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A Better World (ABW) Canada Trip to Kenya

Introduction:

Traveling with a charity was a new and unique experience for us and it allowed us to gain insights into a country that we would never have achieved on our own.

 

Why we were there:

  • we were invited by a former colleague (Stu MacPhail), who has been with ABW for fifteen years and is currently a board member in charge of water projects
  • we were intrigued to see what sort of work the charity was doing
  • we traveled with Stu and his partner Jocelyn primarily to view the status of numerous water project in the SW part of Kenya thru areas around Lake Naivasha, Kericho, Kendu Bay, and the Maasai Mara

 

 

Who was there from ABW:

  • there was a team of 29 volunteers, mostly from Central Alberta with a sprinkling from BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia
  • most of these folks had been in Kenya on previous trips and hence were familiar with the surroundings
  • they brought a diverse range of skillsets and worked tirelessly thru the trip to aid the local, on the ground people
  • the group was led by Executive Director and Co-founder Eric Rajah who has been to Kenya nearly 50 times and has taken nearly 3000 people to Kenya
  • it was great to get to know this amazing individual who has received the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2011 for his humanitarian efforts and should be nominated for an international humanitarian award for the outstanding contributions he has made over the past 30 years
  • he has a tremendous relationship with all the people in every community and is revered throughout the region as he treats the local people with the utmost respect and kindness
  • the same can be said for his relationship with ABW team where he is respected for his casual but highly effective leadership skills
  • the team of 29 was Eric, Julie, Stu, Jocelyn, Pat, Karen, Marcia, Barbara, Ed, Marilyn, Neil, Lane, Jeff, Joanne, Roger, Mona, Alex, Chelsea, Taylor, George, Joyce, Larry, Twyla, Winston, Wanda, Don, Marilyn, Merle, Cathy

 

 

What does ABW do:

  • ABW is in 15 countries, but the largest focus is in Kenya, so we were able to witness where they are having the greatest impact
  • their main focus is in the areas of education, health care, and water with less exposure to agriculture and micro-financing
  • ABW works with Canadian donors to determine what sort of projects they want to support
  • once the needs and matching donors are in place, ABW works with local Kenyan organizations to ensure that the projects are completed on budget, on time and in a sustainable manner
  • they inject capital but do not take operating positions as this becomes the responsibility of the local people
  • given that ABW is a smaller organization they can affect change more quickly and more effectively than larger, more bureaucratic organizations

 

 

Water:

  • this was our main focus which was great as we believe that sufficient and good quality water is the biggest key to good health
  • in North America, we take for granted that water is plentiful and of good quality, but this is certainly not the case in many countries around the world
  • kids sometimes have to support their mothers with gathering water by walking many kilometers for sheer survival which can often result in them not having the time to attend school
  • ABW works to seek out the best locations to put in water wells that can serve the schools, health care facilities, and often the surrounding communities
  • for the past five years, they have been working with a local partner, Solar World, who is generally able to locate where water can be found and what it will cost to put the proper borehole and pumping facilities in place
  • deep wells work best as they produce the most water and are sustainable thru droughts
  • shallow water wells are cheaper but may not consistently provide water or last forever
  • water catchment is increasingly being used as it is relatively cheap and easy to install and provides a decent supplemental source of water when it rains
  • all these forms of water are having a tremendous impact on the local communities and are greatly appreciated

 

 

Health:

  • while it was heart-wrenching to see some of the health issues and the standard of the facilities compared to the developed world, it was great to see how much ABW has advanced the quality of care and facilities
  • the ABW team had people with skill sets such as speech therapy, physio, and nursing which lent tremendous guidance to the local people
  • in one case a volunteer showed the mother of a disabled child how to cut the feeding time from three hours down to half an hour which was an amazing success
  • in another situation, a medical facility had been gifted some modern equipment, but nobody had been able to hook it up, so it was sitting idle
  • the team worked under some very challenging conditions but made huge contributions that will pay dividends for years to come
  • being a preventative medicine type of person, I was surmising what else could be done going forward to improve their quality of life

 

 

Education:

  • ABW has made huge investments in new schools, classrooms, desks, and uniforms for the children
  • we were welcomed in an overwhelmingly heartfelt manner that warmed our hearts at every visit
  • the children were so excited to see us, to touch our white skin, and to try to test their English skills on us
  • for them, the biggest thrill was to get their picture taken and then view it on our camera, or I phone
  • the classrooms generally had 40-80 kids in them in often cramped quarters
  • they all wore nicely maintained school uniforms
  • kids consider it a privilege to be in school and in some areas had to walk up to 10km each way
  • they realize that getting an education is the best way to get ahead in life
  • more recently there have been more secondary schools built and more people qualifying for entrance into this level
  • as a result of this, there is a shortage of teachers at this level in some of the areas
  • there is a lack of dormitory space in some schools
  • one school had 270 students with 144 beds, so kids were doubled up, and in some cases tripled up in one small bunk
  • we found it interesting that the headmaster at each school made sure we signed the guest book (this brought back memories of my parent’s house growing up)

 

 

Volunteers observations:

  • the team focused on checking on the progress of investments, training the local people, building items like special chairs for children with disabilities to sit in, and providing other necessities and learning supplies
  • three young gals from ABW visited and assisted in the medical facilities, and they noted that most of the procedures were the same, but they lacked the latest technology
  • the team was generally happy with the progress since their last visits although things never move as quickly as one would like
  • some people noted that the younger generation in Kenya communicate better which makes it easier to coordinate projects and they also seem more willing to learn and change
  • the country has seen significant progress over the years with more schools, primary and secondary, which is resulting in more children getting a higher level of education
  • the availability of more and better water has improved the health of the students which results in them doing better in school
  • families own more cows which is a sign of economic improvement
  • agriculture initiatives have proved challenging and hence are not receiving a lot of attention from ABW
  • microfinancing has not worked well, but some new lending institution initiatives look like they may provide the proper discipline to support small businesses
  • pretty much everyone from the ABW team is hoping to get back within the next couple of years which shows their commitment to the people of Kenya
  • the fact that ABW is a small NGO allows its team members to feel a real bond with the organization
  • I had hoped to get more stories but did not get organized in time but here are two stories shared by a couple of the very passionate people we met

 

Jeff story:

  • walking down the path to the bridge at Nyuburi when I felt a little hand take my hand
  • by the time we got to the bridge, we had an entourage of kids and Joanne had them sing their national anthem in both English and Swahili
  • we then responded with the Canadian national anthem

 

 

Joanne story:

  • one memory that will stay with me is of a nine-year-old girl with moderate cerebral palsy who was brought to the clinic in Naikarra by her father
  • she was bright but not in school and had not ever received therapy
  • her dad said many times that he had not known that there was something that could be done for his child and he agreed to continue her therapy

 

 

Our observations:

  • ABW is very highly regarded in all the communities that they serve
  • the investments they have made are hugely impactful
  • it is a continual learning process on how best to advance these communities as the local culture has a different mentality that one needs to respect
  • one main issue we saw was when something broke down they did not have the ambition to get it fixed and seemingly were waiting for someone else to solve their problem
  • ABW has tried different methods of monitoring their investments, but it has been challenging when they are only in the country a few times each year
  • they have, and continue, to try to use some local folks to oversee the projects but this has had limited success
  • it was very challenging to see some of the children with mental or physical disabilities, but it also provided the best rewards when the team had success in these areas
  • the team focused on training the local people and building some items like special chairs for disabled kids
  • one main challenge is making sure that the funds of their donors are properly deployed and get into the right hands without any corruptive influences, but Eric and other team members have done a very admirable job of monitoring this
  • we were constantly surmising how do you know if you are moving the needle for these people in the most expedient fashion
  • it is hard to measure, but in a lot of respects, it is no different than projects back in Canada where things never move forward exactly according to plan
  • the smiles on the faces of the kids and their parents seemed to make it all worthwhile
  • I enjoyed playing games with the kids and especially organizing a 75M race against some grade eight students in Ndanai
  • despite getting my butt kicked in the race, I found out that their school won the local, regional track meet a few days later so perhaps I gave them the confidence to beat their competition…ha ha
  • we wanted to help out so many individuals with a handout but realized thru our dialogue with the ABW team that it was best to direct the resources towards the largest facilities and training endeavors that have the most widespread and long term impact
  • one small world story was that thru posting my pictures on Instagram and tagging A Better World, I found out that one of the young gals on the trip (Chelsea) was the daughter of a good friend of mine
  • although this was our first time in Kenya and the first time traveling with an NGO it was blatantly obvious that ABW is having a tremendous impact in the communities they serve
  • we only knew one person before the trip, and we only spent parts of the trip with the other members of the group, but they were a very welcoming, passionate, and hard-working team of people

 

We are very much looking forward to our next return journey to see how this great nation is progressing.