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Hippos after all!

We met Corinne in 2014 through an introduction from my old school principal.  She started a school in Kitengela, near Nairobi, which Huntingtower (that’s my old school in Melbourne) supports.  Sunrise of Africa School is founded on Christian Science principles, with over 300 students from pre-school to Class 8.  Corinne and her husband George live in Kenya while their children Christoph and Michelle live abroad with their families.  Every few years they all come together at the old house in Nairobi for Christmas.  And in 2016 we were privileged to be part of their celebrations as they planned a safari to the Maasai Mara.

After booking in February, it was a long time coming, but finally we were gathered out the front of the house ready to go.  But unfortunately, it was not to be.  The road to the Maasai Mara is notoriously horrible, for inexplicable reasons given how much tourists pay the local county government to visit Kenya’s greatest game reserve!  While we carried equipment, Michelle and George drove their own vehicles full of passengers.  But when a suspension bush gave way, and some passengers were going a little green from the bumpy road, it was decided that the Maasai Mara was not to be the amazing Christmas safari after all.  With long faces we parted ways – we continued as we had another family coming to join us the following day (stay tuned for the story of the Fink family trip!) while the Corvins returned to Nairobi.

Nairobi National Park

But all was not lost!  On our return to Nairobi, we organised a day trip to Nairobi National Park.  Administered by Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS), the roads are in a much better state of repair, not to mention that it is located a mere 8km from the CBD!  We met early in the morning and after battling our way through the ticket-buying bureaucracy (only took 20 minutes to buy 10 tickets!) we were on our game drive at last.

One of the first places we stopped was a waterhole where there are always a lot of water birds squawking around.  Mattias said he thought he saw a hippo, but his dad wasn’t sure and when he asked Francis and I if there were hippos here we both said no …. Well we had never seen any there!  But Mattias was right!  And not just one hippo, but a few.  His sister, Zoe, had been dying to see a hippo, so she was very happy with her big brother.

Despite this sighting, we still headed to the river where more hippos generally hang out.  Lucky that we had seen the hippos in the first pool however – there were none where they were supposed to be.  That’s why it’s called a “game” drive – it’s a like a game of hide-and-seek between humans and animals!  We had brunch at the river and then they went for a walk with Humphrey the ranger to spot some crocs.

As we continued the game drive, we were rewarded with two rhinos, a lion and then a black-backed jackal right alongside the cars!  The jackal simply trotted along unperturbed by our presence, at one point looking directly at James and Michelle’s car, so they got some great photos.  We also got pretty close to some giraffes and watched as some impalas in a bachelor herd knocked horns as they fought for alpha status.

On 18 July 1989, President Moi and Dr Leakey (then head of KWS) sent a strong message to the world about poaching elephants for ivory.  They burned 12 tonnes of the stuff, worth about US$1 million, in the Nairobi National Park.  Today the Ivory Burning Site still remains with the ashes of those tusks as a reminder of Kenya’s stance on poaching.  Although I had been to Nairobi National Park several times before, finally I visited this site for the first time with the Corvins.  It was such an impressive move by Moi and Leakey, I only wish more governments today had the same courage.

And that was the day.  We are still sorry we didn’t get the opportunity to show them the Maasai Mara, but we already have some great ideas for their next visit!  Karibuni tena!!

Welcome the VIPs of Sunrise of Africa School!

Welcome the VIPs of Sunrise of Africa School!

Did you know there are about 300 Kenyan children receiving education due to the generosity of the global Christian Science (not to be confused with Scientology!) community?  And in July, some of those supporters came to Kenya to visit the school and see for themselves the beautiful school they had a hand in creating.  But they couldn’t come all the way to the land of safari without also seeing some animals.  Enter OTA – this is the story of the Sunrise of Africa School VIP visit.

Thirteen people made the journey out to Kenya to visit the Sunrise of Africa School.  Three were the grandchildren of the school’s founder.  Three only stayed a short while and didn’t join our safari as they had a couple of other schools to visit.  And then we added three Sunrise staff to the safari so we were back to thirteen when we set out early one chilly July morning for the Samburu National Reserve.  The group had been staying at the Hilton Garden Inn near Nairobi’s international airport.  It was opened in March 2018, and this being July of the same year, the hotel was still sparkly and shiny.  It would be a welcome sight after three days of dusty safari!

Francis, me, our baby Gabriel, Michelle and her daughter Amy squeezed into the van which was a supply vehicle first and foremost and thus was packed tight with all our camping equipment.  The rest were in the Land Cruiser with Julius and Sammy, the school’s Director, had three more in his vehicle.

We headed out of Nairobi before the traffic could build up and had our first stop at Sagana.  The curio shops slyly keep their toilets clean so tour vehicles will be more inclined to stop for a bathroom break.  They also slyly keep their toilets at the back of the shop so you have to walk past all their lovely trinkets on your way in and out.  Not having had much chance to buy souvenirs during the trip so far, the bathroom break became a bit longer.

Next stop was at the home of a friend of the school.  Her house is just before Nanyuki, and she had laid out a massive spread.  Too big for morning tea, too early for lunch, it didn’t matter what we called it, it was delicious!

But now the time was getting away from us as we were due at the lodge in Samburu for lunch.  So we motored on, pausing in Nanyuki to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables for the campers.  Now I should explain our trip a bit more.  The guests had been given the option of staying in a lodge/tented camp or bush camp, in order to cater for varying budgets.  Six of the international guests chose the tented camp option while Michelle and her children and the Sunrise staff opted to camp.  So, that’s why we had a van full of camping equipment but we were rushing to get to the lodge for lunch.

After lunch, they went out on their first game drive (the dash from the gate to the accommodation didn’t count).  They saw a massive tower of giraffes and elephants galore.  The next day they went out for morning and evening game drives, relaxing in their respective camps during the heat of the day.  More elephants, more giraffes, gazelles, gerenuks, impala, and hyena were the highlights.  Unfortunately no lions were forthcoming during those three days.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, our 11-month-old was having a whale of a time chasing monkeys, playing in the dirt, and falling in love with 7-year-old Amy.  He kept us all on our toes though, especially when the group was off on game drive and we were left to cook.  Luckily there were a couple of extra guys around cleaning the campsite and generally helping out, so they took on much of the babysitting.  There’s so much for a toddler to explore around a campsite: a charcoal cooking fire, buckets of water, a bucket of vegetable peelings, logs with all sorts of lovely critters crawling under the bark, the list goes on!  But I’ve come to see that in Kenya children are adored and doted upon, by clucky women and aloof men alike.  So I was comfortable with Gabriel exploring freely, knowing there were several other pairs of eyes always on him along with mine.

On the last day we drove out through Buffalo Springs Reserve.  The Samburu eco-system is made up of three separate reserves.  Samburu and Buffalo Springs are separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River and it’s very easy to cross between the two so long as the bridge hasn’t been washed away.  Shaba is across the highway.  So we headed south through Buffalo Springs to join the highway near Isiolo.  It’s always nice to replace some highway driving with more time in the parks.

We stopped for lunch at Dormans in Nanyuki where we had smoothies and milkshakes and salads and other treats that the guests had been missing after a week at the school eating Kenyan cuisine.  We also made the obligatory photo stop at the Equator.  From Nanyuki we didn’t stop again until we got back to the Hilton Garden Inn.  Our timing wasn’t perfect and we caught a bit of Nairobi’s rush hour traffic.

A visit to Kenya is not complete without a visit to the Giraffe Centre and Elephant Orphanage so that’s what we did the following day.  Then a final lunch together at the home of the school’s founder before the guests headed home.  They really saw all sides of Kenya: both interacting with the people while they were at the school and then interacting with the wildlife on their safari.

Sheila and Christine’s African Safari Extravaganza

Sheila and Christine’s African Safari Extravaganza

Walking safari at Lake Naivasha

Waaaaaay back in May 2014, I sat in Sheila’s lounge room with Sheila and Christine to talk about an African adventure.  They had travelled to South America a few years before and wanted to make the most of their Yellow Fever vaccination, so Africa was the logical next step for them.

Of course they had to come to Kenya, as that is where our little tour company is based and it’s the place for the best safaris in the world (I’m not biased!).  They also wanted to visit Botswana, being fans of the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and Victoria Falls.  They had three weeks to experience the best of the African continent and so we set to work planning an itinerary.

There were a couple of challenges.  First of all, Kenya has so much and we wanted to show them all of it, but we had to narrow the safari down to just a week.  Secondly was finding an affordable way to travel in Botswana.  Botswana caters to the high-end luxury traveller, and lodges are typically US$400+ per person per night.  For your average retired teacher, this is not affordable.  The alternative is a mobile camping safari and our intrepid ladies agreed.

Eighteen months later Sheila and Christine landed at Nairobi’s airport, looking quite fresh after the 22-hour flight.  We headed straight to the accommodation for a quick shower and then went to the mall to take care of some essentials – changing money, buying things that had been left behind and having a cold Kenyan beer as we discussed the week ahead.

Safari Begins

Our first destination was the Maasai Mara.  The wildebeest migration was in town, and Sheila and Christine could be forgiven for never wanting to see another wildebeest ever again!  But do you think we could find an elephant?  The night before, a herd of about 15 elephants had crashed through our camp, but there was not a trace of them or their friends until 5pm when I glimpsed a big grey face in the bushes.  Elephants do not like all the noise of millions of wildebeest and tend to disappear until the rowdy tourists have gone back to Serengeti (kind of like Philip Island residents on Grand Prix weekend!).  On our ellie hunt though, we were lucky to find five lions – two males and three females – supervising a herd of buffalo.  No one else had found this group, and so we got to enjoy the sighting all alone.  Magical!

Lionesses survey a herd of buffalo in the Maasai Mara

Lake Naivasha

From the Maasai Mara we went to Lake Naivasha for two nights.  The next day started with a walking safari in Wileli Conservancy where we got excited spotting many different birds (see the list below) and getting close to some giraffes who were necking.  Necking isn’t as romantic as it sounds; it’s actually the term for how giraffes fight.  From a distance they look quite graceful and almost gentle as they swing their necks against one another.  But once we got close, we could hear the thumps as they crashed together.  They can cause serious injury or even death as they fight for supremacy of the herd.

We had a very lovely lunch at Sanctuary Farm and then went for a boat ride around part of the shore of Lake Naivasha.  We requested our captain keep us a safe distance from the hippos, and despite his respect of the request, I was still very nervous – I don’t think I should do any more boat trips in hippo-infested waters as I suspect my nerves make everyone else a bit edgier.  But they are really big!

Cormorants in Lake Naivasha

Samburu Safari

Our final destination in Kenya was Samburu.  This is where Sheila and Christine got a bit of a taste of what was to come on their camping safari in Botswana, as we stayed in tents inside the park.  Camping in the park is such a great experience, even if you think you aren’t the camping type, it’s worth trying just once.  Samburu gets really hot in the middle of the day and all the animals retire to the shade, making game driving at that time a little boring.  Fortunately there’s a lodge near the campsite with a pool that one can use for a small fee.  While Sheila and Christine cooled off, Francis and I ducked out to Umoja Primary School.  Last year, Bev had spent a day teaching at the school and later sent some money that her students in Australia had raised.  We used that money to buy hoops and footballs for the school and at last we had the opportunity to deliver them.  The students remembered Bev and I heard murmurs about rockets (one of the activities Bev had done with them) as they gathered to receive the gifts.

Delivering a donation to Umoja School

As we headed back to Nairobi, there was one last stop to make: Kiota Children’s Home.  At our fundraising event in Melbourne earlier this year, Sheila had signed up to sponsor a Kenyan student.  Being in Kenya now, it only made sense for her and the student to meet.  Ndunda is a very shy young boy, but he graciously received the stationery that Sheila and Christine had brought for all the children at the home.  He then showed us around the home, pointing out the place where he kept his school bag and shoes, his homework, his bed, and common areas where they hang out.  We also met Samuel and Simon who are also sponsored by people who came to our Melbourne event.

Sheila and Christine hand over donations for Kiota Children's Home

I can’t write too much more about Sheila and Christine’s adventure, as they flew out of Nairobi the next day and left us behind.  They went to the mighty Victoria Falls for a few nights before heading to Botswana.  They had a night in the Chobe Safari Lodge where they did a boat cruise on the Chobe River.  That’s an amazing cruise as the animals come down to the water to drink in the evening.  Chobe has the highest population of elephants in Africa – it certainly must have made up for the ellies’ absence in Maasai Mara!

Seeing Sheila and Christine off a the airport

Then they joined their camping safari, travelling to Savute, Moremi Game Reserve and the Okavango Delta.  It was surely an adventure, and I hope that they have written about it somewhere so we can hear all about it!

What we saw


  • Common Ostrich
  • Great White Pelican
  • Great Cormorant
  • Long-tailed Cormorant
  • Cattle Egret
  • Common Squacco Heron
  • Little Egret
  • Grey Heron
  • Purple Heron
  • Black-headed Heron
  • Hamerkop
  • Marabou Stork
  • Yellow-billed Stork
  • Sacred Ibis
  • Hadada Ibis
  • African Spoonbill
  • Egyptian Goose
  • Yellow-billed Duck
  • Secretary Bird
  • Lappet-faced Vulture
  • Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture
  • African White-backed Vulture
  • African Goshawk
  • Augur Buzzard
  • Long-crested Eagle
  • Tawny Eagle
  • African Fish Eagle
  • Francolin
  • Yellow-necked Spurfowl
  • Vulturine Guineafowl
  • Helmeted Guineafowl
  • Black Crake
  • Red-knobbed Coot
  • African Jacana
  • Blacksmith Plover
  • Crowned Plover
  • Sandpiper
  • Gull
  • Yellow-throated Sandgrouse
  • Ring-necked Dove
  • Go-away-bird
  • Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl
  • Swift
  • Grey-headed Kingfisher
  • Pied Kingfisher
  • Lilac-breasted Roller
  • Green Wood-hoopoe
  • Ground Hornbill
  • Red-billed Hornbill
  • Grey Woodpecker
  • Plain-backed Pipit
  • Common Bulbul
  • Cinnamon Bracken Warbler
  • Rattling Cisticola
  • Long-tailed Fiscal
  • Brown-crowned Tchagra
  • Cuckoo-shrike
  • Common Drongo
  • Black-headed Oriole
  • Pied Crow
  • Rüppell’s Long-tailed Starling
  • Superb Starling
  • Wattled Starling
  • Red-billed Oxpecker
  • Rufous Sparrow
  • White-headed Buffalo-Weaver
  • Sparrow Weaver
  • African Golden Weaver
  • Baglafecht (Reichenow’s) Weaver
  • Red-headed Weaver
Vuturine Guineafowl

Vuturine Guineafowl


  • Cape buffalo
  • Lion
  • Elephant
  • Black-backed jackal
  • Spotted hyena
  • Burchell’s Zebra
  • Grevy’s Zebra
  • Maasai giraffe
  • Reticulated Giraffe
  • Eland
  • Impala
  • Thomson’s gazelle
  • Grant’s gazelle
  • Wildebeest
  • Hartebeest
  • Topi
  • Waterbuck
  • Bushbuck
  • Beisa’s Oryx
  • Gerenuk
  • Dikdik
  • Rock hyrax
  • Warthog
  • Olive baboon
  • Vervet monkey
  • Hippopotamous
  • Crocodile
  • Skink
Lioness in Samburu

Lioness in Samburu

Make a Tremendous Impact and Transform a Life Through Education

Make a Tremendous Impact and Transform a Life Through Education

While I might have a few issues with the aid and development industry in countries like Kenya (who arguably does not need foreign aid, just good governance and accountability), the incredible impact of sponsoring a student’s education is something I whole-heartedly support and emphatically encourage people to do.  The cliché that there is no greater gift than education resonates as fact in developing countries and there is no shorter, sustainable way out of poverty than going to school.  If you want to assist those less fortunate, then sponsoring a student is the most effective way to ensure you make a real difference.

At Kiota Children’s Home, 20 children receive support from Dutch and Australian sponsors.  In September, we were fortunate to introduce Sheila to Ndunda, who she sponsors.  Ndunda’s story is sad, but not unusual – his parents abandoned the children and he was found with his younger brother picking through the garbage dump when he was only 5 years old.  Since arriving at Kiota, he has learnt social skills (although he is still very shy), has been able to attend school and has access to counselling.  He has a chance at a decent future now.  Moreover, when Sheila visited with her friend Christine, they “Packed For A Purpose” ( and were able to bring specific items needed at Kiota – pens, exercise books, coloured pencils, etc.  There is more than one way to give!

In September, we were fortunate to introduce Sheila to Ndunda, who she sponsors

In September, we were fortunate to introduce Sheila to Ndunda, who she sponsors

Jared wanted to return to university to finish a Bachelor of Public Health after his first sponsor was no longer able to support him.  Thanks to Bev, he is completing his degree this year.  Bev travelled to Uganda last year to meet Jared and spent time with his relatives, seeing his life.  From the first time I met Jared in 2012 to the time of introducing him and Bev in 2014, I saw a remarkable change in him.  He seemed to have grown, which for a man in his mid-20s was unlikely.  But he stood up straighter and had more confidence.  Regardless of any academic results, just this change in demeanour will surely take him further than the shy boy of two years previous.

Bev and Jared's relationship was cemented during Bev's travels in Uganda and Jared can continue his studies as well as take on extra-curricular activities

Bev and Jared’s relationship was cemented during Bev’s travels in Uganda and Jared can continue his studies as well as take on extra-curricular activities

Pauline travelled in Kenya in 2014 and, upon learning the plight of girls in education, wanted to sponsor a young woman.  Sylvia is a Maasai girl who achieved excellent marks in her primary school exams, but her prospects of getting to secondary school were slim to none.  The primary school she had attended had largely waived her fees in the knowledge that her parents were extremely poor but that Sylvia was very bright.  A secondary school would not make the same allowance.  Enter Pauline, and Sylvia is attending boarding school in Narok, the closest town to her family yet still 100km away.  She now has the opportunity to avoid an early marriage and a life of walking miles to fetch water and firewood.

Education is life-changing and we are committed to affording as many students the opportunity to go to school as we can.  In Melbourne, Australia we hosted a fund raising event in May 2015.  Guests were invited to sponsor individual students or make a one-off donation.  The money we collected from the donations has been given to the Titus Ngoyoni Memorial Primary School to replace the desks and chairs, which are in severe disrepair.  We intend to make the Melbourne event an annual one so we can continue to raise funds for needy schools and homes.

The money we collected from the donations has been given to the Titus Ngoyoni Memorial Primary School to replace the desks and chairs, which are in severe disrepair

The money we collected from the donations has been given to the Titus Ngoyoni Memorial Primary School to replace the desks and chairs, which are in severe disrepair

Of course there are still plenty of students who would benefit from sponsorship.  Susanna is a Maasai girl from the same area as Sylvia who is starting secondary school this year.  Winnie is a young woman in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, who has two more years of secondary school to complete.  There are children at Kiota Childen’s Home who require support for primary education.  Mara Explorers Camp in the Maasai Mara works closely with their local community to identify students in need.  And Sunrise of Africa School in Kitengela has 30% of their students attending on scholarship due to the generosity of donors.  There is even a single mother working in our local bar trying to raise money to finish her nursing degree.  In Kenya there are 91 registered nurses and 64 enrolled nurses per 100,000 people.  Compare that with Australia where there are 1195.8 nurses per 100,000 people – and Australia claims to have a health care crisis!  Sponsoring a nursing degree would not just impact the student, but all the extra people who can access her care.

Susanna is a Maasai girl from the same area as Sylvia who is starting secondary school this year

Susanna is a Maasai girl from the same area as Sylvia who is starting secondary school this year

The value of education in Kenya

Education is most needed in rural communities where schooling costs are twelve to twenty times as much as the monthly income of parents, despite the abolition of secondary school fees.  The costs are for uniforms, shoes, text books, stationery and boarding fees.  This means secondary school is out of reach for the poorest households and early marriage for their daughters is seen as a much more immediate way out of financial strife through the dowry payment.  In Kenya, one in ten young people never complete primary school and so struggle to find well-paid work.  Thus there is 60% youth (18-35 years) unemployment.  When you consider that an average wage earner supports about a dozen family members, the impact of an education that can secure a job is huge for a whole community.  Yet, one million children are still out of school in this country.  While this number is only half of what it was in 1999, it is still the ninth highest of any country in the world.

While committing to an ongoing sponsorship of a child can seem a little daunting, the relationships we have seen forming between sponsor and student are far more rewarding than anyone imagined.  Of course, it is important to be updated on the academic progress of the student, but a personal connection is also possible and can be amazing – as evidenced by Bev and Jared mentioned earlier.  If you are interested in connecting directly with a student who needs sponsorship, do contact us.  We are committed to ensuring students get the education and resources they need to succeed and also to enabling you to have the accountability and connection you are looking for.  Email for more information about how you can directly transform a young Kenyan’s life today.

Bev’s Trip

Bev’s Trip

In June 2014 Bev arrived in Nairobi to start a month-long journey through Kenya and Uganda.  One of the main reasons for her visit was to meet Jared, a Ugandan university student who she had been sponsoring for the past 18 months.

Bev’s timing was perfect: the Lake Turkana Cultural Festival was to take place a couple of days after her arrival in Kenya and so that was the first destination.  Moses and Laura, friends of OTA and owners of Mara Explorers camp in Maasai Mara, were in Nairobi and were cajoled into joining the trip north.  They then invited Scott and Helene, a British couple driving their Land Rover around the continent while they figured out how to spend their retirement.  And so our small band of intrepid travellers started the two-day journey to the far north-western corner of Kenya.

OTA Kenya Safaris

We encountered a few sceptics who were dubious about the ability of the OTA van to get to Loiyangalani and to cross the desert to Marsabit.   But Francis handled that Toyota like a true professional despite the rain, mud, steep ascents and descents, loose stones and every other obstacle imaginable.  In Maralal we had to find our police escorts to accompany us further north.  There were only a couple of times when Bev found the need to gently push the young soldier’s gun away from pointing directly at her – he was very relaxed about carrying such a weapon, but we perhaps would have been more comfortable had he been a little more attentive.

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The first morning of the Turkana Festival was fantastic.  Fourteen ethnic groups from northern Kenya gathered in Loiyangalani, each setting up a traditional house, donning traditional costumes, dancing traditional dances and singing traditional songs.  The atmosphere was fun as each tribe tried to out-sing and out-dance each other.  Unfortunately, this was the first year the Marsabit County Council was running the festival and it seems that they did not take much advice or assistance from the organisations who had been involved previously.  The program was ignored and we found ourselves doing the scheduled 8am hike up a mountain to see rock art in the heat of the midday sun.

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The second day was even less organised as we all waited for Deputy President Ruto to arrive before any activities could start.  His scheduled arrival at 11am didn’t occur until 3pm and the scheduled activities turned out to be a political rally – it was great for the locals who do not often see their MPs, but for foreign tourists it was not the most exciting “cultural event”.

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From Lake Turkana, we headed east to Marsabit where we had a slight accommodation disaster but a great food find.  While Bev, Francis and Tracey headed into town for dinner, Scott cooked at camp for the rest of the group, including our police escorts.  Pasta with vegetables – not quite what soldiers in northern Kenya are used to and they were a little nervous about this mzungu food.

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Continuing south, the next stop was Archers Post where Bev spent some time at the Umoja School.  It’s a brand new school with only 14 students, and so Bev spent the morning teaching science to the whole school.  They made rockets and learnt about air pressure.  In the afternoon Francis took Bev into Samburu National Reserve where a lion walked not five metres past the vehicle!

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We said good bye to Scott, Helene, Moses and Laura in Nairobi before travelling west to Busia.  There we stayed with Chrisphine and spent half a day at the Blue Bells School, again dragging all the students outside for a science lesson.  A lot of education throughout Africa is taught straight out of the text book, sitting in class and answering questions.  So to get away from the desks and try things out for themselves was a bit of a novelty.

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Crossing into Uganda was something of an event with Tracey nearly getting arrested thanks to the Kenyan insurance company failing to fill in the Comesa insurance certificate correctly.  We still need to express our thanks to Amaco Insurance for putting us in that predicament!  However, after a few hours we were able to clear the border and get to Jinja.  After the stress of the border crossing, it would have been wonderful to get a good night of sleep, but it was not to be.  Normally Tracey can sleep through anything, but a bagpiper wandering through the campsite at midnight managed to wake her.  Sticking her head out the tent, she asked “Really?” and the bagpiper apologised….. only to start up again!!  Is it necessary to say that we may have lost our tempers a little bit?

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The next day was much better though with a boozy lunch cruise on the Nile.  The birdlife was spectacular and the new camera has proven itself to be an excellent purchase.

OTA Kenya Safaris

In Mbale, on our way to Sipi Falls, we finally met Jared.  Bev and Jared had been communicating extensively via email for 18 months but this was the first time they were to meet in person, so it was very exciting.  We got lunch and continued the journey to Sipi as the two chatted in the back of the vehicle.  All seemed to be fine – which was a relief!

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At Sipi Falls we met Punky the cheeky Turaco.  At first we felt incredibly privileged to have this beautiful bird come so close.  Then we realised that the only privilege being afforded to us was that we had been able to eat the majority of our breakfast before Punky came to greet us!  Having fallen out of the nest as a chick, Punky has been raised by Minette and Andy (managers of Sipi River Lodge) but has freedom to fly away now he is fully grown.  But it seems he has too much fun bullying the dogs and cat so he stays.

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Jared, Francis and Tracey hiked two of the three waterfalls that make up Sipi Falls.  The third involved ladders and steepness that we decided wasn’t necessary – we got a fine view from where we were.

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Across Uganda to Murchison Falls National Park where we enjoyed a cruise and a game drive.  The Nile thrusts itself through a 7 metre gorge, creating the most powerful waterfall in the world.  And we saw it!

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In western Uganda we spent a few nights in Fort Portal where we ate pizza and played cards.  We also did a hike in the Rwenzori Mountains up to a school.  The guides took a look at Bev and said the school was too far and we probably wouldn’t make it.  But we did and kudos to Bev for pushing her comfort zone!  We were trying to be quiet so as not to disturb the children in the classroom, but curiousity obviously got the better of them and just before finishing time, suddenly they all rushed out to greet us.  Bev got bombarded with children wanting to shake her hand and just generally be near her.

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The next day we went chimp trekking, but did not have much luck.  Our guide was a little gung-ho in the beginning and the chimps were on the move rather than sitting somewhere convenient for us to take pictures.  We saw three black blobs moving through the bush over the several hours we wandered in Kabale National Park.  Once we told the guide we were OK with not seeing any chimps, he relaxed and even cracked a smile.  He cracked more smiles as we neared the end: we asked how far we were from the road and he said “About 600 metres”.  After about 2km, we asked again and he gave the same answer.  After a few repeats of the pattern we just had to laugh and ask him “So only 600 more metres?”

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Driving south, we passed through Queen Elizabeth National Park and were quite shocked at the speed several police trucks were swinging themselves around an escarpment, especially as they passed by a school.  We stopped at Uganda Lodge, a project started by a Ugandan man and British woman where there is a school and a new clinic.  Bev taught a few more science classes and we went with some volunteers to deliver bananas to the children’s ward at the nearby hospital.  Jared is studying public health and was very keen to visit the hospital and ask lots of questions.

OTA Kenya Safaris

Finally we reached Kampala where Bev was to spend her last week seeing Jared’s life.  We dropped Jared at his home where his aunt gave us two of the biggest avocadoes you have ever seen and a bunch of sweet bananas.  Then it was back to battle Kampala’s peak hour traffic to get to the hotel for a final dinner together.  There we met Ishmael, who was to take over driving responsibilities for Bev’s week in Kampala while we rushed back to Kenya.  From all accounts, Ishmael became as much a part of Bev and Jared’s week and we had been a part of their holiday.  Jared showed Bev plenty of universities and hospitals, he invited her to his house for a meal, his family came to town for another meal and they went to a school sports day and cheered on the Parrots…Ishmael joined the cheering as well!

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What a journey!  Bev and Tracey had travelled together for five weeks in 2009 from Beijing to Istanbul and here again was another month of new experiences, incredible memories and plenty of laughter.  Bev and Jared have cemented their mother-son relationship and Jared’s university education is assured (so long as he keeps getting good grades!).  And we all look forward to Bev’s next visit….or will it be Jared, Francis and Tracey coming to Australia to visit Bev?!

OTA Kenya Safaris

Silverplate School

Last week, my friend Celia introduced me to Silverplate, a community school in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi’s northeast.  The principal, Lucas, established the school when he realised that children were picking through the nearby dumping ground to find goods to sell rather than getting an education.

Lucas is amazing, as are all the teachers who work at Silverplate.  The salary Lucas can afford to pay the teachers is very little, and in December, just before Christmas, there was no money to pay the teachers at all.  Yet they are all back this year with all the passion and enthusiasm needed to teach dozens of primary school-aged students.  One of the things that really impressed me about the teachers was their immaculate presentation.  Despite the fact they are teaching in a small community school with little facilities and leaky roofs for little or no money, they are dressed in impeccable suits.  Even their shoes are clean despite probably having had to walk along dirt paths to get to school.  To me, it illustrated the pride they have in their jobs and they are dedicated to educating these children not just in maths and English, but also in how to conduct oneself regardless of your station in life.

Nursery Class (4-5 year olds)
Nursery Class (4-5 year olds)

Currently there are 380 students and 11 teachers.  That ratio isn’t bad for an African school …. until you see the size of the classrooms.  Desks that look like they should accommodate two (or three at a stretch) students, seat four, five and even six students in the younger classes.  The school caters for students from nursery to class 7, but there are not enough classrooms.  So the class 7s and 6s share a room, 5s and 4s share, 3s and 2s, 1s and preps, then the number of nursery students means they have their own room.

Class 6 has the left side of the room and class 7 the right side - not all class 7 students have returned to school, so Lucas (standing at rear) will head out next week to find them and bring them back.
Class 6 has the left side of the room and class 7 the right side – not all class 7 students have returned to school, so Lucas (standing at rear) will head out next week to find them and bring them back.

Most of the classrooms are in a concrete building, except for the class 2 and 3s who are in a tin shack.  Although they do have more space (about twice what all the other classes have), the roof has holes in it.  While I was visiting, we were “blessed” with some rain, and lessons had to stop in that classroom as students huddled under the sealed patches of roof.  The best building on site is the toilet block. When Silverplate was first established, the children just had to go in the bushes behind the classrooms.  But a group of Irish visitors pledged to build a toilet block and now that is what dominates the school.  It is clean and encourages good hygiene and has been a very important contribution.

The whole school: The tall building in the centre is the toilets, to the right of that is the tin shack for class and 3, and the long building at the back is the rest of the classrooms
The whole school: The tall building in the centre is the toilets, to the right of that is the tin shack for class and 3, and the long building at the back is the rest of the classrooms

Lucas introduced me to every class and I was greeted with songs and clapping and general happiness.  With the class 6 and 7s a map was retrieved and students were asked to identify where Australia was.  They got it.  The older classes who can speak English asked plenty of questions about Australia and how it is different to Kenya.  Some very intelligent questions came from the students, which seemed somehow incongruous with the environment … but definitely proved that Lucas and his team are doing great things!

Class 3 and 4
Class 3 and 4

Silverplate charges 200 Kenyan shillings per month for a child’s education, which is approximately US$2.50.  Recently they introduced a school uniform – uniforms are very important in Kenya’s education system and some schools will even turn away students who cannot afford the uniform …. but that’s a whole different rant for another posting about inconsistencies in the approach to education.  The uniform at Silverplate costs 1000 shillings (approximately US$11.50), but Lucas understands that for some parents this is beyond their means so he is flexible.  Nearly every student however was wearing the uniform, but whether it was because Lucas donates uniforms to those who cannot afford it, I’m not sure.

The school fees again seem like such a small amount, but still parents or guardians cannot afford to pay.  Many of the students at Silverplate are orphans and so they are looked after by guardians.  The only problem is that guardians do not have the same interests of the foster child in their heart as those interests of their own children.  And so the foster children are often neglected.  Instead of spending money on a foster child’s education, the guardian would rather that child earn money for his keep.  So they are either kept at home doing chores (fetching water, wood, preparing meals, cleaning the house, looking after the babies, etc) or sent to the dumping ground to find items to sell to earn money.  This is beyond the pale for Lucas, as he values education above all else.  His mission is for every child to have an education no matter what and so many of the students do not pay to attend Silverplate.  He would prefer to give free education than have a child miss out.

At school the children receive lunch as well, the cost of the food is supposed to be covered by the school fees.  Many community schools in Kenya have a similar feeding program, ensuring children get at least one meal per day.  And the generosity was overwhelming – Celia and I were invited to eat with them as well.  That is Kenyan hospitality and it’s impossible to refuse.

Lucas has plans.  This year he is going to work with the hospital to get free medical treatment for the students and their parents.  He is requesting doctors to volunteer their time to take care of people in his school’s community.  He is also working with Celia to develop peace building programs in the community.  With the upcoming elections, the slums are the most likely places for tension to explode, so building a sense of harmonious community spirit is very important.  Lucas is looking beyond just providing education to a few poor children; rather he wants to empower and bring together the whole community through education, health, and other programs so they can support one another in times of need.

Next week will be the third week of school.  To my untrained eye, the classrooms looked full enough already, but Lucas assures me there are still more students who have not yet come back after the Christmas break.  So next week we will find him at the dumping ground, seeking out his students, both old and new.


If you would like to contribute to Silverplate School, please contact me at and I will connect you with Lucas.  Thank you!

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