29 travelers from the US travelled to Kithoka, Kenya on June 12-27, 2015. Focusing on economic, education, and health projects in Kithoka and nearby Meru Town (see map), we welcomed faculty and students from the University of Michigan, MichiKen volunteers, family members and friends. We even had a clown this year! Yes, Dori Gerber was seriously helpful in entertaining children in the clinics. As always, the trip was a whirlwind of research, planning, service, friendship, and fun.
At MichiKen, our guiding philosophy is partnership. Our relationship with Kenyan partners continues to inspire and guide our work. Our partners are many: heads of universities, cooks in the kitchens, drivers on safari, teachers in the classrooms, farmers in the fields, and health care workers in hospitals, among others. All generously provide knowledge and advice on what is most needed and what works in their community.
For our University of Michigan colleagues, the interdisciplinary focus of the trip is a key benefit. In 2015, faculty and students represented the UM schools of Dentistry, Pharmacy, Medicine, Public Health, and Engineering. Long conversations late into the night have led to research collaborations back in Michigan and with Kenyan colleagues. Dinner conversations with longtime Kithoka area friends have generated ideas for action that otherwise would never have emerged. As our esteemed mentor, Bishop Lawi Imathiu, says, “We live in a global village.” Together, we are pleased to report progress in all projects and new ventures for the future:
Technology in Kithoka
MichiKen continues the expansion of technology resources in Kithoka. The 13 workstation computer lab at Bishop Lawi Imathiu Secondary School (BLISS) hums with energy, enthusiasm, and productivity. The computer lab was a Kenya Urithi Education Fund project in 2009, established under the direction of Jim Sterken, who was subsequently a founder of MichiKen. It is now part of MichiKen’s Digital Village in Kithoka. The Digital Village provides high quality internet service to BLISS, the Thiiri Center, and the Kithoka Amani Children’s Home. Jim provides weekly, sometimes daily, guidance to the technical managers at these facilities, and we are proud of their technology leadership in the community. 2015 trip accomplishments included the purchase of printers for two Kithoka primary schools, and the recovery and re-installation of computer equipment at Gichunge Primary. Numerous laptops, projectors, and printers have also expanded technology resources at BLISS.
Tablet Computers at BLISS
While Apple iPad’s can cost well over $500, Android tablets are now available for less than $80. Many students do not have electricity at home, and chargeable tablets would provide critical study time in the evening. The sun sets at 6:30pm in Kithoka, long before the “study day” ends for BLISS students. MichiKen will purchase 50 tablets as a pilot project in 2015 and will work with BLISS staff to load the rigorous Kenyan curriculum onto the tablets. Assuming the usage and impact results of the pilot are successful, the next project in 2016 will provide tablets to 500+ BLISS students.
MichiKen entered year two of its microloan program this year. This is a zero interest loan program for Kithoka area small business, administered and awarded by a committee of Kithoka community leaders. In 2014 9 initial loans were made totaling 550,000 Kenyan Shillings ($US 5,500). Thanks to a good selection process and community peer pressure to make good on the loans, all but one of the loans are performing, and 75% of the money has already been repaid. Based on this success MichiKen added $US 5,000 to the loan pool in 2015 and committed to re-loan the 2014 loan monies to other businesses as it is paid back.
Dental Research and Care
The University of Michigan School of Dentistry are among the most active and loyal members of the team going to Kenya each year. Six students and four faculty worked throughout the 2014/2015 academic year to prepare for the 2015 summer trip. They carried thousands of toothbrushes and fluoride toothpaste, and over 1000 professional fluoride treatment sets to Kenya. They were delighted to screen 1614 children and 235 adults for a grand total of 1849. All the persons screened received oral hygiene instructions and a toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste. More than 600 children and 100 adults were identified with dental problems received professional topical fluoride treatments, and were referred to local dental clinics for further treatment.
The Kithoka community is deeply grateful that Dr. Amy Tremper returns each year to provide sexual health education to teens. Culturally, a parent/child conversation about sex is unlikely, yet the Kenyan parents have asked the schools to teach their children, particularly in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. So Amy’s practical materials and approach, combined with her sensitivity to Kenyan culture, fills a critical gap. Amy authored a teen-appropriate guide specifically for Kenya which is distributed to each teen. The Kenyan teens submit anonymous questions via index cards, so Amy and her recruited grad student assistants are able to answer pressing questions. The impact of this ongoing project is immeasurable.
Pharmacy Education and Practice
Dr. Vicki Ellingrodled a team of three University of Michigan Pharmacy graduate students to partner with faculty and pharmacists at the Kenya Methodist University School of Pharmacy. They exchanged ideas about the practice of pharmacy and structure of pharmacy education. The team also worked on the framework for future research focusing on the high rate of chronic pain in Kithoka, as well as non-adherence to antihypertensives. These projects will be implemented during the 2016 trip. Additionally, our pharmacy students were the male instructors for the sexual health education classes described above.
Could Dehydration be Linked to Chronic Pain?
Through the community health surveys of prior summer trips, Dr. Daniel Clauw has identified a high level of chronic pain in the Kithoka community. Two-thirds of Kithoka residents report having chronic pain, while worldwide the average reported level is one-third. Hypothesizing that poor nutrition or even dehydration may be a factor, Dan mentored Carrie Tamarelli, a second year medical student, who led a study with help from three students from the UM College of Pharmacy. Local physicians and healthcare workers administered Gatorade-like rehydration packs to patients at the Kithoka community clinic. “Hit the ground running” doesn’t begin to describe Carrie and co-workers seeing nearly a hundred patients within the first couple days of the trip. The results of the study showed that some individuals noted significant improvement in their pain, and our group will continue to pursue this and other lines of research to help this community on future trips.
Dr. Virginia Nelson linked the organization Cure International to Consolata Hospital for the facilitation of orthopaedic services. Ginny consulted at the orthopaedic clinic and provided important clinical teaching at Consolata and the Kithoka clinic. She also brought "X boxes" for electronic games which were donated by the UM Mott Family Network to schools in Kenya for student achievement rewards.
Cardiovascular Health and Computer Room
Dr. Elizabeth (Lisa) Jackson worked with Cardiology colleagues at Consolata Hospital to observe clinic care, deliver lectures, and provide teaching to US and Kenyan faculty and students. Her emphasis was cardiovascular disease prevention. She also met with US Pharmacy and Medical students to discuss medical education in the US. Lisa's sons, Anders and Aric, sorted, configured, and rehabilitated the gently used computer equipment donated to Kithoka Primary from various sources. MichiKen pitched in with the purchase of necessary repair components and a brand new printer.
Primary School Enhancements
The MichiKen team visited several area primary schools and hosted a meeting of primary school principals and teachers to brainstorm ideas for future collaboration. While BLISS has been extraordinarily successful, area primary schools that feed students to BLISS are lagging behind, and struggle with very limited resources. Because BLISS is deeply committed to the local children, they have admitted students who have missed the Kenyan cutoff for secondary school attendance. (Only about 50% of students across Kenya qualify via examination to continue secondary/high school education after 8th grade.) We agree with the assessment of local educators that raising the level of academic achievement at the primary schools is a high priority. During the 2015 trip, MichiKen purchased and installed printers for both local primary schools and refurbished and reinstalled gently used computers donated by other organizations to the primary schools. Internet connectivity will have to wait, but still a start has been made.
There is poor and then there is very poor. BLISS teachers have reached into their own pockets to pay the modest BLISS annual tuition of $125 for some of the very poor students who demonstrate high potential. In 2015, MichiKen started a BLISS scholarship program for these children, and for needy BLISS graduates who qualify for public universities. Approximately 20% of Kenyan secondary school graduates are granted government scholarships to public universities, based on senior year examinations. Even the relatively small $400 annual co-pay required to attend the public universities is beyond the reach of some BLISS students. Many of the students across Kenya who qualify have attended prestigious and expensive boarding schools. As a day school for local students, BLISS demonstrates that poverty does not have to equate to lack of education. There is much need for further scholarship support to allow BLISS students to continue their education beyond high school.
Crunching the Numbers
Bessy Nkirote Mugambi, our MichiKen Project Manager in Kenya, worked with Marianne Clauw to complete the transition of MichiKen’s accounting to QuickBooks. Bessy and Marianne are now very familiar with QuickBooks intricacies for a multi-currency global company. Bessy’s oversight of the microloan program has been critical to the smooth functioning of MichiKen operations.
MichiKen always schedules a two day safari in the middle of the summer trip. The national parks of Kenya are extraordinary, and the safaris are all we imagine when we think of Africa. This year we visited the Ashnil Samburu Tented Camp, which redefines camping into a comfortable hotel experience. See our extraordinary safari pictures!
Thank you, Kenyan Hosts
As always we are grateful to our local hosts in Kithoka:
Genesis Expeditions provides drivers and vans for the entire trip, starting with airport pickup in Nairobi, and including safari.