Looking for the forgotten ones

Ann Nyaguthii is sitting alone on a wooden bench. One pair of wornout runners sit next to her swollen bare feet.

Ann Nyaguthii lives in a small wooden shack with her teenaged nephew in Central Kenya. She said she rents the farm from her brother

Ann Nyaguthii lives in a small wooden shack with her teenaged nephew in Central Kenya. She said she rents the farm from her brother

Advocate reporter Laura Tester has accompanied A Better World on its 20th anniversary trip to Kenya. The Lacombe-based charitable organization is spending 14 days in the African country working on a variety of projects.

Ann Nyaguthii is sitting alone on a wooden bench.

One pair of wornout runners sit next to her swollen bare feet. Wearing a turquoise-coloured dress and a woolen hat, she waits patiently for her teenaged nephew to return from school.

Ann, more than 80 years old, gets by with some help from neighbours and earnings from her vegetable garden. She has no mattress on her bed, only some clothes that can cushion her small bony frame. When the A Better World team arrives, they are shocked to discover she rents the farm from her brother, who has only allowed her and his son to use one of the wooden buildings.

Using a walking stick, she settles down into the lone chair in the blackened kitchen. It’s nearly bare except for a few cooking utensils, a thermos and a wooden chair.

A Better World gives her a donation consisting of bags, maize, salt, rice, bread and flour. Speaking through a Swahili translator, she asks that the food be placed on her bed, for fear that someone may walk into the kitchen and steal it from her.

She is one of 10 families or individuals that A Better World will see in just a few hours near Male in Central Kenya. They are largely the forgotten. International aid organizations don’t go into these areas so far off the beaten path. Shacks are made of sticks and cow dung. In one, a single mother lives with her eight children.

“We need to help them grow their own food — and the problem that is preventing that, is water,” said Eric Rajah, co-founder of Lacombe-based A Better World. A Better World is providing water in some places, he added.

The team suggests getting Ann a proper mattress. Rajah said he appreciates this active engagement and caring attitude from the volunteers.

Widespread despair is rampant through Kenya. Hawkers sell cabbages and kerosene along muddy clay ditches. Rows of wooden shacks and dilapidated stone buildings try to entice passersby with names like Equator Country Club and Green Paradise Cafe.

In one village, residents watch helplessly as flames consume a building, knowing it will burn to the ground because the fire department is located in a distant city.

Rich agricultural areas exist, including tea country located in the highland areas on both sides of the Great Rift Valley. Thousands of Kenyans work in the fields, picking the freshest leaves to take to one of the tea production plants where more are employed.

Beyond the vibrant yellow-green fields, there are bumpy dirt roads with knee-deep ruts and riddled with rocks. Ten vans from A Better World will use one of these less-travelled roads to reach some of Kenya’s poorest.

A few years ago, A Better World formed a community partnership in Ndanai. Most people there are very poor by Kenyan standards, existing on subsistence farming of maize while selling any extra crop for cash. The people are 90 per cent illiterate with many health issues like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Medical teams hosted eyeglass and medical clinics for several hours at the Ndanai Small Home for the Physically Challenged, where 31 children with various physical disabilities, including spina bifida, live. The home tries to cope with periodic medical services nearby. It’s located on a school site so those children can attend classes.

The rest of the crew was welcomed royally with classroom openings at two schools within this isolated region of Ndanai.

Dale Russell, a RE/MAX broker, and his wife Majella built three classrooms at the Ndanai school. Last year, the couple financed two. Lloyd and Kathy Goets of Lacombe funded two others at Queen of Peace Primary School, a neighbouring school run by Catholic nuns.

Gord Bontje of Laebon Homes last year financed a new dining hall and kitchen at the Ndanai school, as well as electricity for the school.

“We do lots of things in Canada too, but the poor people there have supports,” said Dale Russell. “These people have no options at all. It’s good work that Eric is doing and I believe in what he’s doing.”

Stu MacPhail and Jocelyn Halvorsen of Red Deer helped build dining room furniture for the Centre for the Disabled in Kendu Bay six years ago. Since then, Rajah has encouraged them with new challenges. They now scout for new projects, including in Rwanda, where genocide devastated the country 16 years ago.

The couple has become involved in a very poor, parched region about an hour west of Kisumu. The MacPhail family financed the construction of a centre to feed orphans. A similar program was done haphazardly by the community. No non-governmental organizations are working in the region, said MacPhail.

“We’re providing the reason for them to believe,” said MacPhail. “Because we go back, it gives them reason to be hopeful. It’s our demonstration of commitment that gives them hope.”