GA Study Tour to Kenya 2006

Report on the International Working Group

24 July - 15 August 2006
Leader: Dr Kevin Cook

This year's IWG Study Tour followed the pattern of the very successful 2004 Kenya tour, with minor changes reflecting comments made by 2004 participants in their evaluations.

Mombasa: our starting point

Three days at the Mombasa Beach Hotel enabled us to acclimatise and to examine the Kenyan tourist industry at first hand. Tourism in Kenya is experiencing an upturn following difficulties after 9/11 and it was interesting to witness the changes since 2004.

A walking tour of Mombasa old town illustrated the mixture of cultures found here and the association with the slave trade. We revisited Bombalulu Craft workshop which employs disabled people and the Wema project for street children, which has expanded to include a drop-in centre in the city used by up to 150 children each day.

Our planned visit to the Bamburi cement works didn't go ahead but the company had arranged for us to meet Dr Haller who designed the eco-park and wildlife sanctuary in the old quarry (as made famous by David Waugh). He engaged us for over an hour explaining, through an illustrated lecture, his dreams for the disused coral limestone quarries. After the meeting, we were given a guided tour of the quarry rehabilitation scheme, now known as Haller Park.

Machakos and the Mutisya family and friends

We then flew back to Nairobi where we were met by Jim and the 'Let's Go' minibus. Jim was to spend the next 18 days with us as our driver, guide and companion for over 4000km of Kenyan roads.

Our first destination was Machakos where we met our friends from 2004, the Mutisya family. They showed us around the town and invited us to their homes, both in town and in the village of Katheka some 40km to the north.

In the Machakos area the 'bottom up' schemes for improving agricultural production and standards of living are having great success. Activities which aid development include the Mwethya system. In this scheme, groups of people join together to perform work on the farms and to engage in craft manufacturing and other activities. The women, especially, are playing a leading role in achieving sustainable development in the area.

While we were in Machakos we visited Mambuni Girls' Secondary School where Veronica Kioko is head of geography. In 2005 Veronica was awarded a GAIIF grant to come to the GA Annual Conference in Manchester. Mambuni is a new girls' boarding school (many of Kenya's schools do take boarders).

From Machakos we drove north-west through Nairobi to Naivasha. On route we stopped outside Limuru to gain our first view of the spectacular Rift Valley. Then it was on to our home for two nights, the Malewa River Lodge, famed for the television documentary starring Joanna Lumley and the transfer of giraffes from Nakuru National Park to the Kigio Game Reserve.

Malewa proved to be an idyllic choice as our centre to explore the Nakuru area. We visited the Hell's Gate National park with its volcanic scenery and geothermal power station, Nakuru National park, famous for its millions of flamingos and Bogoria National Park with its hot springs. The next night was spent at the equally impressive Lake Baringo Lodge, famous for its variety of bird life.

Our journey north then took us up the western scarp of the Rift Valley to the settlement of Iten, now recognised as the birthplace of modern Kenyan athletics. At over 2000m, it is an ideal location for altitude training and many of Kenya's elite athletes went to school in the town.

In Iten, we met David Mutisya and were the guests of a Japanese funded rural development project (JIKA). David is the Kenyan manager and, working alongside a Japanese colleague, is involved in establishing community-based agricultural projects in the Kerio valley. David talked to us about his work and agreed to meet us later in Eldoret.

After a night in the city of Eldoret we drove north through the beautiful Cherangani hills to the Marich Pass Field Centre, one of my favourite places despite its lack of electricity and hot water. Since we were there two years ago, showers and toilets have been added to many of the bandas (round straw-roofed huts) and this has made the tortuous 100 yard trek to the earth closets in the middle of the night a thing of the past.

We stayed at Marich for five days and experienced the beginning of a period of severe weather with heavy rain that, after we left, led to serious flooding. The sudden storms did make travelling around that bit more exciting as we often had to wait for a flash flood to subside. Soon after we left Marich, we learned that the only main road into the area had become impassable as a result of the floods.

David Roden has been the warden of the Marich Field Centre since the early 1990s and has established very good relationships with the local people, the Pokot. His centre will be well known to many UK teachers who have taken pupils to Kenya. David had arranged a series of visits for us to meet families and to explore their environments. We were privileged to be able to gain first hand experience of a changing way of life and to witness some of the survival strategies they use to survive in a hostile environment.

During our stay at Marich, we visited a local Saturday market at Lomut where the semi-nomadic east Pokot exchange milk and animals with the sedentary maize growing west Pokot. Traders from outside the area also sell a multitude of other goods including blankets, snuff, vegetables and the ubiquitous second-hand clothing.

We were also invited to attend the end of term prize giving at the new school at the field centre. The school was being constructed when we last visited and is rapidly establishing itself as one of the most successful in the area, coming third in the recent examinations. As we were guests of honour, Kevin had to make a speech and we presented the school with a range of materials we had brought from the UK.

We also travelled north and were the guests of the Kerio Valley Development Authority at the Turkwell Dam. This is one of Kenya's major hydro-electricity projects and, unlike in 2004, it is now has both turbines running and is at almost maximum production capacity. Part of the tour included a visit underground to the turbine rooms.

After a delightful five days at Marich we drove south through the tropical rain forest of Kakamega arriving for our one night stop at Kisumu on Lake Victoria. Despite being beset with all sorts of ecological problems, the Lake remains one of the most beautiful sights in the world especially at sunset.

The following day we travelled to Kericho where we were guests of the James Finlay Company on their tea estate. This was a particular pleasure as few visits are allowed nowadays following the bad publicity that many companies have received about working conditions. There was certainly an emphasis on health and safety as we were shown around the processing factory and the company is working hard to achieve Fair Trade accreditation.

From Kericho our busy day took us then to Njoro where we were the guests of Mr Nathani at his Kenya Highlands flower company. Mr Nathani concentrates on growing roses for the European market and deliberately chose his location, away from Lake Naivasha, to minimise ecological problems.

Flower production is now one of Kenya's major growth export industries and we were able to discuss the geography and economics with Mr Nathani. At the end of our visit, Mr Nathani surprised us all by providing a fantastic tea.

After an overnight stay at the Lake Elementaita Lodge, we travelled south to spend two days in the Masai Mara reserve. This is not a National Park and, instead, is run by Narok local council. Whilst the theme for our visit was ostensibly tourism, it did also provide an opportunity to relax at the end of a long Study Tour. Certainly seeing the cheetah, lions, crocodiles and elephants ensured that we enjoyed ourselves.

This photo shows the group about to become illegal immigrants into Tanzania. In the front row is Jim, our expert driver for the entire tour. He was a fount of knowledge and made the tour even more special for all.

On our return to Nairobi we had a guided tour of the city with Michael Kioko, Veronica's husband. This took in all aspects of the city's geography, including the CBD and suburbs ranging from the very poor to the very wealthy. There was also time for some retail therapy in one of the larger bookshops.

In stark contrast to the wealth of the Holiday Inn and the Sarit Centre shopping mall, we spent our last morning in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa. We were hosted by a small local NGO and were taken to see a feeding project for orphans and children with only one parent. The scheme is supported by the Lunchbox Project, set up by teachers in southwest London, which aims to link primary schools in the UK with the project in Africa. Seeing the happy smiling faces of the children is a treasured memory.

The 2006 IWG Study Tour would not have been possible without the considerable help provided by many Kenyans. Their assistance meant that we were able to explore and learn about their interesting and beautiful country. In particular we are grateful to the Mutisya family, David Roden of the Marich Pass Field Centre and to Jim Nzomo, (our driver from Let's Go Travel) and Janice Dickson (Ian Dickson Travel, Edinburgh) who did us proud (again!).

Finally, a big thank you goes to Kevin Cook, who planned and led the tour so expertly, and his friends throughout the country who helped to make the tour very special.

Sarah Maude (edited by Kevin!)
August 2006

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