Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The end is near...

It's been a little while since I've posted, but that's because we've been on the road and busy! We took our trip out to Kisumu, and - aside from getting violently ill and missing out on one of the training days - everything went really well! We took a nearly 12 hour van ride to our destination. It was long but very beautiful. About an hour outside of Nairobi, we turned a corner and came upon the massive Rift Valley…a very green and nearly uninhabited valley, as far as the eye could see. We made a quick stop, very crowded with tourists and tourist shops selling polar bear rugs and hats (what?!).  After that, we passed kilometers and kilometers (excuse me, miles and miles - when will we finally join the rest of the world and start using the metric system?) of tea farms. In Achego, a small village outside of Kisumu, we trained 75 midwives. They came ready to learn, share stories, sing (there was lots of singing!), and bring what they learned to their respective communities. What a great group of women! We managed to fit in one day of free time, and our hosts took us out to Lake Victoria. We rented a small motor boat, saw some hippos (yes, again!), then went to lunch where I watched everyone thoroughly enjoy some giant, fresh tilapia. We rode home with a much less cautious driver in about half the time, and made it back to Nairobi completely exhausted.

We've spent the past couple of weeks wrapping up our work. We completed one last sanitary pad training with the women (and one very interested and entrepreneurial man) in Kambi Muuru. This is one of our new facilities and the group seems very eager to take advantage of any business opportunities. They are very into selling soap and Waterguard, and I have a feeling they will be making and selling their own pads when we check back in.  This past Friday, we had an incinerator delivered for each facility for the purpose of disposing of the sanitary pads. They are made by a company called re:char, and they actually convert the burned waste into charcoal. For the agricultural communities where they normally work, the charcoal can be incorporated into the soil to drastically improve yields, but in the case of Kibera, the coal can be sold for cooking. A guy came out to do a demonstration, and they should be up and running as soon as we can install sanitary bins into the facilities. One last step to wrap up this project for the summer!

This weekend we were able to take one last trip to Lake Naivasha. We stayed at a small hostel right on the lake, where we were able to relax, have some Tuskers, and continue our epic BvG euchre battle. On Saturday, we rented some mountain bikes (from a fellow named Dan- but you can call me the Philosopher- also known as Crunchy) and rode into Hell's Gate National park. What an incredible place! As soon as we entered the park, it was like we were in a completely different world. It was wide open, green, and we were surrounded by giant volcanic rock. We rode about a total of 20km and saw zebra, giraffes, wart hogs, antelope, and baboons - some of them were right next to the road! We have a little bit of a run-in with a baboon. Does anyone know what to do when you encounter a baboon? Yea, we didn't either. We made it out alive, with nothing more than an adrenaline rush :) If the biking and wildlife wasn't enough, the best part about the park was the gorge. We ditched our bikes at the top, and after fending off hundreds of swarming tour guides, we hiked down and wandered around for a couple of hours.  I wish my pictures could do it justice! We walked at the very bottom of the gorge and were surrounded by incredible rock formations on either side. We climbed, repelled, forged streams, risked our lives (okay I'm exaggerating, but there were a bunch of obstacles, and it was super fun). We eventually made our way up to see one of the most stunning views I'll probably ever see. It was just so HUGE! The feeling was hard to describe.

We've got a couple more days in Nairobi before we leave for Uganda. We'll be spending our time doing some data entry (from all of the household surveys), spending the last of the grant money, meeting with partners about future plans and follow-up, and saying goodbye to all of the new friends we've made over the summer. I can't believe that it's already time to wrap up and head out. These two months went by way too fast, and I wish I could stay longer. I am super pumped to explore Uganda, though, and we've got some pretty exciting plans. Canoeing and staying on an island in Lake Bunyonyi, white water rafting on the Nile, no biggie. I'll be seeing you suckers soon!

Lake Naivasha

Campground near the lake

There were birds. Lots and lots of birds.

Hell's Gate NP

A view of Fischer's Tower

We saw tons of zebras!

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A geyser at the park's geothermal station

Inside the gorge

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Just a quick update while I'm passing through Nairobi. We just got back from Mombasa last night and we head out to Kisumu early tomorrow morning. It's a whirlwind!

Let me start with all of the fun stuff. A couple of weeks ago (has it really been that long?) we spent the weekend exploring Nairobi. In 2 days, we visited the elephant orphanage, the Kazuri ceramic bead factory, the National Museum, and the City Park. I don't know what I liked best! At the elephant orphanage, they brought out 19 baby elephants. They only allow visitors for one hour each day. None of the elephants are over 3 years old, and they are preparing them to re-enter the wild. They told the story of each elephant, how they found them, and how they were rescued. At the Kazuri bead factory, we were given a tour and saw each phase in the process of making the beads and ceramics. They employ over 100 women, most of whom are single mothers. All of the beads were so beautiful - I think we spent a couple of hours in the shop trying to decide which ones to bring home! 
At the elephant orphanage
Kazuri bead factory - millions to choose from!

The National Museum had some remnants and almost full skeletons of some of the earliest hominids. Many of the earliest humans identified have been found near Lake Turkana region in Kenya. The skeleton of one boy in particular (Turkana Boy) is 1.6 million years old! The museum also had a bunch of cultural artifacts and history of the different tribes in Kenya. We spent almost the whole day wandering around - educational and fun! We ended our Sunday at City Park. It was jam packed…with people and monkeys! The monkeys just roamed around everywhere, climbing all over the trees and people. A little terrifying, but they were cute :)

National Museum
Turkana Boy
After a couple days of work, we headed out to the southern coast of Mombasa. We spent some time getting to know the community group in the 'Bangladesh' slum. It's so different from Kibera. It's much more spaced out, organized, the houses are bigger, and there's even agriculture. It felt very much like a rural village compared to Kibera. But they didn't have a single toilet facility. Maji na Ufanisi is building one there, and it’s about half-way finished. The group was wonderful. With the location (near the school and market) and their support, this facility should be a success. We spent most of our time in Mombasa relaxing on the beach. We're about half way through our summer, and this was the perfect time for a little vacay. I ran on the beach each morning, swam in the Indian Ocean, and enjoyed the sunshine! We woke up one morning to a monkey in our house - he ate all of our bananas and pooped on the floor. Other than that, we had a great time!

Diani Beach, Mombasa
Outside of vacationing and being tourists, the project is still going really well. We got a group of about 20 women together and did a sanitary pad training. We taught them how to make the pads, and - more importantly - gathered their feedback on how to make them better and cheaper. They had some great ideas! They will be experimenting over the next few weeks to determine the most feasible and affordable way to make a pad that will meet the needs of the women and girls in Kibera. We also found our solution for disposal of the pads. We met with a guy from an organization called re:char. They make a simple incinerator that turns the contents of the burn into charcoal. In an agriculture context, the charcoal can be used as 'biochar' and incorporated into the soil to produce a better yield or better crops. In the context of Kibera, the charcoal can be sold and used as another income-generating activity for the facilities. So, ideally, the women will make and sell the sanitary pads, the attendants will incinerate the used pads, and sell the resulting charcoal at the facilities. We are just laying the groundwork this summer, but things are off to a good start!

Off to Kisumu tomorrow. We're doing a hygiene training with 100 midwives, and our hosts have been planning some other fun activities for us. I've heard rumors of Lake Victoria and hippos…fingers crossed!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Random happenings...

I finally got to go for a run this morning! And it felt grrrreat!! Our apartment is right across the street from a school that has a giant field, and I've been eyeing it up ever since we moved in. Our landlord, Eunice, happens to be a teacher at said school, and she worked out a deal with the guard, Boaz, to let us in whenever we want. Perrrrfect. We got up early to beat the dust and pollution and did about 4 miles. I didn't feel too awful after nearly a month without running, but we'll see how the old lungs feel later today. I also woke up this morning with the beginnings of a cold (it's been going around the group....), and that run did more than all of the oranges and vitamins in the world could do.

So something interesting happened to Ben and me yesterday. We were on the home stretch of our 2 and a half hour walk to make photocopies of a household survey and deliver them to Kibera...when we were stopped by the police. Two guys, in uniform, with guns, chillin on the corner, just waiting to stop unsuspecting mzungus. The police have been on a serious hunt lately and have detained a tons of foreigners without documentation. So they asked for ours. This was honestly the first time I had ever carried my passport with me. We made a conscious decision as a team to never have our passports on us. I think I mentioned all of the NGOs working in Kibera...and how those living in Kibera are - at the very least - disenchanted since they never seem to see the benefits of these efforts. But what's worlds worse are the 'slum tourists.' Some groups come in large white vans, tightly locked inside, taking pictures, and gawking at the kids. Some of our friends in the community have told us that sometimes they feel like monkeys in the zoo. Other groups come in with video cameras and giant backpacks. They will get their footage of the 'real third world experience (or something...)' and leave. Just the other day a couple of tourists got their laptops and passports stolen (why would you bring those into Kibera????). Not surprised. It's idiots like this that made public officials require that every outside group entering KIbera be escorted by an armed guard. Not us. That's completely ridiculous (and in my opinion, it puts a bigger target on our backs and is extremely offensive). Instead, we're escorted around by our friends, well-respected members of the community. We don't carry anything we don't need (ie, passports) and we come back...we're in Kibera, working (not touring!), about 4 days a week. All this is to say that it's not actually safe for us to be carrying our passports around with us (and it's some sort of miracle that I had mine on me when we were stopped). Ben didn't have his on him, however, and we were given a lot of trouble. In the end, all they wanted was to be paid off. All we had to do was call their bluff that they would take us down to the station (and why would they want to do that? they couldn't be as corrupt or hustle us there). They let us go. Chalk it up as another experience, no harm done. Now we all have color copies of our passport and visas :)

Pad party!!
I think I mentioned in an earlier post that, this summer, we're looking into sanitary pad options and alternatives for the schoolgirls in Kibera. We met with Megan, the founder and CEO of Zana Africa, an organization that is in the process of developing a low-cost, environmentally-friendly pad made from some undisclosed local agricultural material. We stopped by her office (and beautiful home and garden), and she showed us her extensive collection of pads from all over Kenya. We went through each one - she told us where they were from, what they were made of, how much they cost, and what women and girls (particularly in informal settlements) thought of them. What we learned: there are hardly any good options. Megan and her team have been doing the research and putting in the effort to find out what is feasible and appropriate for women and girls in Kenya. We're very excited about the pad they are working on….but it won't be available until early 2014. In the meantime, we’re trying to figure out what the girls are currently doing, and what we can do to help. So when we wrapped up our training with the hygiene club at Undugu school on Monday, we asked the girls to stay after and participate in a focus group. We asked about their practices, knowledge, and attitudes related to menstruation, and gathered their feedback on a sanitary pad that we can obtain for free from Rotary. I was surprised by how open and honest the girls were, considering how stigmatized and taboo the subject of menstruation is in Kenya. We learned a lot in a short amount of time…the biggest issue is distribution. Rotary provides pads in one-year supply packages. It seems like a great idea, but there are some challenges within the context of Kibera. If a girl brings home an entire year's supply of pads, that becomes the most economically valuable thing in the home. Fathers are likely to sell them, others might steal them…the girls have very little chance of actually using them. Today, we were introduced to a new option. We met with Beatrice from an organization called Saidia dada (Help women and children in Kenya). Beatrice finds women living in the slums, trains them on how to make pads, invites them to her office (which also happens to be her home) where they manufacture the pads, pays them for their time, and gives them a commission on every package they sell in their village. With this model, Beatrice provides employment and pads are available at low price to women in the slums. We are so excited to head up to her 'factory' tomorrow to see how the process works and how we can start this model in Kibera.

Other than that, we are gearing up for (work-related, yes!) trips to the Mara, Mombasa, and a little village outside of Kisumu. We’ll be scoping out some new potential work sites and doing a hygiene training with 100 midwives in Kisumu. I'm sure we'll manage to fit in some site-seeing somehow J. A couple weeks after that, we'll be tying up loose ends for the project and heading to Uganda for a week before returning to the states.

Even though we're exhausted after full days of work, I've managed to apply for jobs just about every day. Haven't heard anything yet, but that won’t slow me down! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Great day!

We had SUCH a great day today! We were invited to a performance by two of our friends from Silanga. There was a parade, band, and skits (all in Keswahili of course) meant to help the community better understand the new Constitution. I wish I had brought my camera with me! It was a really interesting way to communicate the changes and what they mean for the residents of Kibera. There was also a lot of traditional singing and dancing, and it was really beautiful.

We spent the afternoon in Kambi Muru, a neighboring village of Silanga. So far, the project has been solely focused around the 8 facilities in Silanga, and we were asked to take on a new facility in this new part of Kibera this summer. Unlike Silanga, the facility is newly built, well used, and extremely valued by the community. While the facility was being built, our partnering NGO conducted door-to-door community mobilization to create a group to manage the facility. It was so refreshing to the facility operating so well and have such a positive influence on the community. We spent the day with members of the community organization, visiting houses in the village, introducing ourselves, explaining our project, and basically letting them know that we would be hanging around for a while. All of the people we visited were so happy and grateful that we were there. They were excited to participate in the hygiene training and even more so to learn how to make and sell soap. Being this well-received by the community is almost a 180 from the perceptions in Silanga. Because the community group who runs the facility is so invested, plans are moving along very quickly. Next week, we will conduct household surveys to get a baseline of health and hygiene practices and perceptions of the facility. The next week, we will complete a hygiene training with a group of 20 community members who will be be trained to train others in the community. We had a lot of fun walking around with our new partners, visiting people in their homes, and smiling and nodding while everyone around us spoke (excitedly) in Swahili. Lots of positive energy today!

I thought it might be interesting to give you a glimpse of how we get around in Kibera...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Work and Adventures

Wow, what an amazing week! Lots of work followed by a weekend of adventures.
View of the Silanga village in Kibera

On Monday, our project manager Anthony facilitated a business training with the facility attendants and some members of a community group (the Silanga Development Group, or SDG) who were chosen to manage the facilities when they were first built. The training was intended to be a refresher on recordkeeping and how to track usage of the facilities and other sales such as water, soap, and the water treatment. The training ended up being mostly educational for us. The attendants hadn't been using any of the recordkeeping documents. While it's likely that many of the documents were never distributed to the facilities, it was clear that the attendants did not understand them or how to effectively use them. The collection of this information is important for us, as researchers, to gauge the success of our intervention. But more importantly, for those living in Kibera, it helps us understand how the facilities can better serve the community, create an environment of better hygiene practices, reduce diarrhea and other water-borne diseases, and generate a stream of income for the attendants, those who manage the facilities, and other community members who make and sell soap. That being said, the training also gave us some insight into how the facilites are (or in some cases, are not) being run. It turns out that the SDG has not been very involved in the management of the facilites. They are not providing attendants with toilet paper and soap (and how sanitary can a sanitation facility be without those?), they are not paying the attendants, and they are often nowhere to be found when it's time to unlock and open the facilities. A big part of our work this summer will be trying to uncover the "real story" behind the SDG. While the business training was taking place, some of us were conducting informal interviews with community members who live near the facilities. We discovered some issues...the facilities are never open, the showers don't work, there isn't any water, there's no soap...and some of the people we talked to were very frustrated. The community wants to see the facilities up and running. Not only are they taking up valuable space on their land, but they truly want to use them. Ideally, we would like to transition management from the SDG to the community members themselves. Then, those who use the facilities will have a vested interest in (and the ability to) keep the facilities open, ensure they have an adequate water supply, keep them clean, market them to other community members, increase usage, and increase profit. More to come on this...
Obligatory shot of cute Kenyan kids
On Tuesday we invited Helen to teach us and the Maji na Ufanisi staff to make liquid soap. Helen lives in Kibera, was trained by a previous DU group on how to make soap, and has since been so successful selling soap that she saved up enough money to open up her own hair salon. She's also super sweet and very good teacher. Making the liquid soap is easy, inexpensive, and allows for a pretty significant profit margin. Since we learned that most of the facilities do not regularly have soap available, there are opportunities for community members to sell it to them. After soap-making, we met with Megan from Zana Africa, an organization that is creating a low-cost sanitary pad made from local agricultural materials. While the pad will not be available until early 2014, we were able to learn a great deal about the "pad scene" in Kenya and what options are available for girls in Kibera. Commercial pads (such as Always) are prohibitively expensive. Most girls end up using pieces of old clothes and often skip school when they are menstruating. This summer, we are trying to determine what alternatives they have so that they can manage their periods and stay in school. We are also looking in to ways they can dispose of the pads in sanitary, environmentally-friendly ways.
Helen teaching the hygiene club to make liquid soap. She rocks!

We headed back into Kibera on Wednesday to do a soap-making training with the hygiene club at Undugu school. The club is made up of about 40 students who we hope will manage the facility at the school and become peer health educators. Helen and Rina (our lead hygiene trainer from Nairobi) facilitated the training with the kids, and it went really well. The kids seemed to be really into it and are well on their way to becoming little soap-making entrepreneurs. We'll meet up with them again next Thursday and Friday to do a full hygiene training.

Rina came over to the apartment on Thursday to do a practice-round hygiene training for us. We went through all of the activities that we take our Community Health Workers through - we even made up our own handwashing song. It was a very fun, informative, and interactive training. I can't wait to see it in action with the hygiene clubs and other community groups!

On Friday, we headed out to Meru for our first big trip! Anthony travels back and forth from Meru every weekend to visit his wife and 2 kids, and this weekend, he took us along with him. We arrived Friday evening and were welcomed by Anthony's beautiful wife, his super shy son, his chickens and dairy goats, and a huge delicious dinner. It was so nice to get out of Nairobi, experience some of rural Kenya, and spend time in a warm loving home. It had to be one of the best dinners I've ever had. After we stuffed ourselves, we headed over to Hotel Incredible (across the street from the Glorious Cafe) to get a good night's sleep....we had to hit the road early for our SAFARI!! We went to Meru National Park and were very pleasantly surprised by all of the animals we were lucky enough to catch out in the wild: giraffes, rhinos (even a baby rhino!), hippos, buffalos, zebras, ostrich, antelope, gazelles, countless beautiful birds, an elephant butt, and a glimpse of the lion. We topped the excursion off with a flat tire that we fixed right there in the park. Afterward, we visited one of Renee's former students, Karambu, who started an organization for AIDS orphans. She had such an amazing and inspiring story. Not only do they provide housing and schooling for the kids, but they have an enormous organic farm, complete with drip irrigation systems, to provide a sustainable source of food. It was great to see someone put this IIC degree to good work!

On Sunday, we made the gorgeous drive home around Mt. Kenya. It was too foggy to see, but we drove through what has to be the most green, lush part of Kenya. We stopped by a tea farm, but the best part was stopping by Anthony's mothers house. She has a sweet little house on a lot land...she raises dairy goats, chickens, and cows and grows bananas, papaya, avocado, and coffee (to name a few). We had tea and bananas and spent some time breathing some very refreshing and much needed clean air. She sent us on our way with a huge bag of avocados, and we made the trip home. It was a wonderful weekend!

Other than that...it's been cold here! It's Kenya's winter, but I was still expecting it to be much warmer. Aside from all of the walking we do each day (and it is a lot), I haven't been getting much exercise. It's probably too dangerous to run outside, but I wouldn't want to anyway for all of the pollution. Even walking around outside - with all of the burning charcoal, burning trash, and car exhaust - makes my lungs burn. We had 2 visitors for a few days...it was nice to spend some time with an IIC friend before she continues on her African journey. We've been eating well...cooking a lot and eating delicious Kenyan food.

Back to work today! I'll keep the updates coming and will post some pictures to Facebook soon. No offense, but I haven't been missing home all too much yet. I love it here!
I'll leave you with a smiling baby goat from Anthony's mother's farm :)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

First Impressions

We've made it to Nairobi and have successfully completed our first week! After 30 hours of travel and some much needed sleep Monday night, we got right to work on Tuesday morning. We spent Tuesday and Wednesday meeting with project partners, visiting our partnering NGO (Maji na Ufanisi), and making plans. I have to say, it's been very nice walking into a situation where relationships have already been developed and a working partnership is in place. After spending so much time in the Peace Corps trying to identify effective organizations, build partnerships, and get projects started, I have been almost shocked at how efficient and productive each meeting has been, with both the NGO and community members. I am very thankful to previous student groups and our professor Renee who have done the ground work, gone through the trial and error, and dealt with the frustrations of weeding out unsuccessful partners. Everyone we have met with so far has been very motivated, dedicated, and eager  to get to work. We spent Thursday and Friday in Kibera. With our team, accompanied by our project manager Anthony, the village water supplier Chris, and three community members who served as our "protection," we walked through nearly all of Kibera. We visited each of our eight existing sanitation facilities and 2 additional facilities that we will be working with this summer. Our role was to take notes on the state of the facilities. Were they functioning? How well? Are they being used? Is water being supplied? What repairs are needed? We found that some facilities had not even been unlocked in quite some time. Others were very dirty, without water, without functioning showers or toilets, or with serious structural damage. Then there were a couple that had full tanks of water, were very clean, with high rates of usage, and with few needed repairs. While there is a lot of work to be done, and a lot of politics to be dealt with (in regard to the management of the facilities), with the commitment of our partners in Kibera, I think we can get a lot accomplished this summer. 

When we walk through Kibera, its almost like we are a parade. All of the kids - who are extremely cute - come running out to greet us with a chorus of "how are you's?" There are tons and tons of NGOs and other groups who come to through Kibera to do research or implement projects, and unfortunately, I don't think that the community sees the tangible outcomes or feels as if they receive any direct benefit. It's hard to be lumped into that category, have an idea of what people are thinking as we trek through their villages, and be viewed in the same light. Hopefully, at least in the village of Silanga where we do most of our work, the community will see us coming back on a regular basis and feel some sense of commitment. 

It's hard to describe Kibera. I don't have any pictures....for one, it would be impossible to truly capture our surroundings. Aside from potentially making us bigger targets, I wouldn't feel comfortable taking pictures as if everything was a 'spectacle.' I'm still struggling with the 'researcher'/'subject' dynamic, but I think as we get to know more people in the community, it will get better. What I can say is that about (and its impossible to know for sure) 1.3 million people live within (again, about) 1 square mile. Families are packed into huts made of mud and iron sheets. It's hard to maneuver the "roads" between houses. Not only are they very narrow, but slippery from rain and sewage and covered in trash. Next to one of our facilities, there was a hole dug about 8-10 feet deep, and we discovered that the slum is literally built upon 4-5 feet of pure trash. It's amazing that even in these conditions of extreme poverty, people always seem to have a smile on their face.

We haven't had much time to explore yet. We have been eating lots of delicious Kenyan food though. I am loving the chipati (tortilla-ish flatbread) and skumawiki (roasted kale with onion and tomato). We moved into our apartment yesterday, and it's luxurious. I'm sitting here on our balcony, overlooking the pool, using our wireless internet. We also have a nice big kitchen and a group who loves to cook!

Our list of "things to do" while in Kenya is getting longer and longer; our weekends should be filled with adventures. Next weekend we plan to head out to Mehru, a rural town about 5 hours outside of Nairobi where Anthony is from. He wants to take us to the Mehru National Park and to Mount Kenya. I'm looking forward to it! 

I'm enjoying every minute of my time so far. We have a wonderful group and every Kenyan I've met has greeted me with a huge smile, a hug, and welcoming words. I think I'll like it here :)

Okay, so Renee did get a couple of pictures. Here's our group with Anthony in front of one of our facilities.