By PP Mike Eldon
Ten years ago, when Eric Krystall was President of our Rotary Club of Nairobi, the Rotary Cura Home was officially opened by the then Vice President, Moody Awori. The District Governor of the day, Mohamed Abdulla, was present, as was then Assistant Governor Bimal Kantaria, whose Westlands Rotary Club played a central role in overseeing the building of the home.
On Saturday 29th November this year Rotarians gathered again to celebrate a decade since that opening. PDG Mohamed was there, and also our current DG, Bimal Kantaria, together with an impressive collection of our Club’s Past Presidents – Joe Wanjui, Dinesh Kapila and Sudesh Walia. Oh and also two others: the founder of the Cura village empowerment initiative, Evelyn Mungai supported by Mike Eldon. Current RCN President Kamal Sanghani, who had played a key role in organising the event with Evelyn, was of course also there, as was Christian Knockenhauer, who as our Club’s Webmaster, has featured a number of articles about developments in Cura on our site.
Along with celebrating the double-digit achievement of the Home and the blossoming of the 50 AIDS-orphaned children whose lives have been so dramatically transformed by it, we were there to witness the handing over of the Home’s management to the Anglican Development Services. This development arose as a result of discussions between Evelyn Mungai and Bishop Timothy Ranji (seen at right when President Kamal fixed a Rotary pin to his robe), in whose Mt. Kenya South Diocese Cura sits. ADS already manages similar institutions to the Rotary Cura Home, and a wonderful team of professionals is now moving in to look after the orphanage.
The highlight of the morning was a pair of really moving speeches by two of the children from the Home. Sarah Wambui, now a student at the Cura Secondary School (built with funds raised in California by my daughter Amy and her husband Jon Turteltaub), thanked the “mum and dad” to the children (Evelyn and me!) “for how far you have brought us”. Sarah expressed her appreciation for the housing, the food, the clothes and the education from which she has benefitted, before admitting she could not find enough words to thank everyone adequately. As for me I can’t find enough words to express how emotional we all felt in listening to her.
As for Christopher Waweru, now at Kajiado High School, he took us back to the time before he and the other young orphans were accepted at the Home, hungry and dirty, with torn clothes and no shoes, living in a muddy house whose walls you could see through, and with no water. School was a problem as there was no money for uniforms, and even going to church was too hard.
“Some would have been driven to suicide,” he continued, “or taken to drink or crime and ended up in prison. But now we go to church and know God. We have a library where we study, and we have Internet connected computers where we Skype with people from abroad. We have been to a swimming pool and a museum, and we have daily water and soap, so we have no more jiggers or body lice.”
Following on from these extraordinary testimonies we heard from Moses Machara who throughout this period has been the Home’s Manager. Moses took us through the history of the last ten years, starting with Evelyn’s arrival on the scene when she was our Club’s President in 2001. He spoke of the Club’s first project in Cura, the renovation and equipping of the primary school, which had been in a deplorable state. Then, with the arrival of A-Harvest on the scene, the livelihoods of the community were transformed through the introduction of Tissue-Culture bananas and banana farming spread like wildfire throughout Kiambu.
Next Moses talked about the work of The DEPOT, whose work of building the capacity of the community’s leaders led to a total change of thinking among the people of Cura. With new farming methods came the introduction of a culture of improved financial management and of saving.
“Then, on 14th August 2004, Moody Awori opened the Home. We had a building, but no children. So what next? After some time we managed to welcome our first boys and girls, and eventually we reached fifty. Meanwhile drugs and equipment were organised for the clinic that had been built by the Mothers Union but had sat idle for five years, and Bonnie Sutherland and her Rotarians from Canada set up our library and stocked it with books and also provided us with our computer lab.”
Moses also thanked Jordan Miller and Norman Golightly for setting up the cowshed and chicken coop and stocking them with animals; Yassie Somen for spending such quality time with the children and organising visits to the game park and elsewhere; Davis & Shirtliff for all their support with our water supply; Eric and Molly Mungai for bringing the children to watch motocross; Will Fort and Construction for Change for the building of the high school, and Joe Njenga and David Mukuria for all their contributions; and Creative Visions Foundation and Hayden Bixby for all their financial support that has not only led to the sponsorship of our children at the Home but also allowed for the building of the high school.
This school opened last year and was officially registered in June of this year. Next year the Home will have its first Form 4 candidate for the KCSE examination; five students in Form 3; and nine in Form 2. In January eleven more students will transfer to high school, making 28 in all.
After listing various items needed by the home Moses concluded that Cura had become a role model for good villages, thanks to an attitude of “Yes, we can”. He was followed by the High School principal, and then farmer Judy Wachira explained how the Home had been a blessing to the whole community, and first because with it came A-Harvest, who taught the farmers about forming and managing a group.
Now they have diversified into other crops, including African indigenous vegetables like sukuma, terere and manage that put healthy food on their tables, help them pay school fees and allow them to grow their contributions to the chama investment club. Another finance group supports businesses in Cura and beyond, financing mechanics, welders and tailors.
“The first time I tasted honey was when the beekeeping project was brought to Cura,” continued Mrs. Wachira in relation to another income generating initiative, adding “no wonder the English talk about being as sweet as honey.” She also described the consequences of The DEPOT exchange programme that brought together young people from Cura with others from Canada and Tanzania. “Those who had the opportunity to visit those countries had their lives completely changed,” she reported. “Today they are dreaming big, and now some who are living out of the country send money back here to pay for our Christmas parties for the children at the Home.
Next it was Evelyn’s turn to speak, and she reminded us that this was the week of the celebration of Thanksgiving. As it was for all of us, she said how emotional she felt in listening to the earlier speakers, and then took us back to when the children first came, some of them in nappies and wetting their beds. She paid tribute to the wonderful house mothers, and how they had taken such good care of the children.
Evelyn talked about the good fortune of finding a place in Cura where Rotary could build the home for AIDS orphans it was seeking to establish, funded by Rotarians from all over Africa. “Young” Bimal Kantaria oversaw the building and the use of funds, together with fellow Westlands Rotarian Prof. Ngugi and his foreman, Karanja. But, as Moses had already mentioned, how could the money be found to make the home operational? Along came Susan O’Neil who supported our first ten children, and then Slum Doctors programme who handled another twenty.
“Creative Visions Foundations,” Evelyn told us, “has since provided major support, along with Bonnie Sutherland and other well-wishers including through our Rotary Club and its Trust. Karungari Mungai organised the Touch-a-Life fund raising concert with her peers and later connected Cura with the Safaricom Foundation, who supported the library. What we look for now is for that spirit of giving from far to come closer to home, to members of the community here in and around Cura.”
Earlier, we had heard from the Assistant Chief, who had pledged appropriate support from the government, and now it was the turn of James Kihara, a senior member of the staff of local MP George Muchai. Kihara listed all the areas where the MP is committed to support the people of Cura, including projects to bring better water and roads, enhancement of the high school, funds for developing the banana and beekeeping… plus Shs.50,000 for the home.
Next came two Rotarians who had place giving at the centre of their lives. First Kamal, who said he was impressed that the Home had been in existence for ten years – longer than many businesses manage to survive for. He was happy that the banana and beekeeping projects were still going, but felt that more could be done to take them to the next level.
Kamal told us he was born in a six-by six room on Juja Road, in which his whole family lived. His grandfather owned a bicycle, on which he carried his five siblings to their technical school. “When God was nice to our family,” he reflected, “we felt we should be nice to others. Whatever we can do for Cura we will.” And with that he announced they are offering a one-year supply of sanitary towels for the girls at the home.
At this point Kamal handed the microphone to Dinesh Kapila who, drawing attention to his many years of experience – evidenced by his white hair – said he had seen so many projects start… and also seen not a few of them fail. So he praised those behind this initiative for their determined effort and their perseverance.
It is not possible to depend only on the government for development, said Dinesh, and so the Chairman of the Rotary Club of Nairobi Trust informed the gathering that it is reaching out to large corporates such as Kenya Airways, KCB and Safaricom to each adopt a village. And to show them what can result in they would be brought to Cura to study a model they can emulate. Dinesh concluded his remarks by announcing that as a start the Trust is donating a million shillings to Cura.
It was now the turn of the man who had overseen the building of the Home and who is now the District Governor. Bimal Kantaria (seen at left about to fix Rotary pins to the lapels of Moses Machara and that other great supporter of the Home, Stephen N’gethe) proclaimed himself a son of the area, as his great grandfather had started a sawmill locally 110 years ago, and until today the family’s GD Brothers operates its timber business close by and also an oil mill in Kikuyu.
Then Bimal revealed that the funds that had been generated for the building of the Home from the contributions of Rotary Clubs around Kenya and Africa amounted to only half the Shs.5 million needed to construct a cement and stone structure. “So I went to see my father and asked him if he could provide the balance of Shs.2.5 million. Having satisfied himself that the project was sound and that it benefit the people of Cura he agreed.” It was the first that any of us knew of this extraordinary contribution, and now Bimal concluded by announcing he would donate Shs,100,000 to the Home.
The final speaker was the Bishop, who said he felt humbled and blessed by hearing all the messages of giving – the message of Jesus Christ and that of all great people. “If you live for yourself you live for nothing,” he told us, thanking the giants of Rotary on whose shoulders we have been standing. “We would not have been here had it not been for you,” he confirmed.
Then he turned to the community, warning them that ADS was taking over the management and urging them to do more in giving back to themselves. “As of now it is not in the culture, and if you do more it will make a big difference.” Returning to Jesus, he quoted his exhortation to “Be blessed and ready for service, and your lamps will keep burning”. The Bishop loved the Rotary motto of Service above Self, and emphasised the importance of high quality education, calling for the high school to be one of the best – in line with our founding vision for it. He particularly looked for excellence in maths and for finding ways of equipping the school with a laboratory, so that those who emerged from it could become engineers and doctors and suchlike, serving Kenyans.
Joe Wanjui (seen at left presenting a gift to Nduta, one of the house mothers) picked up on Bishop Ranji’s enthusiasm for science learning, announcing that his foundation will offer two full scholarships to girls who will be admitted to a university. No wonder he suggested they study hard.
Evelyn now presented a large number of certificates of appreciation, to the many who had contributed over the years to the development of the home and the surrounding initiatives, and finally she led the Home children in bringing in a beautiful cake through which to celebrate this moving and uplifting day.