Every year the Gathimba Edwards Foundation host a group of visitors to Kenya to show them the impact of their fundraising and challenge them to climb the highest mountain in Kenya. Over the past week I have been lucky enough to join the group while they travel around the country, visiting families, running with locals and preparing for their hike.
This trip had 6 visitors from Scotland over for the experience. It has been nice for me to have some fellow ‘wazungu’ (white people) to socialise with. They started by arriving in Nairobi, before their day traveling to Iten, ‘the Home of Champions’, this is where the majority of Kenya’s most successful athletes train and where a lot of international athletes visit.
Day 1 we visited some families who have been supported by GEF. It was incredible to see the impact that the foundation can have on the family’s lives. We were able to see the new homes that have been built thanks to volunteers and fundraising by supporters of GEF. What was even more incredible was seeing the difference, being able to see where they lived before they had their lives changed.
The families we visited were all so happy and welcoming, willing to show us around their homes and shambas (small farms) where they grow their food and where they get their water. The first family we visited had beans, maize, potatoes and honey on their shamba. They also had a small river, protected by beautiful trees, where they had built a catchment for them to collect water for themselves and their shamba. Kenyan families are big too, so there are always energetic children running around, happy to play, sing and dance with visitors. It is incredible to see the difference being made and the happiness being given to GEF familes by the foundations work.
After making some new friends we went back to Iten for lunch, to the famous ‘Mama Rambos’ and wow was the food fantastic! I think I will be adding some weight on while I am in Kenya. Mama Rambo supports local children, and is a very warm and generous lady.
After our busy day visiting families we were treated to a meal at the beautiful Kerio View hotel. The views here are incredible, looking over the valley.
Day 2 started late with lunch at Mama Rambo’s again. Some of the GEF sponsored children in Iten were there to teach mothers of supported families how to make bracelets. The bracelets are sold online by GEF and the money goes back to the foundation to help support the families. This is also providing them with tools for their own crafts for business as well. The boys are very fast and enthusiastic about it. They made it look so easy but I can tell you that I have tried and it takes a lot of practice and concentration to master all those patterns and the speed they have. Hopefully I will have time to practice with them while I am here so get your orders in! http://gathimbaedwards.wixsite.com/shop
After our crash course in bracelet making and another delicious lunch with too much food we were off to visit another local family. This time it was a family that has not yet been supported by GEF. This is one of the families who will have a new house built for them in July by volunteers from around the world. And they are more than in need of it!
This is the worst conditions I have seen in my time in Kenya. It is just unimaginable! Eight children and their mother live between two very small mud huts on the side of the road. They sleep huddled in the corner on the dirt ground, trying to avoid the fire that burns in one corner for them to be able to cook and keep warm and the puddle of water in the middle which leaks from their grass roof. Of course they have no toilet, no running water and no furniture.
The family was very warm and welcoming and the mothers face lit up when we spoke about the new home she will have in July, I cannot wait to be a part of the GEF team making a different to their lives!
Day 3 had all the visitors become teachers for the day at Iten Primary school. It was good fun, I joined Karen from Scotland for our lesson, teaching grade 8s. We used a lesson that I had taught already in Eldoret, teaching the students about the differences around the world and the values that we hold the same. The end lesson being that we are all the same and not to judge a book by its cover. Alan and David taught about the human body and Lorna and Claire taught about our 5 senses.
For lunch we were lucky enough to be invited to Mary Keitany’s house. She is a 3 time marathon winner and world record holder of a women’s only marathon and currently training again to smash it in London. She was so hospitable and friendly, welcoming us all into her home. It was extra special to celebrate her very cute daughter Samantha’s 5th Birthday. Mary also told me about a school she is building and opening while I am here so hopefully I will be able to join her for that. It is inspirational to meet such hard-working people who give back to the community, including being a huge supporter to GEF with donations from her marathon wins.
Day 4 we were off to visit more families supported by GEF. The first one was in the hillside of the Great Rift Valley, it was a roller coaster of a mission to get there, but well worth it. The views were incredible, people back home would pay a fortune for this!
The family were so lovely and humble, welcoming us to their new home. We were also able to see their previous home, which the fathers brother now lives in. The sight of this had one of our visitors very emotional, trying to imagine living in these conditions, it makes you realise how incredibly lucky we are. It is so hard to imagine without seeing it seeing it first hand. Even when you are there it is hard to imagine spending every minute in these tiny homes. Often the families are very poor, so the children are unable to attend school. They spend their days in these tiny homes, built from mud, cow dung and straw, usually filled with smoke from their small fire kitchens and sharing a bed with up to 3 of their siblings…. that is if they have a bed.
After our long pumpy ‘Kenyan Massage’ drive back down in the valley we were hosted at Wilson Kipsang’s house for lunch. Wilson, (whom you may remember I have worked with before, on the chicken farm), is another impressive Kenyan athlete with world records and numerous medals under his belt. Watch out for him in the Berlin marathon later this year. We were all over-full thanks to the lunch provided by Mrs Kipsang- Doreen and their beautiful family.
Wilson then joined us to visit a local family supported by GEF. Wilson has been crucial in helping to identify and support families in need in this area.
This particular family previously lived in the ‘house with no walls’. Only tree trunks holding up a piece of tin to sleep under with no protection from the weather. The difference is remarkable, these hard working Kenyans now have a home!
Day 5 was travel day, we all made our way early in the morning to Eldoret airport, flew to Nairobi and then bus to Karatina. Along the way we stopped to visit a few people supported again by GEF and their sponsors. Mama Rose, who has a market stall to sell fresh fruit, her business is supported by GEF . We also visited Daniel, a father of 4 who lost his wife as she was giving birth to their youngest twins. He broke his arm 6 years ago but was never able to have it fixed until GEF provided the funds needed for surgery. Impressively he is now able to use his hand again, of course with complications due to the impact of it remaining broken for 6 years.
Eventually we arrived at our hotel in Karatina, had lunch and set off to visit some more families. These families have been identified as struggling and in need but have not been support by GEF yet, hopefully we will see that happen in the near future with the support of donations. That has to be the hardest job, working out how to prioritise who needs help first and how to help them.
First we visited was Ephraim Mwangi with his wife Beth and their children Abigail & Juliet. Ephraim was knocked off his motorbike last December and his right leg was very badly broken, he is still on crutches and cannot bend his leg. He has been to two different hospitals but has encountered great difficulties with the treatment he received. As Ephraim is a builder by trade he is and will be unable to work for a considerable time. This puts a lot of pressure on his wife to try to find casual work and often means that school fees go unpaid and their very bright daughter Abigail is sent home from school.
We then visited a family in the slums in Karatina. A mother and her 3 daughters live in a tiny place, sharing 2 bunk beds and without a kitchen or toilet. Unfortunately their father recently took off and left the family, meaning their income as well. The mother desperately tries to find work doing neighbors laundry but struggles to have enough money for food and school. When we asked her eldest daughter, Mary, how she felt about their living conditions she said ‘ashamed’, it was heartbreaking.
The next family we visited has a shocking story. Rhoda, the mother, had her arms cut off and face slashed by her husband with a machete when she questioned where he went at night. She is lucky to have got away with her life and her children’s father is now in prison for life. Rhoda is very positive and happy to tell her story. Somehow she is always smiling and very hard working. She sells second hand clothes at the market but because she is unable to handle money she is often taken advantage of when she hands her purse to the customer to take their change. Rhoda inspired our visitors with her strength and positivity in the face of challenges we could not even imagine.
Day 6 is race day! GEF’s annual road race, with races from 2km to 10km for all ages. This helps to raise funds and awareness for the foundation. Every visitor ran their hardest, even with some very impressive Kenyan competition, they did not give up!
I was photographer for the day and happy to not be racing when I saw the athletes. We were graced with the presence of Wilson Kipsang, to motivate and inspire up and coming athletes, as well as Bethwell Birgen, another very successful Kenyan runner and the Mayor of the town.
At the end of the day we all left exhausted, muddy and hungry…. Lunch came at 4pm!
Day 7 was Sunday, so we were all headed to church, visiting another family on the way. Esther is the brightest, funniest grandmother I have ever met. She works tirelessly in their garden to grow food to look after her grandchildren and great grandchild after they were abandoned by their mother. The great news is, thanks to GEF they will be getting a new home in just 2 weeks!
After a flat tyre on the way to church we eventually arrived for the last 2 hours, joining the singing and dancing as we walked in. I love Pastor George, he speaks so well and so passionately and we were all welcomed with open arms.
We went off to visit the houses that we built last year , but then the rain arrived. It decided to bucket down, just as we reached the dirt (now mud) road to the houses. We all braved it in the rain, walking through rivers, careful not to end up on my ass, on our way to the house. I regretted having worn sandals and a skirt to look nice for church. It was worth it though, at the houses there was food! And all part of the experience! It was so nice to visit the families that I had helped build houses for last year, they were all so happy and doing well in their new homes.
Heading back to the hotel, cold, wet and covered in mud I couldn’t wait for the hot shower (the best I’ve had in Kenya) and even washed my sandals in there. A well earnt Tuskers Cider went down a treat too!
Day 8 was my last day with the visitors, and of course it was a busy one too, always jam packed on these trips. We had 12 teachers from Icuga Primary school come to the hotel function room. I was holding a seminar for them to discuss ways to motivate their students, lesson planning, relationships with parents and behaviour management; alternatives to the cane. It was very successful and the teachers were very responsive, I only wish we had more time to talk. Hopefully we will see another seminar down the track. It would be great if we could provide ongoing support for this school and more schools to help their development. After all, education is key to helping the whole country.
Off we went to the Pavillion Village, a children’s home, supported by GEF. They built a big dorm building here in 2015. There were so many happy children running around and playing games. They also have a huge garden where they grow food and have goats, cows, chickens and rabbits. I wonder what was in our lunch then? Haha oh well it was delicious. Even the Mayor came by to say hi and give the children some books.
A coffee plantation tour was next, I was happy it was short and sweet. The plantation was huge though, with beautiful views and all the visitors got to taste some of the home brewed coffee.
In true Kenyan fashion, running 2 hours late, we finally arrived at Cheerful Children’s Home that GEF sponsor with a small amount for food each month. The director, Margaret is amazing, she looks after 20 children with special needs, cooking, washing, cleaning and then at night she makes handbags to sell, I don’t know how she does it. Stay tuned, you may be able to purchase one of her handmade bags soon through GEF!
So my last day with the visitors was over. I was to say goodbye to them tomorrow morning, and wish them well on their adventure to climb Mt Kenya!
Off they went with bright faces, I cannot wait to hear the stories of this challenge they face. I am sure many of the families we have met over the last week will provide them with motivation to push on. They do this to raise funds and awareness for families in need. Go team!
The Kenya22 trip with GEF is such a great opportunity to see the true Kenya. It is off the beaten track and not a touristy trip at all. There is the chance to see first hand the work that GEF do and help them make a difference. The best part about Kenya is its people and this trip gives you the best experiences with them, from all different backgrounds.
The dates for April 2019 have just been released so check it out now if you would like to join in!
2019: Sat 30th March to Sat 13th April (full details coming soon)