Building friendships is the goal of all of our exchange visits. The various projects of Amesbury for Africa come from these friendships. Everyone in AFA is a volunteer and very few of us have any experience in international development.
Development projects start when friends try to help each other make a better life. There is no overall plan. We usually look for something small to start. If it fails, the friendship will survive a small failure. And if it succeeds, then that small success will build capacity among the participants to expand the project and do more.
In AFA we say that, “Development occurs one person at a time.” Our primary ‘project’ has been growing and empowering individuals both in Amesbury and Esabalu to feel they can make a difference. Each individual volunteer becomes an agent for change in his or her community.
In 1998, Amesbury for Africa completed an exchange visit with health volunteers in Esabalu. The objectives were to improve home- based care of AIDS patients, assist prevention efforts among youths and provide access to free HIV testing. First, Jerusa Ongondo and Sherry Otwoma came from Kenya to take three weeks of AIDS training at OASIS AIDS network in Danvers, Mass. The return visit by Bernadette Lucas, Kat Couree and Christopher King stressed hospice care and nutrition education.
Construction of the Bailey/Whaley Health Center (BayWay) in Esabalu was started by Amesbury Rotary Club as a Rotary International project in November 2004. It was completed in December 2007. Jerusa and the other community health workers treat patients daily. A mobile van brings an AIDS team to the village once a month to give free tests for HIV. They also dispense highly effective anti-retroviral medicines to all those who have AIDS. Free barrier contraceptives prevent the spread of HIV. The Esabalu Health Group working with friends in Amesbury have converted a lethal killer into a treatable illness.
To see the new Bailey Whaley Clinic…
Obtaining a clean, safe supply of drinking water was a high priority in Esabalu. In 1996, Amesbury Rotary Club received a grant from Rotary Foundation in Evanston, IL to construct a secure ground-water system for the community of Esabalu.
The system was completed in 2007 and consists of deep wells, with submersible electric pumps to raise water to elevated cisterns. The cisterns supply piped water to public kiosks and metered service to private homes and schools.
Esabalu has many AIDs orphans and many disadvantaged children. Although primary school education is free in Kenya, all students are required to wear a school uniform to school. If a student can’t afford a uniform then he or she is sent home and can’t attend school.
Since 2005, Amesbury for Africa has conducted a fund drive to raise money to provide orphans and other poor children with school uniforms. A $20 donation from a sponsor in Amesbury provides enough money for a shirt and shorts for a boy or a jumper and blouse for a girl. Each child also receives a sweater, underwear and a school bag.
The recipient writes a thank you letter to his or her sponsor. Each sponsor also receives a digital photo of his or her sponsored child in the new uniform.
In the 6 years of the program AFA sponsors have provided over 6000 school uniforms to children at the 10 elementary schools in Esabalu including Ebukuya School for the Deaf and Ekwanda Special Needs School.
Our first literacy project was to build a school library at Ebusakami Primary School. The funding came from a book swap at Ebusakami’s sister school in Amesbury. The Amesbury Elementary school students donated their used books to the book swap . At the book swap each book cost a quarter. After four years (2001-2004) there was enough money to build and equip a one room library with books.
Our current literacy project is to introduce reading to pre-school children in their own homes. Mothers in Esabalu have never heard of reading to children as a home activity. The new project is called “Kusoma kuanza Nyumbani” or “Reading begins at Home”. Older girls are given colorful picture books and a book-bag and are trained in interactive reading to pre-schoolers. They go house-to-house reading to younger children. Their listeners get to touch the books and turn the pages.
These ‘story bringers’ will soon be mothers themselves. We hope they will read to their own children, fostering a culture of reading in the home.
Wood is the chief cooking fuel in Esabalu. The area around our sister village has been severely denuded of trees due to cutting for firewood. Lack of trees leads to flooding and soil erosion during the rainy seasons. During the dry season, wells run dry because there is no forest of tree roots to hold water in the soil.
Thanks to a bequest in the will of a local woman, Esther Macomber, Amesbury for Africa was able to help the ladies of the Esabalu Health Group and WORTH widow’s group to plant 16,000 indigenous tree seedlings in May 2008 to reforest the hills overlooking the village. In 2009 they re-planted 3500 of the seedlings which had not survived. Esther’s bequest provided transport and lunch for the women volunteer workers. The Kenya ministry of forestry provided the seedlings.
Our newest project is a joint effort by Amesbury for Africa and the Kenya Agroforestry Research Institute to train women how to plant seedlings for firewood, fruit and nut trees on their family farms. The hope is that ‘cash crop’ trees will be yet another source of income and nutrition to add to heifers and organic vegetables.
Our other current projects include:
- Esinamutu AIDS Widows Support Group
- WORTH microfinance women’s banking group
- Community Police- Security Volunteers
- Esabalu Gifted Souls Youth Theater
- Ebukuya School for the Deaf
- Ekwanda Special Needs School
As always the project ideas come from the local community and the partnerships that have developed from our mutual exchange visits.