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! 

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