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As I said earlier, I arrived at Lewa at the end of the summer holiday. On September 3rd, a lot of the children had to make their way back to school.

The majority of the Lewa children go to the Kipkeino school. The school belongs to Lewa and is located just on the other side of the road. It is ranked one of the best schools in the entire country and many of its students come from the region’s elite.

The Kipkeino school

The Kipkeino school

It is a unique opportunity for the Lewa children to be able to study (tuition-free) in a competitive environment, to get the same quality education that children from privileged families receive. That said, they still face tough challenges.

Being an orphan carries a huge social stigma in Kenya. Who your parents are and where you come from are a big part of who you are. Children are often called “son of” or “daughter of.” That means orphans are missing that essential part of their identity.

And as in many other schools around the world, your economic background doesn’t go unnoticed either. Phyllis does what she can to level the playing field. But, in the end, she can only afford the essentials. No fancy shoes, no fashionable jeans, no accessories or jewelry.

So, when we walked the Lewa children to Kipkeino for the beginning of the new semester, and I saw them carrying their belongings in plastic bags, my heart sunk. The other students were taken to school by their parents. And they had all the accessories that give kids their age a social edge: a Hello Kitty toothbrush cup, a Nike sweater, a brassiere!

The Lewa students’ inventory was painstakingly short: the bare minimum, what was required by the school, nothing more. Nisha, Susan and I helped each of them to go through the list, made their beds and kissed them goodbye. Janice, a 10 year old in class 5, had sneaked in a Disney princesses puzzle that she must have taken from the Lewa play room. I don’t think she was allowed to take things from the play room, and really the game was more adapted for a 5-year old than for a girl her age. But when I saw the look on her face, holding this little pink box as if it were the only thing she had ever owned for herself, all I could say was: “This is so nice!” She was holding a small treasure.

I hope we can keep helping Phyllis so that she doesn’t have to worry every single day about how she’s going to feed her children or pay for their medical bills and that one day, Janice can have a Disney princess back pack, or a Hello Kitty toothbrush holder…

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Cheese!

Cheese, Gouda to be more precise, is a very important part of life at the Lewa Children’s Home. Not that it is present in the children’s diet – they prefer their milk in a liquid, fermented form (called mala) – but because it is sold to families and businesses throughout Kenya and even all the way to Uganda and Europe!

This is gouda

This is gouda

The Baraka Farm, masterfully managed and developed by Dutch farmer Jos Creemers for the past 20 years, produces milk, fruits, vegetables, maize, meat and the famous Gouda for the children of Lewa and for sale on the local market. The proceeds from the sales are used to support the orphanage’s daily operational expenses. As any agri-business owner knows, this is not easy; because you first need to cover your own production costs…

Jos checks on his cows

Jos checks on his cows

Bread and Water for Africa UK has recently funded the expansion of the Cheese kitchen. The building is completed and the machines are ready to be shipped from Holland. This new facility will allow the Baraka Farm to process almost all of its milk (currently 500.000 Liters of milk per year!!) into cheese, which sells at a higher price than the unprocessed milk. The new cheese factory will even be able to purchase milk from the local dairy farmers in Eldoret, ensuring them a fair and stable income.

The new Baraka Farm cheese factory

The new Baraka Farm cheese factory

The new cheese factory, once fully operational, will therefore generate a significant additional income for the Home. This has always been a major goal for Phyllis: to become self-sufficient and stop relying exclusively on donations. In the current economic climate, the implementation of these projects, with crucial investments from Bread and Water for Africa, couldn’t have been more timely. It is still a long way until Lewa becomes financially independent – as a children’s Home, it may never be – but these carefully planned and forward-thinking projects allow the Home to make long-term plans for their children. For Phyllis, as for any mother, her children’s future is the number one priority.

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6:00 am – An hour I generally consider the middle of the night. Not at Lewa. 6:00am is when the children’s home comes to life. Young voices trickle through the dormitory, then the hallway, gradually gaining numbers and force until there’s a full-blown cacophony in the playground, just beyond my window pane.

The early morning also marks the start of a working day at Lewa, where Phyllis’s small staff of social workers tackles large-scale child rearing with the speed and efficiency that would be the envy of most parents. The “older kids”—age five and up—are seasoned veterans by now and don’t need much help getting ready. But the toddlers—and there are dozens of them—are shepherded through an assembly line of morning routines.

The kids are soaped and rinsed by a staffer who sends them onto the next station where they get dried, one after the other, using a single towel that gradually dampens. At station three, the kids are rubbed with body oil and assigned their clothes for the day.

Today I’m on-hand and desperately want to help. So I’m toweling off kids who aren’t quite dry and attending to the final phase of the process: helping them into their pants and t-shirts, pulling chubby limbs through sleeves and cuffs. For some of them, this is just a game. They can actually dress on their own but are happy to take advantage of my ignorance of this fact. I help them pick their outfits, and they soak up the extra attention from a grown up. They also get an extra kiss.

Getting dressed

Getting a bit overwhelmed here

My sudden appearance on the scene has also set off a feeding frenzy of sorts. On most days, Lewa’s 106 kids are competing for the attention of Phyllis, who they call “mom.” Today I have the honor of being the center of attention. I don’t speak their native Kiswahili, but the language barrier melts away as I get a crash course in emergency terms. “Pole pole” means “Slow down.” “Godja!” is “Wait!” while “Cudja” means “Come here.” And of course, “Hapana!” for “No!”

Breakfast

Finally ready for breakfast

By the end of the day, my own t-shirt can be thrown directly into the washing machine. I’m also adapting to the rhythms of the house, ready for bed and fast asleep at 9:00pm.

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What does it take to care for 106 small children—all at once? That question loomed over my trip to Lewa Children’s Home, an orphanage at the northwestern edge of Kenya funded by Bread and Water for Africa. As a fundraiser, the question first came to me in the abstract: 106 mouths to feed. How do you get it done? How much food, supplies and labor is required just to keep Lewa going? The project is made up of three interlocking parts: the orphanage that raises the kids; the school that educates them; and the farm that produces their food and income. And the closer you get to Lewa–once you fly over continents, cross the vast plains of Kenya and find yourself face-to-face with 106 other little faces–you realize that the endeavor is even more complex than you thought. But more on that later. First, I had to actually get there…

Laundry hanging at the Lewa Children's Home

Children’s laundry

I travelled to the Lewa Children’s Home on August 30th, after having spent a few days in a Catholic mission in Karungu, on Lake Victoria. I arrived two hours early to catch the local bus(or matatu) that runs between the town of Kisii and Eldoret, the closest city to the Lewa Home.  By the time the bus came, it was so crowded that there was only one seat left: An unenviable space wedged between the driver and other passengers to his right. That implied riding over 200 kilometers of bumpy roads with the stick shift between my knees. So, with a little bit of arguing and the support of strategic alliances I had formed with other passengers during the wait, I managed to finagle a more comfortable seat in the second row. Despite the heavy rain and the fact that no one had the faintest idea of when we were scheduled to arrive, the ride was relatively comfortable. (It’s worth noting that I had actually snagged a seat on a “luxury” matatu).

Matatu bus

A Matatu bus

Phyllis Keino, the founder of Lewa Children’s Home, was waiting for me at the gas station in Eldoret, where I disembarked. We then drove another thirty minutes to reach Baraka Farm, the 200 acre cheese and dairy farm that hosts the Lewa Home.

When I arrived, the children were getting ready for bed. On the say to my room I passed the dormitory and glimpsed a flurry of small bodies jostling into their beds, which were lined up in neat rows. By the time I got back from dropping off my suitcase, it was too late. The kids were all tucked in. Exhausted by a long day on the road, I had a delicious dinner with Phyllis and Jos and went to bed. Outside my window the night air hummed with insects. The quiet before the storm…

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During my stay in Kenya, I will be hosted by our volunteer spokesperson Phyllis Keino at the Lewa Children’s Home (pictured below). 
The brand new Lewa Children's Home dormitory

Phyllis’ dedication to caring for the orphaned and abandoned children of Kenya began in the 1970s when two dear friends of her family died in a car crash, leaving their two young children without a family to care for them.  She and her former husband, Olympic gold medalist Kip Keino, recognized the plight of children in their community and began taking in more and more little ones as the years went on. In 1975, they purchased a farm in Eldoret, Kenya in order to build a proper home for their growing family. 

The revamped Children’s Home, shown above, was constructed with the help of Bread and Water for Africa.  This 108-room dormitory opened its doors in 2007 and has proved to be a safe, cozy home for the Lewa kids.  Today, the Home cares for 85 children and sponsors another 102 in surrounding communities with scholarships so that they can receive a quality education – something that is often hard to come by in rural communities in Kenya.

All of the children of the Lewa Children’s Home are enrolled in the Kipkeino Primary School (pictured below). 

Kipkeino Primary School

This School, founded by the Keinos in 2000, is currently ranked Kenya’s 5th best primary school.  Not only are the Lewa kids getting the love and care that they need at the Home, they are also receiving one of the finest primary educations in all of Kenya!  A steadily increasing number of the Lewa children are receiving scores high enough to move onto secondary school, and a few are even currently enrolled in Kenyan universities.

The Lewa Children’s Home and Kipkeino School are both provided with fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products and produce by the adjoining Baraka Farm, run by Dutch farmer Jos Creemers (Jos and Farm pictured below). 

Jos explaining planting techniques to local farmers at the Baraka Farm

This farm not only provides nutritious foods to the children of the Home and students at the School, but it also sells surplus goods at it’s Baraka Farm store. All proceeds go to benefit all of the Lewa projects. The farm also serves as an example to local farmers who are given access to technical training and farming technique demonstrations which help them to re-work their own land in order to increase productivity.

During my stay in Eldoret, I will be visiting all three of these exemplary programs. Please check back for stories, updates, photos, and more!

 

(Thanks to condron.us for your help with traffic!)

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