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 ( 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.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Vutakaka School field trip!

The Class 7 and 8 students at Vutakaka Junior School took a trip to the nearby Kilifi Plantation, just across the creek from Takaungu village.  The plantation produces Kilifi Gold Dairy products and also grows sisal, an agave plant that is used to make rope.

The students took the small Takaungu ferry (seen above) across the creek and saw the milking process, the dairy production, the sisal harvesting, and the rope making.  They were given a talk by knowledgeable staff in each department and learned a lot about the agriculture business.

Many thanks to Kilifi Plantation for hosting our students!  The teacher's are busy planning the next outing for Class 6, 7, and 8 to the Mombasa port and the railroad station.  Classes 4 and 5 will visit the Mida Creek and bird watching boardwalk next month as well.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The year so far...

A very late Happy New Year to the EAC blog readers! My New Year’s Resolution was to update this blog every month…I hope you are all doing better at your resolutions than I am! Better late than never… (and I know the picture doesn't directly relate, but I was so tickled with our students cleverness I had to find a place for this picture).

We have had a great year so far at the EAC. I complained about the heat in my December blog, but just like every year, I under-estimated coastal Kenya’s capacity to be hot. March is always one of the most sweltering months here as we wait for the rainy season. It hasn’t slowed us down though!

Our health department is busier than ever. Government nurses were on strike for two weeks, so our clinic saw a huge increase in out patient clients at the beginning of the month. Thanks to Valerian for keeping up with all the extra work!

Our health team has been meeting regularly with the new community committee in Mavueni, an area where we hope to help open a new clinic in the coming months. We look forward to giving you more concrete updates on this as things move forward.

Health education is back in action for 2012 – the six schools that participate in the Stay Alive Program have more than 300 students enrolled! Our girls health discussion groups have resumed and the participants are more active and passionate than ever – we learn so much from the young teenage girls who are participating in these discussion groups.

Our primary school is now finally a FULL primary school. Head teacher Catherine worked very hard to register our Class 8 students for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam to be held in November. Our students are now registered and have submitted their choices of Secondary Schools to the government for consideration. We are very excited to see how our students perform and are working hard to offer them extra tutoring each week. Thanks to all our teachers for putting in so much extra time. It is going to be a tough year but we hope it will pay off! If you are interested in helping a student pay for Secondary School, please contact the EAC at

We are also implementing new strategies for success at school that were discussed at the EAC’s annual board meeting in December. Every Friday during the morning assembly, students are publically recognized for various hard work and good deeds throughout the week. Teachers are also now referring to students by their graduation year. Our Class 8 students are now called the “Class of 2016”! We hope these new strategies and other brainstorming by the tea

chers will help cultivate a culture of success at Vutakaka!

The year has also brought great news from our partnership with the Combined Federal Campaign and the Aid for Africa Girls Education Fund. Vutakaka Junior School was awarded money to use as scholarships for the best performing girls. We have given out scholarships to 10 very bright female students.

Congratulations Subira, Lillian Ngala, Lillian Moses, Moza, Caroline, Farhat, Nuru, Aisha, Muttaquina, and Rehema. Keep up the good work!!

School closes for 3 weeks in April for the Easter holidays, so that should technically mean I have more time to update this blog. I will renew my commitment to monthly blogs and hope that it works better this time than it did in January. As always, thank you so much for your commitment to the work of the EAC and the community of Takaungu. We couldn’t do it without ALL of you!