Saturday, 4 April 2020

The Homestretch

February 27:
With all our things packed and ready to go the night before, we left Kijiji House and made our way to Tigoni, the tea highlands just north of Nairobi.  These final days in the area were spent with Lois and our wonderful hostess Kate Shaw, Lois’s daughter-in-law. We were treated to a tour of Browns Cheese where we partook in a wine and cheese tasting experience,  followed by a lovely lunch featuring the cheeses produced at this family-owned business. A relaxing stroll around the grounds was the cherry on the sundae. Some Team Faraj members even took the opportunity to milk a cow the old-fashioned way!  

We continued our travels to The Lake House, a true retreat location, by a lake, surrounded by nature. This is where we were staying for the night before heading to the airport late the next day. We got the best tour of the grounds from Elliot, Kate’s son, then unloaded and placed all our bags in our rooms. We then headed to Kate’s home for a quick visit and to pick up her son Graham before going for a hike in the tea highlands. It was a whole new world up there... fields upon fields of tea. We listened with intent to the explanations on how the tea must be picked at a precise moment and in a very specific way (only the top ones on the bush)to be acceptable to the tea leaf buyers. We also saw some pickers heading back from the fields with their haul for the day. Judging by the size of their containers, this is not a job for the lazy nor the weak. Later on, Jonathan, Lois’s son, joined us for supper. It was nice to spend the evening with Lois and her family. There were no items to organize or pack before bed...only great company and the anticipation of a night’s sleep with no need to wake early the next day!! 

February 28:

Before heading to the airport, we visited Elliot and Graham’s school : Woodland Star School. It is an amazing small Montessori-style school for prekindergarten to grade 8 students within the campus of a university. It was a wonderful tour! We had lunch at the bistro on campus and enjoyed some sun and a bit of warmth before having to say a very tearful goodbye to Lois.  
We are so very grateful for all that Lois has done for Team Faraj, from the many hours of planning our 2020 itinerary, to managing our activities and meals and debriefing us throughout our visit. Most importantly , she has helped Tumaini Afrika SSM to continue bringing hope to so many children in the area. Thank you so very much Lois for leading the way! 

We cannot forget the support and the guidance from our dearest Faraj! It was very hard to say goodbye to him at the airport!! He has truly become part of our team and has accepted to be our eyes, our ears and our hands at Compass school until our return in two years. We will stay in touch!

Thursday, 2 April 2020

The Rest of the Story!

Time has gotten away from us so quickly since our return from Kenya. We barely had time to recover from the work done while in the Nairobi area, from the travel home and from the major time change before being catapulted into the ongoing COVID 19 situation across the world. We turned our attention to our family and loved ones and away from our blog followers. We haven’t forgotten you! Read on!

The rest of the story! 
February 24:
Today we met with Mary Thamari and the staff from Life in Abundance before traveling with them to a Masai village. It was a day to distribute Days for Girls (DFG) kits and goats. For those of you who might not know Mary, she has been the driving force behind County Girls Caucus, a 4 day retreat/workshop meant to empower girls and bring them to the understanding that they do not have to be married at a young age (as early as 10 yrs old in some villages) and do not need to be submitted to female genital mutilation (FGM). Of course they work with the family members as well.  Tumaini Afrika and our local Zonta Club have been great supporters of Mary’s work throughout the years. Now under the umbrella of Life in Abundance, Mary and her staff have expanded their reach to many villages outside of Nairobi. They also offer an increased number of programs to help families improve their lives, including one similar to Girls County Caucus.

A two hour trip to the outside of Naroibi brought us to a small village where we were introduced to and welcomed by a small group of women. Once those introductory proceedings done, Mary took the floor. We witnessed Mary talk about female genital mutilation to grandmothers, daughters and granddaughters. She passionately recounted stories of her Masai roots and proudly spoke of her success as a wife, a mother and a well-educated working woman in today’s world without having to go through FGM. It was the most powerful message coming from someone who is one of them. We are sure she changed the path of many that day!  
Linda and Judy were called upon to explain the use of and distribute Days for Girls kits to some very happy people. Then came the distribution of goats to many young girls.   Recipients were matched with a team Faraj member and invited to select their goat amongst the goats wandering in a small enclosure. This was a sight to see for the Tumaini Afrika newcomers! Girls skillfully ran after their goat and caught them by the ear or the leg and held on tight, ignoring the goat’s continued protests! Each girl had their goat in hand within a matter of seconds! Quite impressive really! A special shout out to Judi who attempted the capture of a goat for her recipient but was beaten to the punch. An admirable and valiant effort Judi!
As we all celebrated this distribution of goats with a soft drink, a treat as special as champagne, the girls were invited to look at their goat as a challenge... to care and raise their goat as an investment in their future because it could be used to pay for their education among other things.  Team Faraj members received very heartfelt thank yous from the mothers and grandmothers for helping them to invest in their family’s future. 
Kudos to those supporters who purchased goats! It truly is a life-changing hand up!

February 25:
We traveled with Mary Thamari and different Life in Abundance staff to a another village, this time north east of Nairobi. Travel to this village was set to take about 2 1/2 hours but traffic and construction made for a very long 4 1/2 hour trip! When we arrived, we were whisked into a classroom to distribute DFG kits to students and staff. Girl power was at its best as 100 girls showed off their newly acquired kit and celebrated the fact that they would not be missing a week of school per month. More goats were distributed that day. Thank you to Stephen from Life in Abundance for organizing such a successful and efficient distribution. Each goat was numbered and tied with a rope and given by a Team Faraj member. We were very happy to see that Faraj, Mary and Stephen were able to participate in the distribution as well. It was symbolic of the relationships and partnerships developed with the people and agencies who help us bring hope to so many in Nairobi and area.

Note: The current market for goats has been a challenge making it impossible for us to distribute the 125+ goats purchased before this trip. Those goats not distributed will be bought and distributed throughout the next few weeks.  Thank you to Mary and her team for making sure many more girls will be gifted a goat in the near future.

February 26:

We spent the morning at Compass school. This last visit with the students and staff was bittersweet. 

We enjoyed distributing many gifts including toothbrushes to all, pillowcase dresses and underwear to the girls and socks and underwear to the boys.   We learned that the board had organized a workshop for the teachers on how to prepare classroom teaching materials. Staff got right to work to create their own materials with the supplies we had brought them the week before. The fruits of their labour were proudly displayed in the classrooms, a truly wonderful thing to see and a sign of their devotion to their students.

Then came the hardest part : time to say goodbye! It is difficult to explain how you can grow so attached to people after just a few brief visits but you do! Through our interactions, we were given many reminders of why everything we do here and back home is so important to them and their well-being. Without a doubt, it is all worthwhile. 
We left after some long (and tearful) hugs, knowing nonetheless, that with Flora at the helm, things will continue to flourish at Compass school. We are already looking forward to our return in two years to see all the good things that have happened since our departure.

Visits to Amani ya Juu and Heshima were slated for the afternoon. 

To paraphrase from their site : Amani ya Juu, a Swahili saying which means “Peace from Above", is a social economic enterprise committed to peace and reconciliation for women from many African nations and cultures. They create quality fair trade home goods and accessories using African materials and sell such items in their gift shops. 
We did a little shopping to support their works, had lunch with Julia Clark,(who you might remember attending our meeting with David Wakogy and the Compass School board members), were treated to a tour of the facilities and then returned to do a little more shopping. For more information on Amani ya Juu, checkout their site :

Heshima was our last stop of the day. It is an institution that was founded to help mothers and families from the slums, with special needs children. Unfortunately, in Kenya, such children are often locked away due to public shame or receive no support if they manage to attend a public school. Based on the belief that all human beings are made in the image of God, the Heshima Foundation, founded by the Hagman family, opened its doors to meet the needs of these special children. They provide meals, offer medical interventions, special education, occupational, physical and speech therapy, sign language and horse riding. Although they are mostly dependant on donations to run all these programs, they also run a boutique called Dignity Design where they sell items created by the students, mothers and supporters. 

After a visit of the facilities, including the boutique, Team Faraj made a very special presentation to Tracey, one of the founding members of Heshima.  A donation was made in memory of Ford Upton, Tumaini Afrika member Wendy’s late husband. Ford was a kind man who volunteered many hours for the good of his community especially children. How fitting that a donation be made to Heshima to honour his works! A plaque will be displayed on the site to commemorate him and his contributions. 
For more information on Heshima, check out their site :

And so ended the work of Team Faraj for this 2020 trip to Kenya.

The next few days would allow us some time to take in a few more sights, debrief and decompress in preparation for the long journey home.

Monday, 2 March 2020

The Adventure Continues

As you can imagine, it has been very challenging to update the blog on a daily basis. Although Team Faraj travelled home on this past weekend, we will continue to add to the blog until we have covered all our activities while in Kenya. Thank you for your understanding and happy reading!

February 19: Work Day at Compass:

As students and staff are currently on break, we thought it would be a good day to complete some work without disrupting classes and well... getting distracted by all those lovely and loving children. Let’s be realistic. You can’t get much done when you are talking, playing, singing and dancing!
We arrived to find members of the board, specifically the chairman David, working on the pile of desks we had started repairing during our last visit. Although they were also on break, all staff were there painting classrooms and desk legs and staining newly repaired desk surfaces. We also got help from the older current students who worked hard along side some former students, now in university. This was definitely not a typical work crew as it was a representation of the many levels of administration, staff, student body and supporters (including Faraj, once again) coming together for the success of this school and its community. 

The next task of the day was tree planting at the Crèche under the direction of David Wakogy.  We need not get into the symbolism of tree planting and its everlasting benefits to the environment to understand the significance of this ceremony. Groups comprised of a board, a staff, a former student and a Tumaini Afrika member planted at least seven trees on site. Thank you to caretaker Kevin for preparing the soil for planting and accepting the responsibility of caring for the newly planted trees. It will be nice to see how much they have grown when we return!

We finished our day with one last meeting with David and the board to review the vision for Compass school and to set goals towards growth. There are a lot of good things to come for Compass and the Crèche.

February 20-22:  Travels to the Mara

After such a packed and heavy schedule, it is time for us to take a step back to take in and process all that we have done so far and to replenish our energy in preparation for the next part of our work in the Nairobi area. The best way to do that : experience Kenya’s natural beauty both flora and fauna WOW! 

February 23

Today was a day to visit some friends : Mary Warindi and Flora Ndunge.

You may recognize Mary’s name from the Ole Warehouse where we sell some of her beautiful beadwork pillows and canvases.  She is a talented artist who uses her craft to support herself and her three children Elvis, Mercy and Daisy. During our visit, she recounted events both happy and sad including the accomplishments and dreams of her children and, tragically, the recent death of her mother at the age of 57. It was a blessing to have Judy and Bruce, two people who through their work have helped many people deal with death and grieving. They seemed to know what to say and do to help her as she is still trying to process it all. We left, knowing that this resilient young woman would be able to carry on, determined to make a better life for herself and her family. It will be nice to keep in touch and to see her again!

We made our way over to visit Flora, Steven and their new addition Baracka, now 9 months old. As you have seen in our previous blogs, Flora is our rock at Compass school.  She is the person we can count on to keep things moving forward at the school and to direct us on how to help as best we can. 

We certainly enjoyed all the snuggles with Baracka and the many conversations we had while enjoying some delicious Kenyan tea and some pieces of sweet potato and arrowroot. We were also very happy to be able to share some birthday cake to celebrate Flora’s birthday! Do you believe it was her first birthday cake? Apparently, it is not customary for them to have cake for one’s birthday. She seemed quite pleased to be able to partake in one of our Western  traditions. (And it was a sweet deal for us too ;-)

Friday, 21 February 2020

Different Sides of Nairobi

Our apologies for taking so long between blogs. As you will see, we are extremely busy and have had little time to sit down.

February 16
We experienced how people worship in Kenya by attending a Sunday service. Beautiful music and dance at a gathering of a community of faith. Wonderful!
We took the afternoon sorting through all the items and slotting which items were going to Mathare, to Mary Thamari and the Life in Abundance program and to Compass when we return both Wednesday the 19th and one last time on the February 26th.

February 17:  Mathare
Today we visited the Mathare slum. John, a resident, opened his home to us so that we could gain more understanding of life in the slums. Pictures can only give a two-dimensional image; they do not offer sounds, smells, nor anything physical like heat, humidity, etc. To walk in the area amongst the people and to sit in John’s tiny living space was eye-opening to say the least.

We were brought to the three schools we support including the Kariobangi orphanage. Rodgers, our contact with the MCO (Mathare Community Outreach), was happy to show us the three kitchens and some classrooms Tumaini Afrika has funded. A lot has changed since TA’s last visit in 2018 thanks to our many supporters and the steadfast work of Rodgers and his team! 

We also visited the dormitories at the orphanage that tragically caught on fire this past year, causing some major damage. Fortunately, no was hurt or killed. Besides the obvious damage to the structure, students’ personal items were destroyed as were the mattresses purchased after a campaign led by our Tumaini Afrika members Gabi and Carey. Rodgers and his wife Grace lived in a room within the dormitory so that they could act as parents for the orphans who lived there. Their home was also damaged and personal items lost. 
We were happy to see that they have managed to temporarily relocate everyone while repairs are made. They have replaced the roof already but a lot of work is still left to do before all can move back in. 

As is the tradition, we were treated to some wonderful student presentations. One that particularly comes to mind is the student residents’ presentation of a song called  "Never Give Up"  and a poem written by a form 2 (grade 10) student about all that Tumaini Afrika has done for them. As we listened, we came to realize that these students have become resilient citizens. The MCO, comprised of faithful mentors, has become a strong force within this community. They have been instrumental in giving hope to so many... always looking towards what they can do to change the lives of so many, one person, one family, one challenge at a time. It has validated the work the Tumaini Afrika group and other supporters have done to support their efforts up until now. They have been able to accept our hand up to make great things happen in their community!

February 18: Back to MCO schools
Today, the Tumaini Afrika team, now known as Team Faraj ;-), offered a mini-retreat to clergy by way of a discussion on grieving in today’s world, lead by our very own Bruce. Micheline met with staff members from PP1 (junior kindergarten) to form 4 (grade 12) to discuss special needs in their classes and possible strategies to help in student success. Holly gave her geography lesson comparing Canada to Kenya. Jeannine gave her lesson on the various roles we play and then followed with her music lesson on notes and rhythms, always a crowd pleaser! Judy and Linda offered their art lesson once again to a fresh group of eager learners!
After lunch, we all helped Linda and Judy present and distribute Days for Girls kits to 100 very happy young women! The girls were especially impressed by Bruce’s openness to being a part of it all. 
Once they all got their kits, the girls were all quick to strike a pose with their new gifts! Girl power at its best!!
It was a good day!

Saturday, 15 February 2020

A School Full of Valentines

As promised, here is our blog about February 14th. We have also included today’s activities so we will be all caught up!

February 14 - Valentine’s Day!

We returned to Compass school in the morning to complete our scheduled two and a half day visits. 

The classroom painting and some more repairs were completed thanks to Faraj’s coordinating the students, mixing the paint and drawing the lines for the "baseboards".  Holly and Micheline jumped in on the painting as well. A few students were even checking in on them and congratulated them on their work. Foremen in the making!!!

Bruce focused on repairs including door hinges and a few more of the many desks that require lots of work! The students will finally have something decent to write on!!! Having said that, there are still so many repairs left. 

Grade 3 students benefited from an art lesson with Judy, Linda and Jeannine. (They were a little disappointed they hadn’t had it yesterday like the younger ones.) Linda was very touched by a young girl who made her a special Valentine’s Day card... a testament to how much she loved the time spent with her.

Then came lunch!  The Tumaini Afrika crew distributed Canada and Ontario pins, peanuts, bananas, oranges and Valentine’s Day candy to all students and staff.  Luckily, the students had pockets to carry all their treats. It is important to know that they seldom get fresh fruits and treats. We cannot possibly explain who was happier, the children and staff or the TA team who witnessed the joy!

Before leaving after lunch, students wanted to dance and sing with us.  The children gathered around Jeannine and Micheline.  Jeannine started us off with « This Little Light Mine ».  WOW!! So many children dancing with happiness!  We followed with the Alleluia we had taught them yesterday. What a choir!!! 

We thought that that would be it and before we could start our goodbyes, two children started a new song that all students jumped in on. They certainly taught us a few moves of their own. No sooner did one song finish, another student started a new song with the actions and dance moves to go with it.  This kept going for at least another 15 minutes.  We all got our cardio in for the day! We finally worked our way to the van amongst children giving us hugs and saying their goodbyes. Thank goodness we will be going back and are already afraid  of how hard it will be for us to say goodbye to them before we leave for Sault Ste. Marie.  Nonetheless, this was by far the best day ever!!!!

February 15 

Just when we thought we had the best day ever...

As we shared breakfast, Holly read a message from Flora, our rock at Compass school. Here is a little excerpt:
"Compass staff spent the rest of yesterday repeating how they had seen God...You do great works, may you all live healthy long lives, we keep you  in our thoughts and prayers. Have a good day and weekend."
Compass School Staff

Thank you to all our supporters for helping us make these moments with these special friends!  We are truly blessed!

After such a great start to the day, we visited the giraffe sanctuary and had a blast feeding them. Many giraffe kisses for all. We then worked our way to Kazuri Beads to buy some handmade beads and pottery in support of a co-op of women that was created to fight poverty in the area. 

Unbeknownst to us, the best was yet to come. 

Faraj and his family invited us to have lunch at his home in the Kibera slum (1 1/2 square miles, with over 1 million people, in the center of Nairobi).  As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by his daughters, Ilham and Nusyba, his wife Fatima and his mother (We just called her Mama Faraj ).  We each got to hold their new born son, Mohammed and met Faraj’s younger sister and uncle. We shared stories about their home, their traditions and ours back in the Sault. We feasted on a traditional African meal and just enjoyed the feeling of being family. This is a moment we will never forget as it is forever etched in our hearts. A very touching experience!!
When we asked Faraj if we could post pictures of our time spent together he replied: “It is fine. You are my family.”

We are off to church tomorrow and the Mathare slum on Monday. More to come...