A Case For Beauty: A Trip To The Maasai Mara

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Last Monday we took a little break from our mission to act as tourists and visit Kenya’s most popular location – the Maasai Mara. Needless to say, we were very excited and the prospect of having to wake up at 5:00am didn’t bother us one bit.

There are several entry points into the Mara so we chose the one closest to Lolgorien and arrived there at about 6:15am. Why so early? Certain animals, like the elusive Black Rhino, only emerge from the bush early on, so it had to be like that.

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It is an absolute sight to behold, arriving there with the sun still on the horizon glistening an amazing orange/yellow(-ish) hue on everything in sight. There are no gates or barriers restricting the animals from roaming about – they just don’t. The Mara is home to a huge number of wild beasts and no barrier is needed for them to stay there; it’s their home, simple as that.

A local ranger, armed with an assault rifle, accompanied us both for safety reasons and as a guide (we would have been hopelessly lost otherwise).

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As Westerners, we are constantly influenced by what the media tells us and, growing up watching my childhood-favourite Disney movie The Lion King, I was always under the impression that the lion was, in fact, the king of the jungle. This couldn’t be further from the truth! The lion is a lazy, oversized cat would couldn’t be remotely bothered by our presence because all it wanted to do was sleep.

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For the Africans, the buffalo is the King, and rightfully so! There was not one animal that made me feel more uneasy and threatened than the buffalo. It is a massive animal, for starters, and its horns and skull look stronger than a brick wall. Moreover, they (the herd) don’t like visitors and were constantly on the lookout, ready to ram into our truck had we stalled any longer next to them.

Other herbivores, like the zebras, giraffes and elephants couldn’t give a damn about our presence, continuing with their normal routine as if there weren’t these humans, packed in the noisy metal contraption on wheels, ogling them.

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Except for this elephant calf, who was very shy and was constantly trying to keep up with its mum and their herd. Too cute.

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We saw barely a fraction of what the Mara has to offer – that would have taken days – but we went back home that evening fully satisfied. This was no zoo experience. We where the ones in a metal cage, not the animals, and it was another kind of beauty altogether, as it should be.

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Notice the backseat rider.. 🙂

Stay tuned!

Androo & Alan

PLEASE NOTE: The Maasai Mara is half the actual reserve – the Kenyan half. The other part, called the Serengeti, is Tanzanian land. Lately, the Tanzanian government is proposing to kick 40,000 indigenous Maasais off their land in the Serengeti so that rich bastards can go there to hunt big cats. You see, the animals in the Mara and the Serengeti are one and the same. They spend some time in one place and they migrate to the other during dry seasons. Letting these egotistical and narcissistically minded people hunt these ever-decreasing species would be a crime against life, just because they can flex their financial muscle.

STOP this crime by signing the petition here.

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PROJECT UPDATE: We’re almost there!

First of all, please excuse our lack of updates. We have been extremely busy with work on the library as well as with these tiny projects that pop up from time to time.

Needless to say, the library is well and truly taking shape. Construction-wise it is as good as ready. All the walls are smoothened, so is the floor. New windows and door have been constructed and put in place as well! All thats left is a ceiling (to cover the roof and its pillars, and excess wiring) shelves and lastly, giving the room some colour from all the greyness.

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How do you think we’re getting the shelves for the books? Buying them? Fat chance. Buy the timber and construct them ourselves? Close, but no.. We chose a tree from a nearby forest and chainsawed our way to timber, of course. The land was privately owned and we had to give a few shillings to its owner for the tree. This way we got the finest quality timber in Lolgorien for a fraction of the market price.

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It was a very educative experience. These men know their trade very well and did the job with the slightest of efforts.

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The land owner’s wife gave us tea and even brought lunch for all five of us – chicken stew and the local ugali. You see, in most of Africa, this custom of feeding the visitors, is fairly common. We never need to worry about packed lunch or any other amenities because we know they would be provided. Had we stayed until night, we would have been offered a bed as well – I will elaborate on this phenomenon in a separate post because I was truly astounded by the hospitality the Kenyans show to one another.

We have also bought €600 worth of textbooks for the last three years of primary school, the years when the students start doing formal examinations, with the rest arriving at a later date depending on the amount of funds we have left. You see, in Kenya, books are somewhat expensive compared to the standard of living. So much so, that government schools only offer an 8 : 1 students to books ratio (!) while private schools, like the one we’re helping, offer a 4 : 1 students to books ratio. With the library this school will be able to boast a 2 : 1 ratio or less! A massive difference from the norm and a much needed upgrade.

With our Join Hands For Africa movement (click HERE for more info) we will continue to improve the standard of living and infrastructure so that many children, like Samuel and William here, can get the proper education they deserve and a prospect of a much better life than the one they’re living today.

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Stay tuned!

Androo & Alan

LAUNCH ANNOUNCEMENT: The Join Hands For Africa Movement

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OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE: Join Hands For Africa

We are very excited to announce our second, and more ambitious, project yet – the Join Hands For Africa movement. After a week’s worth of deliberation, international calls, emails and teeth grinding, our next project came to fruition.

What is it?
Join Hands For Africa is our way of trying to leave a permanent mark on the places we’re visiting, starting with this little place we’re starting to call home; Lolgorien, Kenya.

How does it work?
This movement will only work with the help of everyone and anyone that can, and wants to, make a change. Any minor donation, sent to one of the Join Hands For Africa movement bank accounts of your choice will be transferred straight to where it is most needed. No middle man, no hidden fees. Each and every penny goes to those in need.

What are my options?
As of right now, after careful consideration and research, we have opened three different accounts, for three different purposes, under one name – Join Hands For Africa. All proceedings, until further notice, shall go straight into the bank account of the Lolgorien Parish Compound where we are currently residing.

For more information and better understanding of the compound and its infrastructure, please refer to our earlier blog posts.

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OPTION 1: Donate for Cattle

BANK NAME: Lombard Bank Malta p.l.c.
BANK IDENTIFIER CODE (BIC): LBMAMTMT
BANK ACCOUNT NUMBER: 01172634638
IBAN (for international transfers): MT13LBMA05000000000001172634638
BANK ACCOUNT NAME: Mr Alan Casha & Mr Andrew Camilleri – Join Hands for Africa – Re Cattle

As stated in our previous post, The Endless Struggle, the compound spends KSh100,000 per term on milk, sugar, oil etcetera, the majority of which goes to buy the milk. The best way to minimise costs is to buy dairy cattle. Amazingly enough, only two are needed to feed everyone! Each cow costs around KSh50,000 (~€450). Any more than two and the excess milk produced could be sold for profit that could be used to pay the person responsible to take care of the cattle and then some. A solid future investment.

Any donation is appreciated. The more cattle, the merrier!

OPTION 2: Infrastructural Updates

BANK NAME: Lombard Bank Malta p.l.c.
BANK IDENTIFIER CODE (BIC): LBMAMTMT
BANK ACCOUNT NUMBER: 0117263463802
IBAN (for international transfers): MT68LBMA05000000000117263463802
BANK ACCOUNT NAME: Mr Alan Casha & Mr Andrew Camilleri – Join Hands for Africa – Re Infrastructure Update

Although we have been able to update the infrastructure quite acutely with our first project, the library, there is a lot more that can be done; including a KSh2,000,000 (~€17,835) girls dormitory complete with toilets and showers equipped with separate water tanks. The girls are currently using the Church hall as a dormitory which is devoid of the basic needs. The architect has already drawn up a plan complete with the two million estimate as you can see in the picture below.

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The only problem, as always, has been funds. With YOUR help this can change. Any proceedings to this account will give them the necessary funds to start the whole process and maybe in the (near?) future the girls will have their own place they can properly feel comfortable in.

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OPTION 3: Sponsor A Child’s Education

BANK NAME: Lombard Bank Malta p.l.c.
BANK IDENTIFIER CODE (BIC): LBMAMTMT
BANK ACCOUNT NUMBER: 0117263463801
IBAN (for international transfers): MT95LBMA05000000000117263463801
BANK ACCOUNT NAME: Mr Alan Casha & Mr Andrew Camilleri – Join Hands for Africa – Re Child Education Sponsor

A child’s education in Kenya costs KSh24,000 ((~€215) per year. As explained in our previous blog post, only 75% of parents pay at this compound, the rest are compensated for various reasons. Yet, the number of families that can afford to send their child to school every year is slowly dwindling, and the institution cannot afford to compensate any more children.

Any proceedings towards this cause will help a child earn their education. In a world full of information, how cruel must it be for all of it to be completely unaccessible?

Christmas is coming, and Kenya’s scholastic year starts in January. €215 (the equivalent of two jackets from Zara, or 4 videogames) can literally educate a child for one whole year.

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NOTE: If you are interested in sponsoring a child’s education for the whole year – ie. donate the full €215 amount – please do send us an email with your name and date of transaction and we will send you the details of the child you chose to sponsor! Our email address is: androo.cam@gmail.com or alancasha91@hotmail.com.

It is important to note that Join Hands For Africa is not a movement that will fizzle out once we complete our mission in Africa but shall continue to help the various institutions we’d have visited along the way post-our return to Malta and, God willing, well into the future.

We would like to unashamedly ask for a share – whether on Facebook or by word of mouth – your actions can have wonderful reactions all the way to Kenya (for now..)!

Stay tuned and #JoinHandsForAfrica!

Androo & Alan

The Endless Financial Struggle

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As the days roll by, we are coming more to terms with our surroundings, routine and customs. During the last week we’ve had the pleasure of Fr. Thomas’ company for more than a couple of minutes – he’s a very busy man – and dedicated one of said days to talk to him about the whole administrative process of his little compound, focusing primarily on the financial aspect of it all.

Why the interest? Because a better picture of the whole situation will yield better results; focus the aid where it’s really needed. {more on this in another post}

This is how it goes:

1) The compound’s sole source of income is the students’ school fees – KSh24,000 (€215) per student per year. (Note: About 75% of the attendees actually pay. The other 25%, for various social reasons, attend for free.)

2) Fees are never completely settled at the beginning of the scholastic year. Almost every parent pays per term, most of them sometimes settling pending fees from previous years during one of the three terms.

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3) In a perfect world, one where school fees are all paid upfront, the amount collected would be that of approximately KSh3,000,000 (~€26,750) per year, at best.

4) The first term is always the most successful, financially. By the third term, some of the kids are transferred while some are taken off the course because of their parents’ reluctance or inability to pay.

Therefore from the hypothetical KSh1,000,000 (~€8,950) that is collected per term, KSh640,000 (~€5,710) is reserved for 4 months worth of salary (teachers, carers, cooks etc.).

5) The rest, KSh360,000 (~€3,210), is spent on food, in this manner:

– Due to such limited funds, the most common meal offered to students is the local Githeri a boiled mace and beans – the cheapest nutritional food available, costing at about KSh160,000 (~€1,450) per term.

– Rice amount to KSh100,000 (~€1,110) per term.

– The remaining KSh100,000 is spent on milk, cooking oil, sugar and tea leaves, among others.

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6) If there is any spare change left, it goes towards any necessary structural improvements of the Compound. Currently, new bathrooms, gate and fences are being built for the kids from the “extra” KSh20,000 (~€180) collected this year.

7) The Compound is aided by its own farm, freeing it from KSh2,000 (~€18) of vegetables per week, amounting to KSh20,000 (~€180) per term, totalling to KSh60,000 (~€550) per year of expenses!

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As one can imagine, progress has been steady, but slow, for more than a decade. Fr. John Kaiser built the first classes, the Church and the Church hall (now being used as a girls dormitory). The succeeded priest in charge, along with several Dutch volunteers, built the remaining 5 classes and staffroom as well as the kitchen and – what is now known as – the future library.

This is the situation we’re faced with. The people dedicating their lived to this place and what it stands for deserve better. The library has been a good first step, but it’s only the beginning..

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Stay tuned. Exciting news on the way.

Androo & Alan

Plastering, the Kenyan Way

Knackered.

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Today has been a day of genuine work. Early in the morning, four people arrived at the compound, tools in hand, to start plastering the gap in one of the future-library’s walls.

The room right next to the library is the school’s reasonably sized kitchen, therefore it was important to get this gap, between the top of the wall and the roof, closed to prevent any possible damage to the books and computers from all the cooking fumes.

Unsurprisingly, things are done a bit differently here in Kenya. Health and safety regulations are non-existent and workers have to do with what they have, or what they can get. Therefore, instead of scaffolding, they put up several planks, balancing them over some other wood, that was holding up the ceiling. When planks weren’t enough, they used tree bark instead. Cement was pulled up manually and effortlessly (most of the people we’ve had the pleasure to work with so far are ridiculously strong for their frame, no doubt from years of working in these conditions).

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After several huffs and puffs both myself and Alan joined them on the makeshift platforms and were instructed, by the self-proclaimed Chief, how to mix, spread and carefully apply plaster to the bricks.

What if they didn’t have enough tools for all of us? No problem, a piece of wood will suffice. Oh and how do we pull up the bricks? Throw them up and catch them, one by one, while balancing on the – ever so sturdy – tree bark of course!

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After several hours of brick throwing, balancing, wasp bites (!) and plastering, the whole job was done. Their work was fast and skilful, considering what they had to work with. It has truly been a day of revelation. We learned how to plaster, and managed to do it, albeit very slowly at first, the Kenyan way.

I also cannot help but mention that the whole process was done under the watchful gaze of the local security.. :’)

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Stay tuned!

Androo & Alan

Graduation Ceremony for the ECD Students (& a small Library Project Update)

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Today was a very special day for all ECD (Early Childhood Development) kids at this school. All their parents came over and, for the first time in the school’s history, were treated with a graduation ceremony! Next year they will officially start their primary years.

It was very similar to what we are used to in Malta, apart from the obvious lack of pomp due to financial restrictions.

The little ones even had a lovely dance prepared for this occasion.

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After the certificates were handed out there was a small celebration. This was one huge moment of reflection for both of us. The kids were each given a pack of biscuits and a soda, a one off treat, and the joy on their faces was heartwarming. We have grown in such abundance that we tend to forget how unbelievably lucky we are.

It was even more striking to see all of them handing one biscuit to each of their teachers – even though it will be quite a while before they receive anything close to a whole pack of biscuits again.

Gratitude and appreciation seems to have eroded from our “modern” societies.

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PROJECT UPDATE:

Work on the library keeps moving at a steady pace. Today, the whole floor was levelled and we are now waiting for the cement and sand to start the plastering.

Stay tuned!

Androo & Alan

A Case for Justice: In Memory of Fr. John A. Kaiser

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Fr. John A. Kaiser, an American missionary and the founder of the same parish we are living in, was found dead in Naivasha, presumably while on his way back to Lolgorien, on the 24th of August in the year 2000. Officially, details of his death are still unclear, but the people of Lolgorien seem to be quite sure about what happened on that faithful day.

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This humble man was born in Minnesota on the 22nd of November in 1932. He was built like a bull and even served in the military during the Vietnam war – so one can imagine what thick skin he had. John Kaiser emigrated to Africa sometime after his service in the military when he join the priesthood. He started his mission at the Ngong diocese, south west of Nairobi, later moved to Kissii, until eventually settling in Lolgorien in the early 1990s.

Fr. Kaiser was a very active man. Upon settling in Lolgorien he became a member, and eventually became in charge of, the CJPC – Catholic Justice & Peace Commission.

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One has to put into perspective the conditions he came to live in. Lolgorien was a very underdeveloped village and there was no safe compound, like the one we’re living in today, for him to stay at. It is well known around this area that he built the first rooms – used for catechesis and for the housing of the Pontifical Missionary Children – as well as the church, almost all on his own. One man told us that he used to tie timber to his feet, bricks around his back and scale a ladder to build the ceiling.. all on his own. Help eventually came when the people of Lolgorien saw the astounding determination Fr. Kaiser possessed. He is also responsible for the building of the dormitory at the Ongota Secondary School for Girls.

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Women’s rights in Kenya have only recently been getting better and Fr. Kaiser was one who fought relentlessly for this cause. He raised awareness against FGM (female genital mutilation), fought for children’s right for education as well as national unity between Kenya’s 42 tribes and general development of this stunning country. A true activist!

Unfortunately, as so happens with almost every person who tries to defy the norms, his activism didn’t go unnoticed. He had many supporters but he also had many deterrers – one of them the county MP, Julius Lekakeny Sunkuli, whom he took to court for the evident corruption in Lolgorien.

The case is still open because, before it could ever reach its final stages, Fr. John A. Kaiser was found dead, along with a small pistol, on his way back to Lolgorien. His death is extremely suspicious for several reasons. Official reports from the county claim that he committed suicide, pointing to the pistol as evidence for this theory and the fact that he had a licence to carry a weapon. As with so many other suspicious deaths that happened in this country over time, there is also a mountain of evidence that point to a cold blooded murder, starting from the fact that Fr. Kaiser’s gun licence was to serve his hunting habit. In fact, his shotgun was found well safe and hidden in his church here in Lolgorien. There is no evidence that he ever owned a pistol.

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His memory lives on today in the form of a school dedicated to him by his successor. This year, the school celebrated the 14th anniversary from his death. May he be of inspiration to us all. We can only hope that justice, one day, prevails.

Rest in peace, Fr. John.

Androo & Alan