The name “Rondo” comes from “Kavirondo”, the area of Western Kenya around Lake Victoria, formerly called the Kavirondo Gulf, now-a-days known as the Gulf of Winam. Rondo also means “All Round”, an all round retreat of wholeness for body, soul and spirit in the Kakamega Rain Forest.
Gold Rush and Timber Days
Bob Turton, from South Africa, came to Kenya to seek his fortune in the Kakamega Gold Rush. When that did not “pan out” he turned to timber, running a sawmill, but practicing the sustainable forest policy of the colonial era. One day the sawmill received an order for an Elgon Olive (teak). Bob was informed by his workers of an especially fine specimen in the forest nearby. His wife, on seeing the tree, declared that it should not be cut down, rather that she must have her house built facing it. Bob did just that and made a home and garden for themselves, deep in the forest. The Main House and Guest Cottage were completed in 1948. Bob had an old Lister generator for lighting and pumping water into a tank that he had salvaged from a Lake Victoria Steamer that was no longer “sea worthy”. This tank is still put to good use as our overflow tank from which we water the garden in the drier weather. Bob’s first wife, Anita, a keen gardener, laid out a magnificent garden, beneath an overarching cathedral of trees, with the help of an army of gardeners. They were married for 25 years when sadly she died. He later married Betty Kapp, the Principal of Kaimosi Bible College. They had 2 children, Connie and Ken. At the end of the Emergency, at the start of the 60s, Bob was attacked while driving home. A stone was hurled through the windscreen, smashing him in the face. Betty was with him. She said he was slumped down over the wheel, unconscious, and bleeding profusely, with the car leaping out of control, miraculously weaving between huge boulders and coming to rest in the nick of time on the very brink of the river stopped as if by an angel’s hand. Bob’s face was surgically reconstructed in Nairobi, but he took it that it was now time to take his young family out of Kenya to start a new life in the USA, Betty’s home country.
National Christian Council of Kenya
Bob Turton donated Rondo to the NCCK for use as a Youth Centre. Rondo was too isolated for the NCCK to manage and put to good use so it gradually reverted to bush, the house deteriorated until it was in rack and ruin and the beauty of the garden was gone.
In 1966 the Founder of Trinity Fellowship, Canon Cuthbert Dawkins, being at that time also on the Board of the NCCK, offered to take Rondo over as a Youth Camp for the Trinity Fellowship. Having known the Turtons and Rondo since 1956, the Dawkins had a special love and attachment for Rondo. Cubby and Thilde, the senior Dawkins and Godfrey and Elisabeth Dawkins threw themselves into the rescue and fitting it out making it habitable once again. Youth work being T.F.’s main thrust, it was decided to start a small Farmer’s Training Centre to equip school leavers with basic agricultural skills.
A couple from Canada, Jim and Bernice Gale, were invited to head up this project. We should have known better but the monkeys ravaged whatever was grown, so the poor Gales were frustrated in accomplishing this task. Also due to its remoteness and the lack of funding they had to abandon the project after a couple of years. They put their all into the work and had the best of intentions, living in exceedingly primitive conditions – real pioneer missionaries – but the jungle won! Jim’s greatest contribution was the saving of the Turtons’ House, when it was heaving like a ship and about to sink. He systematically jacked up the old structure literally with car jacks, casting reinforced concrete plinths as supports under the house, which saved it from collapse. The Turtons’ House, in the manner of the early settlers and missionaries, had been built using whatever materials had come to hand, timber, plywood and mabati (corrugated iron) in the colonial style.
From 1975 – 1986 Rondo was an orphanage run by John and Esther Green. John Green, who originally came to Kenya with the Trinity Fellowship, had his first orphans’ house in Maseno. Moving on to various other houses, the Greens ended up in Eldoret, meanwhile keeping Rondo as a branch. Richard Opinyi ran the home, again against great odds. He did not even have a bicycle, which made the transporting of sick children very difficult. He turned a wheelbarrow into an ambulance to cart them to the nearest health clinic several kilometres distant from Rondo. Cubby and Thilde got up to the orphanage from Kisumu as often as possible as it was very dear to their hearts, staying at that time in the Guest House, now called “Founders’ Cottage” after them, often coming with food at just the right moment, when the cupboard was bare, and helping in all sorts of other ways.
John Green decided to consolidate the homes in Eldoret in 1986 as the work had exploded into what is now the Testimony Faith Homes, with one of the leading primary and secondary schools in the district.
Filming On Location
Having relinquished Rondo in 1975 in favour of the Orphanage, Trinity Fellowship found itself once again in possession of Rondo in 1986, but now with the express purpose of running a Retreat Centre. At the time of the transfer, “The Kitchen Toto” was being filmed at Rondo. The film depicts Mau Mau and the Kenyan struggle for Independence.
By now Rondo was totally overgrown. Elijah Malenje himself, then the Chairman of the Trinity Fellowship, hacked out masses of tangled invasive weeds, killing snakes in the process and driving back the undergrowth where it had all but devoured the garden in its relentless encroachment. It was at this time that the water pump was installed to fill the newly erected water tanks. It was also then that the tea field was established proving the gainsayers wrong, who had said nothing would ever grow again on that degraded piece of open land, forest guards having camped there, cooking and warming themselves with charcoal fires. Tea attracts rain, and cultivating it creates jobs for the local community.
Rondo has facilitated various disciplines in serious research programmes, such as those undertaken by the Kenya Indigenous Forest Conservation Project (KIFCON) and the Kenya Wildlife Service, resulting in their book, “Kakamega Forest, The Official Guide”, which is now out of print. “A Short Guide to Kakamega Forest” has taken its place and is sometimes available in the Rondo curio shop.
Rondo Retreat Centre
Michael Carlisle was undoubtedly one of God’s greatest gifts to Rondo. While serving as a visiting lecturer at St. Philipp’s Theological College, Maseno in 1988, Michael responded to the Call of God to join the Trinity Fellowship and become the driving force behind the whole redevelopment process of building Rondo up into the Retreat Centre it now is. Michael, with several volunteers from the USA, coordinated the construction of the Chapel, a new dining room and kitchen and more cottages. Reenie, one such volunteer, kept coming back faithfully year after year to assist at Rondo, during which time she launched “Rachel’s Lament” for rescuing the orphans and widows of AIDS victims. Mission accomplished, Michael returned to the U.S. in 1994, where he rejoined the parish ministry of the Episcopal Church. He and his wife, Doris, adopted two Kenyan boys.
In 1987 before Michael came on the scene and Godfrey and Elisabeth were commuting from Nairobi, the typically built early settler kitchen, made of wooden poles mud and thatch, caught fire in the dead of night. Richard and Dickson were alerted and rushed to the rescue. The fire was now racing down the thatch covered corridor joining the kitchen to the Main House. With no running water available, the water pump had not yet been installed, water had to be carried up in buckets from the waterhole, in the dark, by Richard at breakneck speed on the steep and slippery path. This was pathetically inadequate to quench the flames that were now licking hungrily at the Main House roof. Miraculously, when it looked as though the fire would engulf the House, suddenly out of nowhere God sent a blasting strong wind, driving the fire back along the corridor it had come, so saving the building from total destruction, and burning itself out. There have been two more fires threatening us since then in which we have also experienced Divine deliverance.
Installation of water pumps, generators, solar panels, even the building and running of Rondo have all been challenges in and of themselves due to its isolation and inaccessibility, over roads that have sometimes been impassable in the rainy season. But with patience, perseverance as well as a great deal of prayer these and other difficulties have been overcome, making Rondo what it is today. Slowly Rondo has grown into the lovely Retreat Centre that it now is and that you are able to enjoy, but not without great effort and several setbacks along the way.
Godfrey and Elisabeth Dawkins having spent their entire working lives in service to God in Kenya, have had the vision, mission and great responsibility of overseeing both the Trinity Fellowship in general and Rondo in particular. Were it not for Rondo’s presence in the Forest and its efforts of conservation and reafforestation with thousands of trees, little or none of the virgin forest in the surrounds would be left. Over the years the Dawkins have poured their hearts and lives into Rondo creating this haven in such idyllic surroundings, enabling Rondo to fulfill its role of providing a place of peace and rest for many to enjoy. Its purpose is also to generate funds for the other work of Trinity Fellowship, which assists Kenya’s poorest youth in their pursuit of education and more.
Compiled by Julia Fulcher