Brick by brick, dollar by dollar – my quest to build a new house for a family inflicted with polio

It was early morning when I arrived at the car park. The gentle throb of one too many wines over dinner the night before set a slow pace as I walked through the security gate.

A week earlier, my friend Shiku asked if I would like to go up-country and help build a new house for a family in Nyahururu, north-east Kenya. I knew nothing about the family, had never been to Nyahururu and don’t know the first thing about building… of course I was in!

I met Shiku through a hiking group that I joined when I came to Kenya. I hadn’t spent an awful lot of time with her but I knew the day we met that I liked her. She was a strong woman. Driven and determined in a modest way. She was fearless but not foolish and had jovial energy about her. If she was working on a project, I knew it would be something worthwhile.

Blindly, I followed my instructions to meet at 8am on a Saturday in the car park of a nearby shopping centre. I was armed with little else other than my eagerness, two litres of water, a double-shot latte and some chewing gum. The thought did cross my mind that maybe I needed a little more to build a house, but the instructions were simply to turn up on time, and that I did.

Once nestled in the car and musings about the past week were over, I started to probe for more detail. Who was the family, why do they need a new house, what exactly were we going to be doing…  Shiku indulged my inquisitiveness with a thorough response.

Polio family
F: Rahab & Karaitu with their two youngest children. B: Another resident of the rehab centre & Shiku. Photo provided by Sports for Change.

She first met the family some time ago through Sports for Change, a charity she co-founded to provide economic and educational support to young people, women and the disabled. Both parents are polio survivors and severely impeded by their polio-induced paralysis. ‘Baba’ Karaitu relies on his rickety wheelchair and ‘Mama’ Rahab uses leg callipers and crutches. They have been living for more than 15 years at a rehabilitation centre that provides housing and vocational training for people with a disability.

In theory, the training allows them to work and generate an income for themselves by making and selling products, but the financial returns of their labour is poor. Rahab makes 10 shillings ($AUD0.13 / £GBP0.06) per ball of wool she knits. Karaitu makes a little more, weaving small rugs and selling them for 500 shillings ($AUD6.93 / £GBP3.25) at local markets, but he has to share his income with the 11 other men he works with. Relieving some of the financial pressure, the eldest son John is being sponsored by a supporter of Sports for Change to attend a boarding school nearby. There is hope that in the future his younger siblings will also receive educational support through the organisation.

Rahab at her knitting machine in the living room of their current house; Turning the cuff of a sweater; Karaitu’s woven rugs

Life is challenging at best for this young family. Their house at the centre is a mere shack, dark and cloaked in soot and smoke from cooking; finances are near non-existent; and mobility a constant challenge. Still, with each other and the community, they somehow get by.

Sadly, things have recently taken a turn for the worse. Shiku went on to explain they are soon to be evicted from the centre to make room for another needy family. It seems a cruel irony that in an attempt to help others, the centre is displacing this young family of five.

Naturally, in true Shiku-style, she has not stood idle and she is now on a mission to gather those around her and help build a new home for the family.

The biggest expense, purchasing land, has already been covered by a community fundraiser held earlier in the year. Collectively, they managed to garner enough support for the family to buy a small block of land a short walk from the centre. However, the land is far from a home if it doesn’t have a house.

Landscape_everyone action
Team effort – once the hard yards were done everyone pitched in to clear the area.
Group photo
A team effort – what working day isn’t complete without a group photo.

So, there I was, accompanied by Shiku, five local men and a couple of other supporters,   ready to haul the ground and make way for building foundations on which we could build. We made good progress considering none of us had much of an idea about what we were doing.

We are hoping that through our respective local networks, we will get some support with building plans and potentially equipment, but we are well aware that not everything can be donated. The house, along with Rahab and Karaitu’s hope of a new home, will come to a halt unless we find money to buy the materials and expertise we lack.

As one would expect, there is considerable humanitarian and charitable presence in Kenya, but support doesn’t get to everyone and people like Rahab and Karaitu can easily slip under the radar. I never set out to find a cause to support when I came to Kenya, but this one found me. With this in mind, I have decided if I can afford to indulge in one too many wines, I can afford to get behind this family… And so can you!

Shamelessly, I am asking for donations from anyone, anywhere, of any sum – nothing is too small.

Our wish list is modest – we don’t need wifi, fancy electricity or any modcons. We are looking to build a basic house, approximately 8×9 meters and comprising of an outdoor kitchen and toilet, living room, two bedrooms and a storeroom/workroom for Rahab to continue knitting. $USD5,000 should be enough for us to at least put a roof over this young family, anything more will allow us to go the extra mile so support both parents with their business ventures knitting and weaving.

If you are interested in supporting you can make an online donation by visiting the ONLINE GIVING PAGE . If you are in Australia, the US or UK you can make a donation using PayPal by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.

If  you do donate and would like to be kept informed of our progress, please email me so I can send you updates.

Asante sana!


  1. Alicia,

    Thank you for sharing and giving. It is a very sad but inspiring story. Amazing to think that charities due to ongoing constraints, end up causing grief yo those who also need their help.

    Best of luck with collecting the funds.

    Best regards,


    1. Thanks so much. We could nail this and made a massive difference with even $5 each. Thanks again. Hope all is well with you.:)

      1. Yes wonderful. I too had my first experience building homes last week. Yet another new skill I learned on my Pulse assignment:)

  2. It’s sad to know that there are families in this situation, and even more sad to know that they are not alone in being in this situation. But as you say, small drops make the ocean and you’re getting behind a great cause Alicia. Wonderfully written too, very inspiring. Hopefully this will inspire a few people to donate.

  3. Love how you’re making the most of every second you’re there… what a wonderful way to spend a Saturday, you lovely person.

  4. Great work Alicia. This brings tears to my eyes and you are making such a huge difference to peoples lives. Happy to pitch in where I can.

    1. Thanks so much Stuart. Every dollar counts. With so many people and so many causes its hard to know what to support. I already am working with a music therapy program in a slum but like I said in the blog – I never went to find this family, they found me and I am determined to help put a roof over their head. Thanks again!

  5. Amazing story again Alicia. Well done for getting involved. Can’t wait till you get back and you can tell us all your stories, it must be a life changing journey for you.

  6. Love reading your updates Alicia! I’m heading to the donate page straight away. I’d love to keep up to date with the progress and also if there is any other way we back here at home can support please shout.

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