When I arrived in Nairobi, my daughter Norah met me and we stayed at the Amani Guest House in Nairobi. (Norah is a secondary student who reached out and touched my heart a few years ago, a person who really has become my daughter. Last August, she placed fourth in national singing and poetry reading competitions sponsored by the Ministry of Education.) The guest house was wonderful. Lydia, the woman who runs the house, is an excellent cook and asks what we would like to eat. We had fresh fruit every day and she even did my laundry. Lydia has a long history with Karambu and IPI, and I believe came to Karambu as a pregnant young woman with nowhere else to go. She is truly wonderful and very pleasant. So are the others who help out there. There were a lot of other guests on the three occasions I stayed there. The guesthouse is much cheaper and much nicer than where we have been staying in past years, at a place called the Miele Presbyterian Guest House somewhere in Nairobi. Amani has pick up and delivery from the airport, which is very nice.
The house itself was built as a private home and has one private room, two rooms with bunk beds, and another room with four flat beds, plus a kitchen and several bathrooms and a small patio outside the back door. It is in a nice area with nice bushes and flowers in front and back.
Karambu sent the IPI driver, George, to pick me up and drive me to Meru on the 9th of January. The trip takes about five hours, as getting out of Nairobi takes over an hour and because the road after that is single lane each way with lots of trucks and mtatus (mini-vans converted into buses packed well beyond capacity). The road goes past the west side of Mount Kenya, which is almost always covered in clouds or mist, but on the way back, it was clear enough to see the highest peak and some of the snow fields. Nanyuki, which at about 6,200 feet above sea level, is about the half way point where you can stop and get coffee and shop at the Nakumatt, use the facilities and stretch. It is also the starting point for most of the expeditions to climb Mount Kenya. A nice hotel room there costs 3,000 K/s-.
Karambu is using her brick-making machine to make bricks for a new building, which is under construction. When I left, the walls were about chest high. It is next to the old wood and concrete building where people do weaving and make beads. Karambu also has a number of growing pigs (I can't guess their age, but they are probably half grown), a full grown boar and a full grown sow. Shortly after I arrived, the sow gave birth to 11 piglets. She rolled over on one and killed it and one other also died. She plans to sell some of the pigs and use some for meat. She also has a pen with goats, mostly for milk, and is planning to buy a cow at some time in the future, so they can get milk for the children.
On Monday, January 6th, before I arrived, she had a planning session and helped each of her department heads begin planning for the coming year. On Friday, when I was there, each department head presented his or her plans for the coming year by writing them down on a large sheet of paper and taping it to the wall while explaining goals, budget, income source, and other items of concern as managers, to the rest of the group, all of whom were able to ask questions. This may well be the first time any group like this has ever done this sort of thing anywhere in Kenya! I was so impressed with the way each person prepared and then presented, and everyone did a marvelous job. Even the cooks in the kitchen did this. Karambu also presented her plans and was asked questions by the group. This process took most of the day.
In the evening, Karambu and I went to a meeting of the Meru Rotary Club. Karambu is now a full-fledged member and even has a badge. She just wrote to tell me that one of the other members visited KACH and was "amazed" at the extent of the work we have done here. He wants to partner with IPI on their 'Table Banking' ("TB") project with women." Neither Karambu nor I are very familiar with this project. It is modeled after the Mohamed Yanus banking program for poor people, a process that Karambu says is catching on in Kenya. Karambu also told me that she has asked Rotary if she can send the women who have gone through IPI's empowerment program to the TB training program. TB is a form of microcredit that is very grassroots and circulates money among group members. The founder was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize several years ago. For more information, see www.Wholeplanetfoundation.org.
I had been instructed by my home club (DTC Rotary) to find a club in Kenya that we could partner with, and after the meeting, I decided that I would like to partner with the Meru club. The first thing I noticed was that almost half of the members were women. The meeting was held in the Meru Sports Club, a former bastion for the British colonials, from which Africans were excluded. It is now a lovely place for the Africans! I have since learned that the Meru club is partnering with a British club from Middleton, England, on a number of water - rain catchment projects in the Tharaka District a bit north and east of Meru, which Karambu says is one of the most destitute areas in the country. In the dry season, women and girls in this area must often spend 8-9 hours a day searching for water, and when they find it, it is contaminated, dirty, and unhealthy. Infant and child mortality rates there are staggering. I have the needs assessment from the British Club if anyone is interested. It's not part of Karambu's direct concerns, but it is an area that desperately needs help. I am recommending that my Rotary Club work hand in glove with the Middleton Club and several others and collaborate with the Meru Club to fund more water projects there.
Karambu reports that the focus of the Meru club is on water projects and a medical camp, and that she is exploring with the Meru Club the possibility of a borehole at KACH. Karambu has a problem getting adequate water all year round. She got bids for a well, which the drillers said had to be either 80 feet or 80 meters, I'm not sure which -- probably meters -- deep to be sure the water was safe to drink. One bid was 2 million K/s- and another was 1.2 million K/s-. If KACH is to be truly self-sustaining, a reliable year round water supply is an absolute necessity. KACH has a rain catchment tank, but it is relatively small and does not hold nearly all of the water that comes down and could be saved with larger tanks.
Attached is Karambu's write-up for the Eco-Lodge Project. One lodge is nearly complete -- only the electricity, solar panels, and showers remain to be put in. The walls are made up of stabalized soil blocks, which are made from a mixture of soil, sand, and a small amount of cement, which hardens like rocks and looks quite nice. The first lodge should be ready for habitation by June. The goal is to create space for about 100 people.
Finally, when I was at the guesthouse on January 10th, I met a group of people from either Michigan or Michigan State university, who had just returned from KACH. I understand that they did further work on the wi-fi there and that service there is now unlimited.