Mabati Rolling Mills Famine Relief Efforts of 2011

26 Jul

For the past few weeks I have been editing articles for our upcoming Safal Group Corporate Magazine. I have been working my way through contributions from virtually every country in which the Safal Group has operations. One of the articles that touched my heart and left me with a lump in my throat was a contribution from Kenya’s Mabati Rolling Mills and their efforts in Famine Relief during the devastating drought of 2011. I was humbled beyond belief and felt incredibly proud of the efforts of our Kenyan colleagues. Big thumbs up to the team from Mabati Rolling Mills!

I wish to share this article with you and hope it moves you as it had me…..

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Mabati Rolling Mills feed the starving in Kitui and Tseikuru….a moving account of their adventure

The UN declared the drought of 2011 as one of the worst to ever hit the continent of Africa. This catastrophe gravely affected the lives and survival of some of Africa’s most impoverished communities.

For the MRM Family a three-day odyssey to deliver foodstuffs to the residents of Mwingi and Kitui turned into an adventure over rough terrain but leaving all involved with an overwhelming sense of achievement in the end….Their journey started on an early October morning with frenzied activity to gather up last minute requirements needed for the relief expedition. The party then heads to Jogoo House in Nairobi’s Central Business District for the flagging off of the first phase of the journey to the Eastern Province by none other than Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka himself. Upon their arrival the honourable Vice President arrives, accompanied by Dr. Manu Chandaria. He thanks the MRM team for their efforts and emphasises the government’s commitment to starting irrigation schemes in arid and semi-arid lands to stop over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture. A few moments later, Mr Musyoka flags off the expedition, whose first stop is Kitui.

The traffic has mercy on the relief squad and without delays the Team arrives at Machakos at 2 pm where they stop for lunch. The procession includes a trailer from Bahari Forwarders, transporting the food, the bus carrying the MRM team, a Mitsubishi Lancer saloon carrying Mr Prakash Chauhan from Insteel Limited (a MRM affiliate) and a Pajero SUV carrying Mr Nandu Shah and his wife of Bouchard LTD. After two hours the team finally arrive in Kitui, where their arduous journey begins.

The people of Kitui  had already been informed of the arrival of their benefactors and had started gathering in the town square along with their administration officers. There is a burst of energy as the off-loading of the foodstuffs ensues and the enthusiasm and pace at which the MRM team work in distributing the goods is palpable. As another spectacular African dusk looms the Team makes their way to another town in Kitui called Oasis where more donations are to be handed out. Assisted by the two local chiefs and World Vision staff the donations take an hour to off load. At 7.45 pm, the Team is back on the road and headed to Masii for a quick dinner, tired from a productive first day of donations. Later they will hear about their efforts on the radio as the news anchor narrates the story of a company that has travelled a long distance to ensure the people of Kitui have something to smile about. MRM is making news.

On the second day of donations, the team gathers at the MRM offices where the second half of their journey begins. The town is Mwingi and the time is 3pm. The sun beats down relentlessly on the tired and hungry team. The town, reminiscent of an old “western movie town” and is abuzz with activity, the locals unaware of the visitors and their mission. The team embark on the next leg of their journey, 120km of dusty bumpy road between Mwingi and Tseikuru. The journey is laboured by mechanical problems of the truck ferrying the food. The rough terrain has taken its toll on the vehicles. Finally at 6pm there is a collective sigh of relief at the sight of the District Commissioner’s Office in Tseikuru. The exhausted team take up humble accommodation for the night in the small town.

At 7am the next morning the Team gathers at the District Commissioners Office from where they head to a remote school in Tsueni, some 30 km away. After about 30 minutes on the road through desolate terrain, the Team fear that they may have unwittingly crossed the border into Somalia, despite the assurance of the driver, (and Gym Trainer) Mr Eric Opembe that they hadn’t. Eric quips that they had in fact reached “the end of the world!” instead. The irony is further exasperated by a road sign that reads Water and Irrigation Board, given the austere absence of any semblance of water!

Finally the team arrive at the simple educational facility which is Tsueni Primary School. The facility is devoid of any form of formal infrastructure and the mud classrooms have a precarious crumbling look about them. After formal introductions the Team is anxious to get answers that would explain the sorry state of affairs and lack of formal infrastructure within the facility. As it turns out, the Media, who followed the Team to cover the story, is also interested in the story behind Tsueni Primary and Journalists from The Star, Citizen TV and NTV have begun to set up their equipment. The story unfolds and the Team are told that the School’s Headmaster is the only trained and Teacher Service Commission appointed teacher at the facility. Other “teachers” are hired by the parents to assist and at times make their own time available to assist and supplement this gallant educational effort. Stories are being recounted of bandits raiding the school in the recent past, forcing children to flee. The sense of “normality” had only recently returned after the traumatic incident. The team witness the trauma of the attack when one student bluntly refuses to come out of the classroom for fear that the Team themselves are in fact bandits! A sense of the desperation and apprehension of this dire school community floods the Team as they take cognisance of the fact that many pupils as young as five years old walk through the Kora National Reserve to school – home to wildlife such as cheetahs, leopards and elephants. It is with great satisfaction that the Team hand over lap desks to the school in an aim to improve the teaching and upliftment of this community.

After a formal word of thanks, the Team hit the road again for the penultimate leg of their journey. Upon their arrival at 11am back at Tseikuru, they are overwhelmed by the amount of people that have arrived to receive food aid. Their initial target was to assist 800 families, but the crowd continues to swell as people arrive from as far as 80 km away. It soon becomes apparent that an extra 300 families would have to be catered for, and the Team sets to work. The unrelenting African sun and dry condition soon sees the Team drenched in sweat and fraught with fatigue but they soldier on, focussed at the mammoth task on hand. Finally by 16H30, with the distribution over, they start their journey back to Nairobi. The journey is delayed and compounded by the intermittent breakdown of the truck again and the decision is made to overnight at Mwingi, which they reach 8 pm.

The next morning the Team board the bus for the final leg home, forever changed, humbled and enriched by their incredible experience……

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