Continuing ChildFund New Zealand Programmes Coordinator Laura Patterson’s personal journal of her experiences in Kenya with her final week: one last day spent in Emali before heading off to visit early childhood centres in Kajiado.
Laura at Primary School in Kajiado

By Laura Patterson

Saturday – Emali
Today I planned to sleep in for a bit and catch up on some zzz but was woken at 5.30am with super loud music and then preaching. Seriously so loud it hurt my ears! It was from outside the guesthouse somewhere. Ahhhhh! Tomorrow a new law being passed will come into effect and no loud speakers will be allowed. Too late for me but I hope it makes a difference for everyone else!

I worked on reports most of the morning before heading out to one of the rural districts to relax for the afternoon.

Violet and FaithViolet who works in the Emali Dedicated Project Office had arranged the afternoon with a couple of other staff and Faith, a 9 year old girl who is involved in the project. Violet is an incredible woman, she’s so committed to the children in the project and knows many of them by name. When visiting a school or centre she could tell me the life story of each child and I could see that the children knew and respected her a lot.

Violet tells me that Faith is an orphan with a difficult home situation and she would benefit from having a little break out of town. When both her parents died, she and her sister went to live with their grandmother who is sick. We travelled out of town and spent the afternoon exploring the rocky area – just hung out and relaxed which is an unusual opportunity during a field trip.

Faith and LauraFaith is the same age as my niece and who seems to like the same stuff. I showed her how to use my camera and soon had about 20 new photographs on there! She got hold of someone’s mobile phone and played some popular Kenyan songs of which she knew all the words. She was dancing around on the rocks listening to pop music and I felt like I was sitting in my living room watching my niece sing and dance around.

We got back to Emali and I struggled to say goodbye. Faith’s going back to her sick grandmother and her sister where I know they have hardly anything in their house. At least I know that she is receiving help through ChildFund’s Emali Dedicated Project work. But she’s just a normal kid with a huge smile and a cheeky streak. Why does she have to suffer so much and struggle just to survive? What does her future hold? I’m so glad that she has Violet and the project near her to watch out for her and give her hope.

Sunday – Emali to Kajiado
Goodbye Emali – it’s been a busy but rewarding visit! Heading to Kajiado…. This is the area where ChildFund New Zealand is supporting a three year project that focuses on children, their needs and rights, through supporting early childhood centres – rehabilitating the buildings and installing water tanks, training teachers and caregivers, equipping the classes, monitoring the children’s health, linking the centres with health clinics, introducing savings and loan scheme, and heaps more. The centres are quite remote and I’m looking forward to seeing the progress made on their construction.

Monday – Kajiado
Lots of meetings planned for today! First up with the nutrition staff from the Ministry of Health and Public Health and then the early childhood coordinators from the Ministry of Education. Was great to talk and hear from the Ministries that the projects are in line with the local government strategy. There is great collaboration between government and other agencies. Met with the chiefs of the area and passed on many greetings from New Zealand to them. They’re also fully supportive of the work that ChildFund is doing.

Making compressed bricksWe headed out to the nearest early childhood centre. Awesome construction work going on at this place, with the foundations dug and materials collected for the building. Young guys who have been trained by the project were making compressed bricks for the construction.

I had hardly left the car before all the kids came running up to greet me. They were so funny each wanting to say hello and suss out who I was. Again the supplementary feeding programme has made a huge difference here. Mothers were telling me how it has taken some of the stress off finding food for the children.

Tuesday – Kajiado
Monitoring for malnutritionIt seems like I’m spending all my time at early childhood centres, but these are the places where it all happens. This morning I observed children being weighed and measured and having their health and nutrition status checked. They were also given Vitamin A supplements and de-worming tablets. Remember getting them at school? A few of the children were malnourished and will be referred to the health clinic and monitored regularly.

Travelled further into the area and visited a primary school with an early childhood centre attached. Training was in progress for the teachers and caregivers, assisted by the Ministry of Education and Health. The teachers and caregivers are all very enthusiastic about the training. The project is working with both early childhood centre teachers and primary school teachers so that there is smooth transition between classes and a reduction in school dropout. It’s great to see that a lot of sharing between the groups is going on.

Stampede!I started videoing the primary school kids who were on break and then a stampede erupted as they all ran towards me. There was a stick / bush fence thing between me and the kids and I was worried all the little children were going to get crushed. I’m sure the teachers were rolling their eyes at me creating havoc in the playground!

We spent the afternoon meeting with different representatives from water and land committees. Land is a huge issue in this community as it’s become privatised in a lot of the area over the years. Individuals however have donated large areas for the early childhood centre with visions of seeing primary schools and then higher education established in the future, which is really encouraging to see.

Wednesday – Kajiado to Nairobi
Travelled over an hour to get to another early childhood centre this morning, after turning off the main sand road there was no cut road to the centre and so the driver followed his nose winding around rocks and trees until we found the place. We took a water technician with us who needed to measure up the area for pipes for the water tank. Saw impala and ostriches wandering around the place. The kids were all excited and wanting to say hello. It was extremely dusty, I was completely dirty at the end of greeting them all!

Meeting parentsHere I observed more weighing, feeding and training. I met with the management committee and talked about the challenges of living and working in remote locations. We also talked about the progress and monitoring of the project and making sure things were on target and expectations being met. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere as for miles around could only see sparsely growing trees and brown dusty earth.

Back at the office after more meetings and debriefing, it’s time to head back to Nairobi. Not looking forward to the major traffic jams expected in Nairobi city! Should be back at the guesthouse by around 9pm or later I guess.

Thursday – Nairobi to NZ
Another full day in the ChildFund Nairobi Office, meetings, meetings and more meetings discussing everything seen and heard during my visit and looking at ways to continue improving our work.

It’s been a great visit. There are many challenges happening in both areas, but I’ve seen some great stuff including seeing children getting to school and being empowered and communities being assisted to carry on amidst this challenging drought. It really is a privilege for me to work with the ChildFund Kenya team.

Heading back to NZ at 11pm tonight…
Kwaheri from Kenya!

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