Rotary Club of Nairobi
Rotary Club of Golders Green
Image: SO many schools!
Forty years on, so much has changed in Kenya, yet so little.
Neat schools pepper the landscape every few miles along the rural roads with hundreds of children in the brightest uniforms of all colours of the rainbow running in their direction, many barefoot, none plump, all bright-eyed. In theory all Kenyan children have free schooling. In practice, parents have to fork out for extras as funds mysteriously disappear along the way.
Equally numerous are the churches, some shacks, others large and resplendent with spires, bell towers, arched stained glass windows or steps leading up to grand doors. Many are Ws I P, Works in Progress. The quirky names like God is Here Church reveal the many denominations of Christianity which have been created, some merging with traditional African beliefs. They take their place by the side of traditional Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal or Baptist churches to name a few and include Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovahs Witnesses. Religion is business and the influence of the American Missions is unmistakeable.
Everywhere we see busyness. From road-side stalls people are selling fruit, vegetables, maize, goats, chickens, eggs, milk and all the goods from their small, once subsistence now commercial farms. One farmer waits for his one milk churn to be picked up and taken to the dairy, while another fits three on his bicycle and yet another piles ten on a donkey cart. Bogies piled high with sugar cane, bananas, pineapples, papayas, coffee, tea, sisal and timber make their way to market from small holdings which have mushroomed over the years. It is encouraging to see the many small tea farms alongside the massive plantations of the multinational companies. Fairtrade is a concept which has caught on.
The Kenyan people are helping themselves and making progress. Unfortunately their leaders, and anyone else who can, are helping themselves too to some of the profits. Everyone knows this. The press seem to have complete freedom. At a Mombasa resort, devoid of tourists in this credit crunch, an armed guard patrols the wall to keep the beach hawkers away; the following occurs to me:
The abundantly affluent
Sitting prettily on high
Watch the abjectly poor
Scrabbling for survival
The two faces of Kenya are apparent. Movement through customs at a congested airport and a hair-raising journey into Nairobi both proceed with the lack of control of a disturbed shoal of fish. Luckily cars just miss each other usually. It appears that everyone drives a car and can afford foreign travel or does it?
Main roads into Nairobi are lined by large, detached properties, recently built by wealthy Africans. Expensive blocks of flats and business premises have also sprung up. Many are works in progress, some because of lack of funds. Hotels, restaurants and shopping centres are as sophisticated as any in the world and there are plenty of customers with full pockets. Young boys queue to caddy for wealthy African, Asian and European golfers, guaranteed a good fee and sometimes lucky enough to be funded enough to gain low handicaps and possible careers in golfing. There is no shortage of generous sponsors; they can afford it.. There are many enterprises which employ large numbers, increasingly African owned, although there are an Asian blanket factory and some Europeans farms and game resorts. Resorts are expensive especially for non-residents but Kenya needs the money.
Other roads lead to the slums caused by the desperate rush to the city in search of a better life. The people found a nightmare without any hope that water, electricity or access roads could be provided in time to support their needs. Yet, most people survive. Small industries such as furniture making, beadwork, basketry, selling second hand clothes and wood carving, to mention a selection, bring in some money to feed the family.
Not everyone survives. Children, many orphans, some abused, need rescuing from a drugs-infested, glue-sniffing and AIDS-ridden environment. Good people take food to the children through lunch projects. They can only do so much. Last year a rescue centre for widows and orphans was burnt down during the post-election troubles. It just happened to be in the way. This is the charity we found to use the money given by our Annie. Pinky Ghelani, a well-known beauty queen we met in Mombasa, put us in touch with another amazing lady Bella Nzukie (who has an interesting history) who took me to the Ruai Rescue Centre for orphans from the Fuata Nyayo slum. Well away from Nairobi with nothing growing in the land yet, the little self-built settlement is at least a safe haven where the children have begun to laugh and play again. It replaces the one which was burnt down. We spent £50 on maize, rice, tea, sugar, beans, dried fish, tomatoes, onions and a big bag of pink sweets (for fun). When we arrived there was no food for that day but our donation would feed them for a few days. Zubeda Jaffer, director of the FUNOWI self-help group, who mothers the children, gave me jewellery to sell which was made by the widows and orphans. See www.fuatanyayo.or.ke to find out more.
Yet another road, north past Kapenguria where Jomo Kenyatta was held during Mau Mau, takes you to barren, desertified lands where people are in danger of starvation and close to raids from across the borders with Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. A visit to the District Commissioners office was recommended and we were advised to take along two armed guards before we could go fishing. En route there were encouraging signs of progress. Nomadic herdsmen of the Pokot tribe were living on fenced off farms, each with a number of cows, some grazing and access to a river bank. We saw no signs of danger - or fish. On the way to Rotarian Gerrys home town, Kitale, we came across an excellent Nature Conservancy claiming to think globally but act locally. It is the brainchild of a retired African teacher and provides information and education of a high standard. Seats and tables have been carved out of caves and brightly painted to form Meeting Halls with a unique and inspirational ambience. On the rocks the philosophies of Nobel prize-winning environmentalist, Mrs Wangari Maathai, have been displayed. If you sin against God He can forgive you, one carving says, but if you sin against nature it will never forgive you.
Forty years on Rotarian Gerry and I visited our old boarding schools in the Kericho area and were given warm welcomes. The schools have grown from 150 to 600 and 140 to 800 pupils. Cheptenye Boys School now own a beautiful new bus but are desperate to get computers and go on line. A contingency of successful middle-aged men turned out to be a welcome party for their favourite biology teacher Mr Goes. Kipsigis Girls School have 50 pupils in a class all adorable and were preparing for a drama festival. We met a little girl doing her exams on an antiquated Braille typewriter. I so wished we could have spent longer there. The school has its own W I P a half finished dormitory. The schools, like Kenya, are bursting at the seams and like Kenya they are full of good will, good practice and hope for a better future. There is a problem to solve first of those who help themselves without helping others.
Liz Goes. (March 2009)
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