Blogs tagged as Kenya visit

  • 5 Simple solutions that llama farmers love

    Stacey McNeill

    August 5th, 2016

    Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of Practical Action’s projects across Latin America. Not only was I overwhelmed by the colours, culture and pure grit of people living in some really challenging environments, but by the generosity and open friendship they showed when welcoming us into their homes.

    Martin Queso's prize winning llama

    Martin Queso’s prize winning llama

    At an altitude of almost 4000m, high in the mountains of western Bolivia is the Jesús de Machaca municipality. With a population of roughly 400 people, a tough four hour car ride from any major town along rough dirt roads, this is a remote and arguably hostile landscape to live in. There are few ways to make a living up here, and apart from growing limited crops such as quinoa, the environment means agriculture is largely restricted to farming camelids.

    Llamas and alpacas are hardy animals, which when cared for properly; provide a vital income for farmers. However; challenges of weather, uncontrolled breeding, inadequate knowledge of rearing livestock, along with often unfair access to markets means that farmers in the upland areas of Peru and Bolivia are struggling to earn a living to support their families.

    But, with the help of our kind supporters, Practical Action is changing this. Below you can read about five simple, sustainable solutions that are helping to transform the livelihoods of camelid farmers in Latin America.

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    Queso family standing in front of their Practical Action llama shelter.

    1. Covered shelters:

    The relentless push of climate change is causing the weather to be unpredictable in high altitude areas, and farmers in Bolivia are often caught out by sudden bites of frost, or prolonged rainfall. Martin Queso and his family showed us the open fronted shelter that Practical Action have helped him to build, he told us:

    “Before, my animals would just range freely. When the weather suddenly changed, with cold winds, ice or rain, they would get sick, often they would die, and I would have no way of making any income. I couldn’t afford to replace a lost llama, and my flock got smaller and smaller.”

    With the shelter, now the family can easily bring the herd inside for protection from the elements when needed.

    2. Rainwater storage, irrigation and water pumps and troughs:

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    Photovoltaic water pump and trough for livestock

    With erratic and unreliable rainfall, mountainous areas in Peru and Bolivia often go for periods of time where water is scarce. With the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems like this one is Nunõa, Peru, water can be collected and stored. Irrigation pipes are connected to the reservoirs, ensuring the surrounding ground remains green for grazing.  In Jesús de Machaca, the installation of photovoltaic water pumps and troughs means that livestock have access to fresh water all year round.

    “We didn’t believe it would work at first” Dalia Condori, a member of the local council told us, “but now it has brought water and a better life for so many”

    3. Breeding pens:

    We’ve seen them patch-worked into the countryside of the United Kingdom for centuries:

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    Rainwater harvesting and irrigation system and stone-wall breeding pens

    Dry-stone wall enclosures that hem-in herds, divide open grassland and mark boundary lines; but this simple method of livestock separation has only been introduced fairly recently to communities in the Nunõa district, near Sicuani in southern Peru. Enabling farmers to isolate certain alpacas from the rest of the herd allows for selective and planned breeding of the healthiest animals, in turn producing the highest quality wool fleece, returning a better price at market. It also means that young alpacas can be nurtured and protected for longer periods of time before being released to roam freely with the herd, thus boosting their fitness and increasing their chances of survival.

    4. Market access and product diversification:

    In the remote villages of upland Bolivia, getting a fair price for llama wool is tough – individual farmers can only sell for whatever the going price in the local area is, even though this may be much lower than what the fleece is actually worth. Practical Action is working with farming communities to create co-operative groups that can work together to access bigger markets for their products, and demand a higher, fairer price.  Llama farmers like Andrés are also encouraged to diversify their products in order to make a better income. Andrés, who has won multiple awards for his spinning and wool-product work, also makes and paints traditional Bolivian clay figures to sell at the tourist markets.

     

    Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

    Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

    5. Training and knowledge:

    Practical Action helps to provide training on basic animal husbandry and wellbeing. Farmers in Jesús de Machaca learn about the right type and quantities of nutritious food, how to administer medication for their llamas when they are sick, and how to maintain the grazing pasture land. The knowledge is then shared between farming communities by Practical Action ‘Promotors’ who help to teach others how to breed and care for their livestock effectively.

    It is vitally important to the families in these areas that the great work that Practical Action is able to do continues. Llamas and alpacas are strong and intelligent and are crucial for the farming communities in Latin America. Access to the tools and knowledge for breeding and looking after their animals provide families with a secure source of income. With just £47 you can help to support a llama farmer in Bolivia by buying a ‘llama lifeline’ Practical Present today.

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  • Prayers for rain

    I crave sunshine. I think it comes from being born just after Midsummer. I feel at my happiest when sitting in dappled sunlight, underneath the promise of a cloudless blue sky.

    So the last three weeks of constant rain, and the forecast of the wettest and coldest May for many years, fill me with melancholy.

    Yet in spite of the current weather, we are in a time of drought, and counties up and down the UK face hosepipe bans until the end of this year at least.

    It’s strange to be in drought during a time of so much rain. I was in Kenya during the drought in the Horn of Africa last summer. It was the worst that the region had witnessed for 60 years. The red flesh of the earth was barren, the empty river beds like bloodless veins. Cattle carcasses littered the horizon, and the wind carried the pungent smell of death.

    One woman I met told me that she prayed for rain every single day, a prayer for rain to comfort the earth, to bring food and hope and life.

    So today – even though the rain makes me crave tea and hobnobs and an old film and bed – I am remembering that woman, and her prayers for rain. I am reminding myself to be grateful for it.

    There’s another drought this year in the African Sahel, which comprises Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and northern Senegal. A toxic combination of low rainfall, high food prices, entrenched poverty and regional conflict means that 13 million people are at risk of malnutrition and starvation.

    Those 13 million mums, dads, children and grandparents are probably praying for rain too.

    We are so lucky we don’t have to.

    Unlike some larger NGOS, Practical Action is not an aid agency, and we do not deliver emergency relief. Instead, we believe passionately that it is only through long-term development work using appropriate technology that poor and vulnerable communities can become more resilient, and the desperate tragedy of drought and famine can be avoided. You can support our work here.

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  • Justice for the have nots

    When I am not working at Practical Action’s headquarters in rural Warwickshire, I spend my time with my friends in Notting Hill in London. Yesterday, after a yoga class and a cup of coffee, I walked home, along Ledbury Road, one of Notting Hill’s most famous thoroughfares. It was a glorious springy sunshiney morning, much longed for after two weeks of seemingly endless rain. Towards one end of the road are huge white Victorian villas, with spring blossoms veiling the balconies and graceful Greek columns framing impressive porches. As the road progresses, the white elegance fades into brown dinginess. The other end of the road is home to council estate flats: small and drab. I smile at two little girls hopscotching in a yard that’s around 10 foot by 10 foot.

    One of London’s greatest qualities is its diversity, yet all I could see during my walk along Ledbury Road was the injustice of the ‘haves and the have nots’.  This phrase – ‘the haves and the have nots’ was one I heard lots during my trip to Practical Action’s work in Kenya in August 2011.

    While travelling to a project in the informal settlements outside Kisumu city in western Kenya, my colleagues pointed out the narrow road which divided the ‘have nots’ from the ‘haves’. All that separated the people without life’s essentials: food, water, sanitation, shelter, energy, health care, education, a livelihood, from the people who had them, was a mere dirt track.

    Walking along Ledbury Road yesterday was a useful reminder that sometimes the physical distance between those who have enough and those who don’t is negligible. But bridging that gap can seem an insurmountable task.

    Technology Justice is one movement that is needed to help with this challenge. At Practical Action, we envisage a world where there is a balance between meeting the practical needs of people with less, while satiating the technological appetites of those with more. A world where all people, regardless of geography or wealth, can choose and use the technologies that will help them to live the life they value, without compromising the ability of others and future generations to do the same. A just, fair and equitable world, with a smaller gap between the people who have lots and those who have less. Technology Justice isn’t really about technology, it’s about people – and doing what is right.

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  • People help the people

    I have always been a Christmassy person. One of my friends calls me her Christmas friend for my propensity to tie bows and ribbons on everything all year long.

    I think it’s the twinkle I love: the glisten of decorations and the golden glow of fairy lights. In the depths of darkest winter, the whole of life somehow seems more sparkly.

    And I love Christmas foods; mountains of rich, boozy mince pies and heart-warming vats of cinnamon-scented mulled wine. I love the first deep breath of a fragrant Christmas tree, and the sweet tanginess of a freshly peeled tangerine fished from my stocking on Christmas morning.

    And I love being with my family. Admittedly it’s not always peaceful or perfect, but there is always a great deal of jolliness.

    But mostly I love the feeling of love that seems to infuse every heart in the world.

    I am approaching Christmas 2011 with more sadness and a little less joy than usual though. It has been a year of loss for me and for my family; the loss of loved ones.

    When I think of the people I have lost – whether through death or by other means – I remember the women who I met in Africa this summer. Most of them had suffered loss too – the loss of their husbands or their children. I spoke to one mother in Mandera county who had walked for 10 days from Somalia to find food and water in neighbouring Kenya. She carried her two year old son on her back for the entire journey. And then he died of malnutrition the day after she reached help.

    I think about that woman and I wonder what she is doing now. It’s raining in Mandera at the moment – the longed-for rains, thankfully, have come. Is she still in Kenya? Or has she returned to her village in Somalia? Has she found her husband? Are the rest of her children healthy, or has she lost more? Has she been able to find enough food to sustain her family? I hope with every molecule of my body that she is safe and well, and that her family is thriving.

    Christmas inspires both gratitude for what we already have and sparks a certain greater openness to generosity, kindness and compassion. Charles Dickens wrote in the most festive of novels, ‘A Christmas Carol’, that Christmas is “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable pleasant time: the only time…in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.’

    As I prepare to leave my desk for two whole weeks of festive celebration, my heart is with all the people I met when I was in Africa, and for every vulnerable, forgotten, underprivileged woman, man and child around the world. As the embers of 2011 settle and the bright lights of 2012 beckon, I am sending them all of my love and good wishes.

    Next year I hope we can all do more to help build a fairer world, one which is free from poverty and injustice.  Two billion people live in abject poverty, with less than 80 pence a day. That’s two billion too many. People, please help the people.

    Thank you – and happy Christmas.

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  • In pursuit of justice

    Ella Jolly

    Cumbria, UK, Bampton | November 18th, 2011

    I find the further north I go, the more compelling the landscape. The epic hills seem to put my own transient physicality into perspective, and I have a stronger sense of myself in comparison to the vastness of the world. The undulating fields rise above me, setting heights in their hearts. The earth here seems more alive, more full of vitality, than the infinitely flat fields which surround my home in Warwickshire.

    The window seat in the train carriage proves brilliant for surveying these magnificent vistas. The hopscotching rivers, the evergreen firs (naked Christmas trees in my mind), the northern air itself – all is tantalisingly close.

    I think perhaps the most wondrous thing is that the beauty of this verdant Eden is so accessible to me. I am here in Cumbria, over 200 miles from my home, in just under 3 hours. In the developed world the ease of travelling to distant or remote places is something we take for granted, which we know our infrastructure will facilitate.

    When I was in Kenya this summer, this was far from the reality. A journey from Nairobi to Mandera of 800 miles took nearly two days. No wonder the people who make their lives in the most northern part of the country feel forgotten or marginalised.

    So sitting here on this rainy Friday morning only 10 miles from Scotland I am thinking of Africa. And of the hardness of life there. And of how unjust it is that people who I met in Kenya – and many others around the world – are denied the same services and opportunities and rights that you and I expect, and think nothing of.

    I am listening to Bob Dylan. One of his most famous songs is Blowin in the Wind, which, question after question, seeks answers to life’s injustices. He offers no solutions – just the wisdom that the answers are ‘blowing in the wind’.  I don’t think that’s true. I believe it is within our power to take small beautiful steps which effect profound change. Like the things Practical Action is doing. Talking to vulnerable people and finding out what will help improve their situations and then giving them the tools and skills and knowledge to make those changes themselves. Perhaps I’m more practical, hopeful or naive than Bob. Maybe I’m a fool. But I’ll continue believing that maybe, just maybe, we do have the ability to change things for the better. Otherwise we have to settle for a world where injustice dominates. I refuse to settle.

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  • 6 Years after Practical Action’s Intervention

    Francis Muchiri

    September 13th, 2011

    When we left for Kitale I knew I was going to meet my old acquaintances and friends and even probably share in their excitement since the last time I had met them. The road from Kisumu is remarkably improved. The distance seemed to have been reduced because they are done well. I was not disappointed. However, during the two-and-a-half hour drive, it was the good thoughts of the people I had spent time with in Kitale that were flowing through my mind and neither the landscape nor smooth roads. I knew we had started a good thing with this community and I was certain that they had flown with it.

    I was certain that if this was true, Practical Action’s on-going project People’s Plans in to Practice (PPP) would definitely be scaling up good initiatives started by the organisation. I was anxious throughout the journey. What would I see in Kipsongo slum our first stop in Kitale the following day?

    We met members of Akiriamriam group, a women’s group formed in 2001, still focussed on their core activities. Their activities revolve around initiating and sustaining income generating activities. In order to improve their shelter they were encouraged to start a savings scheme. The savings will be used to improve their shelter using cheaper but better building technologies that last longer introduced by Practical Action. The group was also supported to construct a water and sanitation facility and received training on building and construction and hygiene practices.

    Equipped with the skills, they faced another hurdle – they couldn’t put their acquired skills into practice in the village due to the challenge of land tenure in Kipsongo. They were however linked with other players in the building industry to provide services as masons. This has since had positive impact in the people’s lives.

     

    Akiriamriam Women Centre in Kipsongo

    “When we started practicing what we had been taught, our lives changed for the better. It was an eye opener.” said Patricia a group member.

    The transformation evident in the people’s lives is a sure sign that proper application of appropriate technology and skills is a good starting point to improve the well-being of the poor.

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  • Kenya visit: in which I learn about work

    I thought I knew what hard work was.

    As a student I worked hard. I was determined to excel educationally, to be the best I could be. I left school with As and A*s for my GCSEs, As and Bs for my A Levels, and then a First in English Literature at university.

    I work hard at the gym. I enjoy the feeling of pushing myself – running for ten more minutes, lifting a slightly heavier weight, or holding a yoga position for just a little longer.

    And I would say I work hard at my job. I love what I do, and feel very privileged to have a job at all, especially in a time when more than one in five 16 to 25 year olds are unemployed. So I throw my whole self into my work, and feel very passionately about it. I work hard.

    But I have realised that actually, truthfully, I don’t really know what hard work is.

    I have no idea what it is like to work hard because my ability to eat depends on it.

    On Monday I spent over two hours sweeping millions of fallen lime tree leaves, returning the drive leading to our house from a patchwork cloth of chocolate, russet, ochre to its sanitized concrete, ordered grey. For most of this time I was bent double, listening to some music to fill my head. As my brush made long rhythmic strokes across the golden ground, the refrain of the song urged me to ‘put in work’. My back ached and my arms ached. I swept and sang, and as I put in the work, I felt myself transported back to Kenya.

    This time last week in a little village in Kisumu county, I was with a women’s co-operative that has established a small business making stoves.

     Did you know that smoke inhalation from indoor air pollution kills more people than malaria? In fact, the figure is 1.6 million lives every year – one person every 20 seconds.

     So Practical Action has been training women on how to make improved stoves – ‘upesi stoves’.  The upesi stove is a simple pottery cylinder which is built into a mud surround in the kitchen. It burns fuel more efficiently than an open fire, and therefore produces less smoke. This impacts significantly on the health of the women and children who invariably spend lots of time in the kitchen. One woman, Agnes, told me “Before we didn’t realise how bad the problems with smoke were. Our eyes would stream constantly and there was so much coughing and sneezing. Our children suffered a lot. But now the situation is so much better. And we’ve already started teaching our children how to make the stoves. We are happy.”

    I watched as this group of women embarked on the ritual of making clay stoves. The clay is fermented, then sorted, moulded, thrown, shaped, and finally, fired. The whole process takes two months from start to finish. And it is hard work, involving not just the hands, but the whole body. These women are not labourers, they are true artisans.

    We have also trained the women on how to install the stoves into kitchens once members of the local community have purchased new stoves. For this, the installer must spend most of her time doubled over, or on her knees, preparing the mud floor, then building a stone layer to create a raised platform, and finally smacking the red earth until it hugs the stove so tightly that it remains locked in place.  It is manual work – and physically gruelling. I sat in a kitchen, watching in awe, as one 50 year old woman employed every muscle in her body, expended every ounce of her energy, until she completed the job perfectly. I am 24, and I don’t think my body would be up to the task.

    And for every installation, lasting up to four hours, an installer can expect to be paid approximately 145 – 150 Kenyan shillings (that’s about £1.00).

    £1.00 for four hours of exhausting work.

    But this small sum of money means vast improvements to the lives of the women. They have enough food to feed their children. They have enough money for school fees. They have enough profit to reinvest in their stove business, and their futures.

    Too often there are accusations that people in the developing world don’t do enough to overcome their poverty. That maybe they are lazy, or that they just rely on hand-outs from development agencies, or that they don’t really work that hard.

    I know – because I have seen it with my own eyes – that this is not true.

    I have never seen anyone work as hard, or with as much energy and determination, as these beautiful women in Kisumu county, Kenya.

    women's co-operative

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  • Working to Save Pastoralists’ Livelihood in Mandera

    George Kamau

    August 23rd, 2011

    Mandera residents are among the hardest hit by the current drought. However, their plight has not been highlighted as much compared to other areas like Turkana. As a result, many pastoralist families continue to suffer.

    Able bodied men and women, who in the recent months were proud owners of healthy animals, have lost a majority if not all their animals due to the drought. The Ministry of Livestock estimates the losses to between 45-60%. The loss of their animals – the main source of their livelihoods and income – has reduced many to internally displaced persons living in makeshift camps where relief supplies are normally distributed by the government or humanitarian agencies.

    During our recent trip to the area I could not help but notice the loss of pride and the level of devastation in the eyes of these pastoralists. Their experiences are moving. It is overwhelming.  I can only imagine the explanations the men and the women give to their children when they are no longer able to provide food to them.

    “What needs to be done to secure the pastoralists’ sources of livelihood?,” asked Tom Kimani, a Kenyan journalist.

    As an organization we believe that although time is extremely short and the needs are great, efforts by all stakeholders to save the lives of many pastoralist and their generations should not stop at providing emergency aid. Relief is important but not enough. We must move beyond it to help these impoverished regions escape from extreme poverty and become more resilient to the changes in weather associated with climate change. The use of appropriate technology to address the challenge cannot be overemphasized.

    Despite the above state of affairs, all is not lost. Our mission came across healthy herds of animals at watering points in Garba Xuoley, Borehole eleven and in Mandera township thanks to one of the current emergency interventions by Practical Action in the area. The initiative, built on observations that pastoralists share some of the limited relief food supplies with their animals to save their capital asset, has so far given a number of the pastoralists a reason to smile. The organization with support from the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) and The BROOKE is not only providing the animals with supplementary feeds and concentrates but also providing them with essential animal health services to secure a nucleus of animals capable of surviving the overwhelming effects of the drought.

    A pastoralist boy holds one of their remaining sheep in Elwak

    “The animals being fed today are descendants of those animals that were secured during the 2005/06 drought period. We are not only grateful but optimistic that the animal feed and the health services will help see a number of our animals to the next rainy season,” said Fatima Mohamed whose herd has been reduced from 120 to 40.

    And although the noble initiatives are making a difference in the lives of the animals of poor pastoralists in the area it does not reach all the areas. The rations are not enough. Generosity and speed are of the essence. With your support more can be done to cushion pastoralists’ sources of livelihood.


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  • Kenya Visit: rainbows from Africa

    My last day in Kenya is one in which I experience an entire rainbow of emotion.

    From my visits to the informal settlements of Nyalenda and Manyatta, I thought I was prepared for the realities of slum life. And then I spent Thursday morning in Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world. Around 1 million people play out their lives in an area that is approximately 1.5 square km.  Conditions here are just not cramped, they are hellish. Families of at least five people live in shacks made with mud walls and corrugated tin roofs, measuring only 10 feet by 10 feet. The children will often sleep on the floor underneath their parents’ bed. I was shocked to discover that this fact is actually a contributing factor to the high HIV rate. Children are exposed to their parents having sex just above them, and children being children, will begin to copy this from a very young age.

    The houses are built so close together that walking between them becomes a case of edging forwards, side on. With every step you take there is a stream of shit (literally) to avoid. The stench of waste enters your lungs before any amount of oxygen, and a certain heavy-heartedness hangs about the place. I am enraged that people who are too poor to afford other accommodation are forced to live here.

    Unlike the informal settlements of Kisumu, there is a huge feeling of despondency among people I meet. I had been warned before I came here that so much money has been pumped into Kibera in recent years that there is a culture of dependency. People do not know how to change their lives because, year after year, they have been given hand-outs, rather than a hand up out of poverty.

    But Practical Action is making history in an effort to change this. In partnership with the Kenya National Library Service, we are working with the community in Kibera to build a library and resource centre. This is the first ever library to be built in an informal settlement anywhere in the world. For this reason alone, it is an outstanding project. But as always, it is the people who make it shine. I am introduced to the construction team who are working on the site. They are young women and men from Kibera, who have never before had jobs. They are so happy and so proud to be involved. Stone by stone, they are building their own library, and the hopes of the community in which they live.

    The chairperson of the Kenya Community Library Group tells me, most sincerely “Now our dreams have come true. It will change our children’s lives. They will have opportunities that were denied to us. And maybe people will know Kibera for something good.”

    For every child I see scrambling around the rubbish dumps of Kibera, I think this library – with its treasures of books and equipment and knowledge – cannot come soon enough. And I am so thrilled that it is Practical Action who is bringing about this change. That Practical Action is being true to its radical heritage by doing something revolutionary and building the first ever slum library. That once again, Practical Action is transforming lives – perhaps as many as 50,000[1] in this case.

    Later on Thursday, I receive some very sad news from the UK. My grandfather, who has suffered with Alzheimer’s for several years, has passed away. And in spite of my passion for Africa and for Practical Action, I feel sick with sadness, and all I want to do is catch the first flight home, to go to my family, to be with the people I love.

    So now I am home.

    I have learnt many things during my time in Kenya. I have learnt that no matter how many times you wash your hands with hand sanitizer and how much bottled water you drink; it is still possible to fall sick from dirty water. I have learnt to be grateful for tarmac – the roads in the UK are wonderful. But by far the biggest lesson I have learnt is that people are people. Regardless of where you live, how your skin is coloured, which God you pray to (or not), how much money you have; people are just people. And the same things matter: your friends, your children, your parents, your grandparents – the people you love.

    On the plane home I curl up with my music. A cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” begins to play. I cry, and I think of my grandfather, and I think of Africa.

    Before I came here this place might as well have been beyond a rainbow, so distant it seemed. Now I have travelled many many miles across Kenya to share food with Mandera village elders in their straw houses, and to chat and laugh with Kisumu women in their tin homes. I have lived an entirely different life to my own small world in the UK, but witnessed the same things: disappointment, excitement, rage, passion, grief and joy.  No longer does Africa feel like an unimaginable place: it is real, and I am a richer person for having been there. And I cannot wait to return. I want to see more of Practical Action’s work, to hear more inspiring stories, to colour my world with rainbows of experiences of Africa.


    [1] The number of expected beneficiaries from the Kibera Community Library.

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  • Kenya Visit: in which I make a promise and I lose my heart

    I have arrived in Kisumu, over 1300 km from Mandera, and I am in a different Kenya now. The earth is not screaming out for water. Instead, it is a fresh, verdant landscape, with blue skies and hazy hills that seem to gently usher the city of Kisumu down to the shores of Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake in Africa.

    One of my Practical Action colleagues in the UK has a nickname for me: ‘passion in a can’ . Yet after 12 hours in Kisumu I feel like my passion comes nowhere close to what is here. This is passion’s hometown, and laughter seems to surf on every molecule in the air.

    And nowhere is this more evident than in the informal settlements of Nyalenda and Manyatta, which lie just outside Kisumu city. Wandering through the slum of Manyatta, where over 20,000 people live in an area that is just 1.5 square km, all I can hear is laughter – of the young men making jokes, of the women chatting while they clean their mountains of coloured clothes. And the laughter of the children who call after me ‘mzungumzunguhowareyouy?i’mfinethankyouhowareyou?’, running the words together so the phrase sounds like one long exhalation. I want to record all their sing-song voices and play them constantly because they make me smile so much.

    It is amid this cacophony of laughter that Practical Action is delivering one of its largest and most notable projects in Africa, aiming to improve the homes and environments of around 190,000 people who live in slum areas around Kisumu and Kitale.

    The people here are determined to transform their own lives, so much so that the project has been developed according to their own vision. Instead of Practical Action telling communities ‘what you really need is a lovely new community hall’, we have listened to their voices and worked with them to draw up their own development plans for their homes. These plans are largely focused on improving access to clean water, constructing safe sanitation, improving the structure of houses, and establishing rubbish collection processes. And people themselves are driving this change – with passion and practical action.

    I spend my morning weaving through the slums to look at the host of appropriate technologies the project comprises – boreholes and protected natural springs to secure clean water, ecological toilets and bathrooms with showers to promote safe sanitation, bricks made from sand to improve housing, and composting bins so that rubbish can be disposed of properly. The scale of the work is impressive, and the stories are so inspiring. One man tells me that for the first time in his life he feels as if he matters. Another lady informs me that before this project, it was not uncommon for as many as 10 people to die from cholera each day. And now, because there is clean water, there are no unnecessary deaths at all.

    After an afternoon with another community in Nyalenda, the community chairperson asks me what I think of Kenya.

    “My whole life I have wanted to come to Kenya, and it has been wonderful.” I smile.

    “And Kisumu?” he asks.

    “I love it!” I declare.

    “Did you know the most powerful man in the world has his roots right here?” the man says proudly.

    “Barack Obama? Then no wonder I love Kisumu, I love Obama!”

    There is much laughter at this. So much laughter. I leave Nyalenda with laughter filling my heart and my head. But I feel deeply serious too. I promised to the people I met in Nyalenda and Manyatta that I would tell their stories, the stories of how they changed their own lives. I do not want to let them down. Their passion has inspired me. And in turn, I hope I can use my own passion to inspire you, and your friends, and your family, to support Practical Action.

    We finish the day by watching the sun slowly sinking into the lake, colouring the huge sky apricot. I bask in the beauty of my surroundings and a flash of joy infuses every vein in my body. I have fallen in love with Africa, and my heart will remain here when I return to the UK on Thursday night.

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