Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kenya: Maai Mahiu - April 2016

Kenya week 1

We have arrived!
After two long flights from Canada, these six ladies finally landed in Nairobi, Kenya. Let the adventures and the expansion of our minds begin! 

Upon disembarking the plane, we quickly proceeded to get our visas so we could enter Kenya. The process was slow (we quickly learned that slow or “poli poli” in Swahili is the Kenyan way). We arrived around at 11 p.m. It was too late to be driving to Maai Mahiu, the town where we were going to be staying. We stayed at the Westwood Hotel in Nairobi for the night. The Westwood gave us our first taste of the Kenyan hospitality. We didn’t get there until well past midnight and the staff there welcomed us with warm smiles, appetizers and drinks, never making us feel like our late arrival was an inconvenience. 

The following day we began our journey to Maai Mahiu. Since we had arrived when it was dark we didn’t have a chance to see what Kenya looked like. As we travelled from Nairobi to Maai Mahiu, it is safe to say that our first impressions of Kenya were of surprise. One of the first things we noticed was the abundance of garbage that litters the side of the roads. Coming from a place that has decent recycling programs it was clear that we weren’t in a westernized country. As we continued on, we noticed A LOT of people walking in places that to us seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. There wasn’t a stretch of road between towns and villages that didn’t have people walking somewhere. Throughout the trip we would often wonder “where were these people going?” 

As we left Nairobi and began passing through different towns and villages, we began noticing the significant differences from the way we lived in Canada. The quality of the roads were surprising - for the amount of traffic that travels on these infrastructures we thought that they would be in better shape. Most main roads were single lanes going each way and quite bumpy. If you were heading onto side roads, they were made of rocks, gravel and dirt and were extremely bumpy and dusty. The trucks drive quite slowly, as do the motorcycles, but most passenger vehicles make daring passes just to get around the slower drivers. It was surprising that we didn’t see any accidents.

As we drove along, we saw the kiosks and stores that many people had set up, most were no bigger than a small bedroom. Many people had rickety little wooden fruit and vegetable stands - most of the time there were several in a row. There weren’t any clean big box stores that we are used to seeing. It’s pretty easy to determine that during our drive to Maai Mahiu our eyes and minds were being opened up to an entirely different way of living than we were used to. 

As we got closer to Maai Mahiu with the beautiful blue sky above us, we couldn’t help but take in the amazing landscape. There was a large variety of beautiful trees and plants, and in the background we saw rolling hills and mountains. We saw farm lands thriving with fresh vegetables that were getting close to harvest. It wasclear to us that farming was a huge part of the Kenyan livelihood.

We entered Maai Mahiu and, truth be told, for those of us who hadn’t been here before we were shocked. We knew that this little town was quite impoverished and was known for the large amount of truckers that came through as well as the rampant sex trade. However, driving through was an experience on an entirely different level. The visible poverty was heartbreaking and we hoped that being here would make even the slightest impact. 

The Transit Hotel, it’s fair to say, got mixed reviews at first sight. The outside was actually nice, you can tell it’s an older building but it’s inviting; nonetheless it was still a shock to those of us who hadn’t stayed there before. The rooms weren’t what we were used to but they were clean, with a bathroom, a bed and table. Most of us were a bit apprehensive about staying there but that apprehension quickly shifted after we got a walk through the town.

Ruby Ruth, our amazing Ubuntu go-to lady, took us on a tour of Maai Mahiu. It was definitely a humbling experience. It was one thing to be in a vehicle and drive by the poverty but it much deeper and real to be walking through the streets and seeing the buildings and interacting with the people. It is fair to say that we no longer griped about our accommodations and felt quite grateful for what we had. As the first week at the Transit Hotel came to a close, we got to know some of the staff and they were incredibly warm and friendly and more than happy to ensure our stay was as comfortable as possible. The Transit Hotel was beginning to feel like home away from home. 

The first Wednesday we were in Maai Mahiu, we got to meet the amazing people who work at the Ubuntu. They welcomed us with open arms and made us feel as though we were long time friends. They told us about all the different type of services that are provided to the community. We also gave the kids our donations and got to spend sometime playing soccer and showing them the toys that we brought. 

On Thursday and Friday, we began work on the playground project. The work on those two days consisted of us hoeing and then putting the grass clumps into large sacks and carrying them about 500 meters to the compost pile.

Saturday morning, we went on a boat ride on Lake Navasha and saw several hippos sleeping in the water. Later Saturday and Sunday morning we went to on a Safari at Lake Nakuru National Park. The experience was amazing. We saw a black rhino, a lioness and her cubs and many giraffes, zebras and water buffaloes. 

Sunday afternoon we went to visit an IDP camp, we brought some groceries for a family that was struck by tragedy. The experience was incredibly humbling for us

Aneta Niziolek
DWC Volunteer
Maai Mahiu, Kenya
April 2016

Thursday, November 14, 2013

November 14: A Group Effort and a View of Mt. Kenya

Wednesday's activities involved a collective effort of the DWC team together with about 20 adult  members of the village  including both men and women.  We replaced  sections of the original  local 1 1/2 inch PVC water distribution line in the adjacent County of Fittings with 3 inch pipe to allow for an expansion of the system to service more families.  In my mind as a planner it might have made sense to  go larger in diameter to plan for the future, but this seemed furthest from their minds at this time.

This trench was only a couple feet deep and in an open area beside the road and was more in line with the pictures we had seen on the DWC website. Only about 100 feet was dug up and back filled in our time there today, so to us progress seemed slow, but it was mostly because there were a limited number of shovels (also too short, too round and too flat) and hoes so that we all had to take turns at the job. There is no doubt that today's task and the future work on this section of the distribution system could be more efficiently handled with a small backhoe, but the local people would not take the same pride in their accomplishments I'm sure as they did today. To those of the local community in attendance tremendous progress was in fact made, both at the task at hand, but in learning more of each other's lives and  traditions as we sat together chatting over tea /coffee and bread when we were done. There were  some very enlightening conversations which hopefully will be shared by other members of the team when able.

Our work was over by early afternoon but not at our choosing, and all of us felt we had not given enough of our time to the day's task or to the project, but these things are not within our control. So it was back to the lodge for a late lunch and a cold beer or two, some reading and a little volleyball.

We finally at the end of the day as the clouds parted from the mountains were able to catch our first glimpse of the snow covered peak of  Mount Kenya. Spectacular sight. 

We do not know what the next days job will be until we gather in the morning with the project coordinator Margaret. Our first order of the day, as it is every day and was again at the completion of today's efforts, was for Margaret to give thanks in prayer to God and to all those that have made this water project possible. 

Beth Halpenny
DWC Participant 
Kenya, November 2013

November 13: A Tour of the Community

Its the Kenya Water Project Team reporting in again with some bedtime reading:

As you will note-getting a little more descriptive on our precise location.

All is well here and we have had no rain these past two days which has made for much improved working conditions! Yesterday the group split up with the "elder" members taken by Faith on a walking tour of the water tanks that had been built in the village by past volunteers or service organizations, a visit to the project office and a visit to the homestead of some of our host partners. Some trivia we learned from our time spent with Faith today: (more so a note to myself so I don't forget).

We at first thought residents in the village got water from the storage tanks directly as we had seen people carrying jugs, but a family unit can pay 25,000 KES ($ 295.00 CDN) or more if they are able, to have a water connection to their house. On top of that there is a monthly maintenance fee of 200 KES. If a family cannot afford to pay for the maintenance fee they must work on the project for the day, a day's pay being equivalent to 200 KES ($3.00 CDN). Yes that's all- makes our minimum wage not look so bad! If a family can't pay the fee and does not show up to contribute their time to the project the neighbors have the ability to shut off their water to avoid anyone taking advantage of the good will of others, however in a village where there is such caring for one another and everyone seems to be "family" in the collective sense, one doubts that this ever would occur. If it did, the only alternate water source is the river but even if at a location within close proximity of the village it is of questionable quality due to human or agricultural impact.

Memorable moments of the elders' day: Tuesday we were visiting with one of the local mothers whom, despite being very ill at 70 but seemingly more like 90, was still tending her six gorgeous grandchildren and was nonetheless just so happy to have us peak into her home as a matter of interest. It was entirely of wood slab construction as there is no dimensional lumber here, and the roof was made of tin although some homes in the village have thatched roofs. There was a mud floor, no hydro and all in all very primitive by even local standards.

We were also welcomed into Faith's home and met husband Frederick who took time from hoeing his potato field to pick and serve us passion fruit from his trees, show us around their farm and the "forest" which the couple were gushing with pride about as they had planted it themselves. The wood from the forest which they selectively clear and some coal sold locally, are the only source of fuel for cooking. Their house had a concrete floor, a small 1x2 ft solar panel on the roof that powered only a couple of light bulbs when it was working and the "toilet" was an outhouse with only a small whole in the floor so one has to have good aim!

Sam and Joanne with Faith, Frederick, and kids.

There is no refrigeration of course. The milk is direct from the goats so we do tend to have only boiled milk with our tea of coffee. Whatever meat they eat is what they kill that day or is bought fresh from the local store and consumed only fresh.

The main crop being harvested now is potatoes for a bag of about 200 kg which will sell for anywhere from 1500 KES4 to 2500 KES ($30.00 CDN max) in peak season and they only get two crops a year. Not a large sum by any means. They also grow their own fruit such as lemons, tomatoes, bananas, papaya, mango, and pineapple and in fact we passed a 10,000 acre Del Monte Pineapple operation on our route here from nearby. Always thought pineapple came from the US and Hawaii. A variety of vegetables common to us are grown for local consumption so they are virtually self sufficient in this regard importing little from elsewhere that they really need. Green bananas are a fruit that is boiled and served as a vegetable like a potato - quite interesting.

Many farms of the less able families are owned by the government and on a 3 acre plot a family will plant potatoes which they sell themselves for profit, but in exchange they must plant cyprus trees and tend them as part of the reforestation project.

Not much of a productive day Tuesday for the four ladies in terms of the project, but it was a day for learning more of the culture, seeing and meeting local people and marveling at their lives with no cares, no material possessions, and nothing but a positive outlook on life. What does seem odd though is that despite the simplicity of life here, many young people have cell phones and some apparently are on facebook! However the majority as one would expect, certainly know nothing about a computer. Cell phones are charged with solar power with their being no electricity in their homes and we haven't yet found the "internet cafe"!!

The younger members of the project team tackled the replacement of some sections of the water line in the rain forest valley Tuesday, but fortunately conditions were nowhere near what we encountered on day one of the project site. They were challenged with some pipe connection issues to reduce from 10 inch steel to 8 inch PVC which team member Dan an engineer, observed with much frustration. All that was needed was a reducing flange/collar which they did not have or had not even though about. But as volunteers here only we are to take the lead of the project coordinator and only assist when and how we are asked. In the end the time spent walking to and from the project site was longer than the time spent on the job but this seems to be quite typical from what we understand. No one seems concerned.

Brooke and Dan heading out to the site.

Beth Halpenny 
DWC Participant 
Kenya, November 2013

November 12: A Trek to say the least...

We are back after our first day on the job so to speak, more of an orientation day really, but I wanted to send a picture (below) of the job site as we found it today. Quite amazing in all respects and nowhere near what we had expected to find, in fact much more of a challenge than one imagined from the accounts of past volunteers, pictures and videos on the DWC website. 

Firstly we were prepared on this trip with gear for warm weather with work shorts and maybe a pair of long pants thrown in for protection from the bugs only. Little did we know when most turned up in shorts for our first day's expedition that the team would be sent back to put on long pants for protection from the stinging nettles, several layers for some warmth and rain gear also as we were heading into a rain forest. Who would have known that weather in Africa at what is the start of their Spring could be so cool, nor would we have had any inkling of the sort of conditions we we're faced with today.

The village was quiet warm and dry when we started out and in fact was the same on our return several hours later. Nothing had changed. The smiling faces of the young happy children greeted us on our way to and from the work site with the greeting "Jambo" or Hello. It was a holiday today and for most of the week for younger children as the older ones are writing their exams today.

We started off as a group of seven volunteers and our local guides, Peter, James, Faith and the project coordinator Margaret. Both of these ladies were in light canvas shoes and dressed in long skirts heading to the work site for the day. As an aside, apparently there is a cultural tradition here that the ladies cannot wear pants after their first son is married unless their husbands' concur. Odd and not practical, but so we are told.

It was warm and humid but not overly so when we left the village. We walked to the job site from the village which is about elevation 1050m above sea level to the base of Mt Kenya going up maybe 100 m or so I'm told. Our trek was on foot which will be the daily routine, and is about 12km return into the valley which is in a rain forest at the base of Mt Kenya.

When we finally found our way to the water distribution pipe at the base of the valley it was pouring rain, cool and a quagmire of mud. I say "found our way" as we literally almost got lost foraging our way through the rain forest trying to find the work site. Our group of four were trying to a take short cut, with a guide I might add, to catch up with the others whom had gone ahead. Our delay was a result of unfortunately losing one member of the Toronto team (my roomy Sue) to a bit of fatigue, altitude sickness or maybe the effects of the malaria drug we are not sure. What a shame for Sue but for her own well being it was best to stay behind, as hard as that would have been for her I'm sure. 

Our trip down the slope was uneventful thankfully but had its challenges and hazards along the way. It was steep and slippery and as we traversed the lower portions of the valley it dropped suddenly to the river on the downward side with open trenches from the previous water line installation on the side slope which had become overgrown and was somewhat hidden. One had to watch one's foothold and take a welcomed and helping hand often.

The river at the base of the valley flows very swiftly down the mountain, having gathered its volume from both rainfall and the glacial melt from the glaciers at the top of Mount Kenya. The water at the intake is clean but silty and this water is used currently both for irrigation and domestic water supply. Some of water is stored along the way down the mountain in various water tanks to which people walk to to get their water.

The water distribution system that serves the community starting at the base of the mountains is in a deeply carved valley and it was installed originally in 1970. It is now in need of enlarging from 8 in to 10 in diameter to increase its capacity and service to the community and the steel pipe is being replaced with PVC. Sections of it must be dug up and the trench varies in depth from a couple feet to 6ft plus, but some sections of the pipe are readily visible on the surface or even suspended in places. However it is all in need of replacement over the course of the project and over time. But things don't happen quickly here so we have discovered, thus the phrase "hakuna matata" meaning no problem, or "Sawa Sawa", its OK.

We all returned safely to a warm sunny afternoon, a late lunch and an opportunity to write of this experience in our journals. But our clothes and boots remain wet and saturated with mud hopefully to dry before the fire tonight as tomorrow is another day.

Some may opt tomorrow to take on a different task, and one that is equally as beneficial to this community. It entails an ongoing reforestation project and tree planting effort. But others are destined to take on the challenge of some hands on excavation tomorrow in the river valley as shown in this photo.

To all those that read this, we feel perfectly safe here and well looked after by the staff at Mount Kenya Leisure Lodge where we are the only guests at present. The rooms are adequate but cool, hot water isn't necessarily guaranteed, but at the end of the day we can crawl into a bed warmed by a hot water bottle that had been slipped between the sheets while we were dining.

We have been welcomed with open arms and nothing but smiles from those in the community. The native people here are very friendly, open and laid back for sure. As I said things don't happen fast. The addition to the lodge and a pool were started in 2008 and still are not complete and I doubt will be anytime soon from what we saw happening today. Just as an observation, so many buildings we saw on our route in fact looked abandoned ( maybe even condemned before completion), but perhaps may have been under construction for many years. It seems most obvious that there is no such thing as a Building Code in Kenya or in this County nor any evident signs of worker safety regulations witnessed by the rickety "twig" scaffolding we saw on the side of the half completed buildings.

Anyways, this will be a trip of great memories, new friendships, and fun yet challenging experiences. if today's events are any indication.

Beth Halpenny 
DWC Participant 
Kenya, November 2013

Thursday, September 12, 2013

September 12: Trying to make a difference

When the Softchoice Cares board decided to go to Maai Mahui, Kenya earlier this year I was extremely excited but at the same time I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would we actually be able to make a difference? Would the people we came to help really even want us there? Would I be able to make a real connection with someone local? Would our presence and our efforts on the ground be worth the cost of the trip? I had no idea…

Our first day in the village, it was obvious that no matter what I had prepared for it wasn’t enough. As we walked through the middle of Maai Mahui along the “HIV Highway” we saw people living in steel shipping containers and 1 room huts, children were running beside us laughing and waving as they ran through garbage barefoot that we were all trying so delicately to step over and around and I couldn’t help noticing the amount of abandoned buildings and churches that had at some point been built with the purpose of providing assistance but had long since been forgotten, it was incredibly overwhelming. How would we be able to even make a tiny impact in just two weeks let alone something that would be sustainable for years to come?

Fortunately, that afternoon we sat down with Charles and Jeremiah, the assistant director and Director at Comfort the Children who walked us through the different programs they offered and how they worked tirelessly to empower members of the community regardless of race, religion or background. They told us that the Knowledge and Resource Centre we had come to build would begin to change the community immediately, providing access to the internet and to equipment that was beyond anything in the area, including the university about 25km away. It was so encouraging to hear how much they’d already accomplished and to see how excited they were to have us here.

Almost two weeks later as we’re preparing to wrap up our trip and leave the project in the capable hands of CTC I’m confident that we’ve done a world of good here. Charles and Jeremiah at CTC are two of the most inspirational people I’ve even met, bringing energy and enthusiasm to everything they do regardless of how overwhelming the task may seem. Greeshan, the foreman of the construction crew we’ve been helping is someone I could sit and talk with for hours. Listening to him speak of the challenges he’s overcome just to become a mason making $4/day and how proud he is of the life he’s been able to provide his children moved me to tears. Hearing his excitement that his children will be able to learn some basic computer skills and have access to the internet gave me confidence that we are actually making a positive impact here.

I may never fully grasp the true impact of what we’ve accomplished here but I can only hope that we’ve made a difference in the lives of people in this community; I know they’ve certainly made an incredible difference in mine.

Dawson Smith
DWC Softchoice Cares Participant
Kenya, September 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11: We're in it for the growth

I’ve always seen this Softchoice Corporate value as developmental, but mostly focused on a North American perception of ourselves, our careers, and how we utilize our own strengths for our own advantage.

Career success mixed with my will for personal improvements along the way = Growth.

Since being in Maai Mahiu and working with locals and the CTC community, that view on growth has evolved and a new perspective has formed on how selfish that truly is.

I can’t even begin to process everything I’ve learned and now feel following our experiences in Maai Mahiu…

What if we had everything working against us, and were asked to make the same strides to growth we would back home?

I’ve spent some time interviewing people at CTC international about what this knowledge and resource center (KRC) computer lab will bring to their community, and have began to understand how selflessly hopeful the team here is about it’s prospects.

It’s been inspiring to hear the CTC team talk with excitement about how they can now start learning programs to help give the people of Maai Mahiu a fair shot at growth, as well as offer them an outlet for self led development.

I’ve also started to understand how without their selfless work and funding like the Softchoice community has provided, it would continue generations damned into this vicious cycle of poverty.

The primary school system in Kenya is a “free system”, funded by the government, however there are associated costs that schools require parents (and in some cases, children) to be able to pay in order to attend and learn. These fee’s are as low as 300 shillings per semester (or approximately $3.50 USD). This is the primary building blocks of education, but when the decision is either food on the table for the family, or your child in school, often the basic necessity would be chosen.

$20 back home is what? A medium pizza? An album on itunes?

What $20 could do here is feed a family for weeks. It can be the essential aid needed in HIV/AIDS prevention, or could pay school fees to get a child their basic education for 1.25 years. These people view something so nonchalant to us, as an opportunity.

How can you begin to compare those scenarios, especially when you hear that some of the best paying jobs for locals are only averaging an income of $3-$4/day and rent for a family eats up most of that earnings?

The result of this is that something that has become so commoditized in our society, once again has meaning to me. Talk about a reality check, here it is.

This is growth. My mind has been blown as I start to truly begin to understand them individually, their challenges, and their socially driven limitations.

A dollar to me as middle class feels so selfish now, yet a week ago I wouldn’t blink twice at a night of bottle service with friends.

What that cost for one night out could do here would be life changing…that’s months of earnings for a family all working full time (children working full time included).

I cant help but think where would I be if I hadn’t come.. would I be the same person claiming growth as a great sales win, a great documentary I watched on my cushy couch, or new customer relationship?

Growth is now a bigger topic. Its about development on a whole new level. Not just personal gains, but how you drive unselfish growth through such a basic action as this donation. This will be life changing not to just the CTC organization, but to every individual who walks through the door.

Ian Zagrodney
DWC Softchoice Cares Participant
Kenya, September 2013

September 11: When pride equals education

I grew up in an affluent suburb of Chicago where I attended a public high school that ranks in top tier of schools throughout the USA. From there I attended Clemson University, where I achieved a BA in Communication Studies and minoring in Business Management. I was very blessed not only to be lucky enough to grow up in an area that provided a top-flight high school education, but to also have a family that provided tuition for my college education.

Am I proud of my academic achievements? Sure, I’ve been happily assisted in resume building. But if you asked me point blank about how I felt about school I’d say something along the line of “it sort of ‘happened’ rather than was ‘achieved’”.

Would you answer that question of pride any differently? How about your friends/colleagues/family?

While there are an elite number who have earned degree upon degree and have their careers based upon this status, I have found more often than not that education seems to be largely overlooked in my social circles, namely the processes by which we are able to be educated or at least have the capabilities to seek education.

In the last week here in Maai Mahiu I have been found this to be quite opposite, and continue to be amazed by the intense pursuit of schooling, let alone actually receiving honors and degrees. Education is everything in Kenya, and the first topic of conversation from parents talking about their kids, or peers asking us about our experiences. There are hardships that many have overcome to seek out schooling, and in situations I’ve encountered a devotion to give a child an opportunity that wasn’t available for them.

I will forgo telling the processes of school systems here in place of a few stories:
  • Craig highlighted the story of our driver, Paul, in an earlier blog post. Paul’s parents were peasant farmers and couldn’t send him to university because of the fees. As his own kids grow older though, Paul is determined to put them in college starting with his 16 year old son who wants to be a lawyer. Tuition is $1k a semester, and Paul is committed to be able to afford this by the time his son turns 18.
  • Our other driver, Joe, is quiet and shy in comparison to Paul. When he showed up the other day with a giant grin, we knew something was going on. “Today is my daughter’s first day of University,” Joe said. ” She is the first in our family to attend university.”
  •  On Tuesday last week we visited members of the Maasai tribe, who are one of the last indigenous tribes of the 42 here in Kenya. We visited their school and delivered pencils and other school supplies, which I have never seen a schoolchild so happy to receive. I couldn’t help but notice a few kids off to the side of the celebration that didn’t have school uniforms, and therefore weren’t allowed to participate in the fun. Despite it being a law in Kenya to send your child to school, the parents of these kids either couldn’t afford, or refused to pay the 300 Shillings a semester (roughly $3) to send their child to school.
  • Greyshawn, the foreman of the construction group we’ve been working with scored a 68 out of 72 on his entrance exam into university with hopes of being an engineer. Much like Paul, his parents couldn’t afford to send him so he’s been working construction the last 20(ish) years making close to $5 a day. Greyshawn wants to make sure he doesn’t have to put his kids in a situation he himself faced.
  • Rocky is heading the agriculture project at the CTC which will supplant the KTC we are helping to build. He has no formal training in horticulture or agriculture studies and was never able to afford the university tuition. But despite his quiet demeanor, Rocky’s passion for learning is infectious, travelling to conferences across Africa to learn more about agricultural studies. Of the 600 species of trees found in Kenya, Rocky is planning on bringing between 200-300 to the new CTC site alone. There is no doubt his developed knowledge has allowed him to make connections across the country to allow this to happen.
  • The current Director of the CTC here in Maai Mahiu is an incredible man named Jeremiah. He grew up locally in a poor family, remembering “I always wished I could be adopted into another family who would give me a different chance. I didn’t want to be associated with the family I had.” Ultimately Jeremiah made it all the way to Ann Arbor where he received a Masters in Counseling at the University of Michigan. Upon being faced with an opportunity to take a well-paying position in Grand Rapids, Jeremiah decided to pack up his family and come back to the place he knew could benefit most from his support and teachings, and to give the chance to bring educational opportunities that he never had: Maai Mahiu.
These are just a few stories that I’ve come across over the last 10 days, but they’ve all led me to understand that there is a thirst for knowledge and education here that is undeniable, and one that I selfishly thought may have only just aligned to my own past experiences. I can only be so lucky to hold such high expectations for myself as I move through life, and will make sure that opportunities that Paul or Greyshawn may have missed out on will be recognized as sacred ones I will make sure not to lose sight of when raising my own children.

I couldn’t be more ecstatic about the opportunities that the KRC will have to offer the people of Maai Mahiu to help bridge the digital divide. To help bring access to education makes me flush with pride, and without doubt has refueled my own desire for knowledge. I can’t wait to hear what this means for all of my new friends in Maai Mahiu as well.

Alex Drozd
DWC Softchoice Cares Participant
Kenya, September 2013

September 11: Blood, Sweat, and Laughter

Over the past several days I have learned more about myself, my limits and where my strengths lie, then ever before. I have learned in short order that I am NOT the most gifted craftsman, that I CANNOT swing a hammer with the best of them and that am I simply NOT the strongest person in the league. The amazing thing here is that these admitted weaknesses, simply don’t matter while here in Maai Mahui. The one thing that does matter…is community.

Over the past 10 days, I have had the absolute privilege to be introduced to some of the most unique and innovative people I have ever met in my life. I have met Jeremiah, the executive Director at CTC, who in my opinion is one of the most charismatic people I have encountered. His eyes light up when he speaks of his city, his people and his goals in shaping the community of Maai Mahui.

I have met Charles, the Assistant Director at CTC, and have been simply overwhelmed by his ability to extend his reach to the 41,000 people that reside in Maai Mahui.

I have also been blown away by the workers at the construction site. I find it inspiring the way these gentlemen carry themselves. They work incredibly hard, but understand the need to stop, reflect and LAUGH. There isn’t an hour on the site that goes by without us sharing a laugh while learning about all of the amazingly innovative and impressive ways in which they approach building a home. These men know what hard work is. They bleed, they sweat and they laugh.

The one common thing that links these efforts together is community. Everyone involved understands what they are working towards. It is not about who the smartest or strongest is on the site. It is truly about teamwork. They are a collective working towards a better tomorrow. They pick their brother and sister up when he or she falls, they are not afraid to stop what they are doing if only for a second, to teach there brother and sister something new. They listen, the act and once again, they laugh. These men and women have perspective and a genuine love for their country.

As I reflect about our mission to build a Knowledge Resource Center in Maai Mahui, I think about how proud I am to be part of this Softchoice Cares board. My 14 friends have all grown over the past week and a half. I have been witness to personal breakthroughs, new friendships being created and a true sense of collaboration within our team. This is a special group, one that I am proud to be a part of and one that my wife and daughter will be hearing about this Sunday.

Craig Bator
DWC Softchoice Cares Participant
Kenya, September 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

September 10: "I can read, I can read!"

These are the words of joy that we heard many times over as we fitted eye glasses for the young, the old and the very old in the village of Maai Mahiu, Kenya.

What an incredible day it was. The Softchoice team worked closely alongside the staff at Comfort the Children (CTC) to assess over 230 people, who came early to line up and endure the rain.

Spending time with every person gave us a closer glimpse into the way of life here and it quickly became evident that there are many, many hardships; struggles that we, at home, take for granted. But the people of Maai Mahiu have a wonderful humbleness and grace; their appreciation for our efforts to help ease some of their burden was very, very moving….and we all felt it.

Here there is a strong connection to religion. It provides hope and guidance to a challenging existence. So for them to be able to pick up the Bible and see the words clearly was a miracle; an amazing thing for us to witness. For those who struggled to see into the distance had a new view on the world around them; perhaps giving them a better sense of certainty. Their embrace was warm and their blessings numerous; we are so happy to be doing this.

Thanks to the Buckner Eye Institute for the kind donations of the eye glasses. And thanks to the people of Maai Mahiu for allowing us to help. We feel honored to be here.

Theresa Tomczyk
DWC Softchoice Cares Participant
Kenya, September 2013

September 10: We are all the same

Fundamentally we are all the same. Though our appearances are different, on the inside we all have a heart to love, a brain to think and eyes to see the world. We all have desires, needs, hopes and dreams. The want to do our best and succeed whether it’s personally or professionally. No matter who you are or where you’re from, we are all the same at the core. This is something I’ve always known.

When we first arrived in Maai Mahiu we took a walk through the city. It was something I had tried to prepare for but seeing it in person still shocked me. The homes look like slums, there was garbage everywhere from glass to plastic bags and even barbwire. There were children walking through the streets alone and dirty. It nearly broke my heart when I saw the most beautiful little girl with no shoes walking through what we, in shoes, were trying to avoid. It almost seems like everyone is just hanging around with no work. Everything and everyone seemed to be on top of one another like chaos. It was overwhelming and left me trying to catch my breath. I wondered how are we so different than the people here?

It’s been a week now and the perspective has changed. When you look harder and peel back the layers you begin to see just how similar it is to your own home. The slums no longer look like slums. The homes closer together and on top of each other are just like our town homes and small apartments. The shopkeepers are sitting outside their shops talking to their neighbours waiting for patrons. The children walking alone through the streets are nothing but smiles, happy with what they have and seem to have the community keeping an eye on them. Yes, there is still garbage all over the streets but the dirt itself, well, think back to a time when you had a summer with no rain. How dry everything was. How dusty and dirty everything felt and looked. With little rain to wash it all away you can begin to see where the feeling comes from.

Roads, shops, homes, families and community. Heart, brain and eyes. When you look at us all and peel back the surface we are all the same. For me this trip has made me see that more than ever before.

Tara Bradbury
DWC Softchoice Cares Participant
Kenya, September 2013