REP Travels to Kenya

In May of 2012, board members Alice and Joshua Sammon, Rebekah Scaduto and Ripple Effect Project volunteers Dan and Levana Olsen traveled to Kisumu, Kenya. The purpose of this trip was to evaluate the success of the projects Ripple Effect Project has funded, and to get a better understanding of the needs and future direction of Korando Faith Widows and Orphans group. The following stories are the travelers’ words describing the rich experiences they encountered while on their journey.

The Trip

The trip was long, much longer than is comfortable for the body to be awake. After about 24 hours of travel time, we arrive in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. It is nighttime and it is raining – very heavily, in fact. The drought has been officially declared over. We spend the night in Nairobi and then start out early the next morning for the long drive to Kisumu, about 8 hours. Normally, that would not be too bad, but this is over some paved, some dirt, some washed out and some very poor road conditions. On our journey we pass town after town, cow herds, donkeys, and zebras roaming and sometimes blocking the roads. The walking traffic is constant and bicycles are a common sight.

Dolfine greets Alice and the other members of the Ripple Effect Project team as they arrive at the Korando compound in Kisumu, Kenya.

We arrive at the Korando School at around seven o’clock in the evening. Dolfine, her husband Patrick, some of the teachers, students and her daughter Pamela are waiting to greet us with songs of welcome. I am so excited and happy to see my Kenyan friend. We are greeted and cared for as very special guests. It is easy for us to notice that we are in a place unlike one any of us have experienced before. We are in a world we have only heard about and seen in pictures. It is a different world, and we stand out as being different; it is an interesting experience to be the clear minority. Children stop and look at us because of the color – or rather lack of color – of our skin!

We have come to witness firsthand the work our friends do, to evaluate the projects already completed and decide what other projects will best facilitate the Korando Center’s growth and self-sustainability.

After a hospitable welcome, a feast prepared for us and a great night’s sleep we are ready to go. A Saturday morning tour of the Center is a great start toward our goal.

We were witness to the electric project the night before, and now walk the expanded land of the center. Every inch of land is utilized; it is either planted or used for space for the children to run and play. The fishponds are full of water and fish that will be thinned out to be eaten and sold. Cows, nine in all, roam the grass; I believe we call it “free range”!

Our water project is quite evident as the storage towers cannot be missed. Water is currently no longer an issue and the crops which fill the land are now easily watered. Cooking and storage areas are in an out-building which is predominantly outside with just a roof covering.

The lack of refrigeration requires food storage creativity. Here, women dry vegetables to prevent spoilage.

The house is solid brick with a cement-like floor. There are five bedrooms and a sitting room, which doubles as the school office. Now, a five-bedroom home sounds large, but there are 24 girls, Dolfine and Patrick living in this space!

A trip to Dolfine’s farmland is the biggest surprise of all. Several years ago she was gifted a small piece of farmland two hours away from the school. With money we have sent her, she has tripled the size to about 9-10 acres. What we see is incredible. The land is on Lake Victoria, which makes it perfect for irrigation. She has about half the land planted and has managed to purchase some irrigation pipes to run from the river. Corn is high, with plots of soybeans, green beans, collard greens, kale, tomatoes and more.

We quickly realize that investment in improving and completing this project will enhance their ability to feed and care for themselves. In fact, this is what we have done. Since our return, Ripple Effect Project has funded the purchase of the remaining irrigation pipes, four oxen and the harnesses for plowing, plow equipment, a shed for the oxen, seed for one year (four plantings) and funds for farm hands to assure that all the work can be completed. This project is already seeing a successful return. The first crops are currently being harvested and the second planting is under way.

The Children

From the moment we arrived at the Korando School, the children captivated our attention. They joyously greeted us with song when we stepped out of the car, and from that point on their enthusiasm for life and optimism for the future became infectious. Both the orphans who lived with Dolfine and the daytime students were passionate about education, and their work ethic reflected this commitment. Waking up early, many of them walked the kilometers to school through mud and rain by themselves, only to stay until the early evening, learning subject after subject.

Many of these children had lost their parents to HIV or lived in absolute poverty, but their resilience was inspiring. As we spoke to them, boys and girls alike expressed their dreams to become doctors, teachers, nurses or engineers. Instead of being discouraged by their circumstances, they were motivated to achieve. Even more amazing was the unselfish nature of their ambitions, because they spoke endlessly of wanting to make their community and all of Kenya a better place.

Getting to know the children through these conversations, handshakes, and shared smiles was the most rewarding aspect of our journey. Ultimately, Ripple Effect Project is more than an idea: it is an investment in real children’s lives. We could not have imagined just how worthy of that investment these children would prove to be.

The School

Through our time at the Korando Center we were lucky enough to see school in session, as classes had just resumed from break when we arrived. The Korando Center offers classes for students in what we would call pre-school, from as early as they are able to walk to the Center, through eighth grade. Although education is technically free in Kenya, it effectively is not, as students are required to purchase school uniforms, shoes, books, and pencils. The students attending classes at the Korando Center do not have that requirement; many students wear uniforms if they have them, and do so because it shows the pride they take in their education.

REP Board Member Rebekah Scaduto teaches an English class to the older students.

The students value their education, and are truly at the Center to learn. This is evident by the discipline with which they accomplish their coursework, their reverence to the teachers, and their respect for the school structures. Every morning students come to the Center early in order to cut branches for a makeshift broom and sweep out the classroom’s dirt floors. Following this morning ritual is the morning assembly: a time where all the students and teachers congregate together in the common area for announcements, songs, and prayer.

The 200 students attend classes by grade level in three structures made of mud and corrugated metal. They learn from black boards with holes, through dictation and rote memorization. They each have a composition book that is treasured like gold; mistakes are carefully erased so that the page can be reused. A “class set” of textbooks is one book per bench of students, with 3-4 students looking on. While we were visiting the Korando Center, we were able to purchase additional textbooks, composition books, and other school supplies to replace the dilapidated ones that were in use. This is just one small step in the education project that we are planning.

The Structures

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case in particular, nothing could have been further from the truth. The pictures of the compound that I had seen did nothing to prepare me for the conditions experienced firsthand at the Korando Center.

The compound is located on the outskirts of town off of the main road that leads from Kisumu, Kenya to Uganda. In general, the compound is clean and well kept. It consists of the main house, the school buildings and a rudimentary barn. Roughly two hundred feet down the dirt driveway lies the main house where Dolfine and her husband Patrick live with the orphan girls. The classrooms are located in two separate buildings behind the house.

An aerial fish eye view of the school building and boys room. They sleep ten boys to one mud room.

The first is constructed with stick frames and corrugated metal siding. This building houses four small classrooms. The second school building is constructed from sticks and mud, and also has four classrooms with a fifth room for the orphan boys to sleep. All of the classrooms have dirt floors, doorways with no doors and window openings with no windows. The roof of the school buildings is a patchwork of corrugated metal with holes that let in rain. The dividers between the classrooms are reed curtains that do no more than divide the space.

It became rather apparent after our initial tour of the compound that the school buildings are inadequate and need to be replaced with a more permanent school building. For this reason, our next major project is to work with Korando Faith Widows and Orphans Group to build a new school. A school building that fulfills their needs and meets national standards is a lofty goal. However, after spending time at Korando it is clear that there is a great need.

 With Gratitude

There is so much more we would like to share with you about our experiences. But more will need to wait until another time.

We would like to thank all of the people who made this trip possible. The trip was enlightening and will help us to move forward as an organization.

A version of this story appeared in our Fall 2012 Newsletter. To download a copy, click the link below.
Fall 2012 Newsletter [PDF]