Kenya through the eyes of a young Singaporean – by Lyanna Lim. A 3 part series

26 Sep 2014, Chara Location, Tana Delta

As I alighted from the matatu, I spotted a blue tentage with the words ‘Holy Innocents’ High School’ . Parents were making their way towards the PTA meeting at the Chara location. Parents from the Christian Pokomo community were seated to the left, the parents of the Muslim Orma community on the right with the students from Buyani Secondary School in the middle. Buyani Secondary School was closed in 2012 and part of 2013 due to damage incurred during the violent ethnic clashes in the area. Thanks to the peace talks led by NGOs including Tana River Life Foundation peace has since prevailed.

Volunteers and foundation staff walking towards PTA meeting at Chara Location

Volunteers and foundation walking towards PTA meeting at Chara Location

Students in class at Buyani Secondary School

Students in class at Buyani Secondary School

The foundation accepts applications for bursaries at the start of each school semester at PTA meetings . Students submit their academic transcripts to support their applications, while parents have a channel to appeal for financial support for their children based on extenuating family circumstances. The chiefs and headmen of the surrounding villages kicked off the meeting with rousing speeches in a mixture of English and Swahili, the national language of Kenya. Parents from both communities then took to the stage thanking the leaders and foundation and encouraging their children to do well in school. Finally, Student President Bahaiyesa Ali Batuo and Headgirl Mwanahamisi Jakofa of Buyani Secondary School addressed the crowd. A common theme ran through their speeches – that education was paramount, it equips students for their future and shapes their lives, and that all of them should continue to strive in the face of adversity. In spite of not understanding Swahili I could feel the burning aspirations of the community, and the passion and drive of the students . I felt guilty about having taken education for granted in my teenage years.

We then spoke to some parents as well as students to understand their lives and struggles to break out of their circumstances . Living in a community without electricity, the students needed lights to complete their homework and revision in the evenings, many did not have access to textbooks , girls skipped school one week every month as they could not afford sanitary napkins. Many of the students woke up before dawn to make it to school on foot, a walk that could take over an hour, braving the elements and wild animals in the bush. The walk could take over an hour. A woman in her 30s with 8 children told us about being recounted how she sold as a child bride so that her brothers could go to school.

Village women cooking a feast of goat stew and pilau for the PTA meeting with the foundation

Village women cooking a feast of goat stew and pilau for the PTA meeting with the foundation

Lyanna washing her hands before enjoying the feast prepared by the villagers at Chara

Lyanna washing her hands before enjoying the feast prepared by the villagers at Chara

A lunch of roast goat and pilau cooked the traditional way over coal fires was lovingly prepared by members from both tribes. Food and hope for a better future bring communities together and help them to look beyond irrelevant differences. Having children of different ethnic backgrounds going to school together help cultivate mutual respect and promote racial harmony.


We are raising funds for Buyani Secondary School. It is a 3 room school house located in an area doesn’t have running water nor electricity and we are raising funds to bring solar energy into the classrooms, provide students with sports equipment, sponsor their participation in school events, build a multi-purpose room as well as provide shelves, tables and chairs for the room. Would be great if you and your friends could help spread a little Christmas cheer to the students. Thanks for your generosity and have a Merry Christmas !  Please click here to give :

Lyanna’s Profile :

Lyanna, Sarah and Iris learning to use traditional bush toothbrushes

Lyanna, Sarah and Iris learning to use traditional bush toothbrushes

Currently working in India, Lyanna Lim always had a soft spot for developing countries. Her trip to Nepal as part of her graduation trip motivated her to work in South Asia after she graduated. Inspired by her father who went to Kenya to lend his construction expertise to  TRLF’s Emmaus Centre Project in 2013, Lyanna decided that she wanted to volunteer for this organization. She spearheaded a Global Giving campaign in the beginning of 2014 to raise funds for a mobile library and subsequently visited the foundation for 2 weeks in September 2014 to implement a library software and to coach the youths on how to catalogue and maintain a proper bookkeeping system of the library using the software.

Together with two other volunteers, Iris and Sarah, they traveled to Kenya .  It was an hectic and exciting 2 weeks of implementing a library software system, speaking to student beneficiary and their parents, studying the feasibility of provide solar powered lighting to the students, exploring various reusable sanitary napkin solutions for schoolgirls  as well as sourcing for local soapstones and kitenge (African garment) for fundraising purposes

In her free time, Lyanna loves running, reading and experimenting with raw food recipes. She will be pursuing her MBA in Duke Fuqua School of Business in 2015 and hopes to leverage on her network and business skills and continue contributing meaningfully to TRLF.”

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.

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

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

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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:

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 :

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:

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 :

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

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:

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:

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

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:

Highlights of our 2013 initiatives can be downloaded at:

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

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:

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:, 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 :

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.