Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Interesting tour

Monday morning was occupied by our fourth sewing session.There were fewer ladies today and that made everything much easier. Many have nearly completed what they are making. The sewing machine caused some frustration as the thread kept breaking. After some discussion over dinner tonight, Ronnie, Sue and I decided to try some of the thread I brought from England as we think the thread I bought in Mombasa may be the problem.
Frances had an interesting chat with Mary where she learnt that Mary was trained as a tailor at Bombolulu as she had a bone condition which made her disabled. That tied in well with a conversation I had with Florence who said she would like the ladies group to make the uniforms for the pupils at Noahs Ark.
While the sewing was progressing, Phil took the committee to get the approval of the chief for their Sacco. Will went with them and photos will follow.
After the sewing session, Will and I went to Nakumatt while Phil took the ladies in to Mombasa to obtain government approval for their Sacco. This was also a successful expedition and included the group meeting the larger salvo which will provide them with training and support.
In the afternoon, Patrick had arranged for use to have a tour of the Severing Sea Lodge kitchens.

 This was really interesting and proved to me how well facilitated the wonderful food here is. We had enjoyed kingdoms on several occasions at dinner, and in the butchery (where Patrick works) we saw one prior to it being prepared. We were told they are locally caught and brought to the hotel - and this is a small one!

Resting on my veranda, I enjoyed watching themes at their usual antics.
One more day here and then we are off on safari. There will most likely be a two or three  day pause in this blog on Wednesday and Thursday as there is no WiFi at the lodge we are visiting. I will try to update on my return on Friday afternoon. (Ronnie was correct in her comment below and I have edited this accordingly!)

Monday, 22 August 2016

A different sort of busy

Not "busy doing nothing" but Sunday was a less intense day.
We began with church at Utange Baptist, where they have an English and then a Swahili service.

It was lovely seeing the boys Sue had worked with trying to use what they had been taught on the keyboards.

I wasn't expecting to be called up to the stage, let alone to be asked to speak, or to be prayed for, and felt rather a fraud on all three counts. It was kind of them though.  The Casuarina children sang a song Jess had taught them which was lovely.

After the service Rose found me to give me the dress I had ordered from her. I am so pleased with it that I will at some point produce a photo of myself wearing it. She wouldn't let me pay for it; she said that I had blessed her by giving her the sewing machine and fabric and now she wanted to bless me. It was a real blessing and the dress fits perfectly. Incredible to know that she made it without a pattern.

Debbie took Phil, Sue, Will and Frances back to Severin while Ronnie and I met up with Juma to go to visit his home. It was a lovely walk in the sunshine; we saw a pair of men cutting up a dead tree which Juma told me would be sold as firewood. We also saw a group of young lads thoroughly enjoying fresh coconuts, which made me quite jealous!

However, my jealousy didn't last loo long as, when we got to Juma's house (which I found with only a few redirections) his brother Karissa, who is home from High school, had climbed up one of the family's coconut trees to cut some down. He proceeded to cut the open for us and we enjoyed the fresh coconut milk. He then split the shells so that we could share the fresh coconut flesh.

After that Juma took ion a tour of his home and to,d us more about his family, before showing us all the improvements he has made to his mamas stall. He has extended it and rethatched it and the family have been experimenting with selling different items. Juma explained that the green vegetables are bought quite a distance away, north of Mtwapa, where they have an abundance, then brought back to Utange where they are few and can be so,d at a profit. They also have some jewellery made by another brother, Eric (of which I bought some) and some posters. I had brought along some solar lamps for the family to sell or rent, so they will go on the stall as well, as will the beans and rice at a later point. I thought it was excellent that they are trying out different lines to sell.

We asked Juma to find out the cost of a chicken shed - their hens are breeding but the chicks are often eaten by the crows. They don't want a very large one and Juma could build it himself.

We visited Salama to see the progress made since I bought her some more tools. The salon had been rearranged since my previous visit and looked impressive. The straightener and hair dryer are working well but not the kettle so it may be necessary to return this to Nakumatt.
Ffter those excursions we returned - relatively early - to Severin, and a swim in the pool and a dip in the ocean, before I returned to my room to enjoy some more monkey antics.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Fish and feeding!

Another action packed day here in Kenya with lots of wonderful memories stored up for the future.
This morning Will, Frances, Ronnie and I went out on a glass bottom boat. We decided to go with the Severin hotel diving team, Barracuda, and we were so glad that we made this decision. The equipment was top class and they looked after us so well. 
The trip began with a very long walk through the water and along sandbars to reach the boat. The tide was out, the water pleasantly warm and never got much above knee depth, but it was a good workout and beat aqua aerobics any day!

Once we reached the boat

we sped off for 15 minutes towards the reef,

where the fish were attracted by bread and we watched them through the bottom of the boat.

 Then we slid into the ocean. I have only snorkelled once before and it took me a little while to get the hang of it, but once I remembered not to breathe out through my nose (it made the mask steam up) and took off my flippers, it was wonderful. I was directed over the reef (which was so close to the surface that at one point I scraped my knee on it) and saw the most amazing fish.  I identified Angel fish, zebra  fish and a puffer fish as well as many other species I did not recognise. Many of them were huge. It was wonderful to see them darting in and out of the coral. I just wish I had taken a waterproof camera to photograph them!
When the others had returned to the boat I was still in the water, and was able to feed the fish myself. I held bread and they came and ate from my hand. Magical.
Then we rode a little further out and came to the part of the reef which is dead and forms a barrier to the main ocean. Here I was transported back to childhood rockpooling as we wandered across, peering into pools and identifying amazing things. We saw numerous sea urchins - both small and large, some with ferocious looking spikes. We handled starfish which looked like plastic toys - grey and bright red. The sea spiders were fascinating; the sea cucumbers slightly disturbing! We saw cowrie shells which had inhabitants, crabs and sea anemones. One sight which took my breath away was a clam, buried in the rock, which closed up when the water was disturbed - I was warned not to put my fingers too close! It was a wonderful experience.

After returning to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes, it was time to head off for Feed500. Debbie and Paul picked us up in the van. The usual mass of children was awaiting our arrival. Today I handed plates to the servers which was a moving experience. For the third week in a row there was enough food for children to have second helpings, which were enthusiastically received. 

The maize was handed out. Because some children who were due to receive maize were not present, Festus had the unenviable task of choosing 16 extra children from those who remained to receive food. 

We then headed over to Casuarina House; I chose to walk with Jess through the village rather than go in the van. However, the route we had used previously had been fenced off - but Jess and I found a gap in the fence and crawled through, much to the amusement of the locals!

Back at the house, the children sang to us - and we to them; a rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot. This was greeted with enthusiastic applause; apparently it was the first time visitors had ever sung  to the children.

Sue took five of the children off to have a keyboard lesson. Will took photos of all of the children and staff  to update the charity website. Phil walked with Jess to Noah's Ark to pick up some paperwork for the ladies' SACCO application. I got a photo of all of the children with the sewing machine I bought for them all. All those at Casuarina House were really enthusiastic about the machine, and it wasn't long before some of the children were trying to use it. I had a go as well, and managed to get the hang of using a treadle, which gave me great satisfaction.

We finished off the bags which Mariam, Jess and Tina had started. Monica was missing some of her fabric so I have undertaken to find it for her at Noah's Ark and help her to finish her bag on what may be my final visit this trip to Casuarina House on Wednesday. 

I spoke to Festus and arranged for him to order the charcoal for those women who requested it. He also translated a message which I will text to them, to tell them where and when they can collect it.

It was then time to return to Severin. I intended to get a lift to Nakumatt to withdraw more charity money but was just too tired and instead spent a pleasant time relaxing before dinner. Tiredness is catching up with me at this stage of my time here, and I recognise the need to relax - but also to finish off all the things I have set in motion

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Microfinance and looking forward

Will has made a new friend - the hotel cat has apparently adopted him. We are sure this is not in any way cupboard love, despite Will's habit of feeding the cat with sausage, bacon and cheese! 

Another busy morning today began with our daily drive to Noah's Ark for our sewing workshop. However, this time we stopped on the way at Casuarina House to deliver the sewing machine I bought for them yesterday. We picked up four children - Gereza, Mariam, Monica and Tina M - who wanted to come to sew today, along with Jess.

Phil returned to the hotel to type up the membership list for the SACCO; He was impressed with the amount of work Florence, Emily and Esther had already put in; this is a very committed group of ladies.

Will went off with two young men from the village for an introduction to Utange which he said was very enjoyable and informative.

The sewing went well, though it was a challenge at times to manage 12 different patterns. The group had been described to me as a sewing group, but many of them have very little experience in sewing. If I had realised I would have been less ambitious with the patterns, but I am sure we will get one version of each animal competed this week. I introduced some very simple bags today, and gave Florence a book of small projects which they can investigate after I go.

The inventiveness of children with their toys here is very impressive.  here are two examples - a young lad with a bag made of plastic bands, and children who found an old tyre.


On our return, Sue and I met with Susan, a teacher from Utange Primary School. This was a really positive meeting as we discussed various ways in which we could potentially help the school, where classes can be as large as 118 pupils. We talked about helping parents to earn their own income, recruiting volunteers from the UK, funding the purchase of more computers and sponsoring an additional teacher. All are feasible from the school's perspective. It was good to talk with Susan, who had some excellent ideas and was refreshingly non-grasping in her approach - we really felt that she did not want to take advantage of us and what we might be able to offer.

This trip has really helped me to see ways in which I can use the money I raise to greatest effect. I am enthused by having learnt about the approach to microfinance offered by the setting up of cooperatives called SACCOs and intend all future funding to be delivered through these groups.These will enable me to pay money into a cooperative's bank account, but this money will then be directly transferred to a supplier to pay for the goods which are needed. What is more, this system provides support and accountability for the group, through local officers. Working through groups will be much more efficient, allowing equipment to be shared between individuals. It will be interesting to see how the Noah's Ark group develops and whether other groups will be formed. I am very hopeful that one will rise up around Utange Primary School. I intend to make a new section about SACCOs on this blog when I return - I am so grateful for the expertise and leadership Phil has provided in introducing me to the concept and helping this first group to get off the ground.

After a quiet afternoon we ended the day with cocktails and dinner and, in my case at least, an early night.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Sewing, shopping and beaurocracy

Another very busy day today with the second sewing workshop at Noah's ark. Lots of women turned up, and we divided our efforts. While I focuses on showing the women how to make up the patterns, Ronnie and Frances did a great job of making sure they sewed with small strong stitches, and Sue helped the ladies making bags to put their pieces together. Will kept the children occupied.  There were four little ones today - Solomon, who had come the previous day with his mama Salome;

Maggie, Emily's daughter, who I had met previously,

and another little one who cried every time I looked at her! I gave a ball to two sisters who we met at the start of the day, and this gave rise to lots of enjoyment and exercise

- and also a crowd of other children hoping for a gift. It is amazing how quickly they gather as soon as you give something to one child!  One little girl got a bump from the ball and enjoyed a reassuring cuddle from Phil.

Florence took me to see the garden she is tending; she is hoping that I may be able to arrange training for the group from Haller park, and this is something I will look into on my return.

While we were sewing, Phil took the three leaders of the group (Florence, another Emily, and Esther) to Mombasa to meet with the government official to set up their micro finance group. They had a successful meeting with Lena, the government official, finding out about micro finance and the process involved. However, after that, Kenyan beaurocracy  hit. They were sent to another building to collect the necessary forms - but the kiosk where they could collect them was closed. It sounds like they trailed between places for a while, but they did manage to find the forms in the end. The next stage is for Phil to work with them to write a constitution for their group, and then they will be able to return to Mombasa to register it. We hope they will be able to complete the process before we leave.

Unfortunately they did not get back in time to pick us up and miscommunication meant that we waited for tuktuks to get back to Severin, since Zachariah had taken them in to Mombasa. It was quite an enjoyable hour, though, sitting outside talking to the women and playing with the children. Little Maggie was very content to sit on my lap, and ended up falling asleep in my arms, which was lovely.

After returning to the hotel, Ronnie, France's and I set out for Mombasa to buy our fabric, return the broken machine, and try to get lining fabric and wadding for the bags.  

We got our fabric quite easily, in the same shop where I bought the lessos for the ladies in the previous week, and I bought some for Patrick's wife (Patrick is the chef at the hotel who has been really helpful) as well, to help her to start her own business.

It was harder work to find the shop where the sewing machines had been bought - the one for the Noah's ark ladies was not working properly and none of us could work out why. However, we found it in the end - opposite the lessos shop! We had been told this was where it was, but from the outside it looked nothing like a shop which might sell sewing machines! Once inside, Mr Ali the owner was very welcoming and exchanged the machine without any question. I also bought another machine as Debbie had commented that the Casuarina House girls had said before I came out that they would like a sewing machine. Hopefully it will help some of the children - boys and girls - to develop skills which will be useful in adulthood. It may even be that some of them end up as tailors themselves.  Two of the young men from the shop carried our purchases back to the car for us. 

Then the search for wadding (for the bags) and lining fabric began, and there we drew a blank. People were very helpful, suggesting all sorts of places where we might be able to get it, but in reality nobody seemed to understand what we were after! We had to admit defeat and returned back to Severin.

We all then had a pleasant break; I enjoyed my usual evening sit on the verandah watching the monkeys. 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Next part of the project

It is interesting, as I start the teaching part of my stay here, to reflect that this was my first idea and reason for coming to Kenya again - to teach the women to make some of the things I have been making. The vision has become so much bigger than that, but it was good to also do this part of the work.

Our day - all six of us - began with two separate taxi rides to Utange. We did think of using a Tuktuk as well as Zachariah's taxi, but Zachariah so needs the work that we went just with him. Frances, Will and I surprised Florence by arriving half an hour earlier than she expected, but we explained the reason. Inside the room I found this lovely welcome:

The ladies arrived in "African time", but we made a great start on cutting out various animal and bag patterns, with some ladies starting the sewing. 

It was clear that the concept of seeing patterns was new to most of them, but they rapidly picked it up. 

It was disappointing to find that the sewing machine did not work properly - it seems that the feed dogs are not pulling the fabric through - so I will be taking it into Mombasa tomorrow to try to find the shop and get them to sort it out.

Some of the ladies also worked on their crocheted bags - these are made from old bags which are cut into strips.

In the meantime, Will took lots of photos and got to know the locals while Phil started interviewing the ladies, one by one. The plan is to produce a short fact sheet about each of them, to accompany the things they make.

Phil also talked in detail to three of the ladies about micro finance, and they were very keen. His plan is to arrange a meeting for them with the government official he met on Monday so that they can get this set up. That was a very pleasing result.

We returned for a short break at the hotel (just long enough for a cup of tea for me) - and, while sitting enjoying this, one of the gardeners (Peter) gave me a beautiful pot of flowers, my second during this trip. So lovely!

It was time to set out again, this time using Wilson with his tuktuk, to visit Bombolulu centre. This is an amazing place. It is a centre where people with physical disabilities make, from scratch, the most fantastic items.
Outside, workers were carving wood and bone into beautiful jewellery - all kinds of wonderful items. 

In the jewellery workshop, we saw the process of them making necklaces and other metal items by hand. First the designers

Then fashioning the links using an ingenious contraption base on a drill

Pressing patterns into the brass:

Cutting out the brass shapes with a hacksaw:

Joining the links together:

We saw other ladies creating the loops for earrings from wire

In the textile workshop they printed fabrics using screen prints

And sewed so many lovely items: bags, fusion covers and more.

I chatted with the designer in the textiles workshop and gave her the address of my blog, telling her about my recycling and inviting her to use any of my designs.  

We saw the workshop where wheelchairs and bicycles are built, including this amazing model which is a mobile shop. 

We went to the plant nursery, and met this lovely man:

who told us that he had planted the majority of the plants around the grounds, including an amazing bamboo tree, 30 years previously!  Ronnie was persuaded to buy some seeds and this plant, which generates itself from a single leaf.

Then we were the first customers ever to visit their new shop. The previous one burnt down last year, destroying all of their stock, and they were in the process of setting this one up.

I bought myself a lovely new handbag  -

and then met Jonny, who had made it! 

I also bought a few gifts to take home. They had a fabulous range of products and all at very reasonable prices, and Ali who gave us a guided tour was so knowledgeable. Do visit if you go to the area - or buy from them online.

Truly a highlight of this trip.