Malezi Expansion Update

Malezi School is currently operating at maximum capacity with 170 students (a 300% increase since the relaunch in 2014)  and is no longer able to accept any new ones. With two of the five classrooms crudely partitioned to accommodate two different grade levels in the same room, the school is even a bit squeezed. It had become clear the time was ripe to expand.

   Artist's rendering of the new Malezi annex.

Artist's rendering of the new Malezi annex.

After a quiet campaign late in March, we reached our fundraising goal to construct a new annex that would house four new classrooms and a community library. The extra space would relieve some of the overcrowding in the main structure and, perhaps most importantly, enable Malezi to offer each grade of Primary School (currently it only goes up to class 5 out of 8 due to space constraints).

After wire transfers were completed and materials purchased, construction began early in April. To my excitement, it was looking like I would be able to attend the inauguration of the new building since I was scheduled to be in Kenya later in the month.

A Major Mishap

It is now early in July and construction is still not yet complete. What happened?

Kenya is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Residents take it as a given they will have to pay bribes to police and that their tax dollars, to put it lightly, will be misused. When dealing with slum dynamics (people who live in slums typically do so illegally, have no political leverage, and are not viewed favorably in the eyes of the government), corruption issues often become amplified. Such was the case for us and our expansion project.

   Teacher Grace signs the Land Purchase Agreement in the presence of the Area Chief.

Teacher Grace signs the Land Purchase Agreement in the presence of the Area Chief.

A little over a year ago, we went through the formal proceedings with the local government to purchase a small piece of land next to the school that we would eventually build the annex on. A Land Purchase Agreement was signed and money was paid.

Unfortunately, the "owners" of the land whose land we were buying were not present at this meeting—and should have been. They were not even written into the agreement. Our understanding, based in good faith, was that the government would pay them the agreed upon sum on their own. That, as we'd come to find out, did not happen.

Understandably, when we showed up with our building materials and started work on the new structure, the owners came along demanding payment. This set off a feud that took weeks of intense back and forth to resolve.

Over the years, I've witnessed Kenyan corruption on the periphery and I was personally burned once by somebody who I considered a friend and trusted 100%. This ordeal was particularly harrowing for me because it was hard to know what information to trust considering how much my faith had been rattled. Was I being taken for a ride?

At the end of the day, no, I was not being taken for a ride. There was a major mishap. On our side, we failed to effectively include the land owners in the purchase process, and the government seized an easy opportunity to pocket about $1,000. All of us — Malezi staff, local leadership, me and my project partners — have learned from this situation greatly.

Moving Forward

   A wall being built in Kitui Ndogo. May, 2016.    

A wall being built in Kitui Ndogo. May, 2016.

Though I am not privy to all the details of the arrangement made with the land owners, I understand they have been offered another comparable piece of land as an appeasement. We committed not to build on the land in question, which turned out to be a mixed blessing since adding the annex in an already squeezed space would have been chaotic, if not dangerous with 200 kids running around in it.

As for the expansion, we have been given another piece of land located about 400 meters from the main building. Unfortunately, we can't build on it just yet because we are waiting for the government to finish construction on a wall (pictured above) that separates the slum from the Moi Air Base used by the Kenya Air Force. Our land is in close proximity to the wall and we run the risk of having our structure demolished without apology or warning if we were to build now.

Though I have no firm ETA for when we can commence construction again, it is a top tier priority of both my project partners and the local leadership in the community. As soon as that wall is finished, we will start hammering away again and, hopefully, we won't have to wait too much longer for that to happen.

To end, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to the donors who made this project possible. I take matters of financial integrity and accountability seriously with my projects and am doing everything within my highly limited power to move things along. It really shouldn't be too much longer now.

C. LowmanComment