Back to Kenya

Happy 2019 to everyone!

I am very happy to say I am writing this from Nairobi, Kenya in 28 degrees in a co-working space full of young, smart people who are all working to change East Africa for the better. Well, with that going on all around me how can I not be inspired and motivated to get back to writing?!

Last year was tough in many ways and after talking to friends from around the world I feel it was the same for them too. This, I think is down to our perceived perceptions of what we thought would happen and what actually happened. One of the hardest things is to stay focused on a goal when there seems to be so much going wrong and lots of media saying the same. In these times you have to really dig deep and keep going, look for positive stories and connect only with those who support you and your ideas and have similar outlooks on life.

The end of 2018 saw me on my travels again as I went to Prague and Berlin with a friend from my Tanzania days who is now studying in Europe. We even managed to squeeze a visit to our other friends from Tanzania based in northern Germany. This was the perfect way to end the year by visiting places we had never been, learning about food and culture and staying in hostels to meet lots of new fascinating people. On Christmas day we played a game of Dobble (crosses languages, ages and cultures!) with 9 people all from different parts of the world! We saw the horrific events of the Nazi occupation at the museum of Terror and the Berlin wall with all its hopeful graffiti on and managed a Christmas market to bring back my memories of Christmases in Germany as a young girl. Being around all these people and my friends made me realise I had actually done a lot that year and traveled to many places…thankfully FaceBook reminds you in its yearly wrap up 🙂

Leaving Drinks

Friends and Nights Out
Pretending to Climb Kili
Saying Bye to Kili
Finally Going to Napa in California

Watching Rugby 7’s World Cup in San Francisco
Being Introduced to Oakland

One of the main goals for me was to get a job in Kenya and get my social enterprise up and running. The job search was tough and at times I felt like giving up…If only street smarts and experience equaled qualifications I felt I was being overlooked as I don’t have a Masters or PHD but I had run my own business in London for 8 years and lived in East Africa for 5, learning the language and culture but was feeling it was not enough. I decided to focus my energy on the social enterprise and entered the African Entrepreneurship Award and we got through to the 3rd round! It was amazing verification that the mentors in Kenya that looked over our business proposal liked it and saw potential! Unfortunately we didn’t make it much further but that is because we don’t have a working gym to show..yet. I know have the logo, designed by my amazing school friend now graphic designer, and some social media.

Our New Logo

One of the things I started to keep me positive and focused was to write a daily ‘gratitude diary’ which I heard Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Lopez do…so can’t be a bad thing seeing their successes! You write 5 things down every day that you are grateful for, as small as someone being extra helpful to your family support system. This and daily gym sessions laid the foundation to keep coming back to the laptop in the afternoons to job hunt, connect with contacts I had made over the past 5 years and work on the social enterprise. Everything happens for a reason as they say and I believe and this time my family needed me around so I very much felt this. It have me a chance to help them out and spend quality time together knowing I may never live in the UK again if things go to plan. Low and behold at the end of the year I got offered a paid 6 month fellowship for an education technology start up in Nairobi! It was not what I was exactly looking for but I believe sometimes you have to come down the ladder you are on to be able to start at the bottom and climb a higher one. It gave me an opportunity to discover this new world and how start ups work. I presented at Nairobi Tech Week in my 1st week to a room of 50 motivated tech professionals looking to help education in Africa. I networked with active and exciting people which reignited my passion for education and belief that Kenya is the place to be for start ups. Everything is possible here and people are willing to help and connect you. With this in mind I got a new permanent job offer which starts next week! All of the hard work, networking and casting nets had finally caught me a big fish which I can finally feel excited about…more about this next time!

Back in Nairobi with my Ladies

I am now living with an inspiring Kenyan lady who has also recently returned home after many years away and is starting many exciting new projects with fashion, community engagement and child well as a new commitment to exercise every day…so what a perfect match! I have already signed us both up for the Beyond Zero half marathon next month 🙂

I am very excited to see what is next and learned that you must always put it out there with what you want as someone, somewhere will be listening and you will get there in the end! Never Give Up!! Always ask for help and keep casting those nets!

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Education- Why is it so important and especially for the refugee crisis?

As some of you may know at my last role in Tanzania I was working on increasing funding to be able to increase the number of scholarships we could offer at our school. As the school itself is looking to join the United World College (UWC) movement it is part of their philosophy to be able to offer world class education to students from around the world regardless of their financial status, including refugees. As long as students can show some academic ability, but more importantly, are doing something for their community and working towards a more peaceful and sustainable future they have a chance of getting into one of the colleges. As you can imagine this is a great equal opportunity but comes with a price tag which someone has to pay and why would refugees be bothered about such a thing?

Most fundraising for scholarships comes from foundations and generous wealthy people but more and more we are seeing corporations partnering with schools, colleges and universities to offer financial support. The main reason for this is they are realising if they want to expand into certain regions they need an educated workforce. The World Bank has estimated that for every $1 invested in education the GDP grows by $20 and UNICEF published a paper containing many researchers findings on the effects of increased investment on education having a positive effect on the country’s GDP. This is great news for students looking to get an education and a better life and for the companies investing in them for the future of their businesses by having employees with skills and contacts necessary for their success. Governments also benefit as they have an increased educated population which can fulfill jobs and industries needed to help the country develop and thus also creating more tax payers to help build things such as healthcare and infrastructure. It was also one of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals to achieve universal primary education by 2015, a goal which was mostly completed. This did come with some draw backs as if a country doesn’t have the money or teachers to offer every student ‘free education’ you get over-crowded classrooms and an unsatisfactory education syllabus. Families also still have to pay exam fees, materials for studying and things such as ‘teacher training trips’ so the new UN Sustainable Development Goals were released including an ambitious one for ‘quality education’ for all to be achieved by 2013. Governments and companies are given incentive’s with funds from the UN to be able to help do this. So how has this helped refugees?

Most people, when thinking of refugees and their needs, would list food, water, shelter and healthcare as the necessities. This isn’t wrong but what most people forget is that refugees flee their countries for a reason and may not be able to return in the near future, or ever. A camp in Kenya, Dadaab, has been running for over 20 years with the Somalia crisis still ongoing and another, Kakuma, has also been running since 1992 with the South Sudan violence continuing. At this point education is needed, two or three generations would be left uneducated if not and how would their home countries ever expect to become peaceful and developed without an educated population? Even refugees resettled in other countries need an education to be able to get jobs and careers in their new homes and, in a development context, to even take these skills back to their original home countries once they can go back. In long-running refugee camps, education becomes the only way out.

While working in my previous role I was shocked at the statistics coming at me in the news around refugees and, like most people, wanted to help. With this in mind we decided that our school would get involved in refugee teacher training to be able to help more students have access to qualified teachers and for these new teachers to have help, support and access to a curriculum and teacher training program which would be endorsed. This last bit is important as when these new teachers (who are usually new high school graduates with good exam grades) move on from the camp they will need the right qualifications to be able to enter university to study at degree level and this gives them motivation to stay a bit longer and teach the next generation. This is why our project was endorsed by a Kenyan university and a European one. Our teachers would use an online platform to help mentor one or a group of new refugee teachers through a 3 month course aimed to help their teaching plans, lesson handling and teacher welfare. As more funding is secured for this project there will be on the ground workshops led by our teachers and to spread it to more camps in Kenya and Tanzania. Here you can read about one of our teachers experiences here on page 18-19. Refugee students, with the right help and support, can achieve the most amazing things such as in Kakuma they received the highest primary school results in Kenya in 2017! This is utterly outstanding when you think they do not have access to some of the things most students don’t think twice about-books, pens, science laboratory and clean toilets.

All of this proves, that when invested in, refugees can achieve amazing results in their education and that they are motivated to do it. Another fantastic organisation we came into contact with during this journey is Sky School, run by 2 former UWC graduates, who also knew the importance of education to refugees and the positive output when it is accessible but the sad statistic only 1% go onto further education. Their project is an online curriculum which a few of our teachers helped to put together which can be accessed anywhere in the world from online. This is incredibly important as refugees can complete these courses within camps or when resettled in their new countries helping to give them a bridge to university or jobs to be able to become independent and fully integrate into their new communities. This is beneficial for governments housing them, whether in camps or as citizens, as they can become employable helping them to become tax payers and pay back into the community. Another important benefit of educated refugees is they hold the key to developing their home countries into a peaceful democracy and stopping the conflicts or natural disasters causing the refugee crisis in the first place.

So investing in refugee education seems the most sensible and long-lasting solution any government or corporation could do. This is why you will see more investment into scholarships and education development in general but certainly within the refugee sector and I think it makes the most sense!

I will leave you with one of the many positive stories coming from refugee education and hope it might inspire you to donate or just share why this subject is so important and why many risk their lives on a daily basis to offer it.


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Farewell Tanzania and onto the Next Chapter…

So a few weeks ago I finished my contract in Tanzania and came back for the summer in the UK (you can thank me for bringing back the good weather!). I have had a few weeks to be able to reflect on my time there and what I have learnt.

Tanzania is a socialist country, gaining independence in 1961, led by their beloved Julius Nyerere or ‘Mwalimu’ (teacher in English as he was once one and then formed the organisation that fought and won independence from the British Protectorate it was under) and also known as ‘Baba wa Taifa’ (Father of the country). I did read the English translation of his book ‘ Ujamaa’ (roughly translated as ‘socialism’) which if you are interested in socialism is a good collection of his essays and thoughts on the subject and how it could help form a new country. He does amend the book after his presidency to state some of the things he would have changed, as with hindsight, they could never have worked fully. I admire him for this, how often do politicians come out and say ‘hands up I was wrong but I thought it was for the benefit of the nation’?! With this in mind many positives have arisen from his earlier policies of forcing people to move and live among other tribes and share their farming or business knowledge. There is no tribalism …either in politics or in the streets, so it is a very peaceful place . Surprising for a country that is surrounded by other areas of ongoing, violent conflict. It hosts the most refugees from Burundi in the entire region and has never had ethnic or political unrest. The community attitude of sharing and taking responsibility for everyone is very obvious to see. In my first month there I was shown a piece of paper with a picture of a burned down house of a former employee and everyone was collecting money, a harambe (community fundraiser), to help them rebuild their lives again. This was a common occurrence if someone was sick, a funeral or wedding needed paying for or school fees. Everyone pitched in and came together. Imagine if we all did this in society in general? How quickly natural disasters would be cleared up! It was a very important part of life there and I quickly saw the benefit.

Before moving to Tanzania I was an avid socialist, or so I believed, and after living in Kenya for two years previously and corporate London before that I really thought it was the simple answer. When I reached Tanzania and learnt about its history I was thrilled to be able to see this in practice. The first thing I noticed was that Tanzania is seen as ‘poorer’ than Kenya with the GDP lower and visibly less big cities and infrastructure. How could they have less schools, hospitals, electricity if they had so many resources (Tanzanite being one of them and only found there!) and it was nationally owned? Well like all other people in a powerful money-holding situation and receiving aid from World Bank, corruption had kicked in and new Presidents had been forced to denationalise and allow foreign companies to come in and take tenders for these dollar rich minerals.  The first month I was there, however, the new President, John Magufuli, was elected in and seen as this new hope and another strong socialist primed to tackle the corruption that had seeped into the country. Yey!….. He was known as the ‘Bulldozer’ as he would turn up unannounced at government offices and hospitals and sack people on the spot if he thought they were stealing or not doing their job for the benefit of the Tanzanian people. He cancelled the annual Independence Day stating it wasted money and used this money to buy new hospital beds in the big government hospitals. But soon his novelty wore off and the people on the ground starting feeling the effects of nationalisation in a country not prepared for it. The feeling of being an outsider was intensified and I could begin to appreciate (just a little..I know my privilege don’t worry) how immigrants in the UK and Europe must feel…unwelcome with this rhetoric of outsiders taking jobs. Permits became increasingly difficult to obtain and many people left. I also knew I wouldn’t get another permit and although jobs should go to nationals first there has to be time to train people and an education system to support this.

I started to see some of the negative effects of this type of socialism (as much as I wanted to keep my eyes closed and still believe in the perfect dream..) which included people not seeing they could make a difference themselves, it was seen as the governments job and they didn’t need to question it. Businesses didn’t train their staff properly which was evident when acquiring services at restaurants an shops. We all can see the long-term benefits of good customer service; the customer may tip, they come back and/or spread the word to other new customers thus ensuring the companies lifespan and keeping us in work and perhaps a pay rise or promotion…very capitalistic thinking..but has managed to develop many nations this way. More people pay tax, more jobs are created and public services end up better funded because of this….hard to swallow..

I would find myself getting very frustrated with lack of or poor services when in my mind I could see with just a little bit of training and money it could be so much better. Thinking outside the box was not something I saw regularly and many times I would think a good missed opportunity in business could have changed the whole area. But was I just pressing my western views on something that needed developing differently? I sat back and spoke to Tanzanians to get there input. It was mostly down to the education system offered, which now was ‘free’ until the end of secondary school, which was underpaid, under-qualified teachers teaching around 100 pupils with no resources…this leads to rote learning and punishment (mostly physical) if you dared ask a question or think differently. This continued into university if you were lucky enough to get there and afford it. It just wasn’t supported so why would it be different in the working world. People just want paying with no hassle. If there is a problem with education, health or the way services are run it is a government problem and they cannot do anything about it, why question authority?…this is why I never witnessed protests like the ones in Kenya and London I saw previously.

Many things were similar to Kenya like the food, the fabric and the love of music and having a good time. I learned a lot more Swahili which made life easier and I even learnt to cook a few things (even if a few people still don’t think so!). Working at an international school gave me my first look at private education and although I still don’t ethically believe in it the curriculum they ran gave the children a chance to develop their own interests and everyone was celebrated for their uniqueness. I saw, first hand, how hard teachers work and their dedication and passion for each individual, making sure they never slipped and got the best result. I was working on setting up the development office so they could fundraise a lot of money ($10 million over 10 years) to be able to support scholarships to students all over the world to come and have this education and a chance to gain a scholarship to university after. This was because the school wanted to join United World Colleges and become only the 2nd in Africa (1st is in Swaziland) and allow the movement to move beyond western and rich countries. This idea that everyone gets the same opportunity in education and they focus on peaceful conflict resolution seemed to me to be fitting for this day and age and to be placed in Tanzania, peaceful itself surrounded by conflict. I grew professionally and mentally as living and working in the same place is tough! Also noone understanding what I did and how to support me proved challenging…but I did work with a few exceptional individuals who inspired me, came to my weekly boot camps or just kept me going mentally!

My best bit of Tanzania was the strong group of friends I made and know will be for life. Already trips made to see some people and new ones planned so I know I have a place to stay in most parts of the world now! Many of you who know me will know my friendships are the most important thing in my life and this proved it all the more, keeping me there longer and helping each other through life-changing moments. We saw many beautiful parts of Tanzania (but ashamedly not as many as I should…didn’t climb Kili..) and had many people come stay for short bits of time to help on numerous projects so we were never bored. Alas, my desire to go back to my ‘home’ western Kenya called and so it was bags packed and emotional goodbyes then time to reflect.

So what are my final thoughts on socialism….each country needs to develop in its own way according to the culture there and Tanzania is catching up after learning a lot from its history.  But I am now sure social business is the way forward on the ground, using grassroots solutions and products and then reinvesting profit back to the local community is a good balance of both socialism and capitalism. You need to motivate people and invest in the best education and support for them. New ethical leaders evolve in business and politics and this generation is one of global mindedness, meaning world problems could be solved quicker as more people can empathize with others.

If you do invest or support anything let it be education to open minds so they can solve the problems themselves.

As for me…well keep watching as exciting things are unfolding finally…;)

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Women’s Rights..Human Rights?? And why I’ll be Running that Dreaded Half Marathon Again!!

To march or not to march…that was the question last weekend for many across the globe after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump. This US election and last years Brexit has got people all over the world discussing and facing many issues. I think with the rise of internet access and social media more people can get engaged and, for good or bad, they can express their opinion online. This makes many of us wonder if traditional marches/protests are even needed anymore and can they even make a difference?

Throughout history we have seen mass demonstrations go towards making a difference, think civil rights in the US and apartheid ending in South Africa. These were all supported by many people marching outside the country that it was trying to change with people marching for a cause that they, necessarily, hadn’t personally experienced.

This is why, when last weekend when millions of people marched for women’s rights, it was so surprising to hear people’s comments about how these people were ‘spoilt’, ‘whiners’ and won’t make a difference. The comments about how hard other women have it in other countries so they should just be quiet…..that is exactly why they were out there because like it or not the decisions made in the west can affect women the world over, and therefore humanity everywhere. Today, for instance, having the US stop funding to NGO’s that offer abortion as a family planning option or give out information regarding it will effect millions of women and their families across the world in some of the poorest countries. Taking one right can quickly lead to people thinking they can take away other rights, access to family planning, the right to marry or have a child when you are ready and the right to sit at that table when these discussions take place. The fact that women in other countries marched for these women shows that they are united in this belief that we should all be equal and that they can march.

More importantly on these marches were women from all different backgrounds, social class, race, religion, sexual preference, age, profession, mothers, daughters, refugees, immigrants…and it goes on and even more importantly there were men there. This has great significance as it shows that they too understand that we are far greater united and that by lifting women up in society and giving them equal rights lifts everyone in society. Many studies back this up gender equality gives men better lives , positive impact from incorporating gender perspectives by the UN and World Bank and the importance of involving men in this process by the EU.

This lifts the LGBT community, ethnic minority community, working classes, migrants, refugees and whatever you class yourself into as women’s rights are essentially human rights. The right to love who you want, worship how you want, marry who and when you want, get access to education and the job/career you want, live where you want and get access to healthcare the same as anyone else. Eve if you don’t agree with something someone does you have to respect their right to live their life how they want as in the grand picture of your life it is not affecting you. You make the decisions you want and take the consequences yourself and everyone deserves this right.

Finally the use of social media can also help you to see beyond your own life and social circle to people that have different lives and different struggles. This is enough to inspire some people to stand up and march with others who may be different to help them get the rights they deserve, as after all we are all human beings and want happiness and peace in our lives 🙂

This is why I am running the dreaded Kilimanjaro Half Marathon again this year….last year I did mention it was the hardest thing I had ever done and wouldn’t do it again…but after this weekends marches and show of solidarity I have signed up again to do it this year. I am using some motivation and carrying on the theme of the equal rights march by doing it to raise money so a girl in Ndhiwa, Kenya can attend secondary school and get the chance to better her future. Please if you felt inspired to get involved with bettering humanity this weekend donate to my page at JustGiving for Team Kenya. This was the charity I worked for in Kenya and is very close to my heart as I saw how education and entrepreneurship can unlock potential and give dignity to people so they can better their lives and their families and communities.

Wish me luck!




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#GivingTuesday Giving Productively

So after the #BlackFriday madness there is the new #GivingTuesday which began a few years back after the spending marathon over the Thanksgiving weekend to give people the opportunity to give back in some way, either to a charity in the form of money or by volunteering their time.  In the charity sector December is our biggest donation month and the time we can gain more new regular donors so it’s a busy and competitive time! In recent years with the negative publicity surrounding charities and how they spend their money or try to get it (think charity muggers..chuggers!) it has become increasingly more important for development organisations to show what they have achieved and why they still need money. So how can you decide who to give your hard earned cash too, to feel it’s truly making a difference?

There has been a shift in the attitudes of development organisations from showing desperate, poverty stricken people in a far off land in their ads to a more positive picture of people who look and think and feel like you.  They show what happens when money is used wisely and works. This has been shown in the charity I worked with, Team Kenya  who only show happy, smiling girls who are being helped to gain an education and take control of their own lives. Education is a smart investment as it is something that cannot be taken away and can open up opportunities for individuals to get themselves out of poverty as well as a ripple effect on the whole family and community. It offers the individual choice and freedom and to become a role model for others. UNESCO reports that $1 invested in education can yield between $10-$15 dollars in economic growth, this makes a great, long-term investment! Here at International School Moshi we see this and so are expanding our scholarship scheme for students across East Africa, including refugees, who have the talent and leadership skills but not the economic opportunity to gain a good education. We know they will pay back to the region by becoming ethical leaders in companies, government and education thus supporting the expansion of the region and losing their talent through the ‘brain drain’ syndrome.  

There is also new platforms such as Kiva which allow people to give small ‘loans’ to specific projects on the ground such as setting up a small shop so a mother can generate her own income and send her children to school or supporting someone to university or even a loan to buy machinery to help recycle bottles for a social enterprise to help the environment, create employment and produce beautiful products for sale. The idea of a social enterprise is that the profit made is reinvested back into the community and/or environment.  You can follow the story safe in the knowledge that your money is being used wisely to help another individual gain some dignity and the chance to positively change their lives. It is giving people the opportunity to start a business, create jobs and teach other skills to other so they become employable too. This then becomes sustainable as eventually it becomes a self-functioning business which goes on to help others, thus combating the never ending aid cycle. The old saying ‘give a man a fish and he will eat for that day but teach him to fish and he can eat everyday’ sums up what this does.

There will always be a part for aid to play in the generous giving of clothes and items such as books and stationary but even this needs to be rethought before you give. I have a problem with the many ‘shoebox’ sending charities as I have seen for myself the jealousy this causes among children with their different gifts and imagine being that child’s parent/guardian and giving the gift of something we see as simple such as food and safe shelter every day and then a foreign stranger showering that child with gifts they could never give.  Surely at this cost you could help sponsor their much needed education? A recent article by a Director of an NGO based in Kenya, Flying Kites,  highlighted the problem with giving old clothes and shoes etc. This gives the impression to the people on the receiving end that this is there only worth and that is how we think of them and at home the givers have this slightly negative ‘poor people’, ‘them and us’ attitude which for children who are the future generation is not productive. Choosing  the right organisation with local staff and links on the ground is important and then they will tell you what is needed and you get the all important follow up of all the happy, smiling people you have helped, boosting yours and their lives. 

So in this giving season try to be a bit more conscious of where your money is going as it is a two-way street; charities being more transparent and showing positive follow up stories of how the money has worked and givers being more responsible in who they give to. You can ask how your money will be spent and receive updates on the person/project you support. Try smaller NGO’s that work with the people in their communities and employ locals knowing you are helping even more people this way. Most importantly though, think of these people as people like you, how would you want to be helped? Education, business start-up, mentoring? and this will guide you to the right organisation.

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Kitenge,Ndizi Choma and other new Obsessions!

Photos:Wedding send off party, Graduation,Office staff in Tie and Kitenge day (my idea every Wednesday) and office staff having office photo in Masaai gear (my idea..getting everyone more involved) Oh and I did a half marathon around Kili…hardest ever!!, Kili view every day pretty much and finally an adventure with friends one afternoon with a killer view!

Hey, its been a while since my last post..I think the longest break since starting this blog.  I am now into my 9th month in Tanzania and really enjoying the challenge of my job and the adventures with my newly made friends.  Its amazing how quickly people here welcome you in and become part of their family, only a few weeks ago my office colleagues and I went to another colleagues sisters wedding party….this, I reflected, would not happen in the UK.  It is a big deal weddings here and everyone is expected to contribute something. During the pre-wedding party the women all go down an aisle towards the bride with all the gifts that have been bought with the contributions such as brooms, washing bowls, mops and even things like beds and sofas! Its a great way for a women who is leaving her home to start a new one with the husband. I guess its what we used to do before our living styles changed.

I have been enjoying the food, one such thing is bananas (Ndizi) which are bbq-ed (choma) or fried but they are not sweet…I feel its better than chips…and its great with chicken! The food is definitely more spicy and flavoursome than what I experienced in Kenya although I do miss my tilapia fish..

Another obsession has become material (kitenge) and buying it and making things from it. It is so nice to be able to design something and have it fit you perfectly…the problem becomes spending too much! The tailors are so incredibly talented, looking at a photo a copying exactly.  They use their whatsapp for me to send my photo ideas and in a few weeks its made…the joys of technology reach even here. I will get a few more photos of my creations on here soon.

Moshi itself is a lovely town, smaller and quieter than Arusha which is about 2 hours away and can be a weekend stop for different food, clubbing and buying goods not available in Moshi, but I am happy I am based in Moshi not a bigger town. I think after London I am done with big towns! It is the place that people who want to climb Kilimanjaro come and start their climb. I am so lucky to be able to see this mountain most mornings and evenings as she peeps through the clouds…she’s a shy mountain apparently as the story goes.  The local people have many interesting stories about the mountain and surrounding areas which I love hearing.  I am also learning a lot from my Swahili teacher. I have finally signed up for formal lessons and have been doing 2 a week plus a conversation class on a Friday evening on a beautiful roof terrace with other learners. I am definitely improving although those that know me, know of my impatient nature and my frustration of not being fluent already!

My job has been very interesting and a great learning curve, especially in the way you can approach and cultivate donors and proposals. I am looking to gain funds for scholarships for students to study the International Baccalaureate Diploma (which I wish I had done instead of A Levels now I see how rounded and mature these students are) who are from non privileged backgrounds. So  we are focusing on orphans and refugees in sub-Saharan Africa.  This is by no means and easy task as to be able to study at this level you have to have a good grasp of English (Tanzania mostly speaks Swahili and refugees from Burundi for example speak French) and have had their education mediated at some point before this as secondary education at a good level is expensive (Tanzania did make secondary government education free from this January). I am also learning a lot about refugees, and with the ‘crisis’ in Europe with refugees it really has opened my eyes. The fact these people cannot leave the camps without permits from the host country which is very rare, if they do even travel to transit through a country requires the country they transit though to agree, which rarely happens as countries get scared the refugees might skip the airport and stay there. They are usually not recorded anywhere as the conflicts have been going on for so long there has been no birth certificate registration, what school year they have completed or even what medical records they have. There are many dedicated and innovative organisations working with them though that don’t just offer education and health as when you’ve lived your whole life in a camp other things are needed to keep you motivated (this is something I found hard to understand at first but after reading the realities of the length people are there you begin to see all humans have the same wants and needs…music, mobile phones, trendy clothes not just ripped up hand me downs). This is something I know I will write more about in the future as we work with the camps as part of our sponsorship programme. I will just leave a few facts though, only 3% of aid is used in education and of that 3%, 2% is spent on secondary education, this is where future leaders are formed as the youthful brain really begins to develop its own thoughts about the world. In the camps in Tanzania 100 Burundian refugees are arriving daily….there are currently 140,000 there and that was last month so probably more now.  Here is one such project

Finally as the school year finishes we had our graduations on both campuses, Moshi and Arusha, for our D2 students (A Level year) and this was a proud moment for the school. I know I am proud to say currently 100% of our scholarship students go onto fully funded undergraduate study proving the care and support here works. Last week one of our previous students graduated from Harvard and if you haven’t seen the speech given by one of his classmates you really should.

I am still in the process of working on my own social enterprise idea and as Kenya is going into another violent time I feel it couldn’t come sooner. I want to wish all my Kenyans safety and hope and that your collective human spirit is worth more than these tribal divisions used by politicians for political and financial gain. Stay strong and #KenyaMoja




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Karibu Tanzania





mzungukitchaaSo I should rename this blog to ‘Gemma’s East African Adventure’ as I start my new journey in Tanzania….but I know my love for Kenya is strong and I will be back so for now I shall leave it be.

I landed at Kilimanjaro airport 2 weeks ago to be picked up by a new colleague and driven into my new home town of Moshi.  I was treated to the site of the top of Kilimanjaro as we drove in and saw that much of the scenery was similar to what I was used to in Ndhiwa except here we have a large town where mostly tourists who are climbing the mountain stay.  I was shown my new home which has electricity and hot water…..ahhh the luxuries… as well as wifi, not just on campus, but in my house so I can be a bit more connected to you all now.

My work is to set up and engage the large alumni they have had in this international school since the 60’s and look for donors for scholarships which will increase in number as we join the United World Colleges.  The staff are from all over the world, not just Tanzania and we also have a campus in Arusha which I have yet to see.  The team compromises of teachers, accountants, hr, cooks, cleaners, drivers, security, ‘mama’s’ for the boarders as well as volunteers who come to help students and teachers. It is such a friendly, family atmosphere and makes me wish I had been a student at this amazing school!  Everyone is so supportive and I love the diversity of people and conversations I end up having.  There are some western Kenyans so I can keep practising my Luo! I am also going to take Kiswahili lessons with one of the teachers so can be fluent by the end of my 2 years…. There is a stables, gym, track and tennis courts so I can be kept busy. My workouts in the evening and morning always end up with an amazing view of Kilimanjaro so know I am very lucky to be here.
My second weekend saw me climbing the Pare Mountains with the school who have 4 levels of trip before you can climb Kilimanjaro to Uhuru peak, the highest point. I was lucky to be with such a supportive an mature bunch of students ranging in age from 12-18 as well as teachers and a volunteer. We climbed up one day, camped at the top and saw the clouds beneath us in the morning and Uhuru peak opposite us and then took a longer trek down…as much as I hate sleeping in tents on the ground it was definitely worth it and was awarded my first certificate in assembly this morning 🙂 I plan to do Meru mountain in the new year.
We then had a celebrity guest who you can check out here who was an alumni of the school and came to give a performance. Very talented man who can speak many languages, play instruments, sing and compose music. The kids loved it as for many it was their first concert.
So far I am loving Moshi and hope to keep you all updated on my next adventure….

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Saying Goodbye and New Beginnings

Hello all, apologies for my delay in posting this.  I have been applying for jobs, doing online courses on social enterprises and writing my own social enterprise business plan…phew! So I know its time to update my blog.

I finished my role in Ndhiwa, Kenya last month and hope I did them proud.  My time there was challenging in ways I did not foresee but its helped me grow in a way that now I feel confident I can take on a larger role and even my own project.  Saying goodbye was hard….and of course I was sick in the final week…nice goodbye from Ndhiwa haha! I gave away most of my stuff to my new friends and stored the rest as I know I will be back to East Africa very soon….my heart belongs there for sure 🙂  I hope the youth projects take off so they can support themselves to college and university and make this a sustainable project by giving back to Team Kenya sponsoring girls to school when they get jobs in the future.  If you want ton sponsor them and change lives the sustainable way you can donate safely here:

Or you can contact them and purchase some of their goods from solar lamps for other needy students as electricity is scarce and so studying after evening chores is difficult or handmade beads and bags for gifts and sustainable ways to carry shopping saving the environment from those pesky plastic bags!

On my way back I stayed a week in Zanzibar (this was by chance as KLM would not let me fly back after Easter without a return flight so booked the cheapest one out of Kenya which happened to be Kenya…shame…;)) found an amazing hotel an hour from the centre so quiet and near a village I could cycle to and get clothes made.  I had fresh fruit such as lychees, passion fruit and coconuts for less than a pound for a whole sack! The island is beautiful and clean (they have a law which bans plastic bags) and seems more progressive than Kenya seemed to me.  This is probably due to the fact it is a self governed island and makes a lot of money from tourism.  Although it is part of Tanzania (Tanganyika which is the mainland country and Zanzibar together make the word Tanzania…clever I know!) it seems very independent and proud of its mixed history from British, Portuguese and Arabic influences.

I did a spice tour which was truly amazing as I would never have guessed how these spices were grown and some amazingly talented young men made necklaces, bracelets, crowns and baskets out of the leaves for us as we walked around and then climbed a humongous coconut tree to get us fresh coconuts to drink out of but on the way up they sang a traditional song which is to warn others what  they are doing so they can watch out for them if they fall..genius!  They then did, what I can only describe as Cirque du Soleil style tricks, on the way back down.  I mean they were literally hanging on with just one arm or leg etc…I was blown away and slightly scared!  A beautiful meal was put on for us as well with lots of small traditional dishes to show us how to use the spices.  I can not tell you how much this pleased me as in Kenya, as much as I love it, they do not have much spice or flavour to their foods.

I also did the Stone Town tour to learn about the history of the island and see the exquisite architecture much like Istanbul.  I bought new fabric for a skirt I wanted made by a local fundi (swahili for workman) and lots of spices for friends and family.

My hotel was run by a fabulous, energetic woman named Mireia who saw I was on my own and made sure I went for drinks at other local hotels and took me to visit her boyfriends mushroom farm.  This was actually way more interesting than it sounds and could bring a lot of business into the local area.  Definitely a foodie place.  We the went to a local nature park for a walk with the locals to learn about the local wildlife.  I saw chameleons, giant tortoise and Dik Diks among others.  It ended with a tranquil boat ride on a traditional dhow boat, made famous by this island, to some mangroves to see the birds come into roost as the sun went down.  It was truly beautiful and I managed to keep my Louis Vuitton bag on the wobbly boat which amused my new friends…always a diva!

At the hotel was also a great, friendly guy who quickly became my guide around the local village of Makunduchi so I could get my outfits made and buy fresh fruit and pringles haha!  I also learned to play a game called Oware with which I quickly became addicted to and played with him and the barman every day!

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A friend who works on a hospital in a more rural area than I was in, in Kenya came to stay a few days with me in Zanzibar which was lovely as I could share some of this once in a lifetime trip with someone who has been in a similar situation living and working and can appreciate things on the same level as me….i.e. real wine! real cheese! and the need to make sure tourism works to benefit the local community, not isolate them.

I am now back in the UK catching up with friends and family (if I have not got to you I will!) and eating all the foods I have missed….cheese and wine clearly!  I am applying for jobs in East Africa and hope to be back there doing something beneficial for the communities as well as learning more swahili 🙂 In the meantime I have decided to give myself a kick up the bum and actually start looking at starting my own social enterprise in Kisumu, Kenya.  After much research, courses and deliberation I think I have finally come up with an idea and written a draft…very basic…business plan.  I am sure I will be pestering/asking nicely some of you for your advice and help on this in the near future so if you are interested give me a shout.  There is no time like the present hey?!

OK so I am back off to study and apply for jobs so hope you are all well and enjoying the summer. Hope to see you all soon xxzanzibar2015 zanzibar22015 zanzibar32015

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No water, illnesses and learning to make ugali

So its been a while since I’ve been on here….lack of decent internet in Ndhiwa is a large factor here but also I have been ill on and off over the past few months.  After many doctors telling me to come off my anti malarials I did and hey got malaria! This was also mixed in with typhoid which was not pleasant and I’ll leave it there (it was suspected cholera so its a minor plus it was typhoid…and yes I have had the injection but its only 80% effective).  There has been an outbreak of cholera in Ndhiwa and its due to the lack of available drinking water during the dry season which actually lasted one month more so making water sources even more scarce.  The water is not just needed for humans to drink but also their livestock and washing clothes and keeping businesses ticking over, this really showed me the importance of sensible water utilisation and collecting during the 2 rainy seasons. At

Karibuni we harvest rainwater and have set similar water catchment projects up in 3 of our  partner primary schools.  This needs a lot of maintenance and tanks to store enough water to get through most of the dry season before borehole water is used.  This borehole water and water on the ground is where typhoid and cholera get into the water sources as pit latrines and animals faeces can run into it and infect it that way.  Boiling water and using water treatment chemicals is the only way to make sure its fit for human consumption and after all my illnesses I am super strict about it all now.  I read recently a blog by a guy travelling who had contracted Dengue Fever (which I am also just recovering from) and said it made him cry….yes thats pretty much how I felt so now its safety first as I don’t cry!

I have now moved into my own place in Ndhiwa which is great and the first time I have lived on my own (and could afford too!London ain’t cheap!) and although I have no stove yet it has given me a sense of independence and separation from work life.  I have also started doing some online courses through Acumen to help build my knowledge on social enterprises as I am well on the way to forming my business plan for my own idea….watch out good friends as I am sure I will be asking you to sit on my board very soon…

I have spent a lot of time with colleagues in their homes and meeting family members.  One colleagues wife just had a lovely baby girl and another took me to her grandmothers to teach me to pick maize and then shell it ready to be pounded into the flour they use for ugali.  I had a blister from this activity so reckon I am now a true Luo woman.  I have been out towards the national park near to here and seen baboons just wandering around…amazing stuff as you know I am fascinated by wildlife and this stuff is not in a zoo!  I recently went to a conference with Kenya Wildlife Service where they were asking the local community about animal attack compensation….this is strange coming from a country where the scariest wild animal is probably a badger and we don’t give compensation to people who get attacked by them….don’t mess with wild animals?!  But the concept here is different as the people live among the animals and sometimes they attack their livestock and they lose money.  Some people decide to live and farm by the lake where hippos come out and cause chaos and I am still unsure as to why its the hippos fault but do understand its a complex issue….one that can be misused and people try to claim money when they have only fallen off a motorbike and then some poor animal may get shot for being problematic.  In a country where land and owning land is a big issue the animal/human conflict is inevitable.  Another population problem for us all to solve.

I have come back to the UK for Easter and a much needed break.  I have eaten food I have missed for 6 months and caught up with family and friends which has been fantastic.  One friend has even managed to have a baby!  It doesn’t feel like 6 months now I am here and it wasn’t a culture shock as I thought it might.  I am looking forward to getting back for the next 6 months and now I am more confident in my role and how things work I hope to really make a difference and leave with some sort of achievement as well as learning tons of stuff I will need for my own venture.

I have still been going to the gym and practising yoga and meditation, this is a great way to just ground yourself and realise everything and everyone is the same really and that happiness is the most important thing.

Hope to hear from you all and any tips advice on my next part of the journey are most welcome.

‘Be the change you want to see’20150301_163211IMG_0418


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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you all!  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and ate as much as I did!  I have had my family over for the past 2 weeks and it has been amazing.

We started in Nairobi, where I took them to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and the Giraffe Centre where we fed giraffes.  This proved a big success and many a photo was taken.  We then flew to Kisumu (very posh for me nowadays as I live like a Kenyan and take the bus everywhere!) where we stayed in a lovely hotel with a pool and opposite a great shopping centre with a fab bar that played local music in the evenings.  We spent Christmas here and I took them to Lake Victoria for Christmas lunch so we could have some local tiliapia and see the beautiful lake I call home now.  After  this we travelled to Ndhiwa to show them where I live and work and to meet some of the wonderful people I work with.  Here they tried traditional food, were given the largest papaya I have ever seen, had massages by our resident beauty therapist and had lunch by Lake Victoria at a place I love called Sori near the Tanzanian border.  We celebrated New Year here with a Swedish guest who was also staying as he is volunteering with a charity digging boreholes for water in a nearby village.  We played cards and Pictionary with the guests and Kenyans and proved that no matter the language or cultural barrier Pictionary and blackjack are hilarious and competitive…especially when playing for Terry’s Chocolate Orange segments!  I managed to get an ear infection from the pool in Kisumu and so was in beb by 9pm but as the locaks traditionally go to church at midnight we were kept awake with all the music and singing.  A lot of very traditional music is played at this time so it makes you feel like you have gone back 100 years or more which is quite surreal. After my family got over the noises of rural life, the donkey at 3 or 5am and the chickens from 5:30am they began to see why I loved it so much.

We then travelled to the Masai Mara for a 3 day safari and after the 4 hour bumpy road ride we were happy to see the beautiful Keekorok Lodge we were staying in.  The food was immense and I have to mention it as I haven’t had decent cheese, olives or HP brown sauce for 3 months!  But most importantly I am now officially in the ‘Big 5’ club as my mum spotted a leopard early one morning on a game drive and much to our surprise 2 of them came out of the grass and walked past our vehicle!  This is very rare and even our guide was surprised.  Later in the day we saw one up a tree eating a kill which is even rarer, so after going on about seeing a leopard for a year now I have seen !  It has been a year since I first went on safari here but it was just as awesome as the first time and I can’t wait to check out the other parks once my resident permit is issued.

Now back to Nairobi to drop the family off and back to Ndhiwa and work for me.  I have been spoilt rotten and feel very lucky my family came out here, I think they have seen why I have fallen in love with this country and hope to see them back soon.

I hope your New Year’s resolutions are to just be happy and surround yourselves with good, positive people. This time last year I had no idea where my life would take me and I still feel incredibly lucky to be here.  There are hard times but I always remember where I was 2 years ago and know this is the right path and can’t wait to see what is next!  Let’s look forward to the next 12 months!

one of the many beautiful sunsets I saw in the mara

one of the many beautiful sunsets I saw in the mara

The elusive leopard....

The elusive leopard….

Christmas dinner...yum!!

Christmas dinner…yum!!

our beautiful pool at mara...overlooking animals!

our beautiful pool at mara…overlooking animals!

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