couldn't even log into the blog.

Today I made a very quick trip to our nearest town, Oyugis. I've been trying to buy a pair of black shoes for a couple of weeks and our manager Mary told me that her contact in Oyugis had a pair that she thought would fit me. Oyugis is always very busy on Friday as it is the main market day. Driving to Oyugis we went past farmers driving sheep, goats and cows to the market and were frequently passed by motor bikes taking passengers and goods to and from the market. The road to Oyugis is dry at the moment but full of very large pot holes making it a very uncomfortable and fairly slow journey in our Landrover.

On market day Oyugis is everything you would expect from an African town – busy, noisy, chaotic and vibrant. Deals being made and bargains being struck. Ladies sitting by small piles of fruit hoping to pick up passing trade. 'Touts' from Matatus (mini bus taxis) hustling for passengers to fill the minibus so it can fly off before a competitor. Mary and I made our way to the shoe 'stall' (shoes displayed on a piece of tarpaulin) to inspect my 'new to me' shoes. The stall owner showed me the shoes – a nice light tan pair that were made in China. Very nice quality all things considered, sourced from Nairobi. “They are very nice shoes”, I said, “but I wanted black ones.” No problem. “I will die them black.” A couple of minutes later, after trying the shoes I left Mary haggling about the price (she's much better at driving a bargain than I am) and set off to finish off my shopping.

Not wanting to be stuck in Oyugis all day I decided to catch a taxi back to our place. The 'taxi rank' was doing brisk business. Public transport in Kenya is great. Passengers pile into a taxi (usually an estate car) or Matatu and the tout or conductor drums up business until the vehicle is full. Every inch of space is used. There were two adults and the driver in the front of my taxi, four adults in the back seat and three of us in the boot. I was the first one to get into the boot so got a good seat (cushion on the floor). Fortunately the two other guys who got in after me were quite thin so our ride back to Kosele wasn't too uncomfortable.

The journey back to Kosele took half the time that it did in the Landrover. I was slightly worried for the first couple of minutes when we drove past the junction onto our road but then realized that the driver was just going to fill up with enough petrol to do the next leg in his day's travel. It's a very simple system. Take on maximum number of passengers, then buy petrol, then do journey. We flew back up the road. The view out of the back window was spoiled by a rolled up mattress which wasn't secured to the roof properly. The taxi drivers don't hang about despite the poor road. The more journeys they make the more they get paid. The ride is more comfortable than our Landrover as the cars have better suspension systems and absorb the bumps better. Somebody, somewhere is making a good living from supplying shock absorbers to these guys.

It was good to have a bit of a look out this morning but I was glad to get back and get on with my work. Our year seven and eight pupils were taking exams today and I was keen to see how they were getting on. Good English composition papers by the look of things. I'll have to wait until Monday for the final results. The school day ended on a high note with the Technical School debate. Our Technical School students have a debate every Friday, modeled on the Kenyan Parliament. Today's motion was 'Parents should cane their children in order to discipline them'. Caning is a fairly emotive subject in Kenya (as, I suspect, it is England). Caning is not allowed in Kenyan schools despite many parents and teachers seeing this a retrograde step. Our students' debating skills are coming on very well and the debate was very enjoyable with good points made on both sides and a fair amount of humour in evidence. The motion was defeated (which was a bit of a relief) and everyone went home happy. We'll be seeing the Form Two students for a couple of hours tomorrow afternoon for their week-end teaching. They are very, very keen to learn.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

One Banana ......

Today has been a memorable day for the farm. My earlier posts this month commented on the over abundance of rain that our area has received and the bad effect this excessive amount of rain has had on future prospects this season. I was very pleased when Duncan, our farm manager, came to tell me that we had harvested our first three bunches of bananas from our banana 'plantation'. I immediately rushed to find my camera so that I could share this good news with my wife Judi.

Three bunches of bananas might not sound like very many bananas but it is encouraging because of the hopes we have placed in the farm for our future sustainability. I was reliably informed by Janet (our stores manager) that these three bunches of bananas have saved us 1,000 Kenyan Shillings (about £8 or $12). Every saving that we make from the farm helps to make our income go further. As we reach the full production level from the 120 banana trees that we have planted we should also be able to sell some of our crop. Some days you can feel that everything is an uphill struggle but a small victory helps you to keep on going with renewed determination.

I have up to now avoided putting pictures in the blog but can't resist this one. On the grounds that a picture paints a thousand words and being very proud of our guys on the farm, below is the first picture news in my blog. From left to right in the picture Duncan (Farm Manager), Mary (Home Manager), Janet (Stores Manager).


Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Enterprise

It's been a very stimulating day today. Tuesday is my major teaching day so I've been doing my best to think up creative ways to connect with our business studies and computer studies classes. It's getting a little easier to pitch my approach at a level that the students can relate to and they are very accommodating in getting used to my style of teaching. It's a funny situation. I'm effectively teaching using English as a foreign language and the students are being taught in what is a second language to them. It's the most enjoyable teaching I've done for a long time.

We are trying very hard to adopt more active and creative approaches to teaching in both the Primary School and the Technical School. I'm teaching entrepreneurship to our Form One students in the Technical School as one of their business studies topics. This evening I've made a really good start on designing a board game to help them understand and later revise the topic more fully. It's very exciting. I love it when an idea starts to come together and am hoping that the board game will have genuine potential as a commercial product. We could do with generating some income from home grown enterprises and it would be a good example to the students. Still, it is very much at the 'little acorns' stage at the moment. That said if you don't think big ….......

Our Technical School Principal is on his way to Rwanda now. We are praying that he will reach his destination safely and that he will be able to keep in touch with us once he's outside Kenya. I know that he has found it very frustrating trying to keep in contact with his wife Rosaline due to network failures between Kenya and Rwanda. His last contact with us was from a Kenyan town called El Doret. Prayer protection for Isaiah would be much appreciated.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Young Leaders

One of the really rewarding aspects of our work is watching our young people growing as young leaders. I'm working with four of our youngsters at the moment to help them develop leadership skills. They are very receptive to all of the aspects of our program.

At the moment we are in a very practical phase following a period of looking at biblical principles of leadership and personal development. Many of the members of our local community face problems caused by poverty and poor health. This is especially true for elderly people who have no relatives or children to help support them in their old age. It is a sad fact that in our community many of the old people have outlived their sons and daughters (and in many cases some of their grandchildren) because of the effects of HIV/AIDS, malaria and typhoid which badly affect our community.

We are in the process of reviewing and improving the community assistance that we give to a number of old people who live close to our home. Some of them receive food assistance from us and have, in the past, also received extra help from groups of our children. The children take clean water from our borehole, fetch firewood and do washing for these elderly neighbours. Sadly some of the elderly people that we have assisted have died in the last twelve months and other, new cases, have been brought to our attention.

Our young leaders group and I met a week ago to discuss a new approach to providing this help in the community and were given the task of liaising with Dorine (one of our church pastors) to identify elderly people who need this practical help. This evening the group and I met together and they gave a report on what Dorine had told them. We went on to re-organise the groups of children who will provide the help and set up a provisional outline of the timetable for the groups' activities. We'll have a meeting on Wednesday night to finalise the details before sending the groups out, led by two of our young leaders.

I was impressed by the way these young people got on with our work tonight and very pleased that they came up with a well planned proposal in a short time. I've been to meetings with adults in Kenya and England that dragged on forever and achieved very little. I'm really hoping that giving these young people more opportunities to provide leadership and solve real practical problems will help them to get more involved in meeting the large number of needs that exist in our local community. They've certainly got off to a promising start.

On a different but equally practical note I would be very grateful if those of the praying persuasion could pray for our Technical School Principal Isaiah and his wife Rosaline. Isaiah is setting off tomorrow morning on what sounds like a horrendous journey by road to visit Rosaline who is in hospital in Rwanda. She had a fall while on a training course in Rwanda over a month ago. As a result of this her baby boy Emmanuel was born prematurely and is still receiving treatment in a special baby unit in Rwanda. Prayers for Isaiah, Rosaline and Emmanuel would be much appreciated.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Signs and wonders

Matters of faith can be very difficult to talk about and share with people. If you don't have a religious faith at all people who do may seem misguided or deluded. If you do have a faith the same thing applies to those who don't. Polite society discourages talking about politics or religion because they are such potentially divisive and explosive subjects. Being a Christian sometimes feels like being a member of a selective club with quite strict rules for membership and I'm sure many people would view churches that way looking in from the outside. Being a Christian is sometimes quite confusing. A source of doubt in one's life. One thing I am sure of though is that Jesus didn't intend the church to be narrow minded, exclusive or inaccessible. The Good News that he proclaimed was for everyone. It was (and still is) supposed to transform the world. How far many of us Christians have fallen short.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the very moving service we had in our tin shack church with it's dirt floor. Dorine, one of our pastors, is a powerful and gifted minister. She speaks with passion and has a deep commitment to bringing our church members closer to God. If you don't believe in this kind of 'mumbo jumbo' I guess it 's hard, if not impossible to understand the power of God to change people's lives. I can only speak for what I see and what I experience. Lives were changed in our church this morning because of the deep love that God has for all the people who come to him for healing and deliverance. Those are strong words – for many people part of the 'holy roller' lexicon. I don't use them lightly.

I've been reading a book by an evangelist called Reinhard Bonnke. He has brought the Gospel to millions in Africa and strongly believes that signs of God's power accompany the preaching of the Gospel. Many people would dismiss the miraculous things that happen in his mass meetings as some kind of crowd mass hysteria. It's an easy way of understanding phenomena that we can't easily explain. I've seen Reinhard Bonnke speak recently and he isn't that kind of man. He is passionate, committed and powerful. He speaks a plain Gospel message and people respond to it. Just like they did to Dorine's message this morning. Dorine could no more whip up frenzied mass hysteria than I could fly. This morning, after we'd prayed and been prayed for three members of our small congregation experienced a very deep encounter with God and were delivered of serious spiritual problems in their lives. I know they were real because I was stood next to them. I knew they were real because I'd prayed, before church, that God would be with us in a very powerful way today. The bible says that signs and wonders accompany the preaching of the gospel. They did when Jesus preached it and they still do now.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Back in the groove

Today has been an object lesson in putting your money where your mouth is and using the gifts that God gives you.

I have written before about the horrendous experiences that members of the community have when they are sick. In the absence of a properly functioning health service they are subject to all sorts of bad advice or inadequate treatment. Two cases presented themselves today one very straightforward (dehydrated baby) and one more life threatening (complications following teenager having first baby). These situations are always really hard to deal with on a number of levels. As it's the week-end there's no guarantee that some of the available local hospitals will have doctors on duty. Even if they do there's no guarantee that the doctors or surgeons will be able to deal with a complicated gynaecology case. On top of that we always need to think about the cost of treatment. Although there is a National Health scheme similar to most contributory systems in the west it's not always possible to get private hospitals to provide treatment under this scheme so the patient ends up paying a lot for a major procedure. As we aren't a bank or a large organisation with unlimited funds its always hard to know what to do for the best when we face this kind of request. Looking at each case on its merits each time is the best that we can do. It's like playing at being God sometimes. Very challenging.

On a completely different note our new Saturday evening sessions with the children are going well. As I wrote last Saturday it's been some time since I was actively involved in running an evening 'youth club' but getting back into it has been great fun. I dropped my ambitions for rock stardom many years ago but still enjoy playing the guitar and singing. It sounds cringingly stereotypical for a Christian organisation but we had good fun tonight singing dancing and having a good time playing games. Over the years I've found that not neglecting the talents that you develop during a life time is a good idea. I've decided that I'd like to get back into making music again as a tonic for the very busy work life that we all have over here. Stepping out and singing songs with the kids might not sound like a very big step in this direction but I did write the first song I've written for many years this evening after our Livewires session. It's probably not very good and I'm not planning to share it with anybody in a hurry but it was an important first step which I got a lot of pleasure and encouragement from.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Order, Order

Our older students have been encouraging me again today. I've been trying to spend time with them to teach them some new games designed to stretch their thinking. Having benefited from a very stimulating childhood its sometimes difficult to appreciate how much we take for granted from a western lifestyle. I think that most of our secondary school students had a stimulating afternoon today.

We have just started having a debate in the Technical School on Friday afternoon. I missed the first one last week but sat in on this week's. The debate is set up to mirror the arrangements in parliament, complete with Mr. Speaker presiding over the proceedings, Sergeant at Arms, an assortment of Ministers and MPs standing for or against the motion. Today's motion was that Boarding Schools are better than Day Schools. This is a big deal for our youngsters. A lot of High Schools in Kenya are boarding schools. Most students aspire to going to one of the better boarding schools. The arguments for the motion were interesting. The best thing going for boarding schools is that they usually have electricity so students can study easily in the evening. They also make it less likely that students are in contact with 'bad influences' in the community. The case against focuses on the quality of family life and the importance of contributing to family obligations.

The argument was conducted very vigorously. It's easy to spot the students with a real gift for presenting their case and trying to outsmart their opposition with good questions. In a lull in the debate the 'Ministers' were called on to give a report about their achievements since the parliament has opened. This was very amusing as the MPs were mostly hostile to the ministers and they didn't really have any good comebacks to criticism. The spirit of democracy and accountability is alive and well in our school. The speaker ruled that the motion was lost at the end of the debate. After the discussion and proceedings were over one of the first year students provided a very good analysis/critique of the vocabulary and grammar used during the debate and we finished with a prayer. It was a great ending to the school day.

After a rather late start to our evening activities I spent an equally enjoyable hour and a half teaching the older children how to play chess as part of our developing 'brain gym' program. The delay in starting was caused by the late return of our primary school pupils from the second day of ball games at the 'stadium' (large field) just up the road. We surprised the opposition by putting up a couple of good teams. The girls outperformed the boys by winning two of their matches. The boys somewhat unfortunately lost their games (I suspect to bigger and heavier sides). They all seemed very happy (though very tired) when they eventually got back. There was a short but quite heavy downpour of rain at about 5.30 this evening which delayed the players from starting back. Good for the farm but not quite so much fun for the ball game players.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Ball Games

Now that we are in the second term the ball games season has come upon us again. This is a brief period of sports madness that involves all of the local schools. The timing of events is kept a secret until the last possible minute and then more or less coordinated outbreaks of football and netball matches between schools happen at selected venues. We found out on Tuesday that our boys and girls teams were due to play matches today so hurriedly put some practice sessions together before the event.

Our matches were held at a local school in Simbiri (close to the hospital I visited on Sunday to see some friends and ended up 'parking' the Landrover in a ditch for the night). We performed quite well. Our girls won their match 1-0 and the boys drew 0-0. We at least have an unbeaten record at the moment. We will have to play some more matches tomorrow morning (a little closer to home this time in the 'stadium' just up the road). The outcome of these matches will determine whether or not any of our players are selected to represent our zone in the next round of what ends up being a national ball games competition. It's anybody's guess what will happen. Our teachers thought that some of our players are skillful but not as big as some of the players in other teams. Finesse might not be one of the major considerations in the final selection. We shall have to wait and see.

When they returned home after walking back from the matches our youngsters and all the adults were treated to sausages for supper courtesy of Ian and Hilda, our friends from Scotland, who have just returned to join us until the end of the year. It might not sound like much of an indulgence but it's the first meat I've eaten since leaving Kisumu when I arrived in Kenya at the beginning of the month. A vegetarian diet has a lot going for it but I do like to give the meat eating teeth a bit of exercise once in a while. Thank you Ian and Hilda!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Code Breakers

I've spent quite a lot of time with our Technical School students this week, teaching Business Studies, ICT and doing some problem solving activities in the evenings. It's been a lot of fun, though challenging at the same time. I really admire the students' ability to study using the English language. At the moment we are at the stage where I am trying to tune into some of the students' idiosyncrasies to make sure they understand me. I think the lessons are going down quite well, especially learning about using computers. It's been a long time since I have taught a class where most of the students have never used a computer before. They are very fast learners, corroborating research carried out by an Indian academic who made a computer available to street children in India and observed how they very quickly taught themselves to use it from scratch. 

This evening we were working on a problem involving code breaking, algebra, teamwork and mental arithmetic skills. Teaching in this way isn't really very common here so the youngsters took a few minutes to really cotton on to the purpose of the activity. They had to work together as a team to solve a series of related algebraic expressions to identify the letters in a code, and then apply the key they had worked out to decoding a message. The Technical Students who live with us are going to be the 'expert practitioners' in their respective classes and I'm hoping that they will be able to quickly bring their classmates up to speed on these kind of activities.

Our friends Ian and Hilda will be arriving in Kosele tomorrow for another long visit. It will be good to have them with us again and I know the children, staff and church members are all looking forward to seeing them. We are all hoping that we will be able to make progress on a number of new developments which will help the children to really fulfill their potential this year. Being a 'parent' to twenty five children is a full time occupation so it's really helpful to have committed and good-hearted people to share the load.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Vermin

I'm not sure who got the bigger surprise when I walked into my kitchen after homework time this evening - me or the rat. I noticed it out of the corner of my eye nosing about on the shelf behind the gas rings. I looked at it, it looked at me and then scuttled behind the piece of board that blocks off the chimney. This weak link in my defenses against vermin has now been strengthened so I'm hoping we won't come across each other again in a hurry. I know that rats are a pretty much global problem and live very much closer to us than we would like to think. When you see a rat nosing around the place you prepare food it is, none the less, still unpleasant.

My minor encounter with a rat pails into insignificance compared to our friend Dee's experiences over the years living on the site of the small hospital that she and her husband Keith first started just over twenty years ago. I went up to see Dee on Sunday and she told me about the different kinds of wildlife she'd shared the house with at different times. She said that the rats were much easier to cope with than the bats, which used to roost on the joists that supported her roof. I'm not sure how I would have coped with a bat falling onto my dinner plate!

Duncan, our farm manager, has been hard at work today planting banana 'suckers' (offshoots from the banana trees). Our banana plantation now has a hundred and twenty trees planted in it. Many of them will be bearing fruit in about six weeks time so I'm hoping that we are at the start of what will be a successful enterprise. Properly managed our bananas, kale and tomatoes could help us to be pretty much self sufficient in those parts of the menu. As ever it was all hands on deck for the planting. It's not as simple as it sounds. First a large hole has to be dug (banana suckers are quite a size) then the suckers have to be placed and the hole filled in. Duncan had sixty-six suckers to plant today so the pupils in our two oldest primary classes pitched in to help him out from about three this afternoon. Duncan was very pleased with their work and I'm sure they will be very pleased when they start eating the fruits of their labours. Duncan is also anticipating an increase in demand for our surplus suckers which we sell for a hundred shillings each(a bit less than a pound and a bit more than a dollar). We'll have to be careful not to mix our customers up with the product if we decide to advertise the suckers for sale.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Still half full

The Landrover finally made it back home after getting stuck in the mud last night (see last night's post). It looked in a sorry old state after it's unfortunate sojourn in a ditch but I'm sure it will be OK. Predictably enough there hasn't been a drop of rain tonight (though there was fairly spectacular lightning show a little distance away).

After a slightly demoralised start to the day (brought on mostly by an untypical 'glass half empty' moment) I managed to finish the day on a much higher note after updating a cash flow prediction for the rest of the year. I have discovered that I have a probably geeky liking for spreadsheets and find it very satisfying when the pieces have all been set in place.

Working through our figures I was reminded how challenging, satisfying and scary it is being any kind of entrepreneur. An incorrect or inaccurate entry on a spreadsheet can be just as hair raising as any roller coaster ride. You wouldn't think a cash flow forecast would be the kind of thing an adrenalin junkie would go for but there are thrills and spills aplenty to be had.

Anyway, suffice to say I finished up the day in a better frame of mind that when it started. Thankful to God for taking us this far. Stretching out in faith for funding the next steps in the journey and extremely thankful to be here now doing this.

The staff meeting I had with our primary school teachers was also very encouraging. The final test marks from the maths project that we have been running for a couple of months have now been compiled and we are all very encouraged by the progress that the pupils have made. The average scores in each of the groups have shown great improvement and more importantly the majority of the children have become less fearful of maths. One of the games that we have played with all of the groups is called 'Bizz Buzz'. It's a very simple memory game really but the children really enjoyed it. One of the teachers reported that her group were very keen to get started on their 'bizz buzz' project each lesson. We are approaching the half way mark in the school year over here now so we still have a decent amount of time to continue developing new approaches to teaching and learning. It really is a privilege to be working with such a willing group of teachers.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Stuck in a ditch

My apologies that tonight's post is a) a bit late and b) a bit short. I was invited to supper this evening by a couple of friends from the UK who run a small hospital in a place called Simbiri about a mile and a half off the main road from Kosele (the village closest to us). I enjoyed a very pleasant evening though became a little worried when a relatively short burst of quite heavy rain started. The road to Simbiri is well maintained but prone to becoming muddy very quickly. At some points the road is very narrow with a pronounce n shaped camber on the road and a fairly sharp drop off on each side. Duncan our farm manager made it to Simbiri to pick me up and I managed to slide off the camber on an uphill section on the way home. Despite our best efforts to make it back onto the road the Landrover kept sliding off into the ditch and is now firmly stuck. We were forced to abandon it and leave it in the care of one of our off duty night guards until morning when we will arrange a tow after the road has dried. We made it home at about 10.30. It was quite a pleasant walk, despite the frustration at having to leave our vehicle. We only saw one quite small snake which ignored us and slithered on across the road. Moral of the story - follow instincts about this kind of driving in future.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Livewires

Before Judi and I ever thought of coming out to Kenya we were involved in a church youth club called Livewires that ran on Friday nights during school term time. It was sometimes hard work mustering the energy to go to Livewires at the end of the week but it never failed to be a great night out. The club had a very simple format. We sang some worship songs, played games (the dafter the better) and had a short talk for the kids. Then we played some more games, took it in turns for the kids to have some 'tuck' and finished off with some more singing. Some nights were more chaotic than others but it was a great way to spend the early part of Friday evening. 

On Saturday nights the youngsters over here have a 'praise and worship' time. When they were all very little this mostly involved singing and clapping our way round one of the small classrooms that we first started off with. 'Happy clappy' is a good description - they were very happy and they did clap a lot. As the kids have got older it's become a bit more challenging making this a worthwhile time for them. We put our heads together while I was at home in April and decided that we ought to start up a Kosele Livewires session. We had the first one tonight, following the time honored format. I'm sure the kids thought we were losing the plot when we first started re-arranging the classroom to make room for the games but they very quickly got the message and joined in enthusiastically. It always makes me chuckle to see even the oldest youngsters getting stuck into the games. The hit game of the evening was a relay race that involved each team member crawling on hands and knees carrying a plastic cup on his or her back. If the cup fell off it was back to the start line to do it again. Once they'd understood the rules each team went crazy cheering the 'runner' on for each leg. The noise was quite deafening but really encouraging.

It's been some time since I did Livewires so I'll have to ask the current Livewires team at home to send me details of the games they are playing at the moment. It won't be very long before the older ones are running the sessions and learning a bit more about leadership. A couple of the lads are quite keen to learn how to play the guitar so we might have the makings of a band as well. It's a tough job but someone's got to do it!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Renewing Connections

Today has been somewhat frustrating, spent mostly at a meeting of local headteachers in a school in Oyugis, the nearest town to us. I have blogged before about the state of the road that runs outside our place but I don't think I have ever seen it as bad as it is at the moment. The potholes are now more like craters and the powerful surges of water crossing the road during the recent very heavy rain have narrowed the carriageway to the point where it could soon be impassable in some places. Fortunately the rain has eased up since Tuesday and is now back to the more normal pattern of lighter rain, mostly at night. I'm sure I am not alone in hoping that some repairs will be carried out on the road very soon. That said I don't think anybody is really holding their breath that they will happen.

This is a very interesting time to be in Kenya as a younger generation of politicians start to steer the country towards a more digital future. The ubiquitous mobile phone makes it very much easier for people to keep in contact and increased Internet speeds are making the goal of e-government more realistic. At present all of these plans are in their very early stages. It's still difficult to make sure that large groups of connected people (like the head teachers in our area) all receive the same information at the same time, hence the need for meetings. The meetings can be frustrating because they usually take a while to get started and it is sometimes difficult to hear all the information that is given out when people are still arriving because they have had to travel from some distance.

Despite the administrative difficulties the meeting was helpful in putting me in touch with a local teacher who is an IT Ambassador for a very forward looking project jointly sponsored by the British Council and Microsoft. His school has been chosen as a local hub for an Innovative Teaching and Learning program and has a computer room with 20 computers installed. I'm planning to pay a visit to his school next Monday. Having downloaded some of the software that Microsoft is making available free to schools on returning from the meeting it will be very interesting to see how it is being used locally.

It was also good to see some of the other headteachers and education officers who I have met at previous meetings. I find it very hard remembering names but I am beginning to recognise more of the faces now. I'm hoping that I will get to know them much better in the course of the coming year. My next meeting with the heads in our immediate vicinity will be at the de-worming training that I and one of our teachers will be attending next week. The schedule for the de-worming program in our area was the main reason for calling the meeting this morning. It was very encouraging to see how comprehensively the local education department and ministry of health are dealing with this important health issue. A small number of schools will also be treating their children to protect them against bilharzia (a water borne parasitic disease). According to Wikipedia bilharzia is a " chronic illness that can damage internal organs and, in children, impair growth and cognitive development. The urinary form of bilharzia is associated with increased risks for bladder cancer in adults. Schistosomiasis (the proper name for bilharzia) is the second most socio-economically devastating parasitic disease after malaria".

As the year goes on its becoming obvious that I'll be seeing a lot more of the local heads and education officers. I'm hoping that my memory for names and places will improve. I don't think my colleagues will have the same problem. Being the only white guy at the meeting makes me fairly unique.