Simbolei Community Assistance Association

Archive for the ‘Construction project’ Category

Building Progress: The Outside Walls are Done

Saturday, March 9th, 2019

I’ll get back to library organzing and household packing next week, but this week we got a whole crop of new photos from Richard showing the finished exterior walls.

Side Entrance to the library/laboratory section of the building.

Interior courtyard where we will hold morning assembly.

As you can see, the construction scaffolding is still in place or scattered around, but we will soon have that cleared away. I couldn’t wait to show you the beautiful building.

The next step will be building interior partitions which are of cement block rather than stone. Then windows will go in and we will be ready for electrical wiring, tiling and painting. The crew has already started on some of the interior partitions.

Richard standing within the interior walls of my future office!

The main stairwell now has walls too.

Richard will have one more week in Kenya to wrap things up, including arrangements for the arrival of our shipping container of library books, lab equipment and personal effects, ensuring the cottage and building site have good security while he is in the US, arranging medical insurance, transportation etc, etc for our final relocation to Kenya in July. Felix Sirma continues to be our right hand man and amazing family friend. We could not do it without him.

We also could not do this without all of you, our friends, family and supporters. Keep sending your encouragment, keep praying if you do that, and, as always, financial support is always welcome. Your generosity of time, talent and resources is an inspiration to us.

We have some new and exciting volunteer activities coming up in the fall of 2019 and winter of 2020, so if you’ve been contemplating joining us in Kenya for a couple of weeks, a month, or a couple of months, a year, whatever, stay tuned. I will have more information about these activities in the next few weeks.  If you can’t wait that long, send me an email at or on Facebook at Simbolei Academy and I will fill you in. Happy planning!


Construction News!

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

The new year begins with Richard Kaitany and the crew finishing the rough construction and beginning interior finishing. Everything is finally coming together for our school opening, January 2020.

In this picture, the workers position the cut stone in preparation for creating the last walls.

This is the wall they can finish in one day. Then , the wall needs to cure overnight before they continue the next day. 

And in this photo you can see the back wall finished. In the days since this photo was taken, all the second floor walls were finished.

So, what’s next?  Here in Michigan, I am clearing out and packing up accumulation from 20 years raising a family in this house. Our house here will go on the market in April. In Kenya, Richard and the crew are ready to begin interior finishing of the first four classrooms, the science laboratory and the library. A huge thank you to the Presbyterian Church of Okemos in Michigan for providing funds for interior finishing and microscopes for the science laboratory!

If you or someone you know would be interested in sponsoring the library or one or more of the classrooms, let us know!

Also, over the next few weeks, I’m going to start posting about how I am preparing for the move, with photos and stories about the new tools and processes I am attempting to master, from efficient ways to do laundry without a washing machine to making cheese and planning coursework.  I will also post reviews of some great books about Kenya and East Africa so you can read up on the context of Simbolei Academy.

We’re moving right along!


The Roof is On

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Here it is, folks, the last day of roofing!  At the end of February, we finished the entire roof of the main building. The next construction step will be to begin finishing the walls, doors and windows on the northwest wing, which is at the far right in this picture. These will be the first classrooms for students who will be entering in January 2020.

In the meantime, we will continue to use the “soccer field” to grow maize to help fund construction.

Here in the U.S., volunteers continue to clean, catalog and pack more than 6000 books for the Simbolei Community Library. Also, March 25-31 is our annual Schuler Book Days for Simbolei fundraiser. You can join the fun by shopping at Schuler Books in Okemos, Michigan and saying “Simbolei” at check out. 20% of your purchase price will be donated to Simbolei by Schuler Books. Or, online, you can shop at and enter “KENYA” in the coupon box to donate 20% of your purchase to Simbolei.

Every day we appreciate all you do to help make the dream of Simbolei Academy a reality. Things are happening fast now and Andrea and Richard and family are busy preparing for relocation to Kenya. Let us know if you would like to volunteer or learn more about Simbolei by emailing

Second Floor Is Going Up

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

I haven’t posted on the blog in a while, but don’t let that fool you, Simbolei has been busy!  We’ve been holding fundraisers (Riffs for the Rift and Alternative Christmas Market) and more importantly, we are now well into winter construction season. Richard K is on the ground in Kenya and working with Felix and the crew of Mr. Majani to prepare the second floor skeleton so we can put on the roof. Here are a couple of recent pictures to bring you up to speed.

Second floor pillars ready to be poured last week.

Richard stands beneath the second floor forms. Soon the roof will be going on.

Progress is slow but steady and we are pleased to have good weather for construction. The high quality of the work being done is evident in the beauty of the finished results.

Finally, we have a new little addition to our dairy herd. Welcome Agnes (daughter of Alsace) to the Simbolei family!

Thank you to all of you who continue to support our journey. As the roof goes on and the plan comes together, we can see our dreams and the dreams of Kamariny community coming true.

We Are Building a School: Tunajenga Shule

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

In planning for Summer Literacy 2017 I realized that due to the excellent English skills of our cooperating teachers and our manager, Felix, my Kiswahili has gotten pretty rusty over the years. I am now on a “crash course” to brush up my basic skills, and thus, the title of today’s post which simply reads “We are building a school” in Kiswahili.

It’s important to remember often that though longterm goals can seem distant, each practical step brings them closer to completion. In January, Richard and the crew finished putting on the second floor “deck.” This summer I hope to move stone for the second floor walls, put in a new water tank to catch rainwater, and repaint the volunteer cottage, along with conducting our literacy outreach workshops. I will be joined by two or three volunteers this year, so we will keep busy.

I’ll be posting more about summer preparations as we move along. For today, here is a picture Felix took with his phone last winter of our crew putting on the second floor.

So Many Reasons to be Thankful: 2016 in Review

Friday, November 25th, 2016

Once again it’s time to look back on the year to review where where we started and where we ended up. It’s been a good year for Simbolei.

In January, the building crew poured the main staircase and the second floor deck as they wrapped up the building season.

Showing the main entrance area of the school which will have a balcony on the second floor.

The building crew finished the front entrance pillars and the second floor deck. 

In June and July, we had our biggest volunteer group ever, as 11 people arrived  in Iten to share books, stories and a puppet show with students in seven nearby primary schools.  Volunteers also toured local attractions and explored Iten, including participating in or spectating at the Iten Marathon.

Teachers with the puppets and the storybook.

Teachers with the puppets and the storybook.


Back in Michigan, Schuler Books and Music in Okemos hosted a successful fundraiser during the release party for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Schuler Books contributed 30% of sales during the release party to Simbolei, raising over $4600 for construction and literacy programs!

Schuler Books employees present Andrea and Richard Kaitany with the donation.

Schuler Books employees present Andrea and Richard Kaitany with the donation.

October brought Riffs for the Rift, another great community event with food, music and lots of support for Simbolei.


Volunteers from East Lansing High School at Riffs for the Rift


Guests enjoy a Kenyan meal at Riffs for the Rift.

Deacon Earl and the Congregation were the highlight of the evening. They've promised to come back next year, bigger and better.

Deacon Earl and the Congregation entertain at Riffs for the Rift. 

Now, we are rolling into December once again. Richard Kaitany will leave for Kenya on December 1st to continue construction on Simbolei Academy. Progress on Simbolei Academy and our literacy outreach has been consistent and steady thanks to all of you for y0ur support. By this time next year we hope to be finishing up construction and organizing curriculum and hiring staff. The journey to this point has been wonderful, but the best is yet to come.

Construction Continues as We Play Catch Up and the Amazing Mr. Majani Keeps At It

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Over the past four years, we’ve worked out a division of labor for construction and literacy workshops that worked out pretty well.  Richard was in Kenya for the last part of December and the first part of January, during which time he got most of the construction work done. I, along with a few volunteers, traveled to Kenya for the month of July to organize and conduct the literacy workshops and check on day to day maintenance of the volunteer cottage and security of the construction site, plus review the financial book keeping, file government paperwork and plan the next season’s construction work with help from the building committee. But, this year we learned about flexibility and what we can really do when the pressure is on.

Richard planned to arrive in December, prepare the site and forms for the concrete and pour concrete before he headed home. But, what he found was getting timber for the forms, getting all the proper paperwork filed, renting and placing the metal “trays” that hold the cement while it dries and also placing the metal framework for the concrete just took more time and money than he had available.

So, for the first time he left without finishing everything he had planned. The good side is that since Felix Sirma joined us as site manager a year ago, we are able to do many more things “long distance” than we could before. So, even though Richard is back in the US, construction work continues at the site. Here are a couple of recent photos.

Placing the metal framework for the cement pouring.

Showing the main entrance area of the school which will have a balcony on the second floor.


Now, look closely at this picture. You can see Mr. Majani, our construction supervisor on the roof on crutches.  The plan was that he would supervise work from the ground as he was badly injured in a motorcycle accident a few months ago and is not completely recovered. But, he is as eager as we are for work to go forward. And is he can keep at it, so can we!

Crutches don’t stop construction supervisor Mr. Majani from getting up on the roof to supervise.

As construction moves along, we are making plans for volunteers to travel to Kenya on July 2-10 for the literacy outreach workshops. If you are interested in joining us, send us a message at


Look What You’ve Done!: Simbolei Academy is Moving Forward

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

Today I received more photos from the construction site in Kenya. I especially wanted to show the picture below, which I happen to know Felix Sirma obtained by climbing a tree to get the right angle on the construction site. It shows the metal plates being laid so that concrete can be poured.

Humor me for a minute. Stop and look at the size of this project. This photo shows HALF of the main building. This image just brought home to me the size of the project we have undertaken and the amount of work that has gone into it thus far. After this portion of the roof is poured, the remaining work will be the roof, the second floor walls and the interior finishing.  So, yes, we have some things to do yet. Yes, we still need to raise money and do some hard physical labor, but we ARE getting there. As the motto on our homepage points out, all of us together can accomplish amazing things and this building and the educational opportunities it will provide are amazing things.

We hope to keep construction going on schedule through this year so that we can open in January 2018.  With your continued support we will make it. We have come so far with so little that I know we can do the rest. Please consider how you might further our work this year. Also, please consider serving either as a volunteer in Kenya or as a board member in the US. We have positions open in both areas as well as lots of other volunteer and internship opportunities. Send us an email at to find out more. But, don’t forget to take a few minutes and celebrate our successes so far.

Andrea carrying books for literacy outreach, 2015. We are now accepting applications for volunteers for literacy outreach, 2016, July 2-10, 2016.

2016 “Winter” Construction Moves Apace

Monday, December 21st, 2015

Here in the US it’s the shortest day of the year and we are moving into the deep cold of winter. But, in Kamariny, every day all year includes 12 hours of daylight and the weather has been great for construction as Richard and the crew prepare to put the second floor “deck” on the main building. They have been working hard and Richard has been a little more “hands on” to make up for Mr. Majani’s decreased mobility.

Felix Sirma, the project manager has sent lots of photos. Here are a few of the things that have been happening.

Richard and the architect, Kipsang, plan the work of preparing to pour cement.

The crew unloads timber that will be used to create a frame for the poured concrete.

Cutting the support poles to the correct length.

Building the scaffolding.

The scaffolding is finished.

Richard examines the scaffolding.

Richard and the crew plan to pour concrete for half of the deck using the wooden scaffolding plus the reinforcing metal which they are now building. Then, most of the timber can be reused to build scaffolding for the second half of the deck. That second half will be poured with my supervision when I am there in July. I am excited that construction is moving fast enough for us to now have two building sessions per year.

We are working hard to get the funds together now to finish the deck in July, so fundraising over the next few months will be very important. Then will come the roof , the second floor walls and interior finishing.  Simbolei is being built board by board and stone by stone, one wheelbarrow of cement at a time. It is slow, but we are tenacious and the time is growing close. Our opening date of January 2018 is definitely within reach now.

As we close another year, Richard and I and the people of Kamariny/Iten are filled with gratitude for the support we have received to overcome each obstacle and build toward the future. The young women of this rural area will soon fill this building with learning, chatter and laughter. We are so happy to have you with us on this journey.



Mr. Majani Inspires Us All as He Overcomes Injury

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Richard hasn’t sent pictures from the construction site yet, but he is on the ground and getting to work. Currently, he and Felix Sirma, John Serem and our construction contractor, Mr. Majani, are preparing the cement forms and collecting construction materials.

You may remember Mr. Majani from an earlier post. He supervises all our construction with advice from Kipsang, our architect. Over the three years we have been slowly constructing Simbolei Academy, Mr. Majani has often mentioned his two young daughters, whom he hopes will attend our school. He has sometimes wished construction could go more quickly so that his daughters do not reach high school age before the school is ready.

Like most Kenyans, Mr. Majani does not own a car. Last year, he purchased a motorcycle so that he could more easily travel home from construction projects on the weekends rather than relying on public transport.  Unfortunately, while traveling home one weekend on his motorcycle he was struck by a hit and run driver, severely injuring his legs. The doctors at first thought they might need to amputate one leg, but were able to save both despite the severe injuries.

Richard and I assured Mr. Majani that our project would wait for him. We trust his judgment and his honesty and did not want to switch contractors regardless how long the recovery period might be. However, when Mr. Majani was informed in October that Richard was making plans for the winter construction season, he sent word that he would be on the job as soon as Richard was ready to begin.

Currently, he is making his way around the construction site on crutches, taking frequent breaks to rest. We have provided housing and meals for him on the property so that he does not need to travel home in the evenings and so that he can rest during the day as needed. He is determined to do everything within his power to keep construction moving ahead and complete the project on time.

The faith and determination of people like Mr. Majani keep us going and inspire us that no matter how daunting the obstacles may be, the only right way to face them is head on.

Mr. Majani at the construction site last year, before his motorcycle accident.

The Great Rift Valley is part of a huge tectonic rift in the earth's crust that also created the Red Sea and the valley of the Jordan River.

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Simbolei Girls Secondary School, Kenya