Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bret Returns to Kenya, October 2012

Bret has returned to Kenya for his 4th trip this year. Classrooms and a cistern are being built in the village of Peku, sponsored by Veracity Insurance.

Construction of classrooms and a cistern in Peku

Lost luggage is a simple fact of life when travelling to Kenya. It's never pleasant and always disappointing, but never surprising or an issue over which to lose much sleep. After 26 hours in the air and in connecting airports, we discovered that the bags we were to pick up on Nairobi and switch to the domestic flight were, indeed, missing in action. We usually don't lose our bags, the airlines misplace them, so we simply boarded our final flight to Mombasa knowing that we would be living out of our carry-ons for at least a day. Strangely enough, we discovered that our bags were actually delayed in Los Angeles, after the shortest of our flights from Salt Lake.

 "Heat" comes to Mombasa for basic training. After completing the grueling boot camp that it must endure, it earns its stripes and is promoted to "Hot," and that's where we have arrived. Sweltering, scorching, muggy heat. As I looked at Tim's face only seconds after deplaning onto the tarmac, beads of pour-opening sweat have gathered on his now glistening face. And with the wisdom of the ages he looked at me and said, "wow, you weren't kidding." Just two days prior I had advised him that wearing jeans in the village was not a good idea because it was going to be extremely hot. He shrugged the notion at first, but heeded my advice and packed lighter clothing. Now he knows why.

 Last week a Toyota Wish arrived at the Mombasa Port with Koins' name on it. We have spent the past decade riding motorbikes, hitching rides, and hiring cars that it finally came time to purchase our own reliable mode of transportation that would increase safety, comfort, and the changes in weather. The Wish came nicely equipped from Japan, but no accessory outweighs the air conditioning system that works gloriously. Japan send tens of thousands of their used vehicles to Kenya every year. New cars are driven by the Japanese for a couple of years, usually putting low miles on their vehicles, then traded in for another new one. With the auto industry being so strong there, used cars have little value, so they send them to countries like Kenya where a better price is fetched. And since few Kenyans can afford the price of a new car, plus the hefty taxes for imported vehicles, this provides a good option for everyone. Our vehicle is 5 years old with only 20,000 miles, and hopefully will provide us with years of comfort, safety, and air conditioning.

 Tim and I arose early. I suggested a quick walk around the village so he could see the morning unfold for our people. We walked the dirt paths towards the Koins farm, being greeted by everyone who passed with a friendly smile and a hearty "good morning" in English or Swahili. Tim's head was spinning with questions and curiosities as a first-timer here in the village, attempting to digest what was being revealed with every step we took.

 Children were everywhere walking in the same general direction, some carrying sticks and others had only small containers of dirty water. I explained certain classes were assigned the firewood for today's meal while other classes from within the nearby primary school had to bring water for boiling the corn and beans. It's simple, effective, and the only way they can provide meals for the kids every day since open fires are the only methods available for cooking. Mud huts are intermittent between stone houses with tin roofs. Signs of increased prosperity within some of the families here. To have a tin roof is like having a brand new SUV parked in your driveway.

 As we entered the farm we encountered our watchman who had been surveying a new arrival in the goat pen. He didn't recognize me at first since he had never seen me with facial hair. There has been a quick response to my current look, and the overwhelming majority are nixing my chin growth.

 Tim was able to walk the gardens and see the work that goes into our agricultural projects. Our forest of fruit trees rivals any small grove in California. The vegetables are reacting to the recent "short rains" of October and November, and our families were just beginning to show up as Tim and I continued our tour. As rugged as this area is, the lush and fruitful Koins farm is an emerald island in the middle of a desperate area.

 An unscheduled trip to Mombasa to retrieve our bags is bitter-sweet. We get our bags, but we have to travel to the city I despise most. We take advantage and run some errands that were scheduled for a few days from now.

 As we returned to the village area we passed by Peku (Pay-Coo) where our classroom and water cistern are being constructed. Where children of Peku are currently sitting under a tree for classroom instruction, within three short weeks they will be in a fantastic classroom, seated on comfortable desks, learning in an environment that truly encourages performance.

 From there we jumped over to Bofu where we dropped baby blankets to the dispensary, then met with school officials for some Koins business. The dispensary is small and humble, not dissimilar to what we have in our central village. They heard about our blankets for babies program and wanted us to extend the same to them. Instead of women having babies at home, as they have for centuries, we encourage them to come to the dispensaries so any mishaps to mother or child can be averted. At first it was difficult to convince them to come to us, but as soon as the baby blankets were introduced for delivering mothers, our percentages skyrocketed. A mother was just departing as we arrived, so we provided the first blanket to her. She had given birth just a few hours ago and was now walking back home with her baby daughter so she could continue her obligations at home. These women are absolute machines, and Tim is quickly coming to that realization, too.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Brent Zimmerman - Dedication of The Sheri Klein School in Kenya

My name is Brent Zimmerman. I traveled to East Africa as part of the Koins for Kenya expedition in July of this year. It was a life-changing experience for me. I would like to tell you about my trip to hopefully give you an idea how special it was.

My story begins in August of 2009 when my sister passed away in childbirth. The event was traumatic to the entire family, of course, but especially to my mother. She found it particularly difficult to recover from the grief of that event. She felt that building a school in memory of my sister would help her and the rest of the family to heal. In December of 2011, she contacted Koins for Kenya and made plans to fund the building of two classrooms in the village of Miyani. My parents were the primary donors, with additional donations coming from our extended family. The groundbreaking for the school was in May of 2012.

The original plan was for my parents to attend the dedication ceremony, but they were unable to make the trip. So, my brother and I were chosen to travel to Kenya and represent the family. The two weeks we spent in Kenya were amazing. We met so many people and they all treated us so well that we started to feel like celebrities. The highlight of the trip came on the day before we departed. That was when we attended the dedication ceremony of the two new classrooms in Miyani. This is my journal entry for that day:

July 20, 2012

Today was the dedication ceremony for the Sheri Klein School. It was easily the most amazing moment of my life. Picture the joy of getting married or of seeing your child born and then add over 1,000 cheering fans. I'll try to write a description, but it won't begin to do it justice.

We took a van to the ceremony, which was in the village of Miyani. When we were a few hundred yards from the village we saw the students waiting for us. They saw us coming and all ran out to greet us. There were over 1,000 of them singing and dancing. Russ and I got out and walked through the sea of children all in uniform. They swarmed around us clapping, shaking our hands, and giving us high-fives. They sang songs in the traditional call-and-response style. From our location in the center of the crowd, the volume was almost deafening.

 We walked with them the rest of the way to the village where we were met by the ladies of the village singing and dancing another song. They escorted us to the entrance of the school yard where the girl scouts marched us to the new classrooms. The building had been painted blue and white and looked very sturdy compared to the older dirt-floored buildings surrounding it. There was a brief ribbon-cutting, followed by photos in one of the classrooms. They then took us into the center of the schoolyard where there was a program featuring more singing, brief speeches and poetry. They then had the village elder dress us in traditional clothes, give us village names and make us honorary members of the clan. They then had Russ and me speak with the help of an interpreter. Russ was in charge of thanking all the appropriate people, including donors, construction workers, the Koins Foundation, etc. I was in charge of telling a bit about Sheri and the reason the school was dedicated to her memory.

 Nearly all the members of our Koins expedition commented to us on how nice the ceremony was. I feel truly blessed that I was able to attend the dedication and represent the family. I have set a goal for myself to raise enough money to build additional classrooms for the school and for my parents to attend the dedication. The trip was something that I will never forget. I'm grateful to the Koins for Kenya organization for helping our family build the school in memory or my sister. I'm a firm believer in their mission and I plan to work with them in the future.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bethanie Newby, Koins expeditioner

Here is another blog entry from a July 2012 expeditioner, Bethanie Newby.  She traveled to Kenya along with her son, Caleb.  She worked with the SRA nutritionist and our cooks, experimenting with local foods and Koins garden produce to create new recipes that could be used by villagers to utilize the new types of food that are being grown on the Koins farm.

July, 2012

I'll always remember the stop we made at Windridge School on our way back from teaching in Gona. We noticed a commotion in the schoolyard, and pulled in to discover the entire PTA and a schoolyard full of kids dancing and singing along with drums and rattles. Standing up against a small and shabby mud hut was our friend Cindy Workman, draped in several kanga cloths as the guest of honor. I peered into the hut behind her, which was simple since the thatched roof was nearly gone, and I saw the entire second grade classroom sitting on the floor with their teacher on a small stool almost in their laps. The elder woman of the village stood near Cindy and spoke through an interpreter. She was clutching a thick and grimy envelope that turned out to contain 50,000 shillings. That amount was close to the 10% downpayment required by the villagers before Koins will build a new classroom. They had worked hard for the money, hiring themselves out on other shambas (farms), selling goats and chickens, and going without meals in order to raise enough funds to add on to the school. Their determination and willing sacrifice for the future of their children was inspiring. No wonder their children work so hard to do well in school. Back at the KCC we had talked about each of us having "a moment" here in Kenya that fills our hearts and feeds our souls. This was one of my "moments."

Cindy Workman speaking to villagers through an interpreter

Cindy holds up the villager's contribution towards a new classroom

Cindy stands in front of the current classroom
Bethanie taught classes at several of the classes, and painted new classrooms.  She also shadowed a Kenyan village woman for a day and worked several times at the dispensary. 

Bethanie teaching

Bethanie painting a new classroom
Bethanie is also a cancer survivor.  This Saturday, there will be a 5K run in Cedar Hills, Utah, put on by Lifting Hearts in Utah, a cancer survivors group she has helped organize.  For more information on this run, go to www.wedidbreastcancer.com.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Economic Empowerment | Half the Sky | Independent Lens | PBS

I just watched a program on PBS called Half the Sky.  It was comprised of several segments concerning a variety of women's issues in third world countries around the world.  I read the book this summer, and found the video version of these stories to be compelling.

One in particular held my attention, it had to do with empowering women in Kenya through microfinance loans and education.  While this was filmed in the slums of Nairobi, the story is the same throughout Kenya, throughout much of Africa.  Women are generally the ones who care for and provide for their families.  Lack of work and education create a hopelessness in the men that often leads to drinking and narcotic use, which further disengages them from their families.  The women, however, work hard to provide whatever they can for the sake of their children's futures.

You can read the article about by clicking on the link below.

Economic Empowerment | Half the Sky | Independent Lens | PBS

If you would like to view the first episode of Half the Sky, you can watch it at http://video.pbs.org/video/2283557115

The second half of this series will air tomorrow night, October 3, at 9:00 p.m. MT on PBS.

In our work in Kenya, we realized early on that empowering women is a key factor to making change happen.  Girls now fill our schools, we have girls being educated at the secondary and university level through scholarships.  We have taught sewing skills and provided a sewing workshop at the BTW workshop in Mnyenzeni.  We have several small microbusinesses that are run by women.  We have encouraged women to deliver their babies at the dispensary rather at home, which creates a safer environment for them.

I am passionate about the necessity to empower the women of Kenya, as I see them as the future of the country.  They have the same desire as mothers everywhere: to provide a better future for their children, with opportunities for them to seek and find success.  I have seen the improvement in the lives of those women who have embraced the opportunities we have given them.  The challenge we face is to continue to find and share opportunities with women, to give them the start, the key to lifting themselves out of poverty.

"Talent is universal, opportunity is not."  Nicholas Christof

Koins for Kenya is dedicated to providing opportunity to those whose opportunities are limited.  If you would like to help, we welcome your thoughts, ideas, and contributions.  All funding goes directly to the work we do in Kenya.  Join us in our work to change the lives of those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves with limited options to improve their lives.  In the process you will find your own life changed.  Contact us at info@koinsforkenya.org

Asante sana


Monday, October 1, 2012

Skonnard's Video of July 2012 Expedition

4 members of the Skonnard family and 3 members of the Guest family participated in the July expeditions.  With the help of their Hidden Springs neighborhood in Fruit Heights, Utah, they raised funds to build the classrooms at Bofu, which were dedicated during our expedition.  The Skonnards put together this great video with photos and video of the July trip.  It is a great overview of many of the activities the expeditions participate in while in Kenya.

Asante, Skonnards, Guests and the Hidden Springs community.  It is clear the joy those efforts brought to the villagers of Bofu.