Thursday, September 28, 2017

Giving and Receiving, Loving and Laughing

 Pulling stuff out of my battered duffel bag, it feels like Christmas! I feel pure joy in giving the gifts I’ve been collecting for months while Millicent and her team express pure delight in receiving loads of goodies for the Faraja Community Centre in Chogoria, rural Kenya.

My bag was full of good quality, second-hand colourful clothes I’d bought from charity shops back home in Tenterden, Kent to donate to the local ladies to sell in the markets and make some income for themselves with a percentage going to Faraja.

I give Fridah sewing supplies I’d bought cheap on Amazon, give Millicent musical instruments, games and books for the children and Faith and Robert notebooks, pens and stationery for their fieldwork taking health information to remote villages; items I’d bought cheap from Poundland that can make their work easier.

I ask Fridah to hem a dress and long skirt and take in some baggy pants for me as part of the mending project, which generates income for Faraja.

Caring visitors from other countries can donate clothes to support this little income-generating business and bring other useful resources to support the work of the centre. 

Fridah hard at work sewing bags

Faith and Robert who take health information to remote villages 

And then I show Millicent and Garama my idea for the kitchen in the corner of the large, spacious room, for use in the feeding program for the kids and how we can teach nutritious cooking classes and even have a café that draws in the whole community. We discuss how we could install flush toilets and go outside to the rough but fertile ground and visualise a community vegetable garden.

Millicent and Garama on the site for the community vegetable garden
The dynamic and dedicated couple are overwhelmed with excitement, saying they have always wanted to make these improvements to the centre but lacked the funds.

So now the vision for adding the electricity, plumbing and kitchen and expanding the services of Faraja will be possible with some enthusiastic volunteers pitching in with the trade skills and labour and a fundraising campaign amongst supporters in the UK, Australia and the States.

A realistic plan is starting to form in our minds and hearts, which already feels unstoppable and achievable. 

The Friday night party at the guesthouse for the hospital staff and their gorgeous children is a fun-filled occasion with a potluck dinner and rowdy games and quizzes. My instant new friends warmly welcome me to join in.

Meeting The Faraja Kids

Saturday is my first experience meeting the Faraja kids. It’s such a pleasure to watch the children sitting quietly and tucking into their hearty meal of rice and beans before playtime erupts, with boys kicking balls and doing handstands and filling the room with laughter.
The children eating their meal of rice and beans
Ball games and hand stands! 

Around 30 children, aged 4 to 14, come to the centre every Saturday for food and fun! They are vulnerable children from troubled, unstable families and many are orphans living with relatives in poor conditions.  

I introduce myself as ‘Mama Dee’ and then ask each child to come forward and write their name and age in my book. It is such a simple exercise but the children are enthralled watching intently and applauding riotously as each child completes the task and beams with pride!

Me leading the 'name game'!
But my idea for singing and dancing is a flop! I’d brought a jawbone speaker to sync to my iphone playlist but the music isn’t loud enough above the noise of the excited kids. So I decide to buy an old-fashioned CD player for next week’s session and Millicent suggests we teach the children the words to the songs before they try to sing them! What a good idea! In my eagerness to jump in, I have overlooked the obvious!    

But Pastor Garama saves the day by telling the kids an animated Bible story about the Good Samaritan with the message of being kind and helping each other.

Pastor Garama tells a bible story
Dinner with new American Friends

Beth and Larry from Alaska are living in a house in the hospital compound. Larry is a senior doctor training medical staff and Beth is a human rights lawyer. They are dedicated humanitarians and Christians devoted to Making A Difference to the community here during their two-year tenure.

They kindly invite Millicent and Garama and me for dinner on Saturday night and over a delicious meal of spaghetti we talk about the volatile political situation in Kenya with a second disruptive election and we all agree that peace is the most important issue for people struggling daily with poverty.

Ree’L and Jason, a paediatrician, and their young son Silas pop by. The adventurous family from Los Angeles are devoting five years to working here. Ree’L is a business expert and has volunteered to create a new website for Faraja and so I offer to write the content. It is funny how things are just flowing naturally with like-minded people coming together!

 Ree'L who is creating a Faraja website
Sunday is for 
Praise and Worship

I wake up at 5 am to the heavenly sound of the girls at Boarding School singing hymns in rich harmonies that float across the misty gardens.

Sunday is devoted to church and groups of men and ladies, dressed in immaculate suits, hurry to services at a myriad churches, all singing praises to God,throughout the vibrant community.

I join the congregation of Pastor Garama’s Baptist Church to sing hymns together, and hear his inspiring sermon, in English, Meru and Swahili. It is a joyful, uplifting experience worshipping God and praying together and meeting everyone.

The congregation of the Baptist church
Glorious Locations 

That night in the guesthouse, over dinner, Uli, a university student from Germany, and Mark, a Kenyan surgeon, and myself talk about the challenges of social change and how the beauty of God’s own country gets into your soul. Looking at a faded map of East Africa on the wall, Mark points out some of the most glorious locations to visit, which I add to my wish list! 

The idea of bringing groups of visitors to volunteer in the Faraja centre combined with experiencing adventurous wildlife safaris is taking shape in my mind.

Checking Out Accommodation

So on Monday morning, drenched in sunshine, Millicent and her friend Rebecca, driven in the mini-van by her son Eliud, collect Beth and me to visit the imposing hotel being built near by.

From the outside the Snow Peak Hotel, on the busy main road, looks like a building site with the top floor still under construction but inside the lower area is impressive with shiny marble floors, 14 pristine guest rooms, a busy restaurant overlooking the rainforest, stylish bar and spacious conference room.

Rebecca, me, Millicent, Kuka and Beth on the balcony of the Snow Peak  hotel
Kuka, a vivacious woman with an irresistible sense of humour, shows us around and we all agree that Snow Peak would provide quality accommodation at a very reasonable rate for groups of visitors.

With Beth and Rebecca opting to walk back to the hospital, Eliud drives Millicent and me to check out another accommodation option. Driving through lush farmlands we reach the idyllic Kilimo Talii resort with nine beautiful thatched roof huts providing luxurious privacy to guests amid the tranquil tropical gardens.

Beautiful thatched roof cottages at Kilimo Talii
Relaxing with soft drinks in the traditional circular restaurant, Eliud tells me he has a German Shepherd puppy called Daisy. As a dog lover missing my two Cocker Spaniels, I’m captivated and we chat about puppies. I can’t wait to meet her! 

That afternoon, I get stuck into writing content for the Faraja website, my creativity flowing with enthusiasm. Back home in Kent, my ideas for making a difference were all theoretical but now, being here, the whimsical dreams become feasible!

Tuesday morning I ceremoniously wave farewell to the three German hikers who have conquered majestic Mount Kenya. Karl, Holger and his son Uli are off for their next adventure in Tsavo National Park to see the beautiful African wildlife: elephants, rhino’s, lions, leopards, zebras, giraffes and antelope.

Karl, Holger and Uli with Douglas, their hiking guide and driver setting off for Tsavo
Meeting with Ree’L over coffee we discuss our shared goal to attract international interest in the humble community centre with its massive potential to transform lives.

That afternoon Millicent introduces me to charming David and Justus, retired teachers, who serve on the executive board of the Faraja Community Centre.
When I lay out the vision to install power, plumbing and a kitchen, the men are elated and bursting with ideas. Justus wants to introduce local kids and adults to the wonders of healthy fresh juices made by a Juicer! 

Board member Justus and David with Millicent and Garama at the Faraja centre 

Discovering the Markets 

I meet Jane, over dinner, who is staying at the main guesthouse while she leads a series of seminars on Preparing for Retirement for hospital staff. I meet her son Paul, a super intelligent young man highly qualified in maths, science and computer programming, who has driven his mum from Nairobi.

It’s Wednesday already and after another morning of working solidly writing the website copy, I venture to the nearby markets with my purse and camera, returning with some delightful photos of colourful street life, a new long dress, a t-shirt, African fabric for Fridah to make bags and bunches of spinach and avocadoes for Douglas and Anne in the kitchen!

Chogoria's colourful markets 
 Feels like home

In less than two weeks I have settled into the funny old guesthouse and the relaxed rhythm of life here. I am soaking up the fragrance of tropical flowers on the gentle breeze, basking in the clear blue skies and caressing sunshine, and delighting in the purple Jacaranda, Bougainvillea, pretty Hibiscus, orange Poinciana and red Banksia reminding me of my former home on the Sunshine Coast, Australia. 

I am overjoyed to meet warm and friendly local people who smile and say ‘Jambo, karibu’… ‘Hello, you are welcome’ and good-hearted humanitarian workers who share the dream to make a difference for people living with the horrendous challenges of poverty.

And my courage to take a risk to commit to the ambitious project of fundraising and recruiting volunteers to build amenities in the Faraja community centre has taken me by surprise.

Suddenly the impossible seems possible … if I can just inspire enough people to care.  

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