Arrived in Kigali

We have arrived at our hotel room in Kigali, having left the house around 3:30 am on Thursday and travelling for about 36 hours. Rwanda is six hours ahead of Chapel Hill, and there is no daylight savings time.

We were actually supposed to arrive here yesterday, but American Airlines cancelled our flight to JFK around 12:30 a.m. the morning we were supposed to catch it. Word has it they cancelled the flight due to the recent grounding of all the world’s Boeing 737 MAX airplanes, but there was a big storm in Dallas earlier this week that caused 200 flight cancellations and a labor “action” at LAX the week before that that resulted in more cancellations. I’m guessing the Dallas storms put an additional strain on an already stressed system, and we saw the consequences.

We were planning on a leisurely three-hour layover at JFK, but we spent an additional two hours getting the plane’s engines started at RDU. And the layover on Qatar Airlines (which was a very nice airline; my first experience with it) was also short (about an hour in Doha). Late departures make for stressful transfers, but we made it and nobody had to run.

And now we’re at Villa Portofino hotel in Kigali, on a balcony overlooking the pool, blogging and catching up on the hotel wifi. There are kids are playing in the pool, mellow reggae (-ish) music with an African flavor (as opposed to Caribbean) is playing and chefs are preparing a meal over a large bed of charcoal, so we can smell the smoke. The weather is cool and dry, and there’s a slight breeze. It’s 100% relaxing (apart from the DJ who keeps injecting video-game sound effects and switching songs in the middle of a song — oh well, I guess party time is warming up). :) Supper will be served in an hour and a half as I type this. (Maybe the picture I took off the balcony will eventually finish uploading and I’ll be able to put it in this blog post, but, if not, I’ll post it later.)

An interesting occurrence when we left Entebbe, Uganda, was that the stewarding crew walked up and down the plane’s aisles, spraying an insecticide into the air. They advised us to cover our mouths and noses. People take mosquito-borne illnesses seriously here.

When we arrived, the airport in Kigali had a sleepy, relaxed feel, in spite of Kigali being Rwanda’s largest city and capitol. People who were moving were strolling. It had a nice feel. I was reminded of the concept of “Africa time”, although I did see one guy trotting to get somewhere (not a tourist, I think).

On the flight from Doha, we got a chance to talk to the two men in the seats behind us, who were flying to Kigali. One of them, Sam, lives in Belgium with his wife and comes home to Kigali every year, to spend time with family and work a little bit as a guide in the national forest that straddles the Rwanda-Uganda border. The other, Isaac, was a small businessman bringing electronics and shoes from China (presumably for sale in Kigali). They seemed impressed with Zoe’s approach (by the way, wearing the Zoe T-shirts is a great conversation-starter and advertisement). They liked that Zoe’s direction comes from local people who know what the problems on the ground are, along with approaches that might work.

One of the things that Sam said that I found interesting is that tourism to Rwanda is good and a desired thing. (He asked us to bring more people next time, and we talked a bit about tourism as one aspect of Rwanda’s economic development.) I had always felt like these trips shouldn’t be considered tourist trips, and I felt a little guilty at the touristy aspect of it, but: our tourist-y dollars are also a contribution.

Flights delayed :(

So, quick update for those awaiting updates with bated breath: American Airlines cancelled our RDU –> JFK flights around midnight last night. (I understand it’s because of the issue with the grounding of the 737 MAX airplanes, and American’s need to cover flights with suddenly a lot fewer airplanes.)

At any rate, one of our co-travellers, Ginny, reacted really fast to the cancellation and got all three of our reservations rescheduled to the same flights but 24 hours later.

Go, Ginny! :D

On global extreme-poverty trends and Africa

Many people may have seen a graph like the following, showing a dramatic decline in extreme poverty, which is defined as “living on less than two dollars per day”, over the last two centuries:


The temptation might be to think that the war against extreme poverty has been won and we can now turn our attention to other matters.

However, since 1981, the decline in global extreme poverty is really a Chinese, Indian and Asian success story. In sub-Saharan Africa, the level of extreme poverty (by absolute number of people) has not changed significantly.

There is still plenty to be done, probably on multiple fronts.

Here’s the link to the whole story, in exhaustive detail (which I’ve only skimmed a bit):

One note, though: poverty seems worst among children.

The members of our 2018-2020 group in Rwanda

Ladies and gentlemen… Imbaraga Power.  Family heads in bold.

Anet (f) 20 Denyse M. (f) 18 Henriette (f) 20 Protais (m) 20
Josiane (f) 14 Denyse U. (f) 17 Jacques (m) 20 Devota (f) 16
Hakim (m) 7 Patrick (m) 15 Mariette (f) 15 Janvier (f) 12
Assumpta (f) 20 Joselyne (f) 13 Amon (m) 8 Ratifa (f) 9
Eric (m) 8 Diane (f) 18 Jean Nepo (m) 20 Seraphine (f) 18
Eduard (m) 6 Albertine (f) 13 Innocent (m) 14 Jean Baptiste (m) 13
Beatrice (f) 20 Lona (f) 12 Fiona (f) 12 Marc (m) 11
Theoneste (m) 18 Yusufu (m) 11 Jeanette (f) 19 Benjamin (f) 5
Chartine (f) 16 Izaac (m) 10 Francine (f) 11 Olivier (m) 18
Benita (f) 13 Afisa (f) 8 Janviere (f) 7 Violette (f) 20
Moise (m) 6 Shamira (f) 3 Florence (f) 3 Jeanette (f) 19
Claudine (f) 19 Zabania (f) 2 Jean Claude (m) 16 Aline (f) 15
Damascene (m) 17 Shukurani (f) 2 Jeanette (f) 18 Amos (m) 11
Delphine (f) 16 Emmanuel (m) 20 Clemence (f) 16 Yvette (f) 20
Cyomugisha (f) 20 David (m) 19 Damascene (f) 11 Delphine (f) 14
Pamela (f) 18 Charlotte (f) 18 Florence (f) 11 Samuel (m) 12
Denyse Tw. (f) 20 Jeanette (f) 16 Vestine (f) 3 Benjamin (m) 7
Denyse N. (f) 19 Eric (m) 17 Jonathan (m) 20 Zipora (f) 20
Denyse Tu. (f) 20 Pamella (f) 19 Emmanuel (m) 18


Imbaraga-Gatuna Empowerment Group


After visiting the Peace Gitura businesses, we spent Tuesday afternoon visiting with Glory Karurune. Lydia, the secretary, greeted us and the pastor gave a prayer to open the meeting. Then Lydia gave the group report. They were formed in July 2016 and registered the group with the government in August. They elected officers, and Calvin is the chairperson, Lydia, the secretary and Winnie, the treasurer.

The group’s first distribution was goats for each family. All were trained in health and hygiene. They learned about hand washing, making a compost pit for household waste and digging a latrine. They were rewarded with water tanks to store their boiled water for drinking and cooking. After agriculture training and learning how to prepare the land, plant and harvest, they were given hoes, machetes and seeds. They were also trained in HIV-AIDS prevention.

They bought school uniforms for eight siblings and paid the school fees for two to attend secondary school. Four members were sent to vocational training for hairdressing. All were given start up kits. Other businesses are three kiosks, five grocery stores, three fruit and vegetable sellers, two clothes sellers, one dressmaker and a cell phone kiosk.

They started Table Banking in May and the fund already has KS 9600, which is out in the group being used for business improvements. The group project is a field of collards and arrowroot and a tree nursery on land they have rented.

Tabitha, the mentor, thanked us and reported that the group had made much progress. She talked of how the group members are now able to support their families through their businesses and they are cleaner and more well groomed than before ZOE.

Then some of the members spoke:

Irene said they were trained in health and hygiene and preparing the land for farming. She earned a hoe and machete which enabled her to prepare her land and maize seed which she planted. The crop did not do well because of the lack of rain. Because of the poor season, the group supported her with more seeds and she has planted collard greens and sweet potatoes which are doing well.

Winnie reported that when the group formed, members visited each other to see what their needs were. They also determined who already had skills. Before ZOE she had done some hairdressing but did not do well. The group provided her with a start-up kit for her salon and now her business is better. She used the profits to help her mother open a grocery business in another village and together they make enough money to support the family. Her dream is to open a big salon and be able to hire another orphan to work. She also wants to expand her business to sell cosmetics and ladies’ shoes.

Lina reported that when the group was formed, many had health issues. They have practiced what they learned in health and hygiene training and were rewarded with blankets.

Hildah reported that she now has a national identity card, which is very important for orphans–for getting health insurance and opening a business, for example. She told how the group was trained in children’s rights. They were taught that a child has rights to education, to a balanced diet, to an identity, to life and to play. They taught about the importance of education and have become ambassadors for education in their village. She said, “I have learned so much from ZOE. I went to training for hair styling and received a start up kit for a hair salon. I have bought 2 chickens. Now my family eats a balanced diet.”

Christine is the group’s pastor. She reported that when the group was formed, many of the children felt abandoned by God or did not about know God. They can now attest to the power of God. They have gone to revivals as a group and they now pray and go to church. They visit members who are sick and pray together.

Kelvin, the chairperson, has two siblings. He has a barber shop. “I can support my siblings and have bought three chickens and have three chicks. We can now buy nice shoes and clothes.” He told that the children have grown individually and as a group.

Hildah did a dramatic recitation (in English) about ZOE and child rights with four of the girls holding up signs about their rights for play, education, etc.

Then the group entertained us with singing and dancing.

Carol gave them each a group picture that Pam had taken when she visited in February. They were thrilled and remembered Pam. They fed us bananas. One toddler, Vanvikar, gathered up banana peels and brought them to deposit in a bowl where we were sitting. He was intent on his work and did not seem to be afraid of us at all.


Then we visited businesses. We saw Rhoda’s kiosk and Lydia’s hair salon and clothing business.


We visited Hildah’s cell phone kiosk which she just opened a month ago. She literally sells off of a round table covered by a large umbrella in the market, carrying her stock around in a large suitcase. She hoped to get into a building soon because the rainy season is coming. Her goal is to be trained in cell phone repair so that she can both sell and repair phones.


We visited Kelvin’s barber shop, which was very large. He shares it with Dennis who is an electrician and does barbering when he has no electrical work. Dennis was not part of the original group. His older sister, Winfred, joined ZOE. When she graduated from high school, she went off to college, leaving the younger siblings at home. Dennis had been working and living on a farm. He returned home to take care of the siblings and the Glory group adopted him into the group.

We all returned to the hotel where in the evening we celebrated Reegan’s 10th year of working with ZOE. We surprised him with a cake, which left him almost speechless.  20170704_193848.jpg20170704_194040-jpg.jpeg20170704_194205.jpg

Monday’s visit to Action WG

Monday morning, half of our group (Jeannne Marie, Anne, Corinne, Savannah, Carol and Erika) went with two ZOE facilitators (Mercy and Caroline) to visit Action Kigucwa working group. After our trip to Kenya in 2015, I was moved to crowdfund one of the un-partnered groups in Kenya and this was the group I was partnered with. They are now in their third year of the program and are set to graduate in December.

These children live and work in a village about an hour’s drive from Maua, further up in the mountains in an area filled with tea plantations. When we were here two years ago, the road was paved about halfway to their village, but now the main road is paved all the way which made for a much smoother ride. Unfortunately the morning was very foggy, and visibility was low. Our time with the group was quite chilly, not at all what one associates with Africa.

When we reached the place where the group holds their weekly meetings, about half of the group greeted us with singing and dancing. We then sat down and chatted while waiting for the rest of the group to join us. When they did, we were told that they were going to serve breakfast as most of the group had walked a long way. They served us hard boiled eggs from their chickens (provided by Bonface), bananas from their fields (provided by Catherine and Justice) and milk tea (with milk from Bonface’s cow). It was delicious and even more so because we knew that everything came from the fruits of their labor. These children, who three years ago may have been lucky to have one meal a day were generously sharing a lovely, well balanced breakfast with us. Amazing.

While we ate we asked a few questions. They told us that before they joined ZOE, their diets consisted of beans and maize, boiled with no spices. Boiled plantains and boiled cassava. Not only did they not have fruit, vegetables or meat, but the often were lucky to have one meal a day.

When asked about what they like to do for fun, they told us they play football (soccer) and volleyball and many like to perform in church skits.

Catherine, the group secretary, then shared the group report:

  • The group started in 2015 with 30 members. Their first activity was to start a Merry-Go-Round. They collect 100 Kenya shillings (KS) from each member at the weekly meetings. (Note: 100 KS is approximately $1) On the first round, the fund provided each member with a chicken, on the second round each member received a plastic chair, and on the third round each member received a piglet. (Pigs are a great investment as they are cheaper and easier to raise than goats, they have multiple litters in a year and larger litters (6-10 piglets in a litter). If they get a 3 month old piglet, it will be able to reproduce within 6 months. Now they are working to provide each member with a goat. (Goats are traditional livestock in Kenya and have prestige associated with them.)
  • The children then received business training and learned how to start a small Income Generating Activity (IGA) and how to write business plans. They presented these business plans to the group and the group granted money to start businesses or to go for training. They were taught to save money weekly to fund house repairs and to grow their businesses. Training on farming, preparing the land, harvesting and preserving seeds post-harvest was provided and the kids were given homework to prepare their land. As a reward for doing the training and homework, they received seeds for planting.
  • Health and hygiene taught the kids about hand washing, sterilizing their drinking water, keeping themselves and their homes clean. As homework, they were required to build a compost pit, build a drying rack for their dishes, and make a handwashing station for their home. As a reward, they received blankets and mosquito nets. They also bought their own water tanks for safe water storage.
  • The girls in the group were trained on the importance of avoiding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). They are now spreading that knowledge within the community. All have learned about avoiding HIV/AIDS and that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence. They have been able to guide people in their community to accept their status and to get help.
  • Prior to joining ZOE, most siblings had dropped out of school and had lost hope. Once they joined ZOE, the working group helped send the siblings back to school, providing them with school fees and uniforms.

ZOE helped Catherine start a kiosk. Every week she saves 200KS ($2). After the first year, she was able to enroll for training in tailoring. ZOE initially supported her brother with fees, but as her business grew, she was able to assist him and he has finished 12th grade and is set to go to university.

Pamela had many challenges before ZOE but now she realizes that nothing is impossible with God. She had a passion for farming and land inherited from her parents, but didn’t have the knowledge or money to get started. With ZOE’s training, she planted maize and had a good first harvest which she was able to store and sell when prices went up. She then had the opportunity to go for training in hairdressing and was able to start a salon. Savings from her salon business allowed her to hire more land and increase her farming. She enrolled her siblings back in school (12th and 8th grades) and the piglets she raises pay for uniforms and school fees. She was also able to support her brother through the process/celebration of passing from childhood to adulthood and is now building him a house. Before ZOE she was an outcast in her community, but now she is invited for parties, weddings and fundraisings.

Bonface was adopted into the group after its formation. He has one brother who is in 7th grade. He was initially supported with planting seeds. As he also knew how to do barbering, he was supported with a start-up kit. His business was successful, and he was able to join savings groups in the community. He has learned about loaning money and profiting from collecting interest and has now started his own loan business. From his earnings, Boniface has been able to build his own shop so he no longer has to rent. He has also built a home. His other businesses include renting coffee and tea plantations and harvesting the crops and fish farming. We were able to see his fish pond where he raises tilapia to sell to restaurants in Maua and Meru.

Philip had never worn shoes before he joined ZOE only bedroom slippers (<$0.50). Now he is able to interact with people who have been to school and are learned. There is nothing they use that he cannot afford. He is now able to interact with the community because he is no longer shy and he has money so he is not ashamed. Through ZOE he has learned how to live in Christ. Initially he started a kiosk, where he earned ~$3 a day. He used the profits to act as a broker, buying and selling chickens. Some of his profits went in the bank and some went into village saving. He supports his cousins and extended family. He was able to fulfill one of his dreams when he bought a bota bota, which he uses as a taxi. He was also able to buy a small piece of land.

Alex did not know about God or about personal grooming before he joined ZOE. ZOE provided him with carpentry training and now he is able to support some of his cousins whose mother left them, paying for school fees and buying their clothes. He has also been able to repair his house. Alex rents tea plantations and he was able to buy a cow with the proceeds he made from the harvest.

Lack didn’t know anything about God before ZOE and he never had a blanket. Through ZOE he earned a blankets and mosquito nets. He came to ZOE with barbering skills, so the group provided him with a start-up kit. He used the profits from his kinyozi (barber shop) to support his siblings in school. In addition, the group helped send one brother, now in 12th grade, to high school. Lack also saved money to purchase a goat which he later sold to build a house.

Before ZOE, Hellen got a job as a housegirl to support her siblings. She and a houseboy got into an arguement and he cut off her left hand. Her employers chased her off, telling her to go home. When she got back to her home though, no one would take her to the hospital so she had to beg for the money to pay the doctors. A year later she was asked to join ZOE. She started a business selling boiled eggs, and is able to support her siblings. She has been able to expand their home and now they have beds to sleep in. She also has bought two sheep.

Eunice says that now her house is so clean that even rich people can visit. She has a business selling clothes and the profits from her business support her sister in high school. She also is able to by supplies and uniforms for her younger siblings. She has received training in hairdressing and now employs someone in her salon.

Linda didn’t know much about God before ZOE, but now she is saved. She realized she couldn’t do much without God based on the teachings of ZOE. She has a business selling plastics (buckets, mugs, cookware). Through her savings she enrolled herself in hairstyling training. Now she can afford more expensive clothes and is so respected she has been invited to attend a graduation party in Nairobi. She wants to share her success by supporting other children.

Eunice (20) couldn’t dress well, couldn’t attend community functions and didn’t know how to wash her clothes. Her neighbors despised her and her siblings because they often didn’t have food and had to beg. She was able to learn hairstyling from the village and now has a successful salon. She has bought a cow with her savings and trains others in the community, especially orphans.

Edna was supported with training and start-up funds and runs a salon. She supports her siblings in school. She has joined a village savings and loan and saves $5 a week. She has bought 3 goats and is planning to install electricity in her home.

Ruth is the Mentor for Action Kigucwa. She said that before ZOE, the children were despised by the community. Now the community looks at them in a different way. There is a noticeable positive change in them and their families now that they have started businesses. Now they are invited to events in the community.

At the end of the meeting, the group provided a snack of boiled corn, also from their garden. Corinne handed out postcards to each member from Portland (her hometown). Then lots of pictures were taken, especially selfies with the younger ladies.

The meeting was held very close to Bonface’s shop and home, so we walked over and visited. Bonface’s barber shop was spacious and nice. It was obvious he was proud of building and owning his own shop. Once he joined ZOE, started his first shop and was earning money, his aunt invited him and his brother to build a shop and home on her land, so they share a compound. We visited his cow and his tilapia pond, and he gave us sugar cane which we all tried, as well as bringing some back to share with the group.

Next we visited Pamela’s shop and she braided Savannah’s hair. She had some trouble with it because it is so different from what she’s used to, so Linda helped out.

We also stopped by Eunice’s kiosk where she sells clothing.

Finally we went to the other Eunice’s salon where Anne and I had our hair done.

On our way out of town, we stopped by Phillip’s kiosk and bought some tea. Here he is, outside his shop on his bota bota.

We piled back in the van for the drive back to Maua. The fog had cleared and the views were magnificent.

We even stopped along the way and had a picnic of the lunch the hotel had packed for us.

It was a long but very fulfilling day. After dinner, the full group gathered to share our experiences.

Peace Gitura

Tuesday morning, Carol, Corinne, Savannah and I went to visit University UMC’s Hope Companion Group, Peace Gitura, which formed in January, 2016. The program facilitator for the group, Agnus, and Perpetual, the communications director for ZOE Kenya went with us.

The group met at the home of Felister. They welcomed us with singing and dancing. After we sat down, the Chairman, Anthony, welcomed us. He told us how the group has learned to love each other like a family. They visit in each others homes and correct each other like brothers and sisters.

Norah is the group’s mentor. She is a beneficiary of ZOE, who trained in hairdressing and started a salon. She still runs the salon to support her family. She graduated from ZOE in 2012 and petitioned ZOE to start another group in her village. She continues to meet with some members of her five years after they graduated.

Before ZOE, Annrita worked as a casual laborer, often working as a laundress. With ZOE’s support, she started a kiosk. She saved her money and got trained in motorbike (bota bota) repair. She started selling spare parts and now also does repairs. She also has her own bota bota which she runs as a taxi. When she’s busy, her brother runs the taxi. With all she’s gained through ZOE, she’s been able to take another orphan into her family (he’s 12-13) and is teaching him bota bota repair skills as well.

Felister used to go around the community looking for work so she could eat. Her older brother inherited a house and land when their parents died, but the house was small and in disrepair. They were unable to effectively farm the land because they didn’t have tools or knowledge. In addition to her older brother, their elderly grandmother lives with them. Since joining ZOE, they have been able to build a new house. They have lots of chickens, three grown goats and a 2 week old baby goat who was quite interested in us. She earned a hoe and a machete which helps the family in their farming activities. Through ZOE’s health and hygiene training, Felister learned about keeping herself and the areas for her animals clean. She also learned about brushing her teeth after every meal and cleaning her food and utensils. The family build a hand washing station next to their latrine, so they always wash their hands after using the toilet. There was recently an outbreak of cholera in the community, but thanks to their training, the ZOE kids didn’t get sick. Her older brother is thankful for ZOE and what his family has received through his sister joining the group.

One of the girls, Penina, told about her friend Britney who was in the group. She had finished the 8th grade, but was unable to go to high school. She asked for assistance and the group decided that because she had done so well in school, it was important for her to continue her education, so the group supports her going to high school. The group members also contribute 50KS per month to assist her grandmother while Britney is in boarding school. She is now in 10th grade and is doing well.

Glory learned about farming and food security from ZOE and was supported with planting seeds. The crop did well and she had some to eat and some to sell. She was able to buy more seeds to expand her business and also owns a kiosk. Her family is doing well with all their needs.

Elizabeth has one younger sibling. They shared a very small house and didn’t have a bed. ZOE helped her get a bed and a nicer house so she sleeps well at night and doesn’t get rained on.

Floridah serves as the group pastor. She was a casual laborer on farms before ZOE, but she wouldn’t always get paid, so she would sleep hungry. She now runs a kiosk and has started a hair salon with her savings. The group provided her with tailoring training and supported her with a sewing machine. She used to think that if you didn’t have parents you would always have to work for others, but now she works for herself. She is supporting her sister in 10th grade, as well as a younger sibling and her young child, and is also a mentor to other orphans in her village. She teaches them tailoring and dressmaking and allows them to use her sewing machine. She thanks God everyday because she sees how far she’s come. Annrita is also teaching her to ride a bota bota. She wants to start a 4th business as a mechanic.

Anthony, chairman of the group, now owns a barber shop. Before ZOE, he would work feeding animals for food and sometimes shelter. It made him feel so bad and he had low self-esteem. He often had nowhere to sleep. Now Anthony works for himself and has built a house for himself and his two siblings with money he’s saved from his work. Now they live better than some people who have parents and some who used to give him jobs.

Emmaculate was adopted into the group after it formed. She started a porridge business. She usually wakes up in the morning, makes the porridge and moves around the village selling the porridge r from jerry cans. She has 5 younger siblings and a one year old child. They all live with her grandmother. Through the group she received hairdressing training and has started a salon. She plans to teach her siblings hairdressing. She loves farming, so she grows corn and beans.

Floridah gave the secretary’s report. The group formed 1/15/16 with 32 members. There are now 28. Four members were initially supported with startup kits, two salons and two barber shops. Three members were sent for training and then supported with startup kits. All kids were taught in food security and were given maize and beans to plant.

The ZOE staff helped the group build a house for one of the members in need. The group projects are a garden where they grow maize and beans and raising pigs. They started with 5 piglets but 2 died. The first harvest wasn’t good because there wasn’t enough rain, but this harvest looks like it will be better. They have a group Merry-Go-Round fund. When the group first formed, they gave 50 KS each per week and bought utensils for each member. Now each member contributes 100 KS per week. They also give 30 KS for the member who cooks the porridge that week. All the money then goes to that member to boost his or her business. The group also has a Table Bank, which is up to 8600 KS. All the money is out with members as loans for business improvements. In three years they want to be running their own micro loan business in the village.

The group agrees that Felister, Floridah and Annrita are tied for first in the group in terms of how well they are doing.

After the group report, we shared a snack of millet porridge, watermelon, a very sour fruit that’s a cross between an orange and a lemon, and milk tea. The boys were mostly quiet, but the girls asked lots of questions so we had a great time of conversation. After the meal, the meeting broke up and we had the chance to admire Felista’s home. They have several buildings, a nice chicken house and goat enclosure, a clean, well built latrine, and several crops that are thriving. We also saw their compost pit, their hand washing station and their dish drying rack, all health and hygiene “homework” projects they did to earn their hoe and machete.

We then went into the village and visited three businesses. First we visited Felister’s hair salon.

Then we saw Anthony’s barber shop, where he also sells drinks and serves tea and coffee for the young men who come to watch the news on his TV in the evenings.

Finally we visited Annrita’s bota bota repair shop and kiosk.

Sunday in Maua

Today was another busy day.  This morning we attended the Kiswahili service at the Kenya Methodist Church in Maua.  The service started at 10 and ended about 12:20, but there was lots of dancing and singing, so the time passed quickly.  Although we couldn’t always understand what was being said, the Lord’s prayer and the creed were recognizable.  They also switched back and forth between English and Kiswahili, and projected slides in English so we weren’t always in the dark.

After the service the Chairman and Deputy Chairman invited us for tea and conversation where they thanked us for visiting their church.

When we returned to our hotel, we ate lunch out in the garden and then had a chance to shop with ZOE graduate seamstresses.  Afterwards we heard stories from other ZOE graduates:

Doreen has three siblings.  She has a hair salon and with profits from the salon, she bought goats.  She has now expanded her business to three employees and sells braids in her shop.  She has trained five ZOE children and countless others in her community.  She chose hair styling as a business because she had a passion for the work and there was a good market in her community.  Her vision is to work hard and to help her sister, who is currently in 6th grade through high school.

John (25) takes care of six siblings.  Before ZOE he worked on Mira farms to earn money to feed his family.  In ZOE he was trained in barbering.  From his profits, he added selling paraffin to to his business.  Now his family eats a balanced diet and all of his siblings are in school.  One is in 9th grade.  When he graduates from high school, John will organize a fundraiser for him to go to college.  When he has trouble with his siblings, he calls the mentor from his group who talks to them because she is still his “mother.”  He now is employed as a Coca Cola distributor. He has also been able to return to school and is now in his last semester of college majoring in community development and social work. His vision is to work for an NGO or the government. His group’s project is a maize farm and plantain and they still work the farm together. The crop was not good this year because of lack of rain.  With his profits he wants to buy another piece of land. His house was too small for his family so he has built a larger, more comfortable house.  He speaks English well.

Agnes (25) had many problems before ZOE. She worked as a housemaid for several homes for $15 a month but sometimes wasn’t paid. When she joined ZOE, she opened a salon. She has sent her siblings back to school. They are 10, 14 and 18. She bought a cow.  She works alone because her salon is in her village, so there’s not enough business to expand. When she can open a salon in the shopping area of town, she will have more customers.  For now, she plans to open a kiosk next to her salon to expand her business.

Jackson (18) has five siblings. Before ZOE every day he would walk around the village looking for casual labor.  With ZOE he began raising goats. With the profits from selling the goats, he bought chickens and then rabbits. Now he raises all three to sell. He has sent his siblings back to school, and he has returned to school as well and is now in the 11th grade.  He says that ZOE has allowed him to dream again and that his program facilitators, Purity and Agnes, have inspired him.  Before he had to go to a neighbor’s house to study. Now he has a nice house where he and his siblings can study. And they have a latrine. He plans to go to college. His dream is to be a bridge between the community and development opportunities. He also wants to mentor to children in his village.

Doris (21) has three siblings in seventh and ninth grades. She is a seamstress and makes $3 on a good day and $0.50 on a slow day.  She would like to open a second store and employ others.

Martin (26) has three siblings. One finished 8th grade. And two are in primary school. Before ZOE he worked on others’ farms and digging. Now he is a barber and doing well. Additionally he has a phone charging and battery charging center.  He wants to expand his businesses. He has trained community people in barbering but has not yet had an  opportunity to train ZOE kids. He has bought four goats and one cow. He had to drop out of school in the fifth grade so he doesn’t speak English but does understand some.

Followup Trip 2017

So here we are, two years later.  Unfortunately John could not come on this trip, so I have to take up the blogging stick.

Savannah and I left from Raleigh on June 28th, after a bit of panic at the ticket counter when her reservation couldn’t be found.  In London, we met up with more of our team, including my mom (Carol)  and Corrine, my long time friend and Savannah’s godmother.   Another 8 hour flight on Thursday and we were in Kenya.

We were met at the airport by Reegan, ZOE’s Chief Program Officer and Kenya Country Director, and Perpetual, ZOE’s Communication’s Director in Kenya.  By the time we got to our hotel and got our rooms it was after midnight.  A few of us had a quick snack and then headed to bed.


On Friday, our whole group of 12 loaded up into two vans for the trip from Nairobi to Maua.  It was a long journey, but it gave us some time to get acquainted and to see some of the country.  For lunch we stopped at Trout Tree, a fun restaurant that is basically a big, open treehouse with trout ponds.  They also have several families of Colobus monkeys who hang around and will steal food off your table if you’re not careful.

This morning (Saturday) we started off at the ZOE offices, meeting the program facilitators and learning more about how ZOE works in Kenya.  The program facilitators are the staff members who guide the working groups through formation and are a support through their three years in the program.  From the very beginning, though, ZOE prepares the children to exit the program in three years.  Therefore the program facilitators are only there to guide and advise and they do most of that in the first year, giving the children more and more autonomy over time.  Each facilitator provides support to  9-11 working groups.  Each working group is made up of 25-30 heads of household, representing 70-100 children when siblings are included.  Here we are with the staff outside the ZOE offices.


After our visit to the office we went on to meet a ZOE graduates working group.  This group formed in 2012 and graduated in 2014.  They still meet weekly as a group, although some of their members have moved away for jobs or to get married.

After some singing and dancing, the Chairman of the group, Moses, started us out with a prayer and the story of Tobias.  He reminded us that whatever we want from God, persist in asking and God will come to you.  God has the answers to all the challenges we face.


Then some of the group members shared their testimonies with us.

Moses is a carpenter and has his own farm and bota bota (motorbike).  He has built 5 houses for other children in the program and is committed to training 5 children in carpentry as a way to payback what was given to him through ZOE.  He has two siblings.  One drives Moses’ bota bota as a taxi.  Moses is paying for the other to do driver training.

When Micheck’s father died, he and his sibling were left with their mother and no house.  He started a shop with the initial money he received from the group.  With money he earned from his shop, he was able to build a shelter for his family.  Then he was able to purchase land and plant banana trees.  Then he was able to purchase a bota bota, which allows him to ferry stock from wholesalers to his shop.   He also allows other people to hire it when they need transportation.

Irene told us how when they joined ZOE, they were taught health and hygiene, how to have good food and how to keep their house clean.  Before ZOE, she and her 7 siblings didn’t have blankets or a good house and didn’t wear shoes.  They had all dropped out of school.  Now she sells eggs and porridge and has goats and chickens.  She has sent her siblings back to school and has built a house for her family.

Joseph is the group secretary.  He supports his 6 siblings and his mom.  He trained as a barber and also uses his barber shop as a place to sell tea in the evenings and to charge phones.  He trains other ZOE members for free.  He has plans to extend his shop for a salon.  Through the money he earns, he is sending two of his siblings to school (9th and 11th grade) and is prepared to help them go to university.

Allison and her three siblings had no one to support them.  They had no say in their community, but their life and family have been changed by ZOE.  Her siblings are back in school (1st, 5th and 7th grades), she has opened a small, clean restaurant, and she has bought chickens and goats.  She is now a part of her community.

Martin is a farmer and an entrepreneur.  He learned farming in his first month in ZOE and was given planting seed which he was able to turn into a harvest of 100kg of beans.  He used the proceeds to feed his family and with what was left he started a nursery to raise collard green seedlings.  He sold the seedlings for $150 and was able to buy a digital camera, which he used to take pictures of people.  He invested the money he earned selling photos into his nursery business and at the next harvest earned enough money to buy a laptop which he used to process his photos.  By his third harvest, he bought a printer so he could print the photos himself.  He is now a photographer and videographer for ceremonies.  With the money he’s earned, he was able to buy and plant more land, to build a large house for his family and to put his three siblings through school.  He is now saving to buy a bota bota to carry his crops from his farm to his store.  Martin also serves as the pastor and spiritual advisor of the group.

Finally, Sabina, the group’s mentor shared with us.  She told us how little these kids had when she met them and how proud she is of all they’ve accomplished.  They are like her own children, and you could see her joy in them.

After this time of sharing, the group fed us a lunch of millet porridge, baked sweet potatoes and bananas.  Afterwards, some of the group played soccer with kids from the area, while others taught a group of kids how to play duck, duck, goose.


On our way back to Maua and our hotel, we stopped and visited Joseph’s barber shop and Micheck’s store.  No one was up for a shave, but we did buy cocoa and tea from Micheck.

It was a full, but rewarding day.

Tomorrow we will go to the St. Joseph’s Kenya Methodist Church and then meet more graduates in the afternoon.

Peace & Unity,