Twice a year, Eddie and a group of up to a dozen volunteers travel to West Pokot to work with the local people. During each ten day stay the Yellowmen are put into one of three teams, depending on where their skills best lie: the education team, the medical team and the construction team. However, movement between these teams is fluid and everyone pitches in where they can.
During the two day seminars (held during each visit to West Pokot) the Education team present a variety of teaching methods, strategies and resources to the local teachers; they ascertain and record the needs in terms of skills and resources that will enhance the teaching of English across the Nursery, Primary and Secondary stages; and they identify other barriers to learning including buildings, environment and financial constraints.
The seminars are always warmly received. Over the course of the two days, up to 18 teachers and head teachers attend, supported by Father Patrick, a local Catholic priest who advocates the importance of education. Although the age range of pupils is extensive (e.g. the Primary sector extends to Standard 8 where the students may well be fourteen years of age) the teachers adapt the subject matter and skills taught to meet the needs of their particular students.
The seminars include the use of rhymes and song to facilitate the teaching of Maths and English, the teaching of phonics, grammar, sentence structure, story writing and poetry analysis. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable parts of the sessions is the use of parachute games as learning tools.
At the end of each seminar a variety of resources is shared between the teachers, ranging from paper, pencils and pens to laminates, thesauruses, memory sticks and parachutes.
In addition to the seminars, an important role of the Education team is to visit local schools and nurseries where they engage in a range of teaching and learning activities. The Yellowmen are always greeted enthusiastically by both children and staff. It is at times overwhelming to see the dedication of the teachers and the enthusiasm of the children working with such limited resources in the most basic of buildings without electricity or running water.
An important role of the team is to instil in the pupils, especially the girls (many of whom fail to return to school after the age of 14) the importance of education. Younger members of the Yellowmen have inspired the pupils by talking about their own lives, aspirations and dreams.
The Yellowmen also support a local teacher training college, providing IT equipment and other essential educational resources.
Part of the funds raised by the Yellowmen is spent improving the facilities at the local schools, both repairing and building classrooms. Projects to date have included the building of classrooms for the youngest pupils in Sigor Nursery who were being taught in the open, under a tree; repair to Marich Primary which suffered severe damage as a result of wind storms; and the rebuilding of a teaching block at Runo.
During these seminars the needs of each individual clinic is discussed and a list of the most common illnesses is drawn up. Illnesses with the highest incidence include:
- Respiratory Tract Infections including pneumonia
- Typhoid, amoebiasis and gastro-enteritis
- Skin conditions including fungal infections
- Urinary tract infections
Requests made by individual clinics include the supply of portable microscopes, blood sugar monitors, urine dip sticks, delivery packs, suture packs, stethoscopes, autoclaves or sterilisers.
The recent reduction in the amount of medicines supplied by KEMSA the Government Agency makes the supply of such medicines paramount. This twice yearly injection of medicines is vital to the local communities.
Regular health clinics are vital in order to establish the general health of the Pokot people. These have included:
- Mother and baby clinics (to ascertain levels of malnutrition and common health issues)
- Eye clinics (to diagnose sight problems for referral, begin treatment programmes for those suffering from eye infections and serious sight threatening diseases like trachoma, and to dispense reading spectacles)
- A dental survey of around 100 children and adults (to ascertain levels of dental health and to assess the types of instruments and materials needed for future trips to the area)
Reports from the clinics are sent to the Kenyan Minister of Health and provide invaluable data and information on the health of these isolated communities.
For the last ten years a number of groups of women with HIV have been supported by the Yellowmen. We provide them with a small amount of money with which to purchase maize from farmers in the hill areas to sell on for a small profit in village markets. This provides them not only with work and independence but with hope.
A further initiative which has just got underway is providing a group of such women with money to buy beads. The beads will be made into necklaces and decorative items to sell at market.
A large area of West Pokot is mountainous with foothills leading to the Cherengani Mountains. For the local people this means great difficulty in accessing medical care. Simple medical problems like a snake bite can be fatal if there is no one to inject the antidote; eye injuries (easily treated with antibiotics) can, if left, lead to permanent blindness; and infantile malaria can be very quickly fatal.
In the plains and near the roads we have some clinics. There are five in the Yellowmen Medical Consortium and between them they see hundreds of patients a month. Even with this number of clinics, some patients have to walk 20km to find treatment, often carrying a sick member of their family. Those who live high up in the hills and foothills rarely see a medical practitioner and with no regular medical help are seriously disadvantaged.
The recent purchase of our Yellowmen motorbike (kindly donated by local bike enthusiasts in Crowhurst) means that visits to these isolated communities can be made by a nurse on a regular basis.
Although a small scale feeding programme for children in Tikeet existed, it was very basic and many children still showed signs of malnourishment. Yellowman Tony Hawkes wanted to boost the food intake of these children and chose to donate nearly £1000 on a feeding programme for the youngest pupils at the Tikeet bush school. A formal contract was drawn up and the monies duly handed over to Father Patrick. He would ensure the accurate accounting of the money and monitor the progress of the children.
When the Yellowmen first arrived at the Marich Study Centre there was no bridge across a dried up stream between the car park and the centre itself. In order to make the centre more accessible, a bridge was built which became indispensable over the following years. Gradually however, storms and termites took their toll and the wooden bridge, despite running repairs, had to be replaced. The wood was removed and replaced with box section steel girders on a concrete pad overlaid with a welded 3mm chequer-plate sheet giving a termite proof finish.
The need to build a clinic in Tikeet was paramount. In the words of Mary, a tribal elder;
It is not right that we should walk for 35km with our sick baby in our arms to be told by the doctor that it is dead, and then walk 35km back home with our dead baby in our arms. God did not give us our babies so that we should lose them so easily.
The new building is now complete and has already hosted numerous day clinics seeing hundreds of patients.
Renovation work continues at the Wayside Clinic; the old tin clinic has been removed, new rooms are painted and work has begun on the building of additional rooms.
The construction team has successfully completed a number of school building projects. However, the repair and renovation of schools is an ongoing task for the Yellowmen.
In October 2013 we visited two more schools in desperate need of funds. In one primary school classes took place in the open where the children sat on bricks and their only learning resource was a blackboard. Although classrooms were in the process of being built, the lack or roofing rendered them unsafe. In a secondary school, inadequate funds to build dormitories meant that the girls were sleeping in their classrooms.