Tuesday, 24 July 2012

A weekend in Nairobi

So this weekend we were unexpectedly treated to a full weekend in Nairobi. We were scheduled to take a trip down into Masai Mara to visit a new rural health center that's being built. The organization in charge is hoping to enlist Global WASHES to do some health and hygiene trainings for the community once the center is up and running. Unfortunately the guy we were supposed to travel down with had a family emergency and so the trip was cancelled at the last moment. Fortunately, we have a running list of things to do and see in Nairobi so we took full advantage! 

On Saturday we headed a bit outside of the city to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust - otherwise known as the elephant orphanage! It was awesome. Their mission is to rescue baby elephants from the wild - typically those whose mother's have been poached or killed before the babies are able to fend for themselves. They care for and raise the elephants until they are old and strong enough to be released back in to the wild. What's really cool is that they group the
elephants, so they form a family (the natural way that elephants live) and are released together so they can maintain the natural elephant social grouping. The orphanage is only open for an hour each day, when they bring the elephants out and let you see them up close, and the rangers tell stories about each one - where they were found, how old they are, etc. All in all it was pretty great and seems like this trust is doing incredible work. If I had brought enough money with me, I totally would've adopted one :)

After the elephant orphanage we headed to the Kazuri bead and pottery factory. It's a business that employs single mothers to create beautiful handcrafted jewelry, pottery and other trinkets. We got to tour the whole place and see how their beads are made from start to finish - quite an operation. In addition to providing single mothers with a solid source of income (and a social network of support) they also provide free health services on site for their families. The store was completely overwhelming, as I wanted to buy pretty much every single piece in there. But I kept it to just a few gifts... for others and myself. 

On Sunday we took in some of Kenya's culture, history and art at the Nairobi National Museum. We all really enjoyed it and learned a lot, it's quite a museum. (Though getting there was a bit hectic, when a matatu dropped us off on the side of the highway and told us to cross over 4 lanes and walk up the on ramp. Alas, we made it.) There were some great exhibits on the Kenya's political history, the transition from British rule to independence, and the history of the many tribes that exist (and still play an important, sometimes tense role) throughout the country. My favorite part of the museum focused on early human history, with tons of castes of human fossils and skulls and tools that have been found in Kenya, particularly in the Rift Valley and in the north near Lake Turkana. I can't claim to know much about our first human ancestors, so it was pretty fascinating. After the museum we made our way over to Nairobi City Park to lay in the grass and people watch - or should I say monkey watch - for a while. This park has monkey's everywhere. In the trees, running around on the ground, stealing people's food and children's toys. It was pretty hysterical. They are totally accustomed to people and have no problem just walking up and climbing on you out of nowhere. It made for an entertaining afternoon.

This week we have been doing another hygiene training, this time in a new community in Kibera where our project has not been before. The people are really in to it so it's been pretty awesome to experience. Only the second day and they were asking about how they can take this info and train other community members. Really couldn't ask for more! Tomorrow should be exciting - we'll be watching a huge water tank get moved into Kibera... basically by hand over roof tops since their aren't any "roads" wide enough to get the tank through. I'll have photos to share after that!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Kids, textiles and strange encounters

Classroom at Undugu School
Time is really flying by here! Hard to believe we have almost been here for a full month. We spent the end of last week performing a hygiene training with the students of Undugu School in Kibera. Undugu is considered an “informal” school – meaning that many of their students either have not been successful in the Nairobi City run schools, or they cannot afford them (many require attendance fees and uniforms, which is an unattainable cost for some families). The kids we trained are all part of a health and hygiene club at the school, about 40 in total, with varying levels of engagement. We went over things like the spread of diarreahal diseases and potential solutions, water treatment methods, soap making, proper handwashing practices and the like. My favorite part was definitely the handwashing section, where kids make up a song to educate others on how to wash your hands – we take for granted that handwashing means ‘qwa sabuni’ – with soap, but that is not the case here – and the five key times when you should always wash your hands. We also did a section of the training on how to manage a toilet facility. One of the bathrooms that was started by the Global Washes project is located at the school. It is not open to the community, only the students, and they do not have to pay. We are hoping that the students in the club will take on the responsibility of keeping the facilities clean, and also organizing soap making to not only provide soap for the school but to also purchase materials like toilet paper (a uncommon commodity around these parts).

Kids posting their own hygiene messages
Additionally, at the end of the regular training, we took aside just the girls to talk about menstruation and sanitation practices during your period. Yes, an awkward topic for girls around the world – teenage girls are all pretty similar! But to my girlfriends reading this who remember how awful it is when you first start getting your period, imagine it with out pads, without soap, without a bathroom in your house. No fun at all. Our friend Sylvia, a woman my age who we work with in the community, helped us out with this conversation so it could be done in Swahili. She was fantastic. We had brought with us some samples of pads that are made in Kenya, and that the Rotary Clubs (one of the funders of our project) has a hand in distributing. Our plan is to work with them to get a year supply of pads for all the girls in the school. Pretty awesome, right? Sylvia would keep all the pads at her office in Kibera, and the girls could come there and get them from her throughout the year. Learning from other organizations past experiences, when the pads are kept at school they tend to get stolen, and many of these girls do not even have room in their homes to store them, and so this seems the best solution.
Ben and Rina (our awesome friend and hygiene trainer extraordinaire), modeling their Global WASHES shirts, complete with hygiene messages in Swahili :)

Small section of the maze of textiles
So that was last week. Then the weekend hit, and we had too much fun! Saturday we spent the day in downtown Nairobi – visiting a Masai market (bought a beautiful painting) and the textile market. The textile market was overwhelming and pretty awesome. Soooo many beautiful African fabrics. I bought 6.5 meters of Kengala material for 1200 bob – under 15 USD – which I plan to use to make some curtains and pillow covers. That night we attended a birthday bbq one of our expat friends was having at her home. It was a great party – they roasted a whole goat – and once again I was reminded what a small, small world this is. The party host Megan (from the US) is married to a Kenyan man. His uncle (originally form Ghana) happened to be in town and was at the party as well. And where does he happen to live? PROVIDENCE, R.I. I couldn’t believe it. He is even neighbors with Buddy Cianci. Neither of us could get over the coincidence and it made for some funny conversations. No matter where I go, can’t seem to escape lil Rhody 

Birthday boy Junior with Ellen and his friend Edu
After we left this party, around midnight, we met up with our friend Junior and headed to a club to celebrate his birthday. In fact, there was a lot more to celebrate than that. Junior, a Kibera native, is engaged to a girl named Kelly who worked on this project a few years ago. He has been working for 2 years to get a Visa to join her in the US. And he has finally been successful! We’re all very excited for them. We ended up dancing the night away until 3 am when we finally decided it was time to go home. I would be lying if I said we went right to bed – us crazy mizungus decided to jump in the outdoor pool when we got home. We probably woke up the whole apartment complex, and it wasn’t exactly warm out, but so much fun nonetheless.

The team enjoying a night out with TUSKER
One more funny story before I sign off. So about two weeks ago, we were leaving the local grocery store and walking back to our apartment. We’re all chatting, not paying much attention, when we noticed Nate had stopped in the center of the parking lot and is holding a large sign with the number 3 on it over his head. As we are all watching in confusion, two small Kenyans dressed as soccer players run in front of him, jump up and slap hands. We then realize… we are being filmed!! The crew tells us it’s for a prank show. So we laugh about it and continue our walk home. I think we had forgotten about it until Saturday night when we get a call from our project manager Anthony. He was enjoying a quiet night at home when something catches his eye on TV…. US! Haha that’s right, we are not famous television personalities in Kenya. Hopefully the show will post the video on their website soon. We can’t wait to see it!

So that’s all for now. Lot’s going on with work and several trips coming up – we are booking out through the rest of the summer already! But I think I’ve written enough for now. I’ll post again soon!


Thursday, 12 July 2012

Adventures in Meru

So here it is, Thursday morning, and I am finally getting around to writing about our awesome trip this past weekend. Suffice it to say we have been very busy working this week, but we'll get to that stuff later. This past weekend we all had the pleasure of traveling into the higher altitudes of Kenya, to a town called Meru - the lush hometown of our project manager Anthony. We all piled into a rental van on Friday afternoon and made the 5 hour trip down. Upon arrival at Anthony's home, we were greeted by chickens, goats, his 7 year old son, his beautiful wife.... and the most amazing home cooked Kenyan meal. Words don't describe how delicious it was, and so sweet of Margaret to spend all day cooking for us. We dubbed it "Kenyan Thanksgiving". 

We spent the weekend at the Hotel Incredible (right across the street from the Glorious Cafe.... clearly the most amazing block ever) in Meru town. Saturday morning the real adventure began. We woke up while it was still dark, around 5 am, to travel in to Meru National Park. I don't think any of us were prepared for what lay ahead of us. A day in the park turned out to be pretty much a full on safari... except better than a safari because it was in a natural environment. No animals flown in to make it more exciting, and the rangers don't coax out the animals with food and stuff like the do at other places. We thought about getting a guide to drive through with us (they recommend that because it's sort of difficult to find your way around) but we decided against it - and just got lucky on our own. Here's the rundown of everything we saw.... the day started off with a bunch of giraffes (so many of them throughout the park) along with a rhino and a baby rhino!!! This was really awesome, since we learned that to see rhinos - especially with their horns - is extremely rare. 


The rest of the adventure continued with even more animals... let's see, we saw: many more giraffes (so cool the way they move), lots of zebras and water buffalo and gazelles, some ostriches, lots of beautiful birds, an elephant butt (he refused to turn around for us) and some hippos sleeping under the branches of a tree in a stream. 

Perhaps the most incredible part of the day happened when after deciding we'd had enough excitement (after about 7 hours). We were beginning the long drive out of the park when Margaret (who has eyes like a hawk) spotted a female LION! We only caught a brief glimpse before she hid from us (we think she was hunting) but long enough to see her whole body, tail and her beautiful/fierce face. Icing on the cake for an incredible day. The best part was Anthony's son's immediate reaction to a lion was to throw open the van door and climb out. It was hysterical. But, I admittedly, that was 100% a learned behavior from us crazy mizungas - we must have jumped out of the car at least 10 times during the day and (technically) you're  not supposed to at all. OOPS.

Here's the whole crew in the park. From left: Nate, Margaret, Elton, Me, Renee, Ben, Rina (one of the ladies we work with here) and Ellen. Such an incredible group of people to work with... not to mention explore, learn, and share days like this with!

On Sunday, we made the long drive home back South to Nairobi. But what a beautiful drive it was! We went around Mount Kenya - unfortunately during the winter (our summer) months it is typically too foggy/cloudy to see, as was the case all weekend, but the drive is luckily though some of the most lush and beautiful parts of Kenya. We drove over the equator, stopping to take photos of course, and also had the pleasure of stopping by Anthony's mother's home. She has a gorgeous piece of property in a small village, with all sorts of trees - papaya, coffee, banana, avocado - and all sorts of animals - goats, cows, chickens, kittens. And we were lucky enough to have a cousin climb up in an avocado tree and give us about 20 avocados to bring home. Definitely the freshest and most delicious I will ever have the pleasure of eating.

So I think that's about all i have regarding this weekend! Feeling so lucky to have experienced all of it. This week has been full of lot's of work - starting on a project in a new community in Kibera, called Kambi Muuru. It's been really refreshing, I must say, as everyone is totally engaged and excited to work with us. Many reasons for that, including it's a step-up income wise from where we have been working, but more details on that to come later. We'll be spending lots of time there in the next few weeks. We are also in the midst of doing a hygiene training at a school in Kibera. It has been a lot of fun, and I have fun photos and videos to share soon. I'll post soon! 

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, 5 July 2012

Getting to Work

Hello again! 

This week has been busy... getting down to the real work of getting these facilities to where they need to be! As mentioned last time, Kibera is really hard to describe - so luckily this time I have photos! Admittedly I did not take many (ok, any) of them, so credit goes to our paparazzi photographer (Willy, a Kibera native) and my team mates (Ellen and Nate specifically). Some of the highlights from this week included running a business training, learning how to make soap and practicing hygiene trainings that we will be running at different places throughout the summer. 

A typical view in Kibera - the houses are mostly made from old steel sheets (like in this photo) or from their own version of concrete, which is basically dirt mixed with water. Most families all live in one small room.

Ben climbing through a door in Kibera. Gives you a sense of how hard it is to get around in here. As our friend Boniface said to me the other day "you have to be in good physically fitness to live here". And it's true. Pretty much think of it as hiking, through really small spaces, on about 3 feet of compounded trash. 

A view of Kibera from one of the higher villages (read: relatively better off). Does not at all give a sense for the size, but perhaps for the density. That large cylindrical building is actually a biomass energy facility (from what we're told). Basically they burn feces into energy :)

Me, talking with some kiddies. The little one looks a little... skeptical. But at least the other two are smiling!

Another paparazzi photo. Don;t we look badass? The three Kenyans in the front are Anthony (our project manager), Sadiq (a Kibera native... he runs a facility, but I have mixed feelings about him. He holds a lot of influence in the community but I think his only motivation is money. Can you blame him though?) and 

Kiberan kiddies. Love them! They were holding on to the fence and jumping on these steel sheets... making SO much noise, and loving every minute of it. If there's one thing that stays the same the world over, it's kids playing. That and smiles - the best currency.

The team! From left: Renee, Ellen, Nate, Anthony, me, Boniface, Ben and Chris. Chris is the water supplier for all of Silanga.... some might call his position 'water mafia' but we take a different view - he is the reason this entire village has water and (i think) a great guy. One of my goals for this summer is the write a paper on how water governance really works in this slum. People's (academics) perceptions and assumptions seem to be a lot different than what we have experienced.

Checking the water level in the tanks at the Kasinga facility. A very scientific method of tapping until it sounds hollow. Since water only flows into Kibera 1 or 2 days per week we are putting these huge tanks in at all of the facilities... that way, we will always have water available.

A good view of one of our facilies. Note the trash. This is barely anything compared to some of the other locales.

Another facility - Jola. This one is run really well - note the messaging on the tank. Smart! We will be replicating that.

Discussing plans at Okere facility. High hopes to get this one running well with hot showers  - lots of families right nearby, prime location for great use and improved hygiene.

Soap making class with the hygiene club at Undugu school in Silanga. We'll be doing a full hygiene training with these guys next week.

Helen showing the kids the soap routine. She is an awesome success story, the kind we crave to be true when we study development. Last year this project taught Helen how to make soap. She hustled her way through the last year, making it and selling it at a profit around the community. (Soap is expensive and hard to come by in Kibera - but this method is cheap, fast and effective.) Last month she used her profits from soap selling to open her own hair salon!! She wants to do my nails soon :)

More of the soap training.

Soap! The plan is for the hygiene club at Undungu to make their own soap - both to keep in their bathrooms and sell locally. Their profits (the way we've worked it out) will allow them to continue purchasing the materials to make the soap, provide toilet paper in their facilities.... and have 400 shillings leftover per batch - enough for each student in the club to make 10 shillings off each batch.

We are all really excited for this weekend - tomorrow morning we are headed out to a rural town called Meru. It is the hometown of our project manager here, Anthony, so he will be showing us around. We'll be visiting Meru National Park and Mount Kenya, so stay tuned for (hopefully) awesome wildlife photos next week.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Karibu! (Welcome!)

Greetings from Nairobi, Kenya! At the request of friends and family I have decided to take a stab at writing a blog. I can't promise that it will be all that interesting entertaining, but I'll do my best to at least give a taste of what we're up to over here. So here goes nothing!

Where to begin? As I write this I am seated in our new home for the summer - an apartment in the residential neighborhood of Kilimani... and I expect our living conditions are not what one would imagine when they think of Nairobi. The apartment big and furnished, complete with cable, wireless, hot showers and a balcony... bigger (and perhaps nicer) than where I was living in Denver! There are 5 of us in total - our fearless leader Renee (a DU professor), Ben, Ellen and Nate (fellow students) and myself. We are a short walk from shopping centers and markets, as well as matatu (local bus) routes. From what I've seen of Nairobi so far - which isn't much, it's a big place and it's only been a week! - it's an interesting city in a state of transition. Construction is everywhere and fancy malls pop up in the midst of shoddy buildings on streets that lack sidewalks. I am looking forward to experiencing the downtown area and getting a better sense of just how many people live here.

The project we are working on is called Global Washes, which partners with a local organization called Maji na Ufanisi, to improve community health through the provision of clean water and sanitation services. The community we work in is called Silanga - a small village that is part Kibera, of one of the largest slums in the world. It is impossible that my words here could even attempt to capture Kibera. The poverty is unimaginable - open sewers, trash everywhere, people and animals and houses and businesses literally piled on top of one and other - and yet life still exists and continues, day after day. As we spent the week touring our sanitation facilities (basically small buildings with bucket flush toilets and showers) and seeing what work needs to be done for the summer, we really got a sense for the community. Silanga is at the very bottom of Kibera - you won't even find UN groups working down here. 'It's too complicated". You can tell mizungas (white people) don't make it to Silanga very often. We are followed by stares from the adults - who seem to warm up once you greet them with a friendly habari (how are you) - but I cannot blame them for their skepticism. The best part of it all is the chant-like chorus of "how are you? how are you?" from the local children, who follow us around, squealing with delight at the chance to practice their English greetings. That said, obviously it is not safe for us to walk alone through Kibera, but luckily we have great friends here. A few guys from the community, right around my age, are with us at all times to serve as body guards. Our informal water supplier Chris (a water mafia to some... more on that in a later post) is well respected in the community... and from what I understand, most people will leave us be if they know we are connected to him.

The team in front of one of our facilities.

Tomorrow starts the real work. We are headed back into Kibera to run a training with the community business organizations who run the sanitation facilities on a daily basis. The goal for the day is to get everyone on board with record keeping protocol, and to start a conversation on how better to engage the community with the facilities... but more on the details later.

That's all I have for now... hopefully I didn't ramble too much. A lot to say and explain about the work we are doing here and the complexities that come along with it - which I am just beginning to understand myself - but luckily we have 9 more weeks and many more blog posts to come!

Until next time... Kwaheri!