TRLF Mitumba 2016

Dear friends

I hope this note finds you and your families well.

I am now tying up matters over here in Tana as I prepare to make my trip to Asia at the end of March. It has been extra hectic because of the on-going construction of the new school ( Emmaus Centre Project Phase 1) which restarted late last year and also because we expanded our bursary programme to assist students from Term 1, especially those who performed well in the primary school leaving exams and were not able to continue to secondary school because of financial limitations. Thank you very much once again for your support for our work here in Tana Delta.

Classroom North Elevation

I expect to be at my mum’s place in JB by 1st April and in Singapore by the evening of 3rd April. I hope we can meet up sometime in April or May. I will be in Singapore the whole of April and again in the last two weeks of May. I will be in Malaysia during the first two weeks of May as well as the first two weeks of June before returning to Kenya by mid-June.

We will have our Mitumba Project collections again this year from 8 – 16 April at Nativity Church Kindergarten, the same venue as last year. Collection details and wishlist are available for download here.

In the last year, together with a few volunteer friends from Singapore and Malaysia, we registered Tana River Life Foundation Pte Ltd. One of its activities is the sale of Kenyan handicrafts in Singapore & Malaysia, with all profits going to support TRLF projects in Kenya. Soapstone carvings featuring safari animals and Christmas figurines have been the first products. If you would like to view or find out more, please contact Iris Tay at tanariverlifefoundation@gmail.com.

When in Asia, I will be contactable at +65-98338401 (Singapore) / +6012-6237040 (Malaysia) or Whatsapp to +254723521774. I look forward to meeting you during our time in Asia.

Until then, may God bless you and your families.


5th March 2016
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Happy New Year from the Tana Delta – a note from Gabriel

Dear Friends

I pray that you and your loved ones are well, and wish all of you a belated Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2016. May God bless you with grace, joy, peace and inner strength in the year ahead.

It has been really hot over here in Tana for the entire month of December, despite the heavy rains. Thankfully the weather has cooled down this week and we are hoping that the hottest period has passed. The river broke its banks as a result of the heavy rains upcountry and some villages along the Tana River were flooded. Our village was not affected though our farm and many others along the river were flooded causing some loss of crops. Nevertheless, it was not as bad as we were expecting with all the dire predictions of El Nino in the press since September.

We continued extending our reach to the most interior villages this year, giving a lot of students opportunities they would otherwise not have. We managed to organize the first Tana Delta Secondary School Debate sanctioned by the Ministry of Education. We held it at Kitere Secondary School, the most remote school in the Delta. The entire school comprises a single building with 3 classrooms, one of which is used as staff room cum principal’s room cum store.


Kitere Secondary School is situated in Ndera Location. It is the most remote secondary school in the Tana Delta

It takes two hours to get there during the dry season and even longer during the rains, if at all the roads are passable. Normally such events are held in schools situated closer to the tarmac road, and at most just a few student representatives from the interior schools are able to travel to attend such functions due to lack of means.

Every debate participant received a dictionary donated by St. Theresa’s Convent in Singapore
Every debate participant received a dictionary donated by St. Theresa’s Convent in Singapore

Holding the event at Kitere Secondary School gave that entire school population a truly unforgettable experience. It also enabled students from the less remote areas who participated in the debate to appreciate the challenges students in the remote areas face.

TRLF – improving Child Literacy Skills in the Tana Delta
TRLF – improving Literacy Skills in the Tana Delta

Our school, Delta Mustard Seed Academy had an enrolment of over 150 students this year. Our children are able to read from the time they are 5 years old, whereas the norm in the Delta has always been that kids even as old as 9 struggle to read simple words. We would like to assist more children develop in this way and have identified 6 primary schools in the most outlying locations for special assistance. We are developing a program together with the school teachers from these schools for implementation in 2016.

 School Building under construction; Community Centre in the background
School Building under construction; Community Centre in the background

Work restarted on construction of the school building of the Emmaus Centre Project (ECP) in late November. The delay was because the contractor Mr. Li was tying up another project in Ethiopia and was unable to release his site manager until mid-November. The site manager Mr Yang is a very skilled and dedicated builder and his service is worth the wait. He undertook the community centre construction and completed that with utmost professionalism and much passion. The school is expected to be completed by May 2016.

The community centre building is complete with the exception of the internet connection. We are working on getting the external works completed, i.e. waste disposal, water supply and storage etc. All such works are expected to be completed by mid-2016.

TRLF youth, Nancy an Esther explaining the use of reusable sanitary napkins to students from Kitere
TRLF youth, Nancy and Esther explaining the use of reusable sanitary napkins to students from Kitere

We continue nurturing our youth, both at secondary school level as well as post-secondary level, helping them form and internalize moral values. We also involve them in all the community work we do so that they become more integrated in the real lives of their own communities and neighbours. Many of them mature to become more passionate and aware of the needs of others and of their responsibilities to assist.

TRLF donated desks, chairs and textbooks to Oda, Buyani and Kitere secondary schools in 2015
TRLF donated desks, chairs and textbooks to Oda, Buyani and Kitere secondary schools in 2015

As we leave the gift of 2015 behind, and look forward in wonder and faith to 2016, I thank you very much for journeying with us as we build individual lives, and thereby entire communities. You are remembered in our prayers today and I ask that you too keep us in yours. Once again, Happy New Year 2016, be blessed.


Idsowe Village – Tana Delta, Kenya
1st January 2016

Gabriel and Tana River Life Foundation featured in Millionaire Asia

Thanks to Brian Yim and the team at Millionaire Asia, Gabriel and Tana River Life Foundation were featured in the Issue 33 of Millionaire Asia. Here’s the article.

https://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/millionaire-asia-second-nature-journey-to-the-tana-delta-2pp_r8-final.pdf

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/

Give Now

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:

https://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 :https://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:

https://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 :  https://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:

https://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:

https://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:

https://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:

https://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:

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

Highlights of our 2013 initiatives can be downloaded at: https://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:

https://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:

https://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

An Interview of Gabriel Teo by Rocco Hu

Gabriel being interviewed

Gabriel being interviewed

Question > How long has it been since you started working with the people of the Tana River area?

Gabriel > If I’m not mistaken, I was here from around 1995 onwards.

Question > What were the circumstances that motivated you to begin your work here?

Gabriel > I first came to Kenya after university on holiday and felt a sense that there were many things that I didn’t know upon seeing a whole new world. And this whole new world made me ask many questions about my direction in life. I then spent 5 years as a tax accountant. Over the five years I was there I was doing well, but I always felt that something was missing. It certainly wasn’t a feeling of emptiness, but just that what I was doing wasn’t enough. At that point I thought I’d come back and do something related to community development. I was not sure exactly how that would work but at that age you don’t think so much. But yeah, that was the idea.

Question > Did you set out intending to create the organization as it is now, or was it something that was conceived of one step at a time?

Gabriel > The latter. Everything you see now was conceived one step at a time. It evolved over the years. Every year we try to improve on it, make it more effective. Even the Mitumba project is still evolving. There is no textbook, so there was the issue of having the intention, but not the method needed to achieve it, the direction but not the means of getting there.  That may not be a bad thing. When you admit that you don’t really know what you‘re doing, you learn the most. You become more open to new answers, self-evaluation, how to do things better.

Question > If you had to break down the development of the organization into distinct steps, what would they be?

Gabriel > This first would be centered around the vague term called “helping people”. I saw someone being sent home from school because of a lack of fees. And so education came up high on the priority list early. Then came the part where we did a lot of soul searching on what it means to be educated, what an education is for. We then began agricultural activities. That gained importance as we felt that a healthier and better-nourished mind can learn better. After that it was focused on helping people to become more independent rather than dependent, through community self-help and entrepreneurship; helping people cope with challenges of rural businesses. Also, I felt that at the end of the day, if you have men and women who are not honest, who don’t have integrity, whatever we do might end up not amounting to much. But if you help people become better husbands, better wives, better parents, to become people with character and values, the community will develop in a sustainable way. Thus youth development also came up as a central concern of our organisation.

Question > Where do you see the TRLF headed in the next 5, 10 years?

Gabriel > I hope it will be focused on empowering the young people to mature and be reliable. So this becomes less of a one man show and becomes more of a community-based endeavour. Other important goals include becoming self-sufficient in terms of operating costs, as well as getting more donor funding for the right things. Seeing how the assistance can be replicated to cover a wider area in a cost-effective way.

Question > I can see that the students and villagers in general trust you a lot. Was it hard obtaining that trust? What was the process like? Was there any particular turning point in obtaining their trust?

Gabriel > It’s still an ongoing process. Some people trust more, some less. It’s like any other human relationship but harder because of the need to overcome cultural barriers and a fear of the unknown. What I found very important to this was to show that you can back your words up with action. Last year between August and September when there were ethnic clashes that resulted in villages being burnt and people killed, many people expected me to leave to Mombasa and wait out the violence. But I didn’t feel compelled to do so. What’s the point of going away when all you’ve been saying is that you want to be responsible to them. I think that is false. I had to bear some risk that any other locals had to bear, but I felt the right thing would be to remain there unless we could close the whole house and bring everyone out. I think after that the level of trust went up.

Question > What were the main obstacles you faced in setting up and running the organization?

Gabriel > Compliance, lack of staff and a lack of experience. The learning curve was and still is very steep. There’s also not enough time, not enough man hours. I hope in the future administrative tasks will be lesser and lesser. Working on new projects and the day-to-day administrative work related to the organization take up more than all of one’s time.

Question > Were you always such an altruistic person? What were you like as a student or fresh uni grad?

Gabriel > I was very ambitious and competitive, and a little vain and proud. But that said, I was a person who felt a lot, who thought a lot; someone who always wanted and still wanted to understand the meaning of love and how to live by it.

Question > Youth in Singapore have the benefit of growing up in a relatively affluent country. Based on your perspective, do you have any words of advice for us?

Gabriel > They should realize that the world is not what it seems, that it’s not as complete it seems; their world is not the entire world. They should look outside their windows at the world so that they can see more, and become more. This is important so they don’t become shaped by factory settings, by factory defaults. They should make a leap to live.

Question > What words of advice do you have for people who want to help disadvantaged peoples and communities but don’t know how to start?

Gabriel > It’s very important to make recce trips. Trips that would help you understand the people and situation that you want to improve. Knowing one’s own intentions for doing the work that you want to do is also very crucial. Helping others should not be an escape from the present. Let it be a real path that you want to follow. Not because you’re doing poorly in the old path, but that the old path is going well but not good enough. I can only say that on my own experience.

Question > If readers want make a contribution to the Foundation, how can they do so at this point of time?

Gabriel > Get to know us. Email us at tanariverlifefoundation@gmail.com. We have two representatives in Singapore, Iris and Karen. Meet us, tell us what they’d like to know and what they can do, and we can take it from there. I don’t think it’s necessary or right to take money for the sake of getting a donation. What I would like is to build partnerships, form connections with people who are walking the same journey. I think that makes sense, and is more honest, more real. If it’s just a matter of raising funds from anonymous faces, I’ve never done it that way.

“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”

Ubuntu : An Evening in Aid of Tana River Life Foundation

DSC_0007A big “Thank you” to all who supported us at the Amara Hotel on Friday 19th April at “Ubuntu: An Evening in Aid of Tana River Life Foundation“. Your generous support has enabled us to raise the amount needed to build the community library that is part of Phase 2 of the Emmaus Center Project. Our heartfelt appreciation also goes out to those whose sponsorships help us keep the cost of the evening low, and those who worked for months to put the evening together. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXjzVDe6xrA&feature=youtu.be

Thanks to Mr Milenko Prvacki and Mrs Delio Prvacki for curating the art works for the evening and getting their friends and associates to contribute their works to the event. The catalogue is available for download at https://tanariverlife.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/a5-tana-booklet_130326_full-set-low-res.pdf. Please contact tanariverlifefoundation@gmail.com if you would like to view the pieces of Art Available – 22 April 2013. Here are some photos of the evening as well as some behind the scenes pictures. IMG_1697 IMG_1675 IMG_1682 IMG_1706 IMG_1703 IMG_1704 IMG_1687 IMG_1673 And here are some photos of the evening : HR_FJP4766 HR_FJP5080 HR_FJP4755 HR_FJP4752 HR_FJP4748 HR_FJP4744-Edit HR_FJP4742 HR_FJP4862 HR_FJP4833 HR_FJP4810 HR_FJP4808 HR_FJP4806 HR_FJP4776 HR_FJP4783 HR_FJP4774 HR_FJP4768 HR_FJP4914 HR_FJP4896 HR_FJP4892 HR_FJP4888 HR_FJP4883 HR_FJP4870 HR_FJP5015 HR_FJP5014-Edit HR_FJP4867 HR_FJP5007 HR_FJP4971 HR_FJP5075 DSC_0140 DSC_0006 DSC_0030 DSC_0051 DSC_0045 DSC_0039 DSC_0037 DSC_0038 DSC_0078