Introduction and History
An Introduction of Kitale Rafiki by Andy Dean
At the age of eighteen in September 2006 the dream became a reality as I left Heathrow with twenty other volunteers to spend just short of four months there. I travelled with a gap year organisation and as such most things were pre arranged and planned. For me the large village of Kiminini, around ten miles from the small town of Kitale would be my home. The school that would provide my experience was called Namawanga. It was built and founded in 1962 on the Mayer’s farm by Sep and Helen Mayer to provide a school for their farm workers children. Since that time the school had grown and was now home to over six hundred students.
The months went by and I loved every day at the school and getting to know Helen Mayer and the farm. When the time came to leave I had no real desire to return soon as other destinations were pulling me towards them. Things changed. During my free travel I was robbed from a secure hotel room in Mombasa, obvious inside job as the keys for two doors had been used to gain access to my valuables. Nothing was recovered and so I lost all of my visual memories from my time in Kenya. It was due to this annoyance that I had the strong desire to return and recapture as many of the magical places and moments as I could. It’s amazing looking back now that it took a theft to bring me back to Kenya.
Besides the great time I had volunteering I also met an amazing woman, Katey Paget. We soon became good friends and then a couple. We had a great experience together and shared all the highs and lows. Katey was placed near me, but in a much better equipped school, they had a swimming pool and electric! I had an outdoor long drop toilet and no electric!
May 2007 Myself and Katey got back on a plane for a very short three week visit to see and surprise friends and capture the full joys and culture of Kenya. Staying with Helen Mayer we had some very long and interesting conversations about many topics. During one of these conversations I made the choice to commit to trying to raise funds for someone or a project based on Mrs Mayer’s recommendation. A few ideas were passed around but one relating to a Mr Sylvester Munjalu stood out and took my interest. Sylvester had a vision to start up a school for the hearing impaired in the Kitale area, as there was no existing provision for another fifty miles. As a result he was attending university studying Special Needs education focussing on hearing impaired children and sign language. This was it I would look for some way of assisting the education costs of this man. Time had flown and we said our goodbyes. With pictures and videos safely in tow we were back on the plane to England once again.
In September that year I joined university and money suddenly became a bigger problem, but true to my word a sent my first cheque for £30 to Kenya. In December I found myself sitting at home worrying about all of my friends in Kenya, as each time the news came on all I could see was the horrors of the post election violence, which spilled over into January. Frantically I tried to make contact with Helen Mayer to ensure she; her family and school were safe. I never got through.
Waiting anxiously for another couple of weeks I had seen that the violence had all but stopped, by now I had also seen that the money I sent was still in my account. Again I tried calling with no joy. I eventually managed to find a number for Helen’s son Jonathan and so contacted him to check on the safety of everyone. I didn’t know Jonathan very well at this time. I first said how I hadn’t been able to contact his mum and asked how she was doing. He stopped me there. The news was a huge shock and hit me very hard. Mrs Mayer had sadly passed away at the same time as the violence in Kenya. Helen had lived there for over fifty years and everyone knew of her and her numerous charitable projects. If it wasn’t for me meeting such a truly inspirational and remarkable woman I would never have become as involved in Kenya as I have.
Jonathan informed me that it was only his mum working with Sylvester and his dream. It now looked like a poor outcome for the foundling unit and its small population of five. I was given Sylvester’s email address to contact him directly. I had asked for some information about the school. His reply a week or so later came and answered all my questions and also he had attached two photos of the current three walled “classroom” (see below). This was enough to get me in gear and make the quick decision to try and raise enough money to build a new classroom for the children. I had no idea what this would cost or how I would raise the money but I had determination. I also had the strong belief that these children experiencing education for the first time in their lives should not have it suddenly stripped away once again. A few months later I with help from Katey and others had raised over £1400! Enough for one classroom surely?
June 2008 and our third visit to Kenya but the first to Birunda Primary School where I saw the unit and huge main school of 1600 pupils, the biggest in the area. It was amazing to see that the money we had raised was constructing not one but two classrooms and an office specifically for the unit! The unit at this time had five hearing impaired children and three with learning difficulties. It was only a small number but once the new classrooms were up I was sure this would change. By the end of our time in Birunda the total spent was double what I had brought but it saw the installation of electricity, a water tank, furniture, wages and resources. A great improvement and step along the road to build a safe and secure learning environment for these children.
Katey and I were so proud of our achievements and we were keen to continue to help Birunda. On the plane home the idea of Kitale Rafiki was formed. The word “rafiki” means friend in Kiswahili and as Birunda was the main element of other smaller pieces of work we was involved in, around the Kitale area is seemed very fitting. We have made many friends all over Kenya but Kitale in particular is our Kenyan home and houses our large Kenyan family.
That was that. No idea and no plans what would come next. My life had changed dramatically by the end of 2008 as I made the choice to drop out of university and was unsure what the following year would bring. I had arranged before I left for the first Kitale Rafiki volunteers to come out to Kenya in June 2009. So with no job or set plans I decided, unsurprisingly, to go back to Kenya (without Katey) for an extended period from January to April 2009.
This time along with £4000 saw huge changes to the unit. By the end of these few months a new boy’s dormitory was built using the first “make shift” classroom structure. Two new classrooms were put up providing ample space to teach the projected increase in children. A well was dug bringing water to the unit and everything was going amazingly well. At the same time myself along with Sylvester made the decision to invest in some land and build a house for my future stays and visits from groups and individual volunteers. Five weeks from signing for the land to moving in to a house I designed, it wouldn’t happen in the UK! Please see Rafiki House for more details.
June and July 2009 complete with the first eight Kitale Rafiki volunteers was great and had a big impact on the unit and main school, where the volunteers were teaching. Sitting back and watching at this time made me think how much had been achieved in only a year. People tell me what I am doing is amazing but I don’t see it when I am there to me it’s a passion, a love to create a school for these vulnerable and all too often forgotten children.
In July my dad, brother and Katey came out to join me and spend a month in Kenya. It was a great time and I enjoyed showing my family the work I had put so much time into. Even more spectacular than this was on the 18th July when we trekked up some of the magnificent Mount Elgon, which overlooks the Kitale area, and one the spot where I first fell for Katey I proposed to her. Luckily she said yes! Such an amazing moment in our lives.
A final visit in November 2009 saw me having a chance, but very welcomed and successful meeting with another volunteer Jacqui Dunbar, who when I took her to Birunda was captivated by the children and saw the need for a girls dormitory and so the conversion of one of the new classrooms began. This was to be my last trip until next July when Katey and I would be coming for our Honeymoon.
Six weeks on and at the end of January 2010 I came back out due to no work in the UK and also I had raised £1200, enough to build a new kitchen which would benefit the boarding students, the main school and teachers. The weeks flew by and when I returned to the UK looking for work I couldn’t help but long to return to Kenya and the friends I had there. The population of the unit as of April 2nd2010 is eighteen hearing impaired children, all but one of which is now boarding!!
10th July 2010, it was our big day and what a magnificent day it was. We were blessed with Kenyan style weather peaking at 27degrees!! The day was perfect and a few little bits of Kenya even made an appearance in the form of a Kenyan Safari cake and plenty of bottle of Tusker, Kenyan lager. The following day my beautiful wife and I returned to the place we met to enjoy our honeymoon and our fourth Kenyan trip together. It wasn’t the most conventional honeymoon as two weeks in five volunteers, the second Kitale Rafiki group would be arriving. Our luxury and main relaxation of the honeymoon was to spend 8 days on the beautiful Indian Ocean staying at a place called Tiwi, its paradise and has been a part of our travels each visit.
The group arrived on the 23rd and quickly got a good feel and taste of Kenya, visiting Kibera, eating traditional foods and kissing a giraffe! Only a few days on and they are were all teaching in lower school and enjoying every minute. The group had raised money to complete the last few bits on the kitchen, build a veranda outside to connect the kitchen to the newly renovated dining room and also their main project was building four toilets and four washrooms for the unit. Fantastic! This is really the final piece to the puzzle as now they have everything and all the facilities they need to function as an independent unit. Only two years and one month on since the first brick was laid. It has been the most interesting, influential and life changing times of my life.
Not only have I found a country and people I love but also the woman who I will be spending the rest of my life with, who knows Kenya may one day be our permanent home. In the meantime we’ll be living in Sheffield so Katey can complete her PGCE. What will I be doing? Who knows? But Kenya and Birunda will always draw me back and will forever be a part of me.
I only managed to spend six weeks in Kenya this year but I managed to achieve a lot. It was a very different trip to my previous ones as I spend most of my time in Nairobi helping friends at the Wildebeest Camp. I only ended up having six full days in Kitale to try and get several weeks of things done. The main project in 2011 was to set up a small farm at Birunda School and introduce the hearing impaired children to farming and looking after livestock. This would not only provide them with outdoor and practical education but they could eat/sell what was produced and subsidise their diets.
Making the unit more sustainable was the plan right from the start but as the money was raised other more urgent matters arose and so it never got properly off the ground. This year however thanks mainly to the Segal Family Foundation I raised the money to transform areas of the school into small “shambas” (farms).
With £3000 to spend on developments I couldn’t wait to get over to Birunda and begin. The money had already been spent and some things had already been built and put in place by the time I arrived including; a cow shed complete with one dairy cow from the Mayer’s farm, a rabbit hutch plus six rabbits, poultry house with ten chickens, one cockerel and one turkey.
The original plan was to buy a neighbouring piece of land backing onto the unit. Once i was there and I assessed the potential of the land it was decided to make full use of the land available on the school site before first. The school is on a large 10acre site, shared by the Nursery, primary, special unit and secondary schools.
By the end of the week we had fenced six pieces of land which were divided up as follows:
Plot 1- Special Unit – ½ passion fruits ½ chicken run
Plot 2- Middle School, Std 4+5 - Crops
Plot 3 – Whole School – Planted 60 trees and Napier grass for livestock
Plot 4 – Special Unit – Planted 30 tree and around ¼ acre for crops
Plot 5 – Lower School, Std 1-3 – Crops/educational area
Plot 6 – Upper School, Std 6-7 – Crops
Furthermore we wanted to create a safer more secure environment for the children who board, so the fences around the unit were repaired and hedging planted. It was also decided that the unit should have gates at its two entrance points which could be securely closed at night. When making the gates we chose also to build new gates at the school’s main entrance, which look great and give a very good first impression to visitors.
With areas divided and security enhanced I consulted with staff and pupils to see what the would like to plant and which animals would be best to keep. So adding to the already present; cow, chickens, rabbit and turkey it was decided to bring in two pigs, a second turkey and in the future two sheep. I’ll always remember when the two pigs arrived at school their feet tied together been wheeled down from the village i an old rusty wheelbarrow, the children were so happy to see them!
Away from the farm idea funds were also spent repairing the dormitories, adding glass in windows, putting safety bars on the boys bunk beds, providing wages for the house mother and father and also funds were left to hire someone to look after the farm and livestock.
It was a very busy week but the transformation was amazing and the difference it will make to the children’s lives will only get better as time goes on.
The photo above shows the first structure put up to educate teh hearing impaired children. It was thsi photo and several emails that inspired me to help these children as much as possible.