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Project Africa 2013

Reflecting on my time in Kenya – a blog by Matt Warner

Many of you X-factor fans who watched the show on Saturday evening will remember the all-girl group “Little Mix” from a few seasons ago.  In Kenya, it was the term used to describe our 4th cement mix of the day –  just one “little mix” to go…6 wheel barrows of sand, 9 wheel barrows of stones and 3x50kg bags of cement. Pour in about 20 buckets of magi (water) then stir with a shovel until it resembles a grey stone sludge.  To quote Andy Lee “my wife won’t believe I’m doing this!!” That’s probably true for most of our partners back home, but ‘do it’ we have and the medical facility we’ve been charged with building at least now resembles a building versus the pile of bricks, sand and gravel that greeted us on arrival. Through the cement stained faces, arms and legs a collective sense of achievement has certainly being shared amongst us.

Aside from mucking in on site, it has been a challenging week in so many respects.  Some of the scenarios and emotions were envisaged beforehand, but so many were completely unexpected.

On the light hearted side of things; highlights include giving Meir his first Marmite experience (“hmm, must be a British taste” was his diplomatic reply), hearing the “bear joke” (thanks Andy Lid), watching an enthusiastic paint covered hand go to work in a confined space (you had to be there, sorry!) and proving that good old fashioned English defending has a place on the football field even as far away as Ol Maisor (reference to Olly’s blog from Friday, but in my defence, he would have kicked me if I hadn’t kicked him first!!).

On the emotional front, where do you start?  Maybe with the simple things: The smiles that greeted us each morning at assembly, the innocence and fun the young kids enjoy as they play in the playground every day and the determined hard work and drive of the fundi (local workers) working alongside us.

But that rosy picture shouldn’t mask-over some of the realities of life in Ol Maisor. If you were to judge the standards of hygiene, nutrition, health & safety and social welfare by those you consider the norm at home then they’d fall woefully short.  For me, that’s actually what makes the abundant character and personality of the people so admirable.

The first emotion I had when arriving in Ol Maisor was one of sympathy. A sympathy that was based on me judging every situation and scenario against the life I live back home.  In reality, my sympathy actually contributes nothing. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the vast majority here just wouldn’t want it.  If our efforts can help provide stability and improvements around absolutely essential things like health, education, basic amenities and opportunities, then that’s something to be proud of. Something that will enable this community to live, grow and support itself long after we are gone.

I’m not for one minute saying I’d like to give up my lifestyle and all the things I now consider essential to daily life as that would obviously be a lie.  What I do question is; what’s to actually say that one style of life and community is “better” than another?  Although we’ve only touched the surface in our short time in Ol Maisor, I respect and admire the vast majority of people we met and the way they go about living their lives.

I guess the question I’m asking is; would the lives of the people I have met in Kenya really be “better” if their Saturday evening revolved around the decision of whether to watch X-factor or Strictly Come Dancing?

 

By the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond – a blog by Jim Hogan

Twenty colleagues from the West of Scotland met on the banks of the firth of Clyde to start our walk on the John Muir Way between Helensburgh and Balloch via the banks of Loch Lomond. No one had done this walk before so we did not know what we were letting ourselves in for. “Just as well” I heard of few howl as the reality kicked in “I wouldn’t have been here if I’d known it was going to be this tough”

We got on our way walking through the picturesque and affluent Helensburgh. It soon became apparent that man y of our party had done this kind of thing before and were in no mood to support the less able. In no time they had disappeared into the distance leaving Angela, Linzi. Moira, Gary and me behind – or so we thought.

The famous 5 trekked along, the ladies talking about Linzi’s wedding dress and the boys feeling decidedly left out – NOT. Then the singing started with renditions of ‘Amarillo’, ‘American Pie’ and ‘Pack up your troubles’. We were still on the road at this point and it all felt a bit too easy – If only!! We soon turned off onto a steep path that went upwards for 3 miles. The singing and chatting came to an abrupt end with basic survival the only priority.

We soldiered onwards and upwards wondering in between each gulp of air if the other 15 mountaineers in our party had finished by now. Then we spotted a yellow H4H t shirt way down the path. In short our intrepid explorers had got themselves lost and in the process added at least 4 miles extra onto their trek – We were gutted for them particularly as they had shown so much compassion for the weak and feeble.

We trudged along starting to feel normal again as the path levelled out. Then we hit it. The forest that looked like something from Lord of the Rings. Had a few Orcs and Hobbits appeared at that point none of us would have been surprised. The path had disappeared completely with an almost vertical decent through dense undergrowth. Angela announced at this point that “this is the best bit for me” It takes all kinds.

We were soon out of “Mordor” and back on a proper path. The whole world opened up at this point and the views of Loch Lomond were stunning. The mood was fantastic as we knew the worst was behind us and the sense of achievement really kicked in. We got to the finishing point “The Tullie Inn” after 4 hours trekking where Eddie Thompson greeted us with a nice cold ice cream – Believe that if you wish.

Everyone had a fantastic time and raised a significant amount for Project Africa. Thank you all for making the effort and joining us on this great day.

 

JMW17 JMW10 JMW4 JMW2

The sand storm – a blog by Debbie Nash

Another day in front of us and we were warned that it was the longest and probably the most difficult.

We left camp at the usual time of 8am. Fantastic how every trekker is ready and eager for the off despite sore and blistered feet together with aching limbs.

We walked four hours across the salt flats where temperatures soared to mid thirties.

We arrived at our lunch tent at around midday. It was such a relief to be able to take shade and relax properly for a couple of hours. Lunch was amazing rice salads and sweet mint tea was plentiful.

After lunch it was sand dunes. The landscape was spectacular and exactly how you imagine the Sahara. The climbing of each dune was challenging and balancing as you walk across the tops not ideal for those of us with vertigo, but the running down was really fun and we escaped with minor injuries. We were then faced with a sand storm that came from nowhere. The sands whipped us and visibility became an issue.

We eventually got to camp. Thank goodness! We were all feeling weary after a long day trekking and battling against the storm.

That evening the winds died down to allow us to have dinner, but later that night returned battering our tents for several hours. The inside of the tents and personal items were covered with layer upon layer of sand. Lovely!

Day 5 here we come.

Back in the UK – Blog by Angela McShannon

I am now sitting in Heathrow airport waiting on my flight to Glasgow and it is the first time I have been on my own for two weeks and it feels very strange. For almost two weeks I have lived and worked with a fantastic group of people who have all individually left their mark on me.

For the last two hours I have sat and reflected on our experience in Kenya. I am left with so many emotions, pride in what we have achieved sadness for the people we have left behind in Ol Maisor and an overwhelming desire to continue to raise awareness of the Project and ensure we continue to raise money to support it.

I am so grateful to the Company for this opportunity to do something really worthwhile and stretch myself. The past two weeks has been an emotional roller coaster one I will never ever forget.

Angela McShannon

Pauline – Blog by Beverley Newman

Project Africa October 2013

We are 3 hours into the long drive south to Nairobi. Tonight we’ll all be on planes home to our comfortable lifestyles.

I left Ol Maisor yesterday in a reflective mood – really pleased with the progress this great team have made and already thinking about the specifics of our tasks out here next year.

I am very conscious that the blogs written about Project Africa tell similar stories and I don’t think they will change as being here is a very emotional journey and people need a way of making sense of what they experience and they want to share their feelings about that experience.

So was I sad to leave, you bet, but my mind was racing ahead with next steps for me to be too emotional at first.

Now I am sitting in the back of a Land Cruiser, being thrown around by the bumpy road, listening to Emelie Sande on my iPhone and my composure is less intact.

I want to share a story that has touched me very deeply, all of us out here very deeply. I realise that only a select number of people can actual be part of Project Africa, but maybe this story will help reinforce to everyone at William Hill that their contribution matters, really matters.

Here goes – on Tuesday a little girl called Pauline collapsed during the school assembly. One of her teachers rushed to pick her up and take her into one of the classrooms. We called Francesca, our nurse to see her. The poor little 9 year old was having trouble breathing and didn’t have the strength to stand up. She collapsed because she was starving.

She doesn’t have a father and her mother is mentally ill and has abandoned Pauline and her two younger sisters. They now live with their aging Grandfather who cannot afford to feed them.

Francesca treated Pauline with water and sugar and then after a while we gave her solid food and juice. She looked frightened and confused.

We asked one of the pupils to get her Grandfather to the school. I expected to give him a hard time – but what could I say. He had nothing. We gave him some money and pleaded with him to keep an eye on her and her sisters and to make sure they were fed.

At lunch time we called her over to join us and she enjoyed a meal of tuna and pasta. We packed up everything that was left and put it in her little ruck sack. We gave her a teddy and made a big fuss of her. It was when we opened the ruck sack though that the enormity and horror of the situation hit home. In the front flap she had the meal of beans the school cook had just dished out. Everyday she takes home the meal she is given at school for her little sisters. To see the beans in her grubby little bag was the saddest thing I have ever seen.

We have asked the fundi who we have come to know well to look out for her.

That’s why William Hill has Project Africa.

Beverley Newman

Today is our last day in Kenya – Blog by Alicia McKee

Today is our last day in Kenya and I have spent this morning packing what little I have left to bring home. I came here with two pretty big suitcases full and will be going home with next to nothing, yet I still wish I could have given more.

During the time I spent with the children at the Island School, I often found myself thinking about my own little boy and how my approach to parenting differs to how its done here. The truth is, there actually is no difference at all. We all want the best for our children, we want them to be healthy, to thrive as much as possible and to ensure they make the most of the opportunities available to them. Unfortunately, the parents here don’t have the luxury of reviewing Ofsted reports and discussing catchment areas to decide what school would be best for their child and this is why its so important that we make this school the best it can be. The parents and the children deserve to feel like they are getting the best start in life and that shaping their own future is possible. Yes, there are other challenges to face but if the children are given a good education in the right environment which nurtures and develops them I believe they can achieve anything.

Its no secret that many of the families here are living in extreme poverty but until I actually saw it with my own eyes, I had never really understood how bad it was. When we first arrived, I was quite emotional and there was a part of me that just wished I could fix everything for them. I suppose that’s the William Hill way really, we see a problem and we fix it. Now I see that this isn’t about fixing a problem for them, its about giving them the tools to do it themselves. Project Africa isn’t just about making a financial contribution, its a long term commitment to changing the lives of this community and educating them on how to sustain it for themselves.

The journey I have been on over the last couple of weeks has been incredible. I have done things I never thought I would do and worked harder than I have in my entire life. To say its been tough is an understatement but I have loved every second and have some great memories that I will treasure forever.

Thank you William Hill for a wonderful opportunity, it has been amazing!

Alicia McKee

Final day at Island School – Blog by David Greyling

The past week in Ol Maisor has flown by and with the perception of time increasingly fading away we woke this morning with the realisation that it’s our last day at the Island School.

It’s been a quilt work of sensations, from tears to laughter, euphoria to frustration all the way through to sheer exhaustion – it has truly been an incredible experience.

Our engagement with the community and the reciprocal smiles and appreciation from the kids and the Fundi have been incredible. Whatever doubt there might have been about our presence is ill found, it is clear they are as committed to us as we are to them.

We’ve spent a substantial part of our time building on the infrastructure, but good progress have been made in exploring what the next phase of the project would look like.

Getting to grips with the local school system, working with the teachers whilst identifying where to invest for the future will be the next leg of our journey.

And what a journey it has been, unfortunately ours have reached an end, yet good friendships have been formed and memories will be carried forward.

It’s been fantastic!

I’ll be back – Blog by Ian Smith

All our bags are packed and we are ready to go. I turned up with the best part of 50kg of luggage and am returning with little more than 10kg.

I gave away everything, even my beloved Springbok Rugby jersey and feel this is not enough.

When my colleagues from previous PA trips said this will be an emotional experience, I said to myself I won’t be affected like they have because I am well aware of the conditions African people live in.

What I under estimated was the relationships I established and having to say goodbye yesterday. I had a good day preparing standard eight pupils for a play about water hygiene followed by assembly where the community said goodbye to us. It was at this event where I started to feel really sad. I felt and still feel that I am leaving them and that I won’t be here to help them. I must admit I almost cried and even when I’m writing this blog, I can feel myself welling up.

I look forward to seeing my girls and I am ready to go home but at the same time I want to stay. Words cannot describe how I am feeling. Mixed emotions on an enormous scale.

In the words of the Terminator – I’LL BE BACK, with William Hill or not!

Project Africa 2013