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!
It has become something of a tradition for us to hold an event to welcome new children on to the Milele programme and celebrate the achievements of the children who have been working hard all year. In the early days these tended to be small events held at school with a few sodas and a pile of sweets but as we have grown, so have the events. This year we wanted to add in something a little bit special.
Every child has made amazing progress this year whether it be academically or socially so we decided to hold a prize giving celebration to let the children and their parents know just how proud we are of them and their hard work. Rieder called each child up and spoke a little about the progress they have made throughout the year and presented them with a certificate commending their hard work and a celebratory cake.
Emmanuel received a special award for being so exceptionally hardworking all year and in Rieder’s words ‘being perfect’. He has really focused on his studies and is showing great progress but he has also made a special effort to look after his books, uniform and school bag and has an impeccable attendance record.
We were also really lucky to also have Emmanuel Kai attending the event so he was able to speak to the rest of the sponsored children and share some of his experiences of University. We are so proud that he is being such an amazing role model for the other students and doing amazingly well at university! I’ll post an update about his university life in a separate post.
Once everyone had received their award and a big round of applause, we celebrated with a huge amount of Pilau, Kachumbari and sweets before jumping into the swimming pool! There was so much Pilau left over that each family were able to take a zip lock bag home with them! (Thanks for packing the zip locks Jan!)
Thanks to the sponsors who donated so we could run this event!
One of the biggest differences between Kenya and Europe is the attitude to safety. If a well needs to be dug then it will be left uncovered overnight, if a drill needs power then bare wires will be pushed into a socket or if a child’s pencil needs sharpening then they will use a razor blade. (These are all things we have seen over the past few years)
All of this means that accidents are common but unfortunately, help is not easily at hand as ambulances are rare and it is uncommon for people to have first aid training. This got us thinking, would it be possible to train prominent members of the community in basic first aid skills which may be able to save lives if serious accidents occur?
As Amy has recently qualified as a Nurse and just completed her advanced practice training she decided to reach out to healthcare professionals and see if anyone would like to come to Kenya to teach first aid. We were very fortunate to meet Janet who has been a senior nurse for many years and was super keen to come to Kenya and help out.
Whilst here, Amy and Janet (with a little assistance from Georgie and myself) will be teaching first aid classes to teachers and carers from a number of different schools, kindergartens and children’s homes. We have already ran sessions at Victory Academy, Casuarina House and Utange Baptist Primary School which have proved to be a huge success. Over then next week we have a number of other places planned in and hope to have taught around 100 people the basics of first aid.
Last year I started writing a series of articles about businesses which were being setup in Mtwapa with help from Milele business grants. Having arrived back in Kenya a couple of weeks ago we went around to find out how things had been going.
The biggest success story has to be Fauzia (Mother to Ummy) who has been running her cookery business for the entire year and is still going really strong. She continues to cook three times a day and has been able to support her family with the profit she has been making. Fauzia is the perfect example of how a business grant can work, providing a small amount of money upfront enabled her to purchase the basics she needed to get started and then her skills and passion made it work!
Khadija (Mother to Saidi) got off to a great start and had been running a profitable charcoal business via a local shop for over a year. Unfortunately she started to pay into a ill-fated saving scheme which collapsed just before her pay out was due, this put her into a really difficult situation which meant she was unable to continue operating. We have spent some time talking to her about what happened, whilst we are here we will be working with her to improve her financial planning and try to find an alternative business for her to run in the near future.
The final story I have to tell is about Isaac’s Mother; we originally helped her to setup a cafe business which was going well until her landlord decided to redevelop the plot which she was using. This was a big set back and we were really disappointed to see all her hard work go to waste, but we needn’t have worried. Mama Isaac regrouped and adapted, she took the profits from her cafe and bought the ingredients needed to make soap and bleach which she now sells around Mtwapa. Building on this success, she has started to make pillows with recycled materials and foraged cotton pods which she plans to start selling (for a tidy profit) in the near future. Not content with 2 business plans, she also collects any small glass bottles she finds on her travels which she cleans (with her bleach) and sells. I have honestly not met a more dedicated business woman in Mtwapa and it just goes to show that if you have the will to succeed and a positive attitude there can be opportunities everywhere!
Each time we visit Kenya we try to make some time to do something fun with the children; we have previously been to a Haller animal park, the public beach and on a day safari at Shimba Hills. Back in April when Amy and I were visiting Kenya we asked the children what they wanted to do and they suggested swimming. They have previously been swimming with some of our sponsors (Rodger, Sue, Helen and Craig) who had taken the children a few months earlier and this was obviously a hit!
When the children arrived it soon became clear we have some children who are very confidant in the water. Charo, Kaingu, Safari and Emmanuel all dived straight into the deep end of the pool. The boys grew up near to the sea and since living in the children’s home they have been swimming a few times where they clearly learnt some expert diving skills!
Almost all of the other children were very cautious, staying at the shallow end having fun splashing, playing and giggling. Amy and I spent our time looking after the three young boys (Edward, Saidi and Issac) who were all too small to reach the bottom even in the shallow end.
Issac absolutely loved the water, he really enjoyed floating around on his tummy, splashing and being splashed. He became so confident towards then end that he decided to jump in from the side of the pool; as he came up he was laughing and smiling away!
After a couple of hours in the pool, everyone came out to have their chicken, chips &soda and receive their letters & gifts from their sponsors.
It’s lovely to spend time with the children outside of school, it’s always the highlight of our time in Kenya and shows just how much of a difference sponsorship can make.