Saturday, 9 April 2016

Home Is Not Always Where the Heart Is!

Ngorongoro Crater and Zanzibar 

With the poverty of Mathare still etched in our minds, we sought solace in the natural beauty of Africa for our last few days on this continent of contrasts. Ngorongoro Crater is home to thousands of herd animals, all living in harmony. With their acute hearing, the far-sighted wildebeests are good companions for the visually gifted but hard-of-hearing zebra. Thousands of flamingos line the water’s edge while other creatures wander down to drink. We saw Thompson’s gazelles, black rhinos, waterbucks, and eland. Of course, there’s always a “bad guy” there to stir the pot, and the majestic (not a cliché, there’s no other way to express it) lion, aided in destruction by the deceptively puppy-faced hyenas and jackals, plays the part ferociously. Because it was mating season, the lions were on the move (yes, we saw THAT, but we’re not an x-rated blog, so those pics will be left to your imaginations!), and a number of unfortunate Cape Buffalo were sacrificed to the cycle of life. 

Zebra, Wildebeast and Thompson's Gazelle


Zebra & Thompson's Gazelle

Male Lion

African Grey Crowned Crane

Our final tourist destination was Zanzibar. While the start of the rainy season prevented us from enjoying the beautiful beaches, we were still able, with the help of Daudi (see below), to tour Stone Town. It was quite an adventure traipsing through the streets, ankle-deep in water and repeatedly pulling down our umbrellas to fit through narrow passageways. We saw the beautiful Arab doors topped by straight lintels, and the more elaborate Indian doors with their tympanum (arched tops) and brass studs, purely decorative here, but originally intended to discourage elephants.

A visit to the site of the largest of the island’s slave markets and the whipping post (commemorated at the high altar of the Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church), where so many African women and men were sold into slavery, was very moving. Viewing the now clean and artificially lit holding pens where these frightened, beaten people were chained left us feeling sorrowful and ashamed. We relearned the story of David Livingstone and his role in abolishing the slave trade (yes, this history is told in Pirates and Pathfinders, some of us just weren’t paying attention – pp. 208-223 – even though she didn’t remember, one of the book nerds in our group still has a copy of the infamous grade five history text and looked it up). On a lighter note, we also visited the birthplace of Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara) and experienced the olfactory delights of the local fish and produce markets.

Monument at the Slavery Museum

Octopus in the Fish Market

Local Fish Market

Chicken in the Fish Market?

Our final tour, was to a spice farm where we learned what our favourite spices look like before they make it to those little bottles, enjoyed a meal cooked with the spices growing there, and did some spice shopping so our partners could prepare us a fine meal when we got home.

 A final dinner in Zanzibar, then it was farewell to Sylvie who we left in the care of Baraka and we were off to the airport and Nairobi for one more visit with the Shaws and Faraj before heading home.


While we’re very happy to be home in Canada, there’s no doubt we’ve each left a piece of our heart in Kenya.

It’s been a whirlwind adventure full of joy and sadness; beauty, sometimes buried beneath ugliness; heart wrenching need; and inspiring dedication to building up the hearts and minds of others. We travelled to Kenya to give, but ended up receiving so much more than we could have imagined.

So now it’s time to give special recognition to the many people who inspired and helped us on our journey:

Africa by Design and Team Shaw

Lois Shaw is the Executive Director of Africa by Design and the overseer of our entire adventure. You can learn more about her company and her team at but really, she’s so much more!  Not just a voluntourism coordinator, Lois is an inspiring leader whose love for and commitment to the people of Kenya shines through  everything she does. Through Lois, we met the people, visited the sites, and felt the Kenya that stole our hearts. Lois made her home ours, welcomed us to her table, listened to our highs and lows, and cried with us when Mathare overwhelmed us. And she accomplishes all this while rocking the best grey hair ever!

Lois Shaw

Lois’s number one teammate is Mark Shaw. Professor, pastor, pizza lover, husband and soul mate of Lois, Mark welcomed us into his home, appeared to enjoy dinners with six women, brewed superb Kenyan coffee, and enveloped us in a cocoon of peace and love. Thank you, Mark, for your quiet support and prayers.

Faraj was our driver extraordinaire. This patient, kind, smiling, good-humoured and long-suffering man chauffeured us through seemingly impassable streets, avoided collisions with aplomb, suffered our gasps of horror in diplomatic silence, snapped photos, ran interference with vendors, never once rolled his eyes at us (at least not when we were looking), had to look at photos of his wife, Fatima and lovely children Ilham and Nusyba to remember what they looked like, as we stole so much of his time, maneuvered us (ten times!) over the worst road in Kenya to Namuncha, and greeted us with the most dazzling smile imaginable when we returned to Kenya from a rather stressful journey from Zanzibar. Faraj, when we saw you at the airport, we knew everything was okay. Thank you for allowing us to meet your family on our final day in Nairobi. Most of all, thank you for being you!

Faraj and his family

Kamal Said, travel agent and troubleshooter extraordinaire. Big thanks to Kamal, his wife and his family for hosting us to dinner and for wisely hiring the most awesome driver we could have hoped for and providing work and education opportunities for young Kenyans in whom he recognizes potential. We are especially grateful for your recognition of one of our young friends.

Kamal Said, his family, and us

Tabitha is Lois and Mark’s friend and helper. She prepared many of our meals and cleaned up our messes, but more importantly, she brought us laughter and good humour. The sun shone inside when Tabitha walked in the door.

Tabitha and Holly

Annastacia Wanjiru is the indefatigable (that word has been waiting for her) principal of Compass School. Despite ongoing funding struggles, shortages, and so many needy students, Annastacia puts on a smile that spreads to her students and staff. She is our trusted liaison with the school, and we see how she ensures that every bit of support we send goes to those in need. She is superwoman!

Annastasia at the Compass School

Flora Ndunge, Compass School sewing teacher, works for our kids despite machines that regularly malfunction, and almost non-existent lighting. She plans to attend a Days for Girls seminar so she can work on local kit production for our girls. Flora also does home visits/social work for Compass. Diane and Sheree are so thankful she introduced them to Samson, who is now able to attend high school regularly as a result of this meeting.

Flora Ndunge

Mary Thamari Ogalo, is on the Africa by Design Advisory Board and serves as Kenya Project Manager for Global Bags. Here’s an excerpt about her from the Ignite Excellence website:  “The aim of the Global Bag Project is to finance micro-credit loans which help local entrepreneurs support their families with small businesses, provide basic amenities and send their children to school. Micro-credit finance has a good reputation so far, with 96-98% of people repaying their loans weekly or monthly. Many workers of the project hail from the Kibera slum – one of the largest in Africa — and are either HIV/AIDS positive and are still managing their jobs despite this. They are entitled to a fair wage and this allows them to provide for their families. “  For more info please visit

Mary is also the founder of County Girls Caucus of which the “primary mandate is to conduct a series of leadership and life skills training for girls to pass on information and values needed to break the cycle of vulnerabilities among women.” Learn more about this life-changing project on Facebook. By the way, Mary does all this in addition to raising three young boys with her husband, George, and continuing her PhD studies.

Mary Ogalo, thirteen year old student Purity and teacher Francisca

Kennedy is a young man who Sylvie and Holly met two years ago in an orphanage in Nairobi.  With the help of two other Saultites they have been sponsoring him while he attends high school.  Never has a young man been so deserving of support.  We were all so happy to have him accompany us for five days while we assisted in Namuncha. Despite growing up under very difficult circumstances, he is a young man with a big heart, a big smile and the best hugs ever!  And he does dishes!

Kennedy and his two Canadian mums!

Sam, is Sylvie’s son through the Canada World Youth exchange program. Without Sam, we never would have met Solomon and the people of Namuncha. Thank you, Sam, for introducing us to your village and your family. Thank you also to your Kenya mom for inviting us into her home. She is so very proud of you!

Sam & his Canadian mum, Sylvie

Solomon is the chair of the Namuncha School Board and big brother of Sylvie’s Kenya son, Sam. He led the initiative to work with us on funding a fence and water tanks for his village. As a Masai man, he, along with other men in the community, are actively working on an unusual project - to empower girls in their community by promoting education,  and discouraging female circumcision and early marriage.

 Andrew was our awesome tour guide in the Masai Mara. Informative, patient, and good-humoured, Andrew introduced us to the animals of the Mara and made us forget  we were viewing rhinos through sheets of rain. Best of all, he sang for us. Have a listen: 

Tracey Hagman, founder with her husband, of Heshima Children’s Centre which provides physical, occupational and speech therapy to disabled children while providing work and support to their mothers. Tracey explained that many of these moms had never encountered another parent who struggled to support a disabled child in this country where their children are usually hidden away. The work of the centre and the products they sell through Dignity Businesses are really making a difference. Check out their website: 

Lois & Tracey....yes, we carted
that wheelchair from SSM

Greg and Rebecca Moser, along with their charming girls, were our first hosts in Kenya. Their warm and quiet welcome was just what we needed after a long trip. Rothem House usually serves as a retreat for Christian missionaries, but they let us in anyway! These beautiful people also provide a home away from home for expectant moms from rural areas. Learn more about their work at

Rebecca and Greg Moser

Jane Otai introduced us to the founders and teachers of Mathare Community Outreach in Mathare where she grew up. Blessed with a strong mother who encouraged her to get an education and break free of poverty, Jane is using her gifts to give back. She leads Water School in Kenya and is also a Senior Urban Health Advisor at Jhpiego (pronounced “ja-pie-go”) through Johns Hopkins. We are so grateful to her for providing us the opportunity to visit Mathare slum. It hurt, and we needed to feel that.

Mary Warindi – This young woman, with the help of Lois and Holly, who’ve been inspired by her story, has overcome staggering odds, raising her three young children in the slum where she is using her amazing sewing and beading skills to build a home and support her family. We can’t wait to show you the awesome beaded fabrics we ordered from her (Oops! Might be some Christmas presents there. You’ll have to wait to see). We hope you’ll soon be able to order her creations direct.

Mary Warind

Teachers, Parents, Community Friends in Kenya

To the teachers, many who have returned to their communities to give back, who work with enthusiasm, love, and often little else every day, we admire your strength and courage. To the parents who came to visit us at Compass School and Namuncha, your willingness to go without to ensure your children receive an education is inspiring. To the community members, particularly those in Namuncha who welcomed us into their homes, churches, and hearts, we thank you for making us members of your family.

Tumaini Afrika Group and Supporters at Home

What a team! What an experience! You made it happen, but this isn’t really the end. There is so much more to do and learn. Now, we have family in Kenya. This is only the beginning. We’ll be in touch! 

Asante Sana!