The story of the building of the new CHES House is really a story of the many facets of CHES; all coming together to fulfill a dream.
My CV is as long as it is boring and has absolutely nothing to do with construction in Kakamega. After retirement I spent a number of years, working, off and on, in the education sector in Africa. During that time I heard many horror stories of construction in Africa; under bidding and leaving projects incomplete unless more money was paid, skimming materials and reselling them were only two common threads in an industry that appeared unregulated both at the contracting and tradesman level.
I had direct experience with the building of two schools; one a village school in Zambia and one a multimillion dollar school in Tanzania. The Zambian school was a dream of the village. A meeting was held and people of the local municipality, the local training college (which I represented), the Education department, and the village elders all attended. Promises were made and all promises were broken. The villagers decided to build their own school which they did from local wood. The fruits of their labor ended up as a pile of termite dung within months. With the help of myself, another financial donor, and the villagers who made by hand, two cement blocks a day, a three-room elementary school with office was built and furnished. In Tanzania a multimillion dollar school was built with dining facilities, boarding facilities, library, high tech office, computer labs, science labs, and classrooms. It was built under USA supervision. It opened with 2 x 4s and spikes sticking up in the air, ditches across pathways, paint cans rolling off roofs, and student desks with sharp nails sticking through the back supports. The 10000 sq. ft. library floor was replaced three times.
Every CHES agent who had been to Kakamega during the conception or planning of the new CHES House recommended that a board member be on site during the building process. With great trepidation I became that person.
But the story really begins with two donors, one a golfer who decided to spend her 65th birthday raising money for CHES. The other, a supporter who upon retirement donated a significant amount of money to CHES. Together they made the dream of a CHES House of our own a real possibility. Rebecca Odhiambo, our Kenyan office manager, went way beyond her pay grade, choosing a plot and organizing the purchase of the property, which was to be the site of the new CHES House. The Canadian board spent much time considering design ideas that would fit the budget and the plot size. Armed with a pretty much agreed on building concept, some recommendations from the Canadian board, and a host of concerns, I made three trips to Kenya.
The first trip was really to learn about the local construction industry, the regulations, building procedures, the kind of builders available, and costs. I interviewed: builders recommended by the CHES Canada board, County officials, builders recommended by local contacts, and contractors recommended by CHES Kenya Board members. Of all those interviewed, it was a recommendation from one of our long time employees Beatrice Adda and another from one of the CHES Kenya board members Everlyne Musalai we went with Mr. Mukolwe. Mr. Mukolwe turned out to be extremely knowledgeable and had had a reputation for integrity. After four lengthy interviews, he offered much in the way of considerable insight into regulations, best practices in the construction industry in Kenya, and a businesslike way of tendering and supervising the project. For all this he never asked a shilling. He was selected to do a working design and be the contractor for the whole project. An interesting sidelight is he, himself, had been a sponsored student when young.
The second trip was to oversee the construction of Phase 1: the building of a perimeter wall – an essential step in securing the materials for future construction. During that time a building committee was formed consisting of a CHES Kenya board member Brenda Mbaisi, the office manager Rebecca, the contractor, and myself. The contractor had a reasonable bidding process. Bidders were vetted to ensure a record of completion and financial viability and unit estimates of material were made available to gauge the reasonableness of the competing bids. The contract was let to a company operating locally and the winning builder completed the wall on time and on budget.
Trip three was to complete the building of the CHES office and the accommodation for CHES agents. Because of the efficiency with which the first phase was completed, the same contractor and the same builder were used. Material estimates were the same as used for Phase 1. During the building of Phase 2 the contractor visited the site daily, I visited about twice weekly, the building committee visited regularly, and the full Kenyan board had the opportunity to visit the site as it neared completion. Things progressed smoothly in spite of the fact the builder had to be away from the site on two occasions for extended periods of time: one for the funeral of his father in India and one for a medical procedure in India. I left just before Christmas 2016 with just the finishing touches needing to be done. Thanks to the persistence of the two agents there, Alex Mullins and Jeff Yu, some deficiencies were spotted and the money withheld until the deficiencies were corrected to the satisfaction of the agents and the building committee. In spite of their youth – a handicap in African culture and a difference in cultural values – our agents held firm and with Brenda’s conciliation skills the problems were finally resolved to the satisfaction of both sides.
Our very own CHES Kenya house opened in the spring of 2017. Phase 3, which was to act as safe house for girls in need and extra accommodation on the occasions an extra agent is in Kakamega, could not be finished with the money available although plans and estimates were in place. CHEBAK girls, such as Edeth, who had done emergency work in the office and saw girls in need given a safe place to stay, made a compelling case for the completion of Phase 3. With the support of the Canadian Chair Joy Ruffeski; the fundraising ability of Canadian board members Carol Gilchrist and Chris and Catriona Harker; and the generosity of Sandy Rothwell who donated more than 50% of the cost of our Safe House, Phase 3 was completed in October 2017.
The new CHES House has a number of benefits to the CHES program. In spite of the loss of outdoor space and the lovely garden, the financial benefits of moving from an aging building to a new one and from a rented building to one we own will provide sustainable lasting benefits to CHES. An increase in scholarships and additional funds for desired programs will result. The chairs and members of both CHES Canada and Kenya, many agents, Kenyan employees, members of the Kenyan building industry, CHEBAK girls, and of course the two major donors whose contribution initiated he whole project all contributed to the realization of the new CHES House.