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Mzungu blog 2023

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

Fishing boats on Lake Victoria, Kenya
Fishing boats on Lake Victoria, Kenya

Our Chief Executive, Geoff Coleman, led a team from Mildmay, which travelled to Kenya last week to visit our colleagues in Mildmay Kenya. Here is his record of the week.

(Mzungu is a Bantu word that means "wanderer", originally pertaining to spirits. The term is currently used in predominantly Swahili-speaking nations to refer to white people, and dates back to the 18th century.)

Saturday 14th to Sunday 15th January 2023

Once again, I made the long overnight flight from Oxfordshire to Kisumu. This time I played smart, and instead of arriving on a weekday and going straight into the field, we arrived on Sunday at about mid-day and were able to rest. The result was that we were well-rested and ready to go on Monday morning.

This was perhaps one of the most complex trips we have organised, with three of the team flying out from London Heathrow, one from Manchester and the final team member from Geneva.

Monday 16th

The team split into two, with myself and Norma (Norma Martin, our Finance Manager) flying to Nairobi to meet with the Executive Director and Trustees from our Kenya Team and Peter and Ian (two of our Trustees) going to visit some of the work being carried out by the team in Siayah and Vihiga focussing on sexual health education and gender-based violence education workshops. Both teams had very positive days, and the field team, in particular, were extremely impressed by the Mildmay Kenya Team and their work.

Tuesday 17th

Once again, the team split, and this time it was Ian’s turn to accompany Norma to the Mildmay Kenya Team office in Kisumu to try to get a look at their up-to-date management account.

Geoff, Peter and Naggib (Trustee), who had joined the team on Monday, went to the field and travelled to one of the remote islands to see more of the excellent work being carried out by the Mildmay Kenya Team. On the return journey, they visited the newly built youth centre in Bondo. This safe space for youngsters was a first for the county, with counselling and testing facilities available alongside a range of youth activities in their own purpose-built building.

Young dancers in Bondo
Young dancers in Bondo

Unfortunately, the team visiting the Mildmay Kenya office had a very frustrating day being given the runaround by the Finance Team before retiring to the hotel for the evening. The evening was spent in a conversation between the whole team and the Mildmay Kenya Executive Director and one of her senior team leaders, where some of the issues were thrashed out.

Wednesday 18th

Wednesday morning was an opportunity for the teams to meet online with Trustees from both Mildmay Kenya and Mildmay UK. It was a fruitful meeting that laid the foundations for a way forward. Both sides could give their perspectives, and a basis for working together began to form.

Wednesday evening, the team split again, and Geoff and Naggib flew to Entebbe to meet up with Dr Simon Rackstraw, our Medical Director, who had flown direct to Entebbe from the UK, whilst Ian, Peter and Norma spent some time meeting with the Mildmay Kenya wider team.

Thursday 19th

With Ian, Peter and Norma flying home today, Geoff, Simon and Naggib first met with the leadership team of Deliverance Church Mbale before travelling the six-hour journey to Mbale. That evening was spent with Jan White, the Doctor who was Chairman of Kumi Hospital and was responsible for running Joy Hospice and various clinics.

Friday 20th

Today was, without a doubt, the most succinct day of the whole trip. The purpose of the visit to Kumi Hospital, where we were met by the Medical Director, Dr Raymond Malinda, was to establish an educational exchange programme for our trainee GPs on placement to Mildmay for four months. The idea was that they could spend at least two weeks experiencing work in a healthcare setting in a less developed country. It was clear by the end of our visit that Kumi Hospital would be an ideal location.

We finished the day by visiting JOY Hospice in Mbale, which Dr Jan White established in early 2000. The hospice was in desperate need of repair work and development but struggled to raise funds for this incredibly important work.

Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd

Today was the beginning of the return journey that would begin in Mbale at 06:00 and end for me back in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, at 11:00 the next day.


Whilst this was, without doubt, the most challenging visit I have had to Africa in the last five years, it also gave us the opportunity to examine exactly what it was that we were doing there and come up with the beginnings of a plan for the future of our work in this continent.

Anyone who has worked for an NGO in Africa will tell you that when it works well, it can deliver so much to some of the poorest communities in the world, but when it goes badly, it can be one of the most frustrating places in the world to work. That is why from time to time, it is good to reflect on what it is you are trying to achieve and whether or not you are anywhere close to achieving it. If you are, great. If you are not and you cannot see a way to change the outcome, then it is time to step back and rethink, and it may be time to get out because there is no point in reinforcing failure.

Look out for subsequent blog posts with an in-depth look at some of the places Geoff has mentioned here.