Thursday, December 02, 2010

Tis the season for giving - not wasting

I'm in conversation with the fabulously-powerful combination of good looks, intelligence and world vision;Anthony Anderson. "Living the dichotomy of the fashion world and sustainable living", Anthony does what he says while sharing the experience of his move from "an ethical vegan diet to raw food via a desire to lose weight for his modeling career", which spans Hugo Boss, Macy′s, Tommy Hilfiger, Gillette, Acura, and Paul Mitchell. Anthony is co-creator of  Blackbird Naturals, with Mum & daughter partnership Andrea and Alexandra Maw. Anthony also writes his own blog, Raw Model.
[bear hugging the African Blue basil]
When he's not at food fairs promoting "permaculture" and the raw and natural superfoods Blackbird has on offer, Anthony can be found building a self-sustainable home and an organic food forest in Minnesota, funded by profits from Blackbird. He's currently growing over 300 kinds of fruits and vegetables, including many species in his own Eden Project type geodesic dome greenhouse.
Anthony hopes others, including suburban and urban dwellers can take this model (pun??) and begin a life of increased "self-reliance". His desert organic garden and food forest in Paradise Valley, Arizona, is the model we hope to put into our communities in Kenya. Full details of the Minnesota model are available here.
With recent studies showing around 15% of all energy used in the US is swallowed up by food production and distribution; mechanised equipment, fertilisers, pesticides, processing, packaging, its insane to learn that EACH item of food on an average american plate makes an average trip of over 2,400km by boat, plane, train or automobile!!!!!!
Its also truly staggering to learn that between a quarter and a third of the food produced in the US gets wasted. To get some perspective that equates to 2.2 million terajoules of energy loss (US-2007) or the equivalent of 350 MILLION barrels of oil which is DOUBLE SWITZERLAND'S ENTIRE TOTAL ANNUAL ENERGY CONSUMPTION.
The first step to counter this involves identifying efficiency savings along the production chain, which is where Anthony is excelling Smile .. but also, what better place to learn how to get back to self-reliance, than Africa, or more specifically Kenya (of course).
Back in April I was en route from Nairobi to Maseno in western Kenya, with my 2 children and a volunteer/ biker friend Karl from Newcastle. My son (12) and daughter (14) were in the back seat of the car as we went along stopping occasionally to pick up sacks of home-grown, as-fresh-as-it-gets potatoes, cabbage and green beans and carrots and kale for a feast we wanted to take to the girls, resident at our main hosts, the wonderful and inspirational Mercy Home (link to US donor Vic's album of her last visit).
vic group shot dec 2009
As the backseat of the car piled up with raw produce we stopped at another busy roadside seller point, typical of the Kenyan highways, and got into a bartering frenzy over a couple of chickens. Bearing in mind this was my kid's first visit to Kenya/ Africa, despite living and being schooled for a year in rural China, they'd never experienced the truth of the journey from animal to plastic wrapped meat on a plastic tray in a supermarket! Within 5 minutes we had two of the cutest looking chickens tied loosely into a carrier bag with just their heads poking out.
sm dinner
The photo really doesn't do the situation justice but needlesstosay when we set off up the highway with the chickens looking out over the seat inbetween my son and daughter, it came as a total shock to me when my daughter became first angry and then inconsolably upset. There was nothing we could do to explain this reality of life - and death.
Within the hour, and after consuming a good few bottles of water ourselves, the kids must have come to terms with the situation because they then started to worry about the chickens! First they poured water into the caps of the water bottles then, in an epic moment, my son got Karl's HUGE fishing knife and cut the bottle at the bottom to make a water dish which was then offered to the immobile chickens.
They refused quietly.
Things then started to get tense as it was 3pm, very hot and the roads were insane (we'd also taken a wrong turning and ended up on the Kakamega road (NE of Maseno). My daughters tears had even dried up but then the "miracle" snacks started to get a response from our captives and before long my own dear children were fattening up their dinner with some kenyan version of doritos!
The kids were happy and the chickens were happy, and as Anthony just told me "its much more compassionate than keeping them in little cages their whole life - thats for sure."
After a tearful arrival at the girls home, Karl and my son then proceeded to shoot the entire slaughter and meal process on camera, for your viewing pleasure.
Here's one more valuable lesson. If you want to know what a raw food diet can do for just you, let alone your planet - look and learn!
Apologies for the blatant use of raw flesh

Let it snow - let it snow - let it snowwwww

Its such a pleasure, especially in this arctic weather, to work online.
No commute - no cost - flexible timescales - but mainly because I work with so many fabulous people.
Carolyn Adams is one of them.
Yesterday morning Carolyn was on the phone to the British High Commission, diplomatically screaming at Nairobi's bureaucracy, namely the Attorney General's department. I'd like to mention that the department were especially helpful and hopefully they will be pushing forward the progress on shipping a half container-load of Ksh7 million's worth of tax-exempt donated, recycled NHS medical and surgical equipment to Mombasa. From there it will be trucked to the ArrowWeb Community Hospital that has so far (since 2005) offered free and subsidised health services to over 50,000 slum residents around Kayole-Soweto, Nairobi and hopes to continue offering more, improved services for many years to come.
The Director of UK Trade and Investment for East Africa networked us with other officials who are now helping to draw up the Holy Grail of shipping; the tax-exemption certificate that means KRA can't get their hands on any of this equipment ! I love how KRA's website is currently listing a statement about them taking "great exception to continued unjustified slander aimed at tarnishing its name and that of its employees by some individuals and a section of the media" LOL Truth hurts.
MOU's - Ministry of Medical Services - Attorney Generals .... as Carolyn puts it its the "king asked the queen and the queen asked the dairymaid could we have some butter for the royal slice of bread...." However, I strongly believe media and the increasing reach of social networks and internet media are slowly but surely cutting through bureaucratic red tape and revealing the inefficiencies and corruption underneath.
We'll get there in the end.
Hakuna matata!
Bramuel, one of the founders of the hospital, is currently showing a few friends around Nairobi and the hospital. Claudius is touring East Africa and wanted to get involved in the project while James is in the country to oversee his own orphanage set up a few years ago. Kickstart Kids International was founded and run by young Australians, helping kids from advantaged countries to help “kickstart” the lives of kids who effectively have nothing. James, a medical student with Zoe, one of our 2007 volunteers and an active member of AVIF, want to get involved with a project medically and ArrowWeb are the perfect choice.
I know there'll be a big difference made by the partnership!
And it all happened here, over the internet, with a foot of snow outside!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Christmas come early

Another amazing day .. not only did it stop raining in the UK and the sun shone brightly, but my daughter got confirmation of the arrival of her white Blackberry Bold   ... the bad news is that my son has to wait another week for the arrival of Assassins Creed 3 Brotherhood
...... ridiculous western materialistic crap aside .... the REAL point of this blog is the results our Norwegian volunteer, Mona, posted onto my Facebook wall earlier today ... news, with visuals, of little Sylvia. Sylvia was highlighted when Mona joined us in north western Kenya earlier this year, working alongside the Canadian-based Tumaini Centre, established by soon-to-be-proud-Mum Amanda Flanagan.
Sylvia is the orphaned grandchild of the cook for the school that Tumaini support and have been constantly developing for a number of years. Unfortunately, due to the typical pressures of workloads and poverty, Sylvia's grandmother was severely struggling to keep Sylvia literally "alive" due to undernourishment since losing her Mother at only a few months old. In April, 4.5 yr old Sylvia was barely the same size as her 1 yr old cousin ..... but then we found her and people got together and helped and spent time and only a little money to find a way to help this little girl.
And look how we did:
I just want to thank EVERYONE involved especially Mona (for her time spent in Kenya and back home in Norway), Rose (in Kenya), Amanda (in Canada and now Kenya), the friends and family donors from Canada and Norway, Maurice for liaison in the community and all the amazing school staff for their efforts in keeping Sylvia in baby class to help with socialisation. The story of the school is uplifting on its own but I'd especially like to thank Sylvia's tireless Grandma, Christine, for honestly doing her best to fend for her grandchildren after her own daughter died.
Now there's much more hope for Sylvia, pictured here with a walking frame made for her to aid her in walking for the first time, on her own, at almost 5 years old. In the words of a friend, Jacque: "everyone should be proud and here's hoping Sylvia continues to prosper and in later life gets to track down who was responsible for the woolly bonnet!" Wink ..bless her!!
Front cover of Vogue will be waiting, Sylvia x

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Maasai at TED (almost)

Petr, one of our Czech volunteers from the Summer has managed to upload hundreds of his photos to both Flickr and Facebook to pass on just how amazing the month was he spent at the village of Enkito, Amboseli National Park, alongside fellow volunteers, Shiv and Emma.
This is one of Petr's photos of Narakiramart looking at this actual photo! She's smiling now but was actually scared of the camera.

I also just heard from Ben Rigby of The Extraordinaries aka micro-volunteering at Sparked.Com who's been talking to the world via a stage at TED about how he's helping us get help to put in a well for the village to ease Narakiramart's chores (and the other women) of walking up to 8 KILOMETRES to fetch water.
This whole project started after a simple conversation with Maasai's modern man, Jackson, pictured below ( thanks to Emma for the photo).

I met Jackson while at the fabulous eco-camp; Stilts, in Diani Beach on the Indian Coast, this April. He and a few other village members moonlight as askari (warrior) nightwatchmen there as part of an exclusive friendly contract written years back with the owner. Although we have fabulous photos of Jackson turning up with a Cosmopolitan under his arm he is still extremely proud of his heritage, village and traditions, working in Diani simply to earn more for his community.
I'd literally just walked down off Mount Kenya that morning and had bags and bags of dirty wet clothes. I was stood washing my ridiculously large amount of clothing chatting to Jackson who dresses simply in the traditional shuka, flipflops made from old tyres and shorts! They do make up for it with jewellery though and Jackson does a roaring trade with the visitors, taking orders to make bespoke jewellery and texting these orders to the women in the community.

I felt fairly ridiculous washing my 4th pair of trousers in the sink while chatting with him but this was when he told me how far the women have to walk for water. They have donkeys to help and having our volunteers spend a month with Jackson and the community this summer, we  know there is a communal tap just outside that works every Tuesday !!!!!
So .. if you can help us help these fabulous people and their amazing children then please get in touch. They'd love to welcome you into their village for a visit under the watchful eye of Kilimanjaro, otherwise, simply click here to help us help them. Asante sana!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I love my job - volunteering just works

.. I just received some fantastic news from the folks at NABUUR and the Friends of Arrow Web Hospital. Carolyn has managed to secure the remaining funding to ship the vital medical equipment to Kenya. Funds were offered by COCO, a children’s charity founded by Olympic athlete Steve Cram, who support children throughout the developing world.

(Carolyn sharing a joke with some of the ladies at Arrow Web)
This now means that Aid to Hospitals Worldwide, a fantastic organisation that recycle large item hospital equipment like X-ray machines and surgical tables from UK hospitals and gives them FREE to needy communities around the developing world, can ship almost a full container of vital equipment to the Arrow Web Hospital in Kayole-Soweto. The container will include beds, dental chairs, baby warmers and laboratory equipment and many other essential pieces, the value of which, as new, would be over £58,000 !!!
Bramuel J Simiyu, who tirelessly runs operations at this busy, overwhelmed community hospital and has helped to improve conditions and services on offer dramatically, is among the many staff that will welcome this incredible Gift, allowing the hospital to serve, even better, the thousands of very low income residents of the vast surrounding slum community. Its just so awesome when people come together and just get things done!!! Thank you to everyone involved.
As you'll see on the Friends blog, "Super-Facilitator" Carolyn also managed to convince NHS Grampian to support the Hospital and organised a visit from a small number of key staff. They brought six large bags of medical supplies and baby clothes with them donated by NHS Grampian staff and colleagues in Moray, Scotland. The visit will be the start of a long term relationship between Arrow Kenya and NHS Grampian, forging assistance and further collaboration with all kinds of improvements. Thats just fabulous, especially when you think this all started with me going to a little networking event at Harrogate Community Voluntary Service. It was there that I met Mary, who later became a trustee for AVIF, but who is also the northern representative for A2HW. Along with friends like Deby Atkinson of Paca, who held a ladies evening fundraiser for us we're now hitting the successes we are, simply due to people Volunteering .. ASANTE x!x

(Mary and my daughter, Robyn, at the fundraiser in May, this year)

Friday, October 01, 2010

New experiences and progress made

After a wonderful Summer I'm definitely enjoying the colours of [Fall] Autumn and watching the little waterfall return in our local woods from the incessant rain UK is getting right now.

It's good also that volunteers are still travelling Kenya to volunteer during their spare time. Mona (a Winter/Spring 2010 volunteer) had only just emailed me about her plans to help the Volunteer Centre progress (or the VCVCK; Vision Community Vocational Centre of Khalaba), when Catriona confirmed her flight details. She'll be assisting the community throughout November and most of December, perfectly timed as Director and founder of the project, Amanda, is fantastically awaiting the arrival of her baby daughter at the end of November so she'll need all hands on deck!!!

I've also just sent over donated funds from Eleanor (a Summer 2009 volunteer) allocated to the Mercy Home Well project. The hydrogeological survey was completed September 24th and a photographer captured the girls fetching water for one of the last times from the spring. The bricks, sand, cement, wiremesh & ballast for the work have been purchased and we hope the work will commence soon. Catriona should be visiting the girls early December.
Unfortunately we're still waiting for the survey to take place at the Enkito community in Amboseli. Jeff of Staff of Hope assures us it will be completed shortly.
In addition to all this activity I've been studying at the School for Social Entrepeneurs. I was invited for the 6 month course and am so thankful I was as its turning into a vital force in progress, getting KO2 active, our community interest company, set up to support AVIF's work, as well as my own local community. More soon ....

What a day

Today started out with me thinking .. "its going to be one of those days" :( .. wasps nests, dogs barking, pandemonium .. and then I sat down and opened my Inbox. Wow.
The Force is strong in today's emails!

Firstly I'd like to thank those involved in offering us a "Better Net Award" from The UnLtd Millennium Awards Scheme which will help toward "Safeguarding" costs in the preparation of our Community Interest Company here in the UK, ultimately supporting AVIF's development work.

Secondly, I must thank 2007's fantastic volunteers; Nick Kempson, Charlie Wright and all those involved in fundraising for the Mercy Home Foundation. Alongside TRUCC and Vicki and KWAHO, who is supplementing the drilling, we are going to able to put in a well in at Mercy Home. This means the girls no longer have to get up early each morning to walk down to the river and then carry back the large, heavy containers of water each day. There is also the possibility to earn an income as a water supplier to their local community. This is just fabulous news.

In the meantime the hydrogeological survey is about to take place in Enkito to confirm costs involved in sinking a well in that community. After spending the Summer in the village, volunteers have confirmed water is still a big issue. Current piped-supplies of water are shared to taps around the whole area.  The tap 10 minutes away only supplies on a Tuesday! Can you imagine having to collect water in containers, enough to last an entire community a whole week. Impossible. We hope to help. If you wish to contribute please do so via the Donation site top left of this page.
Many thanks to Shiv for these details and her fabulous photos are available here.
(Siobhan and our liaison Jackson in Amboseli National Park, Aug 2010)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Another summer over .. unless you want to go to Kenya NOW??

The volunteers have sadly all left their communities now though both the villagers and the volunteers will have no doubt left huge impressions on each. Its never an easy time, especially for the children, to say Goodbye, but the great thing is memories, experiences learnt and of course THE PHOTOS .......
Emma's fabulous album from Amboseli is here on FaceBook and I'll pass on more as they get uploaded.
Enjoy ...

..and from Nakuru (more on the LLK website).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mercy Home gets some creative geekness

Jehovah Nissi Mercy Childrens Centre, lovingly known as "Mercy Home" was AVIF's first project back in 2006. It was found by volunteers and has been visited every year since then and the results are phenomenal. Building work, increase in farming land, results of girls entering university, grade scores .. all fairly amazing when you consider these girls have either lost their parents or suffered from various forms of abuse.
Thanks to very generous donors from all over the world, especially Vicki and Della from the US, the home is now catering for many more girls who otherwise would have no chance of success in life. The girls are inspirational and pretty much run the place, under the guidance of Mama and Papa; Deborah & Edward.

The girls wake at 6 every morning for prayers then go to fill huge barrels full of water and carry them back on their heads before preparing a small breakfast and getting ready for school. Some of them do not arrive back home until 6/7pm. Their dedication and resolve is energizing and they will continue to host friends and donors and volunteers for many years to come I hope.
The latest donation comes from a very generous and active BEMSEE-racer and will arrive in Kenya thanks to free-of-charge airfreight offered (again) by Kenya Airways, Heathrow to Nairobi.

Packed into 2 flightcases will be an incredibly unique internet teaching station combining hardware and  software to promote IT learning and designed to include standard IT curricula as well as investigating and comparing the uses of ICT inside and outside school. The girls of Mercy Home will be trained in the software enough to also offer classes themselves to others in the community. Viral learning!!
This amazing design was the brainchild of "Wal" and I'd personally like to thank him for his generosity (again) and creative geekness ;-) We hope that he can travel over to Kenya with his wife in the next few months to help set up and train a few of the girls himself.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Culture shock in Nakuru

Photos have been uploaded from the volunteers assisting LLK in Nakuru currently.

We were all very grateful for the peaceful referendum period around August 4 but unfortunately the common problems with money and jealousy (due to poverty) have cropped up again. Its very commonplace for some Kenyans to attempt to "rip us off", mainly due to the blatant lack of money they have compared to us. Previous volunteers have written about this topic many times, it is simply part of the "culture shock" and something we have to be tolerant and open-minded about. "No" is a perfectly acceptable answer to prices offered in Kenya and bartering, sometimes ruthlessly, is a way of life. Raised prices for muzungu are also a fact of life in Kenya, apparent at the entrance gates to any wildlife park!
Please ensure this facet of "developing world" life doesn't ruin the experience for you and talk to us and especially to previous volunteers about it via the Facebook group.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bringing water to Enkito's children

I've been chatting with Jeff of Staff of Hope, the Raleigh, NC funded drill team in Kenya.
Jeff is currently in Oloitoktok deep in true one-road country to the right of Amboseli National Park and about 90km east of Enkito.
In the next week the hydrogeological survey and environmental studies will be completed to determine how deep to drill the well for the village. We are busy fundraising for this drilling so please pass this video on and help where you can, donating to the website [top left].
Our volunteers; Emma, Shiv and Petr are busy helping with the community and teaching maths, social siences, environment studies and helping with English. Currently the children have to go home to eat during the break and it takes up a lot of time. Most schools can apply for funding for school meals and we need to assist the community in this but after February's severe drought killed so many of the maasai's vital cattle, they had to let go their 2nd teacher.
The women of the village are currently walking almost 8 km from the village to the nearest water point to get drinking water and there is no water available for the children when they are in school so please help us bring water to Enkito.

Friday, August 13, 2010

is simplifying inter

is simplifying international banking transfer procedures to pay the US to pay Kenya to bring water to a maasai manyatta .. Doing it MY way!

Posted via email from alisonlowndes's posterous

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Security Advisory on Referendum in Kenya

In addition to the attached Advice from Safaricom, AVIF wishes you to be fully informed about the situation and to take extra precaution during these times.
Please follow this additional advice:

  • Do not attend any rallies.
  • Please refrain from political debates with fellow Kenyans unless you know them well.
  • Nakuru volunteers should minimize movements on August 4 (Vote Day) & 5 (Results announcement).
  • Please advise everyone you know and meet, in Kenya, of the UCHAGUZI (Kenya decides) site enabling instant reporting of incidents and receipt of current and updated information over the referendum period. A demo video is here on the main Ushahidi's platform. You can report via SMS, sending a message to 3018, by sending an email to, sending a tweet with the hashtag/s #uchaguzi or By filling out this form

Please enjoy your time in Kenya and realise the majority of Kenyans wish for peaceful times.

Posted via email from alisonlowndes's posterous

Thursday, July 15, 2010

From boys to men

We've finally received news on the results of donations for Pius and Norbert. Simon and co. kindly donated funds after the unfortunate fire at Pius' school, Ukwala Secondary School, claimed all his belongings. He now has 2 new sets of uniform, new shoes, bedding, another mattress, bag and some extra pocket money. Pius will be sitting his fourth form KCSE exams next year. Norbert Oile, also sponsored by Simon and friends, joined Jordan College last Sunday in Thika to train in Tours and Travel Operations, a career with a definite future in Kenya!

We wish them all well and thank guardian and AVIF liaison, Edward Wata.

Asante & salamu

Alison Lowndes
Founder Trustee

AVIF is a UK excepted charity able to claim GiftAid HMRC ref. XR99385

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” - EinsteinFacebookLinkedInTwitterFacebookBlog RSS
Contact me: Skype/avif_volunteers_in_kenya

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Ben's band "Reason"

Presenting "Reason" ...
Download now or listen on posterous
Reason_Beat_1.mp3 (5521 KB)
Jacob Bowerman & Lawrence Beeling  on Bass, Richard Ellis & Oliver Bowerman on guitar, Matt on vocals and my own Ben Lowndes on drums!

"Beat" is their first and original track written and composed by the boys age 12-13 from Yr 7 Nidderdale High School. Recorded by Rich Huxley AKA TheHuxCapacitor in the awesome Crypt Studio (link to a cool 360 panorama), in Leeds 12 July 2010.
P.S. Message from Ben, "you edited out my best fill ?!"

Friday, July 09, 2010

Branching out into the Amazon

AVIF are taking a bold new step into environmental and arts volunteering, joining forces with a deprived riberinho (river people) community in the Brazilian Amazon. Working with world-renowned composer and cellist, Diego Carneiro, founder of AmazonArt, we need volunteer teachers with a love for the arts; musical or simply creative, to help teach in an incredible, small but inspiring school in Combu, reachable only by boat, a relatively short journey from the city of Belém.

Established in 1998 the school sought to provide social and cultural development for the residents and children unable to access facilities in Belém. The school soon became the heart of the community and provides education centred around valuing and protecting the local traditions and environment. Diego Carneiro founded his charity AmazonArt to employ music and art to inspire understanding and promote the protection of the rainforest and river. 

Volunteers can spend time both educating and learning with a view to assisting further development of the school. As can be expected the area is plagued by mosquitos and malaria and the current building needs windows and netting amongst other things.

Photos of the area are available on Panoramia [Rodrigo Macedo Lopes] 

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Contact me: Skype/avif_volunteers_in_kenya

Posted via email from alisonlowndes's posterous