Kenya Project 2017 – Report #1

This ‘report’ from the south of Kenya is meant as a token of appreciation towards the very many people who have supported the ‘Kenya project of 2017’ in any way and, especially, towards the parents of the boys who on the crew, namely, George Downing, James Fitzgerald, Aran Egan, Ben O’Sullivan, Arthur Moore and Jack Wall O’Reilly.

The boys, as well as Fr Simon and myself, arrived in Nairobi (Swahili word meaning ‘place of cold water’) on the afternoon of Sunday 9 July. We passed a chilly but very ‘comfy’ night (altitude: approx. 1,500m) at the local ‘Wildebeest Eco-camp’ and off-loaded the fruits of months of fundraising to the director of Soralo (South Rift Association of Landowners) for the renovaation of Olkiramatian School. The next day we bundled  into our 4 wheel-drive, hired from Bunduz, an excellent safari company (‘safari’ is Swahili for ‘journey’), and headed to the south of the Rift Valley. After a deep descent we made a stop at Olorgasailie Prehistoric Site. It is home to the earliest stone tools ever found and which were used by our evolutionary parents. They are 992,000 years old and shaped as cutting instruments that would be useful in killing animals, hiding them and cutting up the meat. The site is surrounded by dead volcanoes, the air was hot and the ground scorching. A group from the Smithsonian was there collecting scorpions. After a second stop to visit the P.P. of Magadi, for two hours though originally intended for two minutes, due to the pronounced nature his hospitality, we reached Lale’enok with night already fallen. The light of a full moon helped us find our tents and, some of the boys at least, erected their mosquito nets to perfection.

On Tuesday, the dawn chorus woke us to the truth that drought has extended to the south of the country, albeit it in a less dramatic form than currently being reported around Lake Turkana in the north. There is far less grass than usual and cattle, sheep and goats searching for scraps of green. A large part of the baboon population has moved out of the camp area. There has been a fall of only one and a half inches of rain since April and the next ‘short’ rainy season is in October/November. What will the animals and plants do, and the families who depend on them?

On Wednesday we were received with dancing by the young Maasai and Kikuyu at Olkiramatian Arid Zone School and had a first sighting of what our fundraising had delivered: the school chose to get cement floors for their nine classrooms and a room now fit for computers. Several latrines will follow. Afterwards we headed to Entasopia, home to the Kenya crew of 2016. It has a Special Education Unit for which I had long searched a donor. A Dublin family came up with the goods and now its rickety beds will be replaced by proper ones, there will be lighting system provided and a water supply! We were all devastated to see the wretched conditions in which those with ‘educational  challenges’ beyond the norm have to live.

Thursday was our first day of school work. The boys established the routine of giving six ‘computer classes’ per day to the equivalent of Grades 5, 6 and 7. Each class is split in half. This yields an average of 22 young Kenyans in each group and means that each of the six Irish boys can tutor three/four at a time. They use computers purchased some weeks ago in Mombasa or brought by us from Dublin, all from funds donated. The last class of each day is ‘conversational English’ with Grade 8. On these occasions three pairs of Glenstal boys are grouped with about eight Kenyans each. Topics include their respective education, the Maasai culture, their lives today and tomorrow, etc.  It promises to be very interesting.

Thursday also revealed a problem with China! They have established a camp near Lale’enok and drive their heavy trucks over the frail trails here to the latter’s detriment. Their plan is the drill for oil in the wildlife conservancy area!! Ironically we discovered that the Chinese solar power systems installed throughout the whole country, including the three schools with which we work, are flawed and more or less useless.

On Friday, another politically related fact came to light: thirty-eight tablet computers with Windows 10 installed and touchscreens, were found lying unused in a classroom! They were supplied by the Kenyan government to Olkiramatian and many other schools one month ago as an enticement to vote for the current governing party! There will be an election on 8 August  next.

Now light has faded and this must go. Saturday is going to be full with a drive to the swamp near Lake Natron and a search for various wild animals. We have already seen many but more  anon’. This Kenya crew is very good, so far anyway.

Fr John OSB