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Children of Bukati

Thank you for supporting Children of Bukati. This ministry of Stone United Church is coming to an end.

Children of Bukati at Stone from Cate Dewey

In 2006, I went to Kenya to conduct research work with subsistence pig farmers. Those living in multi-generational farms with an acre of land on which to grow food to feed their families. Most farms had a few adults and 8 to 14 children. Half of the children were orphaned, most of these were not going to school. One farmer blessed us with “May God go with you”. I thought of the orphans in her care who were not going to school. Somehow these children needed to be educated. Where would this community be in the next generation if the adults could not read or do math or be the leaders to pull the community out of poverty.
At the 2007 Annual Meeting, Stone United Church voted to accept COB as their outreach project. The aims of the project were to encourage children to go to school by providing a lunch, build projects to ensure sustainability, run the project through volunteers in Canada and Kenya to keep the overhead at less than 2₵ per dollar donated, engage Canadians with these Kenyans through presentations, and support equal numbers of girls and boys. We monitored the project regularly – I made 14 trips to Kenya and University of Guelph (U of G) students went as well.
In July 2006, there was a feeling of hopelessness in the Bukati school community. During an assembly, the principal read the names of orphaned children, it went like this: Kevin’s parents died in 1997. He was living with his 79-year-old grandmother who was caring for nine children. In 2006, we bought pencils and uniforms and built a corn-grist mill at the school. In 2007, the villagers volunteered expertise and materials to build a kitchen. Our funds were sufficient to feed corn porridge to kindergarten children five days a week and other orphaned children one day a week. Our practice was to feed all orphaned and destitute children as many days a week as possible with the funds that we had available. Beginning in 2008, we fed orphans three days a week. In 2009, all children in kindergarten to Grade 3 were fed regardless of their status. We developed kitchen gardens, and livestock projects (sheep, pigs, laying hens and dairy cattle). We grew tree seedlings that reforested the community. Randy and our sons each carried 50 pounds of books in their luggage to begin a school library. It was the first time these children saw a story book.

We purchased 11 acres of land next to the school to help the community become self-sufficient. A Canadian permaculture expert was hired to develop agriculture and forestry projects. We dug trenches to capture the water during the heavy rains to reduce soil erosion and extend the growing season, planted termite resistant bananas, grew dry land rice and planted peas with the corn so the peas added nitrogen and the corn provided a support for the peas, composted animal manure, and dug a fish pond to capture the water run-off from the school’s well. Within 11 months of planting, all 1,200 children at the school were fed five days per week.

In 2010, the children in Grades 7 and 8 wrote and performed a song about the rights of the child – the right to food, a home and an education. This community was no longer living under the burden of hopelessness. They saw a future for the children and themselves. The numbers of orphaned children attending the school grew each year from 150 in 2006 to 850 in 2011.

In 2010, COB expanded to two other schools. At the Buduma School, we provided the funds for the supplies and the community training to develop an extensive agro-forestry project. In 2011, we began an agro-forestry project at the Bwaliro Primary School. For project oversight and planning, we established a Kenyan community advisory committee with members representing parents, guardians, teachers, municipal government, and village elders. A team from the U of G facilitated a strategic planning session with this committee. We did not buy uniforms and pencils at this school, instead we used all of the money for food and projects. We re-cemented the floors of the classrooms, built desks to get the children off the floor, and dug a well to provide the community with safe water. We planted trees for nuts, fruit, animal fodder, and construction. We grew and sold grass for fodder, millet, maize, dry land rice and kitchen gardens for the lunch program and tomatoes in a greenhouse to sell at the market. Then pigs, sheep and dairy cattle were added. The project greatly enhanced the academic success at the Bwaliro school. It placed first in academic performance in the region and first in science in the entire county. The numbers of orphaned students increased from 117 to 480. Like in the Bukati School District, it was no longer accepted that school aged children stay at home. Although classroom sizes grew (100 students in Grade 2), the children are learning because they are being fed and able to learn. Lunch kept them at school in the afternoons.

Community education events were held twice a year at each school. The older students taught local farmers improved farming techniques. Representatives of the school board, ministry of education, and other principals visited the schools to learn how the project could be duplicated elsewhere.

Independent community evaluations of the project were conducted in the school communities by University of Guelph students. They found that the children’s nutritional needs were being met, the children had more energy and the numbers of children going to the local health clinic was reduced from 14 per day to four per day. The adults had more money because the children were fed at school and by using improved farming techniques, they increased crop production. There was increased food security. There was less conflict in the homes because everyone had more to eat, less community conflict, and a collaborative attitude through participating in the school. School attendance and retention increased, more girls were being educated and more students received a high school education.

All of the general funds donated to COB supported the lunch program and sustainability projects. We kept overhead at less than 2%. Funds were NOT used to pay for Canadians traveling to or living in Kenya. In 2006, we had 96 donors, but these numbers grew by 200 per year to a total of 1,270 today. Donors learned of the project through presentations given to churches, service clubs (Rotary and Probus), and other groups such as Retired Teachers and Nurses organizations, and Guelph Men’s Club. In 2008/09, Cate provided weekly pulpit supply to United Churches around Ontario, in British Columbia and churches in Nebraska. Donations to COB exceeded $930,000 – about $100,000 of this was through Canada Helps. We purchased all sorts of interesting things such as corn, beans, cooking pots, fencing, the liner for fish ponds, pigs, chickens, tree seeds, dairy cows and importantly we paid the wages to the cooks. Over the years, we fed approximately 2.75 million lunches at the Bukati and Bwarliro schools. In addition to this, individuals sponsored high school and university students. The orphaned students with the highest marks in Grade 8 were selected. In total 25 high school and six university students were supported.

Thank you to Peter Guthrie, Karen Richardson, and Marg Baker, who spent hours on the project. Thank you to Randy Dewey who helped me Sunday after Sunday as we shared the story through pulpit supply, helped sort beads, spread the story, answered questions and gave me moral support and encouragement. Doug Fitzsimmons was our amazing web master, Norah Menzies promoted the project far and wide, and Rev. Jamie VanderBerg organized four groups of students to volunteer, build classrooms and greenhouses and teach at the schools. Thank you to each one of you for your generous donations, support and encouragement. You showed that indeed Stone United is a small church with a big heart. Together with God’s strength, a Miracle did happen.