Donors, Partnerships and Hospitality at the Core of Farmers Helping Farmers Success

by Liz Townsend, Farmers Helping Farmers board member
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The Kenyan delegation on P.E.I. in the fall of 2016

The success of Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) for over 35 years depends on our generous donors and on long standing partnerships between Islanders and Kenyans mainly based in two communities north of Nairobi, Mukurwe-ini and Meru. Twinned schools in and around these communities build partnerships as Island and Kenyan pupils write letters back and forth supplemented by Island pupils raising funds to buy items such as solar lights for Kenyan pupils studying where there is no electricity.
In October, 2016, five Kenyan members of the Meru Assembly visited PEI to learn more about us, and experience Island hospitality in our cool weather. Jennifer Murogocho (red coat), who chairs the Meru Assembly Committee on Education, and the others visited many Island locations, for instance in Belfast where they stopped in at Peter Penny’s strawberry farm to see mixed farming and a small soy bean operation (with Reg MacDonald and Liz Townsend of FHF).
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 In February and March 2017, four small teams of Farmers Helping Farmers members were treated to outstanding Kenyan hospitality.  In the warmer Kenyan climate, Carolyn Francis and Liz Townsend, FHF Board members, were hosted by Ayub, a member of the Meru County Education Committee. In the PEI photo, Ayub was in a brown parka looking like he understandably felt the cold!
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Ayub took time to take Carolyn and Liz to the Gitune Sacred Heritage Forest in his home community near Meru where we met his 92 year old grandfather who started an amazing Kenyan museum of heritage artifacts and traditional buildings. We were given a rousing welcome from local women with speeches by Ayub, Jennifer, Carolyn and local women who told us about the impact on their lives of this year’s drought. Then Ayub hosted us for lunch and, on another evening, invited Carolyn, Liz, the UPEI student teachers, and Jennifer to a home-cooked dinner with his family.
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Jennifer Murogocho hosted four UPEI Bachelor of Education pre-service teachers at her own home during their 6-week practicum in Meru District schools, and also hosted Carolyn and Liz there for the last week of their 3 week Kenyan visit.
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 Jennifer helped to set up visits and travelled with us on the Safe and Inclusive Schools (SIS) project.
SIS is a project to collaborate with teachers in using positive discipline (instead of corporal punishment which is now banned in Kenya) and to support the inclusion of pupils with special needs to get an educational start in primary schools.
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Islanders who visit Kenya pay our own way for transport, accommodations, and food. But we are privileged and humbled by the time and open welcome given to visiting Islanders by our Kenyan hosts who help to organize visits and often travel the roads with us.
Thank you to our many Kenyan partners, including Gerald and Grace Kariuki, long time partners with FHF, who farm on spectacular yet difficult hills outside Mukurwe-ini. They hosted Carolyn, Liz and Wendy MacDonald for their first week in Kenya.
We continue to be overwhelmed by the generosity, hospitality and hard work of our Kenyan partners!

‘Living an episode of Plant Earth’: UPEI Education students have a safari weekend

We are sending this blog post specifically about our trip to Sweetwaters Game Park for a 3 day long safari on the weekend of March 3,4 and 5. We had a great time spending the safari weekend with Carolyn, Wendy and Liz. Faces from home are always nice to see and they made for really great company. The journey there took about 2 hours, and along the way we had some great views of the Kenyan countryside. On arrival at the Game Park, we elected to head straight out for a nighttime game drive. The views were absolutely stunning! Throughout the course of the weekend we had the opportunity to see many animals such as giraffes, elephants, black and white rhinos, baboons, chimpanzees and many more – at times, it felt like we were living an episode of “Planet Earth.” The accommodations and food were top notch, and we took the opportunity to enjoy all of the many amenities that Sweetwaters had to offer. Three of us elected even to take a camel ride! As we draw this post to a close, we have to mention our safari guide and driver Peter from Sportsmen’s Safari. He was absolutely wonderful! He was so knowledgeable and was very enthusiastic for the entire drive. He did an amazing job ensuring that we got the most out of the safari weekend that we possibly could. Hopefully the groups that go in future years will get to have a drive with him as well. In summary, it was a fantastic experience and one that I hope to have a chance to partake in again!

Alex, Christina, Helen, and Nikki

En Route to Sweetwaters Game Park

 

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Water Buffalo gather at a watering hole during our nighttime game drive Mar 3rd

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A tree full of baboons!

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Helen and Nikki feeding a rhino!

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Alex, Christina and Helen take a camel ride

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Alex, Christina, Nikki and Helen on the equator!

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Wendy, Carolyn, Liz and our excellent driver Peter

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A beautiful giraffe enjoying a drink at the watering hole

Safe and inclusive schools part two: Meru workshops

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Safe and Inclusive Schools (SIS) is one of the latest of Farmers Helping Farmers projects. The purpose is to support Kenyan schools in their efforts to eradicate corporal punishment and promote social inclusion of pupils with special needs. Teachers, head teachers, and a member of the Board of Management gathered for the first workshops in Mukurwe-ini almost 3 hours north of Nairobi. Lively discussions energized us all, including the SIS project team and Farmers Helping Farmers Board members Carolyn Francis, Liz Townsend, Wendy MacDonald.
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Carolyn, Liz and Wendy held the 2nd round of workshops in the Safe and Inclusive Schools (SIS) project in Meru. About 20 teachers, head teachers, and a Board of Management member came together for 2 full days.  We started with prayers before class and at meals to wish us well for holding workshops that were similar to the 2 full days held in Mukurwe-ini.
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As in Mukurwe-ini, participants were enthusiastic and amazingly open about the struggle to stop caning students when tradition, parents, and even pupils expect caning to be a regular part of school discipline.
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The focus was on engagement with lots of flip charts, sticky notes for everyone to express ideas, and everyone having a chance to speak. A group photo is always required to mark the gathering!
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Jennifer Murogocho, Chair of Education for Meru County  Assembly is a long time supporter of Farmers Helping  Farmers. She took time from an incredibly busy schedule to join us for most of the first day of our 2-day Meru workshops.
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The four UPEI students in Meru to do their Bachelor of Education pre-service teaching spoke with great passion against corporal punishment which has been against the law in Kenya since 2010. Participants were keen to talk with the students who facilitated exercises and generally mingled with everyone. A great collection of bright minds!
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In both Mukurwe-ini and Meru, Carolyn, Liz and Wendy met with 10 youth to hear their views on corporal punishment and special needs. We were so lucky to meet them and gradually hear their stories of school life. Group photos were a great hit!
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Making new friends

Hello Again!

from UPEI Education students Alex, Nikki, Christina and Helen

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In this blog post, the teachers have teamed up with the other group from Farmers Helping Farmers (Carolyn, Liz and Wendy) as they carry out their work on promoting safe and inclusive schools in Meru (a continuation of their work in Mukerwe’ini). We attended the workshops on Thursday, Friday and Monday (March 2nd,3rd and 6th respectively) which were held at the Kaaga Synod MCK guest house in Meru. These sessions included teachers, headteachers, PTA members and representation from the County Assembly (our wonderful Kenyan Mom and great friend of FHF Jennifer Murogocho). We are sure that the ladies will have much to share about the exciting work they’re doing during the workshops in future posts. From our perspective, the workshops that we attended were quite successful and a very big step in beginning to foster a safe and inclusive learning environment in all Kenyan schools. Way to go Carolyn, Liz and Wendy!!

On Thursday, Alex had an opportunity to spend the entire day getting to know a student from K.K Indege primary school who arrived at the workshop on the wrong day. Kelvin is an exceptionally bright class 8 student with an awesome personality.

Making the best of the day, Kelvin and Alex visited the Kaaga School for the Hearing Impaired for a couple of hours on Thursday, as it is right next door to the guest house where the workshops were being held. It was an incredible experience for Alex and Kelvin, as neither had ever visited a school specifically for those who need to communicate using sign language. For Kelvin, it was the first time he had ever met someone who talked using sign language. It was an eye-opening learning experience for the two, and one they are unlikely to forget anytime soon. To see the caring and dedicated teachers at work was quite inspiring.

Alex spoke so highly of his experience that Christina, Helen and Nikki made a visit to the school the next day without hesitation. Incidentally, Kelvin was asked to speak to his peers about his experience the next day at school, where he told Alex that many were quite interested to hear about how similar, yet different the learning environment was to their own. We have now run in to Kelvin on several other days, and are always happy to see our new friend. He has told Alex that he would like to be an author when he grows up, and we are looking forward to reading his work in the future! Alex has also asked Kelvin to stay in touch and hopes to receive a letter from him sometime in the coming weeks or months. We think that the two have become fast friends!

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Above: Masonry students at the Kaaga School for the Hearing Impaired pose for a picture with their work.

 

teach again 3Above: A picture of the carpentry workshop in the vocational area at the Kaaga School for the Hearing Impaired.

 

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Above: Christina looks on as cheerful students from the school have a look at some pictures.

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Above: The students are full of energy as Helen and Nikki give out some stickers to the class.

A new cookhouse – and more!

FHF open 5It was a very exciting weekend in Kenya as our Farmers Helping Farmers volunteers and UPEI education students participated in the opening of our newest cookhouse, thanks to the incredible efforts of the Souris Village Feast.

The cookhouse is located at Michaka Primary School – which is twinned with Stratford Elementary School. FHF board member Lydia MacKay is a teacher at Stratford Elementary and the chair of the Education Committee so we are sure this cookhouse is especially exciting for her to share with her students!

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FHF board members Carolyn Francis, Wendy MacDonald and Liz Townshend were also on hand to experience the opening of the cookhouse.

Carolyn Francis was at Michaka in July 2015 with the P.E.I.-Kenya Youth Tour and presented a map of the world, on behalf of the students and teachers from Canada who were on that tour.

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The students at Michaka also received some books-thanks to the 2016 Farmers Helping Farmers Holiday Campaign.

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To finish up the day, girls in the upper grade levels were presented with Days for Girls feminine hygiene kits. They were prepared by Jean Hume and her volunteers in Guelph, Ontario. They will help these girls to be able to stay in school and study when they menstruate, as compared to the past where they often had to miss valuable class time.

Here, three of the UPEI Education students explain to the girls how to use the kits.

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It was another weekend of exploring and learning about Kenya for the UPEI Education students.

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Asante to all who made this a very special day for Farmers Helping Farmers in Kenya!

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Outdoor adventures: UPEI Education Students in Kenya Blog Post #2

 

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Hello again from the Education students! We hiked a hill near both Mitoone Primary School and Kiirua Primary School on Sunday after attending a church service with Salome and Stephen. It was very interesting to see the difference in our lung capacity in Kenya compared to PEI. The air is much thinner here,  so it is harder to breath. We ended up getting tired because of our lungs instead of muscle fatigue. The view was entirely worth it. We could see so far over the beautiful Meru landscape and we were able to spot both of our schools. Seeing the clouds appearing so low is very different from PEI, due to the altitude. During the hike we got to see a few of the students from Kiirua. It was great to see the students outside of a school setting, they were very excited and happy to see us.

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The  vegetable garden that was destroyed by elephants last year is now thriving thanks to Farmers Helping Farmers. It provides nutritious vegetables that are incorporated into the students and teachers meals every day. The schools are so generous with their food and make sure that we are all very full every day. The two amazing cooks that feed well over 200 students and teachers daily make good use of the school’s vegetable garden. Kenya is truly a kind nation.

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Pictured Above: Screened in vegetable garden at Mitoone Primary School that was destroyed by elephants and rebuilt by Farmers Helping Farmers, thanks to a generous donation from West Kent School and Island Lime.

fhf-edu-2-inside-screenhousePictured Above: Screened in vegetable garden at Mitoone Primary School, planted with kale, carrots, onions, cabbage, tomatoes, and spinach.

 

One of the biggest challenges, especially with our younger students, has been the language barrier. We have been creative and the students have been very patient in helping us to find ways of understanding each other. Learning some keys phrases in Kiswahili at our orientations was key, and has helped us to bridge the gap. The students in Kenya are so enthusiastic and excited to learn, it is very rewarding.

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Pictured Above: Helen taking a break from teaching Physical Education with students at Mitoone Primary School.

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Pictured above: Nikki leads the students in some new yoga moves during PhysEd at Kiirua Primary.

 

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Pictured above: Alex plays some tunes for Kiirua Primary pupils during lunch break.

 

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Pictured Above: Christina teaching Physical Education to all grades of Mitoone Primary School.

 

Farmers Helping Farmers launches safe and inclusive schools project in Kenya

Farmers Helping Farmers has just launched a new project in Kenya, in partnership with the Education Committee of Meru county. The project will focus on promoting safe and inclusive schools. The idea is to begin conversations around positive discipline methods and the needs for transportation and equipment to include students with disabilities. This is the first in several stages for these integrated projects.

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FHF board members Carolyn Francis, Wendy MacDonald and Liz Townsend kicked off the project meeting with educators and the school community, beginning in the Mukerwe’ini area where Farmers Helping Farmers has nine twinned schools. The group held three days of workshops.

Wendy MacDonald writes: “We had a wonderful group at our workshop in Mukerwe’ini. All nine twinned schools were represented by their head teachers, as well as senior teachers, deputy head teachers, and classroom teachers. We also had representation from Board of Management chairs, parents, and the district office. We had great participation, rich discussions, and strong support to move forward.”

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The first to arrive at our Mukerwe’ini workshop were longtime friends of Farmers Helping Farmers Esther and Dorothy.

 

 

Reflections from Reg on his second trip to Kenya

fhf-reg-1Reg MacDonald is back on P.E.I. after his second trip to Kenya as a volunteer with Farmers Helping Farmers.  Reg is a retired pig farmer and a member of the FHF board. As with his first trip to Kenya, Reg spent time teaching book-keeping to several women’s groups, including some follow-up with groups from his last trip.

He also visited FHF twinned schools, along with FHF board member Winston Johnston.

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Reg, Winston and Ken and Teresa Mellish visited groups where the women have received water tanks and drip irrigation, thanks to donations to the FHF Holiday Campaign. The farms with the new irrigation systems have dramatically better crops than before the water system was installed.

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Reg, Winston and Ken Mellish also met with several dairy groups, offering support to the dairy and to individual members.

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Reg has picked some of the highlights of his trip to share, along with some final reflections on his trip.

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Viewing the kitchen garden and discussing the needs of the school with two staff members of the Kiirua Secondary School.

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Members of the board of the Buuri Dairy, several of whom are proudly displaying their new glasses collected and sent over from P.E.I. The Buuri is one of the two new dairies that FHF has just started working with.

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Ken presenting a new printer to the board and staff of the Buuri Dairy.

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Reg and Leah Kariuki present a bookkeeping training session to the board of the Ngusishi Dairy. This is a dairy that FHF has just begun working with. They are a very enthusiastic group and plan to continue growing their dairy. Many members of the dairy attended the seminars put on by Dr. John VanLeeuwen and the AVC veterinary students.

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Members of the Ngusishi Board show the FHF team the newly drilled well on their property as well as the location for their new office and milk cooling building.

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Winston and Stephen Mwenda(centre) discuss  with the staff, the new computer lab at the Rugetene Secondary School.  It is newly twinned with Kinkora High School on P.E.I.

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Checking out the school garden at the Ruuju Primary School.

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Students at K K Ndege School excited to be having their picture taken.

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A very successful “drip garden” in the screen house at K K Ndege Primary School. The vegetables from the school garden will be used in the school lunch program.

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Reg and Winston  checking out the desks in a classroom at the Marinya School. At this school, while they had a good source of water, piped in from Mount Kenya to run the school and supply water for the school garden, we were told that the maize and beans, usually supplied by the parents for the school lunch,  would soon be in short supply. Because of the drought, parents were short of maize and beans and with nothing to sell, were also short of money.

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Leah, with Reg, presenting a bookkeeping training session, with the Happy Cow Group from the Naari Dairy.  This session was a follow up from training done with this great group of farmers in 2016.

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This is the “welcome dance” that Reg, Winston and staff employee, Leah, received on Friday from the members of the Kirima Women’s Group. This self-help group are very appreciative of all the help given them by FHF, including water tanks and solar lights. Members who did not have solar lights, received them from the group itself, and the Kirima WG is now working on supplying each member with a ” gas cooker”.  A real success story.

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On the last evening at the Naari House, our wonderful cooks, Vincent and Robert,  honoured their Canadian guests, Winston and Reg  with a  mango carved in the shape of a Maple Leaf decorating a delicious pizza. This signified the end of our three weeks working in the Meru area of Kenya. The days slipped by rather quickly, but each day had new and interesting experiences.

Throughout our travels, whether visiting farms, schools, womens’ groups or dairies, the main topic was the shortage of rain this year. Inherent in that was always the need for more water storage when the rains do come. As we left Kenya with its significant issues, we will always remember the welcoming, resilient and ever so grateful people that we encountered while there.

Asante Kenya.
Reg

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Asante sana to Reg and all the FHF volunteers and staff in Kenya. It is exciting to see the progress, and the difference that donations to Farmers Helping Farmers are making in the lives of Kenyan families every year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying the view: UPEI Education students week 2

fhf-teachers-hill-2We just had our first post from the UPEI Education students today, which you can read below. But we couldn’t resist sharing these awesome photos from earlier today (Sunday), shared by our great FHF staff Salome and Stephen Mwenda. They always do a wonderful job of making our FHF volunteers feel welcome, today taking them to church and then for a wonderful hike!

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UPEI Education Students in Kenya: Week 1

UPEI Education Students in Kenya: Week 1

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We (the UPEI teachers) finally made it to Kenya! We are so grateful to Susan and the driver from Sportsmen’s Safaris! They stayed up late to collect us from the airport at 4:30am after our plane was delayed, helped us fill out a missing baggage report (since none of our eight bags made it to Nairobi), and organized everything to get our luggage to Meru when it arrived. Asante sana Susan!

We arrived in Meru about lunchtime thanks to Isaac, another driver from Sportsmen’s Safaris, and were greeted by the warmest welcome imaginable from Jennifer. She is truly our “Kenyan mum” and is taking such good care of us. She accompanied us to our first day of school, at both Kiirua Primary and Mitoone Primary. She introduced us to our Head and Deputy Teachers. Everyone was so welcoming and we paused for several more introductions, handshakes, and ‘karibu’s’. Since neither of our schools have hosted teachers before, there was a bit of downtime while they tried to figure out what to do with us. Luckily we have had some amazing training, thanks to the UPEI Education program, and we were up for anything! We were placed in a mix of English, Science, Phys Ed, Social Studies and Math classes in Standards 4 to 8. On a quick tour of the Kiirua Primary School grounds, Alex and Nikki stopped by the cookhouse which was officially opened by Teresa and Liz last year with funding from the Village Feast, as well as the school’s water tank which was donated in honour of Teresa’s 35 years of service with Farmers Helping Farmers. Christina and Helen got to see the water tank, cookhouse, and vegetable garden at Mitoone Primary, which is doing very well after elephants ate it up last year.

Our first few days at school were so much fun, and so enlightening! The Kenya teachers could not be more gracious or generous, in everything from sharing their pedagogical knowledge to the huge portions of lunch they serve us. We are excited to get into the swing of things with our lessons, and most importantly to start learning our students’ names! Asante sana and kwaheri!

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Pictured above: our first Kenyan sunrise!

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Christiana, Helen, Alex, Isaac, Susan and Nikki, just before we head off on the 5 hour drive from Nairobi to Meru.

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Pictured Above: Christina getting to know her new colleagues at Mitoone Primary.
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Pictured Above: Helen and Christina on their first day at Mitoone Primary.

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Pictured Above: Standard Four students being creative.