THIS month I spent nine days in a Kenyan village 5km south of the equator with no hot water during the whole visit and no electricity or running cold water for about half the time.

Meals were served in a mud rondavel. The rainy season was so severe the sound of a hailstorm on a tin roof drowned out conversation for an hour. It was elemental and informative.

Was it also hell? No, it was heaven.

I stayed, as a guest of two Oxfordshire based charities. The first is called the Nasio Trust, working in a remote compound in Western Kenya near Lake Victoria and close to the main trade route from Mombasa to the centre of Africa.

Since lorry drivers attract sex workers, it is an Aids hotspot. It is also a malaria hotspot.

The Nasio Trust runs two day care centres for orphans whose parents died of Aids.

The trust has also opened a health centre, runs an organic, sustainable farm partly funded by visits from Mount Kilimanjaro climbers and 4x4 racers.

The compound also serves as a base for visits by Oxfordshire pupils and young offenders who make a difference in the lives of desperately poor people.

The other Oxford charity is the Children’s Radio Foundation (CRF) operating out of the improbably named ‘Peace House’ in Paradise Street, in the centre of Oxford.

The charity gives young people in Africa and England the tools, training and technique to talk about their hopes and frustrations on radio.

For this trip CRF trained 10 pupils from Wallingford School how to use a microphone and conduct interviews that would open up a space for young Africans to talk about their fears and the fun of growing up in a Kenyan village called Musanda.

This combination of opportunity, technique and care turned into an explosive mix while I was there.

Nancy Hunt, co-founder and director of the Nasio Trust welcomed us to the house where she was born and that now served as our base. “You have no TV, no radio and no newspapers.

“You don’t know what is going on in the world so you can get to a space inside your head that is free of distractions.”

When I mentioned that the honking of the flock of geese was a huge distraction to me, Nancy said “The noise is good for security and for snakes. If the geese honk at night you know that an animal or an intruder is hiding in the dark, and you can do something about it. This flock is our moveable burglar alarm.

“They also do a daily ‘security walk’ all around the plantation and this keeps the snakes away. If you have geese, you don’t have snakes.”

So the Wallingford pupils and I put up with the geese and tried to avoid their ‘calling cards’.

Our first trip was to a primary school of 1,200 kids. Three-quarters of them were barefoot. They could not afford to buy shoes. A parasite called jiggers is rampant in the area.

This sand flea burrows into the soles of the feet and works its way up to the knees, elbows and hands causing gangrene, amputation of fingers and even death. It can make the toes look mashed and meshed into one large lump with nodules on the bottom of the feet that look like mushrooms growing upside down.

This can be cured by a very cheap treatment and reinfection is very limited if people have shoes to wear. The Wallingford pupils helped provide both treatment and cure.

They were part of a pop-up health clinic in the school playing fields that treated about 175 school children.

Two volunteers took the names and ages of the children. Another two did the triage and assessed if the infestation had open, ulcerated sores or if the sores were closed, and separated the children into two treatment groups on two rows of hand-made wooden desks.

Other volunteers soaked and washed the feet. Kenyan Red Cross volunteers with razor blades cut out the parasites and the Wallingford volunteers helped the schoolchildren by timing their treatment in buckets of medicine that will eliminate jiggers before taking them to rows of recovery chairs and providing pairs of shoes that were ‘approximate’ fits.

This clinic had distressing moments. Some children were screaming when the blades went in; most were stoical. It was a baptism of fire for both the Kenyan schoolchildren and the Wallingford pupils, who turned into an efficient, responsive and caring team. But I could tell by how wide their eyes had become that this was not easy.

The next day, Nancy took us to visit Yvonne, the grandmother of an orphan called Frederick who we met at one of the Nasio Trust centres.

When we arrived we found a mud hut with a cow shed attached. The small yard had 16 holes dug almost three feet deep in the clay soil in the shape of a square. About 40 members of the village were digging the clay and fetching water from the community well to turn the soil into mud.

We went inside Yvonne’s house and found two tiny rooms with mud floors and cow dung mixed with clay to smooth the floors and walls.

The tin roof had holes so the rain had turned the cow-dung floors into slurry.

Nancy put this into context: “This house is a health risk. The worst thing for most kids is to be taken away from their family, their home and their neighbourhood where they have an identity. We try to keep the kids at home and to do this we need to do everything we can to protect the health of the mother.

“That’s why you Wallingford volunteers are going to help build Yvonne and Frederick a new home.”

The 10 pupils joined in with the locals and within two days they had built a house with natural materials – tree trunks for posts, saplings to create a grid for the mud filling.

They carried mud by the hundredweight and packed it into the grids to create the walls.

The builders used no sand or cement or building supplies. The only store-bought goods were the nails and the tin for the roof.

A few days later the Wallingford group, equipped with their Children’s Radio Foundation training, sat down with a group of local Kenyans and aired a joint radio programme about their experiences and what it was like to live in Kenya.

It was a life-changing time for both of the groups.