Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Miracle baby!

Ok … so this time I was very lost …. Almost two months have passed since posting my last blog and I may well be writing this to myself because you’ve probably all lost hope and given up looking! What can I say … I’m sorry … we’ve been very busy and I just find it very hard to tear myself away from people … from all people but especially from the small ones.

Which leads me neatly into our most recent news and the reason why, for a time, I might actually be happy to stay in my room, writing on my computer. Right now, someone has to stay ‘indoors’ and be responsible for taking care of our most recent visitor or possibly new family member. Of all the children we have met in Kosele, she is probably the most vulnerable and, like all of them, definitely very precious. She arrived last Friday night at about 8:00pm in the arms of Pesila, one of the ladies who works with us. At 6:00pm, just an hour before dark, Pesila had been walking down a small track into the bush to go and check her shamba. Having walked some distance from the main road she suddenly heard a small cry. Looking into the thorn bushes she was truly shocked to find a completely naked, newly born, baby girl. The umbilical cord had been roughly cut and she saw that the placenta was lying nearby, slightly covered with soil. But the baby girl was lying without any kind of clothing or cover on the hard, dirt ground. With the help of a neighbour, Pesila wrapped the baby in a shawl and took her to the Kosele Police Station. They took a full report and then drove the two ladies and the baby girl to our home.

I don’t think any of us could really quite believe that this little bundle of arms and legs, fingers and toes and mop of soft curly hair … in desperate need of her first bath … could, just hours earlier, have been lying completely abandoned on the dirt, in the bush. We are still in the middle of the ‘rainy’ season and, on the previous afternoon, whilst out visiting a neighbour we had been caught in the most torrential rain and thunder storm. It had been impossible to find a dry path home … we leapt across as many of the streams as we could but in the end had to accept that the only way back was to paddle through the worst of them. The thunder clouds returned on Friday but, fortunately, this time they rumbled past and did not bring us any rain.

Our first thoughts were that this little girl had possibly been born to a young school mum, someone who had possibly tried to hide her pregnancy and then panicked at her birth. We were somewhat taken aback when about an hour later we had at least a dozen young men on motor bikes (piki piki taxi-riders) a significant number of whom had clearly been drinking, demanding that we hand them the baby because they ‘know the father of the baby.’ Twenty minutes later they arrived with an elderly gentleman (in his 70’s) claiming to be the father and saying that the wife had ‘escaped or gone!’ They were still expecting us to hand the baby over but, fortunately, one of the ‘sober’ motorcyclists eventually accepted that waiting for daylight was in fact a very reasonable request.

Early next morning the elderly gentleman arrived at our gate with his wife, a woman in her late thirties. Given the circumstances of her arrival into our care and our inability to reach our Local Children’s Officer on the phone, we agreed that we should all head up to the Police station. When we arrived at the police station the woman was hitting the side of her head and trying to suggest that she was not mentally fit; that some medication she was on had caused her to behave in this irrational way. However, as the events of the previous day began to unfold it seemed that the truth was much more complicated. The lady actually runs a small business selling vegetables in Kosele market (having bought them first in our local town of Oyugis.) On Friday it seems that she went, as normal, to Oyugis town where she bought her vegetables and then took a piki piki back to Kosele. Just after passing our home it seems that she realised her waters had broken and she was about to give birth. It is still not clear if the motorcyclist stayed with her or went on ahead to Kosele … but she then says that she gave birth to what she believed was a premature, dead, baby girl. However, from there it seems that she then went on up to Kosele and carried on selling her vegetables. When she realised the baby had been found, she panicked and ran and hid and did not go back to her home until late. There are also rumours (as there always are in these situations) that the baby had been fathered by one of the piki piki men! Back at their home, there are another nine children, including young twins, though we now believe some of them were from the gentleman’s first wife. The OCS (Chief police officer) ended up arresting the woman, only releasing her on a 5,000/- (£45) bond to ensure that she appears in the courts at Oyugis. We finally reached our District Children’s Officer on the phone this morning (Monday) and he said the decision about the baby’s future would lie with the courts. We have no idea how this will all work out … the thought of a baby being returned to a mother who had simply left her for dead fills us with horror (even if she really thought her baby was dead, would a mother really be happy to leave the body of a premature or a full-term baby to be taken by wild dogs?)

About six years ago, another Children’s Officer asked us to care for an abandoned baby who, several months later, was taken to another part of the country for official adoption … So, we have all tried very hard not to become too emotionally attached to this little girl, BUT, as you can probably imagine, we have all failed miserably … Like any new born baby, she is ‘perfectly beautiful and unbelievably cute.’ The circumstances of her birth just heighten your normal maternal/paternal response to care for and to ‘protect’ her little life …

I remember meeting Terry’s paternal grandmother, more than thirty years ago, and listening to her describe Terry’s natural instinct and big, soft heart for looking after babies … he hasn’t changed. Please pray for the very best outcome for our little Hope Achieng (Achieng is a Luo name that means being born when the sun was shining.) Please pray that there is no room for corruption in the handling of her case and that God’s wisdom and His most perfect plans will prevail.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Nearly the holidays . . .

I love April in Kenya! The average day time temperatures are about 24 degrees (slightly cooler in the mornings and in the evenings) and most of the rain falls at night .... perfect for teaching and learning!

Last week we came to the end of another set of Kenyan ‘end of term exams’ and now we have just two more days until the end of term. They do love to test the children in Kenya (it’s one of the costs that parents still have to pay towards, for their child’s ‘free’ primary education) … most classes in most schools test their students every half term. The results of these tests are then shared so that everyone knows their position in the class and every school knows the position of their STD 8 class (the final year of primary school) within their zone. Almost without fail, the children who hold position 1, 2, and 3 remain the same students throughout their school career and the children in the bottom five can also be guaranteed to reappear in their familiar spot! The sole purpose of this regime appears to be a response to the fears of the teachers’ that, in the absence of regular ‘tests,’ the children won’t be motivated to learn and to remember all the facts they need to cram for the five 2 hour multiple choice exams that come at the end of their eight years in Primary School. At the risk of sounding very cynical, the exam season can be stressful, chaotic and cosmetic. At least six times this year our STD 8 children will be made to travel to other schools within our ‘cluster’to take part in zonal, district and county mocks! This term they failed to inform us that the first day for the exams had been brought forward by one day. Consequently our children had to rush and run for what was still a late start. Cheating is rampant as schools compete to outdo each other. Some teachers get access to the papers ahead of the exam day and many schools lose a significant number of students on the day of the zonal exams …. no prizes for guessing the class position of the children who don’t make it to these exams. Unfortunately, in order to keep our school registered, we have no choice other than to join in these proceedings … though we never cheat! At public and Head Teacher meetings the education inspectors will tell everyone how important it is to give the children time to relax and to play and to develop their creative gifts and talents. In reality everyone knows that the schools who are serious about competing for top positions will effectively lock up their Std 7 and Std 8 classes with the children being forced to 'board' - (sleeping at night in their classrooms) and being woken before dawn for a two year diet of cramming and repeated practise test papers. We won't be joining in with that practise either!

This week we are ‘off timetable’ and the children are enjoying a very English end of term school tradition … getting a chance to watch a film…. (in our Visitors Centre!) The upper primary school have been watching a beautifully animated children’s film called “The Miracle Maker.” As well as bringing to life the real compassion that was at the heart of every miracle he performed, this film also beautifully illustrates the very flawed nature of Jesus’ first disciples. Hopefully they will have been encouraged to see and to believe that Jesus isn’t waiting for us all to be perfect before calling us to be his followers and to do good things through us ... it certainly encouraged and reassured me! Tomorrow the children from lower school (who only understand a little English) are going to enjoy the treat of a film that’s very visual, with a simple story and already a big favourite with a lot of the adults here … The Jungle Book (I was telling someone today that this was one of the first films my parents ever took me to the cinema to see ... "is it that old?!" she said ... thanks Winnie!)

Throughout this term, our younger children have had lots of lovely opportunities to visit the Visitors Centre for stories and creative activities with Hilda. They’ve created their own ‘Rainbow fish,’ ‘Hungry Caterpillars’ and beautiful butterflies. They’ve sorted and sketched some very convincing mini-beasts and this week they’ve been learning about different animals and fruits in ‘Handa’s Surprise.’ It’s mad to think that our Kenyan children have never seen a live elephant,  lion,  rhino or giraffe even though these amazing creatures live just four hours’ drive away! Sadly we don’t have the funds to take them on safari but Hilda has just bought a great selection of fresh fruits- mangoes, oranges, pineapples, water melons, passion fruit, avocado’s and small sweet bananas. Again, these are all things that grow and can be found here in Kenya and yet, hardly any of the children in our school will ever have had the chance to taste and enjoy these luxury items! Tomorrow will be a real treat as they all get to sample and then choose their own favourite! Ironically enough, unlike the children in England, the fruit they won’t be interested in is the guava, the one fruit that our children in England never get to taste because I have yet to find them there!

P.S. The rain is still raining … mostly at night, and the sun is still shining most of the day so our maize is looking good and, for the first time in a long time we are anticipating a great harvest!

ECD and Class 1 with their Rainbow Fish

Getting creative in Hilda's art class

Guava tree with fruit

Guava halves

Our maize one week ago (1 month after planting)

Our maize field this morning!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Frogs and Polygamists!

Sorry … another longer break than planned…

So, the rain we prayed for arrived, and the temperatures dropped but it seems there’s always a price to pay for the good things that we enjoy. This last week we travelled to Nairobi and I came back, about 24 hours later, with a sore throat and a runny nose and the type of head cold that just has 'no business' being here in such a hot climate! On our return to KoseIe it quickly became evident that the frog population had survived the drought and were now very successfully repopulating the pond that had reappeared in a deep hollow in the field immediately behind our bedroom window. Let me tell you … Paul McCartney’s frog chorus doesn't even begin to get close to the cacophony that was being created by the huge variety of frogs now living there! Terry slept through it three nights in a row …. I didn't! Then, last night, I spent an evening writing a long blog that I've decided not to post because although it might not get me deported it probably wouldn't help my application, currently in the Nairobi immigration office, requesting permission to stay here for longer. So the following is my revised ‘shorter’ version of a story about female Kenyan MP’s who ‘stormed’ out of the government chambers in response to an amendment to the new Marriage Bill being proposed by some male Kenyan MP’s.

Now marriage is, without doubt, a ‘hot potato’ subject anywhere on the planet and not least in countries like our own who have wrestled for years over the issues of divorce and are now grappling with the law that says ‘marriage’ can extend to a relationship between two people of the same sex. So I really am trying very hard not to be judgemental when I share the details of this Kenyan story. The main purpose of the new law seems to be ‘to bring civil law, where a man is only allowed one wife, into line with customary law, where some cultures allow multiple partners.’ The intentions are very laudable - actually trying to facilitate some guaranteed financial provision for wives in the event of death or divorce so that, in either circumstance, she should be entitled to a minimum of 30% of the husband’s property. However, some male MPs decided to vote for another amendment, an amendment ‘to allow men to take as many wives as they like without consulting existing spouses.’ (Traditionally, first wives are supposed to give prior approval.) MP Samuel Chepkong'a, who proposed the amendment, said that when a woman got married under customary law, she understood that the marriage was open to polygamy, so no consultation was necessary. Only 30 of Kenya’s 69 female MP’s were actually present for this Bill, those who were there did ‘walk out in disgust’ – but, ultimately there seemed to be no planned, serious opposition to the almost 300 male members of parliament who supported it and now it is just waiting for the President’s signature.

Again, I appreciate that to many people the tradition of polygamy is no better and no worse than the extra- marital affairs, the easy divorces or serial relationships that are accepted and even, to some extent, celebrated through western media and culture. In the past, polygamy has been widely practised across Africa and by many of the different tribes within Kenya but, in this south western corner of Kenya polygamy has been very much the ‘norm’ for as long as anyone can remember and continues to be practised more widely than in any other region. One of our local MP’s was quoted as saying "When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa." Over the years different people have given me different explanations for this life style choice, mostly citing the historical context of men owning big pieces of land for which they needed many daughters to farm and sons to defend. But today, the statistics for population and land use together with the frequent news stories of extremely violent acts committed between even very close family members (almost always because of the battle for increasingly small pieces of land) fail to support this simple cause and effect.

In the 12 years that Hope and Kindness has been here in this rural, Luo community, with many church buildings around including our own modest timber and iron sheet building, we have not witnessed or heard of a single ‘church wedding’ (countless funerals but not one wedding.) Many of our neighbours are regular church attenders and yet, as was explained to me the other day, everyone seems to recognise that a ‘church wedding’ symbolises a union between just one man and one woman …. hence the evidence that most people (or at least, most men) prefer to make other arrangements. On the other hand I have lost count of the number of young people and grown men and women who have told me of the bitterness they carry because their own life chances were spoilt by the poverty that so often accompanies a polygamous family – a family with more children than it can afford to feed let alone educate. The repeated division of land, the rapid population growth and the high incidence of HIV have, for very many, made the reality of polygamy if not a living hell, at least a far call from God’s Kingdom ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Back in January, late one Saturday night, I listened to the now familiar sound of what sounds like a ‘boogie on down disco’ out in the bush (but is actually the new tradition of hiring a generator and PA for celebrating a funeral) and I asked our night guards “Who died this week?” I was told it was a young mother, who was HIV+ve. When I asked if she had been taking the anti-retro-viral drugs that we've seen rescue so many people over the last five years I was told, “Yes, yes she was,…. but when her husband took a second wife she became very down and just decided to stop….” (She just gave up this life giving medication and chose death as a preferable option to watching her husband take a second wife!)

I’m not sure who I felt most sorry for.... but, at the risk of saying too much, it wasn't the husband ….

On a much lighter note, depending on your personal view point, I have a confession to make, most notably to all of my ‘Eco warriors’ back at Feckenham First School who were always so supportive of my desire to preserve the environment for all the creatures that we share the earth with …. Well yesterday I, together with the children in our home, deliberately destroyed an ‘amphibian habitat!’ The new pond (right outside my bedroom window, remember) has now been filled with stones and soil. In my defence there is another big pool at the other end of the field and a significant number of frogs, I’m quite sure, have managed to successfully relocate. I really am very sorry but … for my own sanity and for the sake of everyone else here ….. I have to get my sleep!

This is the one that does a traditional deep throaty “riiiiiibett” 

The rest make a combination of sounds like a chorus of ‘shrieking’ bats, a dog’s ‘squeaky’ rubber toy and the ‘pop or plop’ sound of someone passing wind in the bath! (No I’m not exaggerating or making any of this up! If you don't believe me .... come and 'hear' for yourself!)

 Isn’t he gross!!!      

Frog successfully re-located!  

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

It Rained !

YEAH …. It’s NOT hot!!! Double YEAH … IT’s RAINING!!! In fact it has now rained every day for almost a week. On Friday, apart from a brief lull in the afternoon, it rained ALL day which was really good, though not a lot of fun for the teachers or the children slip sliding their way to and from school (did you know that mud can be every bit as slippy and skiddy as ice, more than once I’ve ended up on my backside in the mud … I’m sure it made someone’s day!)

But whilst the rain and the drop in temperature has made life a lot more comfortable for us, it has also made us very aware again of the challenges that poverty brings to families trying to care for their children. Believe it or not, the rain in Africa still falls as ‘cold’ rain and the relatively cool temperatures, less than 20 degrees on Friday morning, would have felt distinctly ‘cold’ to both the children and the adults here. Many of our pupils have a 30 to 45 minute walk to school, through the bush, over very muddy paths and rocky streams. On Friday, only one child arrived in a pair of wellies, for most, the only footwear they possess is a pair of what they call slippers (flip flops). About two thirds of the children came in a sweater or a fleece but, as you can imagine, these were pretty wet or at least very damp by the time they reached school. There were probably no more than three children with anything that resembled a ‘jacket’ and a good number who came in nothing but their short sleeved, school shirts with their shorts or pinafore.

Rightly or wrongly we now have a large number of children in our two schools, 180 in the Primary School and 50 in the High School. They continue to receive a porridge breakfast, a cooked lunch and a good education which, with God’s help, we truly believe has the potential to change their lives. I say rightly or wrongly because perhaps, if we had fewer children, we wouldn’t struggle as hard as we do to keep them in a clean and untorn uniform, we might even be able to buy every child a pair of proper school shoes and a pair of gum-boots (wellies) and a sweater and a waterproof! None of those things seem unreasonable to desire or to request but are currently beyond our means to provide. Perhaps we should have been more sensible about the number of children we admit to our school, may be our faith levels just aren’t great enough…. The problem is I’m still meeting widowed mothers with chronic poor health and grandmothers being called upon to become mothers again … women who are simply defeated in their efforts to keep their children fed and regularly in school. Some of our classes are full (for obvious reasons we try not to go above 30 in a class, though our class 1 has just squeezed number 32) so sometimes we cannot add even one of their children to the school … but we still have to use what we’ve got to find some way of extending ‘hope’ and ‘kindness’ to them too.

Forgive me … in a typically British way, I’ve just turned good news into bad news - this must sound like I’m complaining about the weather when in actual fact I’m delighted because it is an answer to prayer and exactly what we’ve been longing for…. for weeks! Last Monday I had felt so sorry for our High School students who were taken out of the classroom for two days in order to prepare our fields for planting. Many of you will already know that at Hope and Kindness we ‘Farm God’s Way!’ This basically means we do everything the best way that God has shown us in nature, it involves conserving the soil and the rain water and giving the seeds the best chance to produce the strongest plants. The only drawback is that it’s very labour intensive and involves digging a lot of holes! We knew the rainy season was drawing near so in spite of the clear blue skies, blazing sunshine and temperatures in the thirties, our High School students were made to leave the relative comfort of their classrooms for two long, hard days of toil on the farm. Then, “hallelujah,” on Tuesday night we had a little rain, followed by a bit more on Wednesday and Thursday night and, as I said, on Friday it rained almost all day. For the last four evenings we’ve had a good downpour in the late afternoon or early evening. As well as refilling all of our roof harvest water tanks (a total of 60,000 litres) we have seen that within one week we have almost 100% success with the germination of our maize plants. I know God’s word says he “makes the sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil” but I hope that our students will be really encouraged with the timing of this particular rain and will believe more and more that there is a God who is for them and who is able to do so much more than they can imagine if they are just willing (to quote a new friend who preached here recently) to give Him whatever they already have in their hands.

P.S if anyone has any contacts with the people who make those plastic capes that you can buy to keep you dry on a wet day at a UK ‘Theme park’ please send us their details … they could be just what we’re looking for ….

Students preparing for planting maize seeds

Great germination rate!

The rain outside our house

Monday, 10 March 2014


Sorry, I was lost … but now … I’m found (now where have I heard that line before ..?) Seriously, a combination of the weather (Yep it’s STILL SERIOUSLY HOT) and a head that just got overloaded meant that I had to give in to having some early nights and not always very productive days. Now a mozi has just bit me on my ankle, twice, and it’s the middle of the day …. that’s not supposed to happen! Well if that had happened just over an hour ago I would probably have cried … but I haven’t because I’ve just spent some time in “HELP” prayers to my God and coincidentally (or should I say God-incidentally) I have just seen a prayer message on the Elim web site asking people to pray for Judi and Terry who have kept going ‘when they felt like giving up’ and who have seen ‘God guide them through some impossible situations’ Amen! My spirits are being lifted … your prayers must be ‘getting through!’

So why, just an hour ago was I so ready to cry? Well, perhaps it’s because sometimes I’m simply foolish enough to go back to old habits … like reading the daily newspapers…. on the internet! Even though you know you’re only ever going to read “Bad News!” you can convince yourself that this knowledge will help to direct your prayers or even your own actions, especially if it’s a problem you think you can help to solve. But, more often than not, it can simply be hugely discouraging, sometimes overwhelming and actually risk taking you down into a pit of despair. In fact I could now risk losing the few remaining readers of this blog, those of you who have come back to check that we’re still alive, by discouraging you too with a whole series of awful news stories that illustrate why, even though it’s nothing like the scale of the atrocities that happen in Somalia, Sudan or DR Congo, Kenya can still be a really harsh place to live. However, if I did that, I would end up writing at least the first six chapters of a book and I know my ‘blog’ is already a little on the long side to really qualify for ‘blog’ status, so I will just share a story that sadly became personal for one of our church members.

Last week, less than an hour’s drive away from our home, tension broke out on a main road which creates the border between two tribes. There are over 40 tribes in Kenya and, especially in the rural areas, the battle for local power and access to basic resources continues to create tensions and sometimes conflict. Today the papers reported “The clashes that have left at least 6 people dead, 10 people with serious injuries and more than 200 families displaced by violence, was sparked off following the killing of a middle aged man on Thursday night, said to have been part of a gang that raided a homestead in Nyakach district and stole goats….. By the time of going to the press, tension was still high in the area with deviant youths continuing to torch houses on both sides of the districts.” It also went on to state that this latest violence was now escalating because of issues over access to water for people and their livestock. Yesterday, this story became more personal when one of our church members, asked us to pray for his wife because his father-in-law was one of the innocent people who died when his house was burnt down.

So many of these awful events happen because of what is widely recognised as inadequate and corrupt law enforcement. Over the years, we have heard many stories of people taking the law into their own hands. Last year five men were brutally lynched (beaten up and then set alight with a tyre around their waists) in our local town Oyugis. It was believed that they were part of a gang of more than ten men who had been responsible for a series of night time violent robberies along the main road between the towns of Oyugis and Kisii. On that occasion I heard our neighbours and some of our staff recounting the events that they had seen or simply heard and a number of them were laughing at the way some of these men had been set up and trapped by the vigilantes who delivered this instant justice. It left me feeling very uncomfortable, not wanting to judge my neighbours, not certain of what I would want to do if someone dear to me was killed by a criminal who the police would not even search for …. but, at the same time, really troubled by the display of delight that I heard in the voices telling the story. Yet, like I said, who am I to judge? I’m here living in rural Kenya, but safe behind our brick built walls and lockable doors and guarded by two paid night watchmen who generally manage to stay awake! The problem is Kenya is no different to the rest of the world, people suffer as a result of their own bad choices or the bad choices made by others, because we’ve all used our ‘free will’ to choose our own way and not God’s way. All of us find it hard to get even close to ‘loving one another’ in the immeasurable and unfailing way that God loves each of us…. but we keep trying and, just as it says in the words say of a song that we sing most Sundays with our sisters and brothers in the church, “We’re happy to share, happy to share, one another’s burdens …. That’s why we’re here!”

So please forgive the two week absence of news, do go back and look at the lovely photos that should have been attached to the last blog and pray that I have some good news to share next time!

… Just remembered Bad News/Good News Story … last year one of our nanny goats, Annabel, gave birth to her first born which was very sadly ‘stillborn.’ This week she gave birth to twin girls (nannies) and both girls and mum are doing great … see cute picture below! Aaahhh!!!!


Monday, 24 February 2014

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Ok, so we had a couple of days of cloud cover that were almost officially ‘cool’ and even a couple of splatters of rain …. But the last three days have been a scorching 34 degrees again! Today is the first day of half term, we’ve all got lots of things we need to be catching up on but even the children have been knocked out by the heat. The air doesn’t move at all in our little house …. it’s now 4:30pm and I’ve got nothing done all day so I’ve come over to the visitors centre where at least the existence of a front door and a back door means there is some flow of air.

During this last week we had a visitor who was visiting our visitor . He was here for just a week and when he was introduced to our church members he asked them what the English were famous for  …. the thought in my head immediately jumped to the word ‘complaining’ … but maybe that’s just me….  because the thought in his head was ‘cricket!’ It’s always good to have new friends come to Kosele and although it was an unexpected time for us and for them we have, as always, been very blessed. Our church pastors Dorine and Kennedy have enjoyed Bible studies of a Bible College standard from our visitors John and Robin (who was also happy to come and bring the message to the church for two weeks in a row.) Our children have had the treat of Robin’s wife Janet who helped them practise their guitar skills and, together with their daughter Kyla, introduced them to the fun and joy of mixing and using icing sugar to decorate some very sweet and tasty biscuits that were enjoyed and appreciated by all of us.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we’ve also had our team members from Paisley, Ian and Hilda McMillan back with us in Kosele. They bless us and the children in so many ways and yesterday was one of those days when we were particularly thankful to have them here. Although she has worked in a number of different health care environments, Hilda is a trained nurse and has experience of midwifery.  Amongst the children in our home is a special girl called Dorothy. We met Dorothy six years ago when she was just eight years old. She had never been to school and clearly had some serious learning difficulties. We later discovered that Dorothy has an older sister called Mary who has even more severe learning and communication disabilities. Over the years Ian and Hilda have built a good relationship with Mary, they are probably two of a very small number of people that Mary responds to and trusts.

So it was so good that Mary, who always arrives for church before anyone else, duly arrived here yesterday when she was clearly in full labour. It’s a good 30-40 minute walk from her home to ours and about the same to a small clinic/dispensary that has recently been equipped with a room for women in labour and an actual delivery room. However, the clinic is only staffed and functional during daylight hours as there is no accommodation for staff on site and no electric power for light at night and it’s also only staffed from Monday to Friday. Mary’s baby did well to make her entrance during daylight hours but unfortunately chose a Sunday!  Fortunately, Hilda was able to examine her and quickly established that there were signs that the baby was in some distress but that the head wasn’t actually showing so they would have time to get her to the District Hospital (about a 20 minute drive away.) Thankfully, our less than reliable 30yr old Landrover, for once, did not let us down and a beautiful 3kg baby girl was delivered just ten minutes after Mary entered the Delivery room.  The hospital birth was important to make sure that Mary received the appropriate treatment to avoid any internal bleeding or infections but mother and baby were back with us by five, just in time for supper! Today, Hilda and Ian took mother and baby up to the local clinic to be checked again before taking her home to the baby’s grandmother.

 Although in some ways a ‘good news’ story this event also creates a challenge. Mary is a very vulnerable young woman (her own mother has the same issues.) Mary gave birth to her first baby, Lavendar, when she was only 14 yrs old. Less than eighteen months later she gave birth to another baby, little Michael. Sadly she struggled to keep both babies adequately nourished and, at barely three years of age, Lavendar died from a strong malaria. Now, whenever Michael gets sick Mary brings him straight to us and, in her way, she tries very hard to take good care of him. But Mary and her children remain extremely vulnerable. She wants and needs to live independently but is so easily exploited by even her close family members. It’s now eight pm and we have had a storm and some rain…. Tonight, Mary, Michael and new baby Helen (named after one of our dorm mothers who was also with her at the birth) are sleeping in a house with no light, no sanitation and no proper bed. She does have a mosquito net over her mattress on the floor, some food and several large bottles of good water from our bore hole. When you see the way Mary and her family live, without possessions and without any kind of regular income,  it is nothing short of miraculous that she could not only deliver a strong, healthy baby but also be apparently so strong and well herself.

But what now … how do we help Mary and her children to stay well? The clinic nurse today suggested that Mary could receive an implant that would provide her with five years of birth control. Some people might find that offensive or even morally wrong but it seems like the kindest protection to offer Mary and the best chance for her children to escape the possibility of becoming one of the  six and a half million children who will die this year from preventable and treatable causes….. every single one of whom, just like Lavendar, was, if we truly believe  God’s word …  “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Monday, 17 February 2014

To be a blessing

In the almost 12 years since we first came to Kenya we have met some really interesting people, some we’ve warmed to immediately whilst others have taken us a little longer to appreciate. One such person was a fairly feisty mzee (an elderly gentleman) called Ezekiel. As very new Christians, we had simply come to Kenya to start a home for orphans. Before long we realised that we would also need to provide them with their education. What we had not imagined, however, was that God would use us to plant a new church. We were not trained or equipped for this role but it happened anyway ….. in that first year I think Terry must have preached at least twenty different versions of “Love your neighbour as yourself!” Our own Christian walk had begun back in England in a small, non-denominational, loving and intimate house church where we were immediately encouraged to serve in whatever way God laid on our hearts … just two weeks after being saved, Terry was leading worship. So we too, in our new Kosele church, were keen to encourage others also new and young in their faith to rise up to the challenge of serving and leading. That did not go down well with Ezekiel. Here, it has always been expected and assumed that age commands automatic respect and deference and the thought of a man in his twenties or thirties being in any position to lead men older than himself was (and to some still is)  a total anachronism. Ezekiel and other mzees believed we should form a Church Committee and they had, we thought, a fairly unhealthy obsession with wanting to guarantee all church members the provision of a respectable coffin at the point at which they ‘left’ the church. Truthfully, our lack of experience, wisdom and training has led to some decisions that we have later gone on to regret, resisting the formation of a ‘Church Committee,’   however, has not been one of them.

So it’s been a long time since Ezekiel has been to our church and yet our paths have continued to cross because six years ago he came to ask for a chance for his three nephews, twins David and Dancun and  their older brother Isaac to join our school. Their parents were still alive but, lived a long distance away from Kosele. Following a very vicious physical assault their father was left totally blind and their mother was lame in one leg and it had become impossible for them to provide for their children. The mother of these children is the sister of Ezekiel’s second wife, Pamela (like many men here Ezekiel is a polygamist and, as in many families here, this has created a lot of jealousies, bitterness and tensions within a very poor homestead where a lack of food is always an issue.) 

As many of you know, my own health issues had kept me away from Kosele for over two years so, last December, when I went to visit the boys and their uncle I was very shocked to see how much Ezekiel’s own health and strength had declined. He was never a very big man but he now seemed so very small and so incredibly frail and it took all his strength to get up from his chair to simply greet us. The reason for my visit was a response to a request from Ezekiel to discuss a very important issue with me. Now I've received a lot of interesting and challenging requests over the years but this was a first. It seemed that due to the breakdown in relations with his first wife and with the two sons she had given birth to, Ezekiel was worried about what would happen to Pamela when he was no longer there to protect her. To be fair, it is not unusual for wives who fail to give birth to their own sons to be chased from their homes by the sons of the other wife or wives. So Ezekiel wanted to know if the next time the Children’s Officer brought us an orphaned boy could he, Ezekiel, adopt him so that he could leave his land to this boy who would then take care of Pamela (Pamela is also disabled with a seriously deformed club foot.) For once I was lost for words. Eventually I said I would mention it to the Children’s Officer next time I saw him but that he shouldn't get his hopes up! 

This week, Isaac, the eldest of his nephews, came to me at lunch time to ask if I would go and visit and pray for his uncle again as he had now been sick and in bed for over a week. I’ll be honest and say that I went with some apprehension of what we would find and what they would expect me to do….  people will often ask you to pray hoping that God is also going to use you directly to fix their problem. As usual the house was full of children … David, Dancun and Isaac and their four cousins (Ezekiel’s own grandchildren) with some of the biggest, brightest, best smiles in Kenya – see photo below, (contrary to popular belief, not all children have a ready smile… some of the ‘school photos’ that we have had to take for sponsors have been absolute torture for our resident school photographer Ian McMillan.)  My earlier, personal experiences and the reports I have heard from others over the years would suggest that Ezekiel could be quite a tough, harsh character, certainly not someone you would choose to cross and yet, every time I've been to his home, the children are right beside him and clearly very happy and content to be there.

This time however, just as Isaac had said, Ezekiel was lying on his bed …. He thinks he has dislocated his hip but what is much more likely is that the joint has cracked or broken and effectively left him bed ridden. The only treatment he had was paracetemol and an anti-inflammatory drug for the pain. He was calm and lucid and his only request beyond the serious desire for prayer was to ask for some food assistance, since he was no longer able to go out and look for food, and a Luo Bible for the boys to read to him. Ezekiel knows, as do we, that the limited facilities in the local hospital would not be able to fix his problem. There’s no such thing as a hip replacement for the poor and even if we could find somewhere that would perform the operation for a price it’s pretty unlikely that he would survive the surgery. We had a good chat, I talked about all the things that Jesus had said about the importance of caring for and loving his children and how much Ezekiel had done that would have made God smile as he opened his home to the children of his disabled or absent relatives.  I prayed a prayer that I hoped would encourage him to place his trust in Jesus and to know how much he was loved and then he prayed for me … he prayed a lot of nice things, he prayed that God would ‘add me more years’ and he thanked God for making us neighbours so that we have been here to help one another …. in fact more than once he thanked God for teaching us to ‘Love our neighbours !’ Not for the first time, God stopped me in my tracks … and just as I thought I was going out to be a blessing  God used that someone to totally bless me! 

Please pray for physical,emotional and spiritual healing, and for peace and reconciliation for Ezekiel and his family

Monday, 10 February 2014

Old and New Friends

Well it’s still VERY warm … the last four days have brought cloud cover and the occasional glimpse of potential rain clouds but, at this point, there is still no rain! Eighteen months ago they planted a little box hedge outside the front of our house, in the shape of H & K. Sadly, like the rest of H&K, it too is distinctly wilted and withering. Today Terry took to his bed for the morning because he woke up with dizzy spells and looked half-drunk as he walked across the compound to the latrines (which is a shame because he’s been pretty much tea-total for the last 13 years.) We also have two male members of staff off sick with malaria, Enoch our janitor and Joseph our carpenter. Joseph, in particular, is a conscientious, strong and fit man so it’s a serious indication of the strength of this particular malaria for him to be laid low and not make it to work. Millie our social worker probably shouldn’t be here either but ‘she’s a woman and a mother’ so she is soldiering on, sticking to desk duties ….. currently covering dozens of new textbooks for the upper school.

It still feels like a drought. We have now used up nearly all 47,000 litres of rain water from our roof harvest tanks and even the bore hole has to be pumped for shorter periods of time as the sensor at the bottom of the hole has indicated that it is not being replenished as quickly as it normally would. Just watering the kale that we harvest and eat, on almost a daily basis, is becoming a serious challenge. We appreciate  there’s a lot of people back home desperate to see the rain disappear but we are also desperate for it to make a reappearance here!

However, on a more positive note we have enjoyed the reappearance of our friends and fellow missionaries, Ian and Hilda, McMillan. Over the last six years they have come to H&K eight times, the first time in June 2007 for just 48 hours and on the last three occasions for stays of up to eight months. During their time here they have worked in a very supportive role with our church pastors  Kennedy and Dorine and spent a lot of time visiting the homes of our church members. They have also made themselves available, during the long evenings, to the children who live in the Home - to help them experience more of a ‘normal’ family life …. spending time in small groups sharing board and card games, doing creative crafts, simply watching a film or preparing a Saturday supper or making a treat to share with everyone - like popcorn or welsh cakes. As you can probably imagine, everyone is very happy to see them back again. In fact, on their first night, Hilda treated everyone to a supper of sausage butties (you can’t buy them locally and we don’t have a fridge so you have to buy them and cook them the same day) and genuine Scottish shortbread to eat with their chai (tea)! Sadly, this time, Ian and Hilda are here for only 3 months. The reason they will leave so soon is because they will be returning to Paisley before the end of May, in anticipation of a very special and exciting event, the arrival of their first grandchild. We are all very happy for them but will need to make sure that we make the most of appreciating them whilst they are still here!

In about three hours’ time we will be welcoming brand new visitors to Hope and Kindness, Robin and Janet Fenner and their 17 yr old daughter Kyla. Robin is a Bible College teacher and Janet has excellent IT skills to share. Their daughter is also doing a long distance IT course. They have been in Nairobi for the last month but today they are doing the long, hot and, in places, very, very dusty and bumpy road journey to Kosele. Kosele doesn’t have very much in common with Nairobi apart from the fact that they are both in the country of Kenya! I’m not sure how much they know about us here or what they are expecting to find, but they are visiting for at least a month and we are really looking forward to having them stay. We hope that it will be a time of mutual blessings for all of us … in just the way God always planned His Kingdom to be. Will close now as we always want to look our best when visitors first arrive …    Continuing to pray for all of you there and for an imminent reversal in all our weather forecasts!

Monday, 3 February 2014

It Ain't Half Hot

Did I mention it was HOT!!! Like most people, I love sunshine, in the past I have been accused of being something of a sun worshipper …. bright, blue skies do it for me! But I’m beginning to wonder if it really is possible to have too much of a good thing! I’ve just been on the internet for the weather forecast, to establish the true temperature, and it says it will continue to be between 30 and 35 degrees for the coming week with no sign of a rain cloud coming from anywhere. Interestingly enough this particular site also includes a ‘feels like’ temperature which suggests that most of the time it will feel more like 32 to 38 degrees!

I guess the issue is that this would be a real treat if we were on our holidays … but we’re not and nor are our children or any of our neighbours … all of whom also agree that right now it is VERY hot! I know that back in the UK, a spell of hot weather generally creates a challenge in schools for both the concentration and energy levels of the pupils and the teachers (very few school buildings were ever designed or equipped to manage our more extreme weather conditions.) I also know that if we are blessed with sunny and hot during the last weeks of the summer term, it is not uncommon for the break times to grow a little longer. Here in Kenya it looks like we are in for more than a spell of just one or two hot sunny weeks. January is the beginning of their school year and there is no time to be lost in pushing on with the syllabus and addressing the needs of some of the children who already struggle with their learning. By mid-morning, walking into some of our classrooms is like walking into an oven - now I can really empathise with one of my all-time favourite story characters … The Gingerbread man! Most of my days are split between the classrooms and a small, stuffy office (iron sheet roofs are just not conducive to producing cool buildings.) I usually wear a loose fitting skirt and a sleeveless T-shirt and I can easily get a ‘wet’ (though not cold) drink and yet …. I’m still pretty uncomfortable. But I’m also very fortunate. For our neighbours it is very hard to find any kind of paid work. What work there is, usually involves some kind of labouring on buildings or the land. This week we’ve had men moving and flattening the mountain of soil that came from digging the foundations for our latest set of classrooms. They have also been digging up and placing retaining stones in order to create the stone path that we will be needing in the coming months - when the rains return and I stop complaining about heat and dust and moan instead about the wet and the mud! These guys are wearing their long trousers and their usually oversized T-shirts and they are working really hard, out in the sun, from about 8:30 through till 4:00. Every morning (to quote a song from a famous musical) they seem happy to greet me and even smile and laugh while they work …. but I still find it hard not to feel bad that they have no choice but to do this really tough work, irrespective of the weather and the temperatures.

As well as the high temperatures, everyone here has to contend with the dust! Some people sound like they’re suffering from a heavy winter cold but in actual fact they are simply congested by the amount of dust that is thrown up into the air from the vehicles that travel along the dirt road in front of our home and school. I remember the first January we were here, back in 2003, when the playing field for our children was right by the side of the road. I would lie in bed at night listening to the children coughing, the kind of cough that sounded like it would never stop and yet the child seemed to somehow sleep through. As soon as the rains returned, the coughing went away.

So, without doubt, this is the DRY season and yet, contrary to past experiences and what I thought was the pattern for mosquitoes, this last, very dry month has seen a serious outbreak of strong malaria. Right now we have three members of our staff and three of the staff’s children, in the local hospital being treated for dehydration and the other unpleasant side effects of malaria. Every day, for the last month, we have had anything between five and ten of the school children come to us with symptoms of malaria. They come to you complaining of a headache, they have a high fever and feel shivery and when they try to eat or drink they soon find themselves vomiting. Sometimes they can be treated with a course of tablets, between one and three big tablets (depending on their size/age) twice a day for three days. But with some of them, the symptoms come on so fast that they are unable to keep the tablets down and they have to receive a course of injections over three days. This is hard because, instead of resting and recovering peacefully at home, they are forced to take three long walks to the local dispensary.

According to some of our staff who were visiting others in the hospital, there is currently a conspiracy theory going around to suggest that it is the Americans (leading all the research on malaria and possible future cures and treatment) who are responsible for this unusual outbreak. The theory is that they have introduced a new species of mosquito that likes to come out in the dry season … just so that they (the Americans not the mosquitoes) can still make money when the rainy season mosquitoes have been eradicated! Seriously though, malaria remains a big problem in this part of Kenya. As I sit here at my desk, trying to resist scratching the more than half a dozen bites that I‘ve just received on my legs and ankles, I can’t help but think of that famous quote from Anita Roddick the founder of The Body “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.”  At the risk of sounding like an advertisement for mosquito nets, the facts remain that there are still more than half a million people who will die this year because of malaria . 90% of them live in Sub Saharan Africa (which includes Kenya) and most of them will be children under the age of 5 yrs. Even after all the great work to get nets out into peoples’ homes, it is estimated that less than 5% of the children are sleeping under any type of insecticide treated nets. The reasons for this are many. For most, their homes have just one simple partition. One third of the house space is allocated to a sleeping room and storage and the other two thirds is used as a simple living room. It is very rare for children here to have a bed of their own let alone their own room. In reality, most children sleep on an assortment of mats or wooden sofas or chairs in the area that is the day time ‘living space.’  Purchasing and arranging nets to cover every member of the family is not a simple affair and, because it is dark by 7:00pm, most of us are still up and active (not hiding under our nets) at a time when the mosquitoes, like the ones living under my desk, wake up hungry and ready to bite! The bites can be unbearably itchy but that is nothing compared to the misery that malaria brings. We have said many times that “Kosele is a really tough place to live in.” The children grow up pretty tough and it is very rare that you will see any one of them cry. But in this last week, as children have come to the office to tell us they are sick, I have seen a lot of big, silent tears trickle down their faces. Back in England, at my last school, a sick child would be taken to the office where he or she would receive sympathy, kindness and lots of reassurance from our lovely school administrator, Mrs Milward. She would phone their parent and either mum or dad or grandma or granddad would usually appear within the hour to take them home (if necessary via the doctors surgery) to the comfort and love that we all need when we’re feeling poorly. But many of the children in our school have only one parent, most don’t have any. The relatives they stay with struggle to meet the basic needs of their families on a ‘good day’ (i.e. when no one is sick.) So, just like every other day, when the children here are sick, they take themselves home. When they reach home they will simply curl up in a corner of the room and hopefully sleep until the worst of the sickness passes. No chicken soup, no curling up on the sofa in front of the T.V., no sweet sweeties to take away the taste of the nasty medicine, no mum to just sit and cuddle and be with them. Please pray that this latest outbreak of malaria soon disappears, that there are no fatalities amongst the children here or in the homes of our neighbours and that each one of us here, working under the name of “Hope and Kindness,” will not miss the chance to speak a kind word or demonstrate some simple TLC to a child that needs to know God’s care and love.     

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Eeeeehhhhh, after the initial eeeek moment as the first splashes of cold water hit your warm dry skin, a cold shower under starry Kenyan skies is a real treat at the end of a hot and sunny Sunday. And ‘Yes,’ you would be right in guessing that it’s NOT raining here (I’ve just looked at the BBC UK headlines and seen that the rain is still falling on most of you!) If it wasn’t so tragic for those caught up in the worst extremes you would have to say it’s kind of funny that everyone back home is praying for the rain to stop whilst everyone here is desperate for it to start! To be fair, we haven’t actually started the official rainy season yet and I’m sure many people here will also be praying that they don’t get the volume of rain that they had for their first growing season last year- when the fields became so water logged the new plants simply rotted in the ground.
As many of you will know, after more than ten years of having to be satisfied with just two short visits a year (and sometimes even less than that), God has been kind enough to allow me a second chance to return for a much longer stay. Although we’ve only been back for four days I cannot describe just how good it feels to be here and to have the time to think and to pray before I rush off to ‘fix’ and to ‘do’ the ‘busy stuff!’ Those of you who know me well will know that I am, by nature, much more of a Martha than a Mary (see Luke10:38-42). For everyone else’s sake as well as my own, I am hoping that this will become my season for being more like Mary!
Having said that, a lot of the things that made me so ‘busy’ in my last two short trips do appear to be bearing fruit and the Home feels like the very happy place I remember when the children were all very small (the majority of our children had become teenagers and it was important for us to find positive ways of adjusting to that fact!) I’m hoping that tomorrow we will see the same positive experience in both of the schools. Unfortunately, because of a few personal family issues and the government’s practise of last minute ‘teacher absorption’ (it takes about 5 years for newly qualified teachers to be offered a post in a government/public school) we began the year with four less teachers than we had when the school closed last November. I guess it was what you call ‘a baptism of fire’ for our Head Teacher Madame Josephine – she had only agreed to step into the role at the end of last year! Fortunately she resisted the temptation to run away and, even though she was competing with many other local head-teachers who were facing the same predicament, she was able to successfully recruit replacement teachers before the beginning of the second week. We have already had one day of teacher training with them and are very optimistic about the year ahead.

Tomorrow I’m heading for the ECD Class (the equivalent of a combined nursery and reception class,) without doubt the best and most important class in any school. Though we’ve had some very famous names through our school so far, names like Princess Diana, Vladimir Putin and Will Smith ….. I think tomorrow could top all of them when I finally meet our new children two of whom are little boys called Barak Obama and Fidel Castro! How awesome is that!