Monthly Archives

February 2016

Another Brick in the Wall

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While we wait for the lawyer to do her lawyering and the surveyor to do his surveyering, our thoughts turn to how we are going to build the new school.

We have some cash left over — never enough — but the main concern is getting all the building materials down the appalling road to Irovo, then up the little footpath to the piece of land.

With perfect timing, Vitalis asks, ‘Have you seen my bricks?’

After another one of Robina’s chicken-and-rice meals, we go out to what was the family kitchen, in a separate building across the way. Vitalis opens the door wearing a grin the width of Victoria Falls.

‘Six thousand I have. I made every one. I knew that one day I would need them but I did not know when. The day has come.’

‘You’re a man of many talents,’ says Olive with typical understatement.

One Big Step

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Main Photo: The Gang of Four: Alan W, Vitalis, village elder Philip Malimu Tosi, headmaster Mr Bondi.

Vitalis suggested a meeting (a ‘conflab’) with the village elder, Philip Malimu Tosi, so later that day Vitalis, Philip, headmaster Mr Bondi, Olive and I sat on the newly bought plastic chairs in the dusty school playground accompanied by the chatter of afternoon lessons coming from the classrooms.

The first thing Philip did was take out his son’s laminated school report. ‘This is why I am selling the land,’ he said. His teenage son was a gifted student, and it was clear that his exam performance and the promised place at university was a big deal, not only to Philip but also to the village of Irovo more generally.

Then we walked about 250 metres from the ‘road’ down a footpath to the piece of land that he was prepared to sell to raise the university fees. It was an idyllic setting in the middle of the scattered village: a cow grazed and maize rustled on the hillside. Vitalis said it was perfect.

The land was divided into two plots: 1263 and 1264, each 0.6 of a hectare. Vitalis had already been to the Land Registry to check on the title deeds, which showed that Philip owned both plots and both were ‘clean’. In other words, nobody had any claims to the land. In Kenya, inherited land must be inherited by the next generation. Crucially this was not inherited land, but land that Philip bought in 1978 as an investment. It looked like a fitting time to call in that investment.

The two plots were contiguous and started flattish before running down a slope to a river (where three men were panning for gold!). Philip suggested that the school would be better placed on the flatter parts of the two plots, i.e. the top half of each. We all walked around the perimeter of the proposed piece of land and agreed from which tree it should begin, and which footpath it should end on all four sides. It was necessarily a rather primitive process, but by pacing out the land and taking photographs, it was clear to everybody what was involved. (Even so, I could have used the talents of Preston surveyor Andy Jones at this point!)

At this stage you might think that Philip was calculating how much he could squeeze out of the mzungus, but he took a surprising tack. He told us, both in English and through translation, that he had often thought of building a school for the village. He was now an old man (actually, only 67), and had always wanted to do something for which God would bless him. Our arrival had rekindled that ambition.

‘If I didn’t need money for the school fees,’ he said, ‘I might have given you the land.’

That surprised everyone. But I still needed to know the price.

‘O point six,’ he said. [600,000 shillings.]

I will spare you the negotiations. Essentially, my tack was that the more we paid for the land, the less we would have for the construction of the school buildings, and the less likely our shared dream would become reality. Then there was the professional fees to pay for the solicitor, surveyor, stamp duty, etc.

‘I have never used lawyers,’ said Philip. ‘There is no need. I am a trusted man here.’

I didn’t doubt that, but we were representing a lot of people who had made donations to the school and it had to be done right. He finally came around to the idea of using professionals.

‘We both want the same thing,’ I said.  ‘A village school to be proud of.’

I explained that I was not buying the land for myself, but for the school. Forever. He liked the idea that we were in process of registering a trust, so I asked him to be on the board. That seemed to tip the balance.

We shook hands on 450,000 shillings [£3,000], which everyone, even our stroppy lawyer, thinks is a great deal. And, rather neatly, the money goes towards the education of one of the village’s brightest stars.

This is a great step towards the education of the children of Irovo. It’s not the one we expected, but then when has anything gone according to plan in Africa? It also means that we are probably tied to the project until at least some of the school classrooms are built. Olive and I are not complaining. It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done.

The Art of the Deal

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Olive with headmaster John Bundi on Philip Malimu Tosi’s land.

Our main goal when we set out for Irovo — apart from acting as willing mules for all the fantastic supplies donated by kind friends and colleagues in Lancashire — was to purchase the building and small piece of land that was being used as the school.

However, on arrival we discovered that the patch of land was tiny and the crumbling building had recently been used as a short row of shops and a posho mill (corn mill). The remains of the mill fixtures were still evident in one of the classrooms — the other three were also grim. To add insult to disappointment, the landlord wanted 1.5 million shillings (over £10,000), almost double the original asking price.

We moved on.

A friend of Vitalis’s called Martin had recently bought a piece of farm land for 300,000 shillings. He was sympathetic to our plight, but he had already planted corn and saplings for timber, so whatever asking price he came up with would have to include compensation for the investment he had made.

His price? A cool million.

Vitalis knew that time was running out because eventually Olive and I would have to return to Cape Town. We left Vitalis to negotiate with Martin without the distraction of two mzungus, and we took a holiday around Lake Victoria, largely retracing a motorbike journey that I took four years ago.

On our return two weeks later, Vitalis said that he had visited Philip Malimu Tosi, the village elder (they don’t have chiefs here), for some advice.

It turned out that Philip was grappling with a predicament of his own. His youngest child had recently performed superbly in his school leaving exams, and Philip felt he owed it to him to raise the money to send him to medical school. And it just so happened that he had a piece of land he was willing to sell to pay the university fees… (tbc)

The Long Goodbye

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We had a great last day at Irovo. The children were all in terrific form (which might have had something to do with the whistling lolipops), after an impromptu screening of our videos from Uganda and Rwanda game parks.

Most African kids don’t see any large wild animals, and these were no exception. I managed to keep them quiet for about seven whole minutes.

Since realising that the present building is unsuitable for a primary school (no matter how much effort Vitalis puts in), we have been talking to people and considering the options. On the final day, a village elder came up with a plan.

That’s as much as I will say for now. Tune in for the next post.

What a Dish!

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I promised the video of the first time the new bowls and spoons were used. Small progress, but the impact was huge. (In the background are some of the new benches.)

Food for Thought

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There were two urgent needs at the school when we arrived a couple of weeks ago: desks and a kitchen.

The children were all bunched up on benches in the classrooms — space for only half their number.

Meanwhile the cook, who every lunchtime alternates ugali (maize porridge) and beans, was cooking outside with a huge pot balanced on three stones. And it rains a lot in Western Kenya.

Vitalis asked a carpenter to make 13 new combined benches/desks as he planned to build the new kitchen.

‘Where will you get the material?’ I asked.

‘Here,’ he said. ‘The mud is here.’

‘Who will build it?’ I asked.

‘I will build it,’ he said.

Two weeks later on our return to Irovo, the benches were all made (see video in our next post; I think they were still careful of the new benches as they all sat on the floor to eat).

By now the first layer of mud had been applied to the basic structure of the new kitchen. The cook was VERY pleased. We added to her happiness when we arrived with some colourful bowls and dishes and spoons for the children’s lunch. Before now, they had been eating with their hands out of plastic mugs. Next day? They weren’t interested in mugs. It was dishes and colourful spoons or nothing!

And a lollipop or two for afters helps.

School was never so exciting

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The children at Irovo wanted to show everyone back in England that all the school supplies arrived safely, so they each grabbed something and held it up. But when the camera started rolling, they all went strangely silent! Not like the Irovo kids at all.

But once we showed them the video, the excited screaming started again.