Monday, 29 August 2011

Kenyan safari with MRDF

No, not the kind involving lions – safari is Kiswahili for ‘journey’. We travelled from Jo’burg to Nairobi where we met Audrey Skervin from MRDF, with whom we were to visit some projects which MRDF help to fund. We spent a night in the Methodist Guest House and then returned to the airport to take a small plane up country to Kitale, which is near the border with Uganda. I sat next to an Oxfam worker who was going to assess the situation in the refugee camps in the far north; I didn’t envy her role as part of the Emergency Response team. The plane landed and offloaded us at Kitale, and then flew on to Lodwar with a number of others from NGOs. Kitale airport building would almost fit into our lounge and it didn’t take us long to collect our luggage. We were met by Jack Wafula, the director of SMART, a small NGO that has been working in the area for about 6 years. He took us to our lodgings for the next 3 nights – the Mid-Africa Hotel. I felt it would have been at home in a Graham Greene novel, though I was unable to tell whether any political intriguing was taking place! However, our shower and flushing toilet worked perfectly, and we appeared to be the only living creatures in our bedroom so all was fine.

It was to be the base for 3 wonderful days of learning and adventure. SMART had arranged a programme for us of 2 days of visits to self-help groups of farmers in the undeveloped West Pokot region. The Pokot tribe historically were pastoralists, but cattle rustling and drought gradually led to them settling down as farmers, growing mainly maize and beans. The cost of seeds and frequent droughts meant that they rarely had enough to eat and sometimes no food for months on end. Infant mortality from malnutrition was high, though attributed to witch-craft. Some formed self-help groups in an attempt to survive by sharing scarce resources. Then SMART came along and helped them to learn how to grow a wide variety of traditional crops in raised beds; to store food well; to harvest water and to save seeds for the next year. The condition of opting into the scheme was that they would themselves have to teach their neighbours how to do the same. Some of them were also given Value Added training in bookkeeping, marketing and cooking the foods in imaginative ways.

The difference it has made is impressive. No children are thought to have died from malnutrition in the areas served by the scheme. The land looks very fertile in comparison with the semi-arid region around, and the farmers are able to sell excess produce for enough income to send their children to school. They have gained many new skills.

We were made welcome by traditional dancing, being drawn into the dance by invitation and the giving of necklaces. At one farm we were invited in for a midday meal of goat stew, ugali (maize mash) and black nightshade (rather like spinach and very cheap to grow). Once again, we experienced the generous hospitality of people who were living near to the margins. Given that the Daily Nation was announcing that the cost of maize had risen by 84% in 12 months we could see the sense in reintroducing the traditional crops of finger millet and sorghum, which in fact are also more nutritious. The seed companies that persuaded people to almost exclusively plant maize in the 1980s have arguably had a large part to play in the cycle of poverty and hunger.

The safari was made even more entertaining by travelling in a 4x4 pickup truck (we picked a lot of people up and were 14 at one stage. Audrey wasn’t sure what MRDF would think of this.) Despite us speaking only 2 phrases in the local language we had a lot of laughter and a great time together bumping along the murram roads. They were much more enjoyable than the fume filled traffic jams that have almost paralysed life in Nairobi. A fuller account of our trip can be found on the MRDF website.


We flew back to Nairobi on a 29 seater and said farewell to Audrey. Back at the Methodist Guest House we encountered Andy Moffoot, the British Representative to the Kenyan Methodist Conference, due to start the next week. The Guest house is a great place to catch up with people, and we always enjoy staying there. Next, our friends Elijah and Priscilla appeared. It’s only 3 weeks since we said farewell to them in England but it seems much longer. We made plans for the next day (always a triumph of optimism over experience, making plans in Kenya) when we are due to meet with the Presiding Bishop at 10.00 but assume we will be free after about 11.00! He turned out to have much more in store for us, so after meeting members of staff at the Ministries’ Centre and learning about their hopes for raising enough money to complete this ambitious project of supporting the maintenance and outreach of the Church by means of rental from the very prestigious offices they are building, we moved on to the Nairobi campuses of KeMU (Kenyan Methodist University) which was the ambitious vision of a previous Presiding Bishop, Lawi Imathieu. He must surely praise God for the way in which his vision has been realised, for it has sites across Kenya and a good reputation. We were fortunate to hear from the Vice-Chancellor how he has Government permission to start a medical school on the Meru Campus, with Maua Methodist Hospital being used for training medics. The KeMU curriculum brochure shows that all courses are applied subjects – not for Kenya the luxury of pure maths or physics, media or film studies. Agriculture and social policy issues feature heavily, but all students take classes in theology, health studies and personal development. It was good to catch up with John Ataya, whom I first met 24 years ago when he was a student minister at the Methodist Training Institute. He is now deputy Vice-Chancellor; in fact over the week I met a number of people whom I first met in 1987, when I went to Kenya as the enabler with the British Youth Exchange. A fair number of them are Bishops (the Kenyan equivalent of District Chair) or prominent academics. Many of them will have had their schooling at least partially funded by Mission Partners. It was money well spent!

Then for something completely different we were taken to Kariorkor MC where the church, which is set in a very poor area, has a big programme of social outreach. We learnt of the work focussing on the Youth – a popular activity is a competition between the male and female youth in goat-roasting! Andy Moffoot, who accompanied us for the day, was not entirely certain it would cross cultures to his youth group. More seriously, there is an excellent programme of Bible study and small fellowship groups for different ages. MCK has experienced some of the ‘Missing Generation’ challenges that we have, and has in consequence many churches have a separate youth worship on a Sunday, and a full programme of theological and social activities that are age-specific.

The day was brought to a conclusion with afternoon tea at the PB’s home, where we were served by his lively wife Mercy. We carried forward our unrealised plans for the Masai market to Saturday. It had been a very informative day, and we were grateful for the hospitality shown to us.

Karibuni! (welcome all)

The following day we had another full day of visits, but this time to projects which are supported by the Karibuni Trust (long headed up by Rev Bill and Joy Murphy). Rev Julius Kithinji picked us up, and we drove to Tusaidie Watoto nursery school in the giant slum Kibera. We had first visited with Bishop Maureen Jones in 2000 and still have the recordings of the children singing to us. It has grown in complexity since that time, with feeding programmes for older children as well as education for pre-primary school. The social worker Makena visits the homes of the children to assess what needs they have. We were privileged to go into Kibera and spend a little time in two homes. We were accompanied by Eric, a remarkable young man who was in the nursery school in 1998 and has recently started at University having won a scholarship which makes his funding possible. Karibuni still support him by paying his monthly room rental. His parents’ home in Kibera would fit into our kitchen; his mother Elizabeth and father Charles still live there with their four daughters. Charles earns a living by mending watches, but the ubiquitous, and very cheap, mobile phones are putting him out of business – people no longer need watches. We visited another home, where a mother nursed her youngest child. The nursery can only take one child from each family – this mother has eight children and a husband who has spasmodic casual work. Again, the house is poorly built of wood and mud, and reached by a walkway that contains human waste. It is the responsibility of a landlord, to whom rent is paid. There is an illegal electricity supply in Kibera tapped off the nearby grid. Because it is so basic, there are instances of electrocution and fires frequently. Water has to be fetched in plastic containers at 3Ksh a go. (The nursery school uses about 30 a day even though it pays water rates – water pressure is so low that none arrives at their premises.) I looked hopefully for signs of the water stations featured in Christian Aid week in 2009 but there were none in this part of the slum. Yet there is a dignity about many of the people, and a hope that things will one day be better. Certainly, it does seem to have improved slightly since 2000.

Moving on, we also visited the work at Kawangware – the church that pulled down its building to build a school, continuing to worship in a makeshift hall. It serves an area of great poverty, but we were served a delicious lunch of rice and stew which 3 women had prepared for us. By this time we were an hour behind schedule and Julius was anxious. We needed to be back by 4.30 for another meeting with the PB and Julius had a service to lead!

Nevertheless, we made time to call in at Oases Academy, run by Judith (an ex TDO colleague) and her husband Josh. They have just put up new buildings on a bigger plot of land and we wanted to see how things were progressing. Even though it was school holidays, some of the teachers and children had gathered to meet with us, and we were able to give them some stationery. The very clean pit latrine provided a welcome comfort stop too! They have needed to start a feeding programme, for though the drought and famine is most acute in the north of Kenya, there is also hunger in the slums communities. Josh is making up food parcels to distribute. For more info go to

By this time we had pretty much abandoned our timetable and Julius was

determined that we should visit Embakasi, where the Methodist Church serves a slum fairly near the airport. The trouble is, what should in theory be a 20 minute journey in Nairobi almost al

ways takes an hour. Or more. But Embakasi folks were expecting us – indeed, they had prepared a ‘few snacks’ which would have quite easily fed 3 times our number. After we had eaten, we were shown their new water tank and toilet block, provided with the help of the Karibuni Trust. They are building a new church too, as funds permit. In the most difficult of conditions, we have seen with our own eyes how Methodists are wor

king out their faith. It is very humbling. You can learn more about the work supported by the Karibuni Trust on .

We turned up at the PB’s office 30 minutes late for a second scheduled meeting. Also wearing the clothes put on that morning for visiting the poorer parts of the city. My trainers, in which I ran 10K to raise money for MRDF are now red with the soil of West Pokot and further coloured by the walkways in the slums. The PB doesn’t mind – we have been ‘field-workers’ today. And we have been encouraged to learn how the gospel is being lived out by our brothers and sisters in Christ in Kenya. Not only mission alongside the poor, but evangelism in new territories, replacing the fear which arises out of some of the traditional beliefs and practices with the trust and confidence of the Christian life. Kwaheri – we will surely return.

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