HANDS AROUND THE WORLD

HANDS AROUND THE WORLD seeks to help vulnerable children around the world, encouraging enthusiastic and well-prepared volunteers to offer practical help, skill-sharing, support and friendship.
Dec 2, 2016

November 2016 Update

I have just returned from the New Life Centre School in West Bengal, where I spent the last month. I went with 4 other women to give them the experience of a school in a developing country which is making a difference to the lives of children. We catalogued books for the Library, which is an essential part of having a Secondary school there, and took English lessons with the young children of 3 – 5 years old.

The school now has over 500 children on its roll, and their beautiful smiling faces each morning reminded me of how lucky I am to be a part of this wonderful establishment. This was my fifth visit in eight years. I go as much as anything to give moral support to the director of the school, Alindra Naskar, who despite providing a good education for this underprivileged area meets constant obstacles to his altruistic desire.

I wrote in September about the school mid-morning break which is known as the tiffin break. Imagine my horror when I returned to see that a shop has opened opposite the school gates, selling all kinds of packet rubbish, full of E numbers. (The small building on the right) The children used to bring home-made tiffin, or buy some provided by several mothers in the school, but now as one might expect they have been lured by the new shop to buy unhealthy snacks!

One evening as we sat chatting with Alindra, a father of one of the boys in the school came to the door. Apparently his son had been allowed to buy his tiffin on credit from this shop and he owed about 160 rupees (£2) - not a lot to us maybe, but the cost of a packet of crisps from here would be about 5 rupees! The shop keeper had allowed the boy to extend his credit and then asked for the whole amount. In a panic the boy had tried to steal the money from his father’s pockets which is when this all came to light.

Unfortunately the shopkeeper’s behaviour is very revealing. Within Alindra’s school, education covers not only academic subjects but respect for others and good living.

The proximity of the shop shows how difficult it is for these children outside!

Enemy at the gates
Enemy at the gates
Nov 23, 2016

November 2016 Update

Special children with special needs
Special children with special needs

It was a real pleasure to visit the DCC in Maua and Athi School in October. I travelled with Heidi Sydor my sister. The journey was trouble-free and we even saw a number of elephants along the way!

Oliver Kirimi the manager of the DCC met us at the bus station in Maua and spent the week with us introducing us to various people and projects and talking about the work.

I was constantly mindful of my wish with HANDS AROUND THE WORLD to apply the principle of 'going deeper rather than broader' in order to make a significant lasting difference in the lives of the children.

I was concerned to discuss the high incidence of children born with disabilities - especially cerebral palsy - and the reasons for this; with Heidi we have discussed seeking a research project possibility.

We also discussed

  • the possibility of helping set up a sheltered workshop for school leavers with disabilities, to maximise their potential

  • the options around finding foster care for some children outside term time

  • a possible exchange visit in 2017

  • further equipment needed

I was struck again by the dire circumstances in which many people live, the remoteness of their homes and their very limited access to help, transport, special education etc.

The DCC building is looking much better since the recent work done through our supporters to help develop it. The physio treatment room is enlarged and better equipped, has child friendly murals and is a much brighter place. The workshop is improved but some of the equipment has to be used outdoors which is not ideal. Another workshop in the community might be a future option. Two pieces of equipment, a router and a suction machine (for making prostheses) have been requested.

We then went to Athi School and met Esther the head who had come in specially in spite of her father having died just 2 days earlier. The school looks good, there is running mains water although the storage tank tap leaks. The therapy room looks well finished but is very sparsely furnished with just 3 mattresses and no equipment. We talked at length about DCC physio input (once a month) for training and encouraging mothers and teachers to massage and stretch limbs etc.. The will is there and we hope that the people on the ground will carry out regular (daily) therapy.

Ann the 11 year old rescued by our recent physio volunteer Caroline has settled in well and is doing fine, although there are concerns over her care during holidays. (Esther takes some of the children home with her when she is worried about them)

The jewellery-making occupational therapy is doing well and we bought some items to bring back and sell. One small boy also showed me a functioning wooden torch he had made!

We were able to access a grant to construct new classrooms and this is under way, although the builder has been in hospital with a serious bout of malaria and there are some consequent delays. Now back at work; the first classroom is up to lintel height, one other has foundations and slab in, but the other is not started yet.

Esther is keen to be in in January which is a bit optimistic!

The next day we visited several special needs children at home – some disturbing cases. One with cerebral palsy had a very young mum who seemed to have no idea of the diagnosis or implications, was very needy herself and had never brought the child for assessment. Why would she go when she was so naïve and bewildered? How would she get there?

We met a 7 year old boy described as being unable to speak who could hear, but didn't respond appropriately; he had multiple untreated skin worm infections. He urgently needs pediatric assessment, not least to explore possible psychological overlay - an abuse victim?

Another boy, a little older, was also not speaking although he was obviously bright and able to understand. He could say 'mum' appropriately when prompted. He avoided eye contact and hid from nearby children coming to check out all the excitement! Another abuse victim?

On the way back to the DCC the 4x4 broke down. After battling through all the arduous terrain, several wheel nuts had worked loose and 2 bolts had sheared - the front driver's wheel was barely attached! We hobbled back with only about 2 out of 6 wheel nuts per wheel... Arriving in Maua at dusk, the market was very lively as new street lamps had just been erected throughout.

I was keen to buy some merchandise to bring home to sell on our market stall and found some wonderful things sold by a couple of Somali ladies.

On our last day, a bank holiday, the staff came in for a very interesting feedback meeting. Oliver Kirimi is very keen to be the first exchange visitor and I hope we can get him a visa to come for a few weeks next June-July.

We returned in the shuttle (express minibus) to Nairobi and had a surprisingly uneventful puncture. Several other minibus drivers stopped to offer assistance, jack and spare wheel when it became apparent that our spare was not only bald but flat. Everyday life in Africa...

A very interesting, busy and challenging week! Thank you very much for your support and encouragement. Please don't stop now!

DCC Physio treatment room
DCC Physio treatment room
Athi treatment room is very sparsely furnished
Athi treatment room is very sparsely furnished
The boy with his wonderful wooden torch!
The boy with his wonderful wooden torch!
Athi new classrooms rising
Athi new classrooms rising
Nov 23, 2016

November 2016 Update

Ouma and Paul - all smiles!
Ouma and Paul - all smiles!

I was met at the airport in Kisumu by Paul and Lucy, with Ouma (a friend now living in Nairobi who I had encouraged to offer to help Paul with his book keeping). It was great to see them all again!

We had a look round Paluoc on Sunday afternoon and talked about vocational training and many other matters:

  • How to attract and retain more students.

  • Whether to diversify and in which direction.

  • How to provide outside work experience.

I was told that at some other project centres in the town they no longer have carpentry training, but masonry, hairdressing, food and beverage and hairdressing are popular. Many Kisumu teenagers are tempted to become boda-boda (motorbike taxi) riders where they can make a little cash in hand. It tempts them away from training programmes, but they are not keen to learn mechanics. IT is also of interest, and we all agreed that dangling some carrots whilst introducing a small tuition fee is a desirable way forward, although it will be hard to sell in the short term.

The following morning I met the students who mostly were soon relaxed and quite chatty, although some obviously have much baggage in their lives. They work happily together and the whole place has a supportive-family feel, the huge importance of which was emphasised by Paul at a graduation ceremony he had arranged. All received certificates, both from Paluoc (all) and those who had passed government exams.

Some had brought along a family member for support, which was very encouraging to see. Jacqueline the star carpentry student had brought her 2 young children. And Josephine, one of the board members, brought a cake (which didn't last long!)

I was then asked to plant a tree to join a line of saplings growing well. We visited past-student Evans at the small home he shares with his mother. He had a home-made work bench attached to a tree for stability, and an impressive tool kit he was keen to demonstrate.

So, what of the future for Paluoc?

The workshop looks a bit in need of a coat of paint and hopefully we can send some volunteers to help next year. The equipment looks well cared for and used, and the outdoor shed for the planer now has its security doors. A band saw and a small lathe have been requested and we have some funds available for this.

We talked again about dangling carrots – computer lessons, the possibility of sending some mountain bikes to loan to students not just for transport but as a way of encouraging them to attend regularly, and also the possibility of loaning out tools to take home, as well as providing tools as a reward on completing studies.

Overall, what struck me was how much they appreciate the working relationship and encouragement from HATW; they have a lively workshop, a positive attitude, a great ethos and lots of potential. And they recognise and embrace the need to become more and more self-sufficient.

 

Welcome to Paluoc!
Welcome to Paluoc!
Government certificates of achievement
Government certificates of achievement
Graduation ceremony
Graduation ceremony
 
   

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