Monthly Archives: June 2012

Building an Orphanage part 2: The Details

We built a new orphanage in a week and a half, finishing on the day of our absolute deadline. It was a crazy time, but everything worked out in God’s plan and I think we all learned a lot along the way. Next came all the details that we had mostly neglected while rushing to finish the dorm buildings. Where will they cook and bathe and play? How do we get everything from the old site to the new one? And so much more…

We rented a truck and moved the kids in on Monday. Everything went as smooth as could be expected. I loaded over 15 of the small children in my car and the rest jumped in the back of the truck with their things. I took a detour on the way to see a herd of zebra which was fun because some of the younger children had never seen one before 🙂 There were even some gazelles and an ostrich among the zebras.

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The plan for Tuesday was to transfer 16 of the primary school students to a closer school (some of the kids were able to join boarding at their old school) and then build a kitchen. This all changed when I woke up to a text message saying the toilet block had collapsed into its pit in the night. Thankfully all the children had just finished using in before it was swallowed by the rain soaked ground.

2012-05-08 14.32.03 What is left of the toilet block

The men on the ground were on top of things, and by the time I got out to the site in the afternoon with supplies, they already had a new hole dug. We salvaged anything we could from the old toilet and had the new one finished by the end of the day.

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The primary school that we moved the kids to has the same problem as all the other schools in the area, overcrowded and underfunded. The school was originally planned for 200 students and they now have almost 400. The first grade class had 69 students with one teacher, and the students sit 3-4 pupils to one desk. Primary education is suppose to be government funded, but when the principal asked if we could contribute half a dozen desks and pay the small salary to add a teacher, we thought  that was more than reasonable and obliged.

SAMSUNG             Visiting the new primary school

Having to deal with the toilet delayed building the kitchen, so they cooked under the church porch for a couple days. On Friday, we begin building a kitchen and bathing house. I hired one of our pastors, who is also a carpenter, to oversee the construction, but I also stayed and helped. I like working with Pastor Kamau because he is very thorough and takes pride in careful work. It took four days to build the kitchen and bathing houses with 2 rooms for the girls and 2 for the boys. By the end of it, I was longing for a power saw because those four days could have been turned into one if it did not take so long to cut the wood with a single hand saw (the lumber mills here do not dry the wood making it much harder to saw when wet. Sometimes a machete is needed because the saw blade sticks so much that it cannot be used.)

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With the buildings complete, we set out to tackle the overgrown grass. The tractor was fixed and we mowed the grass around the home and the soccer field. We also cleared a section for volleyball and are planning to buy posts when time allows so the children at the home can play with kids from the community on the weekends. Beyond being nice for playing, the shorter grass also helps keep the snakes away. They had a large one (I am guessing a giant python by the description) come out of the tall grass and slither through the home a couple days prior to mowing. One of the caretakers who ran in to it spent the rest of the day inside terrified.

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One challenge we faced was sorting out what goes and what stays with the former pastor and his children. Honestly, the former pastor kept a lot of things that he knew rightfully belonged to the orphans, but it was not worth the fight to get them back as a smooth transition was better for the wellbeing of the kids. It did mean that the kids had to leave all their toys behind. Also, because the money for the home was being misused and things have been unstable for many months now, a number of the kids lacked proper sweaters, toothbrushes, and other necessities. Abby and I had toys saved up from teams and another missionary, Tracie, donated sweaters that were knitted by a lady from her sending church and new toothbrushes. It was like Christmas in the middle of the year!

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We are still working out the even finer details. The water tanks have plenty of water from rain, but we will need to get a second donkey and a cart to carry water from the nearby river during the dry season (one day we hope to have a borehole). I installed a water filter in the kitchen to purify water for drinking instead of having to boil every time. Along with the second donkey, the groundskeeper is looking for a good dairy cow for us to buy. This week, I am researching solar power systems so they can have lights in the rooms at night and the caretakers can charge cell phones. Currently, we are using some solar garden lights to light the path to the toilets at night. It is still a work in progress…

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Building an Orphanage

Building a new orphanage is relatively easy when you have money, but missionaries tend to give all their money away. There is a group that is working on raising funding, but after waiting awhile to see how quickly money could be gathered, it was clear that we needed to do something cheap in the interim while we work on gathering funding for a permanent home. You can’t delay when the children’s wellbeing is at stake.

Of course the need to build a new orphanage had to come during the rainy season, and what a rainy season it has been! The other challenge is that we had about 2 weeks before the kids went back to school and the younger primary school students would have to change schools.

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Because of time and the desire to not sink a bunch of funds into a temporary home, we decided to try out a company called Essential Structures, which makes prefabricated buildings made out of foam and fiberglass panels. A building can be put up in a day and taken back apart and relocated.

First step is prepare the foundation. Easier said than done on black cotton soil. Similar to “muck” in the U.S. When wet, it becomes soggy and slippery and anything of weight just sinks- vehicles, buildings, people, anything. When dry, it shrinks and forms giant cracks. A couple months ago I met with a friends whose sister had dropped her keys on the way home. They fell into a crack and she never saw them again.

We decide to move some good soil from a pile at the other end of the property. Idea 1 was to hire a bunch of guys with shovels and a truck. The truck driver showed up in the morning, took one look at the soggy ground and said I’ll come back in the afternoon when it has dried out. Of course it poured that afternoon. Idea 2 was have Williams drive the tractor from Nanyuki. Good thing they left early since the insurance sticker fell off at some unknown time. It was also a good thing we had lots of guys helping, because they spent most of the day pushing the tractor through the mud. With perseverance, they completed making an elevated pad and finished it off with a layer of crushed rock on top.

2012-05-01 14.16.19 The three pads surrounded by ruts from the tractor

As they finished up the pads, I travelled to Nairobi to pick up 2×2 concrete slabs for the floor and the prefabricated building panels. (this section ended up being the length of a blog in itself so I posted it a couple days ago and it is below this blog)2012-05-02 16.27.08

I  learned never to order slabs in such a rush during the rainy season ever again. Quality control is not a strong point over here, and the slabs are made outside. With all the moisture in the air, the slabs never cured properly and were extremely brittle. Between loading, unloading, and transport, a lot of them broke. Essential Structures was generous in giving us extras but it was not enough.

With all the materials on site, we had Wednesday to put the slabs down and Thursday-Saturday to put up the buildings.

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I learned another mistake regarding the slabs. We should have put a layer of sand on top of the rocks to help level things out. 2012-05-02 16.50.21An amateur mistake and we did not have any time to fix it. We spent all day trying to crush the rocks down to get things reasonably level, and we lost more slabs in the process. The idea with the slabs was to have an easy to assemble and moveable floor, but we are going to have to put a layer of concrete to fill in the cracks now.

The Essential Structures guys arrived Thursday afternoon and went straight to work. They put the first 2 panels together to form a corner and then the wind picked up so much that it almost blew the panels and a couple of the guys away. We quickly disassembled things and hunkered down for the coming rain. Great start.

2012-05-03 12.37.16 Putting together the first panels before having to stop from the wind

2012-05-03 12.45.41Everything taken back down as the rains hit 

The guys were able to put all 3 buildings up in 3 days! They did  an incredible job in spite of the rain and uneven foundation. On Sunday, they even came to church before heading back to Nairobi.     

Because of the simplicity of the Essential Structures buildings, this may be the first project in the almost 40 year history of our ministry that finished on time and within budget. Next step is moving in the kids…

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Murphy’s Law- Picking up our new children’s home

I took this out of a post I will add in a couple days about relocating one of our childrens homes. It ended up being so long that I made it its own post. This is about a day where  Murphy’s law came true and everything that could go wrong did. I hope you can laugh at it as I do looking back.

I woke up at 5 am to be ready for a 6 am departure. At 6:01 I called Williams to see where the truck was. He had already confirmed with them that they would be on time. At 7 am, we cancelled the first truck and ordered a new one. Most likely the first truck driver was doing another job and stringing us along so we do not go and hire another truck.

The second truck was suppose to be ready by 8:30. The owner showed up at my house to collect the down payment at 8:30 sharp, but then said the truck was waiting for the mud to dry so it could get out and would be ready by 9. With all the delays, I met with Robert, who was in Nanyuki surveying to come over as a missionary. The truck left Nanyuki around 9:30 and I left around 10:15 in my car to meet them at the warehouse and help carry supplies and furniture (the Daniels let the lease go on their Nairobi flat and Abby and I bought a lot of their furniture).

After battling traffic, I arrived at the Essential Structures warehouse a little before 2, no truck in sight. An hour later the truck arrived. It had gotten a flat tire on the way. A few hours later, everything was loaded and it was time to head to the flat to get the furniture. Did I mention that we were suppose to make it back to Nanyuki that same day and it already after 6pm… Thank you to Andre and Coline for letting me crash with them.

2012-04-30 16.36.26 I have never seen Nairobi traffic so bad in all of Nairobi traffic badness. The 20 minute drive to the flat, usually an hour in traffic, took me 2 and a half hours and the truck over 3 hours. The entire city was a parking lot. It is now 10 pm, and as we are getting ready to load the truck, the property manager tells us we need a “gate pass” in order to move things out.

A gate pass??? ODM, the company that manages the apartments, has known we are moving out for weeks and they never mentioned a gate pass. In fact, the flat is being vacated because ODM decided to turn it into office buildings and now they are telling us we cannot move out. The managers wonderful suggestion was to park the truck in the lot for 2 days (the following day was a national holiday) and wait to get the pass. The truck costs $500 a day and I just fought 3 hours of traffic not to mention everything else in the day, and that is the best he could come up with.

Luckily, Andre is good at politely pressuring people, and after an hour, we had our permission. 11’o’clock at night and it is time to load the furniture. I am a walking zombie, but Andre kept me going. I was ready to give up and put moving the furniture off to another complicated day.

A few hours of rest and it was time to hit the road the next day. The truck was ahead of me as the guys slept at a truck stop and got an early start. I figured I would catch up at some point.

Before leaving, we loaded a couch in my car and some other items from the flat. Also, Andre and Coline were moving out of the flat and into their new place, so we loaded their car too. Again we were harassed by management, but we just pushed on as it was just a few items. 

The truck offloaded the furniture in Nanyuki and then continued on to the site. I caught up with them at the site in time to see them trying to dig the truck out of the mud.

I wasn’t at all surprised. I actually double checked that I had my tow straps because I figured there was a 90% chance they would drive off the main road to get closer and sink in the mud. It happens every time.

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First I pulled the tractor out which got stuck trying to pull the truck out. Then as a couple of the men dug out the tires, I helped unload the remaining concrete slabs. Time to put my new snatch strap to the test.

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A side note for anyone who likes offroading, get a snatch strap.  Unlike tow straps, snatch straps stretch. This allows you to get a running start and not feel a massive jolt when the rope goes tight. I could barely tell I was pulling out a 10 ton truck. It is impossible to understand the difference it makes without trying one. It was unbelievable!

2012-05-01 13.26.19 It is now afternoon of the second day, and everything was on site. I went home and crashed because tomorrow we have to lay all the slabs in preparations for the fundis to put up the buildings the next day.

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