I arrived in Kenya last Thursday night Feb 3rd, 2017 and left on Saturday for Bondo. My travelling companion is Ben Mware from Nairobi, but formally from the Bondo area. Ben works full time as an Agricultural Researcher but also oversees our Mikinduri team and projects. In Bondo, we were joined by Elizabeth Oluoch who is volunteering with us this week.
Since arriving in Bondo, which has a population of over 240,000 people, we have hit the ground running! The purpose of our time here is fact finding: How can we assist the people to have a better life? This area of Kenya has the largest population of HIV/AIDS infected patients ,which means there are a high percentage of partial or total orphans. The farmers have not harvested a crop for 2 growing seasons due to a lack of rain so poverty is high resulting in no food for children, parents can’t pay school fees so children are sent home, no running water or electricity in homes.Its a depressing and unbelievable situation but the people are gracious, hopeful and happy.
We started our fact finding mission on Sunday afternoon by meeting with the Skills for Living Ministries leadership. This group of Pastors and supporters shared with us the difficulties of the people and community and ideas they have for moving forward. The poverty level is so high that every second Sunday the collection is given to a needy orphan or widow. What they shared with us was reflected in the rest of our meetings this week.
On Monday morning, we drove to Usenge Beach to take the water bus to Mageta Island. This Island with a population of close to 10,000 is boarded by Lake Victoria -the largest fresh water lake in the world. The sights at the beach as we prepared to leave were a mixture- people climbing into the water to fill large containers and then lifting them on their heads to carry home, passengers boarding the boat carrying fire wood on their heads, 100 lb bags of fish being transported to the Island ,motorcycle drivers dropping people off and picking others up, fishermen leading large dory’s to cross the lake and this beautiful green plant taking up more space then the fishermen want as it drifts in with the tide. I am told its a problem for the boat owners to push through the water but I am also told it contains nutrients that are good for the water. A catch 22 The water bus takes an hour and the scenery once out on the water is beautiful.
The water bus stops at 3 different locations on the Island to accommodate passengers as there are no roads on the island. At our stop, we were greeted by 3 young men on motor bikes who were our chauffeurs for the day. I haven’t been on a motor bike for a number of years and although it was a tricky ride, I loved every minute of it. The land on the Island is very rocky and I wondered how anyone could think of farming. The majority of people make their living by fishing the Lake or small scale farming of vegetables. The ground and trees were brown and dry. Dust was everywhere. The Island is only 6 square kilometers but has 4 primary and /or secondary schools and a Health Centre /Dispensery. We visited each of the schools and discovered similar problems at each.Classes are over crowded, student desks/seating is lacking, no running water , not enough latrines or latrines that should be closed down because they are almost full but there are no others to use, large number of orphans , no feeding program so children are hungry, parents can’t afford secondary school fees, teachers are dealing with HIV students, girls as young as 12 becoming pregnant and teachers dealing with 40 or more students in their class.
It’s a vicious circle for them. Primary school is free but the government has not supported the education system. They build a school and basically walk away.There are government regulations regarding number of students per teacher, number of girl latrines and boy latrines etc but they are never enforced . The parents are so poor they can’t afford food for their families let alone secondary school fees so a number of students quit school and go fish for a living.
We also visited the Health Centre where Irene showed us around , Another story of neglected facilities and support for staff but dedicated staff who are doing their best with very little . The Health Centre looked a good size but upon investigation we discovered small rooms, no electricity, no running water, windows have no glass and anyone can enter any area to steal drugs and lack of space for patients. There is a nice,clean maternity ward with 5 beds. no electricity or running water for delivery’s. Irene told us that babies are often delivered at night with the nurse holding her cell phone in her mouth to use as a flashlight.
One of the major health issues affecting this community is disease burden. Malaria poses the greatest danger since over 50%of all outpatient diagnosis fall in this category, followed closely by water born illnesses and respiratory trait infections. Despite many interventions put in place by the government and other development partners HIV/AIDS has remained a threat. It’s prevalence continues to rise due partly to the social economic lifestyle of the community(fisher folk). Most women, especially widows and single mothers who opt to remain relevant in the fishing business are at times forced to offer their bodies for sex in exchange for fish.
The only source of water for the schools and health centre is the lake. The water is not safe for human consumption if not treated and unfortunately some people believe the people were blessed with the lake by God and won’t treat their water so water borne illnesses like typhoid fever are still occurring. It’s the chore of the student to collect water for the schools This can be a dangerous procedure as they go down banks and can encounter crocodiles or snakes while collecting water
Despite the many challenges we discovered the people are optimistic that life can get better. Parents contribute time and other resources to the school as they are able to. At each school I addressed the individual classes and was amused with the younger children laughing as they touched my hair and skin. I made a point of shaking hands with all the students and trying to speak to each one individually as I could see this was a novelty to have a mzungu among them. Needless to say we were always running late for a meeting, but it was worth it.
More to come tomorrow….