Monday, December 26, 2011

The New Campus

On our first trip to Kenya (October 2010) we realized that there was an urgent need at Achungo for more land.  We have by now purchased the new site, fenced it and have begun construction.  But I’m getting ahead of my story.

In 2008 Saratoga Federated Church purchased a well for Achungo Children’s Center and the parcel of land where it was located.  Gifts from Germany built a 3-room cement block building for the preschool class, offices and a sleeping room.  In 2010 we put up a temporary classroom building of tin alongside the kitchen shed.  Between these buildings, the pump house and the latrine, there is little room left on this 1/3 acre parcel for the children to play and no room to build the additional classrooms we will eventually need for grades 5,6,7 and 8.  (We add a grade each year, adding 6th now in 2012).
There are a variety of other problems with the current site as a long-term campus:

  • The temporary classroom building has dirt floors and posts driven into the ground—it will not last long (the tin is already breaking loose in places) and the floor turns to little rivers in heavy rains.
  • The yard turns to deep, sticky mud during heavy rain and we saw the smaller children (3- and 4-year-olds) get stuck in it, unable to move their shoes until they cried in frustration.
  • Even in good weather, there just isn’t enough yard for now over-140 children to play.
In 2011 as the new 5th grade had to share space in the sleeping room, we began looking for more land.  We are close enough to the village crossroads that we were dismayed at the prices and lack of available land.  During the summer Michael thought we could purchase some adjacent land, but that fell through.  Eventually, he located a parcel about twice the size of our current one (about 200 meters away from it) and we put down a deposit to hold it as we tried to raise the funds to purchase it and to begin building.  In the end we were blessed in amazing ways even as we felt like failures, unable to develop a fundraising strategy.  By the end of September we were able to complete the purchase and since then have fenced the parcel, cleared it and have begun construction.

Our goal was to complete 3 classrooms in time for January school start.  The plan is to build a U-shaped building at the upper end of the site.  It will be block and cement construction with a tin roof and the room linked by a cement walkway, all elevated a few feet off the ground to stay free of runoff and mud even in the heaviest rains.   In November we broke ground on the first wing and have now completed the foundation that will support the 4 classrooms of that wing.  Construction has begun and we have most of the funds to complete those 4 classrooms along with the new latrine building at the other end of the parcel.

In 2012 we hope to find the funds to complete the entire campus, including all 9 classrooms, offices and library/computer room.   Then our attention will return to the old site where we need to build a kitchen and move out of the tin shed and its 3-stone fireplace.  We also plan to build an assembly room that can accommodate the entire school -- for meals, exams, and school assemblies.  Currently if it is raining, everyone packs into one of the classrooms for assemblies and it's such a tight squeeze it's hard to inhale (and I'm only slightly exaggerating!).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

News of Our School

The school of Achungo was born in 2005 as Director Michael Nyangi had recruited 2 widows with hearts for orphans who began to work with him both by taking care of orphans (along with their own children) and beginning to teach those who were unable to attend school due to cost.

Although Primary School (K-8) is tuition-free in Kenya, the indigent still cannot attend because they are required to pay for uniforms, shoes, books, school materials and exams.  Thus there are many children who fall through the cracks of the "free educational system" and Achungo addresses that need for our orphans.  We provide uniforms and other clothes and shoes, food, care, medicines and schooling (with school materials, exam costs and all other costs covered).  Although we have some beds at the children's center, nearly all of our children are always cared for in homes in the nearby community.  Although these are poor family units living in mud huts, they provide a sense of belonging and of integration into the greater community that no group home can provide.  See my blog article:   Most of the children are in homes with relatives, often aunts or grandmothers, but some are in homes of good Samaritans, often widows who also have their own children.

Achungo Staff

Founder and Director:    Michael Nyangi

Headmaster :    Mr. Nelson Aketch
Assistant (or Deputy) Headmaster :    Mr. Eliakim Ochieng
Office Clerk :    Madam Nancy Akoko
Baby Class / Nursery / Middle Class:    Mrs. Dorcas Ouma
                                                                Mrs.Christine Kibwana
Pre-Unit (Kindergarten) :     Mr. Erick Olony
Class One (1st Grade):      Mr. Nelson Aketch
Class Two (2nd Grade):    Madame Esther Akinyi
Class Three (3rd Grade) :  Mr. John Mwai
Class Four  (4th Grade) :   Mr. Eliakim Ochieng
Class Five (5th Grade):     Madam Asha Okoth
Class Six (6th Grade):       Madame Emily Sumba

Other Staff
Cook:             Mrs. Mary Auma Okello
Asst. Cook:    Mr. Kennedy Odhiambo Oyolo                     
Caretaker in charge of water distribution:    Shadrack Charles Oketch

School Counts As Of September 2011

Class Size

Class        Student Count
1st                          17
2nd                         23
3rd                         17
4th                          13
5th                            9
Early Preschool       26
Preschool                12
Kindergarten            13

Grand Total              130

Our Farming Project

In 2010, after 2 years of supporting the food program at Achungo, Samaritan's Purse encouraged us to undertake a project that might move us toward self-sufficiency.  We had experimented a little with farming, so wrote a proposal for farming 11 acres which was then funded for the 2 planting seasons of 2010-2011 and has now been funded again for 2011-2012. 

The planting seasons in SW Kenya, coinciding with the rainy seasons, are in August/September ("short rains") and in March/April ("long rains").  The land is cleared as needed, then plowed with oxen and a plow with wooden handle and a metal blade (advanced from what we saw in Ethiopia where it was entirely wooden).  We had advice from some farming experts from the U.S. who showed us to plant more densely than is common in the area, to weed and fertilize twice after planting (and the fertilizing that preceded planting), and to do some ditching so that the runoff during heavy rains doesn't wash out the plants.  With these methods, we expected a better crop than is common and hoped to produce enough to gradually move toward self-funding subsequent crops while covering the costs of our food program at Achungo.

The 11 acres are not near the school but near Director Michael Nyangi's home, making use of a few acres of his own land at no cost and renting other land at often reduced cost based on his relationships with neighbors.  About 1/2 of the acreage is in the hills on significant slopes and the other half in lower and more level land.  The lower land retains water better and typically shows its advantage in the health, size and yield of the crops.

We've grown mostly maize because better cash crops could be at significant risk of theft since the plots are not guarded or near someone who could watch them.  We grew some beans the first season but have not done so since as the bean plants are more susceptible to damage from heavy rain and loss of bloom to chickens, among other risks.  Because we do not have adequate long-term storage for the maize, we sell much of it at the time of harvest when the price is at its lowest.  As such, the farming program has supported the food program costs to a great extent, but without much remainder.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Current Funding Focus - Fall 2011

In August we began fundraising in earnest to purchase land and begin building out the Achungo school campus.

We have learned from Michael Nyangi, our Kenyan Founder/Director, that land nearby our current parcel is available and he has verified title and cost. Total cost is $9,500 including fees and fencing (for a bit over 1/2 acre). This is the most important purchase we will face and we are committed to providing the funds so that Michael doesn't lose the opportunity.

The land purchase is particularly urgent -- if we lose it, we do not have any nearby options. It is also urgent because we already do not have enough classrooms (we're doubling up now) and we do not have space on our small current parcel (.3 acre) to build a new classroom building. In addition most of our classrooms are in a temporary, corrugated metal building with posts driven into dirt and dirt floors and it will not last long (it also tends to turn into a river during heavy rains).  It's really more like a 4-sided shed!

Our immediate development priorities are to obtain and fence this land and to build a latrine and at least the first 2 classroom buildings ($15,000 each building, about $2,500 for the latrine, so about $42,000, all told).  We are anxious to complete the first classroom building and latrine by December as we need to add a 6th grade in January and are out of space.  This year one class had to use space in the sleeping room.

The current parcel has the well and pumphouse, the kitchen, the cement block building that holds the office and sleeping room (and a classroom), as well as a latrine and the temporary classroom building mentioned above.  Once we have the new land, we will build our classrooms there.  Then the current site can be built out with a proper kitchen (it's just a shed now) and an assembly room so the children have a place for everyone when it is raining and for exams, lunch, etc.