Newsletter September 2013

We feel as if we are cheating. This newsletter is the first written from the comfort of our Devon home. Not being surrounded by heat, flies and dust it’s a little harder to create the mood in Olepolos but here goes:

The Warriors’ Tour
We are not in Olepolos because the Warriors, including our host in Olepolos, are touring Scotland and England. They have reached a milestone – their 10th tour and as always every performance is magnificent – full of energy and smiles. We can’t help but admire them. Homesickness and suffering from the cold, rain and endless travel are kept well hidden. The Maasai are truly stoic and we wish them a really successful 10th tour and maybe you will be lucky enough to have them in your area. We also admire John Curtin who, well into his 70s, is still putting heart and soul into organising the English end of the tour for his 10th time. This photo is from The Times in 2004 when the Warriors caused quite a stir visiting London.

The Warriors in London

The Osiligi Maasai Warriors at the Tower of London 2004

The Maasai and the Mara
Some people ask us where they should visit in Kenya. Here is an idea. Imagine a Maasai warrior brought up in a traditional village in the Mara, who becomes a safari guide, falls in love with an English girl, gets married, and moves to the UK. This cross cultural understanding puts Boni Ole Mpario, a good friend of members of the Osiligi Troupe, in a unique position to interpret and introduce you to Maasai life.
In February 2014, Boni returns to the Mara as a tour leader for a special trip organised byTribes Travel.

As an alternative, the Osiligi Warriors’ leader, Richard (Tajeu) is building visitors’ accommodation in Olepolos close to our School for people who may want to explore the area and see the Charity’s work. This will be ready sometime in 2014, but is unlikely to have such a flashy website (if at all) as the Tribes Travel one!

If you read our previous newsletters you will know about our project to bring agriculture to the dry bush of Olepolos. We are constantly pushing for the school to be a centre of excellence, not just for children but for the many adults who missed out on any education first time around. We like this enthusiastic advert posted by one of our school governors.

Come to Osiligi Obaya for agriculture lessons.

It’s not all about numbers.
I’s easy to get lost in big numbers and to forget that there are real lives behind the statistics. We sponsor 108 children, providing them with an education. We try not to get involved with their home life other than sending the odd food parcel or paying for uniform for the poorest but recently we have felt moved to do more. One of our children has a difficult home life, suffering from severe neglect and we hear reports of abuse. Social services do exist in Kenya but are slower to respond than here and most problems get sorted out at community level. The Maasai and the child’s teacher advise us that boarding school will be a good solution, so we are now trying to get a place at a good local boarding school – just far enough from home to be safe but not so far that the child will lose contact with the community. It’s really difficult drawing the line between interference and help. All we know is that last year’s bright and feisty child can now hardly cope and we can’t sit and do nothing.

The school shoes on the child we are concerned about.

The school shoes on the child we are concerned about.

Clean Water
Water of any kind is a challenge in Maasai land, especially clean water. Work on the school and community bore-hole is continuing. The 10,000L tank stand and tanks are now finished. Roger has decided to delay the fitting of the solar powered pump until he can supervise this on his next visit. There are just too many things that could go wrong to reduce the lifetime of the expensive pump.

Repairing other charities’ wells and hand-pumps is continuing. There will be many photos of the water projects in the next newsletter.

Applications for next year’s reception class, aged four (in theory!).
The school is getting a good reputation so we expect 100+ applications for the 25 places available in January. We will be tearing our hair out in November as this process is chaotic – it’s Kenya! Communication is the spanner in the works mainly because Olepolos is not a village, just far-flung huts deep in the bush. Children come for interview from afar and many are too old or young or just don’t know their age. Some come with neighbours or elderly relatives who hardly know the child. Language problems complicate everything and many of the parents are shy and nervous, the children even more so. Our secretary Florence speaks Swahili and English but many parents who have never been to school only speak the local language Ki-maasai. So, why does the school employs a non Ki-maasai speaker? Well, Florence is good at IT, our lifeline when running a charity remotely from the UK.

If we are lucky enough to meet the father at the interview it will probably be the last time we see him. School is women’s business and it is nearly always the women who will be expected to pay any school fees, practically impossible with no work or livestock of their own.

Mother and child hoping for a place at the school.

Mother and child hoping for a place at the school.

We will arrive at a short-list of the most needy children, choosing only those who can’t afford to go to school without sponsorship. The local school governors scour the list for names they don’t recognise, weeding out children from other areas brought to stay with a relative. Finally the dust settles and by December we will have a potential class of 25 and with luck, a photo and details on every child. Still, we fully expect to see an uninvited child sitting in class in January – Maasai optimism in action again! It would be a hard heart who sends home a needy child who has already bought a uniform. Our job is to find sponsors for all by December (anyone fancy sponsoring a Maasai child?).

Teacher Interviews.
Of course with 25 new children we need another teacher. As usual we receive mostly dreadful CVs by way of application – scappy, illegible and of little merit but 1 in 10 is worth a look. Most who come to interview arrive either three hours early or 3 hours late – more tearing out of hair. Some just turn up uninvited – Maasai optimism again! Time keeping is definitely not a Kenyan strength but I suppose we have never had to get to an interview on a death trap of a bus shared with goats or walk across 7 miles of bush in smart shoes. It’s a miracle they all arrive looking as good as they do. CVs apart, Kenyan teachers have a real sense of professional pride and we do find some gems.

Our teachers after receiving gifts of kangas and beads from grateful parents.

Our teachers after receiving gifts of kangas and beads from grateful parents.

And, with a new class and new teacher, we need a new classroom. Great news – for the 2nd year running, the Charity has been accepted into the Big Give Christmas Challenge. The challenge allows donations to be doubled, so for a £10 donation, the Charity receives £20. Like last year, we will use the challenge to fund the construction of another classroom. More details nearer Christmas.

As always, our thanks go to the many donors, child sponsors and supporters as without your help, these projects would not be possible.

Helen & Roger Pannell September 2013.

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