Kenya 2017

Kenya 2017 (Part II): The Build

As most service trips go, there’s usually some kind of build that is the focus of the trip. In the case of my trip, teaching was the focus. Although, that did not stop us from getting our hands a little dirty every few days.

My group and I were building at Esinoni Primary School (which is also the school we were teaching at). The school was interesting because they still had the original school on the property. The school was made up of two classrooms. I would give a physical description but I think photos would represent it a lot better:

IMG_0123IMG_1953IMG_1950

The oldest part of the school was actually built by parents in hopes of giving their children an education. The parents taught a variety of subjects in the classrooms. Once the student population increased the government recognized it as an actual school and supplied a Head Teacher (Principal in North American terms). This sounds like a good thing but it really wasn’t. The conversion meant that parents would have to start paying to send their children to school. Population decreased but then the government did something absolutely amazing: They allowed Monday classes to be free. Children all over the community were rushing to go to school for that single day because of how much they valued education. Eventually, the Kenyan government put a law in place that says that “for every individual classroom, they will supply one teacher.” The school took that as a positive thing and with time and fundraising they were able to build 6 classrooms but 3 buildings. These 3 buildings allowed for 3 new teachers! You might be wondering why it wasn’t 6 new teachers, that’s because the classrooms were attached, not individual buildings.

The new classrooms that were built allowed for better learning. They have a lot more space for students. They had an actual surface that you could use as a chalkboard, instead of a piece of plywood. They have proper windows and electricity. Most importantly, they had actual floors and walls. The floor they were learning on was no longer dirt that became mud when it rained. The walls were cement and no longer needed to be repaired after a rainstorm. It was a healthy environment for their learning. The biggest problem was that the walls were thin and you could easily hear the lesson in the class next to you. A few years the organization that I travelled with paired up with Esinoni and they offered a solution to their struggles.

The organization I travelled with believes in giving a hand up instead of a hand out. So the community had to raise a certain percentage of funds to help build a new classroom that was it’s own individual building. In return, groups of students (like me and my friends), businesses, families and so many people from different walks of life started travelling to the community and help with the various builds. This works well because the community doesn’t have to pay for labour cost. My group was working on the 6th classroom. Although, they have been able to but in much more than just classrooms. They’ve put in a water well and have started working on new washrooms. For the sake of what I am familiar with, I’m sticking to talking about classrooms.

IMG_0125.JPG
How the newest classrooms look.

The way that building a classroom goes is kinda simple but like any build it gets complex. I’m going to go from step 1 until the place that my group left off:

  1. Dig a rectangle trench that is about 3ft deep (maybe deeper depending on the soil)
  2. In the 4 corners, dig deeper by an extra 2-3ft
  3. Pour concrete into the corners and put rebar inside for support
  4. Build a retaining wall in the trench that was dug (This is where the build was at when my group started)
  5. Fill the interior of the retaining wall with large rocks
  6. Fill the cracks with smaller rocks
  7. Use a sledge hammer to level the foundation and crush the large rocks
  8. Fill the foundation with sand so that all cracks are filled
  9. Put a layer of black gardening tarp (I have no idea what it’s actually called) over top
  10. Put a layer of rebar on top of that

That’s where the Teachers to Teachers group left off

Safety measures were common sense: wear gloves, hard hat and protective eye gear. Also, it wasn’t very labour intense it was just hot in the sun, which made it hard to work in.

I like to say that the best part of building is seeing the growth right before your eyes. It’s also good to take a look at the project before you start at the beginning of the day and when you finish at the end of the day because those are the moments where you see and how much progress was made. There’s also the knowledge of knowing you’re making an impact on the lives of children and a piece of you will live on because the entire group literally put their blood, sweat and tears into the project.

That is it for the build! Like how I said in the last post, please feel free to contact me if you have interest in doing service aboard. It’s truly something life changing. I learned so much about myself, the world, and how to live a healthy and happy life. I feel as though I grew and matured as a person and it’s honestly the most wonderful experience for a person. If you haven’t checked out Kenya 2017 (Part I): The Atmosphere please check it out! As for now…

Happy adventuring!

-Vince

Kenya 2017

Kenya 2017 (Part I): The Atmosphere

The last two weeks have probably been the best two weeks of my life. I met amazing new friends. I befriended an entire community. I learned from Maasai warriors. I contributed to the foundation of a classroom. Finally, I taught English and Math in a grade 7 and 8 class, but learned so much more from them than they learned from me. This trip impacted my life in such large ways. I want to share with the world my experiences and how doing service abroad or at home makes such a large impact on the lives of people and yourself. I did so many activities it’s difficult to talk about them all but the trip had 3 large components: Atmosphere, Building and Teaching. 

Welcome to my 3 part series focusing around the three components to my trip to Kenya. This trip was 15 days of learning, whether conventional or unconventional. I was an eye opening experience and I’m excited to share it with you all.

Atmosphere

The first thing that shocked me when I got to Kenya was the landscape. It was so diverse and it felt like every turn you took you had a different view and felt like you travelled to a different part of the world. You had mountains to your right and prairies to your left. There were rich green forests then the dry barren desert surrounding them. Crop fields for miles then bright green grass accompanied by Maasai huts and farms.

A lot of the landscape that I saw was during a safari tour. I might not have seen any Elephants or Lions but seeing a herd of Zebras running through the Maasai Mara is the most majestic thing I’ve ever seen and I feel as though I could have watched it for hours on end. Another amazing thing was the Giraffes. African animals in the wild just seem to have a free spirit to them, it’s wonderful. They are the definition of wild and free, because of that they make you feel as though you are too.

The next thing that contributes to the atmosphere is the community and the culture that I learned about while I was there. In the Maasai community they call their mothers Mamas. If you’ve ever worn a Rafiki Bracelet then you might be familiar with them. The Mamas make these beautiful beaded jewelry pieces. IMG_1275They are traditionally made and used for themselves and their families but recently they are sold as a way for the Mamas to make income. I had the honour and pleasure to bead with two wonderful Mamas who were so filled with joy, laughter and strength. The way they make Rafiki Bracelets is a lot easier than I thought it was, but it’s a lot harder than the Mamas make it seem. When I did it there was a lot of string breaking and beads being spilt on my shuka. That just goes to show you that the work that they put into making these bracelets is worth the $10 (but it’s also worth it because $5 goes to a cause and $5 goes to the Mama and her family).

Women not only bead to make income, but they also have daily chores to do. They have to walk up to 20 km or more on a daily basis to get water for cooking, cleaning, drinking etc. It’s a painful process to carry the water. My group and I carried it for only 1km and that was tough enough and halfway through the walk we traded off. Now imagine a 7 year old girl having to do that once or twice a day. Here in North America, we have such easy access to water but in most parts of the world it’s not that easy. We learned about a statistic after the water walk: “By the year 2025, 50% of the world’s population won’t have access to clean water.” This is extremely shocking. Imagine having to choose between you and your partner, only one of you can drink clean water and the other as to drink contaminated water. That’s basically deciding which one of you will live a healthy life and which one will live a life filled with sickness. It’s easy to be aware that not the entire world has clean water but to think of it so drastically is scary. If you want to make an impact it’s the little things that help:

  • Turning off water while lathering your hands, body and hair
  • Using energy efficient appliances that conserve water
  • Drinking tap water or filtered water instead of bottled water (water is needed to make the plastic)
  • “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down”
  • Take a shorter shower!
  • This might sound wrong but… use the dishwasher. They are actually made to wash dishes and they save water because you are able to wash large amounts of dishes with less water waste.

There’s so many more ways of saving water, I just gave a few examples

The living conditions that the Maasai live are totally different from the ways I live, in North America. In North America, people are always looking for more square feet. People want fancy homes. They spend years collecting decorations to make their homes unique. In Kenya, they live simple lives. They don’t have the tools to build beautiful large homes. They build their homes to be as functional as they can make it. I had the pleasure to sit in a traditional Maasai home that a Mama built (and maintains) with her own two hands. Out of respect for her and her privacy I’m not going to share photos of the home but I can share a rough blueprint I created to match what it looked like:Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 10.15.39 AMThis blueprint is just an example that I made. In reality the walls are mud; the floors are dirt; the ceiling is sticks, dirt and grass. The beds are single sized thin mattresses. There’s very little ventilation in the kitchen space but not enough to allow smoke to be completely freed. They don’t live in their homes though. They live outside. They are farming, playing, singing, dancing, working. They live simple lives that aren’t spent indoors. It may sound like they have poor living conditions but they are very happy people. They don’t focus their time indoors, they’re more or less always outside. I wanted to share their home because it becomes more of a health concern, rather living in poverty. They sleep in a smoke filled home with their farm animals in the next room so they don’t get eaten in the night. That’s a huge problem for their health and health care centres are needed and are so far from communities.

Their living conditions shows how important heath clinics and hospitals are there. The organization that I travelled with recently converted one health clinic into a hospital and that means they can now do surgeries. They would never do surgeries that the doctors aren’t qualified to do, so there’s a lot of cesarian sections and other minor surgeries. I think in the future it will expand and more people will be able to go to school, become doctors or surgeons and their hospital will grow to large city level hospital. I also think that their health clinic is growing rapidly and soon it will reach hospital status as well.

The last thing I want to mention is the Maasai Warriors. It’s the last generation of warriors in the Maasai Mara and they are the greatest people I’ve ever met. The organization I toured with pairs two warriors with every group that travels to Kenya. My group had the two best warriors (at least in my opinion): Justus and Livingstone. I don’t want to share too much about them because I want to respect their privacy but if you want insight about the Maasai ways, their culture, traditions, how they become warriors and how it feels to be the last generation of warriors then I would recommend reading: The Last Maasai Warriors: An Autobiography by Wilson Meikuaya & Jackson Ntirkana with Susan McClelland. I haven’t read the book yet but I’m on my way to Chapters to pick it up soon and I’ve heard great things about it. 

Justus on the left, Livingstone on the right

I shared a lot about my trip in this post. I hope that you all enjoy it and if this inspires you in any way to do service aboard, please feel free to contact me. As for my next blog post, I’ll have it up as soon as possible. I’ll be giving you a look into the build that my group did. I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had recently and I’m glad I have the chance to spread what I learned and my insights with all those that read this article and the others that will follow. Thank you.

Until next time and happy adventuring,

Vince