Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Intern Noelle Voges

Our most recent intern, Noelle Voges, has just returned from Kenya. Here she shares some of her experience with you. Our organization and the community was grateful she lent her time and talents to making a difference there, and that she did in a relatively short amount of time. Noelle continues to support the organization State-side.

"I returned to the States only two weeks ago, and I am already itching to return to the welcoming and beautiful village of Takaungu. Before beginning my internship with the EAC, I was graciously greeted into my homestay. This large family of 12 made me feel right at home by allowing me to be their shadow around the village, introducing me to their friends and extended family members, teaching me how to cook local Swahili dishes, and helping me learn ‘easy’ Swahili phrases. Although, no matter how many times I practiced, I somehow always ended up saying, “I’m getting married tomorrow” instead of “I will see you tomorrow”!

Aisha, my amazing homestay mother, and I, in her new home.

Fatma, one of the young ladies in my homestay, and I, putting farufaru in bags to be sold at Vutakaka Primary School.

I am so lucky to have had such an amazing internship experience with the EAC! My focus in graduate school is on public health and community development, and the EAC was the perfect fit for both of these interests. The EAC is truly instrumental in the Takaungu community, along with the neighboring villages. I primarily worked with the EAC’s community health team, which consisted of three hardworking and passionate people, whom I now call my friends. Mohamed, Joyce, and Joy would travel many miles each day on foot, bicycle, or Boda Boda to reach a targeted group of individuals for their health education programs. As part of the Stay Alive Program implemented by the EAC, students received information on HIV/AIDS prevention and basic health and hygiene education with the goal of establishing healthier lifestyles.

One of my favorite experiences was being a part of the ‘Kick Polio Out of Africa’ campaign launched by the World Health Organization, guided by Kenya’s Ministry of Health, and implemented in Takaungu and three neighboring villages by members of the EAC, volunteers, and employees of the local dispensary in Takaungu. We walked door-to-door in various villages looking for children under the age of 5 to administer the polio booster vaccination, and we documented the households and locations where we traveled so other health teams would not repeat the area we had already reached. It was inspiring to see so many individuals helping in this cause, and I was also surprised to see how willing the parents were in letting us inoculate their children without questioning our authority or medical knowledge. In one afternoon, the health team I was assigned to inoculated 107 children and visited 79 households and 2 nursery schools.

 Administering the polio vaccination to a willing child.

My time with the EAC was pivotal in helping to evaluate my public health interests as my time in graduate school comes to an end this year. I’m looking forward to speaking to future public health graduate students about the exciting work the EAC is doing in the coastal village of Takaungu, and hopefully it will inspire others to intern with this great organization. Takaungu will always be special to me, and I will forever speak fondly of my time interning with the EAC."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Thank you Jill!

We have had so much fun stuff happening this summer at the EAC that I had to pick just a few things to highlight in the blog.  Since we had to say goodbye to our peace corps volunteer Jill Daniels (irreplaceable, but we are excited to meet our new PCV Adriana arriving next Friday), I decided I would focus on a few projects that Jill put into place in her final months with us.

First is something that started at the beginning of the year that we slowly saw come to fruition.  Jill approached me with information about One World Classrooms and their Global Art Exchange project.  It is a project where schools send in art work and in return receive a mixed package of art work from students all over the world.  It sounded like a great project, so Jill connected with teachers at school helped students create 25 pieces of art to send into One World.  A couple of months later, I received a big package at the post office.  I couldn't figure out what it was, but I opened it to find 25 amazing pieces of art from a hugely diverse list of countries - there was an pounded aluminum piece from the US, some amazing drawings from China, a drawing of village life from Namibia (strangely similar to Kenyan life), some drawings from the Ukraine, and many other pieces.  It was such an exciting package to open and one Jill and I were so excited to share with the students.  We decided to display the art at Term 2's closing day, on the wall of Class 8, so that students and parents could have some time to enjoy the art.  We added some art from our own students as well.  What a beautiful display!  We will certainly be participating annually in the One World art exchange.

The second project Jill started during her last few months is also something we hope to continue.  After hearing about it from a nearby fellow peace corps volunteer, Jill started collecting supplies for making reusable sanitary napkins.  One of the major reasons that girls miss school in developing countries is because they lack any supplies for protection during menstruation.  There are a lot of campaigns to collect normal sanitary napkins and distribute them to schools, but the EAC was interesting in testing out a more sustainable option for the girls. 
The reusable pads are made from pieces of shower curtain (or any thin plastic) and pieces of towel, sewn together.  Snaps are added on either 'wing' so that the pad can attach underneath the underwear of the girl.  The first training was held in May at Vutakaka and it was a great success.  We have lots of left over supplies, so our new peace corps volunteer will hopefully pick up where Jill ran out of time and do the training at our 3 other health education schools.  What a wonderful, long-lasting impact!

As Jill heads off to spend a month in Paris (where we know the food will be seriously lacking compared to Kenya) and then back to the US, we wish her the best in all her endeavors, and we know she will forever stay connected to the EAC.  She has made a huge impact in our health work and much of what she has done will continue on with our staff and future peace corps volunteers.  Thanks Jill! 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The rains are here!

Hello all!  Just a few quick notes on what has been happening at Vutakaka as we plunge into the rainy season.  On March 15th, Vutakaka Junior School held it's first ever inter-house Sports Day.  Students are now divided into four houses named for different animals found in Kenya and assigned a color.  The day started with a parade around the field, with all teams cheering loudly and waiving their colored flags high.  The events began with the longest races first to beat the heat of the mid-day sun.  Events included individual and relay running races, shot-put and javelin throwing, long jump, and high jump.  In the end, Nyati (buffalo) house won the title in yellow.  Congrats to all the students on a great effort!
In academic news, school closed for the term on April 11th, after great scores on the end of term exam.  We said goodbye to our intern, Shanie, who had been working with the upper grades in Math and helping us to fix and upgrade our XO laptops for the students.  We really enjoyed having her out here and appreciated all her hard work.  She says she 'might' be back, and we are hoping for the best!
 In health news, Peace Corps volunteer Jill Daniels conducted a demonstration in gunia sack farming.  Gunia sacks are woven plastic sacks that are typically used for carrying rice, beans, or maize.  Old sacks can be used for vertical farming.  Jill showed the health team how to fill the center with rocks and the remainder with manure and soil.  Once our collard seeds are ready, up to 50 plants can fit into one bag!  Slits are cut in the side of the bag at regular intervals, and the greens grow out the sides of the sacks.  We can wait to see how this improves our school farm, and how we can share this with the community!
We also recently celebrated Malaria Day with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer Kelly Sawyer in Kadzinuni village.  Kelly organized the two-day malaria event, which coincided nicely with the start of the rainy season.  The day included a net washing demonstration and free net repairs, speeches from health workers and nurses, entertainment from local schools and a DJ.  It was a big success and we hope many people heard the message about how to prevent malaria.  Well done Kelly!

Friday, March 8, 2013

A busy month!

Wow!  As I was pulling out pictures for this blog post, I really got to appreciate how busy we have been so far this year, and how many exciting things are happening here in Takaungu at the EAC.  Let's get to it....

This year has been filled with visitors.  We were very happy to welcome one of our board members, Matthew Merluzzi, to Kenya for the first time.  Last year Matt traveled to the Ivory Coast as part of his job as a comodities trader working with cocoa farmers.  He had such a good experience on that trip that when Jen and I told him to come out to Kenya, he jumped at the chance.  He stayed with us for 6 days and had a great time learning more about our programs.  Matt has been instrumental in raising money for our capital projects since joining the board, and we were excited for him to see what all his efforts have accomplished.

While Matt was here, he helped us to distribute shoes that had been donated to the nursery school children by 'Thousand Pairs of Little Shoes', a Caymen Islands charity started by a longtime visitor to Kenya.  Thanks to Renata for the donation of the shoes!

As an avid fisherman, Matt was also interested to hear about the grant just awarded to the Takaungu Beach Managment Unit from the Constituency Development Trust Fund.  EAC staffed supported the Unit to write a grant for a cold store room and ice processing center.  We were so excited when we found out last year that the group received the grant for 5.4 million shillings!!  We took Matt to meet the fisherman and see the current storage space.  

Unfortunately, the weekend after Matt left was the launching of the project (pictures below).  It was a beautiful day and a committee was chosen by the community to implement the project.  We can't wait to see the progress this brings to the fishing community of Takaungu and will support them throughout the process.

This year also saw the return of Tony Hillier, community poet extraordinaire!  Tony had visited our school last year and held a 10 week poetry class for the Class 7 and 8 students.  He also encouraged teachers and staff to participate.  Tony had such a great time here at Vutakaka that he went home and created a beautiful book of the students and staff poems and art work.  As Tony and I debated how to use it for fundraising and also how to pay for printing, he informed me he was funding the printing of 50 copies and coming back to Kenya to deliver them himself!  We were so excited to see him two weeks ago, and everyone is very proud to see their work published.  Thanks Tony!

Just a few quick, but still exciting last notes before I sign off and save the rest for another blog.  We want to give a shout out to intern Shanie Holman from Seattle, Washington, who is doing a great job tutoring our students in Math and Science (she is even holding an election time tutoring program!) and working on updating our XO laptops and helping teachers to further integrate them into their classroom learning.  Thanks Shanie!  Below is our new headteacher Mr. Jumaa, who will be profiled in our upcoming newsletter.  We are excited to have him and can't wait to let everyone get to know him, at least online.  Welcome Mr. Jumaa!

I'll close here, even though there is more to share.  Right now we are in a holding pattern, waiting for election results.  Kenyans seemed determine to keep the peace, despite a lot of reasons for them to be annoyed with the systems and politicians in this country.  Despite a still unstable situation, I am as ever impressed by the patience and dedication to a better future of the people of Kenya.  Let's keep hoping for a peaceful future, near and far.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

February resolutions

  Hello everyone!  We hope you had a great holiday season and are enjoying being back in the swing of things like we are!  Once again, my new years resolution is to write more blog updates, post more photos, and generally stay in touch with our supporters more often.  So, I’m going to try.

We have a great intern here now, Shanie Holman, who is posting some of her wonderful pictures that we will be sharing on Facebook.  We also recently hosted my good friend and EAC board member Libby Gluck here, doing lessons on peace and helping the children to create some great peace-inspired art work to bring home to our donors.  The elections are coming up on March 4th in Kenya, and everyone is anxious to see how it goes and hoping for a peaceful outcome.  The last elections were at the end of 2007 – violence ensued after allegations of manipulation of results.  An estimated 800 people died and 600,000 were displaced.  Luckily, the Coast of Kenya was a much safer place than the rest of the country.  We are confident that this year will be better, but just in case are prepared to hide out in our safe haven of Kilifi/Takaungu and hope for the best. 

It is an important time to teach the students about elections, the right to vote, peace, and the future of their country and teachers are taking every opportunity to do so.  So, the students have definitely hit the ground running this year.  The Class 1 students are settling in well in their first year at primary school, and the new KG1 nursery students (all 3 years old) have slowly stopped crying in the mornings when their parents leave. 

We are also happy to have our new head teacher, Jumaa Masha Lewis with us.  He started work on February 1st and is off to a wonderful start working on revitalizing the school clubs and the arts classes.  I’ll spotlight him in my next blog post.

The health work has also resumed for 2013 and motivation is high!  We have 15 strong chickens (ok, we have lost about 10 so far but the remaining ones are looking good and should be for sale soon).  Once we make some money on these chickens, we are going to expand their house and also add a place to bring our goats.  In 2010, a parent donated a goat to the EAC.  This goat has been living with a staff member and has now had a baby.  We would like to bring them to the EAC compound and try to expand our goat population.  At holiday time, a goat can bring in a lot of money!  We are really hopeful that these income-generating strategies can help support our health work. 

While we wait for the chickens to grow, health work goes on as usual.  Health education has resumed at the 6 local primary schools, and our nearby partner has added in a 7th school!  Health staff are also working with 6 community groups, sharing health information and trying to assist them with small business development.  We continue to work with the two government clinics in our area of operation, and are helping the Community Health Worker unit to implement a door-to-door HIV testing grant they received from the government.  A huge thanks is due to our Peace Corps volunteer Jill Daniels, who has contributed so much in her first 6 months with us.

As you can see, we are excited to be moving forward, as always.  I am particularly hopeful about the year ahead, as I feel we have really planned well to make the big moves towards further sustainability.  We will keep you posted as this happens.  Wishing all of you a wonderful and progress-filled year as well!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays from all of us at the EAC!  We have had such an eventful year - our first class of 8th graders took their national final exam and graduated from VJS, the health team started a small chicken rearing business, and the Takaungu fishing cooperative won a huge grant from the local development fund to build a cold storage and ice processing room. 
I, for one, am so proud to be a part of the community that has built up around the EAC.  From donors, to Takaungu residents, to VJS students, to mothers and babies at our health events, it's all about coming together to make this world a better place.  And that is just what happened when US Program Director Jen Hill visited her old high school - Hoover High School in Ohio.  Her cousin Emily is on the yearbook staff, and after meeting Jen, the yearbook team decided they wanted to make yearbooks for the 8th graders at Vutakaka Junior School!  They planned a way to fund the cost of publishing through sales of the Takaungu Sewing Cooperative items, and they decided to dedicate a page of their yearbook to bringing awareness to the work of the EAC in Kenya.
I was home in New York for the EAC's annual board meeting on December 1st when Jen gave me the yearbooks.  They are so beautiful - about 30 pages of beautiful photos and writing.  I carried them back to Kenya and gave them out as soon as I got home. Above you can see the 8th grade boys looking through and laughing at photos of their friends.  Everyone out here in Kenya loves them - all the teachers and school board members wanted copies as well!
This is what we mean when we say everyone is a part of the EAC community - a high school in Ohio and a group of 8th graders in Kenya.  Connected through a beautiful yearbook that will stay with both groups forever.  Thank you Hoover High School! 
It's the holidays - consider joining or renewing your commitment to this global community.  We can't do it alone!  Happy holidays and best wishes for a great 2013 from ALL of us!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Micro-Enterprise Chickens!

The EAC has always believed in building community-led programs that are financially sustainable.  This is definitely easier said than done.  For the past 4 years, EAC staff, administrators, and board members have been creating and revising a strategic plan that pushes our programs continually towards financial sustainability.  This plan has shifted and changed as we have tried something and succeed, or more importantly, tried one way and failed.  But we have been continually moving forward.

One of the programs we are most proud of it our health work.  The team of 30 Community Health Workers, in partnership with the government of Kenya, work on a volunteer basis and have been instrumental in collecting community health data, and spreading health messages door to door.  The EAC offers them technical support, and a space to meet.  Our three paid health staff are a part of this group, and assist the group when others have to be at work.  Having three paid staff in this group is instrumental in the group’s success.  These three staff also teach health education in 4 local schools to Class 4 and 5, reach with over 20 community groups on a monthly basis with economic empowerment strategies and health education, and teach health education classes to polytechnic students, out of school youth, and secondary school students.

For the past few years, the EAC has been raising money to cover the salaries of these three staff members, as well as the water bill and the security for the site.  We started to develop a way that we could invest in small, low-effort businesses, that our health staff could run, that would bring in some income to cover some of these operating expenses.  When Peace Corps volunteer Jill Daniels arrived in September, I tasked the her and the health department with developing some business ideas that we could easily implement in the space we have available and at a low cost. 

They had many ideas (some of which might be started at a later date) but the best one was to turn the old volunteer kitchen mud hut into a house for chickens.  We used a little bit of money to fix up the house and fence in a small yard for the chickens, and a little bit more money to buy the 25 chicks.  Some of these chickens will be ready to sell in time for Christmas, some will hopefully be laying eggs for sale and also so that we continually increase our chicken population.   We aren’t sure how much we are going to be making yet, but we spent about $100 to start the chicken coop, and will sell each chicken for about $5.  It sounds like a long way to a profit, but if we become known as a place where there are always chickens available, we should be able to sell as many as we can produce on our property.  We are excited to see this micro-enterprise for development progress and happy to be further along the trail of financial sustainability!  Thanks to Jill Daniels and the health team for all their hard work, and to gardener Katana Karisa for helping out with the fence building.

Friday, August 24, 2012


We have now completed our new block of 6 toilets, thanks in large part to funding from the Rotary Club of Darien, CT.  As a member of the Rotary Club of Kilifi, Kenya, I approached the Rotary Club of Darien (my hometown) when I visited home in November of 2011.  The club was enthusiastic about partnering with a club in Kenya and starting to work on something in this region of the world.  As the Kilifi club was already becoming famous for building toilets, and Vutakaka Junior School desperately needed some more toilets, we decided the Rotary Club of Darien would partner with the Rotary Club of Kilifi and we would build the needed toilets at VJS.

I am happy to say, the toilets came out beautifully!  There are 3 toilets on the girls side, and 3 on the boys side with a urinal running along the boys side as well.  The other two toilets you see in the picture to the right will be used for girls now.  The Ministry of Health in Kenya sets the optimal toilet to student ratio at 1:30.  Before this project, we had only 4 toilets for the 240 students at the primary school and all the teachers.  We can now give the teachers two of their own toilets, and are left with 8 toilets for 240 students (exactly 1:30!)  We are so happy that we have been able to complete this important project.  It has improved sanitation at our school, which reduces the chance of diseases like worms, typhoid, and cholera.  Data from the World Health Organization and Unicef from 2008 reports that only 31% of rural Kenyans are using updated sanitation facilities.  Thanks to the Rotary Club of Darien, VJS is now has adequate (and even beautiful) sanitation facilities and is in-line with the EAC goal of a holistic approach to education and health.

The inside of the girls toilets.  So clean and beautiful! Research shows that giving girls access to proper sanitation at school greatly improves their attendance records.
The EAC and Vutakaka Junior School would not be where they are today without the work of Rotary Clubs all over the world.  Thanks Rotary!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rainy season farm update!

The Vutakaka School shamba (farm) is off and running in this rainy season!  While the rains have not been quite as good as we wanted for maize and beans, they have really helped our gardeners with the year round crops that usually need A LOT of water.  In this first picture, Katana is holding one of the first good onion harvests that we have had.  Now that the gardeners know how to make sure the onions go from seed to full grown, we should be buying a lot less onions.
To the right you see the onions right after they were picked.  We are excited to cross one more vegetable off the list of things we need to purchase to provide nutritious lunches to our students every day!
We have received money from the FAWCO foundation (www.fawcofoundation.org) to install an irrigation system.  This will really increase yields year-round as the gardeners will be able to get more water onto the vegetables each day, and will have more time to expand the farm, weed, and track their progress.
One of the biggest successes so far from the Vutakaka shamba is mchicha.  Mchicha is a bitter green that is one of the staple foods in the Takaungu area because of how easily it grows.  Right from the start of the farm, the gardeners have been producing enough mchicha so that we have not had to buy any for the past one year.  This saves $10 a week, which might sound small, but adds up to more than $500 per year!  The gardeners have also started selling the surplus mchicha, and we are saving that income to build a small stand so that more people know mchicha is for sale at Vutakaka!

Thanks to everyone who has been involved in making this farm a success!  Keep checking back for more farm and food updates!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Farewell to Valerian

Wednesday July 4th was the last working day for our long-term trusted friend and Head Nurse Valerian Mshila Malasi.  Valerian joined the EAC in 2007 and was instrumental in making the health department what it is today.  He was not only a respected nurse in the community, he was also a great leader in developing community health programs and health education.

Valerian's leaving coincides with the closing of Vutakaka Health Clinic.  This is not a sad event but rather a joyous occasion along the EAC's path to sustainability.  Last year, when US Program Director Jen Hill visited Kenya, she sat down with Valerian and myself to develop a strategy to make our health programs more community run and more cost effective.  We realized that the government was working hard to improve the Takaungu Dispensary (the local government run clinic in our area).  We also learned that a building has been constructed in a nearby, under-served area.  This area, called Mavueni, is where more of the clients of Vutakaka Health Clinic were coming from.  We talked to the District Medical Officer of Health and learned that the government was desperate to use this new building to open a clinic in Mavueni, but did not have the start-up capital.  We saw that the EAC could further it's sustainability strategy by closing our clinic and using our resources to help the government open the Mavueni Clinic.  It is in-line with the EAC policy of not replicating government services, but rather supporting the services that the government IS able to offer.

This does not mean our health department is closing.  Rather the opposite - we will be able to devote more resources to our volunteer team of Community Health Workers, help our health education teachers develop strategies to reduce costs and thereby spread the program to other areas, and we will be able to offer other local organizations office space and partnerships to further community health in general.  We are also committed to supporting Takaungu and Mavueni Dispensaries to continue to improve out-patient health care in the Takaungu-Mavueni sub-location.

Of course, without a clinic, we don't need a full-time nurse.  Valerian was one of the main proponents of opening Mavueni Clinic, even though it meant he would be without a job.  We fully appreciate his support and understanding of the development strategies that the EAC believes and practices.  He will be a friend of the EAC's, and mine personally, for a very long time to come.

Good luck in all your future endeavors, Valerian!  You will always be a part of the EAC family.