Saturday, 21 July 2012

Good ol pat on the back

This is going to sound like I am tooting my own horn. I don’t mean it. And I am sorry if it does, I just want to talk about volunteers and volunteering. I think volunteers are a special breed of people. I am not sure what instills the good in a person, but most volunteers have ‘good’ by the truck load. It takes a lot of determination to leave home, leave a good job, leave family, friends, your comfort zone, your entertainment, your life. Save money, stress about flights, safety and danger. Spend money on travel gear, placement resources and language guides. All to help someone less fortunate. I know from personal experience I kept thinking I live a very good life with a loving family, my dream job and living in my dream destination. Do I want to leave all that and am I ruining my chances of living my dreams in the future. Raising money is not easy feat either. Some people just do not donate, others are skeptical and some are just plain old absolutely generous (Thank You!). The more I talk to other volunteers, the more I realize the sacrifices both big and small, they make. I am not na├»ve enough to think that it is all just about helping others however. Volunteering also helps you. The fulfillment, satisfaction, gratification one receives. The smiles, the hugs and appreciation given from those that you help. The learning curve you go through. Flexibility, creativity and initiative are a must. But what happens when you feel like you’re not making a difference. You don’t have lots of money to more heaven and earth for those you want to help. A friend told me it doesn’t matter how little an impact you think you are making, you are making a big impact to the lives of the people you meet. I realized this when I met some very old mamas in their humble mud hut home. They were so proud that a white person chose their home to visit. That they were able to have a conversation with me (I didn’t understand a word they were saying, I just smiled as big as I could) and got to shake my hand. Everywhere you walk, children want to hold your hand, adults want to talk to you. Some just want to know about Australia and the world that we live in. Sometimes just being in the thick of it is enough.

Short Stories

Here are a few short stories for your brain.
- Recently there has been a crack down on the abductions of Albino African children. The albinos are taken and sold to witch doctors in rural areas where their genitals are then cut off and used in rituals.
- A man has been stoned to death by the community for stealing a mobile phone. This is very common. There is very little faith the police and justice system, so the community takes matters into their own hands. Every day in the paper there is at least 3 cases where the community has killed a suspected criminal.
- A hippo was killed for being disruptive to the community. Around 3000 people showed up when the word got around for free meat. Nothing was left.  
- There were 2 lion attacks. One involved 2 females being attacked by two lionesses. Another was 5 lions attacking cattle of the Masai tribe. They hunted the lions down and killed all five with spears.
- There was a shooting in Yala some time ago. A group was suspected of robbing a shop. Police shot dead the suspects, one believed to also be a police officer.
- Every time we go past a police check in the matatu’s we bribe our way through with 100 shillings.  
- It is not common, but some Kenyan’s bleach their skin to make them look lighter.
- For a Masai warrior to marry, they must go off into the savannah and bring back a lion’s head. They are only allowed their club and spear. If they do not return with a lion’s head, or refuse to go, they are seen as not courageous and turned into a slave for the community.
- Circumcision of boys still occurs in some areas. In the Kakamega forest, a tribe takes the boys into the forest where they live for a month. An elder goes with them to teach them the way of the forest and circumcise them, often using a knife up to 50 years old.
- Unplanned pregnancies, often due to rape are a major issue amongst the female youth's. 
I'll update you with a few more in time

Bits and bobs

Hi guys and has been a long time between drinks and I apologize. I have been a very busy beaver of late. I have had some requests to write about our weekends and adventures. I'll give you a quick insight of what we have been doing other than our placements and volunteer work. Yala is a beautiful town and so incredibly green, yet so densely populated. As many mornings or afternoons as we can bear, we go on a trot into the villages. We are huffing and puffing, then an 80 something year old mama will coming running next to us in a dress and bare feet. Children will line the dirt track waiting for high 5's or to run with us, or sometimes just to feel a 'white' hand or your hair. It truly feels like your a rock star at times. Josh and I went swimming in some of Kenya's finest drain water. I think I have an ear infection, but other than that we are fine. The locals thought we were crazy. We adopted a pet turtle called Tiny Trevor, we feed him carrots. We have been on weekends away to a village on the lake where Fred was from. We rode a motorbike the whole way there no map just kinda knew the towns to pass. Only took a few hours and made it safely. Absolutely gorgeous country. Went to Uganda, but that is a whole new blog story. Highly recommended. Visited Lake Naivasha and had a boat ride with thousands of pink flamingos. Walked with giraffe's, buffalo, zebra's etc at Crater Lake and Hell's Gate National Park. Walked in a giant gorge, saw where Mufasa died in the Lion King, shed a few tears. Played with monkeys, walked in bat caves, and watched the sunrise over Kakamega forest. Had supply runs to Kisumu and visits on the lake, crossed the equator many times, eaten some local cuisine, visited Yala waterfalls and that is all I can think of for the moment. Our home life isn't that interesting. It is actually quite difficult at times being a volunteer. Come 5:30-6:00pm, you are locked in your house because you cannot be out at night. It is simply too dangerous. There is limited freedom to go and do the normal things we do back home. Jump in the car, visit friends, get takeaway, watch a movie, go for a ride, surf etc. When we do go out we say hello to at least 30 people. Children want to constantly play, people are always staring and watching, you are never inconspicuous. But that is also part of the charm of Kenya. Our daily routine normally follows something along the line of; wake up early, normally to a baby crying, breakfast (weetbix or toast) and off to placement. Come home walk around the corner for some fresh produce (avocados, tomatoes, onions are the staple), cook tea (usually rice and beans or pasta and beans). Play with our African family, talk to the volunteers and bed time. Maybe some guitar or reading plopped in there somewhere. So that is the general run down of what has been going on. We are working so hard in Kenya, but also having lots of fun and meeting many smiling faces. I fear we will definitely miss this place when we leave.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Teddy Spencer

Teddy Spencer (couldn't rotate pic, sorry)
Let me tell you the story of Teddy Spencer, a charming young 12 year old boy who is the third born in his family. Teddy has 2 sisters and 1 brother. His older sister’s are Helen and Emma, and his youngest brother is Stellon. He lives with his parents, Pamella, a joyful lady who looks after the children and property, and Shadrack, his hardworking father who is an inter-country truck driver who at times can be away for up to 3 months at a time. Teddy loves to get dirty while playing football (soccer) and barracks for the mighty red and white of Manchester United. He enjoys drinking the refreshing sprite and loves eating the tender tilapia (a local fish, delicious). At school Teddy is fond of Science and likes to read paperback books. When he grows up he would like to be a pilot or airplane mechanic. This normal Kenyan child had a life changing experience. In early December, 2011, Teddy got a painful knock on his leg. There was mild swelling around the knee joint and some tenderness. Not a serious injury, just a sore leg it was deemed. After time the inflammation had remained so an X-ray was taken. An infection in the bone was identified, so off to the Orthopedic surgeon (around March 2012). Upon viewing the X-ray, the surgeon said that surgery was required.  A few days later the surgeon rang and told them he has found something strange in the X-ray and a biopsy is needed. After the biopsy, an extremely fast growing deadly cancer (Sarcoma) was identified and Teddy was given up to 6 months to live. The family had spent almost all of their money during this long process and had no more. After community fundraising they were still extremely well short of the target needed to save Teddy’s live. It had seemed that he was knocking on heaven’s door. And perhaps that was what was happening because call it what you will, coincidence, lucky or divine intervention, a miracle occurred. Four weeks ago Teddy was brought to our door step in Yala by a man with a big heart called Dr. George. He had heard that muzungu’s (white people) had been living there and thought he would try his luck. The kind doctor displayed Teddy’s cancerous leg and told us that for the boy to live his leg needs to amputated. He is on his way to Nairobi with what little money he has to try his luck. A heart wrenching story. The cost was almost $2000 AU. Totally out of our reach as we had nowhere near that amount of money in our bank accounts. What do you do? That very same morning the Shepparton Seventh Day Adventist church without any knowledge to us or of Teddy had donated a sum of money to contribute to our placements. The sum was enough to cover the cost for Teddy’s surgery. The decision was made to save Teddy’s life. The surgery was a success and his leg is healing fast. The doctors said that all the cancer had been removed and had not spread, but further chemotherapy was required to make sure. We visited Teddy in his home and the family had told us of the incredible change that has occurred. They were very grateful. You can imagine the psychological trauma, he thought he was going to die, now he lives, but with one leg. Teddy and the family are receiving counseling to help deal with the amputation and Teddy will also receive assistance in catching up on the 6 months of schooling he has missed. He is still unable to attend school and moves around with crutches. Dr. George is currently working hard for funding or donations to supply Teddy with an artificial leg and then some rehabilitation so he can continue life as close to normal as he can get. A courageous young man, Teddy is now smiling and in high spirits. The family is also rather pleased. Teddy is an extremely bright boy and definitely has a promising future. A big thank you to the Shepparton Seventh Day Adventist church, without you, Teddy perhaps may not still be here.

Monday, 25 June 2012


So there are a number of ways to get around in Western Kenya. The most common for a Kenyan is walking. When we were concreting the floor of the primary school, a worker walked a ridiculous 3 hours to get there. He worked till 5:30pm, then walked home. This is normal. Most people walk because they cannot afford to pay for transport. Other forms of transport include the bicycle, piki piki (motorbike) and matatu (Nissan/Toyota van). Let's start off with the bicycle. Man and bike. No helmets. No brakes. Big smiles. You jump on the back of the bike on a tiny little platform which looks like it was designed for carrying a woven basket of ripe oranges. You pay the man and he uses his wiry little legs to peddle and peddle he does. Slow, steady and wobbly wins the race. Never thought I would ever pay someone to dink me around town, but I quite like the bicycle. Every time I get on the back I think of the Bike Song by Pink Floyd. OK, secondly we have the piki piki. This is extremely dangerous! Since we have been here we have heard of many accidents and deaths. Scared? I am. Again a man and his bike. Drunk? Most of the time. No helmets, no goggles, no boots, no gloves, no safety gear. If you need to go somewhere off the beaten path. this is for you. You sit behind the rider, close your eyes and go to a happy place. My happy place entails a perfect surf in crystal blue water, get out to home cooked lasagne, some ugg boots, maybe a hot chocolate with marshmallows. Oh I love marshmallows, the pink ones are my favourite. The big fat ones. Yum. Great now I am craving marshmallows. Anyway back to the piki piki. Going through mud is very interesting. Jemma and I have fallen off twice, I cut my leg. Another volunteer has had an accident and burnt her leg very badly. But regardless of the imminent dangers, the riders are actually very skilled and take careful consideration when driving a 'white' (although I think I am tanning quite nicely and maybe should be referred to as beige or a light mushroom colour). Taking a piki piki on occasions is a necessity. There is no way around it and although scary, I do feel safe (mostly) and enjoy the thrill of flying on a motorcycle through mud. It's awesome. Finally we have the matatu. They are simply a van decked out to carry 14 seated passengers with a cushioned roof. Nice touch I think. Let me describe the normal matatu ride to you from start to finish. Walk to the road and hail a matatu. The driver tries to rip you off, you argue a bit and finally get the correct price. You look in the matatu and think, how am I going to fit in? All the seats are already taken, with people sitting in the spaces between the seats. You get shoved in anyway and find a place to rest your bottom. 17 people in already. Licensed to carry 14. Oh well. Driving along, swerving left, swerving right. Whoops, giant pot hole the size of a donkey. Bang, hit the head on the roof. Lucky it's padded. On the road, off the road, on the road again. Another pot hole, hit the person next to you this time. Stop, 3 more passengers, 2 with babies. Couldn't possibly. The fit. Driving again, 20 people, 2 babies. Snugly. Pot hole, road, no road, road. Stop 2 more people. No way. Yes. Off we go again, sliding door open, air gushing around the van. 3 people standing on the outside of the van holding on. You can see the strain in their fingers. We are flying, swerve left, right, road, no road, slam on brakes, pot hole. Flying again. Police inspection. Bribe. Flying once more. Over take a car. Over take two cars. Over take a car over taking a car. Oh no truck, back on the right side of the road. Pot hole, two pot holes, speed bump. Huh speed bump? Oh no that is where I was meant to get off. Stop! Matatu stops. 9 people get off so I can get off. They jump back on. Thank you! Off the matatu drives. That is the normal matatu drive. I have been on when their have been 27 people and 2 babies. Absolutely ridiculous. The first say 10 times you get on a matatu are scary, but then you become desensitized to the dangers and get used to it. I do not feel unsafe in a matatu, it is just totally different to Australia. It is a main form of transport and many Kenyan's take the matatu's all day everyday. If I am living in Kenya, I need to get around like a Kenyan. After all this is KENYA!

Sunday, 24 June 2012


Re-useable Pad
The Menstrual Cycle. Say these words in front of some men and they may quiver. We all know about the dare I say it...dreaded 'period' and women can easily take care for it in Australia and continue their life as per normal. But what about in the other places in the world? What happens when you get your 'lady business' in a third world country like Kenya? Well let me tell you, although you may not like to hear it. If the women of Kenya can afford to use disposable sanitary items, they will. They are expensive, but not everyone in Kenya is poor. If you cannot afford them however, then it is a different story. The Masai women take an unorthodox approach when they are menstruating. It is known that Masai women do a number of things, the first being the use of cow dung to line their underwear. Yeah you heard correctly, COW DUNG! They replace the dung daily until they have completed their cycle. If they have duties to carry out, they may insert pieces of cow dung into their vagina. Clearly, this is not particularly hygienic, nor I imagine comfortable and it can have some dire consequences such as infection. Finally they may simply dig a hole and sit over that hole for days on end, just watching the birds singing and clouds clapping until their cycle has completed. Talk about sore legs. Now that is the Masai women and the Masai hold on to their tradition very strongly. It is a different story where we live. Firstly the girls are not educated on health, puberty and the intricate workings of their body during this time. They obviously know something about their menstrual cycle, but they do not understand what is occurring, why they are getting it and the complications that can arise from it. If you are a Kenyan women at home and your job is your farm or family, you simply menstruate in your underwear and then wash them. By the way no washing machines here, all items hand washed in the river or a bucket. Do you know how hard it is to wash sheets in a bucket. Takes all day and your arms ache so bad. This is also the same for teenage girls. If they can get access to old newspapers, cardboard etc, they may line their underwear with that. Some girls use old ripped clothes that they may have at home although most just wear their old ripped clothes. A major issue with girls that attend school is that during their period they stay at home and miss school for the entire time. This is very detrimental to their schooling as education is a key avenue for these children to increase their quality of life and prospects in the future. When girls are missing potentially up to 12 weeks a year, they have missed much and the teachers are not willing to catch the girls up. So their are two issues here with teenage girls especially. The unfortunate measures taken when menstruating, the hygiene and not to mention comfort issue, but also the educational issue. That is where we step in. Every Friday we visit schools within the community and conduct health talks focusing on puberty, reproductive health, sexual education and hygiene. We complete an informational lecture, then have discussion and question time. We also help to donate re-useable pads for the females when we have the finances. The North Gem Community Resource Center make re-useable pads for girls with the thought that they can then attend school when they are menstruating and simply wash the pad at night. They are around $1 each so unfortunately we do not always have them to hand out. Luckily my mum (love you mum) and her friend Deb (you too Deb) have donated 200 re-useable pads and some of the other volunteers have worked hard to gain support for this cause. It is a difficult situation and one that I cannot fully comprehend as I am a male and I luckily do not get my period, although Jemma may think so at times, however, we do our best to help support the women, in particular the school girls of the community.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Home is where the heart is

Nicole a volunteer with WYI living in Mutumbu has built up a splendid relationship with a woman named Lily. Lily is deaf and a mute. You can only image the issues and struggles that can arise with being deaf and a mute in Kenya. There are no organisations or government support to help. There have been concerns about Lily and her family within the community for some time as it has been known that she has been exploited and taken advantage of. She has three children all too different fathers and there has been the suggestion that they are all the product of rape. Lily’s children are Brian (10), Vincent (7) and Oscar (3). Brian is sponsored by an organisation called Compassion which provides schooling for him and he lives with a lady Lily worked for. Lily wants Brian back, however there are complications that I cannot comment on. Nicole had taken an instant fondness to Lily and her family and decided to help. The decision was made to build a house for Lily on her families land. Lily would now not need to rent, the money can go to providing for her family and she has the safety and security of her extended family and house. Ok, now I have an exercise for you. Gee, reading a blog and I am making you work. Sorry, I just want you to really get the contrasting differences between Kenya and the Western world. I want you to think of the house you live in or the building you are in at the moment. Look around at the floor, the ceiling, the walls. Think of the processes that took place to build it. Think of the materials that were used, bricks, concrete, plaster. Look closer, at the paint on the walls, the carpet or tiles. The lights on the ceiling, the heating, cooling, ventilation. The tiny trinkets lying around on a dust covered shelf, the volts of electricity flowing through the walls. This is the Western world with much of our needs and wants. Enter the Kenyan world. The land is cleared but not leveled, tree roots sprout up in what is to be the living/everything room. The workers have gone to the river to retrieve mountains of reeds. Tree trunks and branches have been trimmed and prepared to form the structural frame. Holes are dug with a crowbar and machete to place the supporting tree trunk posts. Clumps of reeds are placed amongst the frame and tied on with string; meanwhile workers are digging up dirt with hoes and mixing with water to form a thick muddy paste. The frame is completed, the mudding to begin. Skilled workers begin on the roof as children distribute handfuls of mud around the house. All the volunteers are on hands and knees, filling in the frame with handfuls of mud. A good method is to roll your handful of mud in the dry dirt to form a kind of brick then place it in. We must work fast the rains are coming. If it rains before we are finished most of our work here has gone to waste. We work overtime, mudding, bricking. Men on the roof sit on rickety trunks which form the roof frame. Legs dangling down the side hammering in the nails. Mudding is complete; however the muddy walls do not go all the way up to the roof as a type of ventilation is needed, the crisp open air. The shiny new corrugated iron roof is placed on. The mud brick home is almost complete. A second mudding must occur in around two week’s time. The house, considerably large at around 5m x 5m is divided by a mud wall to form two rooms. Imagine living in a mud brick home. Dirt floor, muddy walls, no electricity, cool open breeze is your only type of ventilation, no insulation. Basic paraffin cooking stove, some pots and pans, a bed, maybe a wooden couch if you are lucky and some buckets for washing and cleaning. Think about it for a moment. Put yourself there. Nicole with her heart as big a giant Saharan Sasquatch is helping Lily with the basic living necessities in Kenya. Lily now has a home and a lovely one at that. A place to call her own. Although the mud brick home doesn’t sound too fancy, many last for up to 10-15 years. In Kenya it is not about the want, it is all about the need.   

Lily, two of her boys and the volunteers