Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Kanyawegi children and I

On my 2nd day in Kenya, I met several children who I became very attached to by the end of the trip.  They made me smile throughout the trip despite the language barrier.  Eventually, they always came to say hello to me whenever I was near Obambo.  I did spoil them a little by providing them with sweets whenever I had some.  These kids wore dirty clothes with holes in them.  They didn't have shoes and played with tires but they were sincerely the most happiest children I've ever met.  I am going to introduce you to some of the friends I will miss very much.  Be prepared for a lot of photos.

 We were able to make them laugh :)

Wednesday, 6 August 2014


Rashma and I left the community on the 5th and took off to Nairobi on a Each Coach. Easy Coach is quite comfortable and safe because it goes directly to Nairobi without accepting new customers on the streets.  We got off the bus at this sketch junction to wait for our host family. Scott, a UBC commerce student who we met at Masai Maara, is working in Nairobi for the summer and he found us a place to stay.  We were continuously asked by many creepy mutatu dudes if we needed a ride and finally after about 40 minutes, Anne, the host mother showed up.  We got in her car and was taken to her house.  When we walked in, we were shocked.  We lived in a village  for 7 weeks where houses were mostly made of the mud and dung mixture. There was no electricity, water had to be carried from far away and being clean was a luxury. This house in Nairobi, was fancy with a flat screen TV, an enormous kitchen,  and.. a servant.  

Whoa. Talk about economic disparity.

Apparently, the husband is a senator or something… The first thing that went through our headss.. politicians= corruption (?) The youngest child of this family, Phil, was 3 and he was playing with a tablet.  This made me slightly sad because it made me think of Dadi and his shoeless dirty feet and his worn clothes.  Phil also spoke more English than Dadi who is 9.  I think people in Nairobi speak better English in general, possibly because they are not surrounded by their own tribe all the time. One thing that is obvious in Nairobi is that rich are definitely rich and poor are poor which is what you often see in developing countries.

Extravagant interior

Phil, smiling with his tablet

Monday, 4 August 2014

Rethinking about orphanages/ volunteering

Lily and I had a conversation about how some orphanages are businesses to pull money out of foreigners.  People need to be extremely cautious about where they donate their money because sometimes things aren't as they seem to be.  Lily told me that in Nepal, seemingly orphanages have a lot of children with living parents and they are sent here to receive better food/ clothing and of course, there are the corrupt orphanages where the money doesn't really go to the children. There is nothing wrong with children who are in need receiving the necessities but the process needs to be more transparent.  The people who are donating have the right to know where their money is going.  This shows that there are many even with parents, who are in dire need as well.  Some more than others, whether you are in an orphanage or not.  

Hanging out with the girls

We visited an orphanage called Brother Joseph orphanage near the Kisian Junction today. You have to make an appointment with them if you want to visit and take dry goods with you to support the orphanage.  This orphanage turned out to be only for girls and they were a lot older than what we expected.  Most of them were in grade 6-7 and some were in high school.  Many still have guardians such as grandparents, aunties or uncles but they stay at the orphanage because if they stay with their guardians, they are given too much work which deviate their focus from studying.  So they remain at the orphanage for most of the year and go back ‘home’ to their families during school breaks.  These girls were very well kept and they seemed content.  Their rooms were far better than most houses in the area and they had electricity, which is a luxury in the villages.  I think it is crucial that these girls are able to live happily and confidently as Kenyan women in this country.  Seeing their living condition and the well-structured orphanage building begs the question of whether this is the place for me to donate money or goods.  Children in orphanages have sponsors that can pay for their school and school materials.  Most orphanages prosper and do very well.  

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Kenyan food talk

I was extremely sick on August 1st for the 1st time in my life.  I vomited everything in my stomach, and had a severe diarrhea at the same time.  It is a horrible feeling when you can feel it coming from both ends.   I felt so cold I had to take my down jacket out.  I vomited till 4 am and managed to keep some fluids in after drinking a Stoney’s (Stoney’s is a strong ginger soda). 

Tanzania's Stoney Tangawizi.  The ones in Kenya normally come in 500mL.  The Tanzania Stoney has some sort of weird spices in it.  I prefer the Kenyan one. 

When you’re sick, it really makes you want to go home.  Forget everything that’s happening here but just wish to be in your comfortable bed with loved ones around you.  Sadly, or stubbornly, I couldn’t get myself to contact anyone back at home… I tear up a little in my bed thinking how sad it is to not have anyone to contact, not because I don’t have friends, but because I didn’t want to worry them.  I think I am just too stubborn for my own good.

Today is the second last day in the community.  I honestly don’t know how to feel. It feels numb and confusing.  Am I really going home? I am going to be in Vancouver in 9 days.  When I am back, the whole trip is going to seem like a dream… I am hoping to keep in touch with the people on the ground and hopefully, I can make it back to Kenya soon enough. 

Now I am going to talk about Kenyan food.  It may seem like a weird transition from vomiting and diarrhea but welcome to a health science student’s world.  When I first arrived, we only ate beans (oganda), or green grams, cabbage or kale (skumaweeki) and rice or chapati.  Very limited.  When my other 2 team members Lily and Esha arrived, we started buying more spices such as cumin, etc.  Mama Siprose who cooks for us, knows how to cook but she’s been cooking the same thing due to lack of ingredients we’ve been purchasing.  When she started cooking with spices, food tasted a lot better. We also bought a whole chicken from the Nakumat and… seriously, she will make you the best chicken dish you’ve ever had with a ton of flavours.  We’ve been avoiding meat as much as we could because we heard from previous teams that it made them sick.  But damn, we’ve been missing out. Kenyan meat dishes are always the best other than the fact that they overcook the meat all the time but the stew that it comes in taste heavenly.  Dip some chapati or ugali in it and it is om nom nom.  We haven’t tried the fish even though we live right by Lake Victoria. The lake is contaminated with schistosomiasis and we were told not to eat fish if we can help it.  I would like to try a tilapia though.  They deep fry it to the point it is crisp so I am certain that it will kill all the parasites but we haven’t been adventurous enough. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

5 more days left in Kanyawegi

Rashma and I have been in Kanyawegi, Kenya for almost 6 weeks now.  It’s crazy how fast time flies.  I don’t think 6 weeks is enough for us to get anything done here. We did accomplish going into schools to teach primary students (Standard 6,7,8) about HIV/ AIDS but we are uncertain of the effects this will have on the children.  We made the decision to go into the high schools this year because we felt that it is necessary for high school students to get sex education and HIV/ AIDS talk so they can make safer decisions.  Unfortunately, Kenyan government is against condom demonstrations even though most teachers/ parents know that their kids engage in sexual behaviours.  We talked to several teachers who told us that they are aware but they just choose to not see them.  They are also afraid that talking about condom use will encourage sexual behaviours.  Their concerns are understandable but if the behaviours are inevitable due to hormones and nature, it is better to educate them so they are aware of the risks beforehand.  This way, the teenagers will know how to avoid contracting HIV or how to prevent spreading by understanding the importance of condom usage and also how to use it properly.  We heard crazy things about condoms from the students such as having little holes on them. 

Another big problem in Kenya is lack of teachers.  Also many teachers do not care for the children’s future.  Teachers’ job is so crucial because they may potentially have the power to change someone’s life in a positive or negative way. Unfortunately, many are corrupt and they focus on acquiring more money or goods from parents.  They let others do all the “donkey work” and cruise along, hoping that life will continue to be good.  Also, Kenya lack teachers that can teach English. Even though English is an official language in Kenya, many don’t know how to speak/ write English properly.  I met a secondary school student who didn’t understand simple phrases in English… I don’t know how he is going to make it past this year since all the exams are in English. Today, I asked a teacher his opinion on of what should be done to fix this problem. He suggested a change in the policy to make sure that English is properly taught in classes and make sure that the students/ teachers don’t speak in mother tongue.  There are these kids I met during my 2nd day in Kenya.  Dadi, who is the oldest is 9 and he does not speak any English.  I am not sure how he is getting by in school.. but today I asked Stephen to tell Dadi that he should learn English.  I hope he remembers this mzungu and tries to learn it.  Later, I was told by Stephen that students learn english in grade 4-5. I also saw a halfie kids at Lisuka primary school today.  He is half white, half black and both of his parents passed away so he lives at an orphanage.  The teachers said that he is very bright and smart.  He doesn’t get made fun of in class which was my biggest worry. The discrimination does not exist here because the Luo people think of light skin as very “smart” (attractive). 


Photos with the deputy and Chris-George

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Teaching about HIV/ AIDS in Kanyawegi, Kenya

Yesterday, we started teaching about HIV/ AIDS in high schools.  They asked really great questions.  One student asked about the prophylaxis process and what the difference is between that and taking the ARVs daily.  Another asked what the process is if the wife is HIV+ and husband is HIV- but they want to have a child.  There was also a question about where HIV/ AIDS originated from and why it is so deadly in human beings but not in chimpanzees when we are both mammals.  We tried to explain to them that DNA mutation occurred in humans and some viruses are more deadly and are able to replicate more effectively than others but.. I don’t know if they fully understood.  We recommended that they study science once they enter University! I hope they can learn more about it in depth in the future.   I think as volunteers/ teachers, it is important to empower the students and guide them in the right direction and I hope we did this by showing expertise and motivating them to learn more about the topic in further studies.   

This morning, my teammates told me that 2 students who were sitting in front held each other’s hands tightly when we were talking about HIV statistics in the area.  We are assuming that maybe because one of them is HIV+.  In the Nyanza province, 1/3 of the population have HIV.  Mostly due to the practice of polygamy , jaboya system (sex for fish system) that exists near Lake Victoria and also lack of education on this topic.  We always wondered how many children have HIV whenever we teach but this information is of course not disclosed.  One thing that was obvious in high schools students was that they seemed to take the lesson more seriously.  It may be because they personally experienced HIV in their lives whether it was their family member or friends and understand the seriousness of the problem.  I hope our lessons are helping them and they will make safer and smarter choices in the future.  The effects of such teachings are not immediate but what we hope is that in 5 years, 10 years or so, the prevalence of HIV will decrease in this area. 

This year, we went into 17 primary schools and 5 high schools.  GIVE integrated the HIV/ AIDS curriculum to the Ojola zone 7 years ago and this year, our main goal was to analyze its progress.  We are hoping that the community can take over the project in the future so we are trying to discover a sustainable method to hand over project.

 Stephen and Rashma, testing the students

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Photo Diary- Maasai Mara Safari

I went on a safari (it means journey in swahili) with my teammates and 2 more people from UBC joined us from Uganda after they finished volunteering.  Expect a lot of photos in this post. 

Driving to Maasai Mara from Kisumu 
Kericho. This is where all the Kenyan tea is produced.  It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. 

 Working on the tea farm

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Some thoughts from a stranger

My teammate, Lily, sent this to me via fb messaging one day.  I hope she is okay with me sharing it with everyone. 

hey rei! Remember my friend that I have had since forever? well he sent me this message, and I thought you'd like it too!
"Life is nothing but the mere experience of our existence, of all the things that surround us… We are all born into a world of uncertainty and that is simply the beauty of it.
We all have dreams, we all have hopes, we all have fears. We imagine ourselves into the future, as we remember our pasts. We live life curious to know what tomorrow will bring us. Yet today will soon be the yesterday of tomorrow… and so it will be forever.
People live planning for tomorrow, and projecting their lives into the future because they want to have something certain. Some sort of path to follow and know where they’re going, control and comfort of their lives. I believe humans do this to satisfy their fears of the true uncertainty of their lives. But it is exactly in those moments of uncertainty where the true beauty of life comes up to touch the human heart and soul.

We must be patient, as the universe and time will set things in place, some day at some point….but we must never quit dreaming and imagining all that our hearts tell us. We strive facing the fears and the uncertainties, to become stronger and stronger from inside out understanding that we are all capable of anything if we apply ourselves and battle the fears. We grow stronger as we remain conscious that anything can happen and the unexpected will come. "

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Feeling lost

I am honestly bored out of my mind at the moment.  I don’t know what to do. I haven't written anything in a while because there aren't much to talk about on some days. The internet is extremely slow, I keep falling asleep if I attempt at reading, I don’t have anything planned for the day and it is way too hot outside.  These are the biggest problems of my life at the moment (sigh, and I am in Africa).  It's already been almost 2 weeks since I've been in Kenya and one thing that really strike me the hardest is the amount of problems that exist in this country.  I don’t mean problems like the ones I am experiencing at the moment but bigger ones that have an enormous impact in many people’s lives. 

The first and obvious one is the corruption in the government/ officials.  The government is filthy rich while if you step outside into a village, poverty is severe. Kids are covered in dirt, shoesless, and some wear sandals made of tires.  I am not an expert when it comes to politics or economy of the country but I’ve been told that the rich in Kenya continue to become rich while the poor will remain the same and suffer. This problem has been on-going in many countries and the disparity between the rich and poor continues to grow.  In the soccer tournaments, there are children who beg us for a banana which costs 5 shillings while in Kisumu hotels, the children are well-groomed and dressed just like the children we would see in Canada.  I wish there was something I could do.  I am here to volunteer but many times, I feel extremely helpless.  Stephen, who is Maurice’s brother wants to come and study in Canada. He got accepted to a University in Nairobi to study commerce in September.  Once again, I wish there was something I could do to help.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Polio Vaccination

I can’t believe it is our 5th day here already.  We asked mama Pamela if she could call a motorcycle/ boda boda  for us because we needed to get to a school called Osari Primary school which was approximately 1.5 hours walk away.  We got on the motorbike around 8:40 and headed over.  We were supposed to meet Carren, who is a CHW in that area but we didn’t see her when we arrived.  The teachers welcomed us warmly and we talked shortly about what the children are learning and then one of the teachers introduced us to the principal/ headmaster.  We told the principal about what we were planning to do at the schools and talked very briefly and then he helped us call Carren to figure out where she was.  There was a change of plan and she was at a different school called Lisuka.  The principal said it was 1.5 km away which didn't sound too far, and he said it was totally walk-able, so we started walking.  Even after 30 minutes, the school was nowhere to be seen. Carren called us a couple of times, and she said she will send a motorbike on our way.  We got on a motorbike and went for about 5 minutes and arrived at Lisuka primary school.  He charged us 50 shlilings which was a bit too much for the distance he took us, but since I didn’t have anything smaller, so I just paid him. 

These tree leaves are used to make ropes!! 

Walking towards Lisuka

Monday, 23 June 2014

Nutrition Workshop

Today, we went to Ober Kamoth with Steph for a IYCF session . These sessions entail educating mothers about feeding  children healthy and nutritious food.  Sally was supposed to meet us there around 10 am but we didn’t see her till 11 am (again, Kenyan time).  So while we waited, we got a chance to look around the health centre her arrival.  We met a nurse named Lilian and she said she lives right beside us.  Hopefully, we can run in to her again so we can ask her more questions about pre-post natal care for the grant we received.  Also, I am hoping I get a chance to shadow one of the nurses before I leave.  

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Lake Victoria & Bank Day

We walked to Paga beach on Victoria Lake this morning.  It took us around 45 minutes on a scenic, rustic road.  On our way there, we saw a goat herd, many children who yelled “Mzungu, mzungu, how are you?” and most of them wanted to shake our hands.  We ran into a ton of butterflies on our way there. I have never seen anything like it.  It was beautiful.  I also climbed this big, African tree and posed for a photo.  This mama who spoke English quite well told us when saying good morning to many people, we must add “uru” at the end of “oyaore”.  So we must say “oyaore uru”.  Down at the beach, children were fishing with a wooden stick without success.  Children here don’t have fancy toys like N. American children. They play with straws, tires, fishing, lids that are rolled, garbage bag soccer balls, and drawing on dirt.  They look very blissful playing with these materials which made me feel very greedy, having everything I need in life and still wanting more. 

a tree climber

These ladies taught us what "uru" meant

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Soccer Tournament

Today was the day of the soccer tournament which occurs for about 8 weeks during June and July.  Stephen (Maurice’s brother), Job, and Julius were supposed to come and pick our stuff at 8 am so we woke up at 645 am despite knowing that people are often tardy in Kenya.  They ended up coming around 9:30 (sigh).  They helped us to carry the equipment and then we headed over to Obambo primary school. What I realized so far after 2 days is that people tend to say “How are you” before saying “Hi”.  Also, because we are foreigners, they call us white people,  mzungu in Kiswahili.  We asked them if Rashma and I would be considered a Mzungu because we are East/ South Asians.  The high school boys immediately identified Rashma as a 'Hindu' and me as 'China'. We laughed. 

Stephen in bright neon shirt, his friend Ernest in the centre and Julius on the right

Our friend Peter making a funny face

Friday, 20 June 2014

Osaore Kanyawegi

June 20th 

We left Amsterdam, carrying 37kg backpack in total.  We thought we couldn’t make it to the metro and was tempted to just get a cab. We were told that the cab to Schipol would be around 40 euros which seemed insanely expensive for a poor student like myself.  We decided to suck it up and carry our monstrous bags for just 6 euros and save up.  Upon arriving in Schiphol, I was so frustrated that it didn’t have unlimited wifi.  Maybe it is not a common thing to have in Europe.  We waited about 3 hours for our plane, becoming slightly anxious for the actual part of our trip.  KLM and Kenya airways have a partnership so we went on Kenya airways.  The plane was extremely spacious and more comfortable than KLM which was a surprise to me (for some reason). Possibly because I associate Kenya as a developing country and expected their services to be at a lower quality. 

At Schipol.  We were so tired and didn't really care about what others thought of us sitting on the ground. 

June 21st 

The moment I stepped out of the Kisumu airport, I finally felt like I was in Kenya.  The soil was reddish brown, and green everywhere.  People riding in mutatus, motorcycles (Boda bodas), goats on the roads, scorching hot sun and people honking and waving at us because we are muzungus (white).  The children were especially excited to see us.  They waved, yelled out “How are you” and everyone in the community wanted to shake our hands. This place definitely knows how to make you feel welcomed. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014


After 6 months.. I am attempting at writing again.  This time, it will be a bit different because I am actually headed to Kenya for about 2 months with a volunteering organization called GIVE (Global Initiative for Village Empowerment).  Since flying over to Kenya is not the easiest, my teammate Rashma and I decided to stop by the Netherlands for a couple of days instead of being in layover for about 35 hours.  We flew to Amsterdam from Vancouver which took us around 9 hours, found a nice cozy place on air bnb and decided explore this city.  

We didn't do any research before our arrival so it was exciting to find things along the way by asking the locals. After yesterday's first glimpse of Amsterdam, these are the things I learned about Amsterdam.

1. Cafes everywhere.  Funny enough, I was actually looking for a big fat burger with fries to realize that I wasn't in N. America anymore.  Most places serve sandwiches with soup.
2. Cannabis.  You can get your own starter kit for 2.50 euros.  
3. Sex.  Sex museums, red light district, prostitution etc. etc.
4. Flowers.  There is a flower market which sells the root of the plant.  It was an interesting to realize once again how ugly roots grow into something so beautiful.
5. Cheese. We went into one of the stores and just tried out their cheese. #hippielife
6. Canals. Of course the signature. 
7. Cyclists. Some, very angry if you are getting in their way. This lady gave Dina, who is also a GIVE traveler this year, the biggest disapproval when she stepped on the cycling lane.  We went because the signal told us that we could walk.  I am not sure how that works around here. 
8. Very tall people. Some look like models.