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Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Power of Many Hands

I thought it would be good to provide an update on the new Chronic Care Center here in Eldoret.  The last time I wrote we were digging holes and putting in foundations for the building.  Well, that stage has thankfully passed!  I had had my fill of mud and I am sure that the workers had had their fill even more.

In the interim we have completed a cardiac wing for Duke University on an existing facility.  This is the first of its kind in the region for those of lesser means and the facility is already having a meaningful impact in terms of lives saved.  Cardiac issues abound here, particularly for men.  Some think it is as a result of a high fat diet…..not in the way we would usually think of in terms of meat, but in terms of using high fat milk for a significant portion of their diet.  It has been great working with a diverse team of cardiologists from Mt. Sinai, Duke and IU.  Purdue has been training Kenyan pharmacists in the use of drugs for cardiac care. There is also a compliment of Notre Dame folks here helping develop a business model that will enable the facility to continue serving patients.

The major CDM structure is now out of the ground and climbing.  The facility is being built out of reinforced concrete…..which means lots of steel rebar, lots of formwork and even more concrete.  The forms are supported by a veritable forest of young trees which are grown specifically for construction use.  Many weeks of work have gone into building the forms and then placing all of the reinforcement bars where the concrete is to be poured. 

I am very pleased at the quality and conscientiousness of the team.  We had a very thorough set of structural, plumbing and electrical inspections all of which were successfully passed.  On July 23 with 60 men on site the first  big pour began for the 2nd floor lasting from sun up until late in the afternoon.  There is a lot going on when a large pour is undertaken….. We have a  reasonable sized mixer here but nonetheless all of the sand, stone and cement have to be shoveled into measuring cubes and then dumped into the machine.  After the concrete is mixed, it is dumped into a big tray from which it is again shoveled into a .25 cubic yard bucket which is lifted with a crane to the floor.  There it is again placed into a large try from where it is shoveled into a fleet of waiting wheelbarrows and their blue hard hatted operators.  They then wheel the concrete to the area on the floor where the slab is being poured and it is placed and vibrated……..not an easy process and a very hard day for all involved.

Columns are poured one shovel at a time….yup, one shovel at a time.  The wheelbarrows are wheeled next to the columns where a team awaits with a pans about the size of a 16” pizza pan which is filled and tossed up by way of two or three men to the top of the column.  With 40  hands working even this progresses quite nicely and is quite a display of coordination.

By mid September we should have the 2nd floor completely poured and work will also be underway for the 3rd floor support columns and structure.  Each of the full floors here is roughly 30,000 sq. feet so that is a lot of concrete!

Needless to say we have our share of challenges.  Sand can be bizarrely difficult to locate due to the rains and the distance it has to come…. and it is expensive!When the guys show up with 20 tons of sand in a big truck they don’t simply dump it, rather they shovel it out….We are currently held up as “gumpoles” are in short supply due to the rains..  We use the gumpoles to support the floor forming above.  There is a pole about every 24 sq. inches….so you can imagine how many poles there are!


I am including one photo of the contractor's team.  The owner is Ramji Vekaria, a Kenyan of Indian descent.  Wonderful man and a devout Hindu.  My first experience working with someone of that religious orientation so I have learned a good bit.  He is quite successful but very humble and simple in his ways.  No fancy Mercedes for Ramji, rather he drives a little beat up 4 door sedan.  Peter Musiyemi is the foreman and as good a foreman as I have had an opportunity to work with.  They work a lot here…..normally 6 and often 7 days a week and Peter is there all of the time.  The lead form carpenter is Albert.  He bought his first power tool for the project and simply loves his skill saw…..I can relate.  An exceptional individual who also has a great smile and damn good work ethic.  Another one of the foremen is Barratt and he hails from Gujarat in India.  He has recently been working in Sierra Leone and is very happy to now be in Kenya.  Many of the Indians in Kenya hail from Gujarat as the Brits brought them over to help build the railroads.  Many of the medium to large sized construction companies in Kenya are Indian Kenyans.  They are now dealing with competition from China which they are none to happy about.  With all of these different people and different language capacities being understood remains my biggest day to day challenge…   I do however know the words for “Do You Understand Me”….Una e lewa???  That works wonders and often gets a good laugh.

Our current schedule has us completed in January of 2015 and at this clip I am reasonably hopeful that we can accomplish our goal.  Our biggest remaining challenge are the Radiation Oncology bunkers and the regulatory red tape associated therewith.  

Take care and always glad to hear from friends back home!


  1. Fascinating, Michael! Wow, trees grown specifically for supports?! Well that cuts out a lot of timber processing, I guess. More direct. I assume they salvage them all and reuse?
    Glad you are safe and keeping off the streets! :) Wish you could come with Lizzy and Liam for a visit. Thanks for all this info!

  2. ok; i figured out this "comment" thingy; have to sign-in, on my unused google acct; the problem is that, since i don't use the acct, i forget my pw! however, i'm putting a post-it on my desk with all that login info, so it will be easier from now on...i hope. interesting to see the large timbers holding up the concrete...saw the same thing in india...saw a number of similar things, actually...sweet.