Laura in Kenya at early childhood centre

ChildFund New Zealand Programmes Coordinator Laura Patterson visited Kenya in November. While there Laura kept a daily journal of her experiences. In the first week she details her time spent in the rural town of Emali where New Zealanders sponsor around a thousand children.

By Laura Patterson

Arrived in Nairobi late afternoon after the long flight from Auckland. Sleeeeep!

Monday – Nairobi
Today I spent the whole day in the Nairobi ChildFund office with different project staff. We had various meetings and discussed the projects that ChildFund New Zealand is supporting. Im looking forward to visiting them all this week!

Tuesday – Nairobi to Emali
Was up bright and early and ready to depart for Emali. Had a quick cup of tea and toast before leaving and met a couple of groups heading out on safari. I explained that I was in Kenya for work and was heading out to visit project sites. They were interested but surprised as they were on full holiday mode. I don’t think they quite understood what I was up to!

At 6.30am, we drove out of Nairobi, just missing the heavy traffic. By 7am I’m told that the roads will be at a complete standstill and it will take 2-3 hours to drive the stretch it has taken us 30 minutes. Crazy. Trips like this always make me realise again how small NZ is. Heading down to Emali on the highway between Nairobi and the Mombasa Coast, it’s complete chaos at times with trucks hogging the road. We pass them where possible but the road is still being upgraded and speed is not always possible. The surrounding areas have some new growth from the recent rains but the effects of the drought remain highly visible. We saw giraffe and impala a couple of times which was fun. 

Arrived in Emali. Am very happy to be back here. I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone is and how things have progressed in the year since I was last here.

At the Emali Dedicated Project Office I met up with parents, youth and community representatives which make up the Project Coordinating Committee. These community representatives are voted onto the committee and oversee the running of the projects. I gave them greetings from New Zealand and the team here. They gave me an update of where the projects are at and the many challenges being faced due to the ongoing drought.

Wednesday – Emali
I woke at 2am with rain pouring heavily on the roof. It was super loud. I snoozed for a while and then ended up getting up and reading for a bit before heading back to sleep. Slightly jet lagged I guess. It must have rained all night. I wonder what the roads will be like today.

We visited Samuli Early Childhood Centre where supplementary food assistance has really enabled people to cope in this difficult drought period.  The community here is highly motivated. Children are really keen to attend the centre and school, also knowing that they will have something to eat. Their nutritional status has improved. When the project started there were malnourished kids in the class. They were referred for health care and are now well and being regularly monitored.

Porridge tastes sweet!The enriched porridge given at school for the children has given parents the space to provide other meals and not worry about the food in the morning. I asked the kids if they liked the food and they all yelled out ‘aayyeee’. One child said with a shy face and a very quiet voice ‘it’s sweet’. The teacher tells me she now has trouble getting the children to leave and go home, they love coming to class!

Samuli Early Childhood Centre

The centre is looking pretty good with a new roof, repaired walls and floor, a coat of paint and teaching and play materials for the children. The water storage tank and toilets have also been installed.

I met together with Early Childhood Centre management committee which is made up of the children’s parents and community representatives. They’ve recently completed training on management, child health and protection and were really happy with the training and things learned.

Considering all the rain that fell in the night, the roads were pretty good. The ground is so dry that the water runs off really quick. A couple of spots had washed out a bit so we couldn’t muck around too long at Samuli when the rain started again.

When we got back to the office I went through the 5 year community action plan (CAP) for the whole area with a representative from the committee. It was great to see what has been achieved in this year, the first year. Still lots of work to do tho! Hoping that this rain means that people can relax a little and start focusing again on some of the longer term strategies that they’ve put together.

Thursday – Emali
I woke early at 5am with light rain falling. Nice to hear. I lay in bed listening to the area start to wake up. I got up, had a shower, flushed the toilet, used bottled water to brush my teeth and then had a long drink of water. How come I am so privileged to have access to all this water when people down the road don’t have any access? How can we balance things out?

Learning is fun!We started the day visiting an Early Childhood Centre which is part of a primary school. The children were so enthusiastic to sing and welcome us! Again, the centre is being rehabilitated with most of the construction work complete. The children were happy to share with me the things that they liked about their classes. One child about 4 years old told me the alphabet in English. A little boy told me his favourite toy was a red racing car sitting on the shelf at the back of the class. I tried to explain (probably quite unsuccessfully) where New Zealand is! The place felt fun and inviting with the walls covered in posters and the children’s artwork. The primary school Principal said that the rehabilitated Early Childhood Centres are raising the standard and therefore the grade one classes are now being worked on to improve their resources. Great to see the high standard and roll-on effect of the project activities!

We headed off to another Early Childhood Centre where the children meet for class under a tree. There are no chairs, no protection from the sun or rain, nowhere to hang posters or store their classroom equipment. The difference to the Early Childhood Centre we visited earlier in the day is quite extreme. In this area the children look uncertain and slightly unengaged as they sit in the dirt under the tree. They’re playing with newly purchased toys but they lack the spark of the other kids I’ve seen. Why is that? I observe dirty faces, skin diseases, signs of malnutrition and sickness.

Getting fedThis community has been very hard hit by the drought. They are struggling to survive. The project hasn’t been going long in this area but is now assisting parents to feed their children each morning with nutritious food. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are also getting supplementary food to help them through but it’s a long road ahead.

Behind us the foundations are laid for a two-room Early Childhood Centre building with office and separate kitchen and toilet. The community is excited about the future and what the new building will mean for their children. It will be a meeting place for the community, a central point where the kids can receive education, food and access to health care. It’s a place where they can play, be safe from the elements and learn to look after resources for the future. It’s the starting block from which they can take on the world. I’m looking forward to coming back here in one year and to see the difference this has made to this entire community.

I met the two women who donated the land for the new centre. What an incredible investment in the future of their community!!

We stopped back in Emali town for a quick lunch before heading off to meet a water committee. This is a group of community representatives who are responsible for monitoring and caring for the water resources in the community. ChildFund has recently completed training with these groups in Emali area, teaching stuff like management, resource protection, water point care and repair. This group is working to repair the water piping in their area and the project is partnering with the committee to help in this process. It’s a water source that provides water for around 10,000 people!! It reminds me how important these partnerships are and how many lives are impacted from these project activities.

Friday – Emali
I met with the representative from the Kenyan Ministry of Water. We talked about the challenges in the area, especially with this latest drought. What does the future hold I ask him? He’s slightly hopeful but not that optimistic. The reality is that the area depends very heavily on the Mt Kilimanjaro water pipeline. There has been a considerable reduction in the amount of snow on the mountain in the last few years and the amount of water that comes through the pipeline. They estimate by 2030 that there will be no more snow. What does that mean for the pipeline and all the water that this area depends on? It means it stops! We discussed the alternatives and where our efforts should lie.

Nkusso borehole

We visited a borehole put in by the previous project where it’s made a huge difference to the community. The pump ended up breaking down but they were able to purchase a new one through savings they had made. They are selling the water to the surrounding community, watering the animals and making the most of the extra time they now have since they don’t have to walk 6-8 hours to get water. The water committee who monitors the water pump is so organised. It clearly shows how important effective committees are for the sustainability of the water system.

Up to 90% of cattle have died in droughtIn the surrounding area 90% of the cows have died due to the drought, with many of the animals getting sick and not having the resilience to fight off the disease. How do you cope when you lose 90% of your assets, your livelihood, your food source?

Back at the office I sat down with the project staff and committee and discussed the budgets and went through the project accounts. We finished the week with a debriefing of the first 5 days of the visit. Time has flown! The volunteers from the Project Committee and the staff have accompanied me every day to the different project sites – they are the unsung heroes of development work who make it all happen.
The unsung heroes

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