Kevin Collins and Rob Thacker, Trustees of The Soma Leo Foundation visited western Kenya, and in particular Nyiera, at the end of September.
Nyiera is the site of the Soma Leo Academy, a school the charity built and established during 2015. Nyiera is little more than a collection of 25 houses and neighbours Osieko, a community of some 2,000 people at the end of a west bound road on the shores of Lake Victoria. With the lake waters on one side, and otherwise bordered by marshes, the Osieko area is isolated, both geographically and commercially.
The warmth and enthusiasm of the welcome Kevin and Rob received when arriving close to the school was exceptional. The natural ease of the children’s engagement and curiosity (most having never before seen someone who didn’t have dark skin) set the tone for a fabulous visit. The parade up to the school was full of dancing, drumming, whistles, singing and ululations – an all embracing cascade of colour, noise and movement.
A primary purpose of the visit was to establish how best to develop the new school, understand how we can support other schools in the area and how to help the wider community.
The Soma Leo Academy is dedicated to providing exceptional educational opportunity to the most deprived children in the area, with 30 current students mostly aged between 3 and 5. During the visit Kevin and Rob visited other schools, both “private” and government run community schools. Many schools are cramped with no electricity and with little or no learning resources available. We visited one school that had 100 children in a single classroom measuring 4m by 8m.
The community’s economy is based around fishing and sand reclamation from the lake. The paddle boats used have very limited range. Available fish stocks within this range have depreciated markedly in recent years due to the impact of the introduction of Nile Perch to the lake some 50 years ago and general in-shore over-fishing. Kevin and Rob helped pull a net ashore, joining the fishermen for the last 30 minutes of the 3+ hours it took to haul in. The tiny size of the catch was devastating given the effort expended, the number of fishermen involved and the fact that they also needed to pay rent on the boats and nets used. The haul would not have fed the fishermens’ families, never mind generate commercial revenue.
The local economy provides little income for the area and accordingly most people live at or below the poverty line. AIDS has had a catastrophic effect on the demographics, with many young children orphaned. Very few houses have electricity, drinking water is sourced from the lake and can be of poor quality. Malnourishment and diabetes are common due to the lack of a consistent balanced diet. Illiteracy is widespread, including amongst those who have on occasion attended school.
But the trip was also uplifting. It is clear The Soma Leo Foundation can have a positive impact on the children in the Osieko area and the wider community. We delivered four laptops to our school, which had been donated by Ipswich School. We are currently preparing a shipment of further laptops and an extensive range of reading and exercise books, also donated by Ipswich School.
During our trip we had the great fortune to have a meeting with Mama Sarah Obama, the woman President Barack Obama refers to as “Granny Sarah”. She lives in Kogelo, a village about 40kms from Osieko, and from where she runs her own education foundation and children’s orphanage. We are now exploring ways in which our foundations can work together.
Soma Leo’s logistics partner, Crown Relocations, will be shipping a container to Mombasa for us later in the year. Based on our visit we know that adding clothes and toys to our shipment will have a huge beneficial impact. We will be organising collections from our supporters to put this together.
The funding requirements for the school are clear. We need to achieve higher income levels to move forward to the next phase and to be able to afford to open a second classroom for slightly older children. Our aim is to achieve this in January, in readiness for the new academic year. In the meantime we will fund the existing arrangement from the charity’s resources and have 30 well nourished underprivileged kids receiving an excellent education.
The hospitality of our hosts and the warm engagement of the children was wonderful. Kevin and Rob learnt that here is a community in a desperate situation but with unrelenting hope. Samwel Manda, the charity’s leader in Kenya, is a tireless advocate for improving his community. The opportunity for improvement is huge. Developing self-reliance through education, nourishment and support are achievable goals for Soma Leo.