Archive for May, 2015

Kibera – the Slum

May 3, 2015

Today I removed my wedding and engagement rings for the first time in almost 25 years. But more on that later.

This morning was a super early start for Bill, Lindi and Cathy & Paul as they went to the ANZAC day dawn service. They had a wonderful time: enjoyed Cathy’s vocal solo, had a great breakfast, met an amazing array of people.

Lindi had a wonderful chat with the High Commissioner (even though she didn’t know that’s who he was) and another great chat with the deputy high commissioner (who it turns out she knew from Uni days!) How cool is that!?

And me? Well I finally slept. And slept and slept. Which was great because I really have not slept much at all lately.

Last night at dinner there was much discussion about our impending walk in to the Kibera Slum. We had all basically decided that Lindi would sit this one out – it’s apparently quite an experience and we were all concerned that it could be overwhelming without having Mark go in at the same time and not being able to debrief properly. We left it that Lindi was going to ‘wait for a sign’ overnight. When they collected me after the ANZAC service Lindi announced ‘I’m coming with you!’ Her first waking thought had been ‘I can’t come all this way and not go in!’

So off we went in 2 cars and some borrowed ‘wellingtons’ from our British friends (the ground in Kibera is all raw sewerage – you can’t wear your shoes). We left all our jewelery (this is the bit where I had to remove my rings!) and left everything in the car in a secure compound.

We met our armed guards (!!!) Jeff and Patrick and set of on our 1 hour walk into Kibera – approx 4km square and home to about 1 million people.

Apart from our guards, our group consisted of Sally and her husband Stuart who are the pioneers of the Lunchbowl project ( that runs the feeding project in the slum that we were visiting (as well as the Angel Kindergarten). They brought their 4 gorgeous children with them. Then there was Cathy, Lindi, Bill & me and 2 Kiberans who always walk in with them for local protection.

Kibera is amazing. I don’t really know how to explain it. There are some photos here on the AMS Facebook page.

There is also a good description and some photos here on the ‘Kipepeo’ page (Another wonderful initiative employing women in Kibera)

We visited 2 homes – firstly Edwin & Grace (the blind boy that we met the other day.) Grace has 9 children, 2 of them blind. 2 of them are still at home with her and her husband died several years ago. They live in a 2 room abode (about 3m square each room). Dirt floor, corrugated iron / cloth walls. They eat, sleep, cook etc in this one area.

They were delighted to have us visit, thanking us over and over. Edwin has a Casio keyboard (battery operated, a present from his big brother) that he loves play. His favourite activity is to sing and play songs that praise God.

Next stop Phyllis’ house. It was pretty much the same but with a grand sweep of red fabric decorating the area. I think her home was only the one room (3×3) but she has a television and was very proud that we noticed.

Again, we were blown away by the pride and appreciation. They were truly honored to have us visit.

Off to the compound where we were privileged and humbled to help feed 400+ kids. Again, these are the orphans and the vulnerable and need to qualify to come in for lunch each Saturday. (More here:

The 400+ kids were led into the hall at 9am and were quite happy to sit until lunch time, singing and praying. Once we arrived they began with the older kids singing and dancing for everyone before lunch was served.

It was  amazing to see where they cook for such a crowd – just 2 huge vats over a wood fired stove in a hut outside the hall. These were then carried inside and served out to the waiting children. The whole process was incredible.

An incredible production line materialized (made AMS camp feel like a picnic!) Plates were handed from person to person along lines until the entire hall had eaten.

Each plate had 1/2 banana, rice, stew (it was a special day as meat was in the stew) and a sachet of fresh milk. The kids sat patiently and passed the meal along waiting for their turn. We have never even dreamt of seeing anything like it.

April 21

May 3, 2015

Back in Nairobi …

We met Sally who runs the ‘Angel Kindergarten’ where we are running our music program and her 18 year old daughter Jess, who is her right hand man. We travelled with them (and all our classroom gear!) to the preschool which is on the edge of the Kibera slum.

The Angel Kindergarten is a cheerful little place with beautiful murals by Jess covering every wall. There are 130 kids ages 2-6 within this little compound on a normal school day. To qualify to attend ‘Angel’, the kids need to be identified as the poorest of the poor – one of the criteria being that they receive ‘one meal a day’ or less at home.

It’s actually school holidays here right now but Sally organised for 20 of their 5&6 year olds to come in for the morning so our teachers could teach them with us. This was what we had been waiting for – so exciting to actually see the kindy and meet the kids!!!

We spent a couple of hours helping and watching our new teachers teach classes – and they were fabulous. They learn faster than anything we’ve ever seen and they are so keen. They were absolutely beautiful with the children who in turn were patient, smiley, obedient and loved everything we did.

We met Edwin – a 14 year old blind boy and his mum Grace – who had walked an hour to get to us. Edwin normally boards at a school for the blind but as its school holidays, Sally had invited them to come along because he loves music. It was a highlight for me to involve him in our activities. He sat just outside the classroom but has excellent hearing and joined in our songs with all the props from his spot outside the room.

There were a few tears during all of this. (Not the kids!) We all managed to hold it together, but only just.

The children were then served a hot lunch of potatoes onion and rice (which they get everyday) and we were thrilled that this was also given to our 4 teachers – and they will also be fed lunch each day that they teach at ‘Angel’. What an absolute blessing!

We’ve learned so much already. What is going to work the way we ‘normally’ do it and what needs tweaking. We are making adjustments as we go along. Our teachers are unfamiliar with technology and finding the right tracks on our whizz bang electric keyboard was just going to take too much time. They have great pitch and sing beautifully – so we are going with unaccompanied songs and it has been so much better!

In the afternoon we had late lunch at a cafe and ventured through the ‘Masai Market’ at Galleria.

Lindi was in her element but I was very stressed and couldn’t buy anything. Turns out I’m a terrible negotiator! I can’t bargain and I don’t like it. Just tell me how much something is and I will decide if I can afford it or not. Ended up leaving – lindi with big smile and me with high blood pressure.

In the evening Lindi and I went to a lovely concert that Cathy was hosting at the West Nairobi School. It was beautifully run and the kids were great. We loved the choirs!


May 3, 2015

Going on safari was not part of the original plan. However, we have been convinced that it is silly to come all this way and not do it! So here we are…

It’s really hard to describe where we are and what it’s like here. We’ve had several conversations about how we will answer ‘how was it’ questions when we get home – it’s too big an experience for ordinary words.

Yesterday we got up in the dark (again!) and were on the road early to travel the 7 hours in our van with driver ‘Foraj’ to Masai Mara.

Our 7 hours started off on OK roads and we had been warned that they would only last for an hour or so. Very true. For the most part it was a bone jarring bumpy experience with gorgeous country side to distract us from the fact that it was very loud and we were quite uncomfortable.

We travelled across the ‘Rift Valley’ and through villages and rural areas. The closer we got the more animals there were and the louder the soundtrack to ‘the Lion King’ ran riot in my head. The scenery was beautiful.

At first there were goats and cows galore but then we spotted our first gazelles & zebras and then giraffes and Impala! Once we entered the national park (paid our fees and has our passports checked) we got our first glimpse of elephants, giraffes and warthogs (I love Pumba!)

By this stage ‘the Lion King’ soundtrack was wearing thin (still on a loop in my head) and I made a conscious attempt to switch to Toto’s ‘Africa’ for a bit of relief.

When we finally arrived we all got a bit of a shock. Lindi and I had both googled this place – the Mara Serena on the Masai Mara National Park- and it looked ‘nice’. It’s not nice, it’s spectacular. It is 6 star luxury on the escarpment overlooking the plains of the national park. The views from everywhere are astonishing. Our rooms are in little accommodation pods running down the hillside and every single one looks out over the plains. It’s brilliantly designed. It’s stunning!

Game drive at 4pm – This time there were buffalo, hippos, crocodiles and beautiful birds. The highlight was a cheetah with 2 tiny Cubs right at the side of the road. The cheetah had killed a Thompson gazelle. It was pretty amazing to watch lunch in action.

A couple of hours later we celebrated being here and Lindi’s 20 years at AMS (this week) with a bubbly by the pool/ fire/ amazing view and then had a lovely dinner.

We were heading off to bed when the Masai arrived in their bright red outfits, singing their fantastic harmonies. They paraded through the restaurant and sang to each table before moving down to the lounge area. We watched for a while and of course ended up being roped in to join their ‘dancing’ (jumping!!) even tho we were way too tired. I’m not sure if I have ever laughed so much.

April 20

May 3, 2015

A couple of things I missed because we were beyond tired last night: 

Our 4 teachers really are gorgeous. We are so inspired by their passion for what we are doing and their desire to be really good at it all. They came up with some great phrases (which Lindi and I will now steal for our own classes!) – for example, when handing out our little egg shakers to the ‘class’, Simon said -‘ I am now going to give you a most precious magic egg!’ Awwww. Fabulous.  

Some of you may know that Lindi and I have an odd history of turning up in unplanned matching attire. This was especially noticeable when we arrived in Nairobi from completely different parts of the world and looked almost exactly the same in jeans and orange floppy tops. And it’s been more than once – sometimes I don’t notice until we look at the photos!

April 19

May 3, 2015

Here we are in amazing Africa!

We arrived on time on Sunday evening at about 8.15 and AMS head teacher Miss Lindi (slightly delayed having flown Sydney/ Dubai) met us at the luggage carousel at about 10pm.

Lindi and I made it out and found our driver Alex without any hassle while Bill did a tango with customs over the Casio in the big box that we brought for our classroom here. About 30 minutes later he emerged having bargained them down to about 80USD to get it into Kenya. He wasn’t thrilled but we moved on!

We piled into the car and requested a quick stop at a supermarket on the way to the guesthouse. On arrival at the market our car was checked by armed guards- the boot, glovebox etc – and at entry to the market on foot our bags were checked as well. Ok! High security here in Nairobi.

We went via Cathy’s house (poor Cathy – was after midnight by this point!) and she escorted us to the Kijiji Guest House. So cute! We were all exhausted and fell into bed asap.

Our pick up was 8am which felt a little rough after some long flights and some body clock issues…. But off we went to meet Elizabeth – founder of Ghetto Classics – and our 4 new teachers; Simon, Celine, Joseph & Antony. There were very keen and very capable.

We trained them for several hours and we got lots done! They asked some great questions and loved ‘Being the class’ to practice teaching on each other. Lindi and I somehow managed to not appear too comatose and we had a fabulous time! We covered most of the material for term 1 classes – all the songs, music appreciation activities and percussion work. They each left with specific activities to practice before our next session.

In the afternoon we all visited their home turf – the Korogocho slum – poorest of the Nairobi slums. What an experience.

Amazingly the people seem happy. There are thousands of shoes for sale by the roadside (only one of each on display to avoid the pair being stolen) and everything and anything is up for cash.

We arrived at the school where ‘Ghetto Classics’ meets. Our 4 teachers are part of the group, playing sax x 2, trombone and clarinet. We were surprised to learn that most of the orchestra had come in (it’s school holidays here) and assembled to play – just for us.

It was very humbling indeed. They were so excited to have us visit and they were actually really good! They played a few hymns for us, the Kenyan National Anthem and a couple of other pieces. We were quite blown away with their level of achievement! Better than many school orchestras that we’ve heard and totally mind blowing considering their circumstances!

Elizabeth drove us the hour and a half back to the guest house and we learned LOTS about the slums, Nairobi, Ghetto Classics, our new teachers and plenty more on our way home.

Cathy met us as we arrived and we bundled off to her house around the corner. It was great to see her hubby Paul and their kids again after so many years! We took the enormous suitcase full of gorgeous new clothes generously donated by friends at Wicks Surf in Sydney (it was huge and heavy!!) and enjoyed watching the kids discover a whole new wardrobe.

By this stage we really had ‘had it’. (And we had to set the alarm for a 6am pick up to go on safari!)

Music for Kibera.

May 3, 2015

It’s been amazing to watch AMS in Africa come together.

For several years now, my husband has been scheming and brewing and trying to come up with a way of taking the AMS course material, concept and training to kids far less well off than our average clientele. He loves what we do at home but is aware of millions of kids without the remotest possibility of a good music education (or any at all).

Former AMS teacher Cathy Sampson is one of the most motivated people I’ve ever met. She has been living in Nairobi, Kenya with husband and 3 teenagers for the past 4 years. Cathy caught the vision and helped pull the whole thing together.

Cathy introduced us to Sally McGreevy, a wonderful British lady living in Nairobi who runs the Lunch Bowl Project ( and Elizabeth Njoroge, a fabulous Kenyan lady who runs Ghetto Classics (

Together we agreed on our goal:

  1. To bring top quality music education to kids living in the Kibera Slum through the AMS curriculum.

Sally was the link here – she runs a Kindergarten on the outskirts of Kibera and offered us a room there. Kibera is approx 4square kms of slum and home to almost 1 million people. The poorest of the poor.

  1. To train local musicians who have grown up through the ‘Ghetto Classics’ program in Korogocho Slum, thereby giving them employment as Kenyan Music educators.

Elizabeth was the link here – she established the program in 2008 and found us 4 young musicians who were passionate about becoming teachers.

So a year later we had teachers, to train, kids to teach and a classroom to use. Off to Nairobi to get started!