BLOG – Balloon Kenya: Warm Rotary Welcome

Back home in the UK I was fortunate to sponsored by Soar Valley Rotary Club for my trip to Kenya. As part of the sponsorship I was required to make contact with the Rotary Club in Nakuru to exchange a pendant and find out what projects they are working on.

I attended the first meeting, although I shouldn’t have as I was later told it was a closed meeting the discuss their AGM. Despite this I was welcomed with open arms by President Kahendah Vitalis and his fellow Rotarians. During the meeting I gave a short introduction to what I was doing and why I had come to visit the Club. I was fortunate to be placed next to the former District Governor for East Africa. Ken Joslyn moved to Kenya from his native Chelmsford in 1950, starting his own farming business as he came from an agricultural background, after joining Rotary he went on to become the District Governor for 12 countries in Africa. After the meeting I was asked if I would like to speak at the following meeting about Balloon Kenya.

On the Thursday I was invited to lunch with two Rotarians, Lorna and Michael at the local business school, Tracom College to discuss my project with local entrepreneurs. I am going to talk to their students before I leave about what Balloon Kenya is trying to do in their community.

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On Tuesday I took Balloon Kenya’s Co-Founder Josh Bicknell to the meeting with me, where we were both warmly welcomed by the members. Bromley Rotary Club were also guests, as they were visiting project that they had sponsored in Nakuru, so all the speakers flew the British flag. Josh followed Peter, the President of Bromley Rotary and spoke about how he had visited Nakuru following the post-electral violence in 2007/2008 and how Balloon Kenya was born from the entrepreneurial spirit he had witnessed here. I followed with a ten minute presentation about my background, why I had chosen Balloon Kenya, my Kenyan adventure so far and concluded with my plans for the future. My presentation was well received and the compliments afterwards were a confidence boost.

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Today whilst passing through the park I spotted the Rotary sign being packed away, so I went to investigate. I found President Vitalis amongst crowds of school children. He was stood at the heart of the Rotary’s School Furniture Project which has provided over forty schools with thirty desks and chair. I was also lucky enough to be invited into the official photograph and it was great to see the Rotary’s work in action.

BLOG – Balloon Kenya: Hope and Vision

In a packed alley that running parallel with Nakuru’s High Street you will find an army of young entrepreneurs. You can find shoes, photocopiers, second hand clothes, tailors and fruit salad sellers in this tightly packed row. Small talk of the English Premier League can be heard, with the different sellers challenging one and other about their favourite team. All of the members in Kenyatta Line are members  of the Best Run Youth Society in Kenya, Hope and Vision Youth Sacco, Balloon Kenya’s partner.

The six founding members were all refused loans and in 2003 decided to start a co-operative, with each of the founders contributing 1,000 KSH (£7.50) a month to their fund. As the number of members increased, as did the funding pot, with loans given on trust and character.

Now in 2013 the group has over 140 members from across Nakuru from varying diciplines. With a repayment rate of 97% the Sacco has proved to be a great success.

Mostly aged between 20 and 30 the members pay a 2,600 KSH (£19.50) joining fee and follow this up with a 1,500 KSH contribution per month to the Hope and Vision Pot. They offer 10 different loan products and are currently looking into home and health insurance packages for their members. Members are charged much lower interest rates than those offered by banks and micro-financing companies.

Balloon Kenya joined forces with Hope and Vision in 2011. Hope and Vision vet the groups before the fellows arrive and provide ongoing support after the Balloon Kenya team has departed.

The community spirit from the group is evident, with members watching each others stalls whilst they attend our training sessions and long may this continue.

BLOG – Balloon Kenya: Ten Sugars or Twelve – Rural Adventure

Tea served in the early morning sun in Lalwet, a small rural community on the banks of Lake Nakuru must have been the sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted. The drink is so sugary that the area would be a dentist’s paradise. Kenyan ‘chai’ is renowned for being sweet, however.

Our trip to our rural retreat started early on Monday morning with a bumpy Mutatu (a small minibus), a journey that half of the group had to complete by motorbike as the driver refused to drive on the roads. We arrived to crowds of children swamping our exit from the bus. Our football was snatched, booted into the air and chased by around twenty children. They were excited by the ball as their normal ball was plastic bags squished together, held by a number of elastic bands. The large smiles made up for the snatching!

Our welcomes to the village were accompanied by the very sweet tea and Ndazi’s (Doughnuts without jam)! The welcome was a lengthy procedure as we were introduced to about half of the village. Although it was time consuming we felt warmly welcomed into their community and everyday life.

The second stop was to a mud hut that was undergoing an extension. The extension consisted of a wooden frame, which needed filling. Earth had been disturbed near to the extension and water was added to allow the fellows to get their hands dirty and help to construct the muddy walls. It was enjoyed by all and many of the girls would have paid a couple of hundred pounds in a fancy spa for a similar treatment.

After walking around further and freeing a Goat from a fence (our Welsh fellow sorted this) we entered a field full of kidney beans drying on plastic tarpaulin, we were handed sticks and told to beat the pods. When the pods are beaten the beans fall onto the plastic and can be easily collected, this is a job the women of the family carry out.

Lunch followed our morning of hard work and one of the ladies of the village ‘Muma’ had prepared lunch for the thirty hungry fellows. A typical Kenyan meal of beans, rice and potatoes and was enjoyed by all, fuelling us for the rest of the day.

Following lunch we took to a slightly overgrown field, littered with cow pat for a game of football which was labelled ‘Mzungus vs Lalwat’ – Mzungus being the Swahili term for white people or aimless wanderer. Many of the village turned up for the game that had a cup final feel about it. Away from the football the local children pestered the female fellows for sweets.

The football finished around half past five and we were then paired and walked to our host families house. I had been paired with Chris who I share a room with in Nakuru, along with Thach and Hymn. We were heavily welcomed by our family and our first activity was to milk the cow before dinner. The milking was good fun and something that none of us had done before. We later helped prepare Ugali (a mix of water and maize) and then sat down for a meal of beef stew that they normally only make at Christmas, so we were very honoured.

After lunch we sat in the living room and watched English dubbed Italian soaps and amazed the families children with our cameras. Kenyan children love digital cameras as they can see themselves on the screen after. A newly constructed room had been given to Chris and I, in which we shared a double bed and made a short video blog about the day’s activities.

We awoke to farm sounds of cows and chickens in the yard outside our window, unfortunately the cow had already been milked by the time we woke up. Breakfast was served with a less sweeter tea, similar to traditional English tea and Ndazi’s. Local rap artist Freddie met us to escort us back to the village centre to rejoin the other Fellows.

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After joining the Fellows we left the village for a hike up a nearby hill which provided great views of the neighbouring Lake Nakuru. After our decent we headed for lunch, which was the same as the Monday, but at a different household. Following the lunch we reintroduced ourselves to the village before saying our goodbyes and being given the invitation of being able to visit in the future and then shared a prayer before departing.

The community of Lalwat is united as one with a high level of trust between everybody in the community. Although some of the families may not have much they were willing to share what they did have with us, which was really nice to see.

The trip provided an insight into Kenya away from the hustle and bustle of Nakuru town and was thoroughly enjoyed by all.