Thursday, August 23, 2012


Thankfully all is going very well since the volunteers returned home. The children have moved into their new home and have settled in very well. Brian Allen and James Frobes from Childvision played a huge part in the transition of the children into their new home. Their expertise was invaluable. There were a few teething problems, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed, sinks have
been erected in the laundry room and now the children can do their own laundry at their leisure. The grass plants are all planted. 4 water tanks have been purchased for water in case of emergency. A lovely television has been installed in the dining hall, once again made possible by the kind donations from volunteers.

Sponsorship of Students
Up to 70 students have been sponsored by the kindness of the volunteers at a cost of 75 euro per child. Each child received a pair of shoes and the balance of €60 goes towards the cost of Braille books, food, toiletries etc. Each volunteer who sponsored a child will receive a progress report in the coming months on the particular child sponsored.

The volunteers will recall that the children were dressed in their school uniform 7 days a week. Again with additional monies lodged by volunteers, we were able to purchase a “weekend uniform” comprising of a T-shirt and a pair of shorts for each child to wear once school finishes.

An Unexpected Donor
Bernie English, a volunteer with Group 4 had an article about the new building and the marvellous work of the Irish volunteers published in the Coast newspaper (local newspaper of Mombasa). A gentleman called Mr Pankaj was informed of the article and by coincidence was visiting Mombasa just after the children had moved into their new home. He enquired about the project from Mr Mathua, the Hotel General Manager who looked after us so well, and he arranged for him to visit the new home. He was so impressed that he asked us to put a “wish list” together which we were more than willing to do. As a result, we received a donation of 1 million khs (€10,000). This money has now secured the services of a full time nurse (who took up duty in March). We were able to purchase a computer, office equipment and our next purchase will be wardrobes for the children’s’ rooms.

Nurse’s Role
The nurse is living on site and she has a huge role to play in the children’s lives. She is being guided by Dr. Rory O Keeffe (our team doctor). Her main function is to assess each child medically and keep Dr. Rory updated on a regular basis. Contact was made with Dr. Helen Roberts, an Ophthalmologist at the Kwale Eye Centre which is quite close to the Leisure Lodge Hotel. She has agreed to have an input into the assessment of the children’s eyes free of charge. The nurse has set up a sick bay area and if a child is feeling unwell they will report to her and she looks after their needs. The employment of the nurse for a year could not have happened without the generosity of Mr Pankaj.

Preschool Room
Volunteers might remember the pre-school room in the old part of the school (it had 3 steps up to it). Again, thanks to a volunteer’s donation, this room has been transformed – the room was fully cleared out, the floors tiled, and lovely murals put on the wall. This is being used by the 28 special needs students and they are delighted with their new surroundings.

Boarding Mistress/Master
The School for the Blind has appointed a Boarding Mistress for the Girls and Boarding Master for the boys. These are living on site in the old part of the building. Their role is to supervise the children, prepare them for school in the morning, and to oversee that the new building is kept to the highest standards.

Music Room
One of the old classrooms has been transformed into a temporary music room and all instruments donated by the volunteers are now in the care of Elizabeth in her new music room.

Olive Halpin and Marty Manning paid a return visit to Mombasa at end of May and returned home on 11th. June, 2012. Dr. Rory was visiting Rwanda and travelled down to Mombasa to meet up with Olive and Marty. It was a surprise visit and there was great excitement when they arrived. The new home build by the volunteers was a sight to behold, the grass has grown, the shrubs are in full bloom and they were greeted by extremely happy and healthy looking children who have settled very well into their new home and are thrilled with their surroundings. It’s hard to image that 5 months ago there was no building. The children have taken great ownership of their new home and were only too delighted to show us around particularly their bedrooms.
Dr. Rory worked one to one with Miriam our new nurse and he is very impressed with her knowledge and the motherly way she is caring for the children. One of her jobs is setting up a file on each child with their family history and medical background. She ensures that all the children wear sunscreen and a sunhat. Dr. Rory has made this “the law”. Miriam also administers the retro viral drug to the children who are HIV positive. The nurse’s station is now equipped with medicines, i.e. antibiotics, cough mixture, paracetamol etc.
Some of the children have been assessed by Dr. Helen Roberts, Ophthalmologist and this is on-going. Dr. Rory will continue to liaise with the Qwale Eye Centre for regular updates.

While in Mombasa, the Managing Director from the Mombasa Eye Hospital paid a visit and was kind enough to bring two Low Vision Machines. For these to become operational we identified a room but unfortunately it was not the required standard and this necessitated knocking one room into another at the end of Block 4 which is located near the water tank. Marty undertook the task and had it completed and ready for use 3 days later. He made counter tops from MDF, hung notice boards and the room is now fully operational. The Low Vision Machines allows the partially sighted children to read print from a book as the machine enlarges the print and this in turn strengthens their vision.

Net curtains were bought and put in the Girls Dormitory back and front as they felt they hadn’t privacy and this put a lovely finish to their rooms. However, the boys are now looking for net curtains so this a job for another time.

You might remember each child had a type of steel box where they kept their belongings. These were kept under their beds and over time from pulling the box in and out the tiles were starting to mark, and also the salt water used to wash the floors had corroded the steel in the boxes which leaked on to the floors. Marty came up with a solution and purchased MDF and divided each sheet into 12 and put castors on each one so now their box is placed on top of the MDF and they can roll it in and out. The children helped with assembling them under Marty’s instruction.

The 15 students who are undertaking the Child care course through the School for the Blind in Dublin are doing remarkable work. They each give 15 hours’ work per week to the home as part of their training and they attend the Polytechnic for tuition each Saturday.
Olive worked with the children on a daily basis guiding them through a cleaning routine each morning from 6 am and the fruits of it were obvious before our departure. There is a bit of competition now between the boys and the girls as to who has the cleanest dormitories and this is a great incentive in the continuing upkeep of the home. The children of each room are responsible for watering the plants outside their bedroom windows and the water they use for washing their clothes is used for watering the plants and the grass area.

While visiting Mombasa, Olive and Marty came in contact with a Mr. Piyush, a local business man, and he had heard about the Irish volunteers travelling to build the home for the children and he really didn’t believe it and he paid a surprise visit with his team. He donated Formica tops for the dining room tables, and a locked medical press in the Nurse’s station (this work is to be carried out the week following our return home). Lucy will keep me updated on this work.
We had a lovely trip although its winter time there and very damp, The Leisure Lodge was closed and we stayed in an apartment. But nevertheless, it was magic to return to see the fruits of the volunteers work and updated photos will be on the website and you will be able to see for yourself. To quote Fianna Fail’s 2002 election manifesto “a lot done, more to do”, the work there in on-going and we have a long road ahead of us but with the spirit and the generosity of the Irish volunteers we will continue to build on the legacy that has made such a tremendous difference to the lives of the blind children in Likoni

We are very fortunate to have Lucy and Jane at the helm in our absence in Mombasa and they have played and continue to play a huge part in the success of the project. They work on site on a daily basis for a nominal fee and they are our eyes and ears when the Irish don’t have a presence there so a big thanks to them.

On-going funds are needed for the upkeep of the children home and their future education. With this in mind, the children have been very busy preparing Christmas Carols. They have prepared 8 Christmas Carols and are going to a recording studio to record a CD. The CD will be produced here in Ireland and we intend to launch it throughout Ireland with the help of the volunteers through local radio stations and media outlets. We will update you on this at the Reunion and discuss ways of promoting it. Any ideas from the volunteers would be appreciated. We estimate the selling cost to be approx. €10 and would make an ideal Christmas gift. We heard 100 children practising and they were singing like angels. We have no doubt it will be a beautiful CD.

The 2012 project has been a complete success story, thanks to you the volunteers who did so much fundraising and gave up your time to travel to Mombasa to be part of such a worthwhile project. For the foreseeable future, the Building of Hope will continue to play an active role in the children lives. We have the first big step taken – by giving them a new home. We want to ensure that the children have the best life possible in the circumstances they find themselves in as we know they have not had it easy up to now. We are excited at the prospect of being able to help them further once they have been assessed by the Kwale Eye Centre and who knows down the road what eye surgery or other interventions that might assist the children medically and the Building of Hope will continue to be there to support these interventions.

We have set the date for a reunion with all the volunteers – Saturday, 6th October in the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis. 

Message from Childvision Dublin
Although the name may be brand new, Childvision has a proud 150 year old history of meeting the needs of Ireland’s young visually impaired population and their families.
Included among our services is a preschool; Irelands only dedicated primary school for children with a visual impairment; an on-campus community school whose integrated population includes 10% of students who are visually impaired; a vocational training programme for young people aged 17-22; the National Braille Production Facility, a Family Support Service, nursing and therapeutic services and a residential service comprising of five houses in the local Drumcondra community. In each of these houses highly skilled social care team’s work with young people from all over Ireland to develop the practical social and daily living skills needed to live independent and fulfilling lives.
Our involvement with the Building of Hope’s work in the School for the Blind in Likoni, Kenya, began in the winter of 2010 when Olive and Jim visited what was then St. Joseph’s Centre for the Visually Impaired to ask our advice about the viability of the Likoni Project.
It soon became obvious that the only way we could give useful advice would be to go to see Likoni for ourselves. So in April 2011, myself and Brian Allen, our CEO, visited Mombasa. What we saw horrified us –young people living in awful conditions and a school that desperately needed help. We knew then that just giving advice would not be enough and we resolved to help in whatever way we could. Fast forward to March 2012: Brian and myself were back and this time the last tranche of Irish volunteers were all but killing themselves to bring huge buildings that had not existed six weeks before to completion. Amid the hammering, the painting, the varnishing, amid the heat and amid the squalor, it was a humbling thing to witness so much energy and so much effort, so much hard work and good humour on the part of the volunteers as they laboured to bring the project to fruition. A reminder too, that when it comes to reaching out to people in need, the Irish capacity for extraordinary generosity remains undimmed by whatever troubles we may face in our own economy at home.

As the buildings took final shape my job and Brian’s was just beginning. We had volunteered to work directly with the staff and the students to prepare them not just for their new residential quarters, but for all the exciting possibilities for change that these new facilities offered.

So we met with cooks and care staff, teachers and students, all the time asking them how can we help you make this school a better, safer, happier place? How can what we have learned working with blind and visually impaired children in Ireland benefit you, today, in Kenya?

Warm as the welcomes were, I am sure that at first we were an unwelcome duo. People clearly were not used to being asked their opinions. Staff were not used to thinking about their work practises. They were not used to thinking that change could be anything other than a threat. But we kept plugging respectfully away, kept asking questions, kept asking why, kept inviting people to imagine a better way. Slowly, the barriers came down and people began to talk openly. Ideas began to flow and a spark of energy was released.

A week on and most of the volunteers were gone and our work with students themselves began in earnest. As we helped them make the physical transition into their new residential houses, the children’s joy was remarkable to see. As we moved beds and benches, tables and cooking utensils all around us there was laughter and happiness. These were children who had so little and had come to expect so little. Now their conversations were animated with the possibilities that all this light, bright, welcoming space could offer. Opportunities to learn more, to live more independently, to do more and to enjoy themselves more began to form in their imaginations.

But buildings are only ever the beginning. To be honest Brian and I realised from the very first day we visited Likoni that this could not be a see-it- and- walk away proposition. We determined to match every need that surfaced with a commitment, if we could, to provide practical help.

One area of huge need which is central to ensuring the well-being and protection of the many very vulnerable children we met in the school is a proper ratio of care staff to children. In March 2012 there were just four care staff available in the school to care for the 180 plus blind and visually impaired children and young people living there, including many who have significant additional disabilities. Worse, only one of these staff would be on site each night, meaning the majority of the children were unsupervised. None of the staff had any training specific to working with visually impaired children and hard as they worked there were just too few of them to make a difference.

From experience, we knew that happy, well cared for children require happy, dedicated staff and that good care is prefaced on well trained, conscientious, creative professionalism. This was clearly missing in the Likoni School. So, Brian and I identified a core group of people – existing care staff and potential care staff - who needed training and Childvision agreed to sponsor this training. Before we left Mombasa we had put in place a training schedule, recruited teachers to provide the training and once we were back in Dublin we started work on a training curriculum.
Since then the training has commenced. Fifteen local volunteers are meeting at weekends in the nearby technical college and are studying for a professional certificate entitled “Working with people with a Visual Impairment”. Using materials provided by Childvision and with academic support from Dublin, the course is being provided on site by Amina Wamboi Ndungu and Macknon Mwambingu, the two teachers in the school with responsibility for the residential service. In turn, Childvision has agreed to support these teachers academically in improving their own teaching skills and qualifications.

Childvision is very proud of its association with the Building of Hope Project and the Likoni School for the Blind. High quality, well- educated social care workers, working in partnership with families and with well -motivated, well-resourced teachers are at the heart of ChildVision’s commitment to our own students and service users. In Ireland we work to unlock individual potential, to make independence a meaningful personal reality and to help dreams come true. This is also the vision we have for Likoni. In moving confidently towards this better future Childvision is committed to working in partnership with Building of Hope and the Likoni school to improve the lives of each of the students there in practical, life enhancing ways.

Email -

Mobile Contact Numbers: Olive - 087-6994599 Jim - 086-2615872
Anne - 087-4176239 Maureen - 086-8222828


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