Saturday, 10 January 2009

Oh to be in Kenya ...

This is a view of my garden in southern England at 11:30 today (10 Jan 2009), where the temperature is -4°C.

OK, so it looks pretty. I am warm inside with the central heating blasting away.

At my second home, on the coast of the Indian Ocean in Kenya, it is 32°C - a bit too hot for me.

But in Kisii, my "business centre", it is a pleasant 25°C, as it is all year round, give or take a couple of degrees. I can live with that.

As I get older, I find that I am less tolerant of the cold. And let's face it, last year's summer in the UK was nothing to shout about.

It was especially nothing to shout about after spending all of March in Kenya and coming home to snow in April - lovely!

This second photo is looking out from my friend's plot over the valley, west of Kisii. Yes, the sky really is that blue, and the countryside is always green.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Different Strokes

Benta, one of the orphans at Twiga, insists on going to school every day. She has even tried to convince us that she was well enough when suffering from malaria.

She wears her little blue gingham dress, white knee socks and black shoes with pride. She spends ages polishing her shoes every morning and has to look spotless. Unfortunately, when she comes back home, her socks are never white, but stained red by the dust of the school yard.

One day, she was getting ready for school, but could not find clean socks. This was a total disaster for her. She could not got school in grubby socks, nor could she go without socks. She may be an OVC* living in an orphanage, but going to school without socks just was not an option!

Eventually, we had to let he wear clean but still damp socks to go to school. Luckily, it was a warm day, and they would soon be dry.

Benta is not alone.

Contrary to popular belief by those who don't have a clue, African children do not go around in grubby, smelly, ragged clothes (or Heaven forbid, naked) through choice**. Most have a "Sunday Best" set and are proud of them. They like to look smart, well dressed. But family circumstances are often such that kids cannot have smart new clothes.


My significant-other-half's little boy, Ian, will not go out in public without a top on. He lives in an area where the temperature never drops below 22°C and daytime temperatures are usually well above 30°C.

He will happily run around the house naked after his shower, but he will not go outside in just shorts. He insists on wearing a top, even if it is 60 sizes too big for him!

Mind you, he did choose my "army colour" T-shirt over all the other, more colourful ones. He wants to be a soldier when he grows up!


So, what am I trying to say?

Just because a kid is scruffy, it doesn't make him a little savage.

It just makes him poor by the standards of the civilised world.

But it also makes him rich, far richer than most kids in the developed world. An African kid does not need a computer, Wii, X-Box, iPod, etc., etc., to amuse himself. He has friends and they react with each other, they amuse each other.

Give the average UK/European/USA kid a new toothbrush. They won't even say thank you.

Give the same toothbrush to an average Kenyan kid, and watch the delight on his face. He has something new, something that belongs only to him.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

* OVC = orphaned or vulnerable child
**There are, of course, exceptions. In certain rural areas, kids never wear clothes

Why Kenya?

I have often been asked why I have such a love for Kenya, and I have to say that it was purely accidental. But then, anyone who visits Kenya will fall in love with the country - and the people.

I have always had an interest in sub-Saharan Africa, so when I was given the opportunity to work in South Africa in 1989, I jumped at it. After it was made obvious that I was no longer welcome there and I returned to the UK, I have always longed to return to "somewhere" in Africa.

Then, a few years ago, I was approached to tidy up, maintain and update the website for Rhino Ark, a conservation charity for the Aberdare Mountains in Kenya. This re-kindled my desire to return to Africa. This job did not offer the opportunity to do so, but at least I was doing something "African".

A little later, for reasons I cannot remember, I was contacted by the director of another Kenyan charity, ACIS, asking if I could provide free or cheap computers for schools in Kenya. I couldn't, but during email conversations, it was agreed that I would build a website for the organisation, of which I later became a director, hence my first visit to Kenya in September 2007.

Before my visit, I was contacted by another organisation, Mercy Gate Champion Children's Home, an orphanage in Kisii. Again, I agreed to build them a website.

I also took it upon myself to help to get ITNs (insecticide treated nets) which had supposedly been supplied by the Kenyan Government, free of charge to all children under five. I made contact with the WHO in Nairobi as well as other organisations set up to fight malaria.

Also, at about this time, I "met" my Kenyan girlfriend - but that for another blog at another time.

So, armed with information, appointments, etc, I set off for Kenya. I stayed for a while in Nairobi with my ACIS colleague, meeting the people at WHO etc, and making arrangements to visit the Mercy Gate home in Kisii.

But I really needed to get over to Malindi, where my girlfriend lives. I spent about two weeks there - again, another blog for another day.

Upon my return to Nairobi, we started to plan an overnight visit to Kisii. We drove there, an experience in itself as we went the long way there (not intentionally), via Nakuru, Kericho and Sotik. It took the best part of a day to get there, but it was worth it just to drive across the Great Rift Valley.

In Kisii, we were well received. I met most of the kids and dished out gifts that had been collected by the people in my village in the UK, and a couple of Frizbees, which were put to very good use!

We returned to Nairobi the following afternoon, by a quicker route, through Bomet and Narok, skirting the Maasai Mara, and after a few more days in Nairobi, I returned home to the UK, promising everyone (especially myself) that I would return as soon as possible.

My next visit was in March 2008, when my immediate love of Kenya was confirmed.

I am now a director of ACIS, and have formed a new NGO, KCIS, with the directors of Mercy Gate home. It has taken over the running of the Mercy Gate home, which was renamed Twiga Children's Home (Twiga is swahili for giraffe).

I also have two businesses in Kisii, an IT consultancy and an export business.

And now I am sitting in the middle of an English winter, just waiting for the opportunity to return once again.

So, that is "Why Kenya?"

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Shifting target? Or just expanding?

I have been approached by a businessman in Cameroon to shift the malaria-control project to Cameroon. He reckons that he could find financial backing for the project, and that is tempting.

But I can't do that. My loyalty is with Kenya. Kenya is my love, my mistress. Kenya is my second home. So, when the project gets off the ground, it has to be in Kenya.

But, that is not to say that when it is established and I have proven to myself that we are on the right track, I will not expand to Cameroon [or Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi ...]

I am a bi-lingual English/French speaker, so communication will not a problem in Cameroon, and I am not against helping Cameroonians (is that right?) or any other people, wherever they are, but they have to accept that Kenya takes priority.

Or am I looking at the problem with blinkers?