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Habitat for Humanity Project 2018: Kenya Volunteer Trip

Posted on: 12th March 2018 | Category: Teacher blog

Excellent First Day on Site

Monday 5 March 2018 

Excellent first day on site - Surval girls are exceeding our expectations, which were already high after last year’s trip

The community gave us a tremendous welcome, singing and dancing. Everyone was introduced, including the family we are working for. The ground is much softer after the rain than it was last year, so the foundations are already dug. We’ve moved lots of bricks and started layering for mixing concrete tomorrow. The girls attacked the mound of rocks with gusto (it’s a heavy, tedious job). 

Making Good Progress

Tuesday 6 March 2018

Another grand day! We’ve lined the foundations with concrete and completed TWO entire layers of brickwork, internal and external walls. Our Habitat for Humanity partners are delighted and say we have exceeded our target for the first two days. I say we need to revise the targets upwards to take into account that we are dealing with Surval girls here! 

Girls in excellent spirits in spite of stiff muscles. No sign of any ailments, and no moaning about lack of hot water. Morning showers are invigorating to say the least, but by evening we are all so glad of a shower that no one cares.

My favourite exchange of the day was when James (Habitat for Humanity) said “Time for tea-break now” and Natascha retorted “But we want to work!”

All the girls are eating really well, all that fresh air and hard graft. Madame Spigarelli (Surval French teacher) had them conjugating French verbs as they passed bricks down the line. 

We were shown the one room house where the family had been living before a storm took the roof off. Even when it was whole there was not enough space to sit inside. They slept in it and sheltered when it rained, but had nowhere to be inside during the day. The new house is not just an upgrade, it’s a new way of living.

New equipment arriving on site daily. Today lots of trowels, mortar boards, hammers and adzes, so we are well set up for the rest the build.

More brickwork tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. 


Another Fabulous Day in Kenya

Wednesday 7 March 2018 

At the risk of sounding repetitive, another fabulous day in Kenya! A bright, cool morning started with tai chi stretches in a field of avocado plants to set us up for the hard labour ahead. Target - to complete several more layers of bricks up to floor level, level the sub floor and fill it with rocks. Calls for “Mortar, mortar!” and “Water, water!” ringing around the site as the girls got stuck in. Sometimes tricky to discern the difference in those soft Kenyan accents. Working in pairs but responding to changing tasks, everyone was keen to do their bit. I’ve heard “Many hands make light work”, but I’ve never seen a better illustration.

Blue skies and intense sunshine by the time we started levelling the sub floor, with adzes, picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. Stamping on the ground to solidify it turned into a song and dance spectacular, which all the labourers and Fundi John (Habitat for Humanity) stopped work for, to join in or watch. Our girls can turn any situation into a fiesta. Next, the rocks, which have been lying in a pile by the site since day one, taunting us. Well, we made short work of them, passing them down the line, with considerable effort and determination in equal measure. The girls are working hard each day, with the vast majority constantly looking for jobs to do next, and with plenty of tools and professionals to ask, everyone is being kept busy. 

So, back to base ahead of a thunder storm to ... a hot shower! For the first time since leaving Switzerland we are properly squeaky clean. 

The township we are at is called Rangwe. According to James (Habitat for Humanity) it doesn’t exist on google maps. He’s hoping to rectify this by getting everyone to fix the coordinates on their phones, so Surval will quite literally have put this town on the map.


Nineteen Women Changing Women's Lives on International Women's Day

Thursday 8 March 2018

A landmark day. The foundations and floor are completed! We kicked off International Women’s Day with stretches to limber up for the team photo. Nineteen truly international young women with the will and wielding the tools to change another woman’s life for the better.

An arduous day, possibly the most physically demanding of the entire build. Suitably attired in heavy boots and leather gloves, “The Chop-chop Team” set to work once more. Lugging boulders and shovelling rocks the size of a fist, work reserved in previous years for convicts and navvies, was challenging even for our girls.

A lunchtime visitor to the site, Sister Jacyntha, of the local Franciscans, to thank the girls and check that the meals prepared by her order are up to
scratch. Proof of the latter was provided minutes later as the girls filled and emptied their plates in the usual enthusiastic manner. Inevitably, a casualty of the intense equatorial sun (the first, but possible not the last), poor Tavie found herself grounded in the tent for the afternoon. Translucent skin, even with factor 50 sunscreen, you can’t argue with the sun. However, you can argue with Ms. Reid (Surval Teacher of EFL), for quite a long time, apparently. Tavie, like the rest of the girls, wants to do her bit. We will improvise some neckerchiefs from extra t-shirts this evening to protect scorched necks. All the girls are happy that this stage is completed. The coming days of brickwork will be a breeze in comparison.


A Well Deserved Rest by Lake Victoria

Sunday 11 March 2018

Week one is complete, and all the girls are working really well together, being positive and very considerate towards each other and the staff. One of the girls (Vivi), even stated that the buses getting stuck in the mud was nothing to complain about, but an extra experience to remember. 

We have had some well deserved rest over the weekend, and this morning everyone enjoyed a lie-in followed by brunch.  We set off to Rusinga Island Lodge, just over an hour away, where some looked forward to pre-booked massages. Others were just happy to lie by the pool-side and cool off with an occasional dip. The setting at the Lodge was beautiful - on the side of Lake Victoria with lush lawns and giant trees spotted around. There was also a large open-sided bar/ restaurant to get some refreshments from, and the girls all seemed to really enjoy the day, including the music-filled bus journeys!

We got back to the hotel just before dinner - and just before another storm came along with it's power cuts! I looks like it's going to be a rainy second week, but James (Habitat for Humanity) promises it will be just brief showers. In which case we'll be able to quickly take shelter in the tent before getting back to work, and our progress shouldn't be effected too much. 

After dinner we all went into the very handy large conference room for the  normal evening meeting - but this time there was the extra surprise of Nastya's film. Thanks to the great hotel facilities, we were able to project the film and the girls were very moved by all the supportive and loving comments. They are really grateful to everyone involved in this little but very significant film, and the timing is perfect, just before week two of hard work starts.

Back to Work in the Rain

Monday 12 March 2018

After a relaxing weekend it was back to work today, and the girls said they were more tired than any of the days last week!  James (Habitat for Humanity) says that this is normal after a couple of days off, and tomorrow everyone should be back on form.  As it happened, the day was cut a little short due to a downpour (as hoped, it didn't rain for the whole day!), Some of the girls were reluctant to down tools, but the rain became so strong we all had to shelter in the tent. 

The work our Surval girls have already achieved is truly impressive and the local people are extremely pleased to have the group with them. There  is a strong sense of camaraderie which is truly wonderful to see. 

The girls left the hotel on foot for the first time this evening. James (Habitat for Humanity), Ms Sisson (Surval staff) and myself took six girls on a stroll to the local supermarket and then the pier which stretches out into Lake Victoria. Sakhi (our student from Swaziland) was able to explain all the different hair products and lotions to girls wanting to combat the drying heat, and a few chocolate bars were happily purchased. We headed down to the lake where lots of pictures were taken and we marvelled at the fish which had just been caught and the enormous storks perched on every lampost. 

Apart from tiredness, the girls are all well, and we all ate a hearty dinner - and are now looking forward to our beds!

Passion and Dedication to Complete the Project 

Tuesday 13 March 2018

The rain held off for long enough again today, and we were able to build another four layers of bricks on the house. It is now getting so high that only the tallest members of the team can work from outside, while the shorter girls are inside on the raised floor!  We will need to stand on something tomorrow as there are few more layers to add to the walls. Laying the bricks and then filling gaps with mortar seems to be everyone's favourite job. Today there was less of the hard manual work of hoeing and digging to level the ground; instead we had the easier, yet repetitive tasks of passing bricks along the human chain to move them into each room, straightening and cutting wire and the brick-laying. There was still some mixing of mortar to do though, and several girls have really thrown themselves into this tough job.

Overall our girls are finding this second week more challenging as they worked so hard last week and are now finding some of the work hard and repetitive - as to be expected after getting off to such a strong start. We only have one and a half days of building left now though, which is exciting to think about, and the girls are keen to try to beat the Surval team who were there last year in getting farther along in completing the project before they have to leave. Our girls are keen to achieve as much as they can in the last couple of days they have left! 

Today we had a late lunch and then went straight to the souvenir shop afterwards (which coincided well with the rain coming!). This was over an hour's drive, but was well worth it as all the girls enjoyed buying lots of presents. The shop supports the work of local women by selling items which they have carved from soap-stone, so our girls were very keen to support women in the local community.  

The Kenya Project Coming to an End 

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Today was our last full day of work and yet again, the group exceeded the expectations of James (Habitat for Humanity) and the local builders. Now that the walls are above head-height, we have to use scaffolding and progress is a little slower, yet we still managed to put up another three rows. Other tasks included cement mixing as usual, plus a lot of new skills were learnt for wire cutting, bending and binding to make reinforcing beams. We produced three 30m long beams, which required several stages of cutting and bending metal rods and wire - straightening the rebar itself demanded a lot of strength and persistence in particular, but our girls made light work of it!

The girls are really excited and proud of what they have achieved and look forward to the prospect of one more morning of work left and the the dedication ceremony tomorrow.  

On Friday we will be heading to Nairobi where we will have our final cultural day in Kenya which includes a safari, visiting an elephant orphanage and a giraffe centre. 

Well done to all of our Surval girls for two successful weeks of building houses in Kenya!

Thank you to the contributions by Ms Reid (Teacher of English as an Additional Language) and Ms Geldard (Teacher of English and Psychology) for sharing the Kenya Project journey of our girls in this blog. 

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