Friday, 31 May 2013


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


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


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


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.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

So many children

I guess that the problem of neglected, abandoned, unloved or mistreated children and young people is a worldwide issue. In the west there are more sophisticated responses to it that in many countries in the developing world. Interventions by care workers, social workers, charities and churches provide many resources designed to help these young people put the pieces of their variously broken lives together so that they can fulfill their potential and have a good quality of life. Jesus would have recognised them as being among "the least of these". Young people out on the margins of their communities. 

Every once in a while I come across stories of children who are going through a very tough time and, like children the world over, respond to it by making bad choices. Out here in Kosele there are many broken families and complicated family relationships caused by the death of one or both parents from HIV and related illnesses. If you add the practice of polygamy to the picture it isn't difficult to understand why many young people find themselves in almost impossible situations.

Since we first started our work in Kenya the Kenyan government has made great progress in providing places for children in primary school. Despite this many children find themselves out of school for one reason or another. These include not having enough money to buy required items of uniform, having to work to support the 'family' and bunking off school because of inadequate parental supervision. The work that they find is very hard and poorly paid. Exploiting child labour is a practice that dates back for centuries. In our area, which is predominantly rural, children can find employment slashing (cutting down) grass, digging, weeding and loading bricks onto lorries at the local 'brick works'. The Children's Officer (a government official) has the job of stamping out these bad practices but is woefully underfunded and really on a hiding to nothing. You can't blame the youngsters for undertaking this kind of work in preference to going to school.

Living conditions for many people in the community are like something out of the middle ages. With employment practices that could be taken straight from the pages of Dickens and family circumstances that make Thomas Hardy's worst cases look positively idyllic it's not really surprising children's lives can be so disturbed. We do what we can to support the young people that we care for and educate. With a wealth of experience between us we have been able to get to the bottom of a number of quite complicated and distressing problems that our youngsters have experienced. It is, never the less, always heartbreaking each time we hear about a new problem. The only thing we can do is to show them the kind of love that Paul describes in the bible:

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance".

Sounds a bit preachy but when you really look at the words it's incredibly powerful and very challenging.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Business Partners

Over about the last nine months we have had a recurring problem with our neighbours' chickens trespassing on our farm. The chickens are attracted by the prospect of free food. For a number of years the chickens had been quite scrawny and had only been able to eat the relatively small amount of scraps left over from lunch. The new 'invaders' are a completely different proposition. Since we started developing our farm we have opened up a whole new world of possibilities for foraging chickens. In addition to the leftovers from lunch (which have increased as we have added to the number of children in school) there is a farm full of green shoots and crops to feed on. Since January these fowl (sorry) pests have managed to eat all of the water melon seedlings that we planted and have made inroads on our kale crop and other seedlings. Because of the rich pickings the chickens are now huge. The mother hens range over our land with chicks in tow, no doubt teaching them all the prime spots for food.

The problem has now become so serious that we have had to have a word with the neighbours who own the chickens. Duncan, our farm manager, told me that one of our neighbours no longer has any chickens. They had been causing another neighbour the same problems so Duncan reckons the other neighbour poisoned all of them. Not the most neighbourly way to deal with the issue but now no longer a problem for us. Our other neighbour was a bit harder to track down but we managed to speak t her this morning.

We had, at one point, thought we might 'impound' the chickens if they strayed onto our land then take them up to the Agriculture Officer's office up the road in Kosele where the neighbour would have had to pay to have them returned to her. Until this morning this seemed the best option. At the start of our meeting a chance remark about the value of chickens once full grown got me thinking about another solution.

The most common way to restrict the movement of chickens and other livestock around here is to tether them. It's quite effective but tedious for the owner of the animals so it's not really very effective. Our neighbour offered to tether her chickens for a month "until they learn not to come on the land", but none of us thought this was at all feasible. I'm sure even chickens would remember where the food is for some time. The best solution would be to put them in a chicken coop. The only problem is that the neighbour a) hasn't really considered this and b) couldn't afford it anyway.

To create a more permanent solution to the problem we have gone into a business partnership with her. We'll build a fairly small chicken coop and supply her with scraps and greens from from our kitchen so that she can feed the chickens. In return she will give us two of the chicks from each brood once they are full grown (which takes six to eight months). We should be able to sell them for about three to four hundred shillings each. The neighbour keeps up to five hens at a time so it could be a nice little earner. Plus we won't have chickens destroying valuable crops by eating the seedlings.

Duncan was given the job of writing up the contract for the arrangement and we will invite our local chief to witness the transaction. The agreement will be reviewed annually. We will almost certainly start rearing our own chickens this year and would not want to give away too much free food to our neighbour. If she is able to make a success of her end of the business she should be able to buy her own feed from the profit she makes. Each hen hatches about a dozen chicks at the moment but the number reduces in the course of their growing up because of the natural hazards and predators they encounter in their wanderings. We will have to see how it works out but at the moment it looks like a fairly 'cheep' solution to what had been a costly problem.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Ghost in the machine

Sorry – another dodgy music plug. (When this Police album came out I was actually working at one of the record pressing plants that they produce the CDs in, pumping water out of a big hole in their grounds). Link is below. The album title wasn't actually a track but this is a great song.

Anyway. The reason for the link is the predictable glitch that hit one of the laptops that I have been blogging about over the last few days. I'm pleased to say that my lessons went well today. I made a conscious effort to slow down my talking and the teachers who witnessed me in action thought that it went OK. It was great to be teaching well motivated students. During the the ICT lesson all the students managed the activities that I'd set up and the laptops stayed powered up. So far so good.

After school I did some ICT training with the High School teachers. There are five of them and five laptops so I was optimistic that we had the makings of a good session. Unfortunately one of the computers decided to go into 'can't start' mode and an on screen message reported that it was fixing problems which might take some time. It did – about two hours. Once it finally reached a screen that suggested it might start up there was an error report saying that a camera or similar device had been attached to the computer recently which had caused the problem. There hadn't. I was even more puzzled when I found that all of the users that I had set up on the machine had vanished and that the computer had been reset to a previous life! Most bizarre but, I guess, ultimately predictable. The laptop is now out of the critical care unti and running normally. Until the next time.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Long shots and short circuits

It's been a long day for all of us today. I think I have finally finished setting up our laptops for use in my ICT lessons. The first lesson is tomorrow afternoon so it won't take long to find out. I'm looking forward to it.

Mary, our manager, and Duncan our farm manager have done some travelling today to find out whether or not sugar cane will be a viable crop for our farm. They made a fairly long journey to sugar cane country to find out what varieties of sugar cane are available and to find out whether or not the market is close enough to us. The good news was that sugar cane is a profitable crop. The Sony sugar factory in our region is a good customer for sugar cane and helps growers by picking up the cut crop. The bad news is that we are a bit too far away from the 'sugar belt' to be considered a good bet. It looks like we may have to modify our 'get rich' sustainability plans. Duncan did mention an alternative use for the sugar cane in the wine making industry but we aren't really sure how that would work out. We haven't ruled it out but it looks like a bit of a long shot. I really admire the pair of them. They didn't return until very late this evening and I can't imagine the journey being very pleasant.

We've been trying to get to the bottom of a mystery with the solar power system on our classrooms over the last couple of weeks. It has been very frustrating but I think we may be closer to solving the problem after today's observations. We had been worried that the very cloudy weather has been interfering with the charging process or that one of the charge controllers on the major part of the system is faulty. We've been 'resting' the system for about the last week to give all of the batteries a chance to charge properly. As we haven't had this kind of problem for some time it seemed like the best thing to do. Today I noticed that the charge indicator had crept up to the green light level for the first time in ages by ten o'clock this morning and was becoming more hopeful that it would charge fully by this afternoon. I was disappointed to notice the light had slipped back down to orange by the end of school. A very quick investigation identified the problem. Two outside light switches left on, (but not actually lighting any bulbs as far as I could see). As soon as they were switched off the indicator flipped to green again. Looks like it could be an electrical engineering day tomorrow.

I've been thinking a lot about my son Tom and daughter Ellie in the course of today. They both have exams at university this week and I'm feeling a bit anxious for them as you do. Ellie's taking end of first year medicine exams and Tom has a combination of an English exam and a performance piece for his music course. I can't believe how quickly the academic year has passed. Judi and I would appreciate the prayers of the praying community for the two of them.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Hallelujah Church

We had a really powerful church service this morning which gave everybody a good lift at the end of the week. It's very easy to get so caught up in the practical parts of the work out here and to stop paying attention to the inspiration that brought us out here in the first place. One of the great things about being in Kenya is that most people around here will say that they are Christians and a great number of them really mean it. This means that there is a culture that really doesn't think the Bible a book of nonsense verses and is ready to devote time to worship. That said there are still a large number of traditional beliefs and practices which are completely opposed to the teaching of the Bible. Many people do not find it difficult to hold both sets of beliefs at the same time. Witchcraft sounds very medieval put is is a very real evil around here.

Back to church. Our congregation has a good number of men in it, many children and a lot of ladies. We are slightly unusual as we have our church service on Sunday (The Seventh Day Adventist Church which is most common in our area meets on a Saturday). In churches in the west a great deal of time and effort goes into making sure there is a good worship band, sound system and presentation equipment. This creates a great atmosphere and is very obviously culturally relevant. Our church, for obvious reasons, does not have any of these facilities. The church has got a dirt floor (admittedly well packed down now) and we bring benches to sit on from our classrooms. The style of singing is very traditional. We have a number of songs that get sung most weeks and the style is very repetitive. We have a 'praise and worship team' who lead the singing and the congregation joins in with a 'call and response' style very often. We sing the same line of the chorus many times. You'd think it would be deadly dull but it is very moving. When the whole church gets going it's an amazing sound to hear and be part of.

Our pastor Dorine was preaching today and was on great form. She is a very devoted lady and a very passionate speaker. She spoke today on Jesus being the light of the world and called on us all to walk in that light all the time – no more slipping in and out of the shadows. By the end of her address nearly all of us were on our knees in prayer, compelled by the simple truth in her message. For me Dorine's words were very poignant. It is marvelous being ministered to in a church made out corrugated iron and feeling the dirt on your hands and knees. It doesn't come very much more real.

I realise that the Christian faith does not sit well with everybody. That Christianity and the Bible are, for many, a cause of strife and division. I hope that we can agree to differ without falling out with one another. I really wish you could all have been in church with us this morning though. It was awesome.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Log me on Scotty

Today has been one of those days when a fairly simple job turned into a long and protracted one. Now that I’ve found my feet I’ve been able to make some plans to get more actively involved in teaching again. I had a good meeting with the High School teachers yesterday and we re-arranged the timetable so that I can teach some Business Studies and ICT lessons. It will be good to get back in the classroom, though I am a little apprehensive about teaching without all the usual technical aids that I’m used to. It will be like being on teaching practice again for the first few lessons.

Back to the unraveling problem. I thought it would be a good idea if all of the students’ computer screens looked the same when they start using them and that they are set up so a novice user only has very limited options to do anything catastrophic. I’m used to having ICT technicians look after this kind of thing; it’s been a long time since I’ve had to do much about computer security. We currently have five laptops for the students to use so the first task was to make sure they were all running the same software. Time consuming but straightforward. Setting up a user name for each student on each laptop has been a bit more challenging. It’s not difficult to give them each a user name and password but it’s more complicated limiting their options the copying that over the five laptops. Trying to work out the best way to achieve this is a bit of a conundrum at the moment but I’m confident that I’ll achieve a breakthrough tomorrow.

As the rain happened this afternoon and hasn’t picked up again tonight the place is strangely quiet. Even the frogs seem to have called it a day. I think I’ll try and get my first early night so far. If I can avoid mulling over the computer problems I think I might succeed. Still. It’s a good problem to have. When I think about the first year we spent in Kenya it is incredible how much we are able to do now. I feel very privileged to be working so far ‘off the grid’ with such a good team of staff and very keen students. Victory over the technology is so much sweeter when it’s being used in a challenging environment.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Ants Marching

OK so the title tonight is a blatant plug for one of my favourite Dave Matthews Band songs (link below).

On with the blog. I am really not an entomologist. That said Kenya is a fantastic place for anybody with a keen interest in the study of insects. Yesterday while I was doing the rounds of the lower school classrooms I was surprised to see the Year 2 pupils and their teacher running out of the classroom in a panic and making a lot of noise. The commotion was caused by a single wasp which was doing the wasp thing of terrorizing people in confined spaces by dive bombing them. I rushed into the classroom, armed myself with a text book and tried swatting it. I managed to kill it eventually but only after it had stung me. The class teacher, Madam Rose then pointed to the small wasp nest outside the window of her classroom which half a dozen of the deceased wasp’s brothers and sisters were buzzing around. I’d managed to brush the wasp off before it could get round to delivering a proper sting but I was still glad of the tube of anti-histamine I keep for such occasions.

The ants connection is inspired by my latest labour saving idea. As I am currently living on my own in the house and eating a lot of my meals with the children in our dining hall it really makes sense to do my washing up once a day. This arrangement saves gas and water. I’ve noticed that a colony of very small ants find the plates and cutlery that I leave stacked by the sink ready for washing very attractive as a source of food. They are very methodical as they go over the items in carefully regimented lines. They confine themselves to the sink area. I’m not really sure where they come and go from so I guess there is a danger that I could be harbouring a huge colony of these tiny creatures somewhere in the house. My guess is that they make their way in through a tiny gap in the window frame and are really outdoor ants. I haven’t put my theory fully to the test yet but I’m sure that the ants do quite an effective job of cleaning the worst bits of meal remains off the plates and cutlery. It’s fascinating watching them. They are, unfortunately, so small that it’s impossible to brush all of them off the washing up when I put it into the bowl so there is a bit of an attrition rate involved in their scavenging. I wonder if ants have any sense of legal redress for killing fairly large numbers of them over a period of time. If they did they would probably refer to my crime as anticide.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Maths horror

I remember finding fractions very difficult when I was at primary school. Our maths project is heading towards fractions very soon and it will, I’m sure, be one of the topics that really challenge some of the children. I was very fortunate in primary school. For nearly all of my primary education I was lucky enough to have good teachers. They were enthusiastic, encouraging and very caring (all except the head teacher of the first school that I attended in 1963 who cheerfully caned five year olds, self included). I’ve been collecting resources to help with our teacher training program and found the following quote in a really excellent book called “Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers”. I can only thank my teachers for helping me overcome the horrors of maths. Research would seem to suggest that many people were not so lucky. In the book it says:

“Findings indicate that many adults, in relation to mathematical tasks, admit to feelings of anxiety, helplessness, fear, dislike and even guilt”.

I hope that we can avoid creating the same feelings in any of our pupils. Now that the school term has started I’m getting into the swing of working with our youngsters at homework time in the evening. Having spent my teaching career in England working in High Schools teaching older students I am finding working with younger children a lot of fun. Playing maths games with the children and getting them to make resources that will help them understand key concepts creates all sorts of opportunities for creativity and entertainment. We started this evening by making some simple fraction lines so that the children can see what fractions really look like and can understand why two quarters are the same as a half. We’ll move on to putting the theory into practice by sharing out food and doing some shopping. One of the great (though sometimes overwhelming) things about teaching is the way that it gets the creative juices flowing. It’s difficult to obtain a lot of the resources that we take for granted in schools in the UK. We’ll need to make some money to make the shopping role play more interesting so the photocopier will be hard at work tomorrow. We don’t have the same foods to divide up that children in England are familiar with either. The humble pizza can be used to teach a great number of maths concepts. The nearest equivalent over here is the chapatti so I think we might have to do some cooking over the week-end.

School should, I think, be a place that children can’t wait to come to every day because it’s such a good place to be. Today the weather has been more like it be should be at this time of year, with the rain falling in the evening. This has meant that the children have, for the first time since term started, been able to enjoy playing on our field. We have just had the grass on the field slashed (as we don’t have a lawn mower). This is a bit like scything the grass down to a manageable length. Today the cut grass had dried sufficiently well to be gathered up to use as mulch on our farm. The youngest children had a great time at lunchtime rolling the grass up into big bundles using sticks (a bit like rolling snow to make a big snowball). Their teachers and I were impressed with their ‘work’ rate and their teamwork. Apart from their occasional lapses into throwing the grass over each other the children really worked hard. Some of them had races to see who could push their bundle of grass to the big heap the quickest. Four very small lads worked together to manhandle really big bundles of grass to the pile. They were very impressive. With the sun shining brightly for once, watching the children and chatting with their teachers was a lovely way to pass twenty minutes and a real encouragement. Left to their own devices children are a lot smarter and more inventive than we often give them credit for.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


Living out in the wilds of rural Kosele continues to be a bit of a pioneer lifestyle, what with the DIY tooth care and current extreme weather. I’ve been a fan of westerns for as long as I can remember and always enjoyed films and books about the early settlers in the US as they pushed on into new lands and established new frontiers. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that living conditions out here in Kosele are remotely comparable to living in a covered wagon in winter. We do have fairly reliable electricity and it’s not difficult to stay in touch with my nearest and dearest back home. It is very different from back home though.

As I sit in my office in the early evening it’s lovely to hear the girls singing while they take their showers (my ‘office’ shares a wall with one of the sets of shower cubicles). The rain and cloudy weather doesn’t deter the children from bathing so I thought that I ought to pucker up and brave the elements (in the interests of sociability if nothing else). It wasn’t actually raining while I showered but it is very cold. I have had to resort to wearing a fleece today for the first time ever. As I looked up at the grey clouds, wondering when the heavens would open, I began to think about how tough it would have been for those early pioneers in America and how hard life is for our neighbours. In the west we have elevated the fairly simple act of staying clean to something almost religious. A huge industry has been built around satisfying people’s bathing requirements. Over here soap and rainwater are all that’s available at the moment. I’m not complaining. One of the best things about living in Kosele is the way that it simplifies living and helps you to appreciate fairly basic creature comforts. I’d recommend it to anybody.

I’m writing up the blog a little earlier than usual tonight. I can hear the sound of singing coming from the classrooms so it’s time to head over for a short time of worship and a message from one of the children. You can’t beat it.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Things we take for granted

I think being a teacher in a place like Kosele must be one of the ultimate challenges in the teaching profession. Despite our ten year long experience of living and working in Kenya I’m always learning about the reality of growing up in ‘the rurals’ and the challenges that young people face.

I’ve had a really enjoyable day today – walking round the farm and talking to Duncan, our farm manager, about the prospects for the current growing season, meeting the teachers after school, plotting and scheming and trying out my new gumboots (the correct phrase in Kenya for Wellington Boots). This evening I spent the first of what I hope will be many happy evenings helping some of our older children with their homework. Sharon, Ephy Faith and I covered a lot of ground as we worked through business studies, RE and social studies questions. Our discussions helped me to appreciate how easy it is to take a western understanding of the world and the way it works for granted, and how difficult it is for our youngsters to understand big world issues like the environment, climate change, consumerism and peak oil. Our young people’s commitment to learning is really admirable. Their frame of reference and personal experience is a barrier to learning and understanding that I find very challenging. It’s a challenge to find and develop examples that help them to connect to the world issues that they will be expected to write about and comment on in their exams. It’s a bigger challenge to understand why one part of the world should have so much of everything and another should have so little. The complex web of inequalities and injustice that effectively limit our young people’s horizons make me angry.

Having the rest of the year to work with the youngsters and a computer full of good resources to help them gives me hope that we will be able to make considerable progress in the months ahead. As one of life’s optimists I am unwilling to believe that there is nothing that can be done and am looking forward to getting to grips with the challenges.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Back to school

It feels a bit more normal over here now that all of the children are back at school. I arrived during the last week of the school holiday so it was a bit quiet. The start of term in Kenya is a significant event. Rather than talking about “going back to school” we are opening for the new term. It's good to add a bit of gravitas to the first day back. It always gives us an opportunity to encourage the pupils with a pep talk.  The children looked keen this morning and I was pleased to see that they are still enthusiastic about the maths project that we started last term. Josephine and Rose (the two teachers who have been coordinating the project) gave me some very encouraging feedback about progress so far.

We had our monthly visit from the guys from the water management department this morning. They arrived in a very nice four wheel drive pickup and carried out their usual tests (water table level and quality of our water). The rains this year have pushed the water table up to the point where the floors of some of our neighbours' houses are very damp now. Just before travelling out to Kenya I received an email from our management team informing me that we will have to pay a small 'water extraction' fee from now on and that the first payment would be back dated for some years. It wasn't a huge amount of money but it's never very good hearing about new expenses. The guy who was in charge this morning was very helpful and advised us that we should write a letter to claim exemption from the charge. It's good to know that we have someone on our side.

We are going to have to replace our trusty Landrover very soon. The water management team's driver seemed quite knowledgeable about second hand vehicle costs and said that he would see if he could find a suitable vehicle for us. He was a very nice guy and took my number so that he could contact me with any news. I guess the more people we have looking out for a vehicle for us the more likely we are to find one.

We do need to buy it fairly urgently. Parked next to the government pickup our Landrover looked in a bit of a sorry state. It wasn't new when we bought it and it has seen some miles in the last ten years. Getting stuck in the mud last night didn't add much to it's appearance. Every once in a while we are asked to carry a 'patient' to one of the local hospitals. This is usually OK but it's a bit of a difficult request to respond to very late at night, as happened yesterday. One of our neighbours came to the gate at about eleven pm last night, obviously very worried because his elderly relative (one of our children's grandmother) had 'fainted' and was very sick. The nearest hospital that provides affordable care is not very far away but it isn't on the main 'road'. One of our night guards was willing to drive the lady and her carers to the hospital so they set off to pick her up.

It's hard to appreciate how difficult it is for members of the community when a serious medical problem strikes. The lady's home is not easily accessible so she had to be carried to the nearest point of the main road to be picked up by Leonard in the Landrover. Once the vehicle had departed I went back to bed. When I got up this morning I noticed that the Landrover was still missing. The road was so bad that it didn't quite make it to the hospital and had to be towed out of the mud this morning. Poor Leonard spent the night guarding it for us. We heard later that the lady had pneumonia. I hope she makes a good recovery.

Sunday, 5 May 2013


My apologies for not putting up a post last night. Unfortunately my Internet connection conspired against me. Despite being up until very late last night working on my mark book system I was unable to make lasting contact with the World Wide Web. It was very frustrating as it was the first time I've missed a day on the blog from Kenya since I started it.

The sound of a local funeral provided an interesting backdrop to my work last night and lasted well into the small hours of the morning. The soundscape was made even more interesting by frogs, crickets and the alarm on our solar power system which had obviously run out of sunshine! Maintaining the positive approach, the wildlife sounds are often very musical. They make an interesting soundtrack to the early morning.

I was also kept awake last night by the intransigence of the spreadsheet system I started on Friday. I’m glad you can’t get pizzas and energy drinks (the probably apocryphal mainstays of computer programmers) over here as I’m sure I would have been feeling bloated and wired if they were available. It’s worrying how easy it is to get hooked on solving computing problems. I think I have at last broken the back of the spreadsheet design now. Having written copious notes about the various design issues and solutions to them I've got the first prototype of the system running and will show it to some of our teachers tomorrow. It’s part of a plan to monitor the children’s progress in school more effectively by using time saving tools. I hope we can avoid the well documented drawbacks of being ‘driven by data’ but I do think it’s important that we have accurate information. The children we teach only get one shot at education so we need to make sure they are on target for as much of the time as possible.

The weather is a linking thread in many of the things that are happening out here at the moment. Most people cannot remember a time when it rained so heavily for so long and there are already dire predictions about the effects of the rain on the next harvest. Our solar system is struggling to deliver enough power because of the unusually cloudy weather that we are experiencing. It started to get quite gloomy and rained heavily at about three o’clock this afternoon, a good three hours earlier than usual. We are having to run our small generator to keep the lights on for long enough for the children to do their homework in the evening and to give the solar system time to recover and do a deep recharge. It’s only really the frogs who like the rain. It’s a shame that they choose to give voice to their happiness when the rest of the world wants to get to sleep!

The rain also made getting into church this morning a bit trickier than usual. The church ‘building’ is just over the road from our place. There is usually a trickle of water running down the far side of the road that is easy to step across. The run off from the hills close by have turned the trickle into a little stream and somebody has thoughtfully put three small stepping stones across it. I was reminded of more biblical river crossings watching the children crossing to go back over to our school classrooms for Sunday school. I’m sure it was just a coincidence that our Pastor, Kennedy, chose the Israelites crossing of the Red Sea as his main text for the sermon this morning.

Friday, 3 May 2013


One of the interesting pledges that Uhuru Kenyatta the new President of Kenya made on his election campaign was to provide school pupils with solar powered laptops. This proposal has provoked a mixed reaction in Kenya, ranging from out and out condemnation on the grounds of being a colossal waste of money to admiring acceptance of a brave initiative that will put Kenya on the map as a go ahead nation. The truth probably lies somewhere between these extremes.

On the grounds that ICT is likely to figure significantly in the world of education over here for some time I’ve been brushing up my skills and thinking of ways to be of assistance to our local education department. Having spent twenty years or so as an educational ICT specialist I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops in Kenya.

Keeping up with new versions of familiar software is one of the perennial problems facing ICT users. I’ve always enjoyed creating ICT systems and spent a happy day today wrestling with the most recent incarnation of the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. I always thought that designing and documenting spreadsheet and database systems were the most demanding requirements of ICT courses at A level in the UK (taken by eighteen year olds prior to university entrance). I haven’t set up a proper spreadsheet system for a while and was surprised how challenging it was to build in features that I would have created very quickly a few years ago. That said it was good fun and I will, I hope, end up with an all singing and dancing electronic mark book for our teachers and for their colleagues in the wider community. The major benefits of such a system would be to put an end to the school shut down that often accompanies compiling exam marks and an associated enhancement of teachers' ability to use exam data effectively.

None of this would have been possible without my DIY dentistry yesterday. (See yesterday’s post). I’m happy to report that my tongue is now pretty much back to normal now. The facial contortions that often accompany creativity and concentration when tackling an ICT project would have been impossible with the tooth problem I suffered from until today.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Sharp tooth

Regular readers of the blog may remember my attachment to the 'multi-purpose gadget' that I have out here. Used most successfully on fixing electrical problems in the past the gadget (a copy of the famous Leatherman multi-purpose knife) was instrumental in providing an answer to prayer this morning.

On Tuesday I managed to chip the tooth on the bottom left of my jaw, creating a sharp edge which my tongue instantly developed a fascination for. I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the problem. When I woke up this morning my tongue felt like it was on fire every time it went anywhere near the tooth. My only strategy to deal with the problem has been to try wearing the sharp edge down when eating. I’m convinced it would have worked eventually but am equally sure that it would have involved a lot of pain. Having a strong belief in the efficacy of prayer I prayed to be delivered of the tooth problem this morning. I’m not really sure what I was expecting to happen. Sudden miraculous end to pain and remodeled tooth would have been good.

Within minutes of praying I brushed my teeth (again) and was struck by a sudden inspiration. The handle of my toothbrush has lumpy bits on, to improve grip. It occurred to me that if I used the handle of my toothbrush a bit like a file I could wear the sharp edge down. I decided to give it a try. The toothbrush handle was, unfortunately, not really up to the task but it did inspire me to look for a small enough file to do the job. Enter the gadget which has a blade that doubles up as a file and fish hook disgorger. Not being sure how clean this blade was I ‘ sterilized’ it with boiling water then set to filing the tooth.

My first attempt with the gadget was successful enough to be encouraging but didn't fix the problem. I found it difficult to make sure I was filing the right bit of the tooth. Using a torch and mirror helped me to pinpoint the critical bit of tooth. Emboldened by my early success I filed away quite vigorously and managed to round off the sharp edge. The relief from pain was pretty immediate. As the day wore on I became more confident that my amateur dentistry had been successful. As I type (11.00 p.m.) my tongue is still very sensitive but nothing like as painful as it was when I woke up. I’m hoping that a good night’s sleep will give my tongue time to heal. If it’s still sensitive in the morning I'll have another go at developing my skills as a dentist.

I don’t know if it’s the kind of thing that the gadget manufacturer would want to include in future publicity. It’s a peculiar kind of testimony really. Hardly earth shattering news. The timing of my inspiration may seem co-incidental but, as I've said before, when I don’t pray the co-incidences don’t happen. God certainly moves in mysterious ways!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Here comes the flood

It’s great to be back in Kosele. I arrived just before lunchtime today after travelling through evidence of an excess of rain pretty much everywhere. The rice fields along the route to Kosele are clearly thriving in the wet weather. The last eight kilometers of ‘road’ to our place obviously aren't. The road doesn't seem as bumpy as it has it the past. Many of the potholes have been filled in. The flooding at the bottom of hills and the mud by the side of the ride still make it a slow journey though. I felt very sorry for two ladies who were travelling on a motorbike in the opposite direction to us. They were obviously going somewhere important as they were dressed up in every nice outfits. The guy who was driving the bike was clearly concerned for their finery as he made them get off the motorbike and walk round a very large puddle while he drove slowly through it. It looked like a fairly perilous walk in high heels.

Things seem to be going well at our place. The children are enjoying the end of term holiday this week and will be returning to school on Monday to start term two. It will be good to see the teachers again and take the next steps on our journey of educational innovation. As I’m planning to be here until December I’m hoping that we will be able to achieve a lot this year. Isaiah (our High School Principal) and I have already started planning for the new classrooms we are hoping to build this year.

That said I think everybody is hoping the rain will ease up soon as it is making the land very waterlogged. The unpredictable weather patterns that we are currently experiencing makes forward planning quite challenging. If the land doesn't get a chance to dry out a number of our plans may have to be modified. Farming especially looks like a fairly straightforward activity until you start doing it. Talking to Duncan, our farm manager, on the journey here from Kisumu, it soon became obvious that too much rain has the potential to stress our crops as much as too little. The rain today has been torrential. It started at about 3 p.m.  and has continued up until now (7.30 p.m.). The ditch that runs beside the road that passes our place turned into a torrent which, I’m sure, would be dangerous to small children. I've never seen the ditch look so swollen – it looked more like a small river.

Weather aside I can’t wait to get started on the rest of this year’s work. There is much to plan for and lots to do. Joseph, our carpenter and woodwork teacher, is busy making bunk beds for the visitors who will be joining us in July and planning for building a new training workshop. I hate to add to his to do list but I’m thinking we might need to find plans for a large boat. 

I might have used the link below before but it’s still a good song.