Archive for August, 2011

The longest day… so far

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 by

DAY 3 Munster to Duisburg
A 60+ mile day passing through countryside and then heavy industry. Our arrival in Duisburg was a nightmare. A massive industrial city, tired legs and no detailed map. We ended up in a bustling street fair with, fortunately, some firemen on duty. They were wonderfully helpful, printing us detailed maps and route instructions from google earth that got us, finally, to the hostel’s door. It was sited on an old industrial works (including museum) with the carcasses of gas storage tanks, huge chimneys and steel works all around it. James was just contemplating climbing one of the chimneys to see the view when a security man rose up mysteriously out of the darkness in a golf buggy. Very weird.

The view from our hostel window!

DAY 4 Duisburg to Bonn, 78 miles

On the Rhine in Dusseldorf - we then went up the panoramic tower (between our heads)

With the cycle computer finally installed to confirm our accurate mileage and speed, our breathtaking average speed for the day turned out to be 8.5 miles per hour!! It had taken us hours to negotiate the complicated streets out of Duisburg so finally, come 8.15pm, we arrived in central Bonn only to find that our hostel was 5.5 kms out in the sticks up a small mountain. Smelly and tired we thought that the Intercontinental Hotel was just the ticket … for a map and some directions. However we did not legislate for the fact that it was now dark. After fumbling through the streets following buses, we pedalled up a dark wooded road. James cycling on instinct pedalled ahead only to be called to a halt by me – Why was he not using our brand new map?!?

A couple of miles later, having consulted the map, James asked a passer-by for directions. She was a very helpful (as all the Germans we have met have been) but bossy and gave us detailed lengthy, off-road instructions to the hostel. She made it sound miles away!! We rode on and considered her track but I decided the road (and map!) were safer. She was having none of it and scolded us back onto the track, shouting loudly from behind us “RECHTS! RECHTS!”. Obediently we did as we were told and began cycling up a pitch black woodland track. Miraculously we finally arrived to a YHA sign at 9pm, having thought we had been sent to the Black Forest. I was hysterical with fatigue and couldn’t stop laughing, rather alarming the poor receptionist.

The woodland track to the hostel - the next morning in daylight!

Day 5 Bonn to Koblenz

An early start – 6am and a rude awakening to a commotion outsite our window that convinced us that our bikes were in mortal danger of being stolen! They had been locked together but were in an unlocked basement. I leapt out of bed, wondering how we would track down the thieves, and ran down in my nightshirt to check out the damage. Fortunately no one else was up to see this mad woman! The bikes were fine.

A statue of Beethoven who was born in Bonn.

3pm: After visits to the tourist information, the town archive and the street were Papa was born (sadly the house is no longer there) we were off! Only 40 miles today, what a sinch! We followed the Rhine all the way, through lovely winding, wooded valleys, spotting our first vineyards. Arrived Koblenz 7pm. Phew.

Arriving in Koblenz on a beautiful evening.

Held up by the Post Meister

Sunday, August 28th, 2011 by

(Day 2 of the ride and we have found an internet terminal to get onto the blog.)
Amazingly, our bikes both survived the plane journey and arrived, with our panniers at the correct airport (Hannover)!

I was so pleased to have arrived with all the gear intact: First step accomplished!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So after half an hour of careful reconstruction we set off by train to our starting point of Bremen – our ancestral town.

James reconstructing his bike.

The following morning we decided to spend a little time investigating our family history before setting off. We had been told by family mythology that our ancestors had been important people in Bremen through the centuries. A visit to the archive found nothing so we were directed to the Foke Museum. The historians there looked blank when we suggested the famous Schumacher name but directed us to a book of a previous exhibition they had held on notable figures in Bremen’s history. At last! We found our great, great, great, great … grandfather, Albert! He looked a stuffy 18th century bloke with an impressive wig. And lo! He was the all-important Post Master!!!! What a find! The museum staff proceeded to lay out a red carpet for our exit.

So, after a hot chocolate stop to compose ourselves and get over the shock of our blue-blooded ancestry (and a few miles cycling around Bremen!) we set off at 11.30 for our first stage of 70 miles!

We cycled through hot sun, thunder storms and beating rain, stopping regularly for map conferences, punctures and sustenance. By dusk we were … almost there! By nightfall we got our first glimpse of the youth hostel lights at Alfsee and rolled off our bikes into bed.

Day 2

Less eventful but once again thunder storms and an intermittent headwind. Our prediction was to arrive in Munster by 4pm. Ha! Arrived 6.30 but at least that was before dark.

Feeling REALLY tired this morning and have a mere 65 miles to do today to reach Duisburg. Better get going as our light batteries are fading!!!!

Kenya visit: in which I learn about work

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 by

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

Working to Save Pastoralists’ Livelihood in Mandera

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 by

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.


Make the Call: Energy for All

Monday, August 22nd, 2011 by

Would you like to help us end energy poverty?

There are positive signs coming from the European Commission that they genuinely understand the importance of energy access in enabling development.

This gives us an opportunity. With public support, we can translate this understanding into a substantial commitment to get energy to poor communities on a scale that makes a real difference to global energy poverty. The European Development Commissioner, Mr Piebalgs, controls the biggest development budget in the world and we need people to call on him to commit to energy for all by 2030.

We have made a short and simple video to show how access to modern energy makes daily life easier – something that many of us take for granted.

Please make the call and share this video:

Kenya Visit: rainbows from Africa

Friday, August 19th, 2011 by

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.

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

Thursday, August 18th, 2011 by

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.

A simple stove is transforming lives

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011 by

Saline didn’t own a house. She didn’t earn enough to feed her family. She was desperately ill from the smoke produced by open fires that she used for cooking and heating.

But that all changed when she joined a women’s co-operative in Nyangande, Kisumu, which has established a small business making improved cooking stoves.

Every year, 1.6 million people die from cooking over open fires – that’s more than the number of deaths caused by malaria!

Practical Action launched a project in Kisumu to transform the health and wealth of the poorest people in the area through public education, scaling up, wider use, and uptake of improved and clean cooking technologies.

As part of the project, we have been teaching hundreds of women like Saline on how to make and install stoves, like ‘Upesi’ stoves.

The Upesi stove is made of a pottery cylinder (known as the stove liner), built into a mud surround in the kitchen. Upesi means ‘fast’ in Swahili, because the stove not only cuts fuel use, it also cooks food faster. As it burns fuel more efficiently than an open fire, it produces less smoke. This therefore has a significant positive impact on people’s health.

Saline with a Upesi stove

Saline said: “Our health was not good. My children and I suffered from the smoke. We were always coughing and sneezing and my daughter was very sick – she was vomiting a lot.

“But now we are using the Upesi stove our health is so much better. And because I am making and selling the stoves I am also earning an income. I was earning KSH 150 a day (£1) but now I earn twice that. I now own my own house, I can feed my family and can pay the school fees for my five children. I am so happy.”

Having heard a lot about the project and after writing a number of articles on the benefits of improved cooking stoves, it was fantastic to see it with my own eyes and witness the massive difference it is making to people’s lives.

But what left the most lasting impression was the pride that Saline and her colleagues had in what they were achieving. And it made me proud too, that I work for such a fantastic organisation which works with people to give them the tools and opportunities they need to lift themselves out of poverty.

Cherry plums

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011 by

16th August 2011 marks 100 years since Papa was born so I have been pondering about him on my ride.

One of my earliest and most formative memories of Papa – I must have been 6 or 7 at the time – was digging potatoes with him in the garden. It sounds so simple and indeed it was but it was revolutionary for my young child’s mind: you stuck a fork into the ground beneath a bushy green plant, loosened the earth, and as if by magic food appeared. I remember scrambling around in the muck excitedly looking for more of these precious golden roots. I suspect it was the first time that I realised where food came from – miraculously it grew, out of the ground around us. It seemed absolutely amazing!

I suspect this was a particularly important experience for me because it appealed to my foraging instinct, an instinct I have had to fight vigorously on my bike rides around the abundant Shropshire lanes. Hedgerows are full of blackberries, sloes, wonderful wild flowers (that I would like in my garden!) and wild raspberries but if I keep stopping to pick, I get nowhere fast!

Along a particular lane that I frequent, I pedal past about 200 metres of cherry plum bushes. This year they have been swathed in wonderful fruit – yellow, red and purple. Most of it, sadly, simply drops to be squished by passing traffic. It breaks my heart to see this abundance go to waste so in this particular case I’ve allowed myself to stop and gather the plump fruit. Sometimes it has just been to stuff them in my mouth with the excuse that I needed the sugar to replenish my muscles but I have also stopped to gather them for use at home. I found that the darker fruit were the tastier to eat fresh but the yellow fruit have ripened later and are still around now.

At home I have substituted them for plums in a plum and sour cream tart recipe – delicious! – but I have also been keen to try making jam. I’m no expert jam-maker and didn’t have any recipe books for plum jam let alone the wild variety. How much sugar should I use? Do they need extra pectin? Where do I look for information? Well, obviously, the internet. What a fantastic modern resource and sure enough there are lots of good wild plum jam recipes and tips on-line. And how much poorer I would be if I was unable to access this amazing source, if I did not have access to the modern sources of energy that power this cyber world.

“A life without energy condemns people to a life of poverty. One quarter of the world’s population is forced to live without energy – and lives are devastated as ill health and poor education take their toll.” (Practical Action, 2011)

Hence Practical Action’s important campaign to provide energy for all through the use of more efficient technologies and small-scale electricity generation projects such as micro-hydro projects in Peru and simple solar technologies in parts of Africa. Access to energy is a crucial part of access to education and information, the importance of which Papa recognised all those years ago: “Development does not start with goods, it starts with people and their education, organisation and discipline.”

The jam, by the way, is a brilliant red or apricot orange depending on the plum colour and tastes wonderful. And in the process I have discovered a super website www.eatweeds.co.uk !

Kenya Visit – There is beauty everywhere

Monday, August 15th, 2011 by
On Monday morning we board a plane from Mandera town to Nairobi. Although I loved last week’s road trip, I am secretly relieved that we are not facing another 19 hour drive on dirt tracks. I don’t think my body could handle it, especially after feeling so weak over the last few days.

During the two hour wait for take off (this is ‘Africa time’ I am told), I start chatting to a Somali man called Patrick, who works for UNICEF. He has been in Mandera to deliver emergency aid to the thousands of refugees who are fleeing the famine.

“Is this your first time in Kenya?” he asks.

I tell him yes, and that actually it’s my first visit to Africa.

“Your first visit to Africa and they bring you to Mandera? Why would they do that?!” he laughs.

This attitude is one which seems to prevail in Kenya, and in the UK too.

Mandera is remote. Mandera town itself, which lies at the northern most tip of Mandera county, is a 1200km drive from the city of Nairobi. The first 200km are proper roads with tarmac and relatively smooth driving. The remaining 1000km are dirt tracks, punctuated by potholes. You might see the occasional four by four truck but for the most part it is a completely desolate drive. Occasionally you’ll pass through villages (‘manyatta’), consisting of a few makeshift houses constructed with wooden frames and a thatched roof. Between the villages, there is nothing. Just miles and miles of dusty red earth, and scorched looking trees. Deforestation is rife in this region as burning wood from trees is the only means by which people access energy.

The sheer distance of Mandera from Nairobi contributes to its feeling of isolation. This is compounded by the fact that there is only a very slight government presence here. Nairobi rarely concerns itself with Mandera – much like the rest of the world. Indeed, when you read the Dorling Kindersley guidebook about Kenya, in the long section describing Northern Kenya, there is much about Turkana and Lodwar. But Mandera – in spite of its incredible history, its spectacular landscape, its wealth of wildlife – is completely forgotten.

Or if it’s not forgotten, then conversation about Mandera is invariably negative. For example: ‘don’t go to Mandera, there’s nothing there’ or ‘don’t go to Mandera, you’ll be a target for rape and sexual assault’, or ‘don’t go to Mandera – it’s home to el-Shebab’.

And yet all this is totally at odds with my experiences. Yes, there is poverty, and yes, the drought has devastated communities. But I have also seen the best of humankind here in Mandera.

I have visited villages playing host to thousands of refugees fleeing the famine in Somalia, sharing the little they have with these people who have nothing.

I have met with the Mandera Council of Imams which is promoting good deeds for the “betterment of the community” by assisting women who are victims of domestic abuse and promoting peace between clans.

I have chatted to nurses and doctors at the Mandera District Hospital doing all they can to tend to the scores of malnourished children here, and watched as a woman called Hawa, a nutritional assistant, softly strokes the face of Sapria, an 8 year old orphan, as if she were her own child.

And finally, I have seen what I have been desperate to see ever since I first started working for Practical Action two years ago. I have witnessed our own projects transforming lives.

I have met women who no longer have to walk hundreds of kilometres to fetch water, and who can instead get safe water supplies from Practical Action’s shallow wells.

I have shaken hands with pastoralists who, thanks to Practical Action’s vaccination programme, can rest safe in the knowledge that their herd of ‘shoats’ (sheep and goats) will be safe from common diseases.

And I have laughed with children who know the name ‘Practical Action’, who recognise it as a force for positive change within their communities.

Yesterday, our last day in this part of Kenya, Gemma and I both received gifts of beautiful henna tattoos all over our feet and hands – a thank you gift from Mandera. Every time I look at the intricate markings on my hands, I am reminded of the warmth, vibrancy and the optimism of Mandera’s people.

In spite of the poverty, in spite of the devastation caused by drought, in spite of what they say about Mandera, there is beauty here.

And I am so proud of Practical Action for seeing it.

Tomorrow morning we fly to Kisumu. What will I find there? A different Africa I think.