MichiKen’s June 2014 Trip
The Dental School team was the largest contingent from a University of Michigan school, with five faculty and staff and eight students. They completed oral and nutritional surveys on children and are now crunching data to yield scientific publications and support for future projects.
The School of Public Health team is working on several projects related to community health, and hope to bring at least one Kenyan physician to the University of Michigan to complete doctoral training.
The team from the Medical School included five faculty and four students. Amy Tremper returned for a fourth year to teach a vitally important series of health and sex education classes for Kithoka students. Additional projects included studies of obstetrics, chronic pain, and a survey of clinical needs at a new MichiKen partner, Consolata Hospital.
The School of Pharmacy team led by Vicki Ellingrod worked at Consolata Hospital and Kenya Methodist University to identify potential research and service products for future trips. The hope is to grow this into the most successful global program at the College of Pharmacy.
Mike and Judy Gendreau spent much of their time working with Ruth Mbogori, founder of Shalem Community Educators. Shalem is active in many projects, including efforts to house and educate the street children of Meru. The Gendreaus are delighted to report that their sponsored student, Peter, continues to excel at Meru School for Boys.
MichiKen’s Kithoka Digital Village (KDV) network is now providing truly high-speed internet to three sites within Kithoka: BLISS, Thiiri, and Amani Children’s Home (KACH). An eight-fold increase in bandwidth was accomplished with the installation of three microwave transmission towers in January 2014. To build on this capacity, six additional LCD projectors and six laptops were brought to BLISS on this June MichiKen trip so each classroom will have projection capability for internet-based education materials. The original 13 workstation computer lab at BLISS is humming day and night. With long-distance mentoring from Jim Sterken, Julius Mwangi – the KDV Adminitrator, the BLISS computer lab manager, and an IT student at Kenya Methodist University – keeps the systems in excellent working order.
Jim Sterken worked with business-experienced team members and students to launch the first Kithoka Business Plan Competition. Local community leaders organized the project with Jim’s guidance, and 94 plans were submitted by local entrepreneurs. A tiered process of evaluation winnowed the candidate list to eleven, and the community leaders are completing the evaluation process to select nine businesses to receive MichiKen business loans. See article, “Business Plan Competition Awards.”
The MEPO poultry business, funded by MichiKen in 2013, is growing and thriving. MichiKen team members heard about the challenges experienced in the first year and brainstormed ideas for further improving the business.
Andy Smith won the “person who they least want to allow to go home” award at Thiiri. He transformed the way that their woodworkers do their work and they are eternally grateful for the man they call “the engineer.” Steve Kaplan won that same award at the Kithoka Amani Children’s Home (KACH), the local orphanage supporting 34 children aged 2 to 18. Steve designed a prototype solar-heating system for the orphanage and tourist guest house, and hopes to return in 2015 with others in the construction industry to build a water collection system.
Layne Vandenberg, a University of Michigan student who joined two previous MichiKen summer trips with student entrepreneurial groups, came again this June to continue work on a project with KACH where they plan to introduce beehives to produce honey for food, plus beeswax that can be used to make lip balm for export to the US and Europe. The flowers on the banana trees (see next paragraph) will attract the bees that make the honey and beeswax. The circle of life… Layne’s blog, The Kithoka Soap Initiative, has more information about this project, and there are also pictures on the MichiKen Blog.
Thirteen members of our group remained in Kenya after the main group departed. Their work included planting many (44) banana trees in hard, rocky ground as part of Dr. Karambu Ringera’s larger efforts to help her with planning initiatives toward the goal of reaching 100% sustainability at KACH, including water storage, irrigation, waste composting, and building projects.
A bonus aspect of the MichiKen trips to Kenya is families and “kids” being part of this cultural exchange, with impressions and experiences that will last a lifetime, and that often instill commitments to service, world education, and family bonding.
A trip to Kenya is never complete without a safari, and we always incorporate one into our MichiKen summer trips. The world famous Kenya game parts are all within a 2-6 hour drive of Meru, where we are located. This year most of the group went on a 2-day trip to the Ashnil Samburu Lodge. A smaller group took a 3-day trip to the beautiful Ashnil Mara Lodge.
Everyone on the 55-person team found a way to be helpful to the Kithoka community and beyond. As a team we accomplished far more than any of us could individually. Perhaps most importantly, coming together as a team, we all made fifty or so new “US friends” – and countless new Kenyan friends.