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  2001, Shikokho, Kenya

This past July and August I had the pleasure of spending time once again in Shikokho Village in Western Kenya. It was a joy to present on behalf of Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church a new birthing (Banyan) kit to the Shikokho Medical Clinic and a much-needed manual typewriter to Shikokho Secondary School. On August 4th, our group participated in a large harambee fund raising celebration towards constructing a dining and assembly hall at the secondary school.

All of the institutions at Shikokho send warm and enthusiastic Christian greetings to CCPC, including the Shikokho Women's Group, the Shikokho Primary and Secondary Schools, and the Shikokho Medical Clinic. There has been some good progress and development in Shikokho in the past year, often in direct partnership with the efforts and generosity of CCPC members and programs.

At the Medical Clinic, the most notable change is the addition of the maternity center. This new wing of the clinic allows space for labor and delivery rooms, as well as private family rooms for mothers and their newborns. The resident nurses ensure that care is always available, since babies are not known for timing their arrivals conveniently. The clinic also has rooms for neo-natal and post-natal classes and immunization clinics supported by library and visual aid materials designed to be effective at a village level, where most Kenyans live. In addition, the clinic is near both schools and thus serves the school-age population with preventative and on-site care.

Serving a large, mainly female and child, population in a rural subsistence area where health insurance is almost unknown, the clinic is often unable to expect full payment of fees for its services. Paid employment is very rare in the surrounding area, and most of those jobs do not include any sort of health benefits. The traditional gifts associated with childbirth play some role in local community financial support of the clinic, but the sustained gifts of CCPC bridge the gap between the cost of most basic health care services provided by qualified health professionals and the resources of a poor farming community. It is therefore essential that gifts continue to sustain the salaries and supplies that make decent health care possible in a rural African setting. Continued austerity at the government level, and a health care budget that already uses considerable government resources, make outlying clinics a low priority as Kenya struggles to keep major public hospitals open and functioning well. Sustaining the Shikokho Medical Clinic is an important ministry of CCPC.

At both the primary and secondary schools, many students have been able to continue their education through the generosity of CCPC scholarship sponsors. Although the Kenyan nation spends over 30% of the national budget on providing education to the population, there are simply not enough funds to make education cost free to parents. The scholarship program allows gifted students who do not have the family resources to stay in school and gain the knowledge and training that will allow them to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Of course, learning cannot happen without reference material, stationary, and books. At the secondary school, it has been over ten years since any new textbooks were purchased, and the paperback texts that are shared between two students have reached the end of their usable life. In many classrooms, there are fewer than ten complete texts for 40 students. Students often spend hours copying textbook materials onto the chalkboard and then into their own notebooks, and teachers are limited in the exercises they can employ, simply because each exercise must be copied out in some way. While higher-cost elite schools often solve this problem by asking each student or parent to purchase their own textbooks, this is not possible in a community like Shikokho. The locally-produced text books appropriate to the Kenyan subject syllabi and approved for the national examinations are inexpensive by U.S. standards. It is estimated that $10,000 would substantially cover the need for books at all four levels of high school for 120 students at each level.

The school held a fund raising (harambee) to provide a dining and assembly hall so that students have some place to eat, assemble, meet, and rehearse out of the rain, wind, and dirt of the open school compound. Last year, new sanitary facilities were constructed along with a refurbished kitchen using closed efficient stoves for the daily lunch provided. The hall will serve multiple functions for the school, and also be available for community events during weekends and school holiday periods. Most of the funds for construction of the hall have come from the parents association, the "old students" association (alumni) and local donors within Kenya.

At both the primary and secondary schools, the rabbit projects continue to thrive, having lasted over five years. This simple project is self-sustaining thanks to the rapid reproduction of the rabbits and the enthusiasm with which students take on their care. The additional protein in the diet makes a substantial difference in the amount of work any one person can accomplish, and the attention any student can pay in class. It may sound surprising to those of us who live in a society of abundance, especially when it comes to food, but this project has made a steady and significant impact.

The Shikokho Women's Group continues to support each other and develop local projects to ease the lives of hard working families. Sewing school uniforms provides some income for group members, along with raising chickens for local consumption. The complications of transportation make it difficult for the efforts of the women's group to reach far beyond the village where most members have very demanding family commitments. They continue to contribute to a central fund that is drawn on to support individual members when they face a family crisis.

Although the rains, roads, and terrain are not ideal for bicycle transportation, and women do not normally use bicycles in this rural African culture, bicycles are a means of travel that do not require fuel and are easily repaired locally. The bicycles at Shikokho are used to bring the daily mail and newspapers, travel for drugs, allow local health and education professionals to attend workshops and meetings, to reach other clinics and schools in the countryside, to share information and services, and to go to surrounding markets.

During this trip, I enjoyed sharing with members of my family, including my parents, the daily lives of many good friends in rural East Africa. They were moved and inspired by the faith and spirit of a community working to develop and grow in health, education, and general well being. We were all asked during our wonderful and too brief visit to bring greetings and thanks to the good friends and supporters of Shikokho at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church. God's blessings to all of you.

A.T. Miller, Ph.D
Coordinator of Multicultural Teaching and Learning
University of Michigan
Former Head of School, Shikokho Secondary School

Shikokho is a mission of Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church (CCPC). Visit the CCPC web site.