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E mail from Darlene, Charlotte and Wendy Sent July 13th 2011 from Kakamega, Kenya

Habari Yaku – Hello to Everyone,

Well no bomb scares this year but it still took us 2 days to arrive in Nairobi. We flew directly to Paris and looked forward to a simple 1 1/2 hour wait for our next flight. Wrong!! The plane needed a new part for the brake assembly and the part had to be driven to Paris from Amsterdam – driven not flown! We can’t quite figure that one out. Twelve hours later we almost missed the flight because they never announced boarding. We arrived a little weary (a lot) and weremet at the airport by our loyal and trusted friend and administrator David. We were thrilled to see all twenty-three suitcases with their Canadian ribbons attached come down the conveyor belt. David efficiently transported all the luggage to Kisumu as we spent one day, instead of the scheduled 2 days, in Nairobi.

Once in Kisumu the first two days were taken up with meetings with our administrators. Then our schedule picked upsignificantly. We visited three separate projects on Friday – all in different directions over horrendous roads whichshook our very bones! It is a real pleasure to see so many of our friends again.

Our first stop was to visit with a self-help HIV/Aids support group for widows and widowers called Maisha Mapya which means New Life. They are doing very well and we hope to be able to fund a project to raise a couple of cows which willgenerate income from the sale of milk.

Then we headed off to Malava to visit St. Joseph’s Home for Disabled Children. It thrilled us to be able to spend time with these very special children and we can still hear the shrieks of laughter as we played ball or took pictures. These children do not get many visitors and they were very excited to see us! We were lucky to be entertained with a song and dance by some students who had not long ago been nonverbal. We can’t wait for you to see the videos. We have been funding this group with medications and the results are obvious. Some of the children we recognized have made significant gains since last year. Based on the success of the knitted squares last year at St. Ursula Special School we decided to take the squares this year to St. Joseph’s and once again we witnessed a heartwarming experience. The children caught on quickly – even those who had very little dexterity persevered to hold the needle and attach two squares together. Even though many of the students are nonverbal they were able to communicate and express their feelings of delight and pride by the glow on their face. This is why we do what we do!! We were fortunate to be able to bring another wheelchair with us this year and we left it at Malava with a young girl already sitting happily in it.

For the third visit of the day we headed way off to Mukomari. We thought the roads had been bad but boy were we wrong. The very long road to Mukomari is about the worst you can imagine. It took us two hours in the very old and rickety van that St. Peters Seminary kindly lends us each year. We are amazed that it held together. We went to inspect the progress of the John Jackson Memorial Well and we sure received an education beyond words. The construction of this well has been taking much longer than usual due to the layers and layers of bedrock that has been encountered. The well is being hand dug with numerous blasting events to clear the bedrock. The debris is chiseled and hauled out by bucket. We were astounded to see a young man lower himself 40 feet down, stand in cold water, fill bucket after bucket and then haul himself hand over hand up the rope to the surface. He often spends four hours at a time at the bottom of the well. As you can imagine this is a very dangerous job and one of the the effects of being down the cold dark hole is pneumonia. The professionalism and dedication of the engineer on this job is evident in the fact that he is still on the job even though he has had to replace the crew three times – except for one young man who has been on the job every day since the very beginning in February. Ironically as we were preparing to leave we learned that this young man’s name is Jackson! And that was only day 1.

We thought we were prepared for the food shortage this year but we did not expect it to hit so hard and so close to home. Susan, our administrator, was unable to purchase enough food to go around at two of the feeding programs that we fund due to rationing of maize flour. Last year, for the same amount of money, we were able to purchase & deliver bags of beans, rice, flour & sugar for these monthly celebrations. This year each family received only 2 bags of maize flour. We were heartbroken to see the food run out before the long line of hungry people did. Many more people other than those registered for the program come hoping for a little food. In years past we were often able to share but not this year. Even though we could not give everyone some food they were gracious and patient and accepted their fate. It was extremely depressing to see the hungry faces of young and old knowing we had nothing for them. They still sang for us and prayed for us!

Sunday morning we tried to recharge our batteries and in the afternoon we visited our friends at Bishop Stam in Kakamega. What a warm welcome we received.

Monday saw us back on the road again as we travelled to Itegero Primary School, where Suitcases For Africa began. It was our great honour to commission the grand opening of eight new doored latrines funded this year by SFA . This may not be a glamorous event but one that will bring increased sanitation and good health to the students. We were informed that these latrines would serve them well for the next fifteen years. The principal made a big ceremony of the ribbon cutting and asked students to enter each latrine as the doors were opened. There was much giggling by the students as well as us. We assured them that we did not need a real demonstration! The topic of food was again prominent and we learned that many schools will need to close a month early this year because there is no food for the children. Unfortunately there will be no food at home either. Mr. Chamegere, the principal, was delighted to receive from us a lap top computer – the first for the school. We also presented the staff with a few books that had been donated by Reader’s Digest to go in their library.

Our second stop on Monday was to see our friends at St. Ursula Special School where we again were greeted with shrieks of joy and laughter. The children remembered us and we were thrilled to see their familiar faces. Once again the main issue is lack of food for the children. In response to the desperate food situation their chickens have been stolen and one of their beehives has been stolen. We plan to make the funding of food a priority here as well. We saw the worry on Mr. Karani’s face when discussing food and we only wish we had more to give. The cost of food has gone up 100% since January. Some people are only eating every four days and it has been reported that 1,300 women and children are crossing into Kenya from Somalia every week in search of food. The displaced persons camp in Kenya is now the largest in the world at 350,000 people. It truly is a disaster and the end is not in sight.

As you can imagine we are experiencing a roller coaster of emotions each day and we can’t believe it is only day four of our field work. We know that thanks to your help we are making a difference but there is so much more to be done. Your presence is felt and appreciated by everyone we come in contact with here in Kenya.

We still have much work to do and many places to visit. We will try to be in touch again before we leave.

Salama Rafiki, Peace Friends,

Darlene, Wendy & Charlotte