Update from Morokoshi, Kenya

On 2009-09-12 Steve Muriithi, Morokoshi founder wrote:

How is you[?] … thank you for your education, we open the school on 8-9-2009 and everyone the children and teachers are doing well the women continue to tender the green house and i filled the tank with water from water line. So they are able to to irrigate [their] plant without any problem; they also did plant in of new plant at the other shamba in wanyororo.

We have not had good rain though we still have not lost hope. The feeding progrmme is still on … im still trying all i can to feed this kids with my the money from juice bar. im now milking my second cow and this have really help suplement the feeding progrmme. As you know the economy back bone of this country is agricuture so … now we are poor more than before. but im sure we will make it, we will tighten [our] belt … the children are doing great and continue to put a hard smile … that how life can be sometime, but never last way forever. say jambo to everybody and you family.

2009-09-28 06:08 Steve Muriithi, Morokoshi founder wrote:

… the green house is doing very well and the tomatotes are so big ;i wish you were here to see. the rain have come but we need more tanks and im planing to build washroom and use the water from the tanks to keep the toilets clean. say high to Criss and we really miss him. the feeding prgrmme is still going on and i continue giving this children poridge. they need it more than before as you know that the drought have really hit us. bye for now Kai. i miss you man.

On 2009-10-02 Steve Muriithi, Morokoshi founder wrote:

It so good to note that the visitors and the volonteers are appreciating our work and our plan. This is very encoraging and especially to big heart like Grace. I know we can achieve more in future and we shall make morokoshi to be the best in this community. any way and im happy for you guys and we shall do more. Say a big jambo to Chris and Grace

By |2009-10-09T11:19:42-04:00October 9th, 2009|2009, Out of Africa|0 Comments

Update from Morokoshi, Kenya

Steve Muriithi, founder of the Morokoshi Preschool writes:

Thank you so much for your letter and concern. i read your blogs and it was good.

sorry for what happen while you were here. this tells you that its not essay to live in Africa and you need a lot of strength to survive. lack of good health care sanitation is one of the thing that the school should focus to help this children. If what happen to you can happen to this small one then rest be assured that they will be past tense

Any way we have closed the school for holiday but we are having forty student from both primary and secondary who are are getting

[education] at our school. morokoshi have become a learning institution.

I’m so busy trying to help my people the children and also my work. But all in all things are moving so well and i finish building the class for baby. It look nice and Grace saw it … every thing is well and we trying to fight famine and hunger that have affected us. i wish you all the best in plan as the world economy continue to [hurt] all of us.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:45-04:00August 19th, 2009|2009, Out of Africa|0 Comments

The Faces of Morokoshi, a photo essay

nina meeting child in plastic used to make bags kids under library girl drawing in a box

cute girl and boy in doorway chris and peter kids eating kids climbing on fence

peter with measure rebecca with child beautiful elderly woman volunteer grace with students women laughing, working on greenhouse

bucket bag instruction volunteer kai hiding behing girls children waving volunteers kai and chris

nina bags nina bags nina bags nina bags jumping rope

Photos by Span volunteers Grace Proctor, Kai Staats, and Chris Emmel.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:45-04:00August 17th, 2009|2009, Out of Africa|0 Comments

Moving Toward Sustainable Solutions

lunch program aerial lunch program serving lunch program kids

Food for Thought
According to the teachers and through general observation at Morokoshi, we believe roughly 10% of the nearly seventy preschool children arrive in the morning without having eaten since the prior day. In addition to the obvious issues surrounding malnutrition in the early, foundation years of physical growth, these children are less capable of learning and do daily show signs of listlessness and disconnection from the activities in the classroom.

The mothers of these children are very poor, too often without food nor income to sustain even the basics of daily needs for themselves or their children. Many are single, for all practical purposes, their husbands not living at home or not contributing to the family in a meaningful way.

lunch program smile

A school lunch program is a means of addressing this issue, granting at least one meal a day to each child. In the U.S. the National School Lunch Program was initiated during the 1930s and then formalized in the ’40s as a means of making certain every child received at least one meal a day.

A quick Google search for “school lunch program” +kenya demonstrates how many external organizations are now providing food to the children in Kenyan school systems as the Kenyan government does not now (to the best of my knowledge) nor will likely carry such a program in the near future.

Therefore Span volunteer Grace Proctor and Steve Muriithi, owner of Morokoshi, initiated the Learning Lishe Program, a school lunch program. The Lishe Program begins with the “shamba” (Swahili for “farm”), rented land adjacent to Morokoshi which was planted with corn and beans early this spring as a means to long-term, renewable food source for immediate consumption, seeds for replanting, and sales of excess (if any) to the local market.

lunch program share

The women who work with the Lishe Program last week harvested the first crop of beans. I have been informed by Steve that due to poor rainfall, the crop is ample only to be used to reseed the field for the next season. We hope the corn (planted in the same field with alternating rows) will harvest with better results, but it too needs substantially more rainfall than what has arrived to date.

For now, Grace, Steve, and the teachers (who prepare the fire and food) have dedicated themselves to providing one cup of porridge for each child each day at the cost of $50 USD per month, or $600 per year to feed seventy children once each day.

The Transformation of Goals
Chris and I came to Morokoshi with intent to upgrade the solar PV array which Rie, Cameron, and I installed in May of 2008, and to build a composting toilet.

chris with solar panels

What could have been a two to three day project required ten, but ultimately we completed the upgrade of the PV array (I will share more about this project in a later blog entry; yes, the solar panel frame really is pink) which now boasts 8 panels for a total of 260 watts, a BlueSky solar charge controller, and Magnum Energy inverter resulting in the rejuvenation of the batteries to some degree, and vastly improved power delivery and duration.

At Steve’s request, it was our second goal to build a toilet for the growing student population. While unlined pit toilets are the norm in Kenya, Chris and I desired to provide a toilet which eliminated contamination of the ground water, improved sanitation, and provided safe, organic fertilizer. Our research shows that waste from a single human can support roughly 250Kg of food-crop per year. We conducted extensive research prior to our departure, brought printed documents and educational material, and shared these with Steve.

Yet the maintenance of a composting toilet is far greater than that of a pit toilet, if it is to be safe as it resides in close proximity to food preparation and the classrooms. While a pit toilet is certainly not the ultimate answer, the potential of massive disease outbreak of a poorly maintained composting toilet seems a higher risk.

Steve, Chris, and I spoke extensively on the subject, pacing the area behind Steve’s house, between the new slab for water tanks and the clothes line and the outdoor shower. Ultimately, after many evenings of conversation, Steve decided to build a test composting toilet on a small, family scale to determine if it was applicable to the school as a whole. Chris and I agreed to this approach and are eager to support his effort, with additional research and designs.

This level of conversation set in motion the process of reconsidering our goals at Morokoshi. It was a complex array of adjustments and refocusing, even debate as to what is in fact the best use of our limited time as volunteers.

Sustainable Solutions
For me, personally, in the first few days at Morokoshi, I came to realize how easy it is (and has been in the past) for any volunteer to arrive in a cloud of dust–hammers pounding, saws cutting, and drills whirring with unbridled passion to complete projects confined by impossible deadlines in challenging situations. But in the end, it is far too possible to spend little time with the very people we as volunteers come to support. Volunteers go home with photos of finished projects and smiling faces on the day of completion, but if the hard question is asked, Did we truly solicit change?

In many places (Morokoshi is an exception) volunteers return the following year to find a project exactly as it was left, or in a state of decay, or disassembled altogether. To provide opportunity for sustained change, there must be a complete buy-in, involvement, and support by the same people who are the recipients of the well intended project.

To use the ancient phrase, Did we provide a fish for a day or teach how to fish for a lifetime?

The Unfolding of a Systemic Solution
Our conversations began with the core concern for the children to receive one good meal a day. From there, the domino effect took hold, for the best means of feeding the children is through local production of food. To raise vegetables in any quantity requires a dedicated, dependable source of water. In Kenya, this is becoming more difficult to obtain for deforestation and changes in weather patterns are quickly leading to unreliable rainfall.

However, even chaotic weather patterns may produce ample water if captured and stored for when it is later needed most, delivered as a managed commodity.

This process lead to a discussion of reuse of gray water, water used for washing clothes, dishes, and floors, which lead to a discussion of how to move water from a catchment source the place where food is being grown using the natural force of gravity.

home made surveyors’ level home made surveyors’ level home made surveyors’ level home made surveyors’ level home made surveyors’ level

Now, this is where it got fun.

Chris, who has professional experience as a surveyor in Colorado, and I built a home-made surveyor’s level using 2 boards, duct tape, 2 screws, a 6″ metal pipe, 24″ rebar, a rock for counter-balance, iPod with a level app, camera, and bright orange lid to a plastic container.

Chris, Grace, and I surveyed Steve’s property and the adjacent ‘shamba’ to determine the potential flow of water in an improved, planned water shed. I then built a spreadsheet which calculates the quantity of water which may be captured with each centimeter of rainfall given a particular number of centimeters of rainfall.

With this, we calculated that we need 12,000 liters (4 x 3,000 liter tanks) to support the basic needs of 80 students, teachers, and Steve’s family during three months drought. We also determined that to capture and store ample water to support one acre of crops was cost prohibitive, even physically impossible. Therefore, any water for raising crops in an open field must come from natural rain fall supplemented by irrigation from a bore hole, which is on average a $30,000 USD proposition.

We realized that if we were to control the growing environment, the light, humidity, and water (from source to recapture), we could solve the greatest issue we faced–the ratio of liters of water to kilograms of crops. That is how the greenhouse was born, the need for a controlled ecosystem in which we recycle, reuse, and rejuvenate.

In my next entry, I will showcase how we built the greenhouse with the assistance of more than thirty women from the Nina Agricultural Initiative. It was amazing …

By |2017-04-10T11:17:45-04:00August 17th, 2009|2009, Out of Africa|0 Comments

Midnight Chills

Three Times Too Many
It was a challenging journey, both physically and emotionally. But this I have come to expect from Africa. There were maybe four or five days that I was not struggling with my health. There were a few days I just wanted to go home, to something familiar, something that felt safe.

I can live from a backpack for months without a single thought as to my home in Colorado, but when every drop of liquid in my body is lost to four hours squatting over a pit toilet in the rural farmland of the Rift Valley, it is all I can do to remain positive. I repeatedly explored the deep, rich Milky Way overhead to remove myself, even if for just a few minutes at a time, from my midnight excursion to the outhouse.

Three days of Cypro antibiotics and my digestive system regained composure. But with my immune system knocked flat to the ground by the intense therapy, I was hit with a low grade bronchitis which even today, five weeks later, lingers.

Just three days before I was to leave for Ghana, I was hit with malaria. It seems my decision to forgo the anti-malarial Malarone for the days I was taking Cypro was a mistake, or perhaps my immune system was just not strong enough even with chemical assistance.

Just the same, I was sitting on my foam bed in the wooden post-house, adjacent to Steve’s home. It was 11:30 PM. I was answering email by way of my AT&T cell phone tether. At 11:45 I felt a chill in my lower back and pulled a blanket over my shoulders; not unusual for the cool Rift nights. Five minutes later, I was truly cold and my legs cramped. I uncrossed them. By midnight, I was shaking so violently that it was all I could to do power-down my computer and crawl under the covers.

By 12:15 am I was wearing three layers on my torso and a winter cap, wrapped tight in a sheet and two blankets. I was very scared. The muscles in my back were constricted as though I had fallen into a glacial lake. I tried to remember the breathing techniques I learned as a child in Nebraska, to help me fall to sleep in cold winter nights where a wood burning stove was our only source of heat. I tried yoga as a means to relax, to keep my body from restricting blood flow. But nothing worked. I sweat and shook and remained terribly cold no matter what I did.

By 1:30 am I had regained enough control of my fingers to text my mother and brother, “Please call me. I need help.” My mother received the text, called my brother who ten minutes after my message, called. I tried to maintain control, but was sobbing when I answered, “I … I don’t know what is happening. I can’t sto– … stop shaking … I, I think I have malaria.”

I don’t know if this was a relief or more of a concern, for Jae later told me that when he received my SMS he thought I had been kidnapped and my mother feared I had been thrown into a Kenya prison. Guess they both assume the worst. Rather have malaria than spend a night in a Kenyan prison.

Jae jumped on Wikipedia and read the description of the initial symptoms of malaria, yellow and typhoid fevers. While they all shared some similarities in various stages, what I was experiencing was most likely malaria. We reviewed them again, to make certain.

I just wanted to sleep, but Jae was bold in his insistence that I go to the hospital. I finally agreed, realizing that if by chance it was not Malaria, early intervention was imperative. I took four Malarone to knock the assumed parasites from my blood stream. But if I had malaria, Malarone would not remove them from my liver, for it is a prophylactic which forms a protective, chemical barrier around the liver to keep the parasites from entering. Once inside, Malarone cannot assist, however, a strong dose can clear malaria parasites from the blood stream and disable their rapid reproduction.

Some material I have read states that malaria never leaves the human body, instead lying dormant in the liver until the next infestation. Subsequent material, particular to the drug administered by the doctor later that morning (see below), states that malaria can in fact be destroyed completely by proper treatment.

I made my way the door, fumbled with my shoes and headlamp and rickety stairs, and woke Chris with a shaky voice. It was 2:30 am. Chris woke Steve who called his friend who had a car, the man whom we often rode with on the way home from the Top Market in Nakuru. When he arrived, I was wearing a down jacket borrowed from Steve, my polar fleece, a long-sleeve shirt, and a knit cap. I was prepared for a snow storm, and yet oscillated between chills and overheating every twenty minutes.

On the drive to the hospital the combination of a sleepless night, uneven (to say the least) roads, and extensive dehydration resulted in my vomiting on the side of the road. I grabbed my headlamp to see if I had lost the four Malarone tablets, but they appeared to have been processed beyond the stomach, which was good. I am afraid I was not in the best of spirits for I cursed at Steve and Chris once (maybe twice), demanding some personal space. My apologies to you both.

At the hospital I was met by two young clinicians who conducted the basic heart rate and breathing tests. After a short interview, I requested an immediate blood test, but was denied for there were no technicians in the hospital. I stated I could conduct a basic analysis myself, if given access to a slide and microscope, for I recalled the shape of the deformed cells which I photographed through the eyepiece of the microscope last year when Rie was struck with malaria the prior year. The lab was locked, and so I had no choice but to wait five or more hours.

I remained at the hospital until 7 am when a technician arrived. Steve had gone home, but Chris remained, sleeping on the couch (thank you my friend). I was given a hospital bed adjacent to the clinician’s office. Steve returned at 8 am and shortly thereafter my blood was tested. The doctor saw me at 9 am and while my blood stream was clear of parasites (likely due to the Malarone), all symptoms pointed to malaria. He gave me an Italian made drug (Co-Arinate FDC, comprised of Artesunate 200mg, Sulfamethoxypryazine 500mg, and Pyrimethamine 25mg) which after one horse pill each day for three days cleared my body of the infestation.

By noon Chris and I had returned to Morokoshi and with slow movement, a long-sleeve shirt and sun hat, I assisted with the greenhouse construction. As I was to leave for Ghana in less than 48 hours, I worked to help Chris and the women of the Nina Initiative complete the effort.

I resumed the Malarone treatment on the fourth day and just yesterday concluded the course. Some remnants of bronchitis remain with me, but the best means of healing is just letting my body fight it, rebuilding my immune system one day at a time.

Thank you Chris, Steve, and Jae for helping me, supporting me, and giving me the confidence I needed in such an unexpected event.

500,000,000 Cases per Year
For those of you who have had malaria, which is a good portion of Africans, you know how scary the first bout can be. But what is not commonly known is that malaria sometimes crippled Europeans from their attempts at in-land conquests and it is malaria that remains a greater cause of death than AIDS the world over, with 350-500 million cases and more than 3 million deaths per year, causing long-term health detriment and economic stagnation to the African continent, Central, and South America.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:45-04:00August 15th, 2009|2009, Out of Africa|1 Comment

The Writer’s Starting Block

Late to bed, Late to rise
I went to bed late last night, after a hot bath well past midnight. I do not remember walking from the tub to my bed, lying down, nor falling to sleep. I awoke this morning at 8:30 (unusually late for me) fully cognizant of my desire to begin to capture, in writing, the time Chris and I spent in Kenya this month of July.

After two weeks back in the States, I remain without clarity for what to write nor even where to begin, but each day I have been processing, coming closer. It seems then that this morning I am creating the ideal environment in which to invoke the emotions and memories. I have surrounded myself with the comforts of home, sitting on the floor, leaning against a folded futon. At the same time, I recognize the irony in this when one of my first entries will be about the lack of food in the Rift Valley.

I enjoyed a bowl of oatmeal with Colorado honey, blueberries, raisins, and a sliced banana downed with a mug of ginger tea which I made from grated ginger root boiled with honey, cinnamon, and a touch of finely crushed red pepper. If there were just one drink which I would readily consume each and every day it would be home made ginger tea or kombucha, the stringent, ancient Chinese drink made from a carefully crafted growth of Acetobacter (acetic acid bacteria) and yeast. Once you get over the living cultures floating in the jar, it’s quite good.

I crave the satisfaction of sweet spice. The burning sensation of ginger reminds me that what I consume was not processed nor frozen nor sterilized with radiation and preservatives. It is living food for living bodies, like yogurt, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Listening to Car Talk on NPR and then Enigma, Enya, and Flynn. I am ready.

Perhaps a good place to start will be a story we can all relate to, even appreciate in retrospect; a story of playing host to nasty parasites, ancient survivors which thrive within us, wreaking havoc on our bodies, social structures, and economies …

By |2017-04-10T11:17:45-04:00August 15th, 2009|2009, Out of Africa|0 Comments

Update from Morokoshi, Kenya

It is always so difficult to write the first of what may be many entries concerning an adventure, event, or story. This, my fifth time to Africa is no different.

I came here with my good friend Chris Emmel of Fort Collins, Colorado, expecting to build a composting toilet, run water pipes to a new hand-washing facility for the more than 60 children of the Morokoshi preschool, and upgrade the solar PV system.

However, just half way into this journey I am opened to an important realization: well defined projects, the construction of buildings or donation of computers may not be as important as listening, sharing, planning, and overall system design for long-term, sustainable solutions.

In fact, it is possible that the completion of a project is more rewarding to the volunteer than of value to those for whom it was constructed. This is a very, very hard thing to recognize, and even harder to admit for as volunteers, we want to go home and feel that we accomplished something. Sometimes the intangibles, the knowledge shared and relationships built are more important than the brick and mortar.

After two weeks here, at the farm of Stephen Muriithi and Morokoshi School outside of Nakuru, Kenya, I see that Chris and I will not likely leave with as much dirt beneath our finger nails as we had intended. But what we are learning and what we have shared will lead to a future of improved communication and education between SpanAfrica and its Grassroots Partner Organizations.

I am eager to share more, but for now, please take the time to review SpanAfrica volunteer Grace Proctor’s Facebook page about Morokoshi.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:46-04:00July 17th, 2009|2009, Out of Africa|0 Comments

Return to Kenya

In just 2 weeks time, I will return to Kenya to work for three weeks at the Morokoshi school, outside of Nakuru.

My friend Chris Emmel and I will focus our efforts on upgrading the solar PV system with an improved charge controller, inverter/charger, batteries, 2 more panels, and heavier gauge wire. We also hope to build a composting toilet for the now greater than 80 children, and an improved water catchment and purification system.

This trip comes as fruition to a 4-month reorganization program Rebecca, Cameron, Brad, and I have undertaken in preparation for the expansion of SpanAfrica. It’s been an exciting time, to gain so much support and see new potential open for those grassroots organizations with whom we work in Africa.

And yes, we are in need of substantial funds to enable all of this to unfold as planned. To date, we have raised just under $1000 of the minimal $7000 required. [link to fund raising pages removed].

By |2013-03-03T11:10:45-04:00June 22nd, 2009|2009, Out of Africa|0 Comments

Update from Morokoshi, Kenya

Morokoshi classroom 1

On 2008-12-21 Steve Muriithi, Morokoshi founder wrote:

[With] the mood of the the new year … the Japanees friend broke good news this week … want to build [a new] class through the cloth company; this was a very big surprise after an year of big struggle. This makes our plan successful.

Everything is doing great and i can see that we may succeed, our plan may even beat our time. The only thing that we should do is to make our work and management to be the best in east and central Africa.

Morokoshi classroom 2

Having a big worry of a large intake next year, now you sleep tight cause i can see that we shall be having new class desk and now we should be looking ahead for chairs and washroom. The school in Kenya open in the second week of January.

The playing field is now ready and im happy that the new kids will have a good playing ground. After X-mas i will send you the photo of how far i have gone interestingly all the money that im using is from my juice stand. It have prove to be the best.

Thank you for the good work that you continue doing for Morokoshi. Cam, the letter that you wrote to the council addressing the market grievances is now at work and the council [has] started responding to our problem. i miss your way of writing and the way you can arrange things. Thank for your knowledge.

Kai, i have now doors and windows that i bought and i wish you and your team work were near to fix them on behalf of the school. i miss your good work. the school is doing well and all is well. the changes that we all believe in is now coming to morokoshi and you can see it beauty. It’s so wonderful!

Morokoshi classroom 3 Morokoshi classroom 4 Morokoshi classroom 5

By |2017-04-10T11:17:46-04:00February 17th, 2009|2009, Out of Africa|0 Comments