Last year, some of you may remember that we helped both Saidi’s mum and Steven’s mum to start new businesses; so we were excited to find out how they were getting on.
Mama Steven, after some initial help from Rieder, is now up and running with her charcoal business and is regularly making enough money to support herself and Steven with their essentials such as food and household items. But the best thing of all is Mama Steven’s new attitude towards the business. A recent ban on plastic bags, which she uses to package the charcoal, could have caused her to loose customers but she quickly worked out an alternative solution and has started to put it into place BEFORE running out of plastic bags! This showed us that her understanding of how to run a business has really grown over the last year – she now knows the importance of customers being able to rely on her stocks. Not content with resting on her laurels, Mama Steven is also very keen to expand the business and thinks she might be able to double the amount she sells with a better location.
Mama Saidi has also made some excellent progress with the solar panel business. She has definitely mastered the equipment (which is no mean feat for someone who has never had electricity at home!) and has got the hang of charging people and keeping records. At times, her business has been booming – such as when the next-door house was being built and there were tradesmen there all day needing their phones charging. She also makes some good sales at the weekends and when the power is out. However, she told us that recently new electricity lines to the local area have meant that many of her neighbours now have power to their homes. Of course this is great progress for the community as a whole, but it does mean they now no longer need to pay for phone charging, so she relies mostly on passing trade from people whose phone batteries have died whilst out and about.
Recently, their landlord has made some changes to the neighbouring properties and they feel it is no longer such a great place to live. We think this presents a good opportunity for the families to relocate to a slightly different area, which could be better for their businesses. Currently their location is not ideal as they are tucked away behind the main road and no one passing would know they were there and open for trade. A move could mean both families have better visibility from the road and would be able to maximise their sales.
Watch this space – we will keep you updated with any new location developments!
In the third installment of the catching up series we have been seeing how Linet, Peris and Tamira are doing at boarding school.
Tamira started boarding school around a year ago; she was the first of the Milele children to join the school which must have been a little daunting for her but she quickly made friends with the matron of the school and settled in well. Tamira has really started to hit her stride over the last few months, she seems very much at home in the school environment and her confidence is improving everyday.
When we met Tamira this week we were very lucky to be able to give her some truly lovely gifts that her sponsors has sent. Tamira is such a wonderful girl and instead of hastily rummaging through her goodies (something I would have done at her age) she really took the time to appreciate everything which has been sent and carefully write replies to the letters included. We will dutifully be delivering the letters once we are back in October.
Linet and Peris joined the same boarding school as Tamira at the start of 2017. When they arrived they were greeted by Tamira who showed them the ropes and helped them settle in to life at boarding school. The three girls were always quite close as they are similar in age but living together at school seems to have really cemented their friendships.
When we arrived, Linet was her usual smiley self. She has always been one to wear her heart on her sleeve and she is clearly enjoying being at her now school and has even taken on the role of school bell ringer. Amy gave Linet a gift from one of her sponsors which she absolutely loved and following Tamira’s lead, wrote a lovely reply to the letter she received.
Peris has always been a bit quieter than Linet (although it would be hard for anyone to match Linet’s boundless energy) but she too seemed settled and contented in the school and seems to be coming out of her shell more and more. Amy gave Peris some reading books which were very well received. Peris told us that she has been borrowing reading books from children in Standard 7 and 8 because they are more interesting than the one she gets to read in Standard 5 so she clearly has a talent for English.
It was great to catch up with the girls and wonderful to see them all so happy in their new surroundings.
Stay tuned for the fourth and final installment, with news updates of the last few children on our programme!
In our last post we caught up with Amina, Isaac, Riziki, Saidi, Steven, Edward, Emmanuel and Josephine who all live in Mtwapa. Over the years some of the children Milele supports have started to attend boarding schools (this is the norm for Kenyan Secondary schools) which means the past few days have been spent travelling across coast province tracking down sponsored children and finding out how they have been getting on.
The eldest sponsored child in boarding school is Charo who is coming towards the end of Form 3 (of 4) at Chasimba high school. Charo is doing well at school and has really thrown himself into school life being an active member of both the student council and the Christian Union. As head of the Christian Union he often leads prayers in school assembly and holds services with the other students showing his natural aptitude for being a great leader. He is also now a prefect, which apparently means he gets to wear a special blue shirt instead of the normal white uniform!
We got to experience Charo’s confidence and leadership when visiting Chasimba. Charo was excited to have use visit his school and was keen to show us his classroom. He strode confidently into the classroom which to our surprise was still full of students (the lesson having finished a few minutes ago). When Amy asked about the swahili words on the board Charo immediately instructed a class mate to give Amy a summary of what they had been learning and to our even greater surprise all his classmates happily went along with this!
As well as seeing Chasimba, we also visited Kilifi Township Secondary School, which is where Safari and Kaingu have been attending. We were so pleased when they got into the same school – these brothers have been in classes together since they were 7 and 8 years old and it is lovely to see them continuing to support and look after one another through high school too.
Kaingu and Safari were both very smart in their uniform, albeit with Safari’s shirt slightly more untucked and his tie slightly more lopsided than Kaingu’s! Both boys appear to be settling into Kilifi Township well. They are now coming to the end of their first year there in Form 1 and have had a big transition from primary to secondary school. The first thing for them to get used to is the very strict rules and regulations which secondary schools in Kenya typically have. I’m sure you can all imagine how this can be a bit of a shock to the system coming from a small, nurturing primary school – I have to say I can remember my first days as a new year 10 student in a vast college, feeling like a very small fish in a very big pond!
Despite this, both Kaingu and Safari have made lots of friends and are getting to grips with their new school – learning the rules of the dormitories or ‘pods’ and the new canteen. They are taking Biology, Chemistry and Physics separately now as well as some new subjects such as History and Geography. The sciences seem to be causing them some difficulty, but we are confident this is just the new experience of learning them separately. We are going to try to get hold of some subject specific resources which Rieder could use to help scaffold their learning over the long December break. Kaingu is particularly good at maths and we feel he is likely to have a natural aptitude for physics too when he gets used to the subject.
Thank-you to sponsors who sent gifts for all three of the boys (Charo has started carrying his torch around in his shirt top pocket already… he will be the king of the school when the power cuts out!)
Stay tuned for more updates including the next child to join the Milele family!
Amy and I arrived in Kenya early on Saturday morning after a pretty speedy set of flights from London to Mombasa.
When we arrive in Mtwapa our first job is always to have a catch up with Rieder (Milele’s sponsorship coordinator). We obviously try our best to keep in touch when in England via WhatApp, email and phone calls but nothing is quite as good as a chat over a cup of tea for really understanding what is going on.
Our next (and very fun) job is to visit some of the children at home and distribute the packages and letters sponsors had sent. Throughout the course of the day we managed to see Amina, Issac, Riziki, Saidi, Steven, Edward, Emmanuel and Josephine. Phew!
Amina and her family are doing well, when we got to their home her family were busy preparing and cooking prices of fish to be sold that morning. Amina herself seemed to be very happy out playing with her younger siblings and cousins and she is (as always) doing very well in school.
We also visited Isaac and his family. He is growing by the day and has thoroughly enjoyed his first year at Mtwapa Elite. He will be graduating the kindergarten this year and we are all absolutely thrilled with him. His success is not least attributable to his incredible mother, who takes him to school every day, communicates really well with the teachers and supports him in learning in every way. She manages to shower both her children with love and unconditional support as well as working incredibly hard to make money from her three home-grown businesses! While visiting Isaac we gave out some little dinosaur toys and Isaac loved playing with them with his little brother Anthony. Our co-ordinator Rieder saw a moment to get an insight into their minds and started playing with them, asking Isaac to choose a character for each member of his family. He loved the game, choosing dinosaurs for himself and Anthony and then a figure of some palm trees to represent his mother. When Rieder asked him why the the palm trees, he was quick to reply “because they’re beautiful!”
The next family we visited was Riziki. When Riziki started in KG2 last year the teachers were unsure if she would be able to progress into KG3 as, given the fact that she had never before attended school, her grasp of written and spoken English was understandably poor. One of her teachers offered to provide some extra tuition and with this help she was not only able to progress into KG3 but she is now, quite literally, top of the class! We also gave Riziki a letter and gift from one of her new sponsors (Paula, Lucas and Imi). The parcel was filled with lovely, thoughtful things which Riziki loved, Amy spent some time showing Riziki what the new and exciting things were but being a clever little girl Riziki needed very little help working everything out!
After seeing Riziki’s family, we took a short walk across to Saidi’s place. He is growing taller by the minute it seems and is doing really well at school. He has now settled into life in Standard 1 at Mtwapa Elite after graduating kindergarten last year. When giving him his letter and gifts from his sponsors, we were really impressed by how much his reading has come along – he read the letter aloud to us confidently (although he needed a bit of help with the word ‘Dorchester’!) Thanks to Janet, Tim and Jason for their lovely gift and letter.
Next on the list was Steven, who lives next door to Saidi. Still the best of friends, they graduated together into Standard 1 this year. Steven has also settled in well and his teacher is pleased with how he is doing in school. He loved his pen-torch and postcards from his sponsor Angela, it was a really nice way of showing Steven where she comes from – although Rieder did clarify that Angela didn’t live in the castle herself!
Next was Edward’s family. He is cheeky and lively as ever! Edward is wonderfully full of energy – everything is so exciting to him. This has been slightly challenging in the classroom environment in recent years. However, since moving up into the next class he appears to have managed to settle down a little and contain himself. His mum is very involved with his learning and education, always communicating with his teachers about his progress. She was proud to show us his school record file and tell us how well he is doing now he is a ‘big boy’ in Standard 4. Edward was keen to tell us about how he learned about money in maths – demonstrating his skill in calculating change! His twin baby siblings, Edith and Elliot, are due to start kindergarten themselves in January – regular readers will remember them coming along and be astonished to hear how big they are now!
From Edward we went to see Emmanuel. Emmanuel was one of our first sponsored children and I think many of us still see him as that slightly nervous, giggly six-year old. No more. Now Emmanuel is a polite young man of sixteen and is preparing to sit his final primary examinations, the KCPEs, in just a few short weeks. We can’t overstate how proud we are of Emmanuel – he is so studious and dedicated to his work but still finds time to care for the younger children in the children’s home. Emmanuel has a high target for the KCPEs and judging by his recent performance it is not unlikely that he could make it. We wish him all the luck in the world. He is excited to finish his exams and have some well deserved time off in December when he can visit his family in Takaungu. We have no doubt he will be demonstrating his newly acquired football skills – thanks to his gift from sponsor David.
Last but by no means least was Josephine, who welcomed us to her beautiful new home which she shares with her two cousins. She is currently halfway through a course at Mombasa College in Secretarial Studies and is developing her skills in filing, computers and administration. Josephine’s home looks exactly as you would imagine for a chic young adult – modern patterned rug and reality TV on in the background! Josephine has always been a fashionista and enjoyed posing for her photo with her new necklace from sponsor Michelle. When we asked her what her expression was, she replied, ‘It’s Style’.
A few years ago Amy went along to a meeting of the Rotary Club of Lutterworth to talk about Milele. Whilst there she met Elaine Turner who had recently started a group who were knitting teddies to send to children all over the world. Since that chance meeting Milele has happily helped to distribute several hundred teddy bears to vulnerable children in Kenya.
Whilst I have included some photos in blog posts over the years I thought it would be nice to include a small collection of photos all in one place and say a big thank you to Elaine and her band of happy knitters!
P.s. watch out for little Edward who is now sponsored by Milele
Mtwapa is a town of contrasts; whilst the vast majority of the town is comprised of simple concrete and mud construction homes there are a small number of luxurious creekside mansions. This is also true of the food shops; luxury supermarkets and shopping malls sit alongside local shops, home made kiosks and traditional markets.
There are a couple of modern supermarket chains and shopping malls in Mtwapa which flank the main road. With their neatly stacked shelves and polished floors, these shops wouldn’t look out of place in a European city and like their international counterparts, they sell almost everything but at a high cost! The families we work with don’t use these shops, not only are the prices very high but the air-conditioning makes the whole shop very cold!
Thankfully, there are many other local shops and mini supermarkets to choose from. These shops generally offer a good range of products but shun the more expensive international brands in favour of Kenyan shopping trends. For example, bottles of cooking oil can be bought but it is cheaper if you bring your own bottle – most people use small water bottles but any container with a lid will do!
If you are looking for the most cost effective way to shop then markets are the way forwards! Each market area tends to specialise in a specific type of product e.g. fruit and veg, fish or clothing. The fruit markets are a sight to behold, each stall is a rainbow of colour filled with a wide range of seasonal exotic fruit and vegetables. Prices are also truly seasonal, towards the end of the year when the mango crop is being harvested a mango can cost as little as 10 shillings (about 8 pence), but in low season this can soar up to around 100 shillings! This means that families change what they eat depending on the time of year, this helps to minimise the cost of their food bill but it also means that they are always eating tasty fresh food direct from the field rather the bland imported variants we have to put up with in Europe.
Most of the families we work with a eat vegetable based diet which they occasionally supplement with fish or even more rarely, meat. Meat is available from butchers or supermarkets and in contrast to western cultures, meat on the bone is valued much more highly then filets. This is because the vast majority of Kenyan meat dishes require the meat to be stewed with the bone to make a rich broth.
Being close to the sea, Mtwapa has a wonderful array of fresh fish which can be bought from fish mongers (known as fish butchers) or at the large sea food market. In the more rural part of Mtwapa where electricity and fridges are uncommon, most families do generally not buy fresh fish and instead prefer to buy small pre-cooked potions from local vendors. This is one of the many things that Mama Umi cooks at her food business.
As you move further away from the main road, shops and large markets become less common. The are replaced with small convenience kiosks which pop up on street corners. The kiosks (known as Kibandas) sell small amounts of fruit, vegetables, dry ingredients and cooking essentials.
Finally, water. The lucky people who live near to the main road have the option of mains water, this needs to be treated before it can be drunk but this by far the most convenient water source. The majority, without plumbed water, have three options, the first is to dig a well (very expensive to dig the hole and after all that the water could turn out to be salty), second is to install a large water tank which can be filled by a water company or finally buying from the Maji (water) man.
Maji men push big carts with 8 heavy water containers all around Mtwapa. They all have pieces of loose metal attached to their wheels which make a distinctive clattering noise as the cart is pushed, letting the residents know they can run out and buy water. You can buy any type of water from the Maji Man – from washing water to fresh drinking water and it is very reasonably priced. You pay for the water then the Maji Man lugs the container into your house and fills your bucket, taking the empty container away again to be used tomorrow. Even the drinking water is affordable, largely thanks to the Dutch Water company and their foundation Stichting Waterpas which provides water to schools and orphanages around Mtwapa. Thanks to them, we rarely meet a family who cannot afford clean drinking water.
We hope this gives you a little bit of insight into the way people buy food and water in Mtwapa and helps you to understand a little more about the childrens’ lives.
In a previous post we mentioned that Mama Steven was keen to start her own business selling charcoal. As promised, we wanted to tell you a bit more about it.
We have known Steven and his mother for quite some time; so we were aware that they are a very vulnerable family with little in the way of support. We wanted to give Mama Steven the chance she needed to provide for herself and Steven independently in the long term.
The business involves buying a large sack of charcoal at wholesale prices from the forest, transporting it to Mtwapa and then dividing the charcoal into small bags which she sells in the community. Charcoal is widely used for cooking in Mtwapa and there is a lot of money to be made selling small convenient bags.
This is very similar to the business Mama Saidi successfully ran last year and she has been very keen to share her knowledge and experience with Mama Steven, so she has a mentor right next door!
Rieder (Milele sponsorship co-ordinator) has also been helping her, visiting each evening to see whether she has been able to make any sales, helping to record her takings and to calculate how much from each sale she needs to put aside to buy the next bag of charcoal.
So far she has begun to establish her reputation and has made some early sales, she is hoping to build a link with one of the local shops who will buy the small bags of charcoal from her as a regular customer. Hopefully with time, she will be able to make enough money to support herself and Steven, paying the rent and putting food on the table.
Exams are a very important part of the Kenyan education system and are taken very seriously indeed. This week is the week of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams for Safari, Kaingu and Pendo and the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams for Josephine. We thought you might like a little bit more information on them.
The Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams are ran by the Kenyan National Exam Council and take place at the end of primary school. They cover a wide range of subjects including English, Kiswahili, Maths, Science and Social Studies and are used to decide which school the child is able to attend.
Government run secondary schools are ranked and put into three categories:
A good result (usually more than 75% average grade) will secure a place at one of the prestigious national schools which have the best facilities and usually get the best grades. For those who are not lucky enough to gain entry into a national school they may be offered either a provincial or district school depending on their grade.
Unlike with primary education, the government runs some the best secondary schools in Kenya. Private schools exist but they are usually either of a lower quality or specialise in progressing poorer students. Mtwapa Elite Academy (where many of the Milele sponsored students do their primary education) runs a secondary school and has had great success helping students to increase their grades between primary and secondary.
The Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams take place at the end of secondary school and are used to access college or university. If a student scores above a certain mean grade (usually B) they are automatically offered a place at university with some government funding. It is also common for students to take a college course which offer nationally recognised qualifications that can be ‘topped up’ to become a degree at a later date. This option is often preferable as it generally allows the student to work along side their education which is near to impossible at university.
All four children sitting exams this week have been working incredibly hard. We really hope they will be able to achieve their full potential and go on to be very successful.
We have some exciting news to share with you. Thanks to a very generous donation from the Forest of Arden Golf Club we have been able to start sponsoring another child – Steven.
We first met Steven and his mother back in 2013, when they were one of the 86 families who received christmas food parcels and mosquito nets. Since then, we have been keeping a close eye on Steven, hoping we would be able to take him onto the Milele programme.
Steven’s mother is a single parent, extremely hardworking and loving. Steven is everything to her, and she regularly sacrifices herself to make sure that he has food to eat and is able to attend some school. Without a regular income, however, it was very hard for her to keep him in education regularly.
Thanks to the donation from the golf club, we were finally able to sponsor Steven in March 2016. Steven is a happy, energetic little boy. Every time we have been to visit Steven, he has always been out playing with his friends, whether its running and jumping playing tag, or chasing crickets outside his house. He is very friendly, with an adorable cheeky grin. Since starting in Kindergarten at Mtwapa Elite he has really started to grow in confidence, making firm friends with Saidi (another child sponsored by Milele).
Steven and his mum have gone through some very difficult times in terms of housing and food. But we are happy to say that they are now in a secure, dry and comfortable room in the same block that Saidi and his mother live in. The two mothers have quickly become very close friends and have been supporting each other, sharing food and cooking utensils as well as keeping each other company in the day while the children are at school.
Mama Steven is really keen to run her own business, so as part of the Milele Business Grants scheme we have helped her to do this- keep your eyes peeled for a post with more detail about this soon.
With Steven doing great at his new school, the future for this family has transformed dramatically, thanks to all the hard work and kindness of the Forest of Arden golfers and their families, in helping to raise the much needed money to welcome Steven onto the Milele programme. Thank-you so much.
We are looking for sponsors for Steven! If you are interested, sponsorship costs £90 per year, you can find out more here.
Please do contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on this post to get more information. Thank-you
Amy and I have been visiting Mtwapa for almost 10 years now and that got me thinking about some of the things which now seem completely normal but were the most surprising / exciting things when we first arrived. For me, I think that transport is one of those areas.
The vast majority of Mtwapa’s residents do not own their own car but instead use the vast array of public transport options which cater for both short hops and long journeys. In this article I’ll talk about a few of the most popular options which are part of daily life for our kids and their families.
Probably the most common and useful form of transport in Mtwapa is the Matatu. A Matatu is a small public bus which officially holds 13 passengers although if the traffic police aren’t looking the number has been known to rise (on a particularly busy day we had 32 people on the bus).
I remember the overwhelming sense of trepidation I felt the first time I boarded a Matatu, worrying that I would not be able to squeeze my way through the cramped and crowed bus to reach the solitary free seat at the back or that as a newbie I would end up paying way over the going rate. But with time, the whole process has become normal and I can now slide my way into a tight spot (and almost always avoid sitting on another passenger on the way) and, now that we know the standard costs (which have been raised only once in 10 years), paying is simple too.
For our kids, matatus are a way of life. For any journey that takes them out of Mtwapa it’s likely a matatu will be used and there seems to be no restriction to the amount or type of luggage you can carry – over the last few years we’ve seen a sack of live chickens, 50% of a motorbike and chainsaws without a guard (which handily slides under the seats).
Matatus are great, but they can only get you so far. There is a large main road running through Mtwapa (see the photo above) which is made of tarmac but the majority of roads running into the residential areas are rough dirt roads and many are not wide enough for cars nevermind matatus. This is where Boda Boda come in.
Boda Boda are bikes (or more commonly motorbikes) which can be flagged down almost anywhere in Mtwapa. They charge a flat fee of 50 Kenyan Shillings (about £0.40) and will take you anywhere in Mtwapa; with a little negotiation you can go further afield but it’s not to be advised as a bike on the main road is very exposed to the wrangling of the matatus and lorrys.
The first few times we came to Kenya we would generally try and avoid boda boda as we could never be sure if the rider would have much experience or even own a licence. But there were times where there were very few alternative options and we had to bite the bullet. Before long we were bouncing through the winding streets of Mtwapa holding on just a little too tightly!
Although the boda boda are officially allowed to carry just one passenger it’s not uncommon to see the rules be bent a little. When demand is high it’s not surprising to see 3 or 4 adults crammed onto a single bike. More recently the traffic police have cracked down on over crowding but that doesn’t stop the riders being ambitious with their loads and a particularly note worthy sighting was a broken motorbike strapped to the back of another motorbike – how the rider wasn’t continuously pulling a wheelie I’ll never know!
Over time, the number a quality of riders has increased and we now regularly hope on the back of a bike if we’re tight for time or are going a particularly long way. They are generally pretty safe (on the back roads) and you can’t argue with the price!
Boda Boda have a really interesting history and got their name from carrying goods across the Ugandan border (Border Border became Boda Boda). The BBC World Service made a radio show about Boda Boda earlier this year and I’d really recommend giving it a listen if you’re interested.
To anyone who has traveled through Asia or parts of Africa, the Tuk Tuk will be a familiar sight. The slightly odd 3 wheeled vehicle combined with a noisy (and often underpowered) engine which provides it’s name.
Tuk Tuks are used when ever a bike cannot carry the load but the destination is not on a matatu route. Tuk Tuks are my least favourite form of transport, they lack the speed and agility of the boda boda but provide little in the way of comfort – especially when they are a little older and their suspension has seized up!
Their saving grace is capacity, they take 3 passengers (sometimes a few more) and as much load as can be piled on top of the canvas roof. We have used tuk tuks when distributing nets and food parcels and we would not have been able to do it any other way. Some ingenious people have modified tuk tuks to make them into light goods vehicles – coke cola have a fleet of these which keep fridges stocked all over Kenya!
There are obviously more types of transport (coaches, taxi and handcarts to name a few) but these are the most popular ways to transport people in and around Mtwapa and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the combination can be used to get you almost anywhere in Kenya… for not very much money!