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'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 was nice to spend some time with an IIC friend before she continues on her African journey. We've been eating 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 :)