My Kenya link

When I was 18 I spent a year in Kenya, teaching at a ‘Harambee’ (self-help) school on an island in Lake Victoria, as set up by the charity Project Trust. It is a remote part of a third world country. It was a formative experience. I learnt some essential truths, like that we Brits are all pretty rich and lucky, and also that wealth is not much related to happiness.
I stayed in touch with one of my students, Raphael, through thick and thin (which, in his case, included a near-death bus crash), from the era of letters to the era of email.

Raphael (centre) with wife Esther and father Frederick
Raphael (centre) with wife Esther and father Frederick

He got a job as water resources officer for the local prison, and has worked there since. He has named his children after my family members, and I returned the compliment, naming our son Raffie after him (and our elder son, Boris, takes a middle name from Raphael’s father).

Adam Innocent, Raphael's youngest, all set for school
Adam Innocent, Raphael’s youngest, all set for school

While it had long been on my agenda to visit again, children intervened, and it was only in 2008, accompanied by Maddie, aged 11, that I made it out there, for a moving reunion (plus a little holiday where Maddie and I went on safari and saw elephants, lions, hippo, buffalo …)
They are in a part of the world where, when the rains are poor and the crops fail, people starve. This happened once a few years ago and again, this year. Raphael suggested that, if I provided some funding, he could hire a truck, drive to the Tanzanian border (not so far away, and basic foods were available at a more manageable price in Tanzania), fill up the truck, and drive back to Kenya to distribute the food to needy families. The local authority had lists of needy families, and he would work with them to arrange the distribution. For the last few years I have not given any money to any other charities, but have had enough to support this (and schooling for HIV orphans, organised by Raphael via a local NGO that he set up), so I could provide the funding (£2400) and the trip could go ahead.  The recent trip happened two weeks ago, and here are the pictures.

The sacks of grain and the queue
The sacks of grain and the queue
Measuring Out
Measuring Out

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Adam Kilgarriff

I'm a scientist who has set up and runs a small company. I'm married (to Gill Lamden) with three children, Boris (22), Maddie (18) and Raffie (9) (as at today, 28 January 2015, in case I forget to update!) We live in Brighton, UK. Last November (2014) I found I had bowel cancer (stage 5; not curable; only 'manageable'). We've been adjusting to that since (and it is what provoked me to start the blog) My scientific area is linguistics, with my specialisms being corpus linguistics, computational linguistics, and lexicography - or, best of all, the intersection of all three. Since 2004, my company, Lexical Computing Ltd., has been providing a web service, the Sketch Engine, to linguists and lexicographers wanting to find out about words, using corpus-driven methods. Customers include Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Collins, Macmillan, Le Robert, Dictionary.com and around a hundred universities worldwide.

6 thoughts on “My Kenya link”

  1. I see that this remote part of a third world country has a prison and presumably therefore a judiciary, a police force, etcetera. Crime seems to be endemic to the human situation. Little wonder then that so much of our entertainment is crime-centered. Do we all secretly admire the criminal ? Hanker after crime ? Adam’s commitment to this remote part of a third world country and the commitment of Barry and Dorothy down the street to the plight of the Palestinians counteract the seeming prevalence of evil.

  2. This is a heart-warming story and made me think that many people might want to contribute to the cause if there were a ‘justgiving’ or similar page.
    I have a tenuous link to your experience – my dad was Fisheries Officer (a civil servant in the then colony of Uganda) on Lake Victoria for 12 years till independence. Both my brothers and I were born there (my elder sister born in UK before my mum joined dad and my younger sister born in Fiji which was his next posting). Unfortunately I don’t remember Uganda at all as left too young and VSO sent me to West Africa, not East as I’d hoped! But several swahili words are part of our family ‘idiolect’: kwisha (finished), pole-pole (slowly), uku (over there, dawa (medicine) – sorry about spelling as I’m just guessing!

  3. Enjoyed reading about this very much Adam. I’ve always admired the fact that you maintained your contacts with Kenya so well, with such affection and generosity…..and to support these trips….wonderful! x

  4. It must have been a great experience! I consider travelling and experiencing foreign environments and societies as important as general education. Maybe it should be compulsory for every pupil at high school to spend some time on a different continent. It would benefit pupils all over the world I am sure!

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