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As I return home from Kenya it is time to reflect on what a fantastic opportunity this has been.   I learned so much about Kenyan culture and had the chance to visit some beautiful places including Kakamega, Kiboko Bay and of course the Masai Mara

I feel privileged to have worked with a small team of really dedicated professionals at Yellow House who are working hard to improve the lives of children and adults with communication challenges.  Their work makes such a difference to those individuals and families building confidence and for many children and adults the opportunity to follow their dreams and have rewarding and fulfilling careers of their own.  I feel humbled by this whole experience.

Two things I missed most – family and hot showers!

Two most useless things in my suitcase – washing machine tablets (everything is washed by hand) and a dress.

Two best things in my suitcase – walking boots and a head torch.  Thank you Rowena, also working with AfID in Kenya, for this great advice as I would have been really stuck without either.

Things I would bring next time – lightweight laptop as mine is very heavy to carry on a daily basis – up and down the hill to get public transport for example.  I have an I-pad but not great for designing and preparing documents; stronger backpack and a helmet so I could have the option to use motorcycles to get around town.

Two things about Kenya that I will miss – the Yellow House Team and consistently warm sunny mornings;

Two things about Kenya that I am pleased to leave behind – daily journey on the Matutus and constant reminders in the newspapers about just how much corruption/graft there is.

A big thank you to Yellow House and AfID for all their support over the last month.  For any of my finance colleagues out there just do it.

Emerging businesses

There are signs of a changing culture with young entrepreneurs setting up new businesses to meet the needs of the next generation.

For example Rachael has identified a “Personal Shopper” who takes your order e.g. two pairs of cropped trousers, plain colours size 12 and will then scour the markets for items that match your needs.   If you don’t like them you don’t buy.

Another highly valuable service is City Errands.  They will undertake any errand for you within Kisumu – this could be queuing at shops, going to a bank, obtaining groceries, posting parcels/letters.  As queues can sometimes be very long here and take “hours” to clear it is a huge bonus to busy working people.  When I had problems with my phone they came to the hospital where I was working, collected it, sorted it out and returned it to me!  Fabulous.

Transport – there are numerous individuals who earn their livings as Tuk Tuk Drivers, Motorcyclists and push bikes – all working hard to secure your business.  As a white person you can struggle to get a reasonable price for transport so if you find an individual who does not overcharge you take his number and build up a relationship.  This is invaluable.

There is another service company that collects all your recycling on payment of a fee, who will then sort it and make more money to ensure that is appropriately dealt with.  As the streets are littered with discarded water bottles (I have seen people throwing them out of Matutu windows) and plastic bags this has to be a good thing. Rubbish disposal is quite a challenge here!

Many Kenyans have always earned their own money by running small shops in their communities.  There is therefore a culture of entrepreneurship which the younger generations are seeking to capitalise on.


During my stay I have read a couple of the local newspapers and the one thing that stands out is that there is a distinct lack of sensationalism that we get in the UK.  The language used is factual and very basic.

The pages are full of stories and articles about corruption.  At the time of writing there are currently eight Constitutional Secretaries suspended from their posts for their alleged involvement in corruption and is currently causing a minor crisis as the overall numbers are below the required minimum requiring a reshuffle.  The scandals permeate down the various layers of democracy and back up again.  Indeed there are quite a few cartoons suggesting that Sepp Blatter would be very at home here!

Evidence of corruption is all around.  Schools are short of funds for basic educational needs including paper and pencils because money has been creamed off by various officials along the way; roads have been built to a poor standard meaning that within a couple of years there is evidence of corrosion at the edges and cats eyes installed for safety have fallen into the ditch alongside.

One part of the road I use on a regular basis is almost down to a single carriageway; the banks to the side of the road are just left unfinished, there is no landscaping, trees or proper access to the businesses behind the bank of the new road.   Bridges regularly collapse because contractors have cut corners with materials resulting in weakened infrastructure.

The police stand by the roadsides every day stopping what are perceived as easy targets to gain some “pocket money”.  The rule for overseas visitors is that you just ask for the ticket and never hand over cash.  I spoke to one person this weekend who had been asked for 1,000 KES, then 500 KES despite continuously just asking for a ticket.  When she refused to pay he just told her to “go”!

The local transport is able to run overcrowded vehicles because the co-operative is run by the local police so they just ignore any clear flouting of the rules and no doubt when there is an accident cover that up too.

Kakamega Rainforest

The weekend got off to a fantastic start when Rachael, CEO of Yellow House learned that they had secured grant funding from Comic Relief for a new project.  There were great celebrations and now I have to re-do the budget and cash flow forecast.  All in a good cause!
The driver collected me on Friday morning and after just 25 minutes on a good road, we turned off on to a muddy dirt track to reach Rondo Retreat – some 15 km. We travelled through some beautiful tea plantations and saw some relatively upmarket private schools as we made our way towards Rondo. This was alongside some extreme poverty too.  Lots of children with no shoes, dirty clothes and looking quite thin.
Eventually we came to some large gates and as we drove through we entered an oasis of peace and calm.  Any photographs I took did not do justice to this wonderful place, so you will just have to settle for the website!

The retreat has a long history.  It was originally built as a private house, then used as an orphanage, youth camp and more latterly as a Christian retreat.  There is a small chapel in the grounds and I did go to the Sunday service which was not well attended but still well done.
The gardens are beautifully landscaped and attract many species of fauna and flora.  Everywhere was very quiet and accommodation in a number of different cottages/buildings set in the grounds.  There were tables and chairs carefully placed in shaded areas and beautiful verandahs where you could just sit and admire the wonderful views.  The food was basic but tasty and whilst they are not licensed I did bring the Gin and Tonic!  They kindly supplied the lemon.
I was joined for the weekend by Jose who had been part of the group that went to Masai Mara.  His daughter had a lot of commitments over the weekend and  it was an opportunity for him to see another part of the area too.  We went on a long hike on the Friday afternoon to explore the rainforest – it was very muddy and I was grateful that my guide, Abraham,  had found me a walking stick.  We saw a few monkeys high up in the trees – far too far away for us to get any photographs.  It was however delightful and I was very glad that there was a boot cleaning service back at Rondo.
The next morning we rose early for the sunrise walk.  This was a steep climb to the top of Callow Hill where we could see the whole of the rainforest as the sun rose and the clouds rose upwards.  It was a wonderful sight and at 1700 feet a good climb!  As we wandered back for breakfast we observed some of the marathon runners in the early stages of their run.
We spent the rest of the weekend reading, doing crosswords, going for short strolls around the edge of the forest on some well laid out trails and eating far too much.
On one of our walks we went to look at some thatched huts which are available for campers who want to explore the forest.  Very  picturesque but basic and I am glad that I can afford a little more comfort!
The driver, Robert, had been booked to collect us between 2 and 3 p.m. When he arrived at 4 p.m. he apologised for his lateness but he had been to Church.  Not an excuse readily heard in the UK.
I am now into my final few days in Kenya and with the new grant, and the first Trustees Meeting for Yellow House it is going to be a busy week.

Weekend on Safari in the Masai Mara

Thursday night I stayed in Kisumu with Sara who is a speech therapist.  She is staying in a beautiful compound near the Impala Animal reserve.
There are more than 25 flats in the compound called Alkesh Apartments
They are very well appointed and entirely occupied by NGO workers, mainly Americans on the US Aid programme.  Whilst it is very nice I cannot help thinking that you live like an ex-pat with little/no interaction with the local people or understanding of local life. Having said that I enjoyed the very comfortable bed, beautifully tiled floors, hot shower and swimming pool!  The apartments are located next to the Impala Animal Sanctuary so overnight you can actually hear the lions – it is a most peculiar sound and could be quite unsettling if I had not been told in advance.  In the evening a group of us went out for supper at a small vegetarian Indian.  Lovely meal for under £3 each .
Our driver, Michael, picked us up on Friday morning at 7 a.m.  We headed off for the Masai Mara and once a few miles from the apartment the roads became quite good for the next four hours.  We stopped once for a short break, although the facilities had no water and it was a bit grim!  Next stop was lunch where a group of mini-buses gathered so we could progress in convoy into the reserve.  Just as well really as within 35 minutes we were stuck in the mud!  The bridge on the main road had been washed away earlier in the week so we had been required to take a detour.  It took approximately 20 locals and a lot of pushing, rocking, etc to get us out of the very large hole – picture attached.  We progressed for a another 30 minutes or so paying some bribes along the way as we were crossing private land as opposed to using the main road.  We also provided a lift to a young mother and child who were trying to get to a hospital clinic.   We then came across another mud bath which had already claimed one wood lorry, one jeep and before very long us!   Quite why the driver decided that it would be a good idea to try and get through I have no idea.  This was far more serious and we were stuck there for over three hours.  Eventually two ranger trucks arrived and managed to pull us free and ensured that the rest of the convoy also passed through safely.   Meanwhile a Wrecker arrived to rescue the lorry!  It was now getting quite dark so the driver hurried to get us to the lodge – just before 7 p.m. and sunset.
The lodge was very well appointed – it had only recently opened so although the facilities were fantastic the service has a little way to go!  There were twin four posters in our tent and a very nice en-suite shower/bathroom.
Having quickly unpacked and had a quick freshen up we headed to the lounge bar and settled down for a G & T before dinner.  The staff were all very friendly and the food of a good standard.  It was just disappointing that we had missed our first Safari drive.
We had an early night prompted by the generator going off at 10 p.m. prompt.  Luckily I had the head torch with me which came in handy.
The next morning we were up early and ready to leave at 7 a.m. having had a substantial breakfast.  By 10.30 a.m. we had seen the Big 5 – Lion, leopard, elephants, buffalo and rhinoceros.    Quite an achievement as most people we had talked to had only managed 3 or perhaps 4.    The highlight was seeing two female lions with 4-5 cubs lying by a tree with very fat stomachs!  They had just enjoyed a meal of wildebeest – the remains of which was now hidden in a tree.   During the day we saw giraffe, zebra, mongoose (two types), hippos, crocodile, baboons, secretary bird,  gazelle, ostrich, raptor, jackal (with kill), wildebeest, impala, toby, gazelle, Crown Crane, waterhogs and their babies, water bucks, velvet monkeys, yellow bill-stalk, blue lizard – a truly wonderful day.
Lunch was quite eventful as the picnic area had a large population of monkeys who were constantly eyeing up our lunch.  We were provided with sticks to keep them at bay although one of the group still lost their sandwich and we lost as a group the remains of a carton of mango juice!  They were very cunning and constantly looking for their opportunity.
We returned to the lodge in time for a shower before G & T/supper.    On the Saturday evening they built a beautiful camp fire for us and we sat around it and chatted about the day.  The lodge guards who are from the Masai did a traditional dance for us and chanted round the fire making it very memorable.
On the Sunday we got up for a pre-breakfast safari but the only different thing that we saw were hyenas.  They were in abundance but the reserve was eerily quiet so I think everything must have fed well the previous day!  We could not complain having seen so much the previous day although not actually a kill.
The return journey was less eventful – we just got stuck once and discovered the driver had broken the four wheel drive!  We were pulled out by one of the other vehicles quite quickly and continued on our way.  The tracks to all the lodges are very small and I am full of admiration for the petroleum lorry drivers who negotiate their way around – few signs and lots of small tracks.  Their GPS must be good!  We saw lots of lorries stuck generally carrying sugar cane or wood from the reserve towards market.  Just too much rain/mud to negotiate.
I arrived back in Kisumu c 4 p.m. Sunday and had a cup of tea before catching the local transport back to the village.  A great weekend but very tiring!
The picture of the group I travelled with are all standing by the order with Tanzania – Me, Hose, father of Rache who is working here and Sara in the front.

Flexible Working!

As Yellow House does not have an office there are opportunities to find new and different spaces to work. In addition to Java House – the wonderful coffee shop – I have found a few more!
One day I went to Clarice House in Kisumu and sat in their beautiful and peaceful garden. They had thoughtfully provided lots of shaded areas either under canopies or trees so that you could escape the bright sunlight and heat of the day. A further bonus was that I could enjoy a delicious lunch of fresh fish served in a lemon sauce. Good food helps the brain to function and pull together a few more of the documents required, so I told myself.
Another day I went down to Kiboko Bay where I sat by the pool overlooking Lake Victoria. I was cross with myself for not putting my swimming costume in my backpack. I will definitely not make that mistake again.
I was able to work online using my new phone which has a Wi-Fi hotspot. I had hoped to go out on the lake to find the hippos but sadly a storm was brewing and I did not feel like being out on the lake in bad weather – particularly as some of the boats looked as if they needed a bit of tender loving care. I did however enjoy my first G & T in Kenya and again chose fish for lunch but this time served with a Masala Sauce.
Kiboko Bay is a holiday resort and there were some people clearly there to relax and enjoy the fabulous views whilst reading their books. I spoke to some interesting gentleman who were auditors for the local council – one called Barrack! For anyone looking for some winter sun this is a beautiful spot.
As usual the success of my flexible working depends on Fred my Tuk Tuk driver. He is enjoying showing me around Kisumu and telling me about his family who live at his rural home. Fred has three young daughters and his wife takes care of the farm whilst he is away in the city. He goes home approximately once a month for a week working most days inbetween time to supplement the family income.
Rachael and I have been working hard on drafting a Constitution, Policy Documents, Financial Procedures and Risk Register ensuring that the financial records are as good as they can be! I am finding it very rewarding and Rachael is great to work with – we both are keen to make real progress over the next two weeks.
Java Coffee House
Kiboko Bay Resort. jpg
Boat at Kiboko Bay
Kiboko Bay 3

Kenyan People and Shopping

The Kenyan people are generally very friendly and helpful.  The women wear such beautiful clothes – they are incredibly colourful and great pride is taken with their appearance. There are lots of small shops/businesses offering dressmaking and tailoring services as well as fabric stalls.  The children wear beautiful clothes particularly when going to church and parties (they have been celebrating Diwali this week).  The girls in particular wear children’s styles rather than mini-adults.  There is no apparent rush for them to look like adults – delightful.

Whilst the men have adopted a more western style of dress, women have generally remained faithful to traditional styles.  I have noticed some of the younger and wealthier women wearing very high heels and a few wearing more western style clothes.  I have also observed  signs up in the hospitals discouraging the wearing of high heels as there is evidence that they cause posture problems and I suspect many a broken ankle on the uneven pavements.

When it rains and there have been lots of heavy showers this week, the women rush to their bags for a shower cap which is worn to protect their hair! Some even resort to plastic bags.  They do not worry about getting their clothes wet but they do worry about their hair.  I understand this is because of the many chemicals used.

Plastic bags and bottles are a real issue in Kenya.  Plastic bags here are strong and substantial like ours used to be and are freely given out.  There is no waste collection as such in many areas so people either have to burn their own rubbish or more often than not it is dumped on the roadsides.  Part of my morning routine is to take the previous day’s compostable rubbish down to the chickens.  In the compound where I am staying there is a small area to the bottom of the garden where other rubbish is burned.

Supermarket shopping in Kenya is not dissimilar to home although the shops are more Tesco Express size then Tesco’s out of town!  Fruit and vegetables are generally purchased on the markets although for convenience I have bought some at the shop.  The avocados are delicious and at 20 pence for a large one – not extravagant.  Vegetables are very cheap here if you eat seasonally and locally.  When we went to buy a bag of rice I was surprised to see Rachael looking at the contents very carefully to ensure there were no bugs.  I am pleased I do not have to think about that at home.

There are lots of butchers along the roadside as you travel into Kisumu but Rachael tends to use one in the shopping mall.  She has visited the farm out of town and and likes their meat which is all frozen and sold from this small shop.   Meat is relatively cheap here although it is hard to get chicken breasts.

Customer service still has a long way to go.  Trying to sort out a mobile phone and local SIM card took me four days and many hours.    I bought a SIM card on day one but it would not work in my English phone as it was locked.  The shop that sells phones was in a different building some distance away so we had to leave that until Day Two.  On arrival at the shop the queues were horrendous, I had to pay cash as the price within the till was incorrect and they could not therefore take credit card payment – trip to the cashpoint!  We then went home but found that the SIM card would still not work in the phone.  Day three returned to the shop – phone faulty and replaced.  On leaving the shop at 5 p.m. found that the PUK code was missing so I could not activate the phone.  Day four returned to the shop yet again and stayed in the shop until I had tested all the features.  I still had to get the staff to sort out the WIFI hotspot feature as it was not working and it took them a further 30 minutes to resolve.  So Day Four and I have a local phone at last.

Very few items have prices on them outside the supermarket so generally everything is negotiable.  For larger items the shops tend to group together.  On the road into Kisumu we pass what is known as DFS Kenyan style.  All the sofa’s are outside the small manufacturing units, on the roadside and resting on mud!  You move on a little further and all the builders merchants are together and in another area carpentry services.  It reminded me very much of India where I visited some years ago.

I will need to find a driver who goes more slowly before I can get any decent pictures!

Yellow House

Yellow House is a small charity delivering speech therapy services within western Kenya and training teachers on how to support and help children with communication difficulties.  There are just 12 speech therapists in the whole of Kenya compared to 7000 in the UK – and even our services are overstretched, so you can I am sure understand the real need for their work.

Disability is still a taboo subject within Kenya and culturally the birth of a disabled child is blamed on the mother.  This can result in both her and the child being ostracised in their local communities.  Part of the work of Yellow House is to work with families to help them accept their child, encourage the development of parent support groups, and teach the parents how to help their child improve their communication skills.  Corporal punishment is still “the norm” in Kenya which can further exasperate any problems there may be.  Yellow House also educates parents on alternative ways of changing behaviour.

The small team are dedicated to their work with the children and families but have recognised that in order to access grant funding they need to improve their financial systems and capacity.  My work here will be to help them develop their policies and process as well as putting in internal controls that will satisfy the donors.  I will also be helping them to develop templates so that they can put together financial information for grants quickly and easily.

The team is supported by a number of volunteers every year and they have an ongoing relationship with the University of Toronto who pay the costs for two students to join them each year.  The variety of work available to young students and the support of dedicated professionals makes the placements very valuable.

Yellow House rely on international donations for their work together with some grant funding from partners such as Chance for Childhood.  They are awaiting the outcome of further grant applications whilst I am here, so fingers crossed.

Yellow House Team: Martin (Trustee) Flo Rachael, David and Sarah

Yellow House Team:
Martin (Trustee) Flo Rachael, David and Sarah

Silas is one of the Trustees and works locally.  He is also a deputy chief examiner for schools.

Silas is one of the Trustees and works locally. He is also a deputy chief examiner for schools.

Getting around Kisumu

There are principally four ways of travelling around the area

  • taxis which are of course relatively expensive
  • Matutu which is local mini-buses that travel up and down the main roads picking up and dropping people off along the way
  • Tuk Tuks which can take three people and move you around the town for small distances
  • Motorcyle/bikes for quicker transport in the local areas.

Each morning I walk downhill for approximately 15 minutes to the nearest matutu stop.  I am so pleased I packed my walking boots as the walkway is both uneven and muddy.  You agree the price with the conductor before you get on the matutu.  The cost is 50 KES (Kenyan shillings) to get into Kisumu (approximately 45 minutes) which is the equivalent of 35 pence and 80 KES (55 pence) for the return journey.  The reason for the difference is that it is uphill coming back!

In order to get as many people into the mini bus as possible they have pieces of wood to put across the isles to get extra people in.  It can feel very crowded and there can be a delay at some stops if a person in the back row wants to get out although generally the bus is loaded according to destination.

Tuk tuks are cheap and easy to use although generally westerners are charged more than the locals.  It is also a negotiating game!  I have found a Tuk Tuk driver called Fred in Kisumu who is friendly and reliable so I tend to ring him up each time I need transport.  He will pick me up and take me to wherever I am going and wait if a stop is going to be short.  Most journeys are 150-250 KES around town.

I have not used the motorbikes as I do not have a helmet with me, although I may yet borrow Rachael’s.  I have never really ridden a motorbike so a little apprehensive about holding on as some of the roads have huge potholes.

The roads are in the process of being built and whilst there are short pieces where there is tarmac laid most of the time it is mud tracks which are by their nature very uneven.  On being shown pictures of our roads/motorways the locals look at them in awe and just say “beautiful, beautiful”!  As you travel along the ways you become aware of the huge number of charitable/volunteer projects run by international organisations.  USAID and UNICEF are among the big names with a presence.

Mud Mud Glorious Mud

I arrived safely in Kisumu after a flight via Nairobi.  The change of terminals required a walk of about 10 minutes in rain and mud along unmade roads/footpaths.  I had decided to wheel/carry my two cases, rather than have a trolley – this was a good decision as there are no dropped kerbs and peoples luggage was falling off the trolleys and into huge puddles – yuk!  My luggage did remain fairly dry and mud free.

I was met in Kisumu by Rachael the CEO of Yellow House.  It was good to meet her at last as we had exchanged for some weeks by email and one skype conversation.  After loading up my cases into a taxi we headed off into town and to the one and only decent coffee shop, Java House.  This is a new business recently opened and a huge highlight for all the western charity and volunteer workers in the area.  It also has decent wi-fi – another treat.

We chatted over coffee before travelling up to the village of Vihiga where she lives via the supermarket.  Having travelled overnight we had a quiet afternoon discussing the charity, her hopes and fears and tried to prioritise my work for the next few days at least.

On the Wednesday I met the three Trustees – Silas, Wilson and Martin, together with her small team of workers – David, Flo and Sarah.    Everyone made me feel very welcome.  The team works out of a number of different clinics and schools.  On this particular day we met up at the local hospital which was built by the Russians but the entrance we used is named Obama gate.  Obama’s grandfather is from this area of Kenya so he and his wife have many places named after them.

A few of us went out for lunch afterwards to a local restaurant known as the Laughing Buddha.  Their speciality dish is a sizzling chocolate brownie.  They bring the brownie and ice cream on a hot sizzling plate and then pour over a hot chocolate sauce.  We ordered one brownie and five spoons – delicious but incredibly sweet.

The short rainy season is supposed to have finished at the end of October, but since my arrival there have been frequent short but very heavy rainfalls – rainforest type downpours!  As a result there have been lots of short power cuts and the ground has been left very wet. Kenyan Home

Rachael is the CEO of Yellow House and my host

Rachael is the CEO of Yellow House and my host

Another first!  Absolutely delicious.  Mouth waters at the thought of all that liquid hot chocolate

Another first! Absolutely delicious. Mouth waters at the thought of all that liquid hot chocolate

From left to right Martin (Trustee), me, Flo,  Rachael and David

From left to right Martin (Trustee), me, Flo, Rachael and David