New Year Day Mid-Construction Review January 3, 2013 No Comments

No better way to start the year off then a trip to the Hope for Hope Little Drop’s Children’s Home.  It was Mr. Selveraj, Mr. Mwendwa, and I driving up together, the private vehicle makes the trip very easy.  As we passed Lake Naivasha, the scattered Zebra’s and Thomson Gazelles, and a few baboons, I am always reminded how Nyahururu and the Central Highlands of Kenya has become my favorite place in the country.

We picked up Simon and the consulting engineer Charles in Nyahururu town and drove together to the land.  It was exciting driving into the land to see the Dormitory and Staff Quarters partially built.  We were all able to get a great sense of what this Home will look like once it is in full swing.

The Dormitory and the Staff Quarters look just as I would expect them to look mid construction.  The designs of the structures are as discussed, and it was a great thing not to see any major structural surprises!  The foundation is down, the flooring is down, and the walls are up minus another meter of stone which is being added now.   The next step is to do the internal walls, set the roof trusses, and get the roofing up.
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We needed to make a few minor adjustments and we have run into one major problem.  The minor adjustments are to enlarge the staff quarter bathrooms slightly which is difficult because the staff quarter rooms with the bathrooms are slightly smaller than we had planned for.  We also need to add a door to connect one half of the dormitory to the other half.

The major problem we are facing is the water-well.  It is now at 46 ft. deep and only drawing about 6 ft. of water, which is insufficient, especially given the fact that it is currently the rainy-season in Nyahururu and we will have far less water when the dry-season approaches.  The problem we have here is that there is a large rock presumably blocking access to the main water table.  We have consulted with a local water-surveyor who assured us this was the location where the water table is at its highest.  We are no longer hiring someone to manually break the rock as it is becoming a waste of resources.  Our two options are to get hold of a hydraulic drill which we can rent and bring on to break the rock or to close the well and to connect to the municipal water company, forcing us to rely only on the community water source which has its own set of problems.  Stay tuned to find out!  Currently we are buying a few thousands of liters of water weekly from a nearby dam and transporting it to the land to assist with the construction work.

Thanks to the holiday donations through Hope for Hope we have been able to purchase 40% of the galvanized steel roofing and with continued support we will be able to purchase the remaining amount in time for the scheduled roofing portion of our construction work!102_0361

This year has been a big year for Hope for Hope and 2013 will be even bigger!  Thank you all for your unconditional support, we are all a team in building this Children’s Home, Hope for Hope is just the vessel!

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11/25/12 Completion of “Phase 1″…onto “Phase 2″ of construction December 10, 2012 No Comments

Three weeks after construction of “Phase 1” started I am back in Nyahururu to see the progress. I came once inbetween the start and the finish to see how the construction was going. Standing here now it is hard not to be overwhelmed with joy and filled with excitement to get this Home operational and put these structures to use. I am going over the finished construction of the kitchen/storeroom, the water-well, and the bathroom/washroom; smiling, speaking to the construction crew, and taking photos.

We head back to Simon’s office to discuss the next phase of construction, the Staff Quarters and Dormitory (“Phase 2”). We go over the specifications and figure out ways to lower the cost of construction. We agree on a rough figure and decide we both need to speak to our respective partners to decide on the price, the financing, and the timeline.

Here is a little explanation of what is going to be built over the next two months:

The staff quarters will be about 800 sq./ft., cut off into 4 equal sections. 1 section will serve as the office/nursing station, 1 section as the manager’s home, 1 section for visitors, and 1 section will temporarily serve as the children’s study and dining hall. There will only be a total of two bathrooms, one in the manager’s room and one in the visitor’s room. There will be a verandah, a slanted roof with galvanized steel sheets, and several windows. The Staff Quarters will be made of stone from a nearby quarry.

The dormitory will be a 1,000 sq./ft. structure, with a semi-permanent wall cutting the structure into two 500 sq./ft. dormitories. One side will be for boys, and one side for girls, each side capable of holding 5 bunk-beds comfortably to accommodate 10 boys and 10 girls, respectively. Each side will have a bathroom/washroom so children do not need to leave the dormitories at night time and so they will have sufficient privacy for bathing. Each side will also have a 70 sq./ft. cubicle for the matron to stay to watch over the children in the evenings, something which is mandated by the Children’s Department of Kenya.

Currently we are working on getting our lawyers to finish the contracts, and then we will be signing and making the first deposit. Based off of a verbal agreement Simon and I have made, construction has started and we are on scheduled to have structures built for January 25th, 2013! The payments are phased out so we are able to begin the work, but we still have a lot of fundraising to do in order to make that final payment on February 1st, 2013, so please keep Hope for Hope in mind this holiday season!

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11/20/12 Driving to Nyahururu to Begin Phase 1 of Construction December 2, 2012 No Comments

Over the next two weeks I had several meetings with potential engineers/contractors, both in Nyahururu and in Nairobi.  After evaluating their work and going over their price estimates and schedules, we decided to go with Simon Muchiri from Nyahururu.  Simon has a good track record with the physical planning office and county council office both in Laikipia East and West.  He has been involved with dozens of work around Nyahururu, some of which I have inspected, and he gets good material and transportation prices since he is familiar with the area. Simon is not associated with a very large “Nairobi-esque” firm, he is  currently more of an independent contractor, which means his costs are far more realistic given our budget.  Some people say here, “Once you reach Nairobi, you reach New York”, referring to the extremely high costs of everything in Nairobi.   I admit there is some truth behind this saying.

Today’s mission is to go to Nyahururu to meet Simon to go over the BQ, or “Bill of Quantity”, and to discuss the building specifications and the prices.

This time, after my many previous adventures going to the Hope for Hope Little Drops land via public transport, I decided to rent a car in Nairobi and to drive myself.   With my own car I can get to the land with materials if need be, I can stay on the land to work for as long as I like, the time travelled is cut nearly in half, and I have the freedom and security that comes with a private vehicle.  However, driving can bring its own challenges.

I picked up the car at 8am Friday morning, it was a Toyota Premio.  It was used, old, had worn out tires, and the wheel alignment was off terribly.  To go straight I held the wheel at nearly a 9 o’clock angle.  It was just the car I expected to get and was happy to have it.  I was a little worried about this journey to say the least.  I haven’t driven in 2 months, in Kenya they drive on the left whereas I am familiar to driving on the right side of the road, the car is in bad shape, and the simple fact that I am driving in Kenya, Africa for 200km where the roads aren’t in the best conditions.

After finding my bearings and getting a little turned around Kevin and I finally got onto the Nairobi-Naivasha highway heading North to Nyahururu.  A few hours later we are there meeting Simon and his partner/foreman Stephen Mwangi.  We finalize construction details and prices and after the contracts are signed we go to the land so we all have a clear understanding of where and how everything is to be built.  The first 3 structures to be built is the 40ft deep water-well, the bathroom/washroom, commonly known as an “out-house”, which has two stalls and a shower, and the kitchen/storeroom.  These three structures are to be built first because they are the basics, the bare necessities needed to do further construction of larger structures.

While at the land we also had to speak with a neighbor who is accidently growing wheat on our land (he was confused about the current plot of land he recently purchased).  Harvest season is coming up in 1 month but in order to progress I wanted to seek his approval to slash about 80 sq./meters for this first phase of construction.  Legally I can slash all the wheat as its growing on our land, but we discuss as good neighbors should and he gives us permission to slash as much as needed.  This particular neighbor and all the other neighbors I have met, which has been over a dozen, are very happy about the work we are doing in their community.  They have all been more than helpful, allowing us to store materials at their homes and giving us water we need for building. They are all extremely eager for the project to be on its way.

We finish all of our work, eat a quick dinner, and drive back to Nairobi as the sun sets.  The drive back wasn’t as simple as the drive there, read below to hear about it!:

This is when the burden of driving was fully realized.  We had a lot to do on the land and we didn’t start driving until 6:30, when the sun was setting.  This is all rural area, and it is the highlands, so there is a heavy rainfall most nights and there are no street or house lights for miles.  The roads are not painted, they are all single lanes, and all trucks coming your way have their high beams on.  Before I know it Kevin and I are scared for our lives.  Well I was anyways, Kevin kept telling me not to worry, which made no sense to me.  It was a heavy down pour, the windows are fogged, I have weak headlights, am blinded by the cars coming at me, and have no idea if I am driving off the road or not due to the lack of road paint and road signs.  Add the random speed bumps and foot deep potholes to the equation, which are impossible to see, and I thought this was definitely cause for concern.  As we drive further South the rain subsides and we get back on the Nairobi-Naivasha highway heading to Nairobi.

I forgot to mention, the Nairobi-Naivasha highwasy is infamous for car-jacking’s and robbery.  About 60 miles outside Nairobi, on the Nairobi-Naivasha highway, my left front tire explodes.  I knew this would happen.  I double park on the side of the highway and walk back to a gas station I spotted a half-mile back to get some help.  Its 10:00pm, pitch dark, and I’m stranded on a road famous for car-jacking’s and robberies; I am doomed.  We finally get a boda-boda (motorbike cab) driver to help us. The three of us hop on his motorcycle and head back to my vehicle, all the while I am hoping he isn’t about to kidnap me.  We get to where the vehicle is parked and see a truck parked with the high-beams on the car. I see four men get out of the back of truck, take out there rifles and hand guns, and cock them back. We are all on the motorcycle not sure if we should ride away for our lives.  We quickly realize that it was military police going to investigate the car.  We came up behind them and they didn’t see us, so I whistled gently to get their attention.  When I whistled they turned around quickly, guns still cocked and in hand.  I was able to explain that this suspicious car on the side of the road is in fact my car, there is a flat tire, and I ask for their assistance because we don’t have a jack.  Before too long I am talking about President Obama as they fix the tire.  I pay them a little for their trouble and we get on our way.  We get back to Nairobi and I’m feeling like a Kenyan driving expert by now.  I drop Kevin off in town and drive back to my apartment, park the car, kick the wheel, and say “good riddens”.

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9/22 to 10/20- Permit Acquisitions for Building November 29, 2012 No Comments

Mr. Selveraj, my friend and consultant Kevin, a student of Mr. Selveraj who is from the area named George, and myself went to Nyahururu to visit Simon Muchiri, the potential engineer who will be responsible for building the first structures of the Children’s Home. We met in Nyahururu town and quickly escaped the crowded main street to go to the site and to discuss the plan. The few days before this meeting I drew up a basic outline of how the Home should look. While standing on the land we could all feel and visualize the completed Home as we went over the potential layout.

This wasn’t time to pick the contractor, but Simon got us off to a good start in terms of telling us what we need to do before we can begin building. We left Nyahururu to drive back to Nairobi, contemplating the tasks ahead of us.

I spent the next week consulting other professionals to get a detailed list of the exact permits and certifications we needed in order to begin building, and then spent the next month working with various people and agencies in order to acquire all of these permits and certifications. The list goes like this: First acquire the blueprint and site plan from the engineer, then get this blue print approved by the District Public Health Office and the District Physical Planning Office, then get the “Change of User” documents together and submit all of the previous to the County Council for approval, while simultaneously assisting the NEMA Lead Expert so he can prepare the NEMA report (National Environment Management Association).

All of this sounds straight forward, but dealing with government officials will never be simple. Each one of those permits required special paperwork and signatures necessary in order to get the approval and move on to the next stage. This run-around would have been somewhat tolerable if it didn’t require us to keep running back and forth to both sides of the district! Nyahururu is in the Laikipia District which is currently going through a re-structuring process. Some signatures required us to travel to Laikipia East government offices, while other stamps required us to travel to Laikipia West government offices. Please understand that travelling directly from Laikipia East to Laikipia West is no short and simple journey. All of this running around and red tape dodging would STILL be tolerable if we wouldn’t spend a full day travelling to one place, for an officer to tell us we have to first travel across the district to get a stamp and then come back to that office to get the neccessary signatures!

All in all we should all be happy it was completed as quickly and efficiently as it was. We should not be happy about all the hidden fees along the way, but that, too, seems to be an unavoidable part of Kenya right now.

Now that the permits have been acquired we can begin construction, which brings me back to Nyahururu.

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Original Blueprint of the Children’s Dormitory:

 

 

September 18th, 2012- Arrival in Nairobi, Kenya November 24, 2012 No Comments

I arrived in Nairobi via Cairo at 3:45 am, Tuesday morning. I picked up a taxi from the airport and together, the driver and I, navigated the step by step instructions to get to my flat. See, my flat doesn’t have an address and that’s just one of those things about Nairobi; the place you are living in may not have an exact address. We made the journey successfully, the whole while making the driver laugh as I practiced my broken Kiswahili with him. The next day I had a meeting scheduled with Little Drops Foundation Director Mr. Selveraj Chelliah. I stayed with Mr. Selveraj and his family last year when I was here working on opening the Standard Chartered bank account, certifying our NGO status, and searching for and later managing the acquisition of the 5 acres of land which we are currently developing. I originally met Mr. Selveraj during one of his annual trips to Chennai, India, when I was there working with the Little Drops organization in India.

As I stood by a light waiting to get picked up by Mr. Selveraj a security guard asked me what I was doing there. I told him I was waiting for a friend to pick me up and he assured me I was safe with him nearby. I told him I felt safe until he assured me I was only safe with him nearby.

The meeting went well and Mr. Selveraj was very pleased to hear about Hope for Hope’s dedication to developing a sustainable Children’s Home in partnership with the Little Drops Foundation team. Together Selveraj and I reviewed the plan to get the Children’s Home operational, with the first step being to meet a construction engineer recommended by another Little Drops Foundation Director Mr. John Mwendwa. We scheduled to go to Nyahururu together this upcoming Saturday to meet Simon Muchiri, the construction engineer.