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Visit to Utange, September 2021


Much time has passed since our last visit to Utange in January 2020. The pandemic that broke out shortly afterwards prevented the usual 4-5 annual visits to the village that the Italian and Swiss associations of 'Gli Amici di Utange' used to make through their representatives.

The visit to Utange 2021, from 6th to 22nd September, was made by the President of the Italian association GADU (also representing the Swiss association GADUS) and a friend, a volunteer who will soon become a member, Mr Franze Piunti. His collaboration, especially on some technical aspects (he is an engineer), was extremely helpful, so much so that some important decisions were taken thanks to his intervention. This report to the members was partly written by our friend Franze.

The first day began with an inspection of the school compound and the orphanage to assess the maintenance needs. It was quickly decided that the metal cover of the well needed to be replaced as it was corroded in several parts and weakened by rust. The local blacksmith managed to make a new one within a week and painted it with a good quality anti-rust paint that we had selected and purchased in Mombasa town centre.

Helping those in need

On the second and third day, up to 4000 Covid masks were distributed to all the children and teachers. The masks were donated by the Spes et Lux Foundation in Lugano. The best students from all the kindergarten and primary classes were rewarded with gadgets donated by the company PadoanSwiss from San Vittore (Grisons).

Afterwards, several meetings were held with the school teachers and also with the parents of the adopted primary school students and the secondary school and university students. The aim of these meetings was to make everyone aware of the responsibilities of the teachers towards the school and of the parents and their sponsored children towards the Association and its sponsors.

Continuing on the path of improving the health of our children, we started an initiative that began with a meeting with the new doctor at the clinic. After analysing the diagnoses of the many children visited, four lines of action were identified and immediately implemented by agreeing on a series of commitments delegated to the teachers themselves.

- Systematic washing of hands before meals for all pupils, using the dispensers already installed for Covid;

- Thorough nail-cutting checks every Monday;

- Thorough checks on the cleanliness of clothing twice a week;

- compulsory wearing of shoes in the toilets.

Teachers were made responsible for all these points.

Following the logic of the previous point as well as the specific indication of the doctor who pointed out how many gastric infections come from the quality of the well water, we considered the possibility of distributing drinking water in the school. This intention of ours had to face logistical and implementation difficulties due to the continuous increase in salinity of the water taken as well as the high bacteriological content. As such, we initially assumed the installation of reverse osmosis purifiers and UV lamps with an installation cost of at least 2500 Euro and a production cost of 1.5 KES per litre. We then moved on to a simpler solution involving the installation of a 5,000-litre cistern that is supplied by a truck at a price of 0.7 Ksh per litre, thus ensuring lower costs and the proper ease of operation that is so important around here. The cistern is already in the school, and we have started the installation work, and soon the children will be able to drink safe and unsalted water.

Maintenance work such as the replacement of the well cover, extraordinary maintenance to the management building that was about to collapse, and classrooms 3, 5 and 6 that had lesions on the floor were started and largely completed. In the case of the last one, we also intervened on the impending collapse of a load-bearing wall. Work was also started on securing and modifying the kitchen area.

Finally, we had to address the issue of salaries, which has been a recurring theme here and in the rest of the world. Beyond the obvious concern, we found an objective lack of interest on the part of male teachers, who chose not to come to us because of the low salaries, thus distancing our structure from the government guidelines that require a 50/50 male/female ratio in Kenya (3 out of 13).Moreover, having involved the teachers decisively by making them directly responsible for their performance and attention, we agreed on an average bonus of 2000 Ksh, modulated on three different levels. This bonus was explained to everyone as an income-related item from donations.

During the visit, we checked the progress of the course for future shoemakers, a project conceived by the President of the Swiss Association, Mr Maurizio Biolo. The first course for 4 new shoemakers will finish in about a month.