"After a long day travelling on the Wednesday, Marnix (the Director of Macheo, our partner organisation in Kenya) collected Paddy and me from Nairobi and we arrived back at the volunteers' house at Macheo Children’s Home just before midnight.
We only had two full days with Macheo and lots of things we wanted to see and do, so we made an early start on Thursday morning and headed out to Mukuyu Primary School.
My last visit to Mukuyu was in 2011 when our project was in its first year and things have changed so much since then. The school looks much better thanks to the classroom refurbishments, the new toilet blocks and the pathways around the school grounds that have all been provided by Kipawa in the last few years. I had seen photos of these from previous Kipawa trustee visits but it was nice to be back and see everything for myself.
The children were excited, as always, to have Scottish visitors and were keen to say hello, exchange hand shakes or high-fives and have photos taken. They were also particularly keen to touch our hair, if they could reach!
It seemed we had brought some Scottish weather with us as it was damp and relatively cold, by Kenyan standards. The ground was very muddy so we did not witness a huge outdoor school assembly as is usually the case when we visit. Instead we dropped into each classroom individually to say hello and introduce ourselves. It was probably better this way as we were able to speak to the children more easily and see what they were learning in class. Many of the classes had prepared short poems or songs that they were eager to perform. It’s always great to see the kids singing and dancing so enthusiastically.
This year we had brought with us some handmade cards from Victoria Primary School in Edinburgh. The p4 children there had drawn pictures and written messages about their school and about Edinburgh too. It was really lovely to see how delighted the Mukuyu kids were to receive these and how interested they were to hear about life in Scotland. We had arranged in advance for the equivalent aged children at Mukuyu to do something similar for us and we were duly presented with a large bundle of drawings and messages to bring back with us and give to the kids at Victoria Primary. It was so simple to arrange but has been a really positive thing to do for the pupils at both schools. Now that the children have made a personal connection we can hopefully keep the link going between the schools and exchange photos and messages throughout the year.
We saw the feeding programme in action at lunchtime. There is a new kitchen containing new stoves since I last visited and the whole operation is bigger and more efficient than previously. The older children help to organise the younger age groups and it is impressive how quickly the two cooks manage to serve up hundreds of meals to the children.
At lunchtime we also saw the new playground equipment that was purchased by Kipawa for the nursery class. This was money raised during May and June this year, specifically to take on this trip and spend on items for the schools. A slide, swings and a see-saw had been purchased and installed at Mukuyu the previous day and the children were obviously very excited to have this new equipment.
We were able to visit two of these businesses in the Ruiru area. Both happened to be fruit and vegetable stalls but there are other business options available. The first woman we visited was Jane and she has successfully been running her stall for over a year now. She has two children attending Mukuyu Primary School and has been able to pay the fees for her eldest child to attend secondary school.
Throughout the day we had opportunities to speak with the head teacher, deputy head and class teachers who are very pleased with the support that Kipawa is providing and the difference it makes to their school. We spent most of our day with the social workers funded by Kipawa, Margaret and Moses. They are the people we rely upon day-to-day to oversee our projects and are the best people to speak to about what is working well and what other areas might need addressed.
After a full day at Mukuyu Primary School we returned to Macheo for a meeting with Julie, their head of Finance. She took us through the processes involved in running that side of the organisation and she was also able to show us receipts for all of the things that Kipawa has paid for over the past year. Our first full day in Kenya ended with a power-cut and an early night, which was probably not a bad idea as we had another busy day ahead!
Friday started with a meeting, before heading out to visit our other Primary school. We met with James who is the head of the Monitoring and Evaluation team. He explained the new processes in place for assessing the needs of the communities in which we operate. An extensive data collection exercise has taken place in Ruiru and analysis is ongoing to identify what areas should be prioritised in future. This is a new way of working for Macheo and for Kipawa and we will keep you informed of how this shapes our plans for 2017 and beyond.
James also showed us the new software that is used to log the activity of the social workers and other employees in the field. The system has reduced the amount of time spent on administration and allows better data reporting and analysis to take place.
After our meeting we visited Oaklands Primary School, arriving just in time to see the porridge feeding programme in action. This year we decided to expand our projects to a new school and this is the first time that a Kipawa trustee has visited Oaklands since the programme began.
As Oaklands is a bit more isolated and this was our first visit since the feeding programme started, having foreign visitors caused even more excitement here than we are used to at Mukuyu. There was a real buzz about the place.
As we had done at Mukuyu, we visited each classroom to introduce ourselves and spend some time with the children. Even when were running out of time, the deputy head insisted that we still visit every class as the children would have been disappointed if they had missed out! I think that we are usually so focused on what we want to see and what we want to learn from visiting the schools that it is easy to forget that the students and teachers are also keen to learn from us. We can bring a bit of the outside world into the classroom. Bringing the cards from Victoria Primary to Mukuyu yesterday was a great example of this but we definitely plan on being even better prepared on our next trustee visit!
We enjoyed lots more singing and other performances but one of the classes missed their chance to perform for some reason when we initially went round each classroom. As we were leaving they called us over and gave us a great rendition of a song along with some dancing. I don’t know whether they had practiced this for our visit or had just decided on the spur of the moment to do something, but it was not prompted by a teacher and their enthusiasm was genuine and wonderful.
While it was a very positive visit and the children were definitely in high spirits, the school is noticeably more run down than Mukuyu. The main area of need are the crumbling toilet facilities. We knew beforehand that the toilet block was not really fit for purpose but in recent weeks a section of the building had collapsed and it was no longer safe to use. So children were having to go to the toilet in the trees surrounding the school grounds, or some were choosing to walk a short distance to make use of staff toilets in the coffee plantation. As well as the obvious sanitation issues with the current situation and higher risk of disease and illness, there is a significant safety issue if children, particularly girls, are having to leave the school grounds to find a toilet. (Since we returned, the Kipawa trustees have discussed this issue and agreed to fund the construction of a new toilet block as soon as possible).
We were also able to see the new playground equipment at Oaklands (the same set as provided at Mukuyu) and we brought with us some toys, balloons and skipping ropes for the nursery class. Again, all of this was funded by Kipawa donors in our fundraising campaign before the trip so thank you for all of your contributions.
At one of the homes we visited we were confronted by a particularly bleak situation. One boy (around eight years old) was home alone, he had not attended school as he was not feeling well but his three brothers were all at Oaklands. He told us that they had not seen their parents for several weeks and were struggling to find enough food to get by. Some neighbours appeared to be looking out for them but they had nobody caring for them and the porridge provided by Kipawa at their school was the only guaranteed meal they had each day. Margaret, Kipawa’s social worker who had been working with the family, was making efforts to trace the parents and put in place some other temporary measures to assist the boys. A desperate situation but a reminder of how vital the school feeding programme is for those most in need of help.
In the afternoon we visited the secondary school attended by the majority of our 19 sponsored children. Today was a mid-term holiday but we had arranged to meet with 8 of the students, as well as one of their teachers who showed us around and gave us a bit more information about the school. It has grown significantly in the three years we have been involved there. As well as a new block of classrooms to accommodate their increasing school roll, they have also a new science block and school office.
We went out for lunch with the students and the Macheo social workers who oversee our sponsorship programme. They have regular contact with the sponsored secondary school students, ensuring that they are getting on well and providing support if there are problems at school or home.
After a quiet start to the meal, as you might expect with any group of teenagers, they became a bit more relaxed and were keen to chat about school and about life in general. They particularly enjoyed joking around and posing for photos with Paddy and me. They also took a few photos / videos themselves and were keen that we pass on their messages of thanks to Kipawa supporters back in Scotland. They remembered previous visits from trustees, including from Paddy three years ago and our visits to Mukuyu Primary which they had all attended before secondary school. The oldest in the group are now in their fourth and final year of secondary school and will be the first students we have had to come through Mukuyu Primary and go on to complete their secondary education. It is fantastic to witness this progression and spend some time with these lovely young people.
Saturday morning was spent with some of the children who live at the Macheo Children's home. In particular we were delighted to see Idris who I first met eight years ago on my first trip to Kenya in 2008. Idris has learning difficulties and some physical disabilities and for years did not attend school. Thankfully Kipawa sponsorship means that he now attends a school that can meet his needs and he has a safe and nurturing home environment at Macheo.
On Saturday afternoon we travelled to Nairobi where we stayed overnight before a very early flight home on Sunday. Our visit was far too brief but thanks to our friends at Macheo we managed to pack everything in. They did a great job of organising everything for us and putting together our busy schedule.
I returned to Scotland happy with the progree we had seen but recognising the huge challenges that remain. We are determined to do more where we can, optimistic that we can continue to make a significant difference to those we seek to help and full of pride at what Kipawa supporters have achieved over the last five years.
A heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you.