The Tourist v The Resident

We often get short term visitors here in Kenya, some for just a night, others for a week. Not many come for a couple of weeks as they’re usually passing through on their way to another country. We always go out of our way for visitors, but I think they assume that’s how it always is. For our last visitor we bought bacon but I don’t think he has a clue that we only buy bacon once or twice a year – it’s way out of our budget.

We’ve been living here for 5 years and before that travelling back and forth for another 5. The longer we are the more interesting observations we’ve made.

 

Clothing

Tourists like to wear khaki coloured shorts or shirts. Naturally, when they go out on safari, this is the chosen colour. They also wear funny looking sandals. Too often, we see people wearing inappropriate clothing – like super short/tight shorts – it doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

As a resident, you know to wear covered in shoes because its so dusty and the ground dirty. I’m always jealous of Africa women because they can get away with brightly coloured clothes. Me, I’m just emerging into florals. Khaki is only for safaris that’s for sure. Unfortunately we are seeing more locals wear shorter clothing but nowhere near what we see in the West – thankfully.

tourist

 

Photos

Yep, you can spot the tourists as they all hang their cameras around their necks. They whip out a camera and take a billion and one shots – without asking the person. They are happy to shove a camera in the face of a stranger and snap away and then wonder why the person asks for money.

As a local you learn pretty fast that you don’t win friends that way. No one likes having their photo taken without permission. It’s also not safe to walk around with a camera. Nothing says ‘steal from me’ than a camera on your body.

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Security

I feel afraid for people when I see them walking around as it gets dark. It starts getting dark at 6.45pm and pitch dark by 7pm, it happens that fast – every day. I also see people on the back of motorbike taxis with no helmet or safety gear. It’s not like you can grow another head or anything!

Our daughter Liz travels lots of places on the back of a bike, but only if she wears a bright protective jacket and she has her own helmet. Once, her driver skidded on mud while he was taking a short cut and she ended up on the ground. It totally shook her up but reinforced the need for safety gear. We try not to drive long distances when its dark, there’s just too many people who walk around and vehicles without any lights to make it worth it. You have to have a plan if you want to last long term here. That includes not walking around when it starts getting dark. There’s been way to many muggings for that.

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Money

Tipping isn’t compulsory here but when you get good service, it’s appreciated. Our biggest note is 1,000 shillings, equivalent to $10USD. At one meal out with some visitors someone dropped in a whole 1,000 shillings, against our protests. For him it was nothing, but for us we could see the ongoing issues with it. The waiter was impressed because he was getting a great amount, but then it reinforces the thought ‘all foreigners are wealthy and we ‘poor Africans’ should be looked after’.

If we are just getting a coffee, we’ll give 50 shillings (65 cents), if it’s a meal, it will be 100 shillings ($1.30). If there’s a large group we’ll add another one hundred shillings. You have to think about the affect of what you do on the communities you work with.

 

So when you come, and we hope you do, please listen to us – we might just know a thing or two about the place, the culture, the people. This is their home, this is our home.

 

Tsavo Conservancy

It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been to a wildlife park that has elephants in it, and I really wanted to get away this Christmas to see them. Elephants eat a lot of food (100-300kg’s) and drink lots of water (190litres) and not all parks can cater for them. They also have routes that they follow.

sign

So, off we went to a place called the Tsavo Conservancy.

camp-sign

In theory it should take 6 hours to drive there from Nairobi, but with trucks going ridiculously slow (think 40km’s per hour) and traffic thick because of the holidays it took us 7 hours. It’s an easy drive and the road is in pretty good condition until just after Voi, where it’s advisable to fill up on petrol.

cheetah-licking

We stayed at a place called Rukinga, one of 7 ranches that form the Tsavo Conservancy. Cara, my contact there gave very clear directions (which is unusual here). We signed in at the gate and kept following the directions to the camp. I said we’d get there at 3.30pm and we did.

hornbill-staring

What surprised me the most was the quietness. After being in a noisy city the quiet was almost deafening. I was also surprised that there were very few people around. I assumed because it was coming up to Christmas that the place would be overflowing with visitors. There was just the three of us and a group of eleven people from Nairobi. It was ironic that the group actually lived in the same suburb we do. The next day a family of three from Germany were going to join the camp.

ele-eating

Rukinga is split into three areas. There’s the tenting and self catering area. There’s Nduvo House which is a two story building with three huge bedrooms, it’s own kitchen and a couple of open space lounges. That’s where the large group were staying.

And then there was our area.

There are bandas which either have bunk beds in them or like ours, a two room with a bathroom in between. There’s an outdoor eating area as well as a bar and an open area for the lounge. Unfortunately there’s no pool, which, with the sweltering weather would’ve been appreciated. However, we would’ve had to fight the elephants for it had there been one.

camp-grounds

One of the things we quickly discovered is that the wifi that was advertised, did not exist. I was bummed out because we really wanted to Skype the kids on Christmas Day.

nduvo-lounge

Our time there was spent on early morning and late afternoon safaris. The best thing we had done was to pay for a jeep and driver to go on the three drives. There was also a guide who was on the lookout for animals. One the first afternoon we were there we drove ourselves and saw – nothing. The guides know the habits of the animals, their feeding and watering grounds, as well as how to get good photographs.

I hate it when drivers become impatient and want to get on to the next animal ‘fix’. We like to watch, observe and get a million and one photos. Sometimes you just need to enjoy the beauty in front of you through real eyes and not just a lens. Our guides were fantastic.

guides

I do have to say that the meals provided were really basic, but we figured it out before we left. We didn’t go hungry, but the meals weren’t flash. Our Christmas lunch was spaghetti and tomato puree. Not anything to rave about. However, there was always fruit at the end of every meal, and the mangoes were to die for.

While having no wifi at the camp, we managed to find it when on safari. We even managed to call the kids in New Zealand on their Christmas morning, which was great.

But I guess that’s what getting away is really about. Getting away from all the hassles of daily life, getting connected to the world and not a device, take a break to breathe.

If you visit the Tsavo Conservancy I suggest a couple of things:

  1. Take a book, games and cards.
  2. Definitely pay for a safari guide and driver – you can see much more from their vehicles.

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The staff at the Conservancy were of some of the highest I’ve experienced. They went out of their way to make sure our stay was the best one possible. We liked it so much, that we’ve decided to return in April.

Why not take a weekend out from the city and visit the Tsavo Conservancy, it might just do you some good.

5 Reasons why you SHOULD visit Africa

I often see these posts on Facebook of which country ranks as the best to visit and why, even in Kenya. Many of them are fabricated and one-sided, so I thought I’d give a more realistic list of reasons you should give it a go:

No Regrets

The reason we decided to relocate here was because we didn’t want to get to 70 years of age and go “If only”. We all have some regrets throughout our lives so why add more to it.

kids with raq 1

Bigger World View

The world is not all white, middle-class and English speaking. When our girls finished high school we all went off to East Africa for 2 months. We caught public transport, stayed at $2 backpackers, ate what the locals ate and had a blast. It helped them to see that the world is an adventure playground and there’s some really nice people in it.

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Crap Happens Everywhere

I often hear people say ‘don’t go to Africa, it’s too dangerous’. Here’s some news ‘bad stuff happens all over the world, every hour, every minute’. You have no guarantees that if you stay in your home country that you’re going to be safe. I often get people asking me if it’s okay when there’s an Ebola outbreak (wrong side of the continent), a bombing (if we’re alive it’s a good) or a fellow Kiwi or Aussie is injured (did we know them). Remember, bombs go off in Indonesia, London, Middle East and the US. A café was held up by a crazy dude in Sydney and the whole country went on alert. Schools in the US are often reported to have gunmen going through them. It wasn’t that long ago that people were up in arms about 2 Aussies executed in Bali – but people still go there.

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There’s Things You’ll Only Experience Here

We live about 30 minutes from the Nairobi National Park where there is pretty much every wild animal except elephants (need a bigger place than that). We drove around for 8 hours last week and saw some exceptional groups of animals. Kenya has 25 national parks, 14 national reserves and 7 marine parks. And that’s just in Kenya alone. Imagine with 53 other countries what your experience could be. There’s also the adventure sports, culture and unique food to this part of the world. Not many can say they went white water rafting on the Nile.

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Travel On The Ground Is Cheap

Getting here would probably be the most expensive part of your trip. Once you’re here though, local travel, food and entertainment is pretty cheap compared to other places in the world. I can catch a bus to Uganda from Kenya for around $25, a private shuttle to Tanzania for around the same. You can get beef stew and rice for $2.50. Of course, there’s the other end of the spectrum where you can pay through the nose for services and entertainment, it all depends on your budget.

elephant crossing

Sure, I could go on about the wonderful friendships you’ll make, the unique encounters you’ve had or the different cultural practices you’ve discovered but it’s much more than that. It’s something you can’t explain in proper words to your friends when you return home. There are wonderful memories and experiences that only people who’ve been to this part of the world will understand.

The question is – what is really stopping you from visiting?

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Ol Pejeta

We thought we’d be clever and have a mid-week break instead of trying to battle traffic on the long weekend (Madaraka Day). I had always wanted to head up to the Mount Kenya region, where we’d never been, and so we settled on going to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, just outside of Nanyuki.

cranes kissing

Their website is full of info but quite complicated to make bookings on. Eventually we got to book our tent site, which is something we have wanted to do for some time. Our tent hadn’t been used for over a year and we’ve got all of the accessories so all we had to do was to get food and get going.

perfect eagle

We were so surprised on how good the roads were heading out that way. We expected potholes all over the place and even though the website said it would take 3 hours to get there, we allowed for 4. We had only been as far as Sagana in the past and had stopped at a great resort/café.

Setting up our home

Setting up our home

In typical Kenyan style the resort only had half of the things on the menu, but at least it had decent toilets.

The trip was pretty non eventful except for being pulled up by a policeman for speeding 5km’s over the limit of 100kmph. Note that there are no speed signs, no speed radars and we were going up a very steep hill at about 90kmph. Here you don’t argue with the police. At first he demanded 10,000kshs about $120. We had two options, talk him down or go back to the same area the next day to face court and pay ‘a fee’. Corruption is a filthy thing and destroys the country. The officer knew we had no choice but to pay, in the end we got away with $30. We grumbled for the next hour because we knew we were only pulled up because we were white.

The weather started caving in as we got closer to the Mount Kenya National Park. Then it started raining – heavily.

Greys Zebras are endangered

Greys Zebras are endangered

Thankfully by the time we got to the conservancy it had cleared up, just in time for us to put our tent up.

Of course, we had to find the place we had booked. Simple instructions, go right, then left and follow through to you see the sign for the Ol Lerai campsite. We got there and saw a small rusted sign that said ‘campsite’. There was no water, firewood nor latrines as promised. Just a river and a really bad area for a tent. We were ticked, thinking we had spent a considerable amount of money (for us) for a dodgy site. After a few frantic calls to the managers we found out our actual site was through some trees and on a rough dirt track to the most amazing site. Sort of like a cul de sac made of dirt that was surrounded by a rushing river.

Morning neighbours

Morning neighbours

And there was a large family of elephants right beside us.

That night was spent erecting the tent, getting the fire going, cooking dinner and listening to the wildlife around us.

I have to say that Pete and I didn’t sleep much because elephants were trumpeting, I’m sure I heard a lion roaring and there were definitely warthogs outside our tent. Something spent a long time outside our tent chewing at a tree.

big horns

There was no way I was visiting the latrine in the middle of the night!

The next day we spent around 8 hours in the car looking at the wildlife. I had seen a lion and lioness about 20 metres from our tent on the other side of the river that morning and we knew it was going to be a good day of viewing. There are a lot more elephants here than what we thought.

The cool thing about camping is that we could call back to our site for lunch. Again to be greeted by elephants.

Baraka with one of his carers

Baraka with one of his carers

Today we also got to see Baraka, the blind black rhino. The poor guy got a cataract in one eye then went blind in the other from fighting. We also visited the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. It’s actually within the park and we found out that the whole area used to be called Sweetwaters. Chimpanzees are not native to Kenya and all of the 38 chimps they rescued had been in conflict, mistreated or abandoned. Someone had posted that it was like a zoo, but the area we saw was massive 250 acre enclosure. We were really impressed with it.

elephant hiding

We slept much better the next night because we were so exhausted.

One of the main reasons to come to Ol Pejeta was to see the world’s last remaining five northern white rhinos. It’s definitely worth paying for. They are guarded 24/7 and they also have their horns sawed off to dissuade poachers. There were also Greys Zebras who are endangered. Who would’ve thought that a zebra was on it’s last legs!

Max

Max

The bummer about camping is that you have to pack everything up. Mind you we had been really lucky with the weather as there had been no rain at all over our stay. The cool thing about camping is being right in the middle of wildlife. At night we would put marshmallows on a stick and heat them up.

The trip home was uneventful, except we had to lug the tent, sleeping bags, clothes and cooler box up 4 flights of stairs. In another week we head to Kisumu to do it all over again.

Amazing sunrises greeted us each day

Amazing sunrises greeted us each day

Camping is definitely the way to go. However, if you plan on doing it at Ol Pejeta, definitely hire a night guard, you might sleep better than what we did!

rhino 3

Safari at the Nairobi National Park

Last Monday was Heroes Day here in Kenya, for us, that meant a day off. We haven’t been to a national park for the entire year. That is shameful considering we have 15 national parks and even more so conservancies in the country.

2 giraffes 3 Because we’re residents and have an ID, we get in ridiculously cheap compared to tourists. Instead of paying $50 to get in, it only cost us $10.

baby zebra We packed snacks and hit the road by 7am. I love the traffic on public holidays and Sundays, where it’s pretty minimal. What takes us 15 minutes on a Sunday can take 2 hours during the week. Of course, we had to do the mandatory stopoff for gas. The last thing you want is to run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere.

billed bird Getting into a national park is no easy feat. First, you have to go through your car getting checked by security and they ask you where you are going (as if they’ll remember). Then you have to get a safari card from one office, get in your car, wait in line to go through the main gate and sign in your car. If there are lots of people it can take a good 30 minutes to get through.

in grass Once we were paid in, checked out and signed in, we were off. To be honest, I was quite sceptical about what animals we would see. We’ve been to some amazing parks in Kenya. Amboseli has a huge amount of elephants while Nakuru has a lot of water life and closeups of a variety of animals. We’ve even cycled through Hell’s Gate. We are so lucky to live in a country where you can see some amazing wildlife.

weird 2 The last time I went to the Nairobi National Park I didn’t see much as I was stuck in the back of a vehicle, so anything I saw had to be better than this. I had to say, I was super impressed by what I saw.

Yes, these are hippos.

Yes, these are hippos.

Sure there were plenty of buffaloes, wildebeest, zebras and gazelles. However, to see at least 8 giraffes and 2 massive rhinos. We didn’t see a lion but they haven’t seen them there for ages. We figured that the two huge humps in the lake were hippos. Hippos can stay under water for 30 minutes, but we didn’t hang around that long.

angry baboonI didn’t know there was a lake inside the park, but there is. There’s even some places you can go (for a fee) with an armed guard on a walk through a certain area. With baboons and the such around, you need a guard. We didn’t do it because we hate paying for a ‘service’ when they’re already getting paid.

Where we got stuck

Where we got stuck

Going around the lake was a highlight of my day. Not because of the amazing birdlife that is there but because we got stuck. There are stacks of people travelling around the park and we had just passed a Land Rover full of white people who we found out were Kenyans (they sounded British), they called themselves ‘Vanilla Gorillas’ and were well into their 70’s. They told us there was a small muddy part just ahead but we should be able to get through it. We got to the mudhole and I remember saying “Go around it” when Pete suddenly went straight through the middle of it and within seconds we were stuck like nobody’s business.

Our rescuers

Our rescuers

We weren’t going anywhere.

We weren't going anywhere

We weren’t going anywhere

Pete immediately jumped out to give it a push – it only got stuck further. Thankfully the white Kenyans returned and proceeded to pull us out. We had a tow rope in our car and when Pete got it out he realised that my gumboots were sitting there which he could’ve used.

pete washingMuddy footed, he returned to the car and we decided not to continue on that route. Instead, it was time for food.

It was great that we took picnic food with us because there’s the odd place you can take a break from sitting in your car and have a snack. After a couple of hours there’s nothing like a cup of tea and carrot cake (thanks Liz!).

bird on sign We’ve had a bit of rain lately, which is abnormal for this time of year. Thankfully, the road/dirt tracks were in good condition. It did belt down in the early afternoon which was handy to get the acquired mud off the car.

7 hours later we returned to the main gate. There, you have to sign your car out before you’re allowed to leave. 30 minutes later we were home, Pete a bit wet, but all of us very happy that we took the day out to enjoy the amazing world we get to live in. blue bird

Even if you don’t have wild animals living on your back doorstep, can I encourage you to get out there and get in tune with nature. Go for a walk, paddle in a lake, watch the wildlife and breathe in fresh air!!

On Safari to Tanzania

 Last week we took the journey (safari) to Tanzania, one of Kenya’s neighbouring countries. The plan was to look at one of our completed projects and then have a look at some potential new ones. It was also a good chance to see our Aussie mates the Pocknall’s. Last year we bumped into them at our local mall and have kept in contact ever since. The Pocknall family are amazing (Andrew, Jenny, Maddie, Lauren and Oliver).

Arusha has about the same population as Christchurch but no where near the facilities as Nairobi. It’s a bit like a big country town. On the upside there is a whole lot less traffic than Nairobi. It’s also about 3 degrees warmer in Arusha.

Apparently you’re meant to enjoy the journey and not just the destination.

Traveling by road from one country to another in Africa is not as easy as it sounds. A few months ago when we got our car we were meant to get our transfer papers done but ‘someone’ in the office didn’t get it done. Hence, the papers were still in the name of the car dealership.

Because of this the insurance company would not insure us for Tanzania. It’s only about $50 for a couple of months insurance but we were forced to get it at the border and hope we got it with a legitimate company. Africa is one place you don’t want to end up insurance-less.

We were to leave on Thursday but everything fell apart on Wednesday. Pete was out at the farm and everything was left to me (just the way the cookie crumbled) to organise and Monday was a public holiday so it was a super short week anyway. For the whole morning we got conflicting reports ‘yes you can get through the border’, 30 minutes later ‘no, it’s impossible’. What an emotional rollercoaster. By 11am I was ready to throw in the towel but my brave husband jumped on his motorbike and came to my rescue.

Image           Shuttles waiting at the border.

First to hit AA who said it was no problem. Go to the car dealership to see the boss – he’s out of town. Insurance guy says we’re too much of a risk.

Thursday morning we head out. I had thrown my hands up in the air and decided that if we drove the 2 hours to the border and they turned us back we would come home, pick up our tent and get out of Dodge for the weekend.

The road to the border is 176km’s and it’s been built really well. Most of the time getting out of Nairobi is a real drag and can take an hour. It took us 20 minutes. The road we took is the same one that trucks use to get to the port in Mombasa and it has endless trucks.

ImageNot sure how long the trucks were parked at the border but it would’ve been ages.

Just before the border is a place called Paradise Gallery. It has flush toilets (always a bonus) and a large shop with allsorts of Kenyan artwork. There, Pete asked the owner if she knew of someone who could help us at the border (a 2 minute drive). Of course she did! So, we ended up with Sitoki, a Masai man who for $30 got our car through the border. We waited while he found some friends who he could negotiate with. Normally if the car isn’t in your name you can’t get insurance or through the border.

We wanted to take the Pocknall’s some food goodies from Nairobi but every blog I read said how things are stolen at the border or confiscated. We had neither and kicked ourselves for not taking more through. Who knows where the Kenyan Police were. We just drove through.

Of course you have to go through all the rigmarole of completing departure and arrival forms, paying $50 each for visas and then an American $20 for a car which wasn’t in our name.

ImageSigning in and out of immigration

After about an hour at the border we simply kept driving. The hardest thing was dodging all of the trucks lined up that were waiting. Then there were the multiple ‘diversion’ signs which were a waste of time. Before we knew it we were on our way for the 2 hour drive on the Tanzanian side.

ImageSo many trucks it was hard to find a parking spot.

The hilarious thing about the Tanzanian road is that it was only completed a couple of years ago. Now some intelligent person has decided to build in new culverts AFTER the new road was built. So every few kilometres we were diverted onto a dirt patch where they were building.

 

TIA – this is Africa

7 Myths About Kenya

1. It’s Hot

Sure, there are some places that are pretty warm, but overall, Australia is hotter. For the 6 months we’ve been living here there was probably only one week of really hot. Today I am wearing jeans, jumper and ugg boots. Why the boots I hear you ask – floors are tiled here and they get pretty cold on an overcast day.

Living on the Equator is handy, the length of days doesn’t change. You know it will be light by about 6.30am and dark by 7pm. While my arms are tanned, the legs have a lot to be desired.

 

2. It’s Cheap

You must be kidding me. Sure, fruit is cheaper than in the West but everything else is equal to or more expensive than back home. I think it makes a difference for us because we aren’t allowed to earn money so we’re super careful with what we get in. Import tax is anywhere in between 75% and 110%. A couple of weeks ago we were in Uganda and things were half the price of here, to the point that I bought an iron.

 

3. We Live In A Mud Hut

While we work with the poor, we don’t have to live like that. Sure there are hundreds of thousands of people who do live in mud huts but not us. Right now we’re on the search for a 3 bedroom apartment, which we can get for 90,000Kshs (about $1,050 dollars). That’s great compared to what were paying in Australia but it’s a challenge for us. At least when we have friends and family come to stay there’s somewhere nice. We also plan to get some leadership training sessions going with the young people and hiring buildings is pretty expensive so we can host them at our place.

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4. There Are Only Black People Here

You’re either a Kenyan or Mzungu. Anyone white is a Mzungu, it doesn’t matter if you’re from New Zealand, the US, Europe or Australia. Sure, the whites are in a minority but you’re never sure where they are from and why they are hear. There are even white Kenyans, these are children of people who came in the colonial days. They don’t belong here but England is not their home either. They’re in between 2 worlds. I’ve bumped into so many Dutch people I never need to go to Holland. You can pick out the Aussie and Kiwi accents from a long distance. Last month we went to the ANZAC dawn service and there would’ve been around 200 people there. So, there’s a few from the Pacific over this way.

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5. It’s All About War, Poverty & Famine

Yep, there’s lots of poverty around here, but there’s also some serious money to be made. If you can go through all the legal loops and corruption, Kenya is a good place for investing in. Especially so if it’s roads, IT or building.

There’s also lots of money to be made in war and famine. While people in the West get shocked about the crisis up north, they don’t realise that the refugee camps have been there for 20 years. In our travels around East Africa, there are some very nice vehicles, and hotels kept busy because of civil unrest and disasters. Unfortunately, as soon as it’s all peaceful these NGO’s pull out and the businesses close up because of a lack of customers.

You only have to spend 10 minutes at one of the local malls to see that the middle class here is getting bigger.

 

6. It’s A Really Hard Place To Live In

Depends what you mean by hard. Sure, only knowing a small amount of Swahili is a pain, so you’ll get charged more outside of the malls, but it’s not tragic here. You have to be willing to adapt. You make sure you lock your care, when you’re in it. You put your mobile phone in your front pocket. The food isn’t great but you won’t starve. The traffic sucks and you get over paying bribes to the police every time you get pulled up – otherwise you go to jail.

It’s not so much hard as complicated.

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7. People Only Come Here For Safaris

True, most people come here for a safari. They come for a look at an allusive lion, zebra, elephant or giraffe. No, we don’t have tigers, they are in India. It’s surprising though how many people come for other things though. I ran into a lady from Sydney who came over just to catch up with friends. Some people come to build classrooms, visit their sponsored child or volunteer. Sometimes students who are at university need to intern somewhere and that’s one of the areas we work with. We give them opportunity to teach, see the different projects and assist the staff. Right now we need lots of volunteers as the work continues to grow.

Don’t think that what is on the 6pm news is all there is about Kenya or Africa itself. There’s a whole world of amazing things happening here. Sure it’s not Hawaii, but it’s not hell either.

Want to help bring positive change to the lives of young people in East Africa through our work? Why not donate today – click HERE