Eating Stone update – May 2020

I have been asked by a number of supporters to report, to the best of my knowledge, the situation in Kenya generally and, more specifically, the effects of the pandemic on the Eating Stone family.

My return date to Calgary, booked months in advance, happened to be 12 March arriving 13 March just in time to self-isolate for 14 days. Since then, I have kept in close touch with Dr Cyprian who is isolated at home for the foreseeable future. His doctors were with him for close to a month from the time I left.

COVID-19 has been slower to affect the African continent but is now ramping up in Kenya. Thus far there has been little testing and most of the spread is community and from asymptomatic people.

On March 13, the Kenyan government closed all schools in the country including primary, secondary, universities and colleges. Thus the on-site primary school, Wisdom Academy, closed. The 14 secondary students and three university students all came home. Since that date there are 70 family members on-site rather than 53. The gate has been closed and locked to outsiders to ensure the safety and health of all.

The first issue was to ensure enough funds were available to purchase and store enough staple foods to last for two to three months. Prices have escalated and hoarding has also been a problem. Cleaning, disinfectant products and soaps are in short supply and extremely expensive. Extra care of the Eating Stone environment is a priority, and thus far all are fine and healthy.

Together with the school closures, the government urged Kenyans to practice physical distance, self-isolate for those who had travelled outside the country, and wash hands with soap for 20 seconds very often. The vast majority of Kenyans, particularly in the larger cities, live very close together making it impossible to physical distance or self-isolate. 85% of Kenyans have no access to running water. Most buy water by the litre for cooling and bathing. For most, there is no money to buy extra water or soap for hand sanitizing. Some NGOs are providing stations in slums such as Kibera.

At the beginning of April, the government ordered a 90-day curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. Night-time crowds defied the order, police intervened with tear gas, and people were beaten. Within a week or so, most people complied.

Also in early April, all people were ordered to wear masks outside of their homes. At the same time, to curb the spread of the virus, counties began to close their borders. All roads have been barricaded and manned. Only trucks carrying goods are allowed to enter or exit. This has affected Eating Stone as it is located in Kiambu County but all shopping is in Kawangware, which is in Nairobi County. Markets are closed, throwing most Kenyans out of work. The majority of people buy their food every day or two as most do not have refrigeration. There is no government help, so you know a big percentage of the population are going hungry. Some think more people will die of hunger than of COVID-19.

And now the long rains are incessant, heavy, and damaging – country wide. Many people have died or been displaced due to flooding and landslides. Crops are gone or heavily damaged, bridges have collapsed and so have roads in the Nakuru area. And now the second locust infestation, the worst in 70 years, has swept into the northeast of Kenya from Ethiopia and Somalia. I have been told the funds for spraying last November went into private pockets thus allowing the locusts to lay thousands of eggs which have now matured.

After all this depressing news let me narrate some of the positives!

Dr Cyprian is doing well and under his doctors’ orders to isolate at home. One of his doctors arranged to have Maureen come to stay with him at Willow Court. Because of the county border closing it took two weeks to bring her from Eating Stone to Willow Court via a government vehicle. 

Eating Stone is blessed to be located in a safe rural environment surrounded by a community which has been welcoming and helpful. Families love Wisdom Academy and want their children to be educated there. Our challenge now, until schools are allowed to reopen, is to find a way to support the ten teachers and their families who live outside. Four teachers are Eating Stone family and live on-site.

With great and continuing thanks to Rotary Club of Grande Prairie, Eating Stone has a borehole which provides ample water. This is a great blessing!

Hannah, the wife of the neighbour who drilled the borehole, has provided sukumu wiki (kale) from her plot to the children for more than two years. Sometimes she charges a little, sometimes not. They live about 1.5 km from Eating Stone. When Hannah has a car-load of vegetables she delivers. Other times she tells the children to come and pick. Hannah also owns a donkey and cart. For the last few months, and especially since the pandemic, she loads the kale onto the cart and sends the donkey to Eating Stone. She phones Jackie or Agnes and tells them the donkey is on its way. When the donkey arrives at the gate, the children unload the kale and the donkey goes home. Amazing!

The children continue with their regular routine and their studies. The university boys and the four at-home teachers are there to assist and teach too. When the schools were closed, the first of three terms for this year had not ended. The three university students have continued their term via their cell phones. They have just finished their term exams using their phones. The universities provided them with credit in order to take the exams. It is a changed and changing world!

There is no indication when schools will reopen. Cyprian believes that when they do open, the school year will resume with no breaks at all and will end just before Christmas rather than early November.

For now, our major challenge is being able to provide enough funding for food. If you can help in any way during this most difficult time we will be ever grateful.

Donations may be made through the website, either through PayPal or with credit card. Australian and Canadian taxpayers will receive a charitable tax receipt.

With a grateful heart,

Sandi Carlile
Eating Stone Organisation Kenya 2008 – Board Member & Trustee