Monday, August 6, 2012

Work Day 1

Picture this: to the right lies a previously empty field, now criss-crossed with half dug trenches.  a mixture of Kenyans and Canadians swing shovels and hoes cutting their way through the reddish-brown soil.  At the far end of the worksite more scouts shuttle large stones to a pile for later use in the building’s foundation. The worksite is a large rectangle covered with piles of rocks, bricks and dirt and workers.  Several chickens and three 5-week old puppies wander the area.  To the left is a jerry-rigged shelter, under which Scouts rest, sharing stories.  In front of this is a plethora of community members, dignitaries and laughter.  Schoolchildren dance, laugh and interact with Canadian Scouts, smiling for the cameras.  Community members find ways to spend their day in and around the clinic, staring down the mzungu (non-derogitory term in Kiswahili for white people).  Behind, patients wait in lines for the clinic, curious about the construction.  The air is alive with happiness and excitement.
The day started off with an improvised breakfast, fruit salad, toast and scrambled eggs.  After cleaning up we piled into our rented van for the 4.2 km trip to the worksite.  Although vans here seat up to 15, our large number requires a shuttle.  While awaiting the second run the Canya patrol interacted with our Kenyan Scouting counterparts and began to put faces to names by playing a name game (where forgetting a name three times requires a dance in the centre of the circle). The Kenyans may have known less names but they sure did show us up with their dancing.  We learned they range in age from 18-22 and only one came from Shiru (the rest came from villages as far as 30 km away).  Soon the whole team was coming together as an international group.  In the meantime, the advisors and Brandon travelled to the nearby town of Hamisi, the regional administrative centre, to meet with local dignitaries and discuss our project.  They learned the Shiru clinic serves a community of 200,000 and treats approximately 5,000 patients a month.   They also were told the clinic does not have a dedicated doctor, just an administrator/director with nurse practicioner background.  This project has attracted Provincial Government attention.  While the leaders talked, Brandon posted overdue blogs on the office computer (apparently the only one with an Internet connection within 25 km).
The opening ceremony began when they returned.  It started with a tree planted next to one planted 22 years ago by Canadian Scouts.  In the open area adjacent to the worksite a tent had been erected and we sat under it with local dignitaries.  A large group of invited local residents sat to one side, while clinic employees and their families stood and sat to the other.  About one hundred curious onlookers occupied every available vantage point.  Once everyone was settled an honour guard (a mix of Kenyans and confused Canadians) marched in with a unique step and then raised the Kenyan flag.  After the Kenyan national anthem the speeches began.  All had a common theme: praise for the project.  Guests and dignitaries pledged support, some of it verbal, some of it tangible:  two tractor loads of sand, a load of locally-made bricks and some government funding - six million Kenyan Shillings (about $7,100 CAD).  Even though the ceremony was (much) longer than expected, the dancing and music afterward more than compensated.  The strong community support for this project was obvious.  Even more, infrastructure improvement is a link in a chain of upgrades that may lead to the clinic being classed at a higher level by the Ministry of Health (a higher level would mean more government financial support and the assignment of a full-time doctor).
After lunch the true work began.  Trenching was the first task and the 20 metre by 13 metre foundation had to be dug down to “red soil” (undisturbed soil).   The site had a slight slope, which meant the trenches were as much as five feet deep in places.  Only hand tools were used – a jembe (earthmoving hoe) and shovels, most with hand-carved shafts and broken blades.  The going was tough, but the workers were many - a combination of paid and unpaid Kenyan labourers, Kenyan Rover Scouts, Canadian scouts, and volunteers from the community.  An order of hardcore (granite stones up to 40 kg) was delivered to the worksite by ancient Massey Ferguson tractors, but a steep embankment forced the drivers to dump the material outside the clinic fence.  All the stones had to me moved by hand and we set up an efficient line to pass the stones from outside to inside.
Working together we were a significant force. The dirt didn't stand a chance, and neither did the massive pile of stones we moved. 
Work day 1: complete.
by Caitlind and Eric Post

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