CCC Achievements so far…

Community Classrooms Collaborative has been engaging with Nyangidi Village and the surrounding community for the last 5 years with local-led projects in the areas of health, education, food security and culture. There have been many challenges but the following list showcases some of our amazing achievements.

  • 250+ mosquito nets delivered, significantly reducing the risk of malaria for 500-1000+ people,Helen Donates Mosquito Nets
  • 40+ village locals educated in basic organic agriculture (permaculture) methods and gifted seeds to increase food security,
  • 200+ trees planted and cared for,
  • New garden tools and wheelbarrows purchased for community use,
  • 1 compost toilet built,img_7981
  • 140+ children in Australia and Kenya exchange letters through the Rafiki Pen Pal Program,
  • 50+ village students learn traditional drum, song and dances at Cultural School, culminating in community performances and celebrations,
  • 150+ children and adults access the Learning Library educational resources.006
  • Built library and filled with books, games, educational resources, pens, pencils, paper
  • Sponsorship of 4 villagers to attend a ‘Train the Trainer’ Permaculture and Community Development Course.
  • Permaculture leaders are now being supported to teach in the local schools, increasing food security and dissolving negative stigmas of ‘farming’ in the region.Pencil Happy
  • 15+ people from Australia, Asia and America hosted for village-immersion volunteer experience programs.
  • Over 150 cloth nappies delivered to women and their babies.
  • Over 1200 reusable sanitary pads provided for young women so that they can continue their education without fear of embarrassment.
  • Set-up of local village sewing group to make the sanitary pads and other products and gain income from employment.
  • Deliveries of clothes, shoes, towels and other items to villagers who currently have no means to access these essentials for themselves.
  • Support of local village sporting teams and the hope this provides for impoverished youth.



Growing the Permaculture Project


We recently invested $3000 (AUD) into the Permaculture Project in Kenya to increase food security and sustainability in an area that suffers food deficit for 9 months of the year. 4 villagers travelled across the country for 2 weeks to complete a permaculture design certificate course with the Permaculture Research Institute Kenya. Now they can come back to Nyangidi village and train the community in organic agriculture and permaculture practices, growing more food and filling hungry tummies for years to come. Here is what they had to say,

“Renewing, spurring on and a real eye opener are my estimation of the trip to Laikipia permaculture centre. The team from here, that is the four of us, assimilated an experience that to be told as it should is simply to relive it all in implementation, to truly depict it. Laikipia centre where we were staying is a lesson in itself, with all its sorts of vegetation, elements and systems in place. A most striking and sharp contrast to the farms just next door, let alone the very vast range lands lacking in diversity, and in turn no sustainability. In a nutshell, we are not only talking permaculture now, we are living and breathing this concept now. The trainers with Joseph leading, our classmates, the food, the accommodation, the local community and just the travelling itself was a start-up call to think of the next generation now and today.

Our immediate plans involve putting a micro demo-site at the land by the gate, incorporating other systems and elements to Dongruok Ber Group Members’ Gardens. A long term vision is to be a permaculture trainer and in the interim to introduce the concept to standard 6, 7 and 8 at the local primary school.

My trip to Laikipia was an eye opener as I got a real time opportunity to witness coordination of various projects of the local community there with the permaculture centre as the hub, thus lending me and CCC to get a newer perspective. The relatedness of the sewing school, library, pen pal program and permaculture here to harness a common and unique empowered identity hit me. I am reenergized from what I saw firsthand. I loved it and truly the self-sustaining dynamics if rightly coordinated, every community can contribute uniquely to the wellness of the World and be appreciated for it.”

Amazing stuff! Knowledge is power, and we love supporting people in their own empowerment for a healthier and happier world.

If you are able to contribute, even a few dollars a week, to supporting the growing self-sufficiency in Kenya please email us at and become a regular sponsor of this project.

Thank you from Sam, the whole Community Classrooms team, Nyangidi village and beyond xo

ted-tried-to-beat-the-indefatigable-jona-at-his-game-guess-who-lost img_7981 img_8139  Helen and Arlo 'hit the ground' digging when they first arrive in Kenya

Nyang’idi Village Update

Pencil Happy

In a recent letter from our Kenyan Coordinator Jona Otieno his first paragraph pretty much sums it up;

“On behalf of Nyang’idi Village at large, our Rafiki Pen pal Society and Segere High School, I express my deepest gratitude, for the hearts, hands and minds in Australia that have made it possible for us to be benefactors to such a wide range of opportunities.”

These opportunities include;

  • 100 packs of REUSABLE Sanitary pads for girls at Segere High School, enabling them to continue their education.
  • 60 more mosquito nets to keep people safe from malaria.
  • Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Training for 4 villagers so that they can teach the community to increase food security and sustainability.
  • A laptop, story books, textbooks, pencils, pens and more for the community learning library.
  • Materials and financial support for the sewing group to develop a sustainable business and train disadvantaged women in sewing skills that will empower them and their families.
  • Village visits from 2 families from Australia creating bridging cultures and creating friendships for life.


From the depths of my heart I thank everyone who has supported these positive change in Kenya.


Sam xo

Helen Donates Mosquito Nets

Rafiki Pen Pals Newsletter Update December 2015

December 2015

Summer Newsletter

Dear Friends and Families of the Rafiki Pen Pals Program,

Thank you for your continued support and participation! We are so excited with how our number of Rafiki pen pals has grown and we now have over 180 children participating in Australia and Kenya. If you are new to the program then check out the website for more information about the positive benefits for families in both countries and see how you can contribute through child sponsorship, fundraising, volunteering or one-off donations. <>

With no stationery, children use a stick to practice writing in the dirt. Your contribution helps school kids enjoy new, colorful learning resources and stationery.

Our Australian pen pal families make a positive difference in the lives of their Kenyan pen pals through donations and fundraising. Your contributions go towards pencils and paper (so that the village kids can write back), educational and art resources (such as colouring pencils, paints and puzzles which many of the children have never been exposed to!) and books for the new library. Any additional funds are channeled into participatory community development projects in Nyangidi village and surrounds in the areas of health, food security, education and culture (such as providing mosquito nets, permaculture gardens, fruit trees, seeds, tools, instruments, food and more).

As part of our monitoring and evaluation of the programs, we have undertaken academic research into the impacts and significance of projects in Nyangidi village. The results are extremely promising! All projects scored a ‘high’ to ‘very-high’ community significance rating which means that people value and appreciate the positive changes that are occurring. All of our projects aim to be participatory (involving and driven by needs of the local people) and sustainable, so these research outcomes are a reflection of that. A copy of the full report will be available to those interested soon.

(This is what 100 trees in a car boot looks like! See the happy smiles and high fives from people behind.)
(Traditional womens’ singing group after their performance at our Cultural School Community Show)









So far we have collectively raised over $15,000 (AUD) and some of the measurable impacts are:

  • 30+ mosquito nets delivered, significantly reducing the risk of malaria for 60-120+ people,
  • 40+ village locals educated in basic organic agriculture (permaculture) methods and gifted seeds to increase food security,
  • 100 trees planted and cared for,
  • New garden tools and wheelbarrows purchased for community use,
  • 1 compost toilet built,
  • 180+ children in Australia and Kenya exchange letters through the Rafiki Pen Pal Program,
  • 50+ village students learn traditional drum, song and dances at Cultural School, culminating in a community performance,
  • 150+ children and adults access the Learning Library educational resources,
  • 2 sewing machines and material delivered for a sustainable enterprise sewing business for local women,
  • 1 operation and aftercare provided so a little girl can walk.

These impacts have many indirect outcomes such as increased productivity, community cohesion, cultural learning and exchange, increased awareness and conservation of the natural environment, preservation validation and celebration of culture, an increase in activism and social responsibility as well as many more.

006 A wonderful example of how cultural exchange can lead to positive social change is the story about a couple of Aussie kids and their super supportive mum. Lachlan and Zander, from Yeppoon, enjoy writing to their Kenyan pen pals and in one letter earlier this year they decided to write about their new favourite hobby, soccer. They drew some pictures and sent a photo of themselves proudly modeling their soccer kits. They were shocked when their village friends wrote back that they also loved soccer (they call it Football in Kenya) but they didn’t have any balls to play with! The boys asked their mum if they could send their pen pals some balls so that they could play too.


011Mum Nichola was very supportive of her boys’ generous wish and what started with a handmade poster spiraled into an amazing effort of raising nearly $2000 (AUD) for soccer balls for the whole of Nyangidi village and surrounds. Their friends, family and local soccer clubs were very supportive in addition to the Australia-wide homeschooling community and others who donated online. They were also featured in newspapers and on the television news! Mum Nichola said, “we are so excited that our little dream is becoming a reality and seeing those joyous photos gives me goosebumps. The boys have learned so much from the experience and couldn’t wait to write and ask their pen pal friends if they liked their footballs!”

Now the balls are being delivered and are having a profound effect on youth across Kenya. We have teamed up with a project to reduce hooliganism and empower youth through access to sports equipment, and music. This provides celebration and cultural validation leading to more collaboration and peace in these regions. The footballs are bringing hope to many children who will probably receive nothing else for Christmas, at best a decent family meal and a second-hand piece of clothing from the markets (usually sent from a Western country and sold to local people). To further share the Solstice and Christmas spirit of giving and abundance we are holding a Christmas party for the children in Nyangidi village. If you would like to contribute towards this exciting first-time event then please be in touch or donate through the website



In October, we enjoyed a wonderful day of cultural celebration and sharing with our Australian Rafiki pen pals and their families. The charismatic Sam Okoth (who was born in Nyangidi village) facilitated some traditional African drumming, dancing and singing for the group to enjoy. Everyone had so much fun and together we made some great music! The children and parents watched footage of our time in the village on the big screen and were amazed to see the lives that their pen pal friends lead; collecting water from the well, digging and planting in the field, climbing mango trees, collecting and chopping firewood and playing just as all children do. Many questions were asked, as they wanted to find out more about their friends living far away in another country. Letters from Kenya were delivered and we welcomed many new families into the program. Together we ate some delicious traditional Kenya food; uganda cod mchele (beans and rice), sukumawiki (fried kale) and ugali (a squidgy maize concoction similar to playdough consistency and used as cutlery), it was an all round sensory experience! Children and adults all enjoyed the feast and we look forward to holding more days like this soon. If you have any ideas or would like to host an event then please be in touch!


On our trip to Kenya earlier in the year we planted some gardens according to permaculture principles on dry barren land. Most in the village said that nothing would grow due to poor soil and low rainfall. As you can see from the photos a mini microclimate was created and there is still plenty to eat while they never need to water! This little garden has become famous in the area for those wanting to plant food in harsher times. Many families have harvested from the garden and it still continues to flourish! We love permaculture and want to bring practical education to the whole region to increase food security and resilience.


Such wonderful achievements have been made co-creatively with the Nyangidi community and we look forward to what the future holds. The following seven points are some goals we have over the next 3 years.

  1. Support more children to join the Rafiki Pen Pal Program and develop educational resources to deepen learning in both Australian and Kenyan contexts,
  2. Employ a full-time social worker in Kenya to coordinate the growth of the Pen Pal Program and report on the health of village children, diverting resources to those most in need,
  3. Build a cultural centre and performance facility to showcase Cultural School and present performances and workshops for the local community and international visitors, with direct and indirect impacts for thousands of people,
  4. Employ elders locally to teach traditional arts,
  5. Build a permanent facility to house the Learning Library full of books, learning, art and sports resources,
  6. Employ a local teacher to hold classes from the library for villagers of all ages,
  7. Purchase a motorbike and trailer to make a mobile ‘library on wheels’ to service other rural villages and schools. It is projected that more than 2000 people will gain educational benefits from this project.

The impacts are projected to be widespread across an increasingly larger region, improving health, food security, educational opportunities, environmental conservation, and cultural preservation, validation and learning for several thousand people, spanning into future generations. Overall, these projects are ethical, sustainable and aim to show how a community can thrive in harmony with the natural environment, if listened to, valued and gifted some extra knowledge, tools and resources. To achieve these goals we need more funding, employees and volunteers. For a healthier and happier world, please help in anyway you can!

  • Consider holding your own fundraising efforts like the Spooner family and see where it goes,
  • If you are able set up a direct deposit to sustain support to the projects in Nyangidi village until they are self-sufficient and we can expand into other areas, if all of our pen pals gifted just $1, $2 or $5 a week to the program, we can co-create continued empowerment and positive change one village at a time,
  • Visit our online store to purchase a Gift that Keeps on Giving for Christmas or Birthdays (such as seeds, fruit trees, tools, books, sewing materials, water filters, mosquito nets, sports equipment and more) for ethical and sustainable presents at

Thank you for all of your continued support in our sustainable community development initiatives. We are proud to promote poverty alleviation through sharing cultural celebration!

If you have any questions or ideas on how to improve the program, or if you would like to volunteer some of your time to help with coordination, promotion, fundraising, grant or letter writing, please be in touch.

Asante sana,

Samantha Willcocks, the Community Classrooms Team and families of Nyangidi village.


group photo

Rafiki Pen Pals Newsletter – Update March 2015

Dear friends and families of the Rafiki pen-pal program,

We have been enjoying a wonderful time here in Kenya, East Africa. Our village is called Nyangidi, sub-location Kochieng B in a county called Siaya, which borders the Great Lake Victoria (the beginning of the river Nile). We are in the very West of Kenya, close to the countries Uganda and Tanzania. People here are of the Luo tribe and most live in mud or mud-brick homes with grass thatched or iron sheet roofs.

It has been a long dry season since November and so most of the grass has disappeared to dust and not much food is growing. We hope that in future years, more permaculture knowledge and access to infrastructure such as swales, rainwater tanks and dams can help store water in the area and provide food even in times of drought.


Local kids (use their new tools to dig a garden in the dry soil.

In late January, after the teacher strikes in Kenya ended, most children resumed school. Since then, during the weekend writing days many children have visited us to collect their letters from Australia, receive a gift and write their reply letters. They also played with the Community Classrooms new educational resources, ate snacks such as fruit and yoghurt, sang both English and traditional songs, and participated in some yoga, dancing and ball games.


Jojo slowly pulls things from his box as his friends watch in anticipation.

The word of Australian pen-friends has travelled to neighbouring Sogo village and 20 new pen pal children have been welcomed to the program. After writing their letters the children posed for a photo and received exercise books, pencils and pens.

We are working with the new project manager for Community Classrooms Collaborative, a local village elder, to develop some guidelines for gift giving and personal requests in letters. This last letter-round some children from Australia sent shoe-boxes full of gifts to their pen pal, but because there were so many village children and only a few boxes we encouraged the children to share the gifts inside and also had an extra bag of goodies (clothing, shoes and stationary) to make sure that everyone received something.

Watching the kids open their gifts was so heartwarming, these are children who would normally not receive anything for their birthday or Christmas and may only have one change of clothes. Many had tears in their eyes and exclaimed, “amor kabisa!” which translates to, “I am happy completely!”


Children of Nyangidi village open boxes of gifts from their pen friends in Australia.

Although everyone received something, unfortunately not all gifts were created equal and some children saw that others got ‘more’ or ‘better’ than what they did (the balls, storybooks and packs of Faber Castell pens were a BIG hit). This has resulted in some children (especially the new ones) ‘asking’ for things in their letters. So our apologies if your pen pal has requested something in their letter and it makes you feel uncomfortable. In the Luo culture people can freely ask each other to give them things without attachment or expectation that the thing will actually be given. I know it is different in Western culture where we do not usually ask things of each other and if someone does ask we often feel obliged to give. We are working with the children to be more culturally sensitive and write about what they like, have or don’t have and not just what they want to receive.

We also want to empower them instead of providing handouts, which can imprison people into cycles of dependency. We are treading lightly and want to introduce things slowly and observe how the community responds. Perhaps minimal personal ‘stuff’ and more collective ownership or investment in community projects is the way forward.


Many children crowd around to look at the colouring pens and clay.

We have created a Community Classrooms library where children can come to read books, explore various learning posters, use colouring pens and pencils, paints and even play with instruments, board games, puzzles and different sports balls (volley, soccer and netball so now we just need to make goals and nets). Teachers in the local area have also been invited to borrow resources from the library for their classes that are usually extremely full of students and under-resourced.


Local children love playing the new traditional drums Ohangla style.

Many children have written that they are in ‘standard x’ this refers to their grade or year level. Primary school here goes up to year 8. Children are held back until they know what is required to progress to the next level so many are 16 before they finish primary school. High school is called form 1-4 but a large number of children are not able to attend due to lack of school fees and necessary money for uniform, books and transport. Some older siblings helped write letters for the younger children who wanted to participate in the program and are still in nursery or pre-school (they call it ‘baby class’ or ‘final’). This is actually a small brick building set slightly away from the other classrooms. They are lacking resources but Teacher J (with her small baby at the back of the class!) does an AMAZING job with admirable enthusiasm to sing, dance and teach the basics to around 70 small children of age 3-6 years. On our last visit she had 7 pencils to share around the children (with innovation they sharpened both ends and snapped them in half) though many children still wrote their letters and numbers in the dirt. We hope that the library can be a useful tool to make learning more colourful and fun for these children.

Lots of children wrote about food in their letters. They all love fruit but often do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, especially during dry seasons. There are many mango trees in the village so during mango seasons they delight in climbing the trees (ever tall ones over 3 stories high!) and finding fresh juicy mangoes. They also have jackfruit and guava trees in addition to banana plants. We are planting more of these and are looking for other types of trees (such as the moringa), vines and vegetables that will hopefully do well in this area. Special care is being taken to preserve and promote indigenous varieties such as cassava and many species of dark leafy greens.

Ugali and greens

Delicious and nutritious ugali with greens.

A staple food in Kenya is ‘ugali’ and many children have written about this in their letters. Ugali is made from maize or cassava and millet that is grown locally, and then ground up into a flour. They heat water over a fire or charcoal stove called a ‘jiko’ and mix the flour in until it becomes a play dough consistency. This is a tough job, especially when you are cooking for many people. The ugali is eaten with a range of things and used instead of cutlery. People make a ball with it in their hand and then use that to scoop up their main meal which may be something like beans, fried cabbage, cooked bananas in a tomato soup, egg stew or fish. Many children were so very happy with the letters and gifts they received, they replied that they would like you to come to Kenya so they can cook a big chicken for you to eat and enjoy (sorry to any vegetarians out there!) This is a cultural honour that they reserve only for special guests and visits from important family members, chicken is not eaten regularly as they are more valuable for their eggs and manure.

Along with the other Community Classrooms projects we have been empowering and providing hope through the support of sports teams. Children at Osoro and Kochieng schools LOVE their new uniforms and balls. They wore them with pride and I am sure their game and teamwork improved immediately. If you know of any local sports teams who would be interested in sponsoring or doing a raffle fundraiser for uniforms and sports equipment for children in Kenya then please be in touch.


Children at Kochieng Primary with their new sports uniforms and ball.

We hope to provide exposure and exciting experiences for children of the Rafiki Pen Pals Program, such as an excursion to the national park to see their unique animals like giraffe, zebra, lion, rhino, elephant, monkey and others. Very few children from the villages have the opportunity for these experiences and there is much evidence to suggest that environmental protection and care comes from appreciation. We would like to cultivate this appreciation of the natural environment in the early years through transformative youth empowerment, with the hope that it will flow through into the future to create conscious global citizens who will care for our planet Earth.


The village children LOVE swimming on hot days but they only get to splash about in the filthy fish ponds (if the owners are not looking!) When we have shown them photos and movies of oceans and swimming pools in Australia their mouths open wide in disbelief. We hope to also take them on excursions to the Great Lake Victoria and a swimming pool in the closest city of Kisumu. These trips will be planned in the future when we have raised enough funds to hire a bus and cover the other costs such as food and accommodation.

We hope you can come to visit one day, to meet your pen pal and their family and to enjoy that chicken dish or fresh greens from the permaculture gardens J

Thank you for all of your continued support in our sustainable community development initiatives. We are proud to promote poverty alleviation through sharing cultural celebration!

If you have any questions or ideas on how to improve the program, or if you would like to volunteer some of your time to help with coordination, promotion, fundraising or letter writing, please be in touch.

Asante sana,

Samantha Willcocks, the Community Classrooms Team and families of Nyangidi village.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.