Over the weekend Practical Action installed a solar powered water pump in Northern Kenya (Click here for more pictures). The benefits for the community will be huge, especially for Meshack.
Meshack is 12 and he wants to be a teacher. However, his chances of doing so had been severely disrupted because he couldn’t get hold of clean water. Listen to a heartfelt account of a boy who has suffered greatly because of a lack of clean water:3 Comments » | Add your comment
I’m writing from Practical Action’s office in Lodwar, Turkana having returned from an intense three days in the field visiting our water and sanitation projects here. I’m particularly interested in how our solar powered pumps are improving the lives of the Karamoja people who we’re working with.
First of all, I have huge respect for these proud people. Turkana is Hot! Every day the temperatures soared above 35 degrees, and at night things cool down to a balmy 25 … The environment is harsh – dry sandy soil, a few scrubby bushes and acacia trees, very little water. The fact that they make any living at all here is testament to their toughness, determination and ingenuity. I also have to thank them for their hospitality. I slept under the stars in the chief of the Lobei Karamoja’s compound disturbed only by gunfire (once) and cockerels (lots).
I’m dirty and dehydrated but what I’ve seen really makes think about what ‘dying for a drink’ really means.
In Turkana there are 3 ways to die for a drink …
1 … From the dirty contaminated water that most people are forced to drink – hand scooped holes in dry riverbeds many miles from home are the most common water source and they are shared with animals. Cholera is common here.
2 … In the act of collecting water from 5-metre-deep pits, hand-dug in the sandy bed of a dried up river – these collapse regularly, and last week in Lorengippi 3 people died collecting water in one of these.
3 … Or by violence – water, even dirty, contaminated water, is so precious here that people guard their access rights forcefully. I watched two women and a girl lifting water from the bottom of the pit for their goats and donkeys – all the while watched over by two warriors with loaded guns. Come to collect water at the wrong time here and you will be risking your life.
But things are changing in Lobei and now in Lorengipi. In October last year Practical Action, working in partnership with the people of Lobei, installed a solar pump, pipes, storage tanks and tap-stands so that now the women and girls have to walk no further than 500 metres to collect the water they need. Specially constructed troughs have been built to water the animals, meaning now that they don’t share a water source with people. Girls are now able to go to school, and in Lobei, the number of girls enrolled at the primary school exceeds that of boys for the first time. The head-teacher there is a trailblazer in many ways – one example was his kitchen garden and we saw the first ripe maize picked as we visited. So much change in so short a time.
In Lorengippi I watched as a new solar pump was installed, storage tanks raised and tap-stand built. For this community, water is a life and death matter. Conflict over water here is common. The boarding school has existed here since the late 60s. Children board as it is too dangerous to walk back and forth. In all those 40+ years the school has never been connected to water and never had latrines. Pupils walked 3km to collect water for breakfast and again for dinner, each time risking their lives to get it, and their health by drinking it. Open defecation in the fields surrounding the school was common, and the whirlwinds and seasonal rains brought all the faecal dust back into the school. Illness was common, learning didn’t happen and exam results suffered. Now the school is connected to the solar system, water is on tap at the school and new latrines have been built for boys and girls. Small, but important changes for these children, yet dramatically impacting their future.
I need to stop writing now, the sun is overheating my laptop and I need to get a drink before sunstroke sets in … I’m going to be thinking more carefully about where that drink comes from now.2 Comments » | Add your comment
I am at the Kibera DC’s grounds and all I see are men and women wearing white branded T-shirts with EEP, Practical Action and ETC logos. It is a beehive of activities. Women are busy lighting up jikos (stove) and men are preparing the truck fitted with a public address system ready for a briquette end-user promotional roadshow in Nairobi.
As a team player, I check with the zangalewa troupe, an entertainment group using art to communicate information about the technology in a simple and clear manner. They dramatize the production process, the selling and use of the technology. The young men, disguised as old men, have a unique costume. A costume that speaks volumes of what they are about to do; educate as they entertain.
With everything ready, the entourage starts making its way into the infamous Kibera informal settlement. The men behind the public address systems call on the locals to gather and learn about briquetting technology, an alternative eco-friendly renewable energy option for the poor in society. The route is clear with stops at various points in the settlement.
At every point the truck would stop, our team would usher locals to come and witness the ‘magical’ cooking technology. They demonstrated to the crowds, using lit jikos, and asked them to confirm the advantages of the technology and its appropriateness to their environment. A technique I found interesting to check whether individuals in the crowds were following them was the use of members from the crowd to summarize the benefits and appropriateness of the technology. A few Tshirts, caps and fliers on the technology were given to those that demonstrated an understanding of how the technology works. Others were given a packet of briquettes to test the efficiency of the technology. Fliers on the technology with contact information of all the briquette entrepreneurs in their area were also distributed. This was to promote their business.
According to Emmanuel Cyoy, the briquette commercialization project Officer, “the end-user promotional roadshow in Nairobi targets to create awareness among the locals on the availability, affordability and appropriateness of briquette technology as an alternative energy source for poor. The technology uses wastes from the environment to produce the renewable energy source.”
My interaction with the entrepreneurs gave me an opportunity to have a feel of what their profits are from selling briquettes. Meet Isaiah Maobe one of the entrepreneurs. He has been in the business since the project started and acts as a mentor to upcoming briquette entrepreneurs. He says the promotional event is an opportunity to expand his market reach for briquettes. He says he chose to join other entrepreneurs on the truck to market himself as well as his business. And true to his objective, at each stop, he sold a portion of his briquettes.
“I have not only sold a few bags of briquettes today but have orders to be delivered this week worth KES 12,000”, he explained.
Maobe is not the only one who has benefitted from the sale of quality briquettes. Josephine Ngumba, a trained journalist, is also a beneficiary of the project. “After the numerous trainings on the production processes and business development systems, my business has tremendously improved for the better. I now produce quality briquettes that I sell mainly to institutions. I now have orders to supply more than a tonne of briquettes to a number of renown institutions including hospitals in Nairobi. Business is good. Such events have not only helped me sell more.”
The Nairobi event follows a similar promotional event held last week in Nakuru. It was a success, thanks to the project team members and all who supported it. Special thanks go to our development partners Energy and Environment Partnership Programme with Southern and Eastern Africa, a programme funded by the governments of Finland, Austria, United Kingdom and hosted by the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).No Comments » | Add your comment
Recently I have realised that I have a powerful urge to visit my toilet. I am so attracted to it not only because of the advantages I get from the weight reduction process, but because I am also getting a lot of inspiration from the occasional visit. So when I was in Mandera recently, the urge appeared in its subtle demeanour; even if it took me days to finally get to one comfortable secluded patio next to a crowded street.
I was not going to get my inspiration nonetheless. Actually I really needed to get to it because I was in trouble. I had done what everybody in their right minds was never allowed to do – drink raw camel milk. But it was not supposed to go this way, right? I mean everybody takes a glass and they live to speak words of wisdom not on their death beds like I was seeing my body leading me to but amongst other men. What did I do wrong? Whose goat did I steal to be bewitched?
The events following this particular visit to the loo needed to be outlined singularly and expounded in my head to see what went wrong. And with my mouth dry in dehydration (hey, I was losing a lot of water from the processes), I started to count the trusses on the roof of my seclusion.
“I never washed my hands,” I began. “In the hurry to complete all the activities I had during the morning and evenings I just dug my miniature paws into the food plate.” Why? Am I not the one telling communities to clean up before and after daily activities?
In addition, I had found out earlier in the day, the guy who kindly gave me my calabash – that one that is causing my belly and cells to be flaccid – had found washing the udder and teats of the camel a waste of time. “We do not want to spend a lot of time milking because the animal would get jittery and start to make noise awaking everyone in the morning.” Moreover, all milking is done out in the open. So think flies; think brucellosis. Think my death-wish – and not that the milking has anything to do with my punishing outstretching in C-fashion.
The last time the calabash with a chip just next to my point of contact with my lips was ever washed was sometimes between when it left its branches and its trimming, before it became my cup to my bending; sometimes in the 4thcentury. And no sieving was done, if at all, an old work hijab was used to dry-scrub and off dust.
So the visions of old saliva filled cloths so reused until it is not clear whether the colour was as a result of dirt or the original dye that has seen better days, came to my head. When Dhahabu, my translator, untied the teats during the milking, she placed these pieces on the camel’s back!
Normally, the exposed teats are dry and to wet them she applied saliva on to her fingers, spreading evenly on the teat massaging it slowly until milk poured. She sprinkled a little on to her hand to check its colour. She told us that this helped her find out if there was any sign of a disease. There being no negative signs, she sucked it in to her mouth. This also, she said, helped her ensure that the milk was in good taste. Everything in order, I got my calabash fill. I guess that tells the story of my whole destiny.
However, this was before I went to Mandera to have a feel of what goes on in the lives of the common residents. When I was taken through the whole process by the project team, I realised that the project dubbed “Camel Milk Project” also known as ‘Pastoralist Women challenging drought and chronic food insecurity through dairy production and marketing,’ funded by Practical Action’s Track Record budget had been working with communities to change their attitudes towards good hygiene practice. It trained the milk producers on proper milk production process which in turn has increased the income of the milk producers in Mandera. The team has raised awareness on hygienic practices and implemented innovative activities and interventions with milk producing communities. This is envisaged meeting the demand for milk in the town and make a way to expand to reach many other regions within Mandera County.No Comments » | Add your comment
I gazed at the toddlers giggling playfully as their mothers bathed them, one squatted without a thought to relieve herself. I marveled at their innocence, and how happiness is self-generated from within despite our circumstances. Their water had been warmed under the midday sun. The narrow corridor on which they stood was covered with polythene bags of all shapes and colors. One could only hope that the polythene bags were not flying toilets in their previous lives.
The residents of the plot often suffered from water borne disease that reduced on their productivity. The residents of this plot in the Kaptembwo low income settlement in Nakuru have had to contend with the filth that surrounds them, simply because they are not able to pay more than the Kshs1,800/= rent required of them here. In this particular plot, the 15 household members share two toilets, there is no bathroom. However, last month, the rains were rather heavy and one of the toilets just collapsed. The plot owner was now dragging his feet about putting up another one because the costs are exorbitant and the soils in the area are unstable.
A Comic Relief funded partnership between Practical Action and Umande Trust is implementing a Community Led Total Sanitation Project with modifications to suit the urban setting. The project aims to eliminate Open Defecation and change the residents’ attitudes towards improved hygiene practices. Through this project, the landlord is beginning to see changes within his plot. The residents have attended a couple of hygiene training and are now more eager to maintain cleanliness. He looks forward to the credit facilities that have been organized through this project to construct a modern ablution block complete with two bathrooms!
By Aileen OgollaNo Comments » | Add your comment
Who can forget standing in Woolies… plastic scoop in hand… wondering which of the sweets to add to our bag?
This grand old tradition of picking your favorite sweets and paying by weight has spilled over into every facet of our lives from pick ‘n’ mix school menus to pick ‘n’ mix medical cover. Now, in this digital age, we expect even more choice (think multi-channel shopping, multi-plex cinemas and flexible learning)…. we want variety, in any order and any combination…and whenever we want them. Practical Action Consulting (PAC) has also been working hard to create wonderful multi-experiences to learn on and offline about our market-based approaches.
Currently PAC is testing an online learning option in our inclusive markets methodology ‘Participatory Market Systems Development’ (PMSD) to complement face to face training. This focuses on the skills to perform ‘live’ tasks relating to our ten-step PMSD Roadmap …via training and mentoring that is no longer bound by space or time.
Adult learners need to see an almost immediate application for new knowledge and have this information readily available. Digital learning not only frees learners from the traditional training environment – it gives them ‘unbundled’ choices for the delivery of instruction. We are able to break things up into more manageable and digestible pieces at reasonable costs.
The thing about loose sweets is that not only can customers select their favorite ones but they often buy more than they came for. So maybe we can ultimately sell more of our flavors or brands than we intend…
Quality and rich pickings
This is not really about the changing application of technology, it’s what is being ‘unbundled’ that counts. Simply streaming a lecture or sharing digital documents or performing online tests isn’t enough. New kinds of instruction need shaping… we need more variety of awesome quality sweets in our huge party bag.
Choice and freedom of consumption
So here is what we are trying… training is offered firstly via a series of webinars… sure, we make presentations and share web content (think nostalgic and retro sweets such as Bon Bons, Pear Drops and Wine Gums) but we also make full use of chat spaces, interactive whiteboards and combine platforms such as MindMeister and Google Docs to ensure a richer sweeter experience (think fizzy Dracula Teeth and Sour Dummies).
We also harness an online education management system – to streamline interpersonal dialogue, mentor and monitor. We offer online tests but also share resources that capture the voices and evidence of PMSD in our work as well as facilitating discussions and posting homework…all from a single location.
Having it your way
Our virtual confectionery should be coupled with face to face instruction. It’s supposed to complement not replace traditional approaches. Embracing online learning as part of our pick ‘n’ mix mega bag gives us more flexible and cost effective ways to influence more practitioners with our inclusive markets-based approaches and tools.No Comments » | Add your comment
My trip up north, as I have always shared, comes with many lessons for me. This time I had a personal objective. My mission was not just to pick peculiar aspects of the Cushitic culture but to learn a word or two. The ‘classes’ were random. All my acquaintances were my teachers. They all wanted to teach me a word or two. The daring ones ensured I sang along to their satisfaction. I enjoyed their enthusiasm.
At the Mora geel
Among many new lexicons I managed to comfortably take home with me was the word mora geel. Mora geel is a place where camels are sheltered. It is the same place where camels are milked. It was easy to memorize since I was leading a team of videographers to document Practical Action’s innovative camel milk project in Mandera County. And in our numerous trips to capture the moods, the changes, interview locals and filming the environment in general, I noticed that a lady milking a camel’s stubby udders at sunrise is not a novelty, but a daily chore to get milk valued by their tribe for generations.
So how do I say I want camel milk, I asked? Cano geel ayan raba said my teacher.
To them milking of camels is not only an act of work, but an integral part of the local culture and heritage. The milking itself has its own rules. Two teats are left for the calf, while the other two are milked-out for the family. The milk is either consumed fresh or sour.
This arid region in northern Kenya, like much of the greater horn of Africa, has in recent years been hit with less predictable and more intense droughts. Many pastoralists have lost their mainstay – livestock. The changing weather condition has not only led to loss in thousands of livestock but it has also hindered cow’s milk production. However, the value of the camels has been boosted. Milk and meat from the animal now enjoys the highest prices in the market, both nationally and internationally.
Although camels are more expensive to buy than cows, they are cheaper to keep and their milk fetches more on the market. Camel milk is said to be three times as rich in Vitamin C and is known to be rich in iron, unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins,” according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s website.
According to Viola Sugut, Practical Action’s project officer, “Camels produce milk all year round and produce when other livestock stop or die from dehydration. This ensures a steady income for the family. Businesses have also been established selling camel milk and other milk products like yoghurt and sweets. This has generated a lot of interest among local women and other women are looking at the Bulla women’s group and seeing that they can also just come out and participate in business,” she explained.
The women milk traders have found their niche says Sugut. The women’s business model has proved to be successful. The hope is that camel milk will continue to empower women, feed their families and change lives in Mandera.No Comments » | Add your comment
There is a man I meet by the road on my way to work who makes me envious. He sits by the trench surrounded by a heap of waste polythene bags he collects every morning. This heavily dreadlocked man does not show even a trait of fear on his face. The lines on his face instead represent a proud ‘general.’ He reminds me of the feeling one gets when a beautiful woman walks by a boys’ dance party; either smiling at the angels in the sky or just speaking to the invisible souls that seem to be seated around him. On chilly mornings I see him lighting a fire whose smoke engulfs the air above his head as he shifts his knees beside it. In most times, I have found him puffing his cigarette away, the ensuing smoke forming either burbles or singular lines that seem to draw the faces of fond ‘brethren’ who passed on in one of the past world wars. As he reclines on the heap behind his head, I can hear him speak like one contented warrior, “It is well, it is well.” I have not had or felt in the distant past such a moment of contentment as this man. They call him Jahman Shepherd.No Comments » | Add your comment
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
So after 13 years Practical Action is moving from the AAYMCA Building on State House Crescent off State House Road to a new office block in the leafy suburbs of the city. I hear that the new building will also allow us to enjoy the sights and sounds of the informal – or should I say untamed villages west of the city. I will have to get there and find out.
Just the thought of moving office I am in tormental angst, although it is not immediately evident. I only know because recently I am dreaming in black and white, horror visions causing me to wake up in tears. And you know what they say about a man in tears. My cat Brian has refused his usual breakfast – a mixture of yesterday, today and an alternative proposal of tomorrow’s stew, a menu he has faithfully taken since he moved in with me a number of years ago. Even Thande our old Rottweiler has begun being extremely attaching. I think I am expressing my emotions too openly when I am supposed to be a man – take a hold of yourself mister!
I joined Practical Action about nine years ago. And I liked it. During those days there were about 100 living experts on the available work stations. Everybody seemed busy. I remember that we needed both the second and the third floor of the building to fit everyone. Our office hosted three other organizations; Community Livestock Initiatives Programme (CLIP), International Labour Organization’s Advisory Support Information Services and Training for Employment-Intensive Infrastructure (ILO ASIST) Department; and Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN).
There was so much activity at the office that it was like a small town, it even required policing – I guess one of the greatest reasons why “the General” our good watchman at the gate had such a well-defined role. He was always proactively involved in even keeping order not only in the compound but also in our office. Our Director walked about encouraging and motivating staff and residents with a phrase “the struggle continues.” What was evident then and there are traits of it even now, was the passion and drive that kept the organization vibrant. I guess we also made a lot of money then because everyone looked happy – but I digress again.
Fast forward, we have moved to the Methodist Ministries Centre. And I am sad. In fact, I am slowly seeing my ‘waist tires’ grow, my belly hanging and my neck blowing up. We had the hill on State House Avenue to cure this. Now it is good bye England’s rose. I miss the roof top even though it was associated with credulities of the grapevine. I miss the inspiration I always got when I looked at the view of the central business district. I miss how easy it was to simply stroll to the city on the break and back. I simply cannot come to terms with the fact that there is no short-cut to town anymore. Indeed I miss the sense of insecurity we had at the office block that anyone would walk in and out and only stop peremptorily to find directions and not seek permission.
Although we have moved to this uptown neighborhood, I really want to cry. Will we ever get a prettier car park? The trees at the old car park would lavishly and gently paint our cars with flowers; except when one weekend when the most beautiful Acacia Nilotica in the yard faced the detriments of a storm and just gave up the ghost. Much metal and steel was lost in the incident.
Then there is the economics. My accountant – who happens to be the Vice President of my household, tells me that if we are not careful we might be facing a down turn that will see our GDP fall to levels equivalent to those of the great depression. When I married my profit and loss account presented to me an image of progression and profit. My Vision 2015 indicated positive variables with no effect on the principle. It now seems that my advisors were wrong. I now have acquired a new status – “Mrs. Food-Fare Poverty.”
The other day I told myself that just because I am hungry I could sample the eating places in the neighborhood. Afterwards, I spent the whole afternoon in the restroom. The following day I told myself, “It is just a reaction to a new dish.” So I asked a friend to accompany me to the eating joints in the leafy suburb. You can believe it when I say I spent the weekend on my corridor – between my living room and my place of worship. I guess we got so used to the germs in our old neighborhood that we became immune to the ailments. It is all in the process of natural selection and our own evolution.
My new genetic make-up will have to live without the monotonous Mama-party dishes, Migingo Island assortment menu and the watery stew and greens of the church bunker. As a new species I will have to adapt to climate change in the form of the comfort of the loo (did I just say loo?), move from the watery boily and fatty to the hotty, spicy, hygienic lifestyle.
Although I miss the AAYMCA building and we all have to embrace the new culture and living, the new office package does not come with the freedoms I had. I will have to spend more on my second life. Otherwise as Jay Asher says in Thirteen Reasons why, “You can’t stop the future; you can’t rewind the past; the only way to learn the secret…is to press play.” I rest my case.No Comments » | Add your comment
First of all I must confess that I got over excited a few months ago. I had promised myself that I would request to host the next celebrity visitor we got to our office. And I had been granted my wish even though this was not ‘the’ celebrity I was expecting.
When I was informed that I was going to accompany Jamie Oliver to visit our projects in Kenya, I immediately read “The Naked Chef,” a show on BBC. I even started to think about all the recipes I would learn from him, all the ‘Return to School Diners’ I would be experimenting on during the visit and probably be a graduate of ‘Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals.’ In any case this was a dream come true.
I remember my anxiety, the sweat on my face; the dark smudge under my armpits; and my dry mouth. I thought, would I just say ‘hi,’ or just ‘Welcome to Kenya Jamie.’ Would I bow with my left or right knee? Would I smile when they take the pictures or would I just be official? Would I plough in to his chest with my already musty abdomen or would I just stretch out my hand?
And shamefacedly I had announced to everyone during an official update session at the office that I would be travelling the country with a celebrity, who was, in fact a cook! I could see the grin on most of my colleagues’ faces burning with envy. I was going to have an experience of a lifetime and of course learn from the best.
When I ‘Googled’ him, I found a face – a handsome dude in his late thirties. In fact in his pink background website (pink?), I found out that he was more than just a cook; which in essence meant that I would be chatting up a man with diversity in his experience. (This, I like). You can now see how baited-breath-eyes-out I was as I waited for him at the Lodwar airstrip. I was experiencing bouts of movie-like dreams and visions during the day and night in expectation.
I was expecting to see a guy carrying a full suitcase, a horde of camera crew and a thin-looking tall female escort. Of course I did not expect him to have hauled his pans and ladles with him from the UK to Turkana – a remote hot and dusty region in beautiful Kenya. I never knew how thoroughly embarrassed I would be.
My jaw dropped when I met the handsome young man – a little thinner than the guy in my fantasy. And yes, I got the experience of a lifetime. My mouth went dry for days afterwards and I could not tell why. My speech was affected. The Jamie I hosted was not the Jamie who cooks and writes. This Jamie is quiet and it is contagious. This was my celebrity. I have never recovered.1 Comment » | Add your comment