Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shimo Water Well ~ Success !

Apologies for the delay in updating the blog … believe it or not, the internet is not always available & reliable in all areas of Kenya …

Shimo La Tewa School ~ Water Well # 1 – 18 July 2010

After several cleared hurdles and a few hours of despair, we were successful in circulating the mud out of the bore hole, “fishing” the larger blockages out, and re-installing the pump, piping and wellhead … and re-storing the water flow!

This well had been dry for over 11 months. The school administrators, the Shimo community, and of course the children were ecstatic … They repeatedly thanked us for coming back the second and third day … staying with the project until success was accomplished … an interesting perspective and a reflection of what possibly is not a “normal” behavior of either some Westerners, or some Kenyans, or both … maintenance does not have the sizzle but it does create the sustainability which is so vital.

Now headed back to Dallas … after what now seems like such a short stay. One trip is indeed a short experience but we have learned so much about so many … the country, the beauty, the extreme needs, the situations, the challenges, the opportunities, and the people.

We will be returning to Kenya; there's more water needs to be met !

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Excitement & a sense of humor … 17 July 2010

Kipsongo Well

Wow; what excitement ~ raw joy & emotion as children and women see the water come from a repaired well. First the anticipation (and anxiety on my part) as the repairs are being done, then as the first water flows … shouts of joy and dancing. Everyone’s first reaction was to just touch it … as if seeing the water wasn’t enough to believe it. Then the filling of the cans and plastic bottles (already lined up in preparation) to now walk a mere 200 ft. back to their homes vs. the 2 – 3 miles they were walking. Lastly, the children playing in the water, washing their feet, and splashing before it was locked up to conserve the source.
Celebrate! Maji ! (Water !)

Shimo Well

As with many projects, Kenya and the rest of the world, unknowns and problems are encountered that have to be solved for work to continue. This was the case today as we began on the work-over of the water well (sometimes referred to as a bore hole because it is drilled not hand dug) at The Shimo La Tewa School.

After taking the well head apart and removing the cover, the depth tape was lowered into the well. To our surprise and obvious dismay, the tape stopped at a depth of 32 feet, well short of the expected 240 feet. Rods were then put back into the hole to try and drive thru the blockage. We determined the blockage to be clay … more that likely from children dropping dirt clods into the hole, left open after a failed repair fix form some months back. Enough clay, expanding as it got wet, and we have a bore hole filled 80% of the way to the surface. There is also the possibility that it’s just a short “plug” of mud and not the entire depth, but we won’t know until we take another approach.
The next step involves getting a mud pump in order to inject water into the well thereby forcing the water into the mud and circulate it out. A sump (photo) is required for the water.
The rented pump, the water truck with water for injection, and valves & piping will be here tomorrow morning to begin the process. Our hope is one – two days of circulation, and of course a bit more money; and the well will be clean. Then one day to re-install the pump and piping and water flow re-commences.

Patience and tenacity … required tools for most any job but especially important in working in developing countries. Oh yes, and a sense of humor!

Tunani (see you later)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Maji !

Water Storage Repaired Pump and Silt Screen

Water is the focus of the day …

First; we visited a well, which is available to the public, on one of the main thoroughfares near the city centre. It was originally funded privately … drilled to be of assistance to the poor.

This well’s pump and operating components, which have not been operating for some time, will be pulled tomorrow and repair work determined.

We then headed to the Shimo slum and the adjacent school, taking a few bags of maize for the school’s kitchen and other donated items.

Their well has been non-functioning for over a year. We took the well apart and found several problems including a silted over pump & dried out seals, as well as inferior materials in the original construction of the well. Working with a very good well supply company in Kitale, the parts are being order and re-work of the well will continue tomorrow (Saturday).

Ironically, this effort coincides with a mobile medical clinic project planned by Sister Freda at the school in the morning and for the slum in the afternoon. With a little grace, and a lot of sweat equity, we hope to be able to have water flowing again by the afternoon / evening, and be able to celebrate with the school community and village.
Excitement & anticipation are abundant ... Maji ! (Water ! in swahili).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A better night’s sleep ~ Kitale , Kenya

Most of the day today was spent at the Kipsonga slum. A village of some 2,800 people of all ages, working daily for mere survival. The people are of the Turkana tribe originally out the north-western part of the country. They live in hundreds of individual family huts, most made of stacked mud in a wood pole and lattice structure coated with cow dung (which becomes a stucco like surface once dried). The older huts have thatched roofs while the newer ones are fitted with corrugated tin sheets. There are still over 150 huts made literally on a wood stick dome structure covered and woven with plastic; bags & loose pieces. The elder’s first goal is to build mud huts to replace these remaining plastic bag huts, especially for the elderly women without families, of which there are many.

This was once again one of those scenes we’ve all seen repeatedly on TV or in print but when you visit it in person, its difficult to comprehend. I was invited into an elderly lady’s home – the plastic bag construction variety – where she slept, cooked, and kept all her personal belongings in a 45 square foot area, max height 5ft, dome. The smoke stained ceiling I suppose guaranteed warmth and fewer malaria mosquitoes but I had to wonder about her lung health and fire safety. Frankly a bit humbling when you consider that the value of the laptop I’m typing this blog on is equivalent to the cost of building her a new home of the mud hut type construction.

The young children (2 – 5 years of age) scurry around us as we walked throughout the village, holding our hands and wanting to be recognized and acknowledged. They are wonderful little kids but fight each day for their survival as well. The Church in the village works very hard to educate and feed them a meal a day in an effort to keep them from walking 2 miles down the road to downtown, and becoming glue boys, like so many of their older siblings and friends.

The single water well for Kipsonga has a broken handle so cannot be used … the women walk a mile or so to fulfill the daily water needs of their family … we are making simple arrangements to get the handle welded back on, and then will check production and quality. We're planning two more wells, to accomplish one well per 1000 people.

Again the needs are urgent and important; water, food, housing, and security. We are working also though with the elders and some of the young adults to secure a commerce plan which will help them take care of themselves, and make the improvements long lasting & managed by the village leadership … the goal is to shake the name of being a slum. They take pride in their plan and effort to work in this direction. Their passion fuels our enthusiasm.

11:50 pm …It’s a cold evening so we’re headed back out in a few minutes (well after dark) with some of the US mission youth to do a “blanket drop” … simply finding some of the kids still out on the downtown streets, and dropping off blankets to them, so they can get a better night’s sleep.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Something ...

So much to absorb today … three main stops (Oasis of Hope, Downtown & Sister Freda’s Medical Clinic) and site visits to three water well locations.

The Oasis of Hope is a “bridge” facility for the Kitale street kids which provides them with an alternative life style to living on the streets, sniffing glue and doing petty crimes. The Oasis offers them a safe location, as well as a meal, and a classroom environment. It’s an initiative which lets the children (ages 6 – 16) go to “practice school” to learn core curriculum (math, English, crafts & PE) so they may develop in order to be successful in regular school. For the older kids, the Oasis also offers vocational training (carpentry, mechanics, sewing) since they will be too old to go to regular school (public, private or parochial) after they master the core curriculum preparation classes.

This “bridge” plan is unique compared to many other programs which are providing direct links/support to regular school. The big plus of this concept is the relative success rate of the street children as they are better prepared when they begin.

Our second visit was to downtown Kitale. It’s an organized chaos of cars, trucks, bicycles, motorcycles and very quick & nimble pedestrians. Stores, stalls and street vendors are everyone’s attention. The difficult part of this scene are the “glue boys”; young boys who carry plastic bottles in their coat sleeves, partially filled with glue to sniff in order to get / stay high. Some are just glassy eyed while others are completely out of it as they beg for money and food. We offered them the Oasis (which 95% of them at least know about) as a way out. At first the scene is a very surreal setting until you realize the actuality and severity.

Sister Freda’s Medical Clinic (Freda Robbinson RN) was the last stop. This facility provides a surgical capable hospital, training & counseling services, and the 32 student nursing school will open in 60 days. On the “campus” is also a farm, and housing for the nursing staff, the grounds crew and Sister Freda & her husband. This wonderful operation is focused on the poorest of poor, and provides excellent services with the warmest of hearts. At the end of our tour we provided Sister Freda with three large duffel bags of Dallas donated medical supplies; from cloth diapers to towels & sheets, from children vitamins to Ibuprofen. She was so, so excited and repeatedly thankful … a humbling experience; relatively so little means so much!

As we worked our way through these locations, we also visited three water well sites. One well needs to be worked over and brought back to production. This is on the agenda for tomorrow and possibly Friday. Then we will have another location visit Saturday and Sunday. “Water is Life” – Sister Freda.

The take aways from today are a little hard to measure & fully understand at this point.

- First, I must reiterate about the lushness of Kenya and the beauty of the country – it really is a tropical environment. And the people; they are very friendly and welcoming. They are truly resourceful and hard working but daily face such uphill climbs.

- While large numbers of people, organizations and countries are passionately addressing the issues, making great strides & writing positive success stories, the different facets of the challenges remain many.

- The severity of the situation is what is overwhelming – the needs are so urgent.

- While the situation can be frustrating for a multitude of reasons; literally anything one can do is a plus and obviously much better than doing nothing. Let’s do something ! Stay tuned !

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Logistics and Travel Day (13 July 2010)

Today was simply a logistics and travel day … meeting up with a long time friend who flew in from Kiev … to travel together to Kitale. He is a global director for mission work, managing & successfully juggling multiple groups; one such which is based in Kitale. The original plan to drive (5+ hours) from Nairobi to Kitale was superseded by an afternoon turbo-prop flight to Eldoret and a short 80 km (43 mile) drive on the Eldoret – Kitale Highway .

This highway claims to have more potholes and cross road ditches per km than any highway in Kenya and after the 2 hour–15 minute ride, I can attest the claim is well justified. I felt as if our car were the ball on the old coffee table game of the balance board with a maze for the ball to navigate; rocking back and forth dodging the holes until we eventually fell in one. Then we’d downshift and start all over again. Especially interesting after sunset … not a lot of street/highway lights in western Kenya .

It was a great way however to see Kenya and her people, both at sunset making their way home from work, and after dark, spending their time with family & friends around road side fires keeping warm on a cool evening, and roasting freshly harvested ears of corn from this agricultural rich area of the country.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Differences and Similarities

After a short trip – close to half way around the world and crossing the equator – we have arrived in Nairobi, Kenya. With an only few hour late arrival on a 25 hour journey, only one lost bag, and at 12:45 am, a Land Cruiser that wouldn’t start without a little pushing and battery arcing, all things can be considered as having gone well. You have to smile.

Weather is a very pleasant sunny day, in the high 70’s while the night will drop to the mid 50’s. Our accommodations at the Methodist Guest House, on Oloitoktok Road, are quite comfortable, especially after the two 9 hour segments on the flight over.

Travel, especially international travel, causes one to think and reflect globally. Think and reflect on the differences and the similarities. The differences and the similarities of the geography, the animals, the birds, the vistas, and most important; the people; their cultures, their foods, their economies, their languages, their cities, their towns, their lifestyles, their families, their interest, and their wants, needs, and dreams …
Cherish and celebrate the differences – recognize and appreciate the similarities … both create the right balance.

Its World Cup 2010 Finals night so many are focused on the football pitch in South Africa for the big match. Either the Netherlands or Spain will win the right to put their Country’s name on the trophy for the first time … we’ll be in front of our big 13” TV watching with the rest of the world – Cheers!