New sports equipment and uniforms received

Students are loving their new sports uniforms at Kochieng primary school thanks to Community Classrooms donors and Ben Akuru.

New uniforms and balls for the girls netball teams.
New uniforms and balls for the girls netball teams.

Happy students with their new football (soccer) gear.

Parents of the primary school students celebrated the new resources with Ben Akuru and Director Sam Willcocks.

Thank you to everyone who donated!

January Village Update from Sam A

Jambo!

Wishing all a blissful 2015 and hope your start to the year was either celebrated in style or relaxing, depending on how you enjoy it. I woke up to the New Year with the sight of a cow being slaughtered. Knowing that only special occasions warrant such a task, I promptly find the nearest person to find out the gossip. I am told that a large party has been planned in the compound with many within the surrounding village area being invited to celebrate the New Year. The day consisted of food preparations on a large scale and general preparations for the party. Through the preparations, I managed to have my first driving experience on Kenyan roads. It became apparent that driving a hatchback vehicle on dirt roads is much different that on tarmac roads. A few tricky encounters occurred, but we made it to our destination and back with myself and my 10 passengers unscathed. Yes, you read correctly- there were 11 people in this small hatchback, though ¾ of them were children, who require less space than an adult would. My attendance at the party was minimal as I had plans to watch a Premier League game at the local video house. The local video house, which is a 30 minute walk from the village is a mud brick house swarming with Kenyan males sitting on pews watching one of the two screens available- me being the only female in sight, a mazungu female at that- you could say that I stood out a little in the crowd.

Safari Tanzania! This month I travelled down to Tanzania for a short two week holiday followed by a two week Permaculture Design Course. Due to the much cheaper price tag and wanting the adventure, I opted to board the 8 hour bus from Siaya to Nairobi, camp in a hotel overnight to board the 6 hour shuttle from Nairobi to Arusha. After receiving blessings from the family for a safe journey and my pikipiki driver arriving 30 minutes late nearly resulting in a missed bus, I was on the road. There was nothing unexpected during the travel as we sped on the wrong side of the road past truck accidents along the way- travel by road in East Africa is not for the faint hearted. With the amount of cars around and a visit to the local Nakumatt (a big supermarket chain through East Africa) resulted in, although I had travelled to Arusha previously, a little culture shock. It appears just after three months, I have adapted well to the Kenyan village life. This became evident by the homesickness for the village I experienced during my stay in Arusha. This was cured with consuming the ample variety of fruits available in Tanzania that are not available in Kenya. I was so thrilled to have eaten my first mango of the season, albeit two months late.
The plan was to stay with a friend for two weeks and then stay with fellow participants for the course. Due to other commitments, I ended up in a hotel after three nights. Having been to Arusha twice before and not really knowing anyone else in the town resulted in a rather boring few days and nights. Though, the positive side was that with half decent internet, I managed to catch up on not only the news I had been missing from around the world but also work. The PDC course was excellent and now I am qualified to design gardens in an earth-friendly sustainable way. I could not have asked for a better group of people to share the learning and experience with. The participants were a spread from many countries and climates- Australia, Congo, Austria, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zambia, England, America, DRC, Algeria, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania. The knowledge I learnt from the course will allow me to assist my fellow Kenyan villagers to be more self-sustainable.

During my stay in Arusha, I went on a road trip with a new friend, F— to his Moshi village home of Kilimanjaro. Such a beautiful place and people. Here I met another new friend, D—, a Masai from Ngorogoro that the Father has taken under his wing to educate so he can provide for his family in the future. The trip there and back was rather amusing as we randomly picked people up along the way (a great way to earn extra money- taxi people), two of which were police officers. I am also quite certain I have received some car-window-hit brain damage due to the belief here that speed bumps are for exactly that- speeding over.

Amusing-in-hindsight African moment this month that my parents will not be happy to hear involves driving home on the back of a motorbike in the dark with no headlights- only in Africa. Went on a long safari when in Kenya to quite literally the middle of nowhere with a friend on a loaned motorbike that wasn’t in the greatest of conditions. At one point, the bike didn’t have enough power to get up a hill so I had to get off the bike and walk up. The safari back was a bit slow due to me wanting to relax and take it easy. My friend was being rather adamant that we start going home and I couldn’t understand what the rush was to get me back home before dark, thinking he was worried about my welfare. It wasn’t until we got on the motorbike at dusk that he mentions the headlights and I understood the concern, perhaps this was lost in translation earlier? To compensate against the lack of lighting, my dear friend thought it best to go faster in order to get home quicker, I wasn’t so convinced on the theory. Especially when I got airborne because we went over a speed bump or two at high speed.

Kwa heri, Sam xo

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The content of this post forms part of a series of email updates from our In-country Coordinator (Kenya), Sam A. Sam A is staying in the village to assist with the implementation and evaluation of Community Classrooms programs. These updates are Sam’s personal account of her experiences in Kenya. Names and other identifying information about particular people have been removed prior to posting.

December Village Update from Sam A

Jambo!

December has been a month of health. I started on a running program just to give me that release of energy and because I was getting really itchy feet and my body wanted to start running again. Got into routine until I was initiated as a Kenyan in the most welcoming of ways- with illness.

On the Friday I was hit with a case of heat stroke, which I only have myself to blame- walking for 30 minutes in the hot sun when I was already dehydrated to start with. By the Monday, I was still rather dehydrated so I decided to go to the hospital to ask for assistance in hydration. There are no doctors surgeries here, just dispensaries scattered over the district and 3 hospitals. The dispensaries are not worth the effort to go to as they are so poorly funded by the government here that they can’t do a number of tests and can’t provide you with any medication because they don’t have the stock- its best just to go straight to the hospital. I must say the system here is quite impressive and I got out much quicker with a diagnosis than I would have if I went to a hospital back home. You go register, then go to the pay station to pay to see the doctor. You then go and sit to wait for the doctor, who you tell your problems to, they write down tests they want conducted, to which you walk back to the pay station, pay for the tests. You then go to the pathology lab for the tests and sit and wait around 20 minutes and are handed the results. You then go back to the doctor, who tells you what is wrong, writes down the medication. You then go back to pay station, pay for medication and take receipt to pharmacy to collect and then you are on your way home. It is not a bad system, though my body didn’t like the walking back and forth to the pay station. I have discovered that there are four key things that are vital to enable you to jump the queue-
1. Be a mazungu- it appears that because you have a fairer skin colour, this must mean you are a weaker species.
2. Faint while standing in line at the pay station.
3. Vomit while waiting for the doctor. This is also effective in making people who are basically sitting on top of you to give you some space- no one wants to sit next to someone that is going to be sick on them.
4. Go sit in the corner for a little bit to regain strength before standing in payment line for the fourth time. I was okay at this point, just wanted to relax a little to prevent another fainting spell. A passing nurse thought I was in distress over the whole system and promptly took it upon herself to get me out and on my way home quicker.

After the excitement of my visit to the hospital, I didn’t end up getting what I went for. The doctor sits me down to sternly tell me I have malaria and then casually asks for my hand in marriage and phone number as if it’s something he does every day and is no big problem. I was a little surprised by the diagnosis as I didn’t have any obvious tell-tale signs that made me think that was the problem. It was an eventless malaria infection as malaria infections go, though unfortunately the way my body reacted to the medication was the not fun part that knocked me out of action for two weeks. Before you feel sorry, bad or sad for me, spare a thought for Es—, my 14 year old sister here. She was struck down twice with malaria in December alone and has had malaria that many times in her short life, that she can’t even tell me a ball-park number of how many times. Even though she is ill, she is still expected to complete the daily chores, which are quite strenuous. So, please spare a thought for her and how strong she is.

I was invited to attend a wedding of my good friend Em— this month. Weddings here are very spilt- some traditional African, some are Christian based and others are not legally recognised as being married as they can’t afford the registration of the marriage. The traditional weddings involve the male buying a cow, 2 sheep and goat (can’t remember if you had to get both or one of the species), and several chickens. This is to be paid to the prospective wife’s family. Then, when the wedding if blessed, there is a massive ceremony at their homestead where everyone and anyone comes and celebrates. As both Em— and C— are practicing Christians, their wedding was very much Western- in a church, in a white dress. Only difference was that there was African food, African singing during the ceremony and the entire day was very much on African time. They do theme colours here, I didn’t think to ask why that is. The theme for this wedding was black and yellow. This means that the bridesmaids all wore these colours and many guests also had outfits made in these colours, though it isn’t passé if you choose to wear other colours. As yellow doesn’t work on my pasty white complexion, I got a dress made in green and orange and must say that I love it! Unfortunately as this was the Saturday after my heat stroke, I was rather ill and spent most of the day laying under a tree. As a result of this, I can’t give you many more details apart from the tree being shady and nice to lay under and the music being very festive for the occasion.

Christmas was a great day- I was blessed with the greatest gift of all- full recovery, I felt like a human again and more importantly- my appetite was back! Many foods that are not consumed every day were prepared. Foods such as chapatti, rice, beef, chicken. I assisted with the cooking of the chapatti, and by assisting, I mean I was told to sit in the corner and watch after it was determined that I was rolling the dough in balls that were too big in size. We later found an assistance role that was well suited to me and I did so brilliantly- chapatti taste-tester.

Christmas is not as celebrated here as it is at home, though I believe that is more a monetary thing than anything- most don’t have the money to afford to buy presents. Upon talking to the family, I learnt that as Christians, they celebrate New Years more as it has more of a religious meaning behind it than Christmas does. We were to go to a bongo drum dance party, but unfortunately the rain had other plans for us. It wasn’t that bad, the rain was very much needed.

I hear a lot of people back home had been hit by crazy storms and hope no one has been affected too much. Here unfortunately has been the opposite. The rain season that just past did not bring enough rain and has affected a number of the food crops. This is quite sad as this has a flow on effect where there are food shortages and loss of income. I do hope that our Permaculture program becomes well established to assist this in the future- watch this space….

This month’s amusing tale isn’t about me I’m sorry- it is about watching the drama unfold in a language I don’t understand. There is a young man that unfortunately has some brain damage that regularly comes and visits and brings his problems with him as if the family are able to help him. On this particular day, he showed up with a bag full of corn. Not long after his arrival and giving out of the corn, a lady comes storming up with the village elders and starts yelling at him. A heated discussion ensues for quite some time before it becomes too much for me- I have to know what is going on. Asking one of my sisters, I discovered that he had stolen the corn from the lady’s crop and the lady has brought the elders in for punishment, though I never found out what the punishment was. Who needs a television, when you have stories like this to watch and share?

Kwa heri, Sam xo

Ayton_Samantha_Profile_Photo

The content of this post forms part of a series of email updates from our In-country Coordinator (Kenya), Sam A. Sam A is staying in the village to assist with the implementation and evaluation of Community Classrooms programs. These updates are Sam’s personal account of her experiences in Kenya. Names and other identifying information about particular people have been removed prior to posting.

November Village Update from Sam A

Jambo!

It has been a month of trying to get into routine and at the end of the month all I can do is laugh at myself- Africa and routine don’t go together- what was I thinking?!

An Australian friend asks the other day what a normal day is like over here and truthfully, there isn’t such a thing as normal. Everyday although the same in essence, is quite different from the previous.

I do thoroughly enjoy waking up naturally or if my sleep is light, with the noise of a cow or two walking past as my alarm. Just so we are clear, the cows don’t walk around freely, they are ushered past my little shack around 6.15am every morning to spend the day grazing outside the compound. Sometimes I will have breakfast, sometimes I won’t. This is dependent on the day’s activities and whether I am travelling into town or to one of the many marketplaces. If breakfast is taken, it is generally in the form of chai (tea) and mandazi, these deep fried donut like things that are so full of fat that I shouldn’t eat as many as I do, but they are too delicious not to consume in large quantities- a dilemma before the day has even commenced. Lunch and dinner are generally the same type of meal and are dependent on what is around. Sukuma wiki (also known as kale in the Western world) with brown ugali is my favourite. The bean stew with rice was my favourite dish until I found out why the rice was so delicious. I was thoroughly enjoying the white rice here and was convinced that it tastes better than rice from home, this has to be the result of the soil or something along those lines. It wasn’t until I assisted with the cooking of said rice dish that I discovered why it tastes so good. It is cooked with not only water but oil, and I’m not talking a little bit of oil- I’m talking absorption method of at least 1/3 oil, 2/3 water! I’m thankful that rice isn’t taken everyday and when it is, I try my best to limit how much is consumed in fear of becoming, as the kids joke, a big African mama. My favourite snack is a corn bean mixture called nyol, which is munched by scooping with your hands and filtering in your mouth just as you would peanuts. Oh, and how can I forget the chapatti! Once again, thankfully this very oil pastry is not an everyday meal, but is oh so delicious when consumed.

Some days are washing days, some days are trips into town, and others I go out and visit nearby gardens and/or people or help the local brick manufacturer, J—, who is technically my uncle by association. Yes, you read it correctly- I have turned to physical labour in the form of mud brick making and must say, some work is needed to improve the skills before I become employable in this field. It has been rather interesting getting to know the process from pouring the water on the dirt all the way through to binding the bricks together to construct either a building/house or grave. The process would take I say, probably 20 times longer than conventional brick making though when it’s something more natural and is less of a burden on the environment, is that really a bad thing?

Town trips are via a pikipiki, a 2 stroke engine motorbike-no helmet and petrifying muddy roads when it rains- the adventures. C—, my first choice driver for his excellent skills; ability to speak a little English and kindness of not laughing at me when I mispronounce a Kiswahili word, finds it amusing when I let out my semi squeal of mixed sacredness and excitement when the back wheel of the bike starts to slip out from under us due to the level of mud. I wonder if he thinks all “mazungus” are whimps or just me? Admittedly, town trips are becoming more frustrating due to the power issues Siaya experiences, and I mean power issues- one visit entailed my sitting for 5 hours in an Internet café, experiencing 20 blackouts during this time- this is no exaggeration.The length of the blackouts depends on the day, sometimes only a couple of minutes, others, a couple of hours. The travel home is dependent on how I am feeling- I will either get a pikipiki or brave a taxi. For those that have not had the pleasure of experiencing a true taxi in Africa, and I’m not referring to the matutu buses, let me explain the taxi experience of last week. I ventured into town with N—, my sister, for a day trip. On preparing for travel home, we go to the taxi rank- there’s only one in town- and proceed to sit there for around two hours until the stand fills up enough for the driver to be happy with the fares he will get to make the trip. We jump into the sedan, I having no choice but to sit in the front as the driver took a liking to me and wanted to have his hand at attempting to court me while driving his passengers to their desired destination. Jammed in the car was a total of 15 bodies, 4 of us in the front seat alone. As we turned the corner to go over the speed hump- once again, the only one in town- the weight of the car was too much that we were stuck- front two wheels on one side of the hump, rear two on the other. It was an all-in affair with everyone on the street jumping in to help push the car over the hump. Hearing the scrapping of the underside of the car on the concrete hump making me cringe like never before. After about a minute of no luck and me trying my best not to burst out laughing from the whole experience, the driver decides to kick everyone out of the car, drive over and then invite everyone to get back in. I of course, was too precious of a cargo to get out and walk a couple of steps. To make the journey even more amusing was the old man of about 75 sitting next to me, eating corn on a cob. The juices of his crunching drench my face and nearly lead to blindness in my left eye due to the close vicinity of our faces. Once he was pleasured with his snack, perhaps meal of the day, he proceeded to take a nap on my shoulder. I did feel a little bad when I had to jab him in the ribs in order for me to vacate the car upon arrival at our destination.

Market days depend on which of the many markets we are travelling to, I mean- there is literally a market on every day of the week, you just need to pick which one you want to go to. We walk to the markets, ranging from 1km to 12km in journey distance. They are generally all the same- selling food and second-hand Westerner clothing with a couple of the larger markets selling the traditional printed material.

Went to a soccer/football match this month to watch the very popular Kenyan team, GorMahia play some other team-obviously I was with GorMahia supporters and can’t even remember the name of the other team. We didn’t show up to the stadium until half time and we were so late, that there was only standing room and everyone was completely packed in to get a sight of the game. I’m pretty sure it was well over stadium capacity, but such things don’t apply in Africa. Naturally because of my shortness and everyone else’s tallness, I couldn’t see a thing. Once it became apparent a “mazungu” was in the crowd- many photos taken, I guess as evidence- I was pushed up to the front by everyone so I could see, which was quite nice. I did get knocked down when GorMahia scored a goal and the sardine pack that I was a member of decided to jump for joy. Lesson learnt- when in such a situation, you must swim with the school to prevent being crushed. GorMahia won the final and there were happy faces and cheery people all around. Witnessed no fights or any soccer/football ruckus as I was expecting, perhaps a little hoping, from all the pre-warning and concern I was getting in the lead up to the match.

I celebrated my birthday this month for the first time in many years with getting a couple of traditional dresses made; eating some fruit- a rarity in these parts; getting my hair braided and a taste of the local beer Chang’aa, which I am more convinced was gin and not beer- but that is a tale for another time. Amusingly, going into the braiding experience saw me more nervous than climbing Kilimanjaro, I mean, have you seen how tight those things are done?!

This month’s moment of giggle came courtesy of setting expectations instead of just going with the flow. I spent a day travelling with the county governor’s office as they attended a couple of school graduations. When we arrived at the first school, we were ushered into the head teacher’s office where I was told that I was to give a speech for encouragement. My mind went into overdrive- I don’t mind public speaking provided that I am somewhat prepared- this was not prepared.. Looking up on the wall, there was a sign with some pretty inspiring things and from that I found my speech, which I quickly recited in my head- “I read while sitting in the head master’s office an inspiration that is fitting for today- The hardest thing to do is to begin finding. I wish you all the best for proceeding to the hardest thing, finding the next part of your life.” I was quite happy and content with the speech while I was ushered out to be seated in front of the crowd. It wasn’t until we were seated that I discovered the graduation was for 4/5 year old kids graduating prep school before going into primary- there goes my not so age appropriate speech. I settled with a shyly put “thank you for letting me attend, congratulations and enjoy your holiday”. I don’t think anyone understood a word I said, not because it got lost in translation but because they were transfixed on my pasty white skin and thoughts of wonder as to why a “mazungu” was visiting them.

On a side note for anyone that is looking at purchasing Christmas presents in the next couple of weeks, I ask that you consider a gift that is not commercial in nature and will have a widespread impact on many people, not just the person that you are purchasing it for. Such a gift won’t be thrown in the bin by a disappointed child, no tantrums will be had because you purchased the wrong colour or size. Rather it will support and empower a number of people in need. If you are interested, take a look at our website.

Kwa heri, Sam xo

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This is the second monthly update from our In-country Coordinator (Kenya), Sam A. Sam A is staying in the village to assist with the implementation and evaluation of Community Classrooms programs. These updates are Sam’s personal account of her experiences in Kenya. Names and other identifying information about particular people have been removed prior to posting.

October Village Update from Sam A

Monthly updates from our In-country Coordinator (Kenya), Sam A, have begun. Sam A is staying in the village to assist with the implementation and evaluation of Community Classrooms programs. These updates are Sam’s personal account of her experiences in Kenya. Names and other identifying information about particular people have been removed prior to posting.

If my arrival in Kisumu is anything to go by, I believe I will transform the whole meaning of African time. Due to an earlier arrival time and the insistence of staff to get on an earlier flight, I arrived three hours earlier than expected. Though, this didn’t mean that I got to the village earlier, it just meant that I had to wait until my ride came to collect me- it’s an interesting experience being a mazungu in an African country awaiting a few hours before you leave. Spoke to some interesting people, all adamant that they give me their phone number so I can call them later. The village is about an hour and half from Kisumu, passing through the main town of the area, Siaya. The roads are not too bad until you get closer to the village, this is where it becomes “off-road”, so off road its practically un-drivable when it rains heavy due to the mud.

I have met so many people randomly that I barely remember a name and I often get someone yelling out my name and I wonder whether I have actually met them or they know me through the gossip line. Yes, one thing that doesn’t travel in “African time” is the gossip around here. The other day the kids took me down to the fish pond while J—, the eldest son of the family I’m staying with was on the other side of the village working at the church. We both arrived home at the same time, I was surprised when he asks “how did you enjoy the ponds”. News of my being here is spreading fast too with more children coming each day for a look and laugh at the mazungu, some do extend that by actually coming to say “nadi”, the local dialect for how are you?

As expected, everyone seems to be amazed by my diet and what I don’t eat, but it doesn’t appear to be a problem. The biggest hurdle with it was trying to explain it in a way they would understand. I’ve been enjoying the local foods, especially the abundance of greens here. The fruit is lacking a little though. Can’t wait until the warmer season as I look up at the many mango trees in the area. Having had ugali previously, I was very happy to try brown ugali which is a mixture of the standard corn meal and sorghum, much more nutritious and I seem to like it better. This is had every couple of days- a nice little treat. I have also learnt to make chapatti and beans the bush way-who needs special pots, stirrers, etc? All you need is one pot and fire!

It is the ultimate village living experience here from collecting washing and drinking water from either the well or as the rain falls to making meals fresh every day- no  refrigerator to keep those left overs. Not to mention that I am now considered the daktari due to my first aid skills being tested already- twice.

Amusing experience of the month that in hindsight may not have ended favourably- went into Siaya after lunch one day to do some supplies and only ended up visiting two lots of people- it is expected that you hang for a bit- and before I knew it, it was 530pm and best that I start to make my way home. Call the pikipiki that one of the family members’ insist I use who said he is on his way. After two hours waiting and no show- decided to cut him loose and call the backup pikipiki, who understandably won’t come because it is too late. At this point, I take a moment to consider the fact that not only do I not know how to explain where the village is to an alternative taxi, I only have the phone number of one of the family members, who is not responding to my texts. The lovely women that I was visiting were more concerned about it than I was- perhaps that says something.. They were calling around, trying to get a hold of B—, the brother they know and I couldn’t get a hold of. After about 20 minutes of ringing around, B— shows up to take me home. He was in the front with some guy, I thought was perhaps a security guard- have no idea! After five minutes of driving, B— turns to me to say that I am getting driven home in the Governor’s personal car. I thought he was joking until he pulled the car over and some big Range Rover looking vehicle pulls up. The “security guard” gets in the front and promptly tells me to get in the back. So here I was, feeling like a delinquent teenager being escorted home by the police after being caught misbehaving. Apparently being driven in the Governor’s car is high priority stuff- I was the talk of the entire district- not only was I the mazungu but the mazungu that came home that night in the Governor’s car. I reiterate that “African time” does not apply with  gossip.

It is remarkable that it has only been two weeks here, I have learnt some very valuable lessons already. Overall, the happiness of people here and their content with little possession is awe-inspiring and infectious- a good sign of things to come.

Until next month’s adventures.

Kwa heri,
Sam xo

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Kenya 2013

Enjoy our most recent visit to the village in Kenya where Community Classrooms works collaboratively with local Kenyan friends and family on projects for healthy, sustainable communities that value traditional culture. Projects include – Permaculture, environmental education, cultural school, Penpals program, empowerment initiatives, sewing machine, basket making and more. SPONSOR.  DONATE. VOLUNTEER.

Kenya 2013 from Sam Willcocks on Vimeo.

Cultivate Community: Kenya 2012-2013

In 2012 we went back *home* to our village in Kenya. We had a wonderful time connecting with family and beginning work on collaborative community projects. This October we will travel there again to co-create healthy, sustainable communities and perpetuate the preservation and celebration of culture.

Project plans include:

Permaculture for food security,
Composting toilets,
Rainwater collection and storage
Mosquito nets
Soccer balls and sewing machines… and more!

Cultivate Community – kenya 2012-2013 from Sam Willcocks on Vimeo.