Monday, August 31, 2009

"Changing" the Subject

Today we had the opportunity to meet with an amazing man, Mr. David Kuria of Ecotact. David recently received "The African Entrepreneur of 2009" award, and has also been named as an Ashoka Fellow. His mission is to develop innovative answers to the growing environmental sanitation cry in Africa and globally. He has developed a transformational "toilet" system called the Ikotoilet that is now working in Nairobi and has been completed in 39 other locations. He is currently launching the first Ikotoilet at a school in Nairobi with hopes of providing this design to 1000 schools in the coming years.

We learned many tid-bits of information that we didn't know about the cultural taboos surrounding toilets! David informed us that in much of Africa, traditional tribal language does not have a word for toilet. People make excuses to "disappear" for a moment while taking care of business. Students do not ask directly to use the toilet but sit in agony waiting for a break only to line up with all the others to use the few stalls available. He told us that in most rural schools the boys use the wall outside the choo as the urinal because they cannot wait. His idea to design toilets that are in the "spotlight" is highly innovative! In most schools, the "Choo" is placed far from the school building, and is not particularly inviting. Besides the taboo associated with publicly using the toilet, the antiquated design and smell of a pit latrine is daunting. ( VIP latrines now being constructed have provided a much more user friendly toilet) This innovative technology is a new step up from pit latrines.

David convinced the Kenya Government to let him construct an Ikotoilet in a prominent place in the middle of town on Harambee street in Nairobi. Thousands of people pass by the toilets daily, in fact, the average usage is around 1000 people per day. The kiosk has 12 stalls- 6 available for men, and 6 for women, and also has a handicapped stall available.
The kiosk employs at least 10 full time workers to clean the toilets after each use, provides a shoe shining area, a full time facilitator, and a shop where coca-cola and snacks can be purchased. The cost of using the toilet is 5KSH, which translates to a few pennies. Wow! Taking the toilet, putting it in the center AND bringing the topic of toilets out in the open was a huge risk for David. The good news? The Ikotoilet has been well received and will help to transform the attitude towards use of public toilets in Kenya.

H2O for Life hopes to partner with David to bring this innovative technology to 15 schools in Kenya this year.

We spent most of the day meeting with David and the staff at Ecotact. They provided a wonderful lunch of cabbage, rice and vegetables for us. We will meet with them once again- and perhaps have an opportunity to visit the project at a local school if it is completed.

We have met many talented and passionate advocates of water, sanitation and hygiene on this adventure. It gives us hope that the water crisis around the world does have solutions and that we can all help make the world a better place.

Goodbye Comrades!

In the van---again! Today, Mark, Steve, Chris and Lisa are heading home to the states.

We have had a standing joke throughout our stay in Uganda and Kenya. We have become known as "Patty Hall and team." As we speak at each school, the H2O speaker tends to change the jargon a bit. On occasion the speaker has referred to the team as his or her own team. When Chris Ripkin introduced the team, he gave each of us a promotion --in title only. I like being a member of his team. I became the "Chief Executive Director." We have had fun refering to the seven of us as Patty Hall and Team. Our last school referred to us as Patty Hall and Comrades. It sounds like a bad singing group from the late 70's.

Early this morning we loaded all of the suitcases and Comrades into the van for a trip from Kathungu to Nairobi. Many of us, except Patty and Val bid a final farewell to Chris' family and we started our journey to Nairobi. Chris guaranteed that we would be in Nairobi in an hour. We all found this curious since it took us 2.5 hours to get here. It is Sunday and maybe he knows something that we don't know. We took bets on the arrival time. We weren't counting on car troubles or construction or added truck traffic but it was all there. It was not an hour drive and Steve captured the crown for winning the bet.

Upon arrival in Nairobi we sent the gang out to buy last minute souviners and to check out the city while Patty and I repacked suitcases to send as much home as possible. It is surprising how much you can fit into a cardboard box!

We treated our team to a final farewell dinner at a wonderful restaurant called the Carnivore. It is not a place for vegetarians. We feasted on lamb, ostrich, beef, chicken, turkey, crocidile, pork and many delicious sauces. We then headed straight to the airport and sent them off on a long plane ride home.

On a very special note, we have to tell you how much we enjoyed their company. We all had talents and personalities that complimented each other. We worked hard but had fun. We laughed together and cried together. They all represented H2O for Life and our schools with class and compassion. We are very proud of all of our "Comrades."

Patty and I are on our own for the next three weeks. It seems a bit lonely now but we have lots of work to do and places to be. Everyday is an adventure. We promise to represent the team as well as Steve, Mark, Chris and Lisa did with us over the last couple of weeks.

Thanks Team! Safe travels!

Kathungu Day 2


What a day! After our day of travel this was our day of extreme excercise and sun. After breakfast we started our journey to visit Kathungu and Kwamalelu schools. We decided to walk to burn off our energy stored from an all day car ride the day before. Kwamalelu was our first destination. It was "not so far" away. Right. Every destination is uphill or better said, up-mountain. The country-side is beautiful and the walk is well worth it. We all are feeling energized and great.

The project at Kwamalelu was completed by Centennial Middle school and the project was led by teachers Mark and Katy Domschot. Mark is traveling with us and it was quite a sight to see the school greet Mark and thank him for all of the work done by Centennial students. There was a wonderful sign painted on the water tank thanking "Contennial School." Oh well, we don't spell their school correctly most of the time. Mark made a great speech recognizing the work that Centennial Middle School students contributed and emphasized the rewards that they received by helping Kwamalelu school.

Even though it was a Saturday and students are on break, nearly two hundred students and parents showed up to thank Mark and the H2O team. Students sang and danced and leaders gave Mark a gourd that is meant to hold water as a symbol of the water now held in the tank. He cut the ribbon symolizing the opening of the tank and also a ribbon in front of the new VIP (ventilated, improved, pit) latrines.

The same type of event was held at the next school-Kathungu Primary. This school was sponsored by Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minnesota. Val's sons and niece attend Irondale and she is an Irondale grad so it was a real honor for her to cut the ribbon dedicating the tank to the great work that Irondale did to raise the funds to complete this project.

Centennial Middle School sent several packets of pen-pal letters to be shared with both schools. As students were handed a letter starting with "Dear Friend," you should have seen their eyes light up. We know they will treasure the letters and will hopefully deliver return letters for us to bring back to the schools.

Congratulations to both Irondale High and Centennial Middle School!

We should also point out that every school we go to in Uganda and Kenya, the kids know the name of our president. The kids shout "Obama-Obama!" I wonder how many of our students know the name of the Uganda or Kenya president. Now you have some homework!

Our next destination was "not so far" away.

We walked back to the home of Christopher Mutuku-Muteti. He is the one that suggested our first project- the sand-dam at the Kwa Kasolo river. Many of the community members joined us at his home for a wonderful lunch. They served pumpkin, ugali and sukumawiki (greens) potatoes, rice, a chicken gravy-soup and a variety of fruit. Great food enjoyed by all. After a short rest, we began our "walk around" of the community. Our first stop was to re-visit the Sand dam project as most of our H2O team had not seen it. Again, we did a ceremonial ribbon cutting, and were given testimonials by several community members about the effectiveness of the dam. They told us that they did not know where they would be getting their water during this drought without the sand dam. We are thrilled that the project has made a huge difference for the community. Our next stop was to visit the home of a water project member, Francis. He had an interesting mix of rain water tanks, a fish pond holding Talapia, and is experimenting with the apple mango in hopes of developing a cash crop for the area. He is a very intelligent man and we dubbed him "the scientist". Patty was able to meet his mother who is 93. HIs mother remembered her from the last visit to the village and was overjoyed to meet once again. She makes beautiful baskets which we are bringing home with us.

We then continued our walk to the home of the local wood carver- Maurice. Maurice had many beautiful spoons, walking sticks and other objects for sale. We all chose a variety of wood projects to take home. A walking stick made by Maurice is on display at Highview Middle School in New Brighton, MN as a thank-you from the community.

By this time, we had probably walked 7-8 miles up and down hills over sand that was beginning to make our feet feel like we had been treated to a sand paper pedicure. My friends in White Bear Lake know how much I like a pedicure! (not so much) We were happy when we reached Christopher's home!

Many of the community members stayed for dinner. The women spend all day cooking over wood stoves and a charcoal Jiko to make the many dishes that are served. The kitchen however, is my favorite place to hang out. The women were singing, and we entertained them with songs like "Old McDonald", and "Coming around the mountain"- all with actions of course. Steve also taught the children how to play "Simon Says". They are so eager to interact with all of us, and we have had a wonderful time! After dinner, we brought out a box of light up necklaces that were a big hit with not only the children, but the adults as well. In the dark, dark, yard, the lights are spectacular.

Speaking of the dark- the African sky is a sight to behold. We think we have found the "Southern Cross" and the star patterns are very different from the stars we see in the US.

After a late dinner, we were all ready to head to our beds. We pulled down the mosquito nets, and crawled in for a well deserved rest.

The adventure continues......

Val and Patty

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I will never complain about a Minnesota pothole again.

Friday was a travel day for us. We traveled from the Masai Mara to Nairobi and then off to Kathungu. There is a standard answer when you ask how far it is to a town or destination. "Not so far." How are the roads? "Not so bad." Well, let me tell you that eleven hours-most of it over bumpy, dusty, dirt roads is a long way! We all feel a little tossed around. We passed quite a bit of time by playing another of Mark's games. This time it was a version of Jeopardy. Patty was the winner but her prize of a bag of candy purchased from the hotel was filled with ants. Too bad we didn't discover this until after she had taken a few bites. I've never seen Patty toss chocolate away!

Kathungu is where our friend and driver, Christopher lives. We were all invited to be guests at his home in Kathungu. What an honor! This is an opportunity to really get to see and experience how most of the people in Kenya live. We arrived at his modest farm and were welcomed by his wife Joyce and their three children and many neighbors, friends and other relatives. For you experienced H2Oers, you might remember that Kathungu is the site of our first project. Patty has been here on several occasions and the people are thrilled to see her again.

We settled into our rooms--yes, the family gave up their rooms and found places to sleep at nearby relatives. The action really started as the men started to talk in the house and the women went to work in the kitchen. The kitchen is a very active, seperate room from the house. It is not a very big room yet there had to be 10-15 kids and women all sitting in there and actively cooking the meal while chatting and laughing. Everyone knows their task and they go about it with great efficiency. Ugali (corn flour and water) is cooking on the fire and it has to be stirred often with a big spoon and a lot of muscle. Chapati (thick tortilla like bread) is fried on a small flat grill heated by charcoal (a jiko) and potatoes are peeled and boiled over the open flames. Before long we are treated to a dinner of all of these wonderful flavors along with fresh fruits, chicken, soup and rice. And I thought I was going to lose weight in Kenya. No way!

We also took in a short walk down to the river bed where the sand dam was created two years ago. It is really an amazing site. The area looks like a dry river bed filled with the finest beach sand. Through this sand the river flows down stream. While the river flows down stream it is filtered through the sand. Although there is a faucet on the dam itself, it has been removed because of the drought. The water committee found that people were being wasteful of water during this very dry period when it was so easy to get. The leaders of the community removed the faucet so people have to dig into the river bed of sand to get to water. It sounds harsh but when you see the extent of the drought and listen to the knowledge that the people have about this precious natural resource, you know that they are doing the right thing. I was especially pleased to hear one of the men say to me that without the contribution that Highview Middle School made two years ago to add the sand dam, he could not even imagine where or how far they might have to go to get any water. Highview---be proud! Your work is still helping people today-even more than you can imagine!

Since Patty's last visit to Kathungu, Christopher has added solar powered lights and a shower. The shower is cold water from a tank and hose run into the house but it is a wonderful luxury after the dusty ride. The lights are something that we did not expect so that was also another welcome luxury. We still have to go outside to use the choo. (latrine) Patty, Steve and Mark all got up during the night to use the choo. There were a few tales of being attacked by the huge white goose during the middle of the night. Steve and Mark went out together. Chickens!

Saturday is another day of visiting schools. We are all anxious to see the work that has been completed!

Masaii Village Visit

Hello H2o fans!

We have not been with you for the past few days. We had an chance to see what life is like in a rural village and we were completely out of Internet range. Before I tell you about that I want to bring you up to date as to what we have been doing in the days gone by.

Following our game drive in the early morning we took the afternoon to learn a little about the Masaii people by visisting a a Massaii village. I am certain that most of you are familiar with the Masaii people. They are the people who wear the very colorful red clothes and are know for the piercings in their ears that allow their ear lobes to grow very long with big holes for jewelery. They are nomadic people and raise goats and cows. As a result, their homes are not permanent and they move to where the best grazing land is for their herds. They have lots of rights with the Kenyan government and can graze their herds after dark in the Masai Mara and we have even seen them grazing cows on the grassy medians in Nairobi.

Their huts are built of twigs and cow dung. Doesn't sound pleasant but when you stand inside, they really don't smell so bad. The homes are very small. Half of the house is set aside as a room for new calves and the other half has two bedrooms and a very meager kitchen between the bedrooms. Blankets for the beds consist of cow hides and the kitchen is a fire pit were the women cook with the couple pots that they own.

The people are very hard workers. Boys and men spend the day in the countryside watching over the animals. Yes, even small boys, 7-8 years old are seen herding the cows. There is no such thing as Ninetendo, movies, or even a day off. The kids are on their summer break right now but when school is in session, they go to school during the day and do chores from sun-up until bedtime. Girls haul water. Surprised? Kenya is going through a severe drought and the distances that they must walk is much further and the quality of the water is much worse.

After dancing with the men- Chris jumped the highest- and singing and dancing with the women, we had the chance to shop in their market. They had a variety of gorgeous jewelry, bowls, tools- anything that they normally use. We, of course, purchased more than we planned. It was our hottest day yet of the trip, and the dusty manyatta (what they call their homes) seemed stifling! We were ready to head back to Fig Tree for a dip in the pool.

We did one last game run in the afternoon. Again, the leopard was not seen! I guess we'll have to come back.

On Friday we are heading to Nairobi to pick up a few supplies and then onward to Kathungu school and village, and Kwamalelu school. This community is the birthplace of H2O for Life! We are looking forward to re-visiting our first completed project (June,2007)- a sand dam on the Kwa Kasolo river.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rhino! Elephants! Cheetah!

Jambo to all of our H2O for Life friends!

We are on break from Safari taking a couple of hours to regroup and rest a bit before going out again. This is a perfect opportunity to bring you all up to date on Wednesday's ALL day Safari.

The Masi Mara is a magnificent place. It is breath-taking and words can not describe the beauty of the land, animals and people. I really believe that when God created Africa, or whomever is the creator in each of our individual beliefs, He was having a great time and has proven a wonderful sense of humor. Giraffes, zebras, hippos, lions, wart hogs, hyenas, elephants and countless others are uniquely different and surprisingly similiar. Survival is the goal but getting there involves an amazing hierarcy. Lions rule but the numbers of zebras and wildabeast leaves on to wonder if they might not be in charge based on their control of the land.

The sheer size and expanse of this area leaves me speechless but I will try to convey some of our experiences of our all day safari. We were in the van and ready to go by 7:00 a.m. Our van has a pop-top roof so we can stand up and gaze the landscape through the roof. All of you students would laugh at how excited a group of adults can get when one of us spots a lion or elephant.

We had a wonderful experience with a group of elephants. They are huge yet so quiet and graceful. We spotted a family of elephants and Christopjer was able to get us very close to them. They then started to come toward us. (Thankfully, I was sitting in the back and Steve would have been the first to be crushed.) I am estimating that we were 10-20 feet from these giants. It was thrilling! They really don't pay attention to us but there is a reason for the strict rules about leaving your vehicle while on the Mara.

Speaking opf leaving your vehicle, I am wondering howmany of you know what a "short call" might be. Let me give you a hint. The H2O Team is not taking pictues of latrines. The are probably 50 miles apart.

The morning went by without a single Zebra sighting. I was beginning to wonder if we were even going to see a herd of Zebras. Boy was I wrong. We came over a hill and as far as the eye can see we saw zebra and wildabeast. Hundred of thousands of them spotted every inch. Amazing! Awesome! Spectacular! We drove for miles during the afternoon and they never left our site.

We eventually made it to the Tanzania border and had our pictures taken at the border. It's not everyday that you be in two countries at one time.

Our last big excitedment for the afternoon was coming in contact with a family of Cheetahs. We were only 10 feet away from them! They could care less about us but we sure enjoyed them. Lastly, we spotted a Rhino on the horizon. I was surprised to learn that the Rhino spends his life living alone and is known as a solitary animal. Sounds loney and might be why he doesn't hesitate to let birds land all over him. We all need a friend.

Time to get back for an afternoon safari. Tomorrow we are back to work and leave the luxury of a flush toilet and ice.

We all have children whom we left to come on this trip. We send our love to our families and since I am writing today's blog--a special shout-out to my two boys, Joe and Danny. I love you both and miss you terribly but I will have wonderful stories to share on my return.


We also managed to see a once in a lifetime event when the wildabeast and zebras started a river crossing. Hundreds of these animals patiently wait their turn to cross the river and then they just seem to fly over the river. I don't know why they cross and it begs the question, "Why did the zebra cross the river?"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lion's, giraffe's and technology...

Jambo! Friends, Family, and Raving Fans I am reposting this blog, so if you read it already, please reread it. Because the technology in Kenya is much like the roads--unpredictable, hit or miss, and you just learn to go with the flow. This blog was posted yesterday and it was my rough draft. Below is my edited version, read and enjoy! Asanti sana (thank you very much)!

Today's journey began with a farewell to Tenwek and a Jambo to Masai Mara! Team H2O took a break from visiting latrines and made the four hour trek, with their trusty guide Christopher at the helm (wheel), into the wild African Safari land of the Masai Mara.

Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I knew I wasn't in Kansas (or Minnesota) anymore! Beauty lies everywhere! Not just in the animals, but in the Masai people! Dressed in their glorious colors of red, blues, and yellow, they contrast with the brown and green of the landscape, and are all across the vast horizon walking alone, in groups, with their cattle, with their sheep, and carrying water.

Shortly down the road came the scene of the day! Rising out of the grasses of the Masai Mara were the long, spotted necks of 16 giraffe grazing in the sun. Each of us enthusiastically crawled out of our seats, carried our cameras, stretched our legs, and took in the view. As we stared and ogled at them through our binoculars and cameras, curiously, they turned and stared right back. But as soon as we made any steps to get closer, their long legs guided them away.

Those giraffes were just the beginning of a wonderful day to come. Upon checking into our rooms (which are actually army style heavy duty tent with ceramic tiled bathrooms attached) we took time to nosh at the lunch time buffet (loaded with rice, hungarian beef, and my most favorite dessert, banana's and chocolate) and take in some side at our outdoor pool. We all agreed that their pool side loungers are the most cushiony we've ever sat our tooshes on!
Rested and refreshed we began our safari. We were quite lucky, for we found numerous animals ranging from hippo's lounging in the river spouting water, with a crocodile close by watching, to zebra's (who, Steve found out, are not as bright and clean looking as the pictures he's seen), Masai ostrich's, leaping impala's, mongoose, a jackal, and numerous wild buffalo and varieties of antelope.
The team favorite was seeing a pride of lions feasting on a wildabeast. Christopher positioned our vehicle in front row seats of a blockbuster show! We watched (about six feet away) on as two females shared and even fought over the sinewy and tough looking meat. In the meantime, two young male lions came strolling up playfully headbutting each other and then crashing to the ground to wait their turn; and three others rolled around scratching their backs, licking their paws, and relishing the feeling of a stuffed tummy after a great meal.
Numerous books, movies, and Mutual of Omaha have done their best to convince me, and millions of other people, that Africa is beautiful. You see animals in zoos and one cannot fully comprehend how powerful and gorgeous these animals are until you seen them in their natural habitat. The zoo will never be the same. Kenya is the most beautiful place I've seen, and I do plan on returning.
The beauty of Africa rubs off. Despite twelve hour days, four plus hours of driving, and endless conversations, the team is still laughing together (and at each other), squeezing in heated games of trivia (Chris the biggest winner and me the biggest loser) and scrabble, savoring cold beverages (with ice, which is a rare commodity), sitting by a fire pit (which is not a pit of wood, but a pit of charcoal burning), and feasting together in great harmony, just like the circle of life in this great land of the Masai Mara.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bir Mat Ko Loo

Jambo Friends! (This is Chris)

It has been an absolutely amazing day, where do I start? Today we had the opportunity to meet the staff of Tenwek Hospital's Community Outreach and Development and travel with them to schools in the Bomet area . Their motto is "Put out the fire while it is still far away" (Bir mat ko loo in the local dialect) and it describes their efforts perfectly. With Johnathan and Richard as our guides, we set out to visit a few schools with completed projects and also a new one.

We traveled an hour before reaching our first stop and were warmly greeted by students, staff, and parents of of St. Basil's Kiminanaga Primary School. We toured the school and took lots of pictures (what group other than the H2O team would be interested in taking pictures of latrines) and enjoyed the songs, poems, and speeches presented by the students. Following the ceremony we had tea and bread with the staff of St. Basil's (I'm really enjoying having a lot of good Kenyan tea, but a few of us are getting "tea-ed out" as we have some at every meeting). It amazes me that many of these students have never seen a white person before and love touching our skin and hair. Before heading to the next school we were given gifts of bananas and a 6 foot sugar cane plant (not sure what we'll do with that yet).

Our second stop was at Atebwa Primary School and once again there was a wonderful ceremony for us. The students here gave outstanding speeches. Wesley, a boy in grade 8, spoke about how the new water tank and latrines had raised their standards and they in turn were helping their parents and the community to raise their standards as well. Upon our arrival the staff moved chairs for us to the shade, but the students, staff, and family members stayed in the hot sun. I couldn't believe how patient the students sat and listened for the 40 plus minutes, and wondered how my 9th graders would have held up. During a couple of the speeches from the adults I entertained a few students in the front by making weird faces at them, and they in turn mimicked them back to me. More tea and bread and off we went!

H20 team members have started to each develop their niche upon arrival at the schools... Val and Patty tend to be our speakers, Mark and Lisa entertain the students, and Steve and I take pictures. A few of us have been hesitant about speaking, but Steve had the most valid reason... "You know how every one hates hearing their voice on a recording? Thats how I sound in real time so I can't speak".

The highlight of the day for me was seeing the school that Centennial High School will be sponsoring this year, Reberwet Primary School. Once again there was an incredible welcome by community members. As this was a new project, there was no water tank or new latrines. Instead, we saw the old latrines( 2 of which were full, the other 2 served 264 students plus staff) and heard of the distance they walked to get clean water. I can't wait to start fund raising and teach my students about this wonderful school. Oh yeah, more tea and bread (this time with every one watching us eat; thankfully Val got up and had them doing cheers about water)!

Our final stop, Kiptage Primary school was to be our lunch stop but we have quickly learned that Kenya is an "ish" country, meaning that if you say "we'll meet around 12", it really means "we'll meet around 12ish." Lunch happened to be at 4:30pm today, good thing we have had a lot of bread and tea! Our lunch consisted of millet and a beef stew, not necessarily that unusual except that you used your hands to grab the millet (think of a doughy consistency, except dry) and dip it into the stew. It was rather tasty and quite an eating experience (I don't think anyone had the fresh goat milk that was served with our lunch). As it started raining while we were here there was only a brief presentation because we were running late, and there was a concern that our van might get stuck in the muddy roads.

What a day! A chance to see new geography, make new friends, eat new food, and have lots of tea, can it get any better?

Sunday Pictures

Sunday's Pictures - Part II

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jambo friends! This is Mark reporting from Bomet at 7:00 AM; 11:00 PM for people back in Minnesota!! There is an 8 hour difference and I am finally starting to get acquainted to the time change.

Traveling with the same people for 17 days is a challenge, and I have been waiting for some "Survivor" or "Expedition Africa" moments! Nobody has been kicked off the trip yet; although we have been having fun giving each other a hard time throughout this adventure. Everyone groans when I think of a game like 21 questions, and we all laugh when we are referred to as the Patty Hall Team. She has been called "Party Hall," "Petty Hall," by a few different community leaders and I called her "Pansy Hall" when she jumped three feet after an ant crawled on her foot while a community leader was thanking H20 For Life for our help with Waterlines!!

Val has been giving some great speeches, especially at the first two churches we visited yesterday. Her nuns would be proud as she explained our organization and referred to water as a "spriritual and physical necessity." The congregation and ministers were so grateful and they thanked Waterlines and H20. Singing beautiful songs and dancing were of course part of the program and it made me think about how big this "little thing" that Patty and Val started has blossomed into a worldwide initiative.

I have been showing pictures of my family to people that we meet as an icebreaker since not many people speak English and most of these communities don't even speak Swahili. They are amazed to see pictures of snow and my kids playing hockey. But their favorite picture is one of my extended family with grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. It truly shows how important family is to their wonderful culture.

After visiting two congregrations, we traveled to a spring tank where a community receives their local water. It is a great set up where pipes are set up at a tank at a spring that carries the water down a hill at least 300 feet to a huge water tank where it is filtered. There were two spigots and we watched kids fill up buckets and carry the heavy containers up a hill. What a great dry-land exercise for my football and hockey players! Of course these kids don't complain and they do this six times a day!! I gave it a try and put a strap over my head and had the container rest on my back. It is much easier than carrying it, but it is still a great workout for the legs since we walk straight up a hill.

A few tidbits: Steve is the Scrabble Champion of last night (I did win one game), mosquitoes are much faster in Africa than they are in Minnesota (I had one in my net last night that I couldn't kill - hopefully malaria doesn't set in), we found out by looking in a dictionary at a local library that a bird is indeed an animal (we had heated discussion during a 21 question game that a bird is indeed an animal and not separate - Val didn't think so), and our driver Christopher can change a tire and fix the brake pads in 15 minutes - unbelievable!!

So, you can see - we are having a great time and maybe getting a little delirious!!

Talk to all of you soon.....

Welcome to Kenya!

New author today. This is Val Johnson with my first crack at contributing to our blog. This trip is overwhelming so I don't know where to start but I am going to give it my best.

We arrived in Kenya by taking a 5:00 am flight which meant that we left for the airport at 2:30 a.m. We never arrived to our hotel until after 9:00 so it was a very short night. Quick flight to Kenya and we met up with our friends, Chris and Lisa Ripken. Chris is a teacher at Centennial High School in Lino Lakes, MN. We also met a friend of Patty's who has been her driver and friend on many of her trips to Africa. Welcome Christopher, Chris and Lisa and get ready for a the ride.

After a long ride through the Rift Valley we arrived at Tenwick Hospital. Many of the projects managed by Waterlines originate out of Tenwick. It is our fortune that Tenwick is celebrating their 50th Anniversary today. There are thousandss of people listening to speeches and dancing and singing and experiencing joy in everything that Tenwick has done for the community. The area has a very special feeling and we are so happy to be a part of the celebration!

But wait....don't celebrate too long at Tenwick. We need to get into our van and get off to a school in which the parents are waiting for us. This school project was not funded by H2O for Life but rather by Waterlines. We have the honor to represent our friends from Waterlines and dedicate the new water tank at the school. We were greeted by a group of parents singing wonderful music.

In many cases we are meeting kids who have never seen white people. They are curious about our skin and our hair. The kids touch my skin and giggle. We were told at the school that we are the first white people to ever be at their school. I am touched by the way that they are honored to have a white person in their community. What a great day to make history at this school. I remind them that the funds coming from our schools is raised by American students of all colors and religions that are out to make their mark on the world. And believe me, when we see the changes that our schools are making in these schools, I am proud to be an American. I am proud to tell the people the stories about our great students! The Kenyan people send their very best to everyone in America---especially President Obama!

We ended the evening with a traditional Kenyan meal with Joel and his family. Joel is a project manager working for Waterlines. It was great to be invited into their home for dinner. Their two boys performed for us. Joel and Lucy have a beautiful home but so different than an American home. We were there after dark and ate by lanterns, the food was cooked in their kitchen over a fire and the bathrooms are a latrine outside. Lucy has worked for 25 years at Tenwick Hospital and was honored at the anniversary party with a new cow as a gift. Very different than home!

I hope to get on line later tonight to fill you in on today's activities. Until then, I need to send a special shout-out to the Johnson family. They are celebrating a family reunion today and I am sorry to miss that celebration but I will have plenty of stories to share with all!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Farewell Uganda!

Hey all -- this is Mark reporting from the Entebbe Airport at 4:00 AM - midnight for all of you back home!

This has been a fascinating week for me. The schools, projects, and children have been truly inspriring. Everyone's hard work has certainly paid off -- bravo to all of you who have supported h20 for life!! You can see from the few pics that we have, that we have been treated like royalty here in Uganda - celebrations, dancing, singing, and a huge feast. At times it was embarrassing, but once I got used to it, the festivities were awesome!

Uganda has an unbelievable topography -- mountains, hills, lakes, rivers -- it is so green! Throw in some hippos, elephants, monkeys, and birds - and every minute on the 20 hours we have been in the car has been a joy - except on my lower back!! We spent a day at Queen Elizabeth National Park where we took a boat trip on the Kazinga Channel and a hike around a crater lake.

The only thing better than the scenery is the people. I have made some lifelong friendships with the people from Africare -- some shout outs go to Polly, Patrick, our driver Richard, Vicki, Hyghten, and all of the others -- I hope all we can stay in touch - they are truly wonderful and talented people!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

We had another great day visiting schools in the southwestern part of Uganda.

The first school was the Mahwa Primary School that was sponsered by Valentines Hill Elementary and Bethlehem Day Care - both of Minneapolis. Peter Jensen and Peggy Benson were the leaders of the projects at their respective schools.

We then traveled to Rubingo Primary School that was partnered with River Road Middle School in Killdevil

North Carolina. The picture is of their celebatory and traditional dance that they performed for the H20 for Life team and Africare. We had fun joining these wonderful dances and getting laughs from all of the students, parents, local government officials, and teachers that were in attendance.

Afterwards, they prepared a great meal for us (goat meat, empogoro - cooked bananna, and jack fruit - very sweet) and then we explored some caves in the mountainous Ugandan highlands.

Great Day by all!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

August 19, 2009 Tnungamo, Uganda 7:30am

Yesterday was a fantastic day. We started out with a visit to Rwera Secondary School. Rwera was funded by H2O partner, Deron school- thanks to the leadership of Beth Verkala! It was a breathtaking experience. It was the first time that any of us had visited a completed H2O for Life project that had our logo displayed alongside of the Africare logo. (in-country NGO) The latrines and water sources were well done, and working! Rwera was on school holiday but we were able to meet the head-master and several students who are currently working on the school grounds to raise school fees. Both children lost their parents to AIDS. They were delighted to receive a picture of the Deron students.

We then visited Muriisa Primary School. Muriisa was funded by Sweet Grass High School in Montana. (special thanks to Austin Alexander for her leadership!) We viewed (and used) the completed VIP latrines and the private changing area set aside for girls. We had a chance to check out the old latrines as well, and believe me their is a HUGE difference in the experience! The ventilated pit latrines are awesome. There were over 100 students that came back to the school to be part of a welcoming program. (ALL schools in this area are currently on holiday) The students sang and danced, recited poems about water and were very proud to show off their talents.

On our way to the next school we visited a community cooperative that produces dried bananas for export.We watched the process from start to finish including sampling the final product. The bananas were delicious. All proceeds from the cooperative are used to support the Africare Orphan Fund Project. From what we saw, the support is helping tremendously.

Kagamba School, sponsored by Irondale High School in MN (thanks to Joe Helm, Scott Hall and special thanks to Megan Peterson) was the next school on our journey. We visiyed the hand dug well that was equipped with a U3pump. It was fantastic! VIP latrines were also newly contructed. The Kagamba students were still IN session! They heard that H2O for Life was coming to visit and delayed their holiday! I can imagine students around the U.S. cringing when they hear this. The kids seemed delighted to be there. Again, we were treated to beautiful music and dancing and even a short drama presentation about the problems caused by AIDS. The students presented hand made woven bowls to each of us. The bowls are ceremonial and we will treasure them.

Our final school visit of the day was to Mutanoga Primary School. This project was funded by Gayman Elementary School under the leadership of Principal Brian Finger. The Mutanoga students liked all the photos and school items sent by Gayman. The rainwater catchment tank is completed and awaiting the "rains" which are do very shortly. Students presented us with woven containers that are used to catch "mudfish" in nearby ponds and rivers. They also presented letters to be delivered to Gaymen Elementary, and a beautiful woven bowl filled with the local cash crop- bananas. As we had now been on the road since 8am- and it was now 5:30- the bananas were quickly eaten by everyone!

We had the opportunity to interview several students about their daily life in Uganda. In this area we found that there are many children that are orphans due to AIDS. They all mentioned that school was their place of refuge.

The common thread of the day was this:
The building of "Wash in Schools" projects providing water, latrines and hand washing facilities IS making a tremendous difference in the lives of children. We saw proof in the over 3000 students served by the four schools we visited today.

More school visits tomorrow!

Monday, August 17, 2009

August 18, 8:00 am
After an inspirational meeting with Africare (NGO) our H2O for Life group, along with Richard (our driver) began our long ride to Ntungamo.
The bumpy and dusty ride was a harrowing experience. Cars, busses, and trucks barreled along with no regard to lanes (what lanes??) and most preferred the middle of the road. We closed our eyes and flinched often as vehicles passed with only inches to spare.
We were surprised with the significant amount of of people, vehicles, and towns we passed. It was like the sprawling freeway from the Twin Cities to St. Cloud with the non-stop towns, villages, and markets.
We stopped for a photo op and gift shop at the equator. We stopped in Masaka for lunch but were turned away because they were out of food. Thankfully, 45 minutes later we ate a great lunch at the Sky Blue Hotel near Mbarrara.
As dusk was descending we made it to Mbarrara. The streets were jammed with people heading home, and we passed the statue of a long horned cow that symbolizes cattle as the center of life. An hour later we arrived in Ntungamo after 7 hours on the road!
We are staying at the Ben Hills Guesthouse; a small, clean, and friendly hotel that will be home for three days. The price is right -- 13 dollars per person for your own room and breakfast!
Today, we will begin our long awaited school visits!
We arrived safe and sound last night and we met with Africare this morning after a great downtown Kampla adventure (market, traffic, art, changing money - remember to always bring NEW money to Africa!).

Africare presented an informational powerpoint that explained their WASH IN SCHOOLS PROJECTS. Africare is the largest United States/Africa NGO that has raised 800 million dollars since 1970. One quote that resontated with all of us was THE GREATEST CRIME COMMITTED IS ONE THAT NEGLECTS AND ABANDONS A CHILD.

We are off on a 5 hour (or more) drive to Ntungamo (we will be crossing the equator and viewing some great wildlife and geography) to visit schools with completed H20 Projects.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

H2O for Life Team 2009

This is the H2O for Life team heading to Uganda and Kenya on Aug 15. Please stay tuned for updates.
Pictured left to right: Chris Ripken, Lisa Ripken, Steve Hall, Val Johnson, Patty Hall and Mark Domschot