Monday, July 19, 2010

Work at Bliss

Well, I've been here two weeks and its been a very busy two weeks. Here's a few things we've been working on...

A slide and swing set for the children. We bought the materials from a hardware store and had a welder make them up for us. Then we worked with Esther's cousin who is a sign-writer to paint them. They look so fantastic in the school yard, bringing so much colour to what was just a yard with stones and dust and a little patch of grass. When the kids first tried them they were hesitant, with the teachers pushing them on the swings and the bolder kids trying out the slide first. Most of them have never been on a slide and it was obvious by the way they slid down and landed like a sack of spuds at the bottom with a stunned look on their faces! On the swings they had very serious expressions at first as they concentrated. But after a few days, they were all over them without the teachers help, pushing each other on the swings and going down the slide again and again, in pairs, in chains, backwards, forwards, any which way! It really has transformed the school yard and freed up the teachers to have a break while the kids play instead of having to entertain them.

We've bought other toys and games like balls (a big hit), building blocks, a game of junior scrabble. More school supplies have been gratefully received, like pencils, pens, writing books, lesson planning books, large sheets of paper, rulers, and clocks for each classroom for learning to tell the time. We bought a months supply of food for the school (and may buy more when we see how the rest of the money goes), and as I said we bought mattresses and blankets for sleep time.

After seeing how Esther had been funding everything herself, one of my big aims became to help her to get the project self-sustainable. To this end we have done a business plan for a Chicken keeping project (see picture of the hutch being built beside the existing kitchen). So part of the money is going towards the building of a chicken hutch for 40 laying chickens and their eggs will be sold to generate some income for the project. Factored into the plan is to provide eggs for the children's lunch twice per week, increasing their protein intake. Incidentally, you would be shocked how small the children are for their age here - it's because of malnutrition, mainly a lack of protein. The plan is to start with 40 and expand once they have trialled the project. In the long term, when they can afford to move to a bigger premises, the idea is to get up to 150 chickens which will provide a significant % of the project's costs.

At the suggestion of my mum, we are also establishing a vegetable garden to grow silver beet for both the children and the chickens. Increasing the amount of vegetables the children eat is very important, but it will also make the eggs that the chickens lay more nutritious. Most eggs here have very pale yellow yolks because of a lack of nutrients. The chicken dung will also be used on the vege garden for a perfect nutrient cycle!

Another project we are starting is sewing school uniforms. Currently, only 3 children wear the Bliss uniform. Esther explained that uniforms are very important because they create a level playing field instead of some kids coming to school more scruffy than others. It also relieves some of the burden of families clothing their children, and allows the kids to be identified as to where they belong on their way home in case something happens to them. So rather than just buying uniforms, we decided to buy a sewing machine and all the things needed to make them. There are two Bliss ladies who have certificates in sewing and their own business (but they don't make much from it), who will be paid piece work to make them. This makes the uniforms cheaper than buying them retail, and leaves Bliss set up to gain contracts for making uniforms for other schools. The great thing about this project is it provides uniforms for Bliss, ongoing income, and work for the sewers - who are very excited about it.

The number one priority for Bliss now as I see it is to gain regular sources of income. This will be partly achieved by the sustainability projects we have started, but they will never be enough because no business venture here makes much more than a living for someone, let alone supporting a school and women's program. Their real need is for reliable monthly funding sources. One of the other big needs I have seen since I've been here is for Esther to have some help to run the program, especially with all the new projects we are starting - too much on her shoulders and nothing will succeed. To combine the two, I suggested taking on someone with some business knowledge to run the sustainability projects, as well as raising funds through applying for grants and soliciting donations. So we have advertised for this person and are interviewing (a big lesson in cultural differences here!). I plan to use some of the donations to fund this person's wages for a trial period of 3-6 months, by which time if they have been successful, they will be bringing in enough money to pay their own wages and fund the program at least to some extent.

Phew, that sounds like quite a lot for two weeks! At the end of each day we get home (to Esther's house) tired, dusty and ready to collapse on the couch. Most of my time is spent shopping for quotes and various things or at the internet cafe (I'm thinking about spending some money on a computer for them, especially for the project manager). Most days we visit the school to take the things we have purchased or meet with various people, and it is always nice to be there. We sometimes eat with the children, play with them or help in the classroom and it is always my favourite time. They love giving me high-fives, holding my hands, and looking at photos of themselves on my camera, and I practice my Swahili on them. On Saturdays we meet with the Bliss women - more on that on the next blog...

We are currently working on the website and updating a funding proposal as well, and I am able to help by providing a 'western' or 'donors' perspective - what do people need to know and want to see in a website or proposal to feel confident about supporting an organisation? Professionalism, legitimacy, currency, and a real need that tugs at the heartstrings. The biggest financial need is for regular supporters so that basic costs can be met before growth can be considered. There are so many more children that could benefit from the project if this could be achieved.

Overall, I'm having a great time but also missing beautiful NZ and all of you there (did you see that NZ was named the happiest place to live in Asia/Pacific on Yahoo?!). I'm half way through my time here and half way through the donations, 3 weeks left to finish the work!

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