A Caulfield from Ballymahon, getting an MBE?
That was the reaction of a very humbled Jim Caulfield when in 2010, while out walking in Oyugis, Kenya, he was informed by a friend in Jersey that he received correspondence from the office of British Prime Minister asking if he would accept an Order of the British Empire MBE.
Jim, accompanied by his Jersey-based son James, daughter Tara and grandson Rian, along with his Kenyan partner Rose Nyamuok, went to Buckingham Palace where he was bestowed with the honour in recognition of his voluntary service to disadvantaged people in Kenya by Queen Elizabeth II.
On June 15 next, Jim, a native of Creevaghmore, Ballymahon and son of the late Michael and Elizabeth Caulfield, will celebrate his 70th birthday and through his work with the Jersey Overseas and Channel Islands based ‘Good News Trust’, he has been responsible for the construction of almost sixty schools in the Oyugis region of Kenya.
Jim has two brothers - Mick (who is married to Mary Allen from Drumlish and they reside in Ballymahon), Chris (who lives in Accrington and visits Ballymahon frequently) and one sister Maureen (married to Bill Tynan from Oldcastle). Maureen now lives in Sussex having spent many years living in Ballymahon.
Jim, who grew up in Ballymahon, has lived in Kenya full time since 2006 where he and his partner Rose have a four-year-old daughter Riley Caulfield Nyamuok.
He recalled, “I have fond memories of my schooldays at the local national school, where a Mr Conway was Principal and I went to the ‘tech’ for one year. I left school at a young age.”
He worked at McCartans box making factory but ‘didn’t see a future in it’ and when his aunt arrived home from London and asked him to go back with her, the enthusiastic 15-year-old jumped at the opportunity.
“I stayed in London for eight years,” explained Jim, “and I got married to my wife Angela Brennan from Aughavas, Leitrim in St Patrick’s Church, Soho Square. I was 24 when we moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands.”
Jim was always interested in the Third World and in 1991 he joined a working party from Jersey and went to a small village in Zambia for one month to help construct nurses accommodation at the local hospital.
In 1993 he was part of a group of 15 that travelled to Oyugis in western Kenya near Lake Victoria to work at the Amani Christian community project. He returned there for several years, spending his holidays installing water and building. It was on one of the trips he met Nick Touzel who set up the Good News Trust charity in 2006.
Jim outlined, “I travelled out to Kenya that year and set about organising a programme. I visited many schools met with chiefs, communities plus the education department.
“I recruited a local person as co-ordinator and set to work. We work as a team, the community must assist by digging the foundations, digging the pit latrines and providing water for building plus labour money which is a fraction of the building cost.
“When we build a new school of eight classrooms plus an administration block, we employ over 50 local people and build it in nine weeks.”
Life in Kenya isn’t for the faint-hearted.
“I’ve had a few close calls and witnessed many atrocities. I live with the Luo Tribe and at election time there can be much violence between different tribes. Last year there was a spate of attacks and murders, so the community rounded up ten suspects and burned them.”
Jim is proud of what has been achieved.
“The logistics of building in a rural area was very difficult - bad roads, lorries breaking down and everyone on the make - when they see a white man they see money.
“To date we have built over 55 schools, sank many wells and reconstructed 60 springs, provided thousands of school desks, uniforms and housing for needy widows.”
In Kenya the government will supply and pay for teachers but will not provide funds for school buildings. There are already teachers in the school so staffing for the renovated classrooms is already in place. When new classrooms are completed the government commits to providing and paying for the additional teachers as required.
Jim says the work of Good News Trust would not be possible without the generous support of donors, individual and corporate, within Jersey, pointing out that it was great to also receive support from Electric Aid Ireland.
In 2009 the local community appointed Jim the first white Clan Elder of the Kasipul/Kabondo region, in honour of his long association with the area.
“This has been an incredible period in my life and I would advise anyone to come out to Africa for the experience. People who moan about their lot at home would leave with a different perspective on life. AIDS in Homa Bay County is the highest in Kenya. Cancer patients go untreated unless they have money. Most people just buy pain killers as they cannot afford to see a doctor.”
Jim’s grandson Rian spent five months working in Kenya last year and he says it would be great to have volunteers from Ireland. He is travelling back to Jersey at the end of May and if time permits, he hopes to visit Ballymahon.