Join Hands for Africa is back in Kenya: An Update

Exactly a week ago, Alan and I arrived in Kenya for a one-and-a-half month visit to get a good look at the state of our previous projects and to plan many more for the future. In 2014/2015 we had successfully finished several projects for the school compound we were living in. As expected, things have changed quite a bit in the two years following our departure. The school blossomed, so much so that its population of students and teachers has doubled! This, of course brought with it several needs that had to be accomodated for:

  • The library is now partly a dormitory for all the new students that have enrolled.
  • The cow shed has been transformed into a teachers quarters for the new employees.
  • An office and boardroom have been constructed and a full-time secretary employed to ease the workload off of the Head of School.
  • New toilets and showers have been constructed to accomodate the 200+ extra students and teachers.
  • Around 5 dairy cows now supply milk daily which eases the financial strain as well as ensuring a nutricious diet for everyone involved.

    In two years, our little organisation has grown as well. This time we are expecting a group of volunteers from Malta, Ireland and Poland to come join us in Lolgorien to facilitate in any way possible since the main purpose of our visit this year is the construction of a dormitory for the female students, who up to now have been sleeping in a make-shift hall. Way back in November 2014 we had set up an account for the specific purpose of building this very dormitory. The target of Ksh2,000,000 was impossible to reach in the two months we spent in Lolgorien, but now, two years later, construction has finally started. The foundation is already in place and by the time the volunteers arrive the dormitory could already be taking shape. 

    The foundation.

    Supplies, such as cement, have already been purchased.

    We are now eagerly waiting for the volunteers to arrive. In the meantime, we are looking at future projects in a different location whose needs far outweigh those in Lolgorien.. but that’s another story for anither day.

    Tuko pamoja! Stay tuned,

    Androo & Alan

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    Chaos, Humidity & Satisfaction – Our Tanzanian Story Begins

    Habari from Tanzania!

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    It has been quite a busy week, our most eventful yet. Just over a week ago we left our Kenyan home for Tanzania but it honestly feels like it’s been a month. Our journey to Tanzania started at 17:00, amongst the chaos of Nairobi. We had to take a taxi to a nearby bus station. From there we boarded one of the many intercity busses towards the centre of Nairobi where, halfway through, we got stuck in a massive traffic jam. Time was ticking so we had to get off the bus midway and ran, with more than 30kgs on our backs, to a nearby taxi stand. The jam still persisted so we had to hire motorbikes for taxis. Keep in mind the overwhelming amount of luggage we were carrying. Thankfully, we had very capable drivers, although Androo’s bike did break down. Twice. He had to run the last 500 meters..

    We made it though, and just in time. Our bus was just about to leave for Tanzania when we boarded and proceeded to hog half the luggage space available.

    According to Google Maps, by car, the trip should have taken us about 11 hours. We weren’t so lucky. The bus was somewhat old, slow and bursting with people and luggage. Frequent road blocks and stops at immigration control offices stretched our journey to 23 hours. Twenty three.

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    We arrived at our destination at 16:00 the next day, sleeping most of the way. Yet, whereas Nairobi was a cool 22 degrees, Dar es Salaam is nothing but a sticky and humid 33 degree hell. We looked like we hadn’t showered in weeks, but we were too happy that we made it with all our luggage intact to notice.

    We have managed to prepare a short video of our travels too. Please note that all footage was taken with a GoPro Hero3, sometimes in very uncomfortable situations, as well as with an HTC One. We used iMovie for iPad to edit it so, excuse the lack of fine tuning. Ideally, everything would have been shot with our DSLR, but it is not advisable to run around with a very visible camera in your hands, so our GoPro had to make do.

    Thankfully the Tanzanians are very friendly people, most of them very eager to make sure we have a pleasant experience here. Befriending the locals is extremely easy, and although few know how to speak English, basic communication is possible.

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    Our home for the next 8 weeks is situated in the heart of the Mburahati slum area in Dar es Salaam, where we will be working with the Sisters of Mother Theresa. You see, over-population and poverty do not go well together. Parents can barely afford to feed themselves, and so they end up dumping their own children at the door of the Sisters’ convent. Most of their patients are orphans, ranging from newborns to 80 year olds. To some extent, these people are lucky – they have a roof over their heads, beds to sleep in, regular food and a lot of people to take care of them. Much more than thousands of others just outside our wall.

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    Our work shall mostly focus on the kids with special needs as well as with the nursery children. We won’t go into too much detail here because we want to dedicate a separate article for this. There is too much to say to blurt it all here.

    All in all, Tanzania is proving to be very different from our Kenyan experience and a much bigger challenge. Our freedom has greatly diminished since Dar es Salaam can be very dangerous to white foreigners. Severe poverty breeds savagery, unfortunately. Moreover, the compound we’re staying in is much smaller than Lolgorien’s and bereft of any countryside, replaced with towering grey concrete. Needless to say, this is what we took our trip for, to challenge our comfort zones in every possible way.

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    Stay tuned!

    Androo & Alan

    A Sour Farewell: We’re Off To Tanzania

    Happy New Year 2015!

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    Today is our last day in Lolgorien. Already. Tomorrow, we start our 3 day journey towards Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. We leave early in the morning to Nairobi, hoping to arrive there late that evening so that on Monday we can board the 14 hour ‘express’ bus to Tanzania’s capital.

    Needless to say, it’s been an amazing experience here in Kenya! We’ve met so many people, and made so many friends that it is honestly a sour goodbye.

    Our library project is almost finished. Unfortunately we won’t be present for its completion, although we do plan to return for a few days to see it in full flow before we go back home to Malta in August. All that’s left is a final paint-job and the installation of shelves and desks. The books have all been bought, ceiling installed and electricity properly wired. We decided to baptise it the Calypso Library!

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    Join Hands For Africa, all due to the unwavering generosity shown to us by our countrymen, has had a very fruitful beginning:
    – A lot of clothes have already been donated (and donned!);
    Three children have had their education sponsored for one whole year – a total of €660.

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    – €1500 has been collected specifically for cattle, therefore the school is officially free of all dairy expenses!
    – €1200 for books.
    – More than €1800 for material and labour for the Calypso Library.
    – Therefore, a total of more than €5000 has been collected for the community of Lolgorien.. and this is just the beginning! THANK YOU everyone!

    We are also eternally grateful towards all the people of this community. They have welcomed us with open arms (and lots of food) and we owe all our comfort and wellbeing to these people. Their excitement, ululations and genuine solidarity shall never be forgotten. Plus, we have been blessed with the sweetest and most caring Mama of them all, Mama Rosalina. She cooked our food – the best we’ve been served in Kenya – washed our clothes and kept everything ticking without ever forgetting her smile. She will be truly missed!

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    We came to call this compound home, and I’m sure we’ll have another kind of homesickness to deal with once we leave. Yet it feels like it is time to move on and we hope our future in Tanzania and beyond is as rich as our time in Kenya.

    Stay tuned, we’re on the move!

    Androo & Alan

    The Gift of Giving: A Milestone for ‘Join Hands For Africa’

    We are very proud to announce the very first full sponsors of a child’s education through our Join Hands For Africa movement, Chris and Connie!

    Chris, a very old friend of ours, has been a staunch supporter of our cause from the very beginning, and we are humbled by his and Connie’s generosity. You are an inspiration to us all.

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    “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much. Even though you guys are the ones there, you have the support of many and more to come. And we agree that education is a human right, not a privilege. We are fully aware of how lucky we are and we are more than happy to share our blessings with those who are less fortunate. We hope that our small gesture will make a big contribution towards a child’s well-being.” Chris

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    “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston S. Churchill

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    If you want to follow Chris & Connie’s example please click HERE. Remember, even the smallest of donations can make a big difference for a child like Mandela Jr. (below).

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    Stay tuned.

    Androo & Alan

    Belated Festive Greetings: Christmas and the Holidays in Kenya

    Heri za Krismasi na Mwaka Mpya Wenye Mafanikio – Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

    First of all, please excuse our lack of updates. It has been a very uneventful two weeks leading up to Christmas since all work stopped for the holidays. Yet, that is not to say that nothing happened:

    – Thanks to the ongoing donations from our countrymen back in Malta, we were able to buy almost double the amount of books for our library project. Words cannot express how grateful we are!

    – Androo’s old primary school generously donated a number of books as well, that are still on their way to Kenya. It is heartwarming to see this amount of solidarity, even though we are so far away from home.

    – The compound got a new dog, called Moscow, and we took it upon ourselves to thoroughly wash the little pooch. We cannot comprehend how this little guy is going to serve as security in the near future – it is too friendly and adorable for anyone to be scared of it.

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    – One particular morning, when we had absolutely nothing on our agenda, Alan, James (a seminarian, aka Jimbo, who’s been spending his holidays with us) and myself, simply fooled around with our camera. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun, especially when things didn’t go as planned.

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    – Alan spent one evening trying to teach Kevin (left) and Bernard (right) how to play the guitar. In fairness, all they wanted to do was strum, and within 10 minutes of them picking up the guitar, they even started a singalong!

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    – We managed to play some football as well. We asked Kevin for a ball and we were presented with this: a combination of paper and plastic, tied with a string and submerged in water to give it weight. We felt like kids again, using trees as goalposts and running until our heart couldn’t take it anymore.. Or, to be honest, until Alan fell, almost face-first, in the mud!

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    – Christmas eve was spent decorating the house with tinsel and balloons. It was a good day, everyone was in high spirits and we were treated with some soda and sausages.

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    – Being in Maasai land, we bought traditional shukas and dressed appropriately for midnight festivities. We tried to look all serious and imposing for the photo since we were wearing traditional Maasai Warrior clothing but we failed, miserably.

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    – Here, when the clock strikes midnight, the people unite in ululation. It is a sight to behold!

    – Christmas day was one big treat. We spent the day at the Maasai Mara in a 5-star hotel right in the middle of the Mara. Christmas amongst the elephants (and all the other wild beasts)! Moreover, lunch was one big food festival and we indulged accordingly. It had been a while since we had such a selection of food in front of us and ate as if we were never ever eating again, ever.

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    All in all, we hope all of you had a pleasant Christmas and we wish you a very happy New Year. Stay safe and stay tuned!

    Androo & Alan

    It’s been a month already…

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    Cannot believe that it has already been a month since we left our little island paradise to ply our trade in Africa. It has been a wonderful experience, even though sometimes quite overwhelming.

    To commemorate, here are some highlights from our journey so far:

    – Spending almost an hour at the Passport Control station in Istanbul (connecting flight) because the officer in charge was suspicious of Androo’s documents.

    – Landing in Jomo Kenyatta Airport, Nairobi, and breathing the Kenyan air for the first time, constantly hoping we’ll find our luggage where it was supposed to be. This was particularly stressful. You know.. our lives depended heavily on the safe and unhindered arrival of our luggage.

    – Travelling for 7 hours just to arrive at a checkpoint, Kilgoris, before heading to Lolgorien the following morning. This ride was our first true culture shock, so to speak. Upon leaving the very centre of Nairobi the standard of living plummets. You are struck with extremely poor settlements, dirt roads and a complete degradation of surroundings.

    – All the children at our residence, in Lolgorien, shouting “MUZUNGU, MUZUNGU – How aa’you?” when we first arrived. {Muzungu is Swahili for white man. We hear this phrase from the little ones everywhere we go. Their smile is always a pleasure to behold.}

    – Eating, for the first time, at a private residence and accepting that, regardless of how full our stomach is, if we’re offered food, soda, water, or tea, we have to accept it. It would be extremely offensive not to.

    “The people here don’t have any money; but what they have, they share.” – Fr. Thomas

    – Tasting ‘African Cake’ – Ugali in Swahili – and realising that it is as close to cake as soil is.

    – Launching our Library Project and seeing it taking shape day by day.

    – Researching the culture and the compound in detail, finances and all, to better our impact with the Join Hands For Africa movement – and later launching it here and on Facebook.

    Meeting the traditional Maasai and having lunch in one of their beautifully constructed huts.

    Driving through the immensity that is the Maasai Mara and seeing the most amazing collection of wildlife we ever set eyes upon. An experience difficult to forget.

    – Cooking a dish of spaghetti bolognese for the locals.

    – Realising that bathing here is a luxury. Everyone depends on rainwater (those who can afford to buy water tanks) or water is collected from the river, 2km away from the town centre.

    – Daily power cuts. Daily.

    – Coffee is a rarity here. Chai is the cultural favourite. It was a bit difficult, going from 3-4 cups of coffee a day, to absolutely nothing overnight.

    – Goats and cows everywhere. Every road is littered with livestock and we have to constantly slow down to give the farmers ample time to gather their herds towards the side of the road.

    So, one month down, 8 and a half to go. If every month turns out similar to this one, we’re in for one heck of a ride. Hope this blog is giving you a taste of what we’re experiencing. 🙂

    Stay tuned!

    Androo & Alan

    A Day With The Maasais: Circumcision, beast goats, and a 3 year old driver!

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    Yesterday, we were lucky enough to spend most of the day with the traditional Maasais – the ones who refuse to adopt the modern (Western) way of living. Meaning that, regardless of their level of education, they prefer to live on their own land, close to the Mara, far away from civilisation, electricity (or even phone signal for that matter), in their beautifully constructed huts, living off their land and livestock.

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    Stunning traditional Maasai clothing.

    We had a small celebration of initiation for the 12 year old boys who had just undergone circumcision that, in Maasai tradition, serves as a rite of passage towards manhood.

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    After the feast, came the food. Goat meat is a Kenyan staple, regardless of tribe, and we were served lots of it. One has to understand though that animals here are very well exercised, unlike ours, and so the meat is relatively hard to bite into. It is also very rude not to accept food when offered.. Needless to say, my teeth are still rattled, especially after the nyamachoma (roast meat) arrived. It is astonishing looking at the locals eating it as if they’re eating boiled vegetables. So, we put on a brave face, smiled (whenever someone was looking) and did our best to eat this beast of a goat.

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    Food was followed by chai (tea), a quick message from the chief, and we were on our back. The trips here are always breathtaking, not only because of the scenery, but also because of the wildlife – of which there is plenty. Zebras are as common as cows and we even managed to see giraffes (!!) going along their daily routine on our way back to Lolgorien!

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    Our ride was in very safe hands.. Adorable.

    Stay tuned!

    Androo & Alan