Sunday, 29 January 2017

First 20 computers installed in Utange!

These are photos which have been deagerly awaited.  They show the first 20 computers installed and in use in Utange primary school.  This was one of the results of my trip to Kenya over the summer; having met Susan, the lovely computing teacher there, and distributed 10 solar lamps to the school, I asked her what would most help the school.She told me that, with such large classes (between 80 and 120 pupils with one teacher), more computers would be of huge benefit.  The pupils use the computers to study Maths and English at their own level.  They had 20 computers, donated by a group in Mombasa.  She told me that 40 more would enable pupils to work in pairs at a computer, or to work individually while a teacher taught the rest of the class.
I was thrilled by the generosity of the response I received and sent off the money before Christmas.  There was a delay (caused by the computers being held up at the port in MOmbasa) but they have now arrived, and Susan sent me these photos to share with all who donated.

If you would like to donate, you can do so through my JustGiving page here.  I hope to send the money to pay for the remaining 20 computers this year.

Saturday, 8 October 2016


Jacqui Lewis at MK handmade and vintage is partly responsible for this! She sent me a photo of some denim covered furniture, and basically said, "What about it?" So here is my first piece of denim covered furniture - a footstool repurposed from a charity shop purchase.
I am pleased with how it has turned out, and have two more pieces in creating on. Hopefully all will be available for purchase at the MK handmade and vintage fair in Middleton Hall at the start of November.

Monday, 3 October 2016


Well, it is hard to believe I have been back over a month.  I do feel as if my feet haven't touched the ground.  However, in many senses I can see that a huge amount has happened.
A few weeks after my return I spoke at Church about my trip and God's provisions during it.  (You can listen to it here if you wish to). 

 I also announced my hope of collecting enough money to buy 40 reconditioned computers for Utange Primary School.  They currently have 20 donated computers, and the teacher I spoke with told me of the difference it makes for her pupils, who are taught in classes of between 80 and 115, to be able to work at their own level on Maths and English tasks through a computerised learning system.  Each computer will cost about £140, so I know this will be a significant challenge for me.  I explained that I have never asked for money before - only for people to buy items I make if they like them. 

Two weeks later, I have beein given the money for 7 computer already, with funding promised for another ten.  Some people have donated the money for a computer individually. Some groupd of friends have joined together to pay for a computer as a group.  One 8 year old girl at church brought me £10 from her piggy bank after talking about the project with her parents.  A friend discussed what I had been doing over the summer with one of her clients.  The client then said that she had just moved house and had found about £70 lying around at home - and I could have it for the computers.  That friend's employers then matched the donation.  Another friend came to me immediately after the service to say that he had been to the cashpoint that morning and there was exactly £140 in his account which should not, by his accounting, have been there - so he wanted to donate it.  Amazing stories.

If you would like to contribute to this fundraising, here is the link to my Just Giving page.  I - and the children of Utange Primary School - would be very grateful.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Charcoal collection

A number of the ladies who met me at Utange Baptist at my meeting with them requested charcoal. Although my preference was to buy equipment rather than things for sale, I made an exception here. This was for several reasons - one was that charcoal selling is traditionally a business of the poorest women in society, the second reason was that tout was requested by so many. The third reason was that it was a safe investment in that charcoal is used by most families and so there is always a market.
I decided to buy each of th women who asked three bags of charcoal. These bags are very large and traditional are divided into smaller amounts to be resold. I wa told they would cost about 1200ksh each, but in fact the cost was much less when I bought - possibly because I was buying so many - and the final cost was 1050 KSH per bag. My order was for 87 bags, and this was apparently why the charcoal dos not arrive on the Tueasday before I went on safari, as it took so long to bag up. Fortunately Festus was prepared to step in and manage the distribution, in fact, the charcoal apparently did not come till very late on Wednesday  and was not distributed until Thursday. 27 of the 29 women arrived to collect the charcoal; when I went to Casuarina House on Saturday the remaining bags (along with a lot of loose charcoal) were still there. Paul kindly took these photos for me of the distribution.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Travelling home

The journey home started at 7 pm on Saturday as we waited for our taxi, precook end and paid for through Severin. In true African apfashion it did not arrive and I had to ask Reception to check up, even though we had confirmed the time on the previous day!  However, I was not too concerned as we were not leaving Mombasa airport till 10.25.
The journey gave us a final view of African driving! The first part of the journey was extremely busy, with locals leaving thePirates beach  area in their droves. What is normally a single carriageway of traffic became, in places, five lanes of traffic as matatus, tuktuks, lorises, bodabodas, taxis, school buses and a few private cars jostling for position, undertaking and overtaking. Once we passed this, however, the roads were much emptier and driving less frantic. We arrived in good time and got straight through to the waiting area.
Here, we were very glad we had shared a plate of Severin's fabulous chips before leaving, as the safe seemed to have little other than chocolate and drinks. The sweet chop yielded us a bag of crisps, another of nuts and bottles of water and these lasted us till boarding time.
Arriving at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta airport at 11.25, we negotiated our way to the international terminal - where everything was closed and there were no seats. Our flight was scheduled for 5am and we were told the desks would open at 2am, so we settled down on our cases to wait. While we could possibly have found a food outlet open in another part of the airport, we would have had to go through the security at the entry to this part of the terminal again, and we decided not to. fortunately the checkin desks opened early. However, on reaching the desk I was told I could not take my elephant picture as hand luggage, so had to take it to be shrink wrapped so it could go as baggage luggage. This was very efficiently done - but virtually doubled the price of the paintings!
Inside the departures area there were a few shops open, but tyby this time we were both too tired to be hungry! We did find chairs opposite our scheduled departure gate and sat and read there. Inside the gate, having had to discard our remaining water, we doppfiund there was no way to buy any more. This was frustrating as we (along with other passengers) were by now thirsty.
The plane to Istanbul was late departing, but we had the usual good service from the Turkish Airlines staff. The food was good. The blinds were closed to allow people to sleep - something I did not manage to do at all. I was puzzled that the blinds were closed and lighting low for the entire flight, given that we arrived at Istanbul at 11.20. The late arrival also made the transfer between gates a real rush. Istanbul airport is huge and our gate was at some distance from our arrival venue. We also had  o go through a full security clearance between planes, which took some time. Ours was not quite the last bus transfer to the plane, but the plane was nearly full by the time we got on.
The last leg of the flight went smoothly and I did manage to grab about half an hour of light sleep during it. We were both grateful that this was shorter than the previous leg of the journey. We also made good time, arriving at Heathrow 40 minutes ahead of the scheduled time. It was great to see Will waiting at the arrivals gate for us, and we chatted through a fairly easy journey home. A shower, a walk with Duke (who gave me an ecstatic greeting when I arrived but blotted his copybook by slipping his collar, running off and not coming back when called), a cider and an early night were the priorities, and I slept the clock around!

Monday, 29 August 2016

Last day in Kenya

My last day in Kenya was another busy one, as I tried to tie up as many loose ends as possible.  The first part of the day was mainly taken up with sorting and packing. At 11.40 Ronnie and I headed off to Noah's Ark to say our goodbyes to the ladies there. I told them about the possible outlets, and also spoke quite firmly about the importance of fair and sensible pricing, which I think was taken on board. The ladies gave each of us a kanga, as they had also done for Will, Frances, Phil and Sue. I took lots of photos of the items they had finished to send on to the two possible outlets for their work.

From Noah's Ark Ronnie and I walked to Utange Baptist Church to help with the feeding programme. There were American pastors visiting the feeding, so we shared turns in handing out the cooked meal. The pastors had also brought over an immense number of flip flops to hand out to the children on the feeding programme. The distribution of these was very difficult to manage and there were several points at which I was very concerned that one of the smaller children was in danger of being seriously hurt.

I managed to get a photo of myself with Rose, wearing the dress she made for me with the fabric we bought in Mombasa.

Then it was back o Casuarina House to meet with Christopher and visit the two projects he has been working on for me. These entailed a much longer walk than I had anticipated! First we went to see Sara and Mattias with the water tank and pump I paid for:

Then we went on to Margaret's home to see the chicken shed Christopher has been repairing and improving.

On the way back I met a couple of the women to whom I have given charcoal, which was a bonus.

Finally we headed back to Severin to shower and checkout, and then our long journey home began.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Friday: rounding things off

Our third early start was still not rewarded with a sighting of elephants. The Rangers assured us that they were in the park in good numbers, but we were left in doubt of this. Numbers of elephants have been severely affected by poaching, and it was mentioned that an elephant was found caught in a snare inside the park this week. Ronnie and I felt that there were probably fewer elephants around. Add to this the challenge of a vast park with large tracts of forest, and there are plenty of areas where they can remain hidden, if this is what they choose.

We reluctantly left Shimba Hills Lodge, with hopes of returning. I exchanged email addresses with the owner; she may be interested in stocking animals made by the Noah's Ark ladies, and I have said I will send her photos of these.

We enjoyed our journey back - there were lots of interesting sights, and good conversation with Patrick. He and his family live in Bamburi, which adjoins Utange, and I told him of my project. He in turn is going to tell his wife, who was trained as a salonist.  The hope is that she and a group of women may form their own Sacco, which I in turn will be able to support.  I asked Patrick about cashew farming in the area and he told me that there are not many cashew trees around Bamburi.  However, in Kilifi, where he comes from and has relatives, he told me there are forests full of cashew trees.  One of my original ideas (which I believe was given by God) was to help develop cashew farming as a means for people to grow a cash crop.  However, the cashew nut grows inside a hard shell and is encased by acid, which makes extracting the nuts both difficult and dangerous.  If Patrick can enthuse a group to form in Kilifi, I may be able to help them in the future by buying a cashew processing machine.  This could be a very good cooperative venture for the area.

Back at Severin, it was a rather protracted process to get access to both of our rooms. However, I filled the time in a most enjoyable fashion by having a long and very relaxing massage. While talking with Rehema, the masseur, I explained what I had been doing.  She told me that she had been the treasurer for a group of women who were saving together to start up a poultry business in Shanzu - another of the neighbouring towns and part of Utange sub-county.  However, she said, the group folded as the women were reluctant to save regularly.  I gave her my contact details and encouraged her to look at starting up a new group and registering as a Sacco; this may be yet another group which I can help.

Then it was time for a last meeting with Juma; I gave him the money for Gladys' chickens and for the materials for his family to build their own chicken shed. Hopefully the money will extend to a few more chickens as well.
Patrick came to pass on business cards and we had another farewell photo:

After an emotional parting, Ronnie and I went to do our final present shopping in the hotel shops.  In this we were both successful; I also indulged in another picture (sorry, Will!) which is beautiful.  It looks like marquetry but is in fact made from banana leaves.  I chatted with Hassan, the owner of the shop, for some time about his support of local artisans and crafts people, and told him of the work I have been doing with the Noah's Ark ladies.  He too may be prepared to stock some of their toys for sale.

The day ended with our final Severin dinner.  I went to sleep feeling that today was filled with God-given meetings which have encouraged me about the future of my work in this area.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Thursday: safari day 2

Another early start to the day today. Our first game drive was at 6am. As we left the lodge it was still dark, but by the time we reached the main road it was fully light; the changes between day and night happen really rapidly here.
For the first part of our drive there were no animals to be seen, but then we happened upon some Impala and other animals followed swiftly. We saw bushbuck and hartebeast again, along with more water buffalo and warthogs. Then we had the magical moment of the drive, spotting the very rare Sable antelope. Shimba Hills is the only place where they can be found in Kenya, and Patrick told us that there are only two groups of them in the park - and we had seen one of the groups.

Back for a delicious breakfast, followed by another game drive - this time to the elephant reserve, about a half hour drive down the road. Sadly we didn't see any elephants, or any new animals, but the drive itself was through gorgeous countryside and I took many photos of the most unusually shaped (to my Western eyes) trees.

During lunch we were entertained by the tree squirrels, which fee from the railings and feeding table alongside us. I also spotted the monitor lizard I had seen swimming in the lake on the previous day, and the fish eagles continued to catch our eyes.
The evening drive was enjoyable - we spotted sable antelopes, bushbucks and Impala again, along with the ever-amusing warthogs and impressive water buffalo. Sadly, still no elephants or giraffes, despite Patrick's best efforts. Back to the wonderful lodge for another fabulous meal - and this time we had bush babies visiting and enjoying our offerings of bread rolls!

Wednesday: Shimba Safari Lodge

It was an early start to the day! Frances and Will were leaving on safari at 6am, and Ronnie and I at 6.30. We all said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways. Patrick, our safari driver, picked us up on time and off we went!
The journey to Shimba Hills was very enjoyable. Crossing on the Likoni ferry was a novel experience, and both Ronnie and I were amazed to see thousands of foot passengers emerging from a tiny ferry.
Once over the river, the terrain and housing changed, with the feel becoming more and more rural. It was great to be right out in the countryside relatively quickly. Although we saw only two deer as larger animals on our first game drive, we saw lots of wonderful scenery, marvellous butterflies and birds. The birdsong was fantastic.

We travelled to the beginning of the path to Sheldrick Falls, where we were escorted by an armed ranger down the 2km route. What a 2km it was - up and down uneven dirt tracks - but surrounded all the time by marvellous vegetation and fantastic sounds.

When we got to the falls we knew how worthwhile the journey had been, as they were magical. I even climbed up to stand behind the water.

From there we retraced our steps. This was easier than the route there had been, but we were very tired by the time we got back to the van! We were also very hungry after such an early start. Patrick drove us to our lodge for the next two days.

 Shimba Hills Lodge is magical. It is set in the safari park and overlooks a lake.

While eating a beautifully prepared meal we watched a fish eagle diving to the water and baboons fighting on the other side. A forest squirrel, which was both red and grey, patrolled the dining room in search of scraps, while baboons strolled down to the lakeside.

Following the meal we had some rest time. I spent part of this on my tiny balcony, and the other part on the seating at the end of the forest walkway.

Then it was off for our second game drive, and this time we saw more animals. We saw Impala, bushbuck, hartebeast and warthogs. We also had a magical encounter with a small herd of water buffalo, where we got really close and then they crossed the road in front of us. We heard lots of beautiful bird song and saw many birds too - weaver birds, bee eaters and scores of swifts.

After another wonderful meal at the lodge we were more than ready for bed and I fell asleep to the sound of crickets and bull frogs.

Tuesday - roller coaster day

Today was a roller coaster day - some very difficult parts and some really good ones.
We began the day with the last of our seeing sessions. When we arrived at Noah's Ark, I was so excited to find that two of the ladies had begun making patchwork bags, using the scraps of fabric left over from other projects. Florence told me she had stayed working past dark the previous night, using the solar lamp I had given the group, and she had a completed bag outer and lining. Another of the ladies had the front of a bag made. They looked lovely in the lesso fabrics.

The ladies worked really hard, and by the end of the morning we had a number of completed animals.

I bought two of the bags they had made prior to our arrival - one made around a basket and the other made from recycled plastic bags, which will make a great peg bag. The price I was given was rather high, but I was happy to pay it to encourage them.
While at Noah's Ark I had a phone call from Festus. He explained that the charcoal had not been delivered and would not be ready until the next day as there was so much to pack. That had several consequences - I would not be able to distribute it that afternoon, I had no way of letting the ladies who were turning up that afternoon to collect it know that it would not be ready so they would all turn up anyway, and I would not be able to hand it out on Wednesday due to our safari. Fortunately Festus had the African "hakuna matatu" (no worries) attitude and said he would tell the ladies to return the following day and he was happy to distribute the charcoal then.
From Noah's Ark I went to Casuarina House as planned (after promising to return briefly on Saturday to say goodbye) to meet Christopher who was preparing to build a chicken shed and a water tank with pump for me.
My final outing of the day was a real high. Zachariah took me to see Phanice, the young lady I sent money to so that she could set up a market stall. She was so warm and friendly and so grateful. Her shop looked lovely; she had decorated it, added a sign, and had a great mix of new and second hand clothing.i bought a necklace (made by her sisters) and she gave me one she had made herself. What is more, I discovered that her mama, Rose, is part of the Noah's Ark group and has been attending my sessions!
I enjoyed a brief swim back at the hotel, and then some quiet time in my room, before going to reception to meet with Patrick's wife and youngest daughter, Jane. Patrick's wife was very pleased with the fabric I had brought for her and with the 20 solar lamps I gave her to either sell or rent out.