Ron Ward

CES Patron "Mzee" Ward

Ron Ward is a dedicated educator and humanitarian who for the past four decades has been serving in Kenya. He has a critical knowledge and a broad understanding of the social, political and economic issues that affect northeast Africa. Ron has been involved in medical, agricultural and livestock projects in the north east province of Kenya. During the 1970’s Ron taught English in Muranga District of Central Province and later in the 80’s Ron built a medical facility in Garissa, NEP for victims of TB and HIV/Aids. In 2002 Ron initiated the establishment of a camel dairy herd which has provided an economic base for local Somalis. Ron has been credited with sponsoring over 5,000 Kenyan youth to attend school. He currently is retired and living in the Peterborough Ontario area. His outreach to the African community, especially to new immigrants and refugees has been recognized internationally. He is revered and respected by elders and community leaders. He has achieved what few westerners could ever experience, the honour of being called “Mzee”. Ron Ward is a founding member and Director of Community Education Services (CES) Canada

The CES Canada Freedom and Justice Award is a unique award that recognizes the spirit and heart of those who epitomize the passionate pursuit of Freedom and Justice. This award was presented to Ron in 2009: it reads, “Freedom and Justice Award…Zawadi Ya Uhuru Na Haki….for your unfailing love for Kenya and the oursuit of freedom and Justice for its people through four decades of outstanding humanitarian service. ”

Ron Ward and his wife Joan first arrived in Kenya in December of 1970, seven years after Kenya had achieved its independence. After three months of Kiswahili and Kikuyu language training in Nairobi he and his young family moved to Githumu in the Highlands of Central Province south of ther Aberdare Mountains. For nine years Ron taught English at Githumu SS under the auspices of the African Christian Church and Schools (ACC&S) and the Canadian Baptist Overseas Mission Board. The Ward family later moved to nearby Kinyona in 1976.

It was in 1979 that Ron Ward and his family decided to focus on work in North East Province. Moving to Garissa, Ron continued his work with the ACC&S, this time in partnership with World Vision. It was at that time that Ron met Omar Sheikh Farah who was the Provincial Education Officer and the chairman of a local committee of Kenyan elders. Ron joined this action group in their focus to find solutions to the economic and social problems faced by Kenyans living in Garissa District. What emerged was a project directed by Ron that would significantly impact the school system. Ron coordinated a World Vision program that provided scholarships for some 5,000 children and youth to attend school. This program extended beyond Garissa into small towns and villages including Dadaab, located near the border of Somalia.

During the early 1980’s there were few facilities to deal with patients who had contracted Tuberculosis. Many in the Garissa area who were dying of TB had been ostracized and were left to fend for themselves. The local hospital was not equipped to provide the necessary medical attention. Garissa Hospital delivered food to the terminally ill who were mostly huddled together by the roadside near the Tana River.

Ron decided to build a “boma” or village for these people. He structured a “manyatta” as a shelter for victims of TB. Patients were required to stay in treatment for a period of six months. Built as a compound of mud huts with thatched roofs, patients felt they were cared for in a supportive community as opposed to a hospital setting where emergent situations took priority. In 1988 Ron turned this operation over to the local health authorities. He did the same in Manderra near the place where Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia borders come together. Ron worked alongside a Belgian NGO to coordinate and maintain the medical and drug supplies.

Somalis are by nature nomadic. In order for those with TB to continue their treatment, it was necessary to find a way to connect with them on a monthly basis. During that time Ron worked closely with MAF, the Mission Aviation Fellowship organization. MAF flew into remote places to provide nutrients, supplies and medical resources. Ron crossed miles of desert to such villages and towns as Wajir, El Wak, Manderra, Mbala Mbala, Dadaab, Amuma and Madogashe. There he was able to dispense medicine and to provide powdered milk to his patients.

In order to assess the TB programs, it was necessary to collect the sputum of those who were ill. Samples were then flown to labs in Nairobi for assessment. Ron coordinated the data on hundreds of TB patients who would gather at a set time and place each month in order to meet with Ron and to receive their medicines. At the same time they received powdered milk for themselves and their families. This was known as the “Garissa Milk Project”. Ron continued these monthly visits to the remote areas of NEP for a period of eight years. During one trip and under poor weather conditions Ron and his pilot had to make an emergency crash landing. Thankfully neither was seriously hurt.

In 1990 the civil war in Somalia saw hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring into Kenya. This was an unprecedented crisis of major proportions. The UNHCR created three refugee camps to house these homeless and traumatized victims of the war. Dadaab is a town in northern Kenya located at the centre of the three refugee camps: Ifo, Dagahalley and Hagaderra. The camps became home to over 140,000 people. Ron was involved in assisting and advising Canadian Baptists in their humanitarian efforts to establish feeding centers within these camps. Part of Ron’s work in Dadaab was to build a compound of shelters and other buildings where Canadians could establish a base of operations for their relief efforts. He also built classrooms that continue to operate within a school setting.

In the early 1990’s there was a shortage of teachers throughout the NEP. Ron worked closely with the Teacher Service Commission to place Canadian teachers in short and long term assignments in schools located in Garissa, Wajir and Manderra. As a life long educator, Ron Ward has always been involved in some aspect of education in Kenya. He has constantly been an ambassador for Kenya, inviting Canadians to visit his adopted land and to become involved in community development. Recently in 2004 and 2006 two educators from Toronto, Canada spent a number of months as volunteer teachers at Garissa High School and NEP High School for Girls. These are examples of how Ron has created strong ties of friendship and cooperation between Kenyan and Canadian educators.

Among the most interesting of Ron’s initiatives in NEP is the work he has accomplished in agriculture. With Garissa being a major centre for people traveling to and from NEP, it became important to establish a sustainable resource for feeding as well as for economic prosperity. In the late 1980’s Ron was instrumental in establishing three large farms along the Tana River. These were built on the cooperative farm model where Kenyans ultimately became responsible for the all operations of the farm.

Ron recruited locals to live and work on the farms. A fruit and vegetable market gardening coop created jobs and an income for the farmers. Ron facilitated the coop and brought people together to train them in all aspects of the work including planting of crops, irrigation practices and marketing of the foods. The actual farm became the property of the workers. In order to make this initiative both legal and viable, Ron assisted Kenyans to establish rightful ownership of the land. One of the key plants to be grown on the farms located at the edge of Garissa was the mango. Today there are thriving mango groves along the Tana River. Before Ron there were no mango groves in Garissa.

During 2007 after a three-month ban on the sale and consumption of livestock because of Rift Valley Fever, the Kenyan Ministry of Health lifted the restrictions.  Ron quickly acted to facilitate medical treatment of the camel herd that successfully protected the Somali camel cooperative against the spread of disease by the tsetse fly.

Ron has provided a series of workshops and training sessions that assist camel herders in a better understanding of care for their animals (husbandry), pasteurization and refrigeration of milk. Experts from the EU have visited NEP on Ron’s invitation to provide the training for local camel dairy operators. This has enhanced and raised the level of economic development in this area of Kenya.


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