Project Pitch

On arrival in Nairobi we immediately knew we were back in Kenya. After getting off the aeroplane onto the tarmac we had to guess where to go as there were very few ground staff pointing us in the right direction, we could probably have wandered onto the runway and no-one would have noticed! Luckily we spotted a bus and presumed we had to get on that. The only word I can use to describe the airport is chaos!! We spent 20 minutes (I’m honestly not exaggerating) filling in forms with our address, reason for visit plus answering many ridiculous questions whilst listening to a man screaming at security staff about yellow fever certificates. On completion we headed to the desk to get our visas and I kid you not the man didn’t even look at our carefully filled out forms. He just chucked them into a box with about a thousand others!!! Oh well, you live and learn. As we were only staying in Nairobi for one night and it was already 3am we just needed somewhere cheap and cheerful to stay and we’d been recommended a basic hotel near the centre. We hadn’t booked but we’d been told to just bang on the door until the night staff woke up! I swear if we’d done this in most other places in the world we’d be met with grumpy faces and unhelpful staff, but this is Kenya. They couldn’t have been happier to be awoken at 3am and cheerfully checked us in. One of the men also headed out to buy us some water, we’d have gone ourselves but we had no idea where we were and the ladies of the night hanging around outside kept waving at Tom…so we happily let the local man go for us!!
The room was very basic, but certainly wasn’t the worst place we’d stayed on our trip and was perfect for what we needed.

The following morning we were collected from the hotel by a lovely man called Austin who drove us the 2 hour journey to Nakuru. Before leaving the UK we had decided that we’d love to help out with a friend’s charity, Raise the Roof Kenya, at the end of our trip. The charity was set-up back in 2010 when Holly Bantleman visited a rubbish tip in Nakuru where over 250 people had set up camps there and had to rely on the rubbish trucks for food. The stench from rubbish, rotting cow carcasses’ and pig faeces was apparently horrific, yet this was the place that some poor people had to call home. Holly decided she had to help and Raise the Roof Kenya was born. Initially the plan was to provide tin roofing for the people of the rubbish dump and eventually provide a long term solution for them. She managed to do this through donations from the UK, and quickly realised that RTRK would become a long term project. After managing to help more families with things such as school fees and medical bills the ‘Think Big’ project was founded. Holly had noticed that there was a lack of opportunity for the older teenagers in the poor areas so she decided to build a community centre, sports ground and vocational school so people could gain an education and training to go on and live a sustainable future. Seven out of 10 teenagers in the village of Barut, the area she chose to build the centre, had never received a secondary education and many were surviving off a mere non guaranteed income of 30p a day for shovelling sand at the quarry. The thing we admired most about RTRK was the sustainability aspect. The charity wasn’t just there to raise money and help the poor by giving them handouts. The aim was for them to be able to help themselves and prosper, then eventually they won’t need the charity anymore.

Barut is about 20 minutes drive out of Nakuru and Holly kindly found us somewhere to stay in Nakuru for two weeks. Enroute we drove through the beautiful Rift Valley, and passed about 500 donkeys and tons of zebra, it was pretty amazing. Straight away we both felt at home in Kenya. It’s an unbelievably beautiful country and just driving along through the countryside reminded me why we came back to this place.

On arrival in Nakuru we headed to our home for the next 2 weeks. We didn’t really know what to expect as Holly had said we were staying in a flat belonging to her friends Haley and Benji, but we knew nothing about it. Well…it was amazing. A beautiful flat all to ourselves as Benji was only home at weekends and Haley was visiting friends and family in the states. After a trip to the supermarket we spoke to Holly via Skype about things she’d like us to do. She asked us concentrate on the sports facilities, which at present was just an uneven field which she wanted us to level, mark out, source equipment and hopefully if there was time arrange some sort of tournaments/sports day. As we hadn’t yet visited the centre we had no idea what to expect, and to be completely honest, I was pretty apprehensive about the whole project.mid never really done anything like this before and had no idea where to begin. Holly had also mentioned that she’d like us to try and increase participation as the girls especially weren’t always keen to take part in sport. She’d pretty much said that we should take the lead on the project with the help of the staff and the community. We both loved the charity and all that it stood for so failure wasn’t an option!

The following morning we were picked up by Denis, the strawberry seller and driver for the Barut centre. He arrived on his motorbike and we both hopped on the back. Apart from in South East Asia we hadn’t really been on many bikes but as this was the main transportation in Nakuru we quickly realised we’d have to get used to them. The 10 kilometre drive took about half an hour (by the end of our time there it took about 20 minutes, I think Denis was taking it slowly on our first day). The roads were no more than dusty and muddy tracks full of huge pot-holes and free-roaming sheep chickens and cows. It was an eye-opening journey as we passed through some very rural and poor villages on our way to the centre. We heard countless screams of Mzungo (White man) and “how are you” from the children as we drove by. We were constantly waving and shouting Jambo (hello) all the way to Barut, and were met with big smiles and laughter, that’s why I love Kenya.

On arrival at the centre we had a look around and saw the full extent of the task at hand.

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After our tour we wanted to get started so under the guidance of Denis, the security guard Wesley and the Agri-Business teacher Moses we started digging up the plants that were in the way of what would be the football field and moved thousands of stones which were under the soil. We could see straight away that there was a lot to do and we instantly realised that the two weeks we planned on staying weren’t going to be enough and in our minds knew that it would be three weeks at the centre. That still gave us a week at the end to do some sort of safari so we were both happy with the new arrangement.

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The first few days at the centre were really frustrating as we just didn’t know what to do for the best. The field was so uneven that playing football properly on there was near impossible, we had to level it. Moses assured us that the trainees would be keen to help out but the field was huge and after two more days of digging up the bumps and clearing dead grass it became clear that we were making minimal impact, even with 20 trainees helping us.

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As we’d never done anything like this before we had to take the advice of the locals. Luckily by this point Koech, the secretary of the Barut athletics club was on hand to help us out (and soon became a good friend) He thought our options were either to try and get a machine or hire local people to help. Looking at the progress we’d made with 20 trainees we thought a machine would be the best option and Koech got us a reasonable price to hire a Caterpillar road leveller. (which just so happened to be nearby) The only slight problem was it was broken, but assured us it was getting fixed and would turn up the following day. We were starting to realise that nothing happens quickly in Kenya so even though we wanted it to come straight away we agreed to the following day.

We arrived at the centre the next day to the news that the machine would arrive later. We waited, and waited, and waited but no machine turned up. Koech had rung them a few times and his news was always, they’re on their way. He then headed off to find the machine and rang us to say it was on its way. Half an hour later when it hadn’t arrived we spoke to him again and this time his reply was “it’s on the way to town!!” WHAT! Apparently it couldn’t be fixed and had to be taken to town for repairs. Why we weren’t told this hours earlier I’ll never know and we were really down about the whole project by this point. We really wanted to make a big difference to the centre but felt like we weren’t getting anywhere and we’d wasted another day.

We returned back to the flat that night really downbeat. Not only had we lost another day but we still didn’t know whether the machine would turn up the following day. If it didn’t we really had no other options lined up. As we didn’t know the area and to be honest didn’t really know what we were doing it was hard to find machines to help us. It’s not like we could just google ‘field leveller machine, Barut’!
We arrived at the centre to news that the Caterpillar was a no go. Apparently it was now fixed but the owner wanted a ridiculous amount of money it get it back to Barut and then return it to town afterwards. We were pretty much at the end of our tether but thankfully we had a break-through. One of the trainees had seen a tractor on her way into school so she headed off with Denis to try and negotiate for them to come and help…and amazingly it worked. Half an hour later and the field was being dug up by a massive plough!!!

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We were so happy to be making progress and finally felt we were getting somewhere, although I will admit at this point I was slightly concerned. Instead of just levelling the ground this tractor was ploughing it and was going to return to harrow it, which is making the big lumps smaller so we could then rake and flatten by hand. Moses, Koech, Wesley and Denis were certain that this would work and we had to trust their judgement. At that point all I could see was us digging up a grassy field and making it a muddy one!!!

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The drives home from the centre are always interesting and we both really enjoyed them. Driving through the little communities is always interesting and the kids we passed were always so excited to see Mzungos riding past. They loved to shout ‘how are you’ as we sped past and we always made the effort to wave or should back. Their stock reply when we shout back “how are you” was always, “I am fine”. No-one ever says anything but this and it does make me smile every time we hear it. One thing I did see the other day whilst on the bike was three kids playing with their homemade kites which was a piece of string with a dirty plastic bag on the end. They had huge smiles on their faces and were laughing together. It broke my heart a little bit to see this and really hit home how little these people have yet they don’t need much to be happy. I think we could all learn a thing or two from the lovely people of rural Kenya.

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That evening went out to watch Derby play Brighton in the first leg of the Championship play-offs. After traipsing around various bars we thought we were out of luck as it wasn’t meant to be on the main sports channel and we couldn’t find anywhere that screened the smaller channels. Thankfully though luck was on our side and for some reason the schedules had changed and the match was being shown in the sports bar. Plus Derby won 2-1 so all in all it was a very positive day.

Saturday came and with it the second visit of the tractor….I’m certain you can guess what happened!? On arrival at the centre there was no sign of the vehicle and Koech headed off to find out what was happening. When we paid them for the work on Thursday I had a little nagging feeling that we should have withheld the full payment for that day until the job was complete. It turns out I should have listened to my gut feeling! Koech returned with news that the tractor wasn’t coming. Apparently the owner of the farm vehicle had spent the money we paid him on getting drunk rather than buying the piece needed to attach the harrow machine to the tractor. Aaarrggghh. We were really annoyed about this but luckily for us Denis came to the rescue. He sped off on his bike to find us a replacement tractor, this was beginning to be a regular occurrence. We tried not to get too down-heartened and thankfully Denis came up trumps and an hour later we were watching a new and bigger tractor breaking up the massive chunks ready for raking and flattening the following week. The flattening the field process was a huge job but we thought there was no point in doing it half-heatedly. If we were going to do it, we were going to do it properly.

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That evening Preston were playing in the League One play-offs against Rotherham. As it wasn’t deemed important enough in Africa (I can’t understand why) it wasn’t being shown on TV so our only option was to watch it on the internet. As it was bucketing it down with rain I was concerned there would be a power cut at the flat, as that often happened when the weather was bad, so we headed out in the horrific conditions. The first place we went to were having wifi problems so we tried to get it to work for half an hour then gave up, we were 1-0 down at this point. Next place the wifi wouldn’t work either so after doing a lap of the town we headed back to the flat to watch the second half! Thankfully there wasn’t a power cut and we managed to watch the 45 minutes without any interruptions. Plus we got to see Joe Garner’s world-class goal to even the game out, the final score was 1-1 after the first leg.

Sunday was rest day, which was much needed. After a lazy day we headed out to once again watch football and this time it was the last day of Premier League season. It was all a bit of an anti-climax in the end. We were desperate for Liverpool to do it, but it wasn’t to be and Man City won the Premier League. After that it was the second leg of the Championship play-off semi-final which was far more exciting. It was a great game which a Derby won 4-1 (6-2 on aggregate) and coasted through to the final at Wembley. I was just praying that Preston could do the same…(we didn’t, we lost the second leg. That is all I’m going to write on the subject!)

Monday arrived and our lovely friend Denis couldn’t pick us up so he sent someone else instead. We also had to pick up some rakes enroute to the centre and carry them on the bike. The previous week we’d managed to carry 6 machetes, a rake and some garden shears on one journey and it wasn’t too difficult. We’d even transported live chickens with the three of us on the bike. However, trying to hold on for dear life on the most uncomfortable motorbike in the world whist trying not to drop 5 rakes was hard work!!

We made some real progress at the centre that day. All the trainees were really keen to help as they could see the pitch beginning to take shape and were excited about the prospect of a new playing field. We spent the whole day clearing dead grass, breaking up the small pieces and raking them flat. There was still so much to do and it still wasn’t anywhere near flat, but we were getting there! Plus we were getting to know the trainees better which was really important to us. We returned home that evening filthy and exhausted, but happy.

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The next few days followed the same routine. Manual labour in the hot Kenyan sunshine was hard work but we were really enjoying ourselves now. All the trials and tribulations of the first week were a distant memory and we were now making progress every day. One journey to the centre after a particularly rainy evening the night before was one I won’t forget for a while. Denis did well to avoid most of the mud and puddles until we got to a particularly wet section. Before we knew what was happening the bike got stuck and myself and Tom fell off the side! Luckily there was no harm done as we’d been travelling pretty slowly and at least we entertained the locals!!

When we were in South East Asia we were always entertained by the things people carried on their motorbikes from huge china vases to 12 live chickens. Here we were 10 months later and our motorbike comprised of three people, 2 rucksacks, 5kg of potatoes, a bag of rice, a bag of flour, various vegetables a football, a big bike pump and of course another rake!! How things change eh!

The field was really starting to take shape and it was so different to the field that greeted us on our first day. As the trainees had to concentrate on their lessons we managed to hire some local people to help us out. They did in 2 days what would probably have taken me and Tom a week!! They really worked hard and we couldn’t have been more thankful. We also bought the trainees a new football to try out and every spare minute was spent playing footy on their new field, it was great to see. All we needed now was a load of rain and the grass would start to grow back. Again that was something we were slightly concerned about but all the locals assured us that we didn’t need to worry.

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Whilst at the centre we met some of the local athletes. I was chatting to one guy about his training and he told me he runs the 10k in 29minutes! He asked me whether I enjoyed running and suggested we could go for a run together…I politely declined!! I probably run as fast as his walking pace!!

By now we’d done two weeks at the centre and we were both so pleased we’d decided to stay on for another week. The field was as level as we could make it but we still had loads we wanted to do before leaving.
That weekend we decided to head out to watch the FA cup final and little did we know how huge it would be in Nakuru. There were loads of Arsenal fans in the pub so the atmosphere was amazing. We made friends with some locals, Lennox, Larix and Empress. Empress was the only Arsenal fan and her boyfriend Lennox got a ear full every time he reacted to a Hull attack. It was hilarious and it was definitely as entertaining watching her berate him as it was the football. We also had a discussion with them about warm beer! Every time we went to the bar and ordered a drink the barman would ask if we’d like cold beers? I didn’t think much of it at first but I decided to ask our new friends about this. They said that the majority of Kenyans preferred their beer to be at room temperature rather than from the fridge…baffling. Empress, who’d had quite a few warm beers at this point, stopped shouting at her boyfriend for a few minutes to explain to us that cold drinks in general make her feel sick and everything from beer to coca cola has to be warm!!
After the footy we headed to the late-night venue we’d heard so much about, Rafikis. It was actually a lot of fun.

On Sunday we went to visit an absolutely amazing orphanage. Holly had told us all about it and suggested we visited whilst in Nakuru and I’m so pleased we did. The orphanage is called Springs of Hope and it was honestly amazing, a far cry from the horrific orphanage we visited in Oaxaca, Mexico. Driving up to the children’s home was like driving towards a hotel, it looked incredible from the outside. Once inside things were just as nice and it was exactly how an orphanage should be. The kids were unbelievably happy and all the staff were wonderful with them. We met lovely Molly who is the founder of the home which is run on donations and fundraising. Her passion for the project was so visible and the kids adored her. The children were really intrigued about what was in Tom’s bag and when they found out it was a camera they were desperate to play with it. Let’s just say we now have about 50 photos of the TV amongst the 400 odd they took plus over half an hour of videos!!

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Whilst we were there a delivery of unwanted clothes arrived and the youngsters were unbelievably excited. Even so they were so well behaved and waited for their turn to receive some new clothes. They couldn’t stop smiling and laughing about their new articles and immediately modelled them for us.

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Monday and Tuesday were spent at Barut marking out the various pitches and making the sports equipment. After speaking to the trainees and Koech about what the community would want it was decided that we’d mark out a football pitch, netball court and volleyball court. Trying to figure out all the measurements for the football pitch was hard work as there wasn’t room for a full sized pitch but we wanted to make the most of the area we had, we got there in the end though. Koech and Wesley worked so hard to help us complete the project and we were so thankful they were there to help and offer advice. We definitely wouldn’t have succeeded without their help and support.

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It was great to see the project finally coming together but at the same time we felt a bit sad that it was almost over.

I don’t know what it is about Kenya but what I mentioned earlier about everything taking so long is so true. One morning we headed off with Rich, the project manager, to collect a few things in his car. What should have been a 20 minute task ended up taking almost two hours! We met Rich at the sports shop to buy the equipment for the sports field. It should have been open, it wasn’t. Instead we went to the hardware store. Here you have to ask for what you want from one person they give you a receipt then you queue up and pay somewhere else. Then, oh yes it’s not over, you head off and try and find the items you’ve just paid for. Everyone we spoke to sent us to a different person in a different area until finally we got hold of the two items we’d paid for, cement and red oxide. Rich moved his car so we could load the things in. Once loaded he turned the key and the car wouldn’t start and As we were in a loading area we were blocking a huge lorry in. Rich went off to find a mechanic and the lorry driver returned and asked us to move. He didn’t seem to understand that because the car was an automatic it was stuck in park. He tried to push the car anyway, it didn’t move. The lorry then did a 16 point turn to get around us just before Rich returned with said mechanic. After a few minutes of poking around under the bonnet he said he could fix the car for 100bob (66p). We went back to the sports shop, which was now open, and picked up new equipment for the school and headed off in the now fixed car. Just a normal morning in Kenya, now you understand why everything takes so long!!

Wednesday was P.E. day and the first real test of our sports equipment and pitches. We headed to the centre early to make sure everything was ready for the 11am P.E. lesson. As mentioned previously often the girls weren’t that keen to participate, but I was adamant that they’d all take part and more importantly they’d all enjoy themselves. The girls played volleyball first then wanted to play netball so I taught them for about 2 hours and they didn’t want to stop. With a bit of encouragement every single girl played and seemed to love it. The improvements I saw in one session was actually remarkable and I’m certain they’ll continue playing as much as possible once we’ve left. We brought with us loads of photocopies of the rules for both volleyball and netball and I watched all the girls reading through them once we’d finished playing, they really were keen.

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Tom took the boys for football training and they seemed to be having a great time. He structured it well so they warmed up properly and he coached them not to chase the ball around all the time, amongst other things. I think the final score in the match was 9-8 or something ridiculous. Koech managed to play every single sport plus refereed the footy and tried to play two positions at once on the netball court until all the girls shouted at him! He had a massive smile on his face all day, as did Wesley. All in all it was a great day and one we won’t ever forget.

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Our friend and driver Denis invited us around to his house for some food, cooked by his cousin Faith. Before going there Koech wanted to take us to the sand quarry, which we thought was a bit odd but once there we could understand why he wanted us to see it. The conditions were pretty horrific and the poor men who’s job it was to dig out the sand by hand risked their lives every single day for 100-150 Kenyan shillings (60p-£1) The walls of the quarry were so unstable and Koech kept saying how he would never ever do that job. The men there wanted to greet us and after shaking our hands tried to hand us a spade to help them out, we kindly declined. We really saw the harsh reality of trying to make a living in Kenya.

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On the way back to the centre from the quarry we saw loads of school children in the distance and Koech said we should go and greet them as they’d spotted us and had started screaming “Mzungos” and “how are you”. Once over there ever single child wanted to shake our hand, which was made harder by the barbed wire and prickles which separated us from them. They were so cute and really epitomised Kenya for us, the happy children.

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We went to Denis’s house and his cousin made us some amazing food, then we watched one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s called the Reggae Boys and was a Nigerian masterpiece! Some of the acting was atrocious but it was addictive viewing!

The following day was our last at the centre so we’d arranged a sports day for the trainees. It really was the highlight of our three weeks in Barut. We had a volleyball tournament, football and netball matches, and competitions such as a penalty shoot out and shoot the hoop. The trainees loved it and so did we. It really was lovely to see them as happy as they were now they had new equipment and improved playing surfaces.

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We had a few prizes for the trainees who put in the most effort throughout the day and for the winners of the competitions. We handed them out at the end of the day and they all thanked us for all our hard work and sang us a farewell song. I really felt we’d bonded with the students and the sports day with the new equipment and facilities was the perfect way to end our time at Barut. Every single day we were at the Barut Centre, Mercy, the Head Teacher, came over to chat to me about what we were doing. Her words of thanks and encouragement always spurred me on and really made me realise what a difference we were making. We were both really sad to leave and will never ever forget our time there. I’m so pleased we succeeded in the task which had been set for us but none of it would have been possible without the hard work and efforts of the trainees, the staff at the centre and the local community.

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Saturday was the big day for Tom as Derby were in the Championship play-off final but before that we had to sort out our safari to the Masai Mara. We had tried to arrange it the previous day but trying to pay anyone in Kenya is one of the most frustrating things ever! (Nearly as frustrating as waiting for tractors!) They wanted us to do a bank transfer but if you haven’t got a Kenyan bank account it’s impossible to do, as is taking out enough money to pay them direct. It was such a frustrating morning, but eventually we sorted it and our amazing luxury safari was booked. From five-star lodges to a hot air balloon over the mara, we really were blowing the budget for the final week of our amazing adventure.

Once all that was sorted we headed to see one of the trainees who had invited us round to her house. Because everything at the bank had taken so long we almost didn’t go but I honestly cannot explain how pleased I am that we did. Dorisella and her sister had bought us fizzy drinks and bowls of crisps and snacks and if we hadn’t turned up it would have all gone to waste. In Kenya people like visitors and we were probably the first Mzungos to be in her house. We were there for about 2 hours and before leaving we had to wait for her father to return as he wanted to greet us. The house was a mud hut but it was really homely and Dorisella had worked hard in planting crops and rearing chickens and rabbits to sell. It is traditional in Kenya to offer a gift to deserving guests and the previous day Dorisella had joked that she’d like to give me a hen! Luckily we just got some eggs as I’m not sure a hen in the Masai Mara would have been a good idea!! They also had kittens and asked if we’d like to take one…until we explained that they wouldn’t let us on the plane back to England with a live animal! I’m so pleased we made the effort to go and see her as she was generally excited to have us in her house. When her Dad turned up he desperately wanted us to stay longer and kept offering us food and drink but unfortunately we had to leave as we’d promised Koech we’d go and see him at the athletics stadium.

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There we watched the 3000m walking race, the relay and steeplechase. It was just county qualifiers but it was great to see. Koech said if we’d turned up earlier he’d have entered me in a race!! Thank god we didn’t turn up earlier, everyone would have had a good laugh at the silly Mzungo coming last!!

From there we headed home to get changed before eating some Nyama Choma (BBQ’d meat) and got front row seats for the big game. I won’t dwell too much on this bit but Derby were well and truly robbed! There only looked like one winner and true to form in the play offs, this meant that the team who didn’t deserve it won, QPR were promoted to the Premier League. As a Preston fan I am well accustomed to play off defeats so I really felt for Tom. He dealt with it well though and didn’t let it ruin our evening with our friends. We’d managed to get a group together to watch the footy including Dennis and his cousin Faith, Rich, our project manager and his friend Steven.

Our last day in Nakuru was spent packing up and getting ready for our exciting safari adventure. We both spoke to our parents and they very kindly agreed to donate some money to Raise the Roof Kenya which meant that everything we’d done at the centre from the levelling and the painting of the lines to the football posts and netballs hadn’t cost the charity a penny. The budget that had been put aside for the sports facilities could now be put to good use elsewhere. We were absolutely ecstatic about this, as was Holly, and I can’t thank both our parents enough for their generous contributions.

I could write forever about our experiences but what really hit home for me was how happy everyone was. People walking past the centre just smiled and wanted to say hello. If we stopped what we were doing and chatted to them for a few minutes it made them so happy. The children we drove past just wanted us to wave and notice them, it made their day. Our time in Barut was incredible. It obviously wasn’t all fun and games and at times it was ridiculously hard and really frustrating. Even when we were at our wits end giving up was never an option and I knew deep down we’d succeed eventually. Watching the trainees play on their new playing surfaces with the new equipment on our final day made everything worth while. I am so pleased we made the effort to come to Kenya to help these wonderful people.

If you’d like to read more about the Raise the Roof Kenya or to make a donation please visit the website here

We have tons of photos from Barut, please click here to have a look.

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