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Another world

Aspen, CO Colorado

Dear Editor:

I wanted to report to you on my second humanitarian trip to Kolunga Village on Rusinga Island in Western Kenya. The trip could not have gone better, and my arrival there was met with gratitude and excitement. I was in the village for a number of weeks with three Kolunga Village Foundation board members: Mark Ross, Peter Gordon and Tina Walter.

Our intention was to complete two projects during our time at Kolunga. The first and most exciting was a 1,000-square-foot medical clinic addition. When I was in the village a year ago, the local daktari (nurse) in the village had voiced concerns over the limited working space and storage capability in the existing clinic she operates. Ross, who lives in Nairobi, had expected that the clinic could be built over a number of years, in phases, due to the size of the project. In the latter part of 2009, our fundraising goal of $20,000 for the clinic was surpassed with $31,271 raised. Thanks to you and many others, we were able to completely finish the clinic in one collaborative effort while I was there. Additional money went to the respective areas people most requested, including the dairy goat project.

Probably one of the most telling occurrences during the construction of the clinic was the paradigm shift that occurred because of us, the whites, performing the manual labor for the skilled black workers. It was something that none of the Kenyans had seen before, and it took nearly a week for them to become comfortable enough to tell us what to do. Our group had talked about this beforehand, wanting to convey to the villagers just how vested we are in supporting their community; the same community that cares for the 2,000 AIDS orphans on the island. Many of the villagers came out in droves to watch a white working for a black, and it spurred many new behaviors in the community.

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Something unheard of in rural Africa is the idea of a black volunteer. The community, from observing our intensive manual labor, started to help with the bucket brigades carrying water from Lake Victoria twice a day to wet down the clinic while the mortar cured on the walls. People in the community stopped their daily activities and volunteered to help with the construction. Mark, in his 33 years of residence in Africa, had never seen black Kenyans inspired to the point of volunteering their time before.

The impact of our work in the village truly does go beyond what we might envision.

The Kolunga Community Clinic is now fully functional with emergency/illness specific rooms to promote sanitation, a laboratory for malaria detection/treatment, storage capacity to lower supply costs to the island, and most sustainably the increase in square footage makes the clinic eligible for a new tier of Kenyan government subsidies that were previously unattainable.

The second continuing project was augmentation of the sustainable dairy goat project, bringing another 21 goats to selected families. There are eight offspring from the previous years’ goat deliveries, which will be distributed to the next families in line. The total number of high-yield dairy goats the foundation has provided Rusinga Island is 56 toward our initial goal of 300. The project has helped many of the residents with a systematic trickle-down effect of this valuable resource. We have also built a closer relationship with the rancher that we purchase the goats from, and the cost per goat has gone down to $350.

Last year’s stuffed animal giveaway was a huge success, and our saga to get more stuffed animals to the village was again fraught with logistical resistance. Approximately 1,600 stuffed animals were collected before I left and shipped to Nairobi through several personal contacts to avoid them being stolen or held for ransom upon arrival in Kenya. Many people worked very hard to help get the shipment to Nairobi on time. Between the holidays, airline strikes, customs fees, and delayed communication in the developing world the shipment arrived after the New Year and my departure for the States. Most importantly, however, the shipment has arrived intact with 56 boxes of stuffed animals for the orphans of the community. Mark Ross and I will distribute the stuffed animals on my next trip to the village in November 2010.

The importance of Kenya on the world stage is vastly larger than anyone probably realizes. It has East Africa’s largest and most important port city of Mombasa supplying key, land-locked developing countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, DR Congo and Sudan. The Mau forest in Kenya supplies the headwaters of the Nile affecting countries from Kenya all the way to Egypt. It borders the failed state of Somalia, which boasts probably the most profitable terrorist organization in the world, al-Shabaab and their piracy. It is a country at the forefront of finding its way in Marxism vs. Democracy, corruption vs. regulation, and tribalism vs. national identity. The rest of the world must not forget how important Kenya is to the success of the countries it controls through its commerce and environmental policies.

Thank you for your continuing support for the assistance for this village and the AIDS orphans that it shelters. I plan to go back to Kolunga in November 2010 with the stuffed animals, possibly more goats and whatever other support that can practically be provided. The projects for 2010 are to add six more latrines, a trash-collection program, and to further support the dairy goat project. As a note, getting hard supplies to Kenya such as stuffed animals and medical supplies is simply cost-prohibitive. I can no longer accept items of this nature as friends and I covered the shipping costs personally and it is not practical to continue.

I will keep you updated on the progress of the small community that you have helped on the other side of the world.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Brandon Potter

Snowmass Village


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