The New Mzungos
On 19th January nine Nasio supporters all of them with strong Dorchester connections set off to visit the NASIO project in Musanda, Kenya.
Some of us had visited a number of times before – John and Johnny Cornelius (John Junior as the Kenyans call him!) have been supporting and visiting Nasio for the whole fifteen years of the charities’ existence; Tess Bartley and Alison Brucker both sponsor children from amongst the first 15 children who were cared for in a roadside kiosk in the town of Mumias and three – Richard and Jen Booys and Olivia Tuffrey – were all visiting for the first time. Mzungo is the Kenyan word for ‘white’ and one of the first things that you notice visiting a small community in Kenya is the fascination with your skin colour and the cries of ‘Mzungo! Mzungo!’ as you walk around. The small children in the Nasio childrens centre’s Noah’s Ark and St Irene’s stroke your white skin in absolute fascination.
Mzungo is the Kenyan word for ‘white’ and one of the first things that you notice visiting a small community in Kenya is the fascination with your skin colour and the cries of ‘Mzungo! Mzungo!’ as you walk around.
Nasio began in Musanda – in the home that is now the visitor accommodation for the project – when Irene Mundeyo followed the sound of a crying child and found an abandoned orphan in the corner of a sugar cane field (a tree now marks the spot – rather unsurprisingly it’s called ‘Moses’ tree’. Irene took in the baby and her family were inspired to begin caring for orphans in their community. Fifteen years later the NASIO Trust supports 410 children in two day centres and in homes through school and now through college and university. One of the greatest excitements for us – and a great tribute to the charity – was to meet bright and articulate young men, now aged 18 and 19 who were working a ‘gap year’ for the charity and preparing to enter college or university. From my first visit I recall the four or five 9 year olds who appeared like magic from Township primary in 2010 – now one of them is telling me that he feels he can help the children being cared for by NASIO because he knows what their situation is and he can be a role model: Caleb is running the new café and snack bar next to the medical centre in his gap year. NASIO is living up to its promise to be a charity that cares for its children for life!
So what did we do? We visited the Nasio children’s centre and various schools, went to Church with children from the charity, took bread, milk and tiny jumpers and hats (thank you Audrey and friends!) to the maternity unit at St Mary’s hospital, learned about the Spirulina project and made a number of home visits. Johnny and Richard did some maintenance and plumbing at the Noah’s Ark and in our home visits we washed clothes, did washing up and generally gave families in desperate circumstances a ‘day off’ the backbreaking task of fetching limited water from streams a distance away. We took an evening off to go to ‘The Rock’ and watch the sunset which was glorious! We also spent hours under the stars chatting and drinking the odd bottle of ‘Tusker’ (a light Kenyan beer!!) and beginning to understand our experiences.
A recent departure for Nasio is the Spirulina project. Spirulina (a simple water based botanical plant – remember those biology lessons about Spirogyra?!) is grown in tanks and dried. It is a rich source of protein grown primarily to supplement the children’s diet but also sold commercially. The first Spirulina greenhouse is in full production and a second one is planned. Another new development is the Medical Centre – a completely new building to provide basic medical services to the community – it was great to deliver supplies donated by Clifton Hampden and other local medical centres.
Without a doubt the three day house-building project was the highlight of the visit.
- Day one – we cleared the ground, dug post holes, wove and secured laths around the posts and left the employed workmen to put on the roof.
- Day two – we did put up the walls – collected water, trampled the red Kenyan mud into a workable infill and filled the structure we had created the previous day. Lots of Guardians (the women from the community who help to care for orphaned children – we’d probably call them Foster mothers) came to help and we worked together in the heat for hours.
- Day three – we stamped the floor solid singing and dancing, the workmen made the doors and windows, we cleared the site and handed over the house with lots of singing, dancing and prayers and a big cardboard key naming it ‘Hope House’. The lady for whom the house was build was a grandmother who had been caring for four children in an immaculate house that was about the size of my downstairs loo!
- But there were many other highlights – and a few sadnesses too – I asked everyone to send me their best and worst moment of the visit … here are some of them ..
- “Dancing with everyone and all joining together and becoming one. Forgetting that we live so far apart and have such different lives”
- seeing everyone again. My boys and the other children my family sponsors. Seeing how much they’ve grown and developed into wonderful young people.
- levelling the floor in the new house. I think we made a tedious job good fun working as a team with the locals.
- “Having sponsored Rhoda for probably 10 years, having the opportunity to visit her three times and see her grow into the beautiful, confident young lady that she is today is priceless”
- When it was John’s birthday and everyone was stood by the gate singing and dancing as the band walked up the road! We then spent the afternoon laughing and drinking till our hearts content. I knew then that I was very lucky to be surrounded by loved ones and knew then that I would forever have a home away from home in Kenya
- digging post holes for the house we built with Kenyan workmen looking on …. I couldn’t help feeling what a reversal of Empire this was and how our predecessors would have been the ones looking on. We were still the ones being brought fresh sealed bottles of water…..
…and the worst
- “a home visit in the slums where we witnessed such a poorly girl who looked so unwell with suspected Malaria and feeling hopeless”
- feeling like there’s so much more I should be achieving when I’m out there.
- washing the sheets and clothes of a lady whose feet were badly infected with jiggers and maggoty without showing how difficult the smell was
- seeing St Irenes in such a bad state of repair and hearing that it will have to be demolished.
Teams from Dorchester and Berinsfield were largely instrumental in raising the money and sending teams to build both the Noah’s Ark and St Irene’s Day Centres. Sadly the land on which St Irene’s was built is less secure than it appeared and the building is cracking badly. It will have to be demolished and rebuilt. Heart-breaking for those who fund-raised and built but also for the leaders of the Charity who have future plans for fund raising that didn’t include a re-build
But I think we all agree with Faye… “For me the only bad part is leaving! It breaks my heart every time! You always leave a piece – or a large chunk – of your heart in Kenya.”
This is just a flavour of our visit – if you’d like to hear more let us know and we’ll invite you to a Kenyan evening of stories, food and photos – part of our efforts to raise money for the ongoing work that NASIO is doing.