Category Archives: africa

A sweet and simple thank you from a girl who survived a brain tumour.

20140430-grace
Thank you note from the little girl Grace in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Impoverished Children http://www.impoverishedchildren.com

Pleased to share with you this thank you note from the little girl Grace in Kenya who was diagnosed with a brain tumour earlier this year. When funds were short to pay for medical care, a small group of people came together via Facebook to raise the money she needed. She subsequently underwent brain surgery and has recovered. Here she is, back at her school in Nairobi, with a message in her own words. That’s her with her mother and the school’s principal Catherine Whiting.Isn’t she cute? This great story reminds me of that quote from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 

In the place where I was most happy, I believe I also learned how to be more grateful. This has had an incredible impact on my life.

I believe it was while I lived in Malawi that I finally learned how to look for, find, and appreciate the little things in life, instead of just accidentally stumbling upon them. There was something I discovered in the Malawian people that filled me with joy – happiness, a satisfaction, an interest in others, deep echoing laughs, and beautiful smiles. I saw that they had genuine interest in the well-being of others. The place was not always a barrel of laughs for me – work didn’t always go smoothly, I sometimes had trouble finding diabetic-friendly foods, the power and/or the water would go out about once a day – but it taught me to be more resilient, helped me learn to live with less, and most of all, that I could find wonder and awesomeness in these incredible little moments during the day. In every day of my life now and frequently during those days, I find myself feeling grateful for the things that happen around me. The smile from a homeless man on the street, the succulent taste of a juicy red apple, and the glorious green of the leaves on the trees as summer approaches. This is what carpe diem means to me.

Mountain gorilla eating a tree in Rwanda

SONY DSC
A mountain gorilla is eating a tree in Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda. © Edward Taylor

This is the mountain gorilla eating lunch in its natural habitat in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. The gorilla is part of a family of about a dozen other gorillas of which there are only about 900-1000 known to remain in the wild. To find the family, we spent several hours trekking through the dense jungle thicket guided by park rangers. At the time the permit cost $500 which gets you the guided trek and a maximum of 1 hour in close proximity to the gorilla family (apparently it now costs $950). Although we were not allowed to get closer than 3m, at one point, a gorilla looked at me and came closer… and then ambled past me on the path, just a couple of feet from me. I was scared shitless. Although still considered critically endangered, the Government of Rwanda has done a good job protecting these gorillas and conserving their habitat using the funds from the permit program and the population is slowly increasing again. This photo was taken by Edward Taylor, one of the members of our trekking group.

Little Grace recovers from brain surgery in Kenya

Hi everyone,

A quick update on the little girl Grace in Nairobi who had a brain tumour and severe stomach pain and who had no funds to pay for medical care. (Through Facebook, we raised thousands of dollars to sponsor her care.)

As you know they removed the tumour and she responded very positively. The latest news is that her doctors are pleased with her recovery progress and she is finally well enough to go home. Grace no longer has any pain or swelling in her head or stomach. They are going to continue monitoring her condition.

Grace and her mother would like to thank everyone who donated money, sent her messages and prayed for her during her illness.

If you have any questions, please let me know. You can continue to follow Grace’s process and the activities at the school where she goes by subscribing to updates from Impoverished Children on Facebook.

Grace 001 - FB Tag
Grace is recovering well following the removal of a brain tumour. © Catherine Whiting / Impoverished Children

Woman collecting water in Kauma, Malawi

Woman collecting water in Kauma, Malawi
Woman collecting water in Kauma, Malawi

A woman and children gathering water in a village near Lilongwe, Malawi. She’s lucky to have access to a water source but the water she’s collecting might not be safe to drink. There are at least two reasons: 1) the lack of a proper drainage system means that dirty water collecting around the pump may be contaminating the groundwater that supplies the pump and 2) the container she is using to collect the water is not covered meaning that dirty flies and fingers can get to it.

A story by a 5-year-old

SAM_0970-resizeFor the last week, I’ve been visiting with “my” kids at the school in Kibera, Kenya. I call them mine because over the last two years I have grown to love them so much. Here is a snap of one of the girls at the school. She is just 5 years old and is already reading and writing at a level that is about 6 to 12 months ahead of the average child in a school in Canada or the USA (that’s the whole idea, actually). Below is a story she wrote for me/about me and a picture she drew of me in the first lesson I ever gave as a “teacher”. How cool is that? This child (and 101 others like her) were selected out of hundreds of applicants as being most in need of help. At this school, these vulnerable children are given the opportunity to grow, and thrive and ultimately reach their full potential as health, happy human beings. This is happiness!

“Teacher Rayn is come agen.
I am veri hppe (happy).
Teacher Rayn is veri big.
Teacher Rayn is have gril (girlfriend).
Teacher Rayn is in school.
Teacher Rayn come with Catherine.
Teacher Rayn is have bug (backpack).
Teacher Rayn is lik waking (walking).”

By a 5-year-old girl supported by Shine Academy, run by Catherine Whiting and Javier Martinez

Day safari at Nairobi National Park, Kenya

20130512-safari-061_web
Giraffe crossing the safari trail in front of our van

We just got back from a day safari (a morning and an afternoon game drive) to Nairobi National Park and are absolutely thrilled about our experience. It blew all our expectations out of the water. We went hoping to see a lion and came away having seen almost an entire pride (8 cubs and 3 adult females but no males) at a single site – park officials later told us that pride has a total of 11 cubs. We also saw a wide array of other wildlife: serval cat, giraffes, rhinos (black & white), ostrich, impala, guinea fowl and other birds, turtle, a dead black mamba, hippopotamus, cape buffalo, water buffalo, warthog, and hart beast. We were particularly pleased about the rhinos and the serval cat. We even saw a dung beetle at work – pretty cool!

Total cost for the day for both of us was US$200, which got us park entry, our own 4×4 safari van with an open top roof (basically a converted matatu-style van) and a driver/guide and two game drives. We capped off our day with a visit to the Nairobi Animal Orphanage – a zoo located right after the park entrance (note: there is a separate fee for this attraction). If you have kids, a visit to the orphanage before or after your safari would give them a chance to get up close to the animals they are seeing.

Park officials were professional and well-organised, and there are three restaurant facilities available, including a gift shop. The park land itself was very clean, good signage/directions throughout, and a well-maintained network of roads.

Quick tips:

– If you hire a taxi driver to take you on the safari, it will be cheaper but you will probably lose out on the conversations and valuable insight shared between guides about where all the animals are.

– In the wet season, the grasses are long and can obscure the view from a small car, such as a sedan. Roads can be wet and there were a few paths where a 4×4 was necessary. So we suggest you hire a 4×4 with an open roof top. This will allow you to stick your head out and scan the landscape for animals instead of craning your neck out a window. Remember that half the fun of a safari is just looking for the animals!

-We are told the best times to see lions are in the early morning and the late afternoon when the temperature is much cooler and they are likely to be walking around, hunting. But on our trip, we saw the lions at about 10:30am/11:00am.

– Park entry fees (currently US$40 each for adult tourists) are valid for only one entry to the park. But if you park your car just inside the entrance, you can go for lunch for an hour and then continue your game drive in the afternoon. Your guide may tell you parking is not allowed. But the park warden said we were welcome to go ahead and do that. Definitely try to do two game drives if you have time – this is great if you missed things in the morning and want to try again in the afternoon. You’re also sure to get more great photos ops the second time around!

Having been on two amazing weekend safaris before (Masai Mara, Kenya and Liwonde National Park, Malawi), I had kept my expectations low for this day safari but I can say this is a definite must if you have time in Nairobi. This was a fantastic experience and well worth the money and much more affordable than doing a weekend trip to a more far-flung safari destination that requires plane, hotel, etc.

This review is also published on Trip Advisor.

Nairobi, Kenya

I am in Nairobi, Kenya for 12 days visiting friends and colleagues. While I’m here, I’ll give a lesson to schoolchildren on hand-washing and household water treatment, go on a day safari, and try to get out to far-flung areas like Lake Naivasha or Nakuru which I did not have the chance to visit on previous travels in Kenya. Nairobi is the capital of Kenya and home to at least 3 million people. One of the most “connected” cities on the continent in terms of its technology infrastructure and air travel connections, Nairobi is a base for many multinational NGOs and companies serving the needs of the rapidly growing economies and populations of African countries.