Reaching out to Schools in Singapore

Gabriel and team were invited to his alma mater Raffles Institution on 16th April as part of Heartware 2014, organized by the Community Advocates of the school.

He spoke on the work of the foundation and helped Rafflesians understand how their efforts in collecting used shoes contribute to the community in Idsowe, Kenya through the Mitumba project.

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Here’s an extract of the article by Joyce Er, Marcus Tan, Christine Saw and Martin Lim :

That same day, a talk was also held to help establish the right attitude towards the final instalment of Heartware, Feel It! No Shoes Day. Over the past two years, this has been held alongside the Shoe Collection Drive that CA holds in partnership with the Tana River Life Foundation (TRLF). This is a charitable organisation situated in Kenya, which aims to provide dignified aid to marginalised locals. The talk was conducted by Rafflesian alumnus and TRLF founder, Mr Gabriel Teo, about his organisation’s schemes and the ethics he believes should underpin any acts of social service. He was accompanied by three Kenyan youth beneficiaries of TRLF’s programmes, including the Mitumba Project which the Heartware shoe collection drive is contributing towards.

Mr Teo began with a preamble on the principles underpinning his work. He warned against heroism and ‘creating dependency’ or a culture of slacktivism, which he characterised as ‘playing with people’s lives for your own ego’. Passionately decrying shortsighted, one-off welfare projects that fail to prioritise human lives, he said, “Community is understanding that it is not about output or numbers you generate, it’s about outcomes, and how are lives changed for the better.”
After touching on schemes geared towards subsidizing education for Delta students, Mr Teo provided detailed information about the Mitumba Project, which is behind Heartware’s Shoe Collection Drive. Mitumba, or ‘recycled goods’ in Swahili, is a microfinance scheme set up in 2004 and one of TRLF’s entrepreneurship courses. In addition to shoes, Mitumba also collects clothes and bags, which are then sorted and either sold or used for the course.
The microloan scheme, essentially a form of repackaged financial assistance, operates over 4-5 months. In the first month, 100 pieces of clothing and 20-30 pairs of shoes are loaned on good faith to interview-selected applicants, mostly women with dependents such as children studying in secondary school or with chronic disease. Participants market and sell their wares to locals for about 400-500% profit. The sale of all their shoe stock, with a pair going for approximately $4.20, can pay for about a term’s school fees. In the subsequent months, they repay their loans and purchase more stock to sell. Participants must remain accountable, presenting monthly receipts accounting for their income and expenditure.

In response to a question about the sustainability of a scheme in which TRLF still provided the shoe stock, Mr Teo clarified that Mitumba ‘is not intended to be a major source of assistance’, and practically only ‘gives them a boost’. The real intention, Mr Teo stressed, was to ‘preserve dignity as you assist, through dignified giving and dignified receiving’, as opposed to a condescending ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ attitude on this end, or a sense of passive dependence on the other.
Since the overwhelming majority of students in attendance were CA members or Councillors, the outreach for this talk was admittedly seriously limited. This was unfortunate, as the talk did have important messages to share. Especially in light of Acta Non Verba, those in attendance found the talk useful in clarifying exactly how the Mitumba project works, and understood TRLF’s guiding mindsets of aid with dignity in relation to No Shoes Day. Lum Qian Wei, a Y5 member of CA, succinctly summed up her takeaways, “I found it useful. The TRLF emphasises self-reliance and preserves the dignity of the beneficiaries as ultimately, beneficiaries have to put in their own effort to run the businesses. I think No Shoes Day serves to remind us how fortunate we are, and helps us empathise with the poor; this ties in nicely with the TRLF’s principle of treating everyone with respect regardless of his background or status, and not slipping into condescension.”

The complete article is available on http://rafflespress.com/2014/04/27/wareming-hearts-heartware-2014/

Rebuilding after the conflict : Mobile Library in the Tana Delta

From August 2012 to January 2013, the Tana Delta Sub-County was rocked by intense ethnic violence, which resulted in destroyed roads, disrupted education, and affected farming and livestock breeding. However, the local community in and around Idsowe (the base of the foundation) chose peace over violence throughout this period of unrest.

In the last half a year TRLF has been part of the Tana Delta Peace Forum set up by the office of the Deputy County Commissioner to address issues of Peace and Development in the Tana Delta. Being a major education stakeholder in area, TRLF is extending its programs to these communities. These programs are designed to mitigate the risks of future reccurrences of the senseless violence. Setting up a mobile library is the first of a series of programs designed to improve access to quality education. The library will service schools with the least developed education infrastructure and that were most affected by the conflict in 2012/2013.

The first session of the mobile library was kicked off on Friday 21 February at Buyani High School which was vandalized and forced to close during the conflict. Students will now be able to a access a library for the first time in their lives. The foundation will transport books to Buyani High School and Gardeni Secondary School twice a month. More schools will be added to the program in the coming months.

Here are photos of the first library session at Buyani High School.

Setting up the mobile library

Setting up the mobile library

Collecting membership dues and giving out the membership cards

Collecting membership dues and giving out the membership cards

Students from Buyani High School experiencing a llibrary for the first time in their lives. Thank you one and all for your books. You've helped open up their world !

Students from Buyani High School experiencing a llibrary for the first time in their lives. Thank you one and all for your books. You’ve helped open up their world !

Students from Buyani High School checking books out from the library they've ever experienced. Did you contribute these book ? We thank you !

Students from Buyani High School checking books out from the library they’ve ever experienced. Did you contribute these book ? We thank you !

They love their books !

They love their books !

Students from Buyani High School posing with the TRLF bus which transports the books to the school

Students from Buyani High School posing with the TRLF bus which transports the books to the school

We are starting to use online crowsourcing as a means of expanding our fundraising base. The funds raised there will pay for the cost of running the library for 1 year. Help us pay for this by giving generously on http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/mobile-library-tana-delta/

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Letter from Gabriel – Feb 2014

Dear Friends,

I hope this letter finds all of you in the best of health and blessed with a good start to 2014. This letter is long overdue, and I sincerely apologize for the delay. It has been an eventful year with a lot of unforeseen challenges. I am grateful however, because it was also a year of much growth in faith and inner strength.

It is now a year since the ethnic clashes in the Tana Delta ended as abruptly as it started and life has slowly returned to normal. TRLF was invited to be part of the Tana Delta Peace Forum set up by the Deputy County Commissioner’s office, aimed at conflict resolution. I believe that our human development initiatives can bring about not merely periods of normalcy but long term peace and sustainable development for the people of Tana Delta. The following report elaborates on this conviction:

http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2014-trlf-education-and-peace-final.pdf

As part of our efforts to support the areas most affected by the conflict, we started a mobile library this month, initially serving two schools in the delta, including Buyani Secondary School which was vandalized and forced to stop operating for almost a year as a result of the clashes. Our school The Delta Mustard Seed Academy is now registered with the Ministry of Education as a Private Nursery and Primary School, with an enrolment of 115 children from all the delta tribes. You can read more about these and our other educational initiatives at :http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2013-pdf-part-b-and-c-education-support1.pdf

We terminated the services of the contractor responsible for constructing Phase 1 of the Emmaus Centre (i.e. the school building) in the middle of last year on grounds of non-performance. We were unable to proceed as planned as he refused to return the original building plans to us. The case is currently pending a court decision with a ruling date set for 17th March. Meanwhile, construction of Phase 2 of the Emmaus Centre (i.e. the Community Centre housing the library, computer room, meeting room, auditorium and cafeteria) will begin this month under a new contractor. This phase is expected to be completed by August. Details about the ECP are available at:

http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2013-pdf-part-k-and-l-scaling-up.pdf

To better manage these new initiatives, I have delayed my annual trip to Asia. I will arrive in Singapore on 21st March. Collections for the Mitumba Project (i.e. sale of recycled goods to improve rural livelihoods) will start on Saturday 22nd March and run through to Saturday 29th March. The venue remains the same as last year, i.e. the Nativity Church Kindergarten at Hougang Ave 8 (opposite Punggol Park). I look forward to your support once again. Full details can be obtained from :  http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2014-part-b-pdf.pdf

This project, with your generous support, benefited over 50 families last year. I write about this and other entrepreneurship programs at:

http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2013-pdf-part-g-and-h-entrepreneuship.pdf

The farm project has progressed very well in spite of being partially destroyed during the floods that hit the delta in May and June last year. More information on this is available at:

http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2013-pdf-part-d-e-and-f-sustainable-agriculture.pdf

This was largely due to the efforts of the present group of youth under formation who are also the farm managers. They have matured tremendously in the past year, and are very responsible and honest. I explain more about the youth formation project in the following write-up:

http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2013-pdf-part-i-and-j-integral-formation.pdf

We were blessed with many visitors last year. A compilation of photos of 2013 visitors is available at:

http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2013-pdf-part-m-donor-visits.pdf

I am grateful for these visits, as it enriches the life experiences of our youth. I trust that every one of our visitors were also enriched in some way, and I welcome more such visits in the coming years.

I am very grateful to all who have helped us in one way or another, making possible so many initiatives last year. May you be blessed abundantly for your generous spirit.  Below is an acknowledgment of the help we received in 2013, and I apologize if I have inadvertently missed mentioning anyone:

http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2013-pdf-part-n-acknowledgements.pdf

Highlights of our 2013 initiatives can be downloaded at: http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2013-pdf-part-a-cover-and-intro.pdf

The complete 2013 Annual Report comprising all the above sections is available at:

http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2013-trlf-annual-report-final.pdf

We have made major changes to the administration of our school fees sponsorship programme with the aim of assisting the most marginalized students from every location in the Tana Delta. This and all our other plans for 2014 are outlined in the following report:

http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2014-part-a-pdf.pdf

I hope you will be encouraged to continue to journey with us this year as we work towards a more complete humanity for all.

I created a new email address for the foundation: tanariverlifefoundation@gmail.com, and will be sending all future reports through that address. Please save that email address in your contacts list/address book to prevent our future reports from inadvertently being sent to your spam folder.

Lastly, I look forward to meeting you during my stay in Singapore and Malaysia from the end of March until the middle of May. I will be contactable at both +65-98338401 (Singapore) and +6012-6237040 (Malaysia) from 21st March. Please note my new permanent mobile number in Singapore.

Thank you once again, and I wish you all a year of peace and fulfillment. God bless.

Gabriel Teo Kian Chong

Idsowe – Tana Delta

February 2014

Mitumba Used Goods Collection 2014

Many of you are in the midst of spring cleaning this first weekend in January and have asked when we will be collecting the used goods for Tana River Life Foundation. Aside from the usual clothes, bags, shoes, bedsheets and curtains, I’d like to highlight that we also collect the following :

- old mobile phones which can be repaired and sold Tana Delta

- CDs / DVDs for recycling : content does not matter. They could contain music, movies, software, backups, or even annual reports

- empty CD / DVD covers for recycling

The venue and dates have been decided.

We’ll be at Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the same venue as the past 2 years from 22 – 30 March. Click here for a map of the location.

Click here to download the letter from Gabriel, the dates and times of the collection and a  list of items needed : http://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/mitumba-2014-final.pdf

See you in March and Happy Spring Cleaning !

 

An appeal by Buyani Secondary School for facilities

During the  Tana Delta clashes of August 2012 to January 2013, schools in the interior ( outside the region where the foundation currently works in ) was vandalized. Some were severely damaged and had to be abandoned, including Buyani Secondary School. Buyani Secondary School was forced to close due to the damage and is currently operating in a temporary location.

In the last  few months, Gabriel and Tana River Life Foundation have been involved in the peace talks to mediate between the tribes. Part of the effort would involve the foundation expanding its footprint into the interior where the clashes occurred. They visited schools in the area to understand the conditions they are operating in as well as their needs.

TRLF staff with students of Buyani Secondary School

TRLF staff with students of Buyani Secondary School

The headgirl of Buyani Secondary School read out a letter appealing for help. Watch an excerpt of her speech. Here’s a transcript of the full speech.

As part of the aid to Buyani Secondary School, the foundation will start running a mobile library that will visit Buyani and another secondary school from 1Q2014.

 

TRLF awarded income tax exempt status by the Kenya Revenue Authority

In recognition of its contributions to society as an Institute of Public Benefit, TRLF has been awarded income tax exempt status by the Kenya Revenue Authority for a 5 year period from 24th April 2013 to 24th April 2018.

This effectively means that:

  • TRLF has been officially recognized as a charitable institution in Kenya;
  • TRLF will be exempted from all tax on any income earned, e.g. interest, rent and business; and
  • Donations to TRLF by Kenyan taxpayers will be allowed as a deduction against chargeable income for tax purposes.

If you need more information, please contact us at tanariverlifefoundation@gmail.com

Getting an Education at the Tana Delta – by Rocco Hu

Increasing access to quality education is one of the central goals of the Tana River Life Foundation. From providing bursaries and lodging to capable but underprivileged rural students to assisting local schools’ by providing furniture, facilities, transport and technology, the Foundation seeks to support students in the Tana River area by tackling the main problems facing rural education.

It is night in Idsowe village. Most of the light comes from kerosene lamps peering out from thatched huts, the occasional torch, the moon and stars, and the few houses with Kenya Power. Near the heart of the village however, burns a steady light, visible from kilometers away. Approaching it from across the sandy path, one sees that behind the dusty metal gates of the Foundation house is seated a handful of students on foldable metal chairs, school materials on dark blue MOE desks in front of them. Heads are bowed in concentration under large electric lamps.

Getting help with homework

Getting help with homework

A student raises his hand, evidently stuck on a mathematics question. John Keller, a participant in the Youth Formation Program steps forward and shows the student how to work out a logarithmic expression on pen and paper-the old school way. As he returns to a seat near the corner of the garage I ask him if he’s usually helping here. Giving a characteristically light smile, he nods in the affirmative.

Parents applying for busaries for their children

Parents waiting to apply for busaries for their children

From as early as 6am, students and their parents began passing through the entrance to the Tana River Life Foundation’s Idsowe house, forming a crowd several hundred strong. Among the assembled were members of Idsowe village as well as those who had to travel through the night from more remote areas.

At the start of every semester, students from the area gather to apply for bursaries with the Foundation. According to Gabriel Teo, the founder of the organization, “We (The foundation) consider both merit and need when we give out the bursaries”. Students have to provide a copy of their academic transcripts to apply, and any parent wishing to appeal for a bursary based on extenuating circumstances can do so in the weeks ahead.

For many in the impoverished Tana River area, the bursaries are a lifeline. According to Hamara Said, a Form 1 (Sec 3 equivalent) student at the nearby Tarasaa High, “it is difficult (for me) to be in school without the bursary.” For Hamara, whose agriculturalist parents are determined to keep all of their six children in school, the $3,500KSH (approximately $41 USD) bursary he got last year gives him a sense of empowerment. “When I get this bursary, I feel that I can really achieve what I want.”

Bursaries are not the only form of assistance rendered during the session. After the applicants have filled and handed in their forms, and refreshed themselves with tea brewed by our youth volunteers, several senior members of the foundation took turns to address the crowd.

Bendecto Komora, employee of the organization and an alumnus of the first batch of students assisted by the foundation took to the floor first. In Swahili and English, he encouraged students and parents to keep striving in the face of failure and adversity if they are to become empowered to shape their own lives.

Gabriel Teo concurs. Referring to the political roots of the pre-election ethnic violence last year, he exhorted the importance of education to “protecting people against manipulation”. In impassioned Swahili, he pointed out that the disruption caused by the violence led the county to be ranked last in the nation’s annual academic ranking exercise. “We cannot let this set the whole area back. Education is the key to transforming the Tana River area.”

Students boarding the foundation bus

Students boarding the foundation bus

In addition to providing bursaries and studying and living facilities to students, the Foundation also works closely with government schools in the area.

The road to Garsen High School is long and dusty. Many students and staff take the buses the Foundation provides from Garsen town and the surrounding villages to school. After ten minutes of travel on a dirt track off the main road, bush and sand dunes give way to a large clearing where a cluster of lightly painted buildings stand.

As we approach the principal’s office, temporarily housed in a small building with the sign “Girls’ Dormitory”, we pass a baying goat tied to a small tree out in the porch. According to Keller, that’s school fees.

In the building we were greeted by Mr Benjamin Sholo, the head teacher of the school that has the highest enrolment, charges the lowest fees, and the highest academic standing of all the high schools in the area.

Mr Sholo greeted us with a warm smile and invited us to sit. After exchanging pleasantries, he shared with us that the enrolment of the school has grown from 200 in 2007 to the current 528.

When asked about the other reasons behind the relative success of the school, Mr Sholo said: “Some of the policies that have been good include the lunch program in school. Needless to say, the help given from the Tana River Life Foundation has also been invaluable.”

Mr Sholo said that the Foundation currently provides 200 of its students with some form of financial assistance and transports the bulk of its student body to and fro school with its buses. According to him, the Foundation has also helped provide technology and furniture crucial to the running of the school. Gesturing towards the desktop computer that sits atop his desk, Mr Sholo added that that was one of the ten computers donated by the foundation.

According to Mr Sholo, before the school instituted the food program, “You see the numbers (of students) slowly get reduced through the day. By 10a.m you have a certain number, by the afternoon its lower, and by evening its even lower.” But after making free breakfast and lunch part and parcel of the school, many more students attend and remain in school. “Now, even if the students want to play truant, they still show up at the break times to have food”, joked Mr Sholo. On a more serious note, he explains that most of the students here come from disadvantaged families that struggle to make 3 meals a day. Having food on campus makes it possible for the students to attend school, and ultimately benefits the marginalized the most.

As we toured the school compound, surveying the newly built science labs and classrooms filled with the white-and-brown uniforms of Garsen students, Mr Sholo shared with us his belief in education for girls.

“I have a softer spot for girls when they apply for a place here at Garsen . A mother who is educated will push for better education for her children, and when she makes her family it will be a better family. Sometimes if the family is not willing or able to pay for a girls’ education we can liase with Gabriel to see how the foundation can support her.”

We rounded the last school building where a class of Form 1 (or Secondary 3) students sat in neat rows, listening with rapt attention to a Biology lesson.

Mr Sholo rounded off our visit by thanking us for our time, and closed off with his broader vision for education in Garsen. He believes in a “Prosper thy neighbor” approach to development-that improving economic conditions through access to education is crucial to eliminating the social ills that threaten peace in the area. The ethnically diverse High School which enrolls children from both the Pokomo and Orma tribes and has teachers from different parts of Kenya, served as a safe haven during last year’s ethnic clashes. “We don’t stand on one side”, Mr Sholo said. He added that the school’s enrolment increased after the clashes died down and news of its reputation spread.

Getting around using the Tana River Life Foundation bus

Getting around using the Tana River Life Foundation bus

The rumbling approach of the Foundation bus interrupted the chorus of cicadas. It was getting late, and time for us Singaporean visitors’ to return back to our lodge. We said our goodbyes to the students and to Gabriel and boarded the bus. When we were at the edge of the village I turned around and noticed that the light from the garage was still shining, and thought that Joseph Keller was probably still sitting there, watching over scribbling students determined to be authors of their own fates.

Across the country in the cities of Mombasa, Nairobi and Eldoret, in small, modest houses rented by the Foundation, bright, ardent lights hum and glow into the night.

“Recently released from the army, Rocco spends his time reading, watching plays and volunteering. He also writes fiction, drama and journalism sporadically. He is currently studying the liberal arts at the Yale-NUS College.

He first found out about the Foundation through an information session at his godmother’s place. After listening to Gabriel speak about the organization and its work, and interacting with David and Eddie, two youth volunteers, he decided that he wanted to be part of this wonderful project. This led to him to travel to Kenya between the 1st and 26th of May 2013, where he assisted with installing and implementing library software, and gathered materials for articles to be used in the foundation’s publication material. He hopes to head back to Kenya soon”

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