A Love Letter to Western Kenya

25 Mar

Full text – as appears in the March edition of Destination Magazine – is also available on Integritour Blog here:  A Love Letter to Western Kenya – The abridged story of the last 6-8 months.

Sign up directly on the Integritour blog for updates on community tours and holiday ideas in Western Kenya if you haven’t already!

Kisumu, Western Kenya: not the most obvious of tourist destinations.  It’s tatty around the edges, the roads are awful, the accommodation a bit tired and corporate, the cuisine underwhelming and the city unremarkable at first glance.  It has suffered from chronic under-investment for years and still bears the scars of the post-election violence of 2007-8.  For these reasons and many more, it remains under-marketed and under-visited and yet scratch beneath the surface and cast your eyes a little further than Tuskey’s mall and you’ll find Kisumu a character-full town and the gateway to a world of wonders in Western Kenya.  Take it from one who knows… a first time visitor to Kenya who followed her man here (in an oh-so-un-feminist fashion), made it her home for the last 6 months and her career for the foreseeable future.   Herewith, my love letter to poor, under-appreciated Western Kenya:

Some of Nyanza and the Western province’s charms are better known than others…  the mighty Lake Victoria in particular, and where better a base for discovery of the region than Kiboko Bay Resort – the popular luxury-tented camp on the very edge of the Lake.   Kiboko (‘hippo’) Bay has been nestled on the lake edge for the last 6 years, attracting the majority of its corporate-leisure clientele through word of mouth and a well-deserved reputation for professional service combined with a truly laid-back, unpretentious atmosphere.   From two outdoor eating terraces – one by the main restaurant, the other up by the azure swimming pool, Kiboko enjoys beautiful views of the lake, an abundance of bird life and gorgeous pink sunsets.  Locals and NGO volunteers swell the resident numbers at weekends to relax by the pool, enjoy fine-dining or take a boat trip out on the lake with one of the many local operators who moor their boats at the resort.   But even at full capacity on a sunny Sunday lunchtime, there’s a quiet and calm to Kiboko that leaves the visitor refreshed and re-charged.

An early morning boat trip should not be missed and will undoubtedly be the highlight of any short visit to Kisumu.  It’s worth setting the alarm pre-6am to get out on the glassy-blue lake just as the sun rises and starts to turn the sky and lake pink.  You will weave between fishing punts and sailing, dhows, drift through the mangroves, and past groups of snorting, snuffling hippos, perhaps stopping for some bird-watching of some of the 350+ species you’ll find around the lake, or to explore one of the bustling fishing markets along the lake-edge.   A photographer’s dream and an unforgettable morning of nature, culture and tranquillity.

But Western Kenya is so much more than Lake Victoria.  It’s surprisingly green and verdant and home to diverse eco-systems, from pristine rainforest or rolling tea plantations, through to sugar cane fields and boulder-strewn mountains, all of which are more than accessible in day trips from Kisumu.  For the more adventurous, there are multiple car-hire agents in town should you wish to try the self-drive option.  Prepare yourself, however, for the pot holes, pot-hole-avoiding-boda-bodas (bicycle taxis) and crazy matatu-drivers.  Make sure you have a good map (and a good sense of its scale, as that main road turn off you’re looking for was in fact the un-signposted dirt track you passed three kilometres back).  Kericho and Kakamega both make for glorious day trips.  On the former, you can stroll the plantations, meet the pickers, tour a factory and take tea on the terrace at the Tea Hotel – now a faded, time-warp version of its former self but charming nonetheless.   In Kakamega you can get back to nature, exploring the many walking trails of the butterfly and monkey filled rainforest.  Kids (and big kids) will love to swing on the Tarzan-style lianas that hang down from giant buttressed trees and a knowledgeable guide is well recommended to point out the myriad of bird life and teach you some of the fascinating facts about the unique flora and fauna; just watch out for those biting safari ants as you gaze up at the blue monkeys crashing through the canopy.

The islands of Lake Victoria are another gem and well worth a mini-break within your mini-break.  Rusinga and Mfangano provide perhaps the best value for time and money, just 90 minutes from Kisumu via the Lwanda Kotieno car (or should that be ‘cattle’?) ferry.   Rusinga is a sleepy fishing community – sleepy because most of them fish at night – a spectacular, eerie spectacle of 100s of paraffin lamps bobbing about on the black, inky water with the fishermen’s voices clearly audible from the shore.  In the day time, a boat trip to nearby Bird Island should not be missed.  Cut the engine, drift and enjoy the astonishing sound and sight of 10s of 1000s of nesting cormorants, egrets  and fish eagles whilst prehistoric monitor lizards prowl the banks underneath them.  There’ll be time for a swim in the clean (safe) waters of the white sand, palm-tree lined Takawiri beach before returning to land for whatever else takes your fancy.  Perhaps an educational visit to the local community centre, a stroll around the village or noisy game of football with the local kids, or maybe a visit to the inspirational mausoleum of assassinated local political hero, Tom Mboya.   There are some fantastic accommodation options in the area too – from the wonderfully indulgent, stunning retreat of Rusinga Lodge through to the charming Lake Victoria Safari Village with its mock-lighthouse overlooking the lake.   Boat trips can be chartered privately from Mbita, Kageno village on Rusinga or from any of the accommodation providers.

Kit Mikayi, just 30 minutes west of Kisumu, is another worthwhile stop.   Subject of local folklore, this collection of huge rocks is visible for miles around and set within a gorgeous landscape of boulders, hills and typical, rural homesteads.  It is now a sacred site for the Legion Maria cult who worship amongst the nooks, crannies and caves of the boulders.  They’ll leave you to it though if you want to rest a while atop of the highest rock to enjoy the views and watch the sun set.  Indeed, for lovers of the great outdoors, there’s simply no better region of Kenya.  Whether sport-fishing on the lake, trekking amongst the farms and waterfalls of the Nandi Hills, or bird watching around the paddy-fields and mangroves of the lake, you’ll be sure of a unique adventure far off the beaten track and away from the hoards.

Kisumu itself has much to offer by way of a ‘city break’ and is at least worth a day or two’s extension of the business trip with the museum and Impala Park serving as the main attractions (after the must-do morning boat trip).  At first sight the museum appears a little dated and underwhelming, but if you can avoid the hoards of school children and find yourself a good guide, the local artefacts can be brought alive for you and kids will love exploring the replica Luo homestead, peering at the snakes or gazing into the wizened faces of the giant tortoises.  The impala park is a tranquil oasis on the edge of town, filled with roaming impala, zebra and the odd visiting hippo, plus a well-organised zoo where you can get up close and personal with most of the Big 5.  There are also numerous walking trails around the park, along the overgrown lines of a disused railway and around the lake edge.   For non-Kenyans and international visitors, the municipal market is perhaps one of the more fascinating sites in town – a bustling, noisy market of squawking chickens, haggling fruit sellers and persistent matatu touts.  The town is also full of friendly, cheerful bars and restaurants specialising in lake tilapia and chicken or goat barbeque, all served with the obligatory ugali or masala chips side. Don’t forget to order the Tusker ‘warm’ if you’re going ‘local’.

But above all Western Kenya is people and communities, the ‘real’ Africa – warts and all, with some desperate social and health issues which local NGOs are valiantly trying to alleviate – but also with warmth, charm and an un-affected, open welcome for all visitors.   Waving children, beaming smiles, hearty handshakes, songs and sodas all round.  Community tourism represents a huge opportunity for this region if done responsibly and in conjunction with the many local NGOs.   My own recently launched responsible tour company, an investment for my future and hopefully, the region’s – seeks to offer fascinating educational insights into village life in a way that benefits the local people, through homestead visits, craft-demonstrations (and sales) and school and health-centre tours.   But I’m not writing this to sell my services to you.  Western would sell itself if only more people knew of its charms.  Kenyan tourism should be two dimensional no longer.  Safari, beach AND community eco-tourism, where Western offers up the third dimension in spades.  Affordable spades for those on a budget, and with just enough high-end providers to cater for those for whom luxury is required.

The romance of Western is for all to discover, just as I’ve discovered it.  And last November, on the shores of Lake Victoria, over a glass of champagne at Kiboko Bay, and as a pink sun set into the lake, that man I followed here asked me to marry him.    My spectacles may be a little rose-tinted, but I challenge you to yours.  Come and see for yourself.


New integritour blog update…

25 Feb

.. just in case we lost you in the move from one blog to the next, I’m going to keep reposting them here and troubling your inbox for a bit longer….

Please sign up on the blog page – taking care to verify your email by clicking through on the confirmation email (check junk if don’t find in inbox).  Thanks!

Integritour Blogs Away!

24 Jan

As promised, a link to the new blog update on http://www.integritour.com – please check it out and sign up so we can keep you posted on all our developments and the ongoing trials and tribulations of life and business in Kisumu…
See blog here

Reflecting backwards, looking forwards: New Adventures for a New Year

16 Jan

2010 was the best, most extraordinary year of our lives. Full of adventure and a roller coaster of emotions, but mostly it was a year of mind-expanding opportunity.   And if we did no good to Kisumu, we certainly did ourselves good – immersing ourselves in Africa, poverty, aid, entrepreneurialism and bewildering cultural differences.  Not since childhood have the senses been so bombarded and raised so many questions, but of course, as with a child, with growing familiarity comes taking-things-for-granted; routine replaces wonder and frustrations are recalled more keenly.  So what now for a routine back in Britain?  More adventures, that’s what (insert evil smiley here).  The Kisumu and Kisumu-fuelled Adventures do not end here….

Gra-ham the lion

But first back to last year.  And it was with a heavy heart, that Graham left Kisumu last month.  There was an emotional dinner and gift-presentation with the Ogra team, where everyone stood to say flattering things about him and the tremendous impact he had in only 6 months. (My personal favourite quote was Charlie, the operations manager who said, rather movingly ‘I don’t know Graham that well, but I did fix their Digital TV connection, and I’ve heard he’s a really nice guy’).   In the last week his mobile rang even more than it usually does (ALL the time) – with a marked change in the ratio of begging-calls, down from 90% to around 50% – reduced by the number of genuine friends and associates keen to wish him well one more time.  The boys in particular (Stephen and Dancan), kept calling to check he hadn’t left yet, quite distraught to be losing their hero

Dancan and his brothers

A normal-looking Dancan (middle) and his brothers

to the other side of the world.  The kids downstairs were noticeably sad too.  They hung around and kept leaving drawings on the door step.  We took them swimming one last time and as we left, they threw arms around our necks and kissed us like family.  (Sob!  James Caan-I feel your pain)

The last week was manic.  For me, training my new Ops Manager, Kenneth and setting up crisis contingency plans and bat-phones for the temporary entrustment of Integritour to him and Chris during my absence over Christmas.  For Graham, trying to sort out and consolidate his Ogra projects for handover and organising his various personal projects into realistic long-term plans for the few people we’re trying to support in some small way.

Nyahera orphans

It is these projects that will be one of his key Kisumu legacies –with the help of some of our blog friends – who we can’t thank

enough.   Our small fund will provide assistance to those individuals whose stories have touched us (and you, seemingly) the most – and who we know lack not the desire, ability or work-ethic to improve their circumstances but simply the small means to do so.  For these people, a small medium-long term loan, coupled with ongoing budgeting and simple financial management advice that we intend to offer with it could be truly life-changing, and make a huge difference.   We also hope that where projects are successful, the funds can be recycled to help other families and individuals – it will truly be a hand-up and not a hand-out.  At the bottom of this post there’s a summary snapshot of some of the projects that we are supporting with your help, along with updates on many of the stories that we’ve featured on the blog and details of how, if interested, you might be able to contribute.

Back at GSK now, Graham’s focussed on getting his head back into the science whilst thinking about how he can apply some of his many learnings to the day job, his future career and to GSK’s competitive advantage.

As for me, I write this from Nairobi airport, in transit, on the way back to Kisumu  – where I’ll be for the next 2 months.   I will spend the time on a post-Christmas, year-of-the-wedding diet/exercise regime (so fingers crossed for a touch of dysentery) whilst in my

www.integritour.com - Tours and travel Kisumu Kenya

Integritour guide

spare time attempting to build strong foundations for Integritour’s world domination of the responsible tour market (plus perhaps carve myself a new career in the process).   I can honestly say that I’ve learnt more here in the last 6 months than in the last 5 years in London and I’m so excited about the future for the business.  Our mission is simple: to provide authentic, exciting and life-changing African travel experiences in a way that is professional, fair and responsible – and I truly believe we can succeed.   If we do, we will have a huge impact on Kisumu and Western Kenya– bringing 1000s more people here, spending money, creating jobs, buying local goods and hopefully spreading the word about the beauty and charm of this region.

So it’s time to ‘move out’ of kenyeah.wordpress.com, but leave a forwarding address for anyone interested in ‘part 2’. I will be continuing my whimsical musings, rants and observations on the Integritour blog on our recently re-launched website (www.integritour.com)  which I’d love it if you could all take a quick browse around.  (And I’ll update this blog with the first few posts until we have a ‘sign up‘ mechanic on Integritour).  Feedback very welcome!

All that now remains, in the style of a based-on-a-true-story-film-end-credit, is to leave you with a current snap shot and insight into some of the immediate projects that we and our blog friends are already, or in the process of contributing to:

–          Peter and Dan have been provided with a large number of solar power kits to try and sell in their spare time- with the





Peter and Dan's family




potential to double their family income within 3 months.  They appear willing to buck the Kenyan curse of short-termism and siphon away the % of the proceeds required to re-invest in stock, in spite of all the family’s other immediate and pressing financial considerations.  Watch this space.

  • We have also provided the family with a small micro-fund to invest in other business initiatives and are working with them on plans to identify and size the most profitable opportunities – current ideas are a) an investment in school uniform clothing stock from Nairobi which can be sold in Kisumu at double the price and b)  selling locally grown tea-leaves up north in the colder, Kitale region, where Paul (the dad) is now working, and where tea-drinking is much more popular.
  • Alongside these two first projects, we will support the family with 3 months of school-fees to give them the necessary breathing space to allow these projects to get up and running.  If successful, we will invest still further in other projects that will keep the family afloat and in education.





Pastor Wilson and Grace




Pastor Wilson and his wife are on the verge of taking their first batch of ‘super-chickens’ to market – where they expect to make 4x their buying price, the proceeds of which will be invested in further stock to support the 20+ village orphans that they care for on a daily basis – plus the local community groups who they train and support in business initiatives, such as necklace-making and solar-power sales.  (Pastor Wilson and his wife’s new baby, ‘Gra-Ham Sam-son Wilson’ is expected to be born in April of this year)


– Ambrose (Stephen’s Guardian)’s matatu (mini-van) is back on the road, ferrying passenger to and from Kisumu and supporting him and his family.  His loan repayments appear regularly and promptly to my mobile phone (via the MPESA payment network – a revolution for a population without bank accounts)

–          John Ongere is now the proud owner of a new bike.  He is working hard on various revenue-generating initiatives from farming to insurance sales (and community tour-consultation for Integritour!), alongside all the voluntary community work he





John with his new bike




continues to devote the lions-share of this time to – raising awareness for (and reducing the stigma of) HIV, and bringing community groups together to take communal responsibility for their plight.



–          Amos, the swimming pool attendant now employs a freelance team of people to help him meet the increased demand for his recycled water bottle LED lights.  We would like to support him further with the micro-financing of more marketing flyers, a possible second sales site and, perhaps some additional solar initiatives as he builds his business.

–          Peter, Paul, Tom-the guide, the Nyahera Community Health Workers and the Ombeyi  HIV Youth Group are all ramping up their hand-made aloe- soap production-now beautifully packaged in banana leaves and twine.  We expect them to be giving Proctor and Gamble a run for their money by late 2011…

Kevin - Dan and Peter's youngest brother

Please contact us to get involved– jessbutcher@gmail.com; graham.simpson@gmail.com.   We promise every penny will go to projects – and every bit, however small, is hugely appreciated plus we will provide regular personal updates to all project ‘friends’.  A bank transfer to my UK account will work best (note – no evil smiley here) for  ‘swift’ transfer to the integritour account in Kenya at the end of January – so please contact me for full details asap if interested in contributing (and if non-UK, I will send the Kenyan account details directly).  Paypal payments also possible (but add 3%)

Integritour continues its quest for world dominance of the responsible travel market at www.integritour.com

And Graham and Jess live happily ever after.  Bring on 2011.  A very happy new year to everyone.

solar sales negotiations

With John & family with tree in memory of baby Newton

Simpson's Soap

Necklace production line, Nyahera

One foot in, one foot out

10 Dec

Snow?! Christmas!?   I can no longer imagine how it feels to feel cold.  A sweaty skin sheen and bare, flip-flopped feet are part and parcel of life here and it’s disorientating to imagine the cold festive season back home.  Not a single decoration or fairy light, nor background radio jingle of Christmas cheese.  But home, here we come.  The diamond ring shops of Hatton Garden are calling (me) and our adventure drawing to an end. All that’s left is to pack up a messy flat full of solar-powered bulbs, tourist brochures, engagement cards and toys we haven’t yet managed to distribute.

Well, not all.   There’s the small matter of handing over the reins of Integritour to someone who won’t sell all its meagre assets in the month I’m away and for Gray, leaving his projects and the people involved, with a strong sense of commitment to continuance and growth.

Gray has had a busy last week with his friends, Adam and Dave, visiting from home – touring project sites, getting tested for HIV (twice. It was National Aids Awareness week after all), fishing, fine-tuning his toilet humour and drinking quite a lot of late-night whisky.  This week he’s back in the field with the Solar Aid team visiting the rural sites for their future investment.  He’s a little preoccupied though as his sights are now turning to home, our epic impending xmas-tour-of-Britain and to GSK and the day job – a prospect he’s looking forward to, but with some trepidation.

His merry band of ‘solarpreneurs’ who he set up with personally micro-financed starter kits are doing fantastically.   One of his rural agents has sold nearly £1000 worth of kits in the last month.  And even Peter, downstairs, has made the equivalent of half his father’s previous monthly rent in sales over the last week around his school work.  (It was a good week, which followed a bad week – when he shamefully admitted he had had to sell his mobile phone one day for dinner. He’s still phoneless, and last night I came home to a note wedged in the door from him.  It read:  ‘Hi Graham. Hope you are ok!  I came today to give you your money but you were not available. Tomorrow?  Sms me via (number). Love you.  Peter’)

So I’m home alone –  mostly configuring new laptops with anti-virus, working on my soon-to-re-launch website, writing training documents for my new Operations Manager, evaluating quotations from office re-fitters and counting the diminishing pile of coins in my bank account (whilst sat next to a pile of 20 dreadful, smearily-branded t-shirts I am now the embarrassed owner of).  Business has been good, if an ongoing roller coaster of nasty Kenyan business lessons.   Month one we fared well – with many more bookings than expected – and 10 days in, we’ve already exceeded Nov sales for December.   Tours are averaging a 9/10 rating from customers so far.  We are moving into our own office-shop in the centre of town in mid January and my new operations manager is proving keen, hungry and seemingly, straight.  On the down side, me, my flyers and sales banner were unceremoniously thrown out of the biggest hotel in town as a result of ‘dirty tricks’ campaign whereby someone planted a competitor hotel’s pricing brochure inside ours to make it look as though we were trying to steal guests.  Seemingly I was ‘PHD’d’ (‘put her/ him down’) – perhaps for not being willing to pay ‘tokens’ into back pockets like a non-registered tour guide/ taxi driver might.  Ho hum.

It’s not going to be an easy last 10 days, and it’s full of confusing mixed emotions…  Anxiety – for the future of the projects we leave behind; Sadness- for the end of our whirlwind adventure together and saying goodbyes to friends;  Excitement – to be sharing Christmas with friends and family;  Exhaustion – at the prospect of clearing out our flat here and the public-transport tour of Britain we’ll be doing in the 2-3 weeks after we return;  and also Fear – in the knowledge that once our Christmas tour is up, next year will involve spending a good part of the year apart… with me here, cementing the business foundations, and Gray lodging at his Nan’s, and back in the old routine.

But also, and perhaps most importantly, Hope & Anticipation – for an even better 2011, when exciting things (including our marriage) are going to happen, and when, hopefully, a few people here will find life slightly less difficult.

And an update to follow shortly on the specifics and mechanics of the fund we’re looking to start to ease a few of those 2011s.  Many thanks for those that offered generous contributions so far – and anyone else please get in contact… jessbutcher@gmail.com  graham.simpson@gmail.com

The Kindness of Strangers

25 Nov

Few of you are strangers to us, but to Peter, Paul and family, to Dancan and Stephen or John Ongere and his wife Nancy and the many others whose stories you may have read in our blog – you’re strangers.   Strangers who have had the tiniest of glimpses into their lives through our eyes, and who are potentially in a position to make a world of difference to their health and happiness and that of their families.  BUT this post is categorically not to beg for charity.  We do not expect it, and neither do they. In fact, they’ve never asked for it, which is precisely why, with those who’ve mentioned they’d like to get involved (either on, or off-blog), we want to attempt to provide some sustainable mechanics that might offer just a little more hope and opportunity to a few of these people.

Our philosophy and (thankfully, post-Geldof), the prevailing view of aid these days, is that giving handouts with no sense of ownership leads to almost certain failure of projects and that close monitoring needs to be built in from the start.  As such, we would like to help these families with advice, financial planning and some small investments that will hopefully generate a longer-term income to enable them to pay currently crippling school/university fees, healthcare bills or simply enjoy good nutrition. Our hope is that even the fund itself could be self-sustaining through a loan system where loans are gradually repaid rather than handed over as unconditional gifts.

Herewith, ‘our Graham’ with a few reminders of some of the glimpses for consideration:

At home with the Oyuma's

Peter Oyuma and the Gate Family – Peter and Dan are our friends who work in our compound opening the gate, taking care of minor handy-jobs and keeping us safe! Peter is studying for a diploma in tropical medicine (48,000 Ksh/ £380 per term) before studying for a degree in medicine.  Dan is an aspiring journalist who devours each novel we give him with relish.  Their father Paul is paid 4000KSh (£31) a month (yes that’s £1 a day) which has to pay for rent, food, school fees, and medical bills for the whole family (Paul, Rose, Peter, Dan, Maureen, Florence (both in secondary form 2), Fred and Kevin (both still in primary school)). So you can see why they are struggling – and sadly, currently facing the threat of eviction from their small slum home.  We would like to help Paul find a better paying job and initiate some small businesses that his wife Rose can run with the children’s help during the holidays.

Ambrose Ofafa and Family – Ambrose is the guardian of Stephen, the boy who had his operation to remove the growth from his back.  I stayed with the family in Osani last week and was humbled by their

Stephen & Dancan with their England flags

generosity when they have so little income.  Ambrose is father to four boys and a girl and took on the responsibility of looking after Stephen and his two siblings when his sister died of AIDS 6 years ago.  He is a teacher on a reasonably good salary of 31,000KSh (£242/month) but has taken on loans to pay for his first son to study education at Kampala University.  This leaves the family with just enough to get by on a monthly basis but with several others out of school without jobs they are a big drain on finances.  We would like to help Ambrose by repairing his matatu (mini-bus) to allow him to employ a driver and make an income serving the Kisumu to Osani route (potentially 3-4,000KSh, or £25-35/day).

Pastor Wilson Owra, Nyahera District Hospital – is an excellent role model and tireless church and community worker in Nyahera just outside Kisumu.  He is in charge of the volunteer community health workers (CHWs) at Nyahera hospital and I have been working with him to find small businesses to help them gain a small income to reward them for their work at the hospital.  We have started up a computer training center with borrowed computers and are selling home-made chemicals (soap, bleach, mouth-wash, washing detergent) to the community at very low prices.  We would like to help him begin a poultry project to provide low-cost food to the CHWs as well as supporting the day orphanage his wife runs and two orphans that he has adopted into his family.


John, Nancy, Newton & Gray

John Ongere and Family

John is an inspiration to all people living with HIV in his community and frankly, an inspiration to me.  He has set-up and runs community support groups to help people live positively through emotional support and counseling.  As you may have read, John and his wife Nancy tragically lost their 6-month old baby, Newton, to malaria two-weeks ago which came as a huge shock to the family and the community in Ombeyi.  John was also recently let go from his paid position at OGRA and is now looking for other opportunities to use his vast community experience to help others.   I can see that John will be an invaluable local contact to help administer resources to other families in the area.

If you are interested in making a contribution to this fund, however small– and we state again, we categorically do not expect you to – please let us know privately how much you would like to contribute (jessbutcher@gmail.com; graham.simpson@gmail.com) (and either as a one-off contribution or via a small regular monthly payment).  This at least will give us a rough indication of how much we may be able to do personally before our departure, whilst we also work to set up a medium-longer term solution for effective administration of the fund from a distance.  We will commit to regular updates to all contributors on how the money is spent, and with what effect.  Indeed, if you wish to contribute to one cause over another, please feel free to state so (e.g. school fees, revenue-project, etc.)

We are still looking at the mechanics of such a fund (and how we can limit international transfer fees) – but it seems likely to involve the setting-up of a Western Union account (or similar).  This method will allow us to take deposits from international donors online or through Western Union shops.  We’ll also be able to transfer the money directly to the recipients and take in repayments in Africa.   If you know of any better solutions, please let us know!  (And IntegriTour will of course be happy to offer discounted travel service to all donors should any wish to come and visit the recipients in the future).

After 5 months of wrestling with highs and lows, successes, failures, frustrations and ultimately, the fear of not leaving any lasting legacy in our small time here, it’s impossible to deny the following  –  “As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.” Paul Shane Spear

Scotland! (Dancan's front door)

The Oyuma Boys at their homeKevin (Peter & Dan's youngest brother)

Kevin (Peter & Dan's youngest brother)

Newton Ongere R.I.P.

12 Nov

I’m afraid that after our recent elation, this post is a reflection on a tragedy which happened yesterday.  Our friends John and Nancy Ongere live in Ombeyi near our rural clinic and are very active members of the community. John in particular is an amazing character who has not hidden his HIV+ status but has inspired others to overcome the stigma and discrimination that exists in this area through formation of psycho-social support groups.

John, Nancy and Newton with their new umbrella to shield Newton from the scorching sun

The youth group John and I started in June has been a huge success and with their soap-making, barber shop and lamp selling, have improved their confidence as well as started creating a small income to help them buy food. The groups, totalling over 100 people, support each other emotionally and through John’s example and guidance are ‘living positively’.

John and Nancy both lost their first partners to AIDS. After both suffering huge stigmatisation in the village and from their families – Nancy was hounded away from her dead husband’s homestead for refusing the Luo tradition of wife inheritance by his brother.  They came together through the support groups two years ago and were both so happy to learn that Nancy was pregnant last year. In May this year, just before we arrived in Kenya, Nancy gave birth to a healthy and HIV negative Newton Ongere.  John told me on many occasions he was a gift from God and  Nancy was never seen without the little parcel of Newton tied tightly to her back as she walked miles every

Nancy and Newton

day trying to scrape together a small living.
On Tuesday, Newton became ill with fever and suspecting malaria, John and Nancy took him to our Ombeyi health facility.  He was treated with i.v. quinine and on Wednesday when we were visiting we saw him briefly before we left.  He was very hot and had shallow breathing but Nancy assured me he was looking better and the doctors were happy with his progress.  But yesterday, as we were running a medical camp in the interior, we received a call for the landrover/ambulance to take him to the Provincial General Hospital because his condition had deteriorated and he needed a blood transfusion.  I was driving the vehicle and we picked him up, with John, Nancy and the doctor and drove as fast as is safe on the terrible roads to Kisumu.  Tragically, Newton passed away on the journey and was unable to be resuscitated by the doctor.   He was 5 months old.

Nancy is a strong lady who is always happy to talk about her painful past experiences in front of the support groups to help them overcome their own issues, but she was clearly devastated by the death of their only child in such a tragic way.
I have been here working in this community for 5 months and know the dangers of malaria, especially to the young, elderly and  HIV+.  I know anaemia is the lack of functioning red blood cells which are destroyed by the malaria parasite infection – the subsequent lack of oxygen carrying ability of the blood leads to organ failure. I know that in 80% of malaria cases, children get better with simple and relatively cheap anti-malarial treatment – but 20% of children , those with pre-existing anaemia or other co-infection (typhoid, HIV etc) can deteriorate rapidly and without access to a transfusion will die.  I know all this, but I didn’t know, or ever imagine that I’d experience it so personally first hand, driving friends home, cradling the body of their 5 month old baby.

It’s so tragic and gutting that this happened to Newton, the only child of John and Nancy, who have already had such heart-break and struggled so hard in their lives. It is such a cruel turn of fate and has really brought home to me, in such a personal way, the severe suffering that thousands of families in Africa face due to the lack of access to basic healthcare, poor infrastructure and extreme poverty. Against all the odds, Newton actually had a chance to grow up healthy in a family who were so proud of him but his potential has been snuffed out by the random evil of malaria.  We will be helping John and Nancy with the funeral costs and would like to plant a tree as a small memorial for Newton.  Rest in Peace, little one.