Posted in Kenya on November 8, 2023
After months of planning and building excitement, 10 of us from throughout Canada finally converged in Kenya on November 4, around a breakfast table at our shared hotel. Some of us had participated in prior DWC excursions, and some had not, but everyone was anxious to get the build underway – working on a foundation at a school in Naro Moru village, in partner with ACCESS (Action Crew on Community Environment for Sustainable Services) Kenya and DWC.
Our first full day together saw the team travel closer to the build site, roughly a 3-hour drive (give or take) that gave us an opportunity to see the enterprising and dedicated folks at their roadside stalls at every spot the speed bumps created calming areas, and a rough overview of the terrain in our part of Africa. I have to give a big shout out to James, who picked us up from the airport, and our drivers Paul and Isaac, who were able to seamlessly stick handle (a good old Canadian hockey analogy) loading up their vans with all our luggage and all of us. They are the friendliest guys and tremendously helpful.
DAY 1 – November 6, 2023
We had an early breakfast and were on the road by 7:30 am anxious for the day to begin and get the project underway. Although the rainy season started early, our day began very pleasantly, and when we broke for lunch, the rain began to fall, so we lucked out that our morning saw no new rain and the temperature was nice and warm, and the rain ended just as we were returning to the job. There were some mucky patches at the build site which was not entirely unexpected as we had been told that there had been some significant rainfall in recent weeks. Our task at hand – pouring a foundation for a schoolroom. But first introductions were made all around and we got to know our hosts, some students and the team of builders who were working side by side with us.
The hole for the foundation was already dug when we arrived, so today saw us shoveling rocks and mud to fill the hole and assembling the rebar supports for the foundation. We presented an impressive showing by clearing the large pile of rocks and relocating them to the foundation base for step one of the project. The six rebar forms took some time and concentration but we were able to complete them during the first day.
Perhaps one of the most endearing things that happened today was a short performance the students presented to us, inviting us to join in and dance with them.
As day one wound down, we all headed back to the hotel and a chance to review the day’s events between us all. Tomorrow will bring some new and exciting challenges, but we are sure we are up to the task!
DAY 2 – November 7, 2023
What a treat it was to wake up to a sunny morning today. We had a nice, clear view of Mount Kenya this morning on our ride to the site, and the blue skies were a joy to behold. However, as is often the case with day-to-day activities, fate dealt us a bit of a blow and we found ourselves with a flat tire not long after we left our home base. With Isaac and Paul to the rescue once again, and Brandon and Troy from our team lending support, we were soon on our way to the school and back to the task at hand.
More rebar frames were required, but by now we were seasoned veterans at this job and breezed through it without issue. Today was the day we were pouring the footings, and all the frames needed to be built before the footings could be poured. The concrete was mixed by hand, on the ground, and delivered by wheelbarrow to the forms that awaited. There was a lot of activity around the foundation site, between the construction workers and the DWC volunteers. As busy as we were, we did notice the accumulation of clouds and the breeze picking up later in the morning. Once again, lunch, catered by the team put in place at the school, offered a break where we were treated to a performance of dancing Grade 5 students. We were invited to join them in their dance, and their footwork was certainly more accomplished than us neophytes that were trying to keep pace, but it was a ton of fun regardless. Sadly, we watched our sunny morning give way to some significant rainfall, which made working with concrete yet more challenging and forced an abrupt end to our workday. But this was not the end of our contributions to the school. We worked through Gladys and Joel, our key leads in the project, on a plan to build some new metal soccer goalposts to donate to the school. Although the sweat of our brows was curtailed for the day, we made a trip into town to visit a hardware store and arrange for the materials to be delivered to the school so that the soccer field would be upgraded before we left for home. As we left the hardware store, we saw the pieces of steel pipe being loaded to onto a tuktuk for delivery. The forecast is calling for more substantial rain over our final days here, but we are hoping for some clear patches where we can get the job moving forward.
DAY 3 – November 8, 2023
Today we filled in between the concrete footings that were poured yesterday. There was a rather substantial rockpile which half the team pitched into wheelbarrows that the local workers (and Jeremy, representing the DWC team) transported through some serious, deep muck, up a makeshift ramp and into the foundation frame. Some of these rocks were pretty large and others on our team grabbed some awaiting sledge hammers and broke these rocks into smaller pieces. We were fortunate to have an overcast day, as breaking rocks in the hot sun would have made the task much more difficult. There were a lot of rocks and a lot of breaking rocks going on and this took up most of the day, until the rock pile was gone, but we still needed more to complete the job. The rock/wheelbarrow transport was put on hold while a new load of rocks was ordered. In the meantime, we had one half of the floor finished as far as the rocks went, so we laid a top coat of a mud/stone/concrete mixture over top of it and hand-tamped it down manually.
While all this was going on, the welders we hired came on site and began working on the poles we purchased yesterday and making them into the soccer goal posts. The rain held off for the most part in the morning, and as the yard was being readied for the new soccer posts an impromptu game of soccer sprang up among the school kids who were there that day and a few of the TIMBER MART team. Playing soccer in work boots and on a soggy, slippery field added a new dimension to the game. But the kids, volunteers and observers all had a blast watching the game.
After lunch, we were treated to another song and dance presentation with the students, and then joined them in the “Hokey Pokey”, that Joy, our team leader, had taught them earlier in the day.
Then the rain arrived – and so did the rocks. Apparently, the truck got stuck several times as a truckload of rocks would do, travelling on dirt roads that have been pelted with rain. But we had enough with this new load to finish the remaining work and call it a day. As our vehicles left, carrying our tired crew, it was gratifying to see the soccer goals in place at either end of the field behind the school.
DAY 4 – November 9, 2023
It was time to pour the foundation today! Prior to starting work, we had the pleasure of meeting George, the school principal who had just arrived from Mombasa. In addition to giving us a warm welcome to the school, George got right in there, rolled up his sleeves and was shoveling gravel, sand, you name it – he worked as hard as the rest of the team. We rented a gas-belching cement mixer that was a must for this pour. It was hard but rewarding work. Brian had some fun opening the bags of cement with a machete, which is an art unto itself. Between schlepping the sand, stone, gravel and cement to where the mixer was running, and then moving the mixed concrete to the waiting foundation and levelling it, everyone got their steps in and more! There was a bit of a pause mid-day while we waited for some additional bags of cement to arrive which gave us a chance to catch our breath and then back at it. At the end of the day, the slab was poured and our new soccer goal posts that we installed yesterday got painted a nice white, to make them visible. Ready for the last day tomorrow.
DAY 5 – November 10, 2023
The kids were out in full force today to give us a warm and heartfelt sendoff, which the team appreciated greatly. While the construction team were building the forms for the concrete posts, the volunteer team took the opportunity to christen the new soccer goals with the students. 2 games were played, one with the girls team vs. DWC/TIMBER MART volunteers, which ended in a tie; the second with the boys team, which ended nil/nil.
In appreciation of all the dance presentations the children performed for us, the team reciprocated with our unrehearsed (and it looked it) dance recitals to the tune of “YMCA” and the Chicken Dance. I think they were a hit because we weren’t chased out of the complex after that.
The afternoon saw us hand mixing concrete (our mixer was a one-day rental) and pouring it into the post forms that were erected earlier. Many hands made light work on this one, and before we knew it, the project had come to an end.
The kind folks at Kirinyaga School gathered to thank us and wish us well and Gladys gave a very touching speech about the bonds of friendship that we formed and how we would be missed.
And how we will miss them! To think that a week ago, we were strangers, and how quickly we all became friends, bonding over a common goal. This week we have made memories that will last a lifetime, and a small contribution to improving the learning space of these students. Asante sana!!
Posted in Kenya on November 8, 2023