Sue, Richard & Toby update 1st November 2016
We’ve been at Magina, near Kisumu, almost a week as I write this. Apologies for lack of contact – we have had some internet challenges and we have also been busy! But we are all still alive and well – thank you for your prayers and continued interest.
A lot has happened since our arrival, but I will try to be brief… unlike the two school ceremonies and the Church service we have attended here….
We had a smooth and safe journey from Nairobi to Magina, something we never take for granted. Our day was brightened up hugely by visiting Anthony, an ex Pamoja student, who is now doing teacher training at Kericho, which is a town on our route about an hour away from here in a tea growing area. We arrived there in torrential rain and temperatures of about 15 degrees – not unlike England is supposed to be in October – so Anthony was delighted with the coat that Tim had sent for him. Toby was a bit sad to part with it – he had worn it almost continuously since we got to Kenya. It seems that despite living all his life in England, he is well suited to African temperatures! (Don’t worry – he has another coat!)
The new Minister for Education in Kenya has very recently decided to close all Primary Schools in Kenya early for the holiday. They finished last Friday, and do not return to school until January! This kind of abrupt decision is just one example of how different things work out here – the notion of planning school term dates a year or two in advance is completely foreign to the government’s thinking, and although Mier Pamoja School is independent, it is still subject to all kinds of odd government diktats. The reason for the long holiday is apparently to stop pupils cheating – only Standard Eight pupils (those doing their final exams) are allowed in school this week. We’re not sure how it would help senior pupils to have the nursery children around…. Exams started today: for 17 children at our school, the government sent one invigilator, one supervisor and two security guards, all of whom needed food and drink for the days of the exams.
So – on Wednesday, the school held a prayer morning for the Standard Eight children, which is a lovely idea. The government has banned prayer days for Standard Eight pupils being held in schools (maybe they are afraid God will help the pupils?) so we went to the little tin Church behind Eric and Millicent’s house. This was the first long event – at least three hours! We spent what was left of the day sorting our little house out. We were delighted that Millicent and Eric have organised a tap and a toilet for us in the house – we are humbled by their generosity in getting this work done. Water is a real problem in this area at present – we have had hardly any rain, so the water tanks here are replenished by fetching water from the local borehole, which is very saline. Yesterday, Zede, one of the local workers, spent quite a bit of time going to and fro with the donkeys to replenish our tank. We are fortunate in being able to afford bottled water, but the local people are so poor that they simply have to drink borehole water. Please pray for rain to fall soon!
We spent Thursday around the Care Centre and School, talking to the teachers and pupils, and doing some singing with them. They are very quick to learn new songs. Richard met the local builder at the Care Centre to organise work on the very necessary new toilets. Toby got busy with a paintbrush, along with one of Eric’s nephews who was staying here, and painted a classroom.
On Friday, it was ‘School closing day’. Another long event! It was great to do some singing with the pupils again while we waited for things to start, and to watch some brilliant traditional dancing and singing, organised by one of the young enthusiastic teachers. All the staff then gave speeches (we were wilting long before the end), giving advice to the pupils, and class marks were read out, with the top three in each class being called to the front. All a bit old fashioned – when those of you who sponsor children read their school reports, think of England in the 1960s – the present Kenyan system is obsessed with tests and numbers. However, as with Wednesday, it is lovely to experience an openly Christian event in a school: the speeches often referred to Christian things. For us, this, along with small classes and teachers who are prepared to put in the extras, make supporting Mier Pamoja School worthwhile. If compared to a good UK school, there is still a long way to go, but compared to most government schools in Kenya, it is brilliant! Meanwhile Toby and his new friend painted two classrooms!
On Saturday we had to go to Kisumu, the nearest big city, about 40 minutes drive away. We had to go to the bank (long queue), Eric needed to see his doctor (walk straight in with no appointment, though you do have to pay), we needed to buy more paints, and mosquito nets with a generous donations from Blythswood Trust. EVERYTHING takes a long time! For example, you would think that mosquito nets would be readily available, but the right shape and size was only available in one supermarket, and they didn’t have enough, so we have to return to collect them…. But buying 50 nets will mean that the children at the Care Centre can have new nets, and many local families will also benefit. Kisumu was extremely hot – 35+ – dirty, messy, noisy and chaotic with traffic and people. We were exhausted when we got back…but we had promised the children at the Care Centre that we would see them, so we called in for an hour or so in the early evening. We played rounders (they got the basic idea, but not the finer points of the rules!) At one point the ball disappeared down the 6 foot hole that is being dug for the new toilets: one of the lads had no hesitation in leaping in to retrieve it! Toby joined in with the rounders, and he is also enjoying playing football and draughts with the children. The draughts board is made from a piece of cardboard, which Toby repainted. Bottle tops are used for the pieces. We also sang with them again. It’s always fun to be with these children – they are the reason Pamoja exists.
On Sunday we went to Church. Actually, apart from eating and sleeping, that was all we did, because Church was a marathon! Eric, as bishop, sometimes visits other local Churches, so first we had a 30 minute trip on dirt roads. The service started about 11.30 and we left at 4 – Eric and Millicent stayed on to have a meeting with the local people and got back about 7! As well as the usual prayers, Bible readings and hymns (all in Luo), the service included two christenings, fifteen confirmations (mainly children from the Care Centre), five new people being welcomed into the Church, two or three sermons, (twice as long because they translated for us), a short talk from us, a song from the kids, prayers for the pupils doing their exams, and Holy Communion! Oh – and in the middle, there was an auction of various items, including three live chickens! Not your average service…
This week, we, and anyone apart from three senior teachers and cooks, are banned from going into school because of the exams. So Millicent called as many as possible to come to the Care Centre, along with the other teachers, to write their letters to sponsors and have up-to-date photos taken. It was a crazy but successful day. The children had a lot of fun decorating their letters – some got a bit carried away, but hopefully their sponsors will still be able to read them! Meanwhile, Sue organised Toby to start painting the dormitories. Richard had to take a trip into Ahero, the nearby town, with the builder, to buy extra bricks to line the below-ground part of the toilets. As usual this involved not just buying the bricks, but haggling over how much it would cost to deliver them – all a bit wearing. However, we are full of admiration for how hard some of these people work, not just loading and unloading bricks, but digging down manually for the toilets: the plan tomorrow is to get to 25 feet.
This morning, as I catch up with admin from yesterday and write this, Sue has gone to Ahero market with Millicent and Eric. Toby is chilling (if that’s the right expression here), waiting to crack on with more painting later on.
Once more, as we have settled into life in rural Kenya, we are humbled by the lives that people here lead. Life is hard for the poor, of whom there are so many. As you turn the tap for fresh water, spare a thought and a prayer for those who have to walk to fetch poor quality water. It’s easy for us, with resources at our disposal, to drop in for a few weeks: sustaining it for years is another matter altogether. We are also constantly amazed by the selfless service that Millicent and Eric offer to these people: they try to do so much, and it can be overwhelming, especially when, as recently, neither of them has been well (Eric with complications from diabetes and Millicent with stomach ulcers and typhoid). We know you remember us and are grateful: please also remember them.
Thank you for reading all this! Not that brief – but believe me it is by Kenyan standards! Apologies for lack of photos: I’m afraid our internet connection is not good enough to upload them. But hopefully it will still be good enough for another update in a few days’ time.
As ever, thank you for your interest, thoughts and prayers. Goodnight from a very dry, dusty and hot Magina! Time to put the kettle on to wash our feet – it’s a good thing no one has invented an internet that transmits smells!