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Kakamega Forest

To bring in the New Year, I joined a couple of friends in Kakamega Forest, a place I have been meaning to visit for a long time.  There I met a couple of members from Kenya Forest Conservation Corps, a newly established local non-government organisation (NGO) working on conservation projects in the forest.

Kakamega Forest is the last patch of equatorial rainforest left in Kenya and is located in the west near the border with Uganda.  The forest is under threat from neighbouring villagers cutting the trees to produce charcoal, the primary cooking fuel used in East Africa.  The forest is seen as a resource for local people who use it for firewood gathering, vines are collected to use as ropes, bark is used for medicinal purposes and also to make blankets, cattle graze and thatching grass is collected.

The forest covers 45 square kilometres and sits 1600m above sea level.  An average of 2.08 metres of rain falls every year, with rainfall heaviest in April and May.  It is home to 380 species of trees and plants, including 125 tree species.  The forest contains some of Africa’s greatest hardwood trees such as Elgon teak.  Brush-tailed porcupine, bush pig, giant water shrew and hammer-head fruit bat are some of the animals found in the forest, as well as a flying squirrel that can fly up to 90 metres.  There are approximately 350 species of birds as well as butterflies and snakes which normally can only be found in West Africa.  There are over 40 species of snakes and 45% of all recorded butterflies in Kenya can be found in Kakamega Forest.  Seven kilometres of trails allow hikers to enjoy the forest.  In 1930, Kakamega was the centre of Kenya’s gold mining industry.  The forest has been protected since 1933, but panning for gold in the forest’s rivers is still common.


Kenya Forest Conservation Corps has applied for 1000 hectares of land to conduct afforestation projects.  They are also planning to set up an eco-lodge where guests can enjoy the forest, especially those interested in studying the natural remedies available from the myriad of plants in the forest.  I met Gibson and James, two members of the KFCC.  They are dedicated to protecting the forest and finding alternative sources of income for villagers, so they are not reliant on destroying the forest to produce charcoal.  The carbon credits scheme provides a good opportunity, as companies can pay the local people to plant trees on their behalf to offset their carbon usage.

Planting my avocado tree.  James invites all his guests to plant a tree as a memory of their visit

Planting my avocado tree. James invites all his guests to plant a tree as a memory of their visit

James’ plans for an eco-lodge is to incorporate a full cultural experience with drumming workshops, traditional dance performances, story-telling, and the food will all be organically grown and locally sourced.  He is passionate about the healing benefits of natural foods and plans to set up specialised tours to educate people about the natural remedies to be found in the Kakamega Forest.

James is dreaming of setting up an eco-lodge on his land.  A beautiful setting right on the river, I can't wait!

James is dreaming of setting up an eco-lodge on his land. A beautiful setting right on the river, I can’t wait!

The forest is such a beautiful place, the serenity only disturbed by the calls of the Black and White Colobus Monkeys playing in the trees overhead.  On the early morning, we went for a walk in the forest.  The trails are not signposted, so there is the risk of losing yourself if you forget your direction.  But most trails eventually lead back to the accommodation or main gate and even when we got a little bit disoriented, the peace of the forest could not allow us to get too upset.  We found a viewing platform and climbed up for a view over a clearing…. and got us a bit closer to those noisy monkeys!

The accommodation available near the main gate is simple bandas (small traditional-style huts) with shared bathroom facilities (hot water is available on request).  There is a kitchen where you can self-cater or get the staff to prepare your meals.  The central dining banda is a large comfortable communal space where guests can relax and share stories of their forest experiences.

Kakamega is a bit of a hidden treasure, off the main tourist path.  Most people imagine vast open savannah when they think of Kenya.  But Kakamega Forest provides a unique contrast that I can only recommend.

One candle can light thousands more; and still it gives light

*** Update 6/1/13: I’m so happy to announce that tomorrow Jared will be sitting in class!!  One amazing woman has offered to pay Jared’s tuition this year and for that I am so grateful …. as is Jared of course!!  It’s such a great start to the year, and has filled me with hope and optimism for 2013.  So now I wish Jared well in his studies, and a massive heartfelt thank you to Beverley for responding to this blog post (I was just happy that someone was reading my blog, let alone taking action :)).  The smile has not left my face since I heard this news!


Original post 21/12/12:

Jared wrote to OTA several months ago, looking for volunteer work.  I was immediately struck by his determination and integrity and was sorry not to be able to employ him.  However, I have pledged to assist this tenacious young man in any way I can.  After a couple of disappointments in the employment world, he has resolved to return to university to complete his Bachelor degree in Public Health.  Here is a letter from Jared to tell you more about his aspirations for the future and how he plans to achieve them.  If you are as inspired as I am by this guy, please contact me at and we can make a plan to help this young man fulfil his ambitions.

Between 2003/4, while in my break after completing my O Levels, I witnessed MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiers – Doctors Without Borders) doctors attending to IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) casualties in a make shift health facility next to Lango College, Lira (Uganda). Their selfless act coupled with the risk they were putting themselves in by staying in an insecure place inspired me to want to be a doctor. So I could also do the same kind of humanitarian work for my people who need medical attention, just like them. And that is what I applied for after my A Levels. Unfortunately I did not get the points required. However, I still managed to qualify for a scholarship for a diploma in clinical medicine with orthopedics.

Now am a qualified clinical orthopedic officer, peace has returned in the northern part of Uganda which happens to be my ancestral home and I have relocated to Kigumba where my late dad bought land. Most humanitarian organisations like MSF have rolled out and moved elsewhere. The world is experiencing an economic slowdown; many youth are either unemployed like me or are getting laid off.

After spending over a year and half with no employment save for the few volunteer services I have been a part of, I decided to enroll myself in Bachelor of Science – Public Health program at Victoria University in Kampala. I didn’t just decide to do a degree; I got the motivation to go for it when I saw a gap in our health system that has created a great need, to which Public Health practitioners are best suited to respond. I have witnessed with grief the sickness of our health system here in Uganda. Surely there is a big challenge to revolutionise our health system if we are to ensure a healthy nation as well as prepare for the growing population. There are inadequate human resources, shortages of essential medicines, poor health financing and prioritizing practiced by the government, the poor leadership and governance within our health sector, the almost non-existent information system, poor service delivery practice and the failed state of health infrastructure. I have noted with concern that all these six building blocks of the health system need to be revamped. I know and strongly stand by it that health is a basic human right.

Pushing myself through campus has been, and still is presenting a tremendous challenge from paying for tuition right up to commuting daily to university. Currently my tuition is US $2800 a year and I would like to continue, beginning from second year thereby meaning I am left with two years to complete. The fact that I have no source of revenue leaves me in a very difficult position and I have resolved to solicit for funds from generous well wishers to see me through school. Presently I have not collected anything but I have had a talk with the University and they are willing to consider giving me a 25% scholarship should my results be compared against my class and I am found to be one of the top of the class.  These are the kinds of negotiations I can make to reduce on my total fees.  I have also applied for a student job with the campus and await their response. In the event that it is a success I will be able to cover some part of my tuition. I am humbly appealing to you to help me raise this money so I can earn my degree and use it to give back health to my community and people and also improve on my standard of living.

Jared Opio

This is a copy of Jared's transcript from his first year of the Bachelor of Science - Public Health

This is a copy of Jared’s transcript from his first year of the Bachelor of Science – Public Health

Improving Maternal & Child Health in Masai Land, Kenya

The well-being of mothers, infants and children determines the health of the next generation and can help predict future public health challenges for families, communities and medical care systems. Moreover, healthy birth outcomes and early identification and treatment of health conditions among infants can prevent death or disability and enable children to reach their full potential.

Despite major advances in medical care, critical threats to maternal, infant, and child health exist in the Masai District of Narok. Among the most pressing challenges, are reducing the rate of pre-term births and reducing the infant death rate.

More than 80% of women in Narok District will become pregnant and give birth to one or more children. Most of these women suffer pregnancy complications ranging from depression to the need for a cesarean delivery. Although rare, the risk of death during pregnancy has also been witnessed.

Each year, approximately 12% of the infants are born pre-term and 8.2% of infants are born with low birth weight. In addition to increasing the infant’s risk of death in its first few days of life, pre-term birth and low birth weight can lead to devastating and lifelong disabilities for the child. Primary among these are visual and hearing impairments, development delays, and behavioral and emotional problems that range from mild to severe.

Scarcity of Maternal and Child Health Community Centres has also contributed at large as the biggest challenge in Narok North District. Expectant mothers are unable to receive early maternal services and end up delivering in homes under less care and poor service; this poses a big danger to both the mother and the infant.

In order to curb this challenge, the Ewang’an e Suswa Community-based Organisation is raising funds to assist in the complete establishment of the Ewang’an e Suswa Community Health Centre. The Health Centre’s goal is to make services available to all residents of Suswa in Narok North District. Emphasis is placed on ensuring services to child-bearing women, infants and children. The organisation received a donation from the Japanese Government towards the construction of the Health Centre which is currently underway but the funding is only enough to construct an out-patient facility.

In order to accomplish its goal, the Ewang’an e Suswa Community-Based Health Centre will:

  • Promote the delivery of high quality, comprehensive, family-centred health services for women, infants, children and adolescents
  • Monitor relevant health status indicators to identify, assess and proactively plan for current and future areas of need including proposals for regulatory change for the general community
  • Promote early pre-natal care, breastfeeding, provision of nutritious food, and health education to improve pregnancy outcomes and child care
  • Once fully established and equipped, the Centre would also act as a treatment centre for both out- and  in-patient illnesses giving priority to Maternal Health care, Malaria and HIV/AIDs (Prevention of mother to child-PMTCT)
  • The Centre will also act as a control centre providing advice on prevention and outreach interventions

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