Blogs tagged as East Africa

  • The pain of change


    November 23rd, 2012

    “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.

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  • Not that Jamie…


    November 23rd, 2012

    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.

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  • The Singing Wells of Lebihia


    September 18th, 2012

    Every time I visit northern Kenya I learn a thing or two. Sometimes the learning is overwhelming. Most times I marvel at how rich their resilient lifestyle and culture is. I have learnt from the paradox of the complex lifestyle clothed in simplicity. Increasingly, I have developed a passion for observing nomadic pastoralists and their way of life. I am sure pastoralist way of life is full of new learning for everyone.

    From the scenic environments, the rich fauna and flora, to the rich culture and the people, the images are hard to forget. The beauty of the locals cannot be overemphasised. The hospitable, usually happy people, are hard to part with. Despite the unforgiving environmental harshness, you always want to stay longer.

    I was in Mandera in early this month. Exactly a year since I last visited the area. Unlike in my last trip to the vast region when the area was strewn with carcasses of domestic animals due to the now cyclical and prolonged droughts, the weather was friendly. It was cold, very cold as per the locals’ definitions of cold. It was their ‘winter season’ as one Alikhery Mohammed put it. I put winter in inverted commas since the temperatures were about 20-24 degrees Celsius.

    The last time I was in Mandera, I was leading a team of 10 international journalists covering the devastating drought. The visit was sponsored by The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA). We not only gave prominence to aspects that were not being highlighted by other agencies (the plight of animals and the need to secure a nucleus herd for each household in order to recoup after the drought) and media houses but also officially launched an emergency program that aimed at ensuring the locals retain a nucleus herd. As with last year the team visited Borehole 11 village in Elwak and selected sites around Mandera County. But this time, I was leading a team of consultants to film, produce and package short films on our projects in the area. The details of our mission are a subject of discussion for another time.

    One specific feature caught my attention this time. The singing wells of Lebihia village, Mandera County. It started with the organisation by the herders, their animals’ urge to quench their thirst and the musical approach the locals fulfilled their animals’ needs. From the vast fields, the animals run to the wells from all directions. In response to their shepherds’ commands, they cheer each other as they run towards the water troughs by the rehabilitated shallow wells.

    They (animals) converse in low tones as they approach the watering troughs. And with little commotion, they line up and take their positions on both sides of the troughs. Their conversations decrease as they settle to drink their fill. Others wait for their turn to drink too. All the while, the livestock owners and handlers are busy fetching clean water for their animals.

    They sing melodious songs (in local dialects) as they pick; roll-down the ropes and bucket to the shallow wells and as they pull the bucketful of water and pour onto the ever decreasing volume of water in the troughs. The rope and bucket technology is one of the appropriate technologies Practical Action has supported in the area. It is affordable and easy to maintain.

    The unified voices of the singers are inviting. And as if in agreement, the animals have learnt to – in turns – appreciate the euphonious melodies from their owners and handlers by sprinkling a few millilitres of their share of water and by twisting their tails and raising their heads in an orchestrated manner.

    Some spillage is reserved for their herders/handlers who oversee them as they drink from the troughs. Am sure some of the older animals spill some water from their mouths as a sign of their gratitude to their ancestors. The Moooo, Meeeee and HeeeeHoooo sounds surrounding the troughs is enough proof that the animals being watered are not new to the lyrics of the songs. They have learnt to honourably acknowledge the heaps of praise from their owners as they quench their thirst.

    “The songs we sing serve two main purposes. We sing to praise our animals: for their beauty, their ability to reproduce regularly and to commend them for their obedience. Additionally we sing to encourage ourselves as we fetch water for our animals,” explained Abdi Hassan, a herder.

    And when all the animals have had their share, the herders take turns to cool their systems with the remaining waters in the troughs. It was interesting to witness other owners and herders pour numerous buckets of water on the soloist as he comfortably squatted on one of the troughs as he led the rest on with the song’s lyrics to the climax. ‘It must be a very fulfilling practice,’ I thought. So, where did they learn this, I asked?

    “This aspect of our lives is historical. It’s been practised for many years. It is handed over to the next generation with each generational change,” explained Ali Noor, a local.

    And when I asked about the future of this unique practice, Noor was quick to say, ‘this is something that is at the core of our lifestyle. It will not die.’

    As I put myself to rest that night, I could vividly remember the images at the wells. I tried to find an equivalent in my culture in vain. I scribbled it on my note book and promised myself to ask my kinsmen when I go back home.

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  • Inspire a Generation


    September 3rd, 2012

    I love the Olympics. I found myself watching anything and everything,  completely engrossed by sports I wouldn’t normally watch. I love the atmosphere of the Olympics and the way 99% of the athletes enter into the spirit of the games.

    One of the tag lines of London 2012 was “Inspire a generation”. I didn’t feel particularly sporty whilst the games were on, there was no time to be active as I was far too busy sitting on the sofa watching the games.  When I hear “Inspire a generation” I think of children and young people being inspired by the athletes competing in the games, being introduced to sports that they may never have come across and maybe finding opportunities they didn’t know were there. It will take sometime to see the true legacy of London 2012, I hope that the young people for Britain have been inspired and we’ll see the results of this in the future (in the mean time I’m sure British cycling’s success will boosted the sales of junior road bikes across the country).

    LOCOG isn’t the only organisation that is inspiring a generation. Last week I was visiting Practical Action’s projects all around Kenya and visited Nakuru. In Nakuru we are changing a community by inspiring a generation.

    One of the  biggest challenges in Nakuru is basic sanitation and ensuring people link poor sanitation with poor health. Practical Action are working with the schools in the area to ensure they are able to offer their students basic sanitation – enough toilets. The recognised ratio of toilets to ensure basic sanitary needs are met are one toilet for every 30 boys or 25 girls, before Practical Action were working with the schools some had only one toilet for 100 students. This would mean that pupils could spend their entire break queueing for a toilet, just to be called back in to class before they’d had a chance to use it. Practical Action is also educating the students of the need for basic sanitation. Through better education the children learnt improved sanitation, raising their personal hygiene standards. Once the children knew the importance of proper sanitation they would raise the standards in their homes and so inadvertently teach their families. Every student suddenly becomes a sanitation ambassador in their family. So by teaching the younger generation the entire community will learn. That’s inspiring a generation.

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  • A Meal I’ll Never Forget

    “Eat your dinner”

    “No”

    “Yes, you can’t let that go to waste”

    “No”

    “There’s a child in Africa who would love that”

    We’ve all heard the cliche of how British children must finish their dinner because there’s a child in Africa who would love it. Well I now know this to be true as I’ve met that child and his name is Federico.

    I have been in Kisumu for the past few days, travelling around the city with some of my Practical Action colleagues seeing Practical Action’s work on the ground. It has been a humbling, inspiring and frankly exhausting few days. At lunch time today we had seen everything that we had planned and all that was left was to grab a bite to eat and then head to the airport (I’m writing this from the departures lounge).

    My hosts suggested that we go do to Lake Victoria to have a traditional dish of talapia and ugali. The meal was a great experience that I will never forget, not only because it was the first time I’ve eaten a fish dinner without cutlery. The four of us shared two large fish and two wedges of ugali (a Kenyan staple of maize flour and water, imagine solidified wall paper paste and you’re about there). The others laughed at me as I got to grips of eating using my fingers, but I soon got the hang of it and had a great meal.

    We sat back and compared what was left of our once meaty fish. It was declared that myself and Noah had outdone Loice and Francis, but truth be told there wasn’t much left on either fish. We’d all had a great meal. What happened next really took me by surprise. A young man, perhaps in his early teens came to the table, as though a waiter, although it was soon clear he was not a member of staff. HIs clothes were scruffy and he had a black plastic bag in his hand. He picked up each dish with the remains of our meals and scooped them into his plastic bag before placing them back on the table. I was completely shocked, I had never seen anything like this happen before. The boy said his thanks and left beaming before turning around a shouting “God Bless You!”.

    I checked with Francis that he was indeed planning on picking the bones of our left overs to make sure I hadn’t completely miss-read the situation. When Francis confirmed this I felt I needed to chat to the boy. I jumped up from my seat and found the boy outside the next restaurant along. His English was perfectly good and we had a brief chat. I learnt that he lived in Kisumu city centre with four other young boys. He came down to the restaurants each day to see what he could salvage and would take it back to his friends so the five of them could eat together. I told him that had I known, I would have left more.

    I don’t know what the moral of the story really is. I don’t want anyone to go away from this thinking they should eat every scrap put in front of them, I don’t think that will help anyone except for belt manufacturers. Perhaps it’s the quantity of food we put on out plates in the first place that needs to change. I’ll close this blog with a quote that’s been running around my head the entire time I’ve been in Kenya.

    “Live simply, so that others may simply live”

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  • Street Parties and Water

    Back in June I went to a party, a very good party. There was a BBQ, beer, a band, games and lots of cake. It was a street party in the street I grew up in celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I’m led to believe it took a fair amount of planning to organise such an event. A budget needed to be set, a price for tickets and the whole street needed to be invited, the list goes on. So a group of parents from my old street set up a party committee. I think they had 3 or 4 meetings in the run up to the party and exchanged chains of emails. Someone was appointed to be in charge of the money, someone else was sourcing the BBQ and others were in charge of booking a band. The group of 15 people in the committee did all this in preparation to ensure the party was a huge success. Leaflets were put through peoples doors and requests for tickets came flooding in, this was going to be a good old fashioned British Street Party.

    I’m glad to say the day was a huge success, over 100 people turned up and the threatening bad weather stayed away, so we had fun dancing into the evening. The success of the day was all down to this group of 15 people, they had taken it upon themselves to ensure that everyone had the chance to celebrate this historic occasion together. Well done all.

    I was in a meeting this morning discussing a very similar project… similar in some ways, but a stark contrast in others. Like the party committee about 15 members of a community had come together to take charge, take responsibility for the good of a community of over 100 people. But the responsibility wasn’t to do with throwing a cracking party. No, it was far more basic and certainly more important. Although, I hear you ask, what could be more important than celebrating Her Maj’s 60 years on the throne… Water.

    The committee had come together to ensure their urban community had a clean, safe water supply that they paid a fair price for. Through DMM (Delegated Management Model) this group of individuals had stepped up to take responsibility for the water supply representing over 100 water users. Because they had stepped up and were taking responsibility for the water supply they were able to negotiate the price of the water to the end user to half what it was before. The water was pumped from the mains supply to a master meter, here it was split off to four medium meters before separating again to individual meters. Once past the master meter the water is the responsibility of the committee. With the support of Practical Action the committee has taken responsibility for the water for the good of their entire neighbourshood.

    Although the party committee put on a great spread, the water committee is the winner in my eyes.

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  • Kilimanjaro: Summit Night

    In our briefing before our summit attempt, Isaac told us that although the trek was six days, we only had one chance. I still hadn’t been too affected by the altitude; others had been being sick and endured piercing headaches. The main thing I had noticed before this point was that everything took so much effort; I never knew that drinking a single mouthful of water would cause me to lose my breath. So the thought of climbing a further 1400m seemed pretty impossible.

    We were woken up at 10:30pm and it was already pretty cold outside and pitch black. We would be returning to the same camp, so there was no need to pack up. There wasn’t very much to pack up as I was wearing almost everything I had brought up the mountain. We had been warned that the temperature could get as low as minus 25C. We had some tea and biscuits, donned our head torches and lined up ready to go. We would be walking in single file for the next 9 hours, taking a two or three minute break every hour or so. We were told we were only allowed to take 1.5 litres of water with us due to weight and that it would cool us down too much if we had more than a sip.

    The first few hours seemed to pass quickly and we were well on our way. Although others were already being affected by the altitude, it hadn’t hit me too badly… yet. At 1:30am, it reared its ugly head as I passed 5000m AMSL. That’s three miles vertically above sea level – no wonder it hurt. It started with stomach cramps and a searing headache, then shortly afterwards exhaustion began to set in. At the third break of the evening I couldn’t sit up and just lay on the mountain for three minutes, I took some paracetamol, ibuprofen and an energy tablet, which meant that I could get off the floor and face the next hour at least.

    The pace had slowed to a crawl now, and each time the person in front of me stopped I leant on my poles and closed my eyes. I would fall asleep momentarily each time this happened. It’s fair to saw this was a pretty low point for me and it would only get worse. To add to the headaches, cramps, exhaustion and temporary narcolepsy I had a new challenge to deal with… I had started hallucinating and I would later find out I wasn’t the only one. At first I started seeing people that weren’t there, they were in my periphery and when I looked directly at them they soon disappeared. I then started stepping over rocks that weren’t actually there which was particularly unhelpful. And strangest of all, I looked up the mountain and about 20 metres ahead of me I saw a cotton wool like cloud about 20 feet wide resting on the surface of the mountain. The strange thing was that I then heard someone behind me talking about the cloud. It took me several seconds to realise that neither the cloud or the conversation existed.

    At this point, I really didn’t think I’d be able to get to the top, but at about 3:30am whilst we had a couple of minutes rest one of the team said they had run out battery on the iPod, so I asked if I could use their headphones (I had my phone so I could call my mum from the top, but no headphones). He obliged and so I spent the next few hours listening to stand-up comedy, which distracted me from the silence. There was no conversation anymore, everyone just plodded on, one small step after another. I would also spend the next few hours longing for sunrise to arrive, partly to see sunrise from 5500m but mainly because I hoped it would take the edge off the cold.

    The sun did arrive at about 6:30 and I’ve never been so happy to see it. We were still about 50m shy of Stella Point (5739m) when dawn broke and it would take us a further half hour to climb those 50m. Once there we could see the crater and it was the first time we could see the peak. We had a short celebration and break. Spirits had lifted and it couldn’t have felt more different from an hour before. I felt like making it to Uhuru Peak was a certainty now, whereas a few hours ago I wasn’t certain of anything at all.

    The views as we walked around the rim of the crater were amazing. Looking to my right, I looked deep into the crater below, and to my left was a huge glacier. Then finally, looking straight ahead I saw the sign that we had been aiming for stating we had reached Uhuru Peak, 5895m AMSL. Walking up to the sign, it didn’t quite seem real that we’d made it. 30 out of our group of 32 made it to the summit, which is a pretty astonishing achievement, and a testament to our brilliant guides. I felt gutted for the two how hadn’t made it to the top and spoke to them both as soon as I made it back to camp. One girl was too ill to attempt the summit night trek, so had stayed in her tent and the other had made it to 5200m and turned around after fainting six times, clearly the right decision and one she did not regret in the slightest. At the top the 30 of us along with our guides hugged congratulated each other, took in our achievement and posed for a photo or two.

    I had joked on the way up that, as far as I was concerned the trek ended at the top and that I wasn’t thinking passed reaching the summit. I would soon learn that, that wasn’t the case and in many ways going down was as much of a challenge, but that I will save for another day.

    If you want to see a few more of my snaps from the trek, then you can see them here, any comments welcome.

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  • Kilimanjaro: Not a walk in the park

    Just over a week ago I wrote a blog as I was preparing for a once in a lifetime adventure (and as you read on you’ll learn why it will certainly be a once in a lifetime adventure). I was preparing for a trip to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro, packing my bags and scaring myself by reading up on altitude sickness. I got off the mountain two days ago and still haven’t recovered, I’ve just gone for a walk round the block of my hotel in Nairobi to try and loosen off. Stairs are still a big issue. Back in the comfort of my hotel room I shall give you a short account of my Kilimanjaro challenge.

    Pre-Mountain
    On Saturday morning, we landed in Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi and were loaded onto a couple of buses as we transferred down to Arusha. The journey would be about six hours including crossing the border at Namanga. There was a sense of nervousness when a huge mountain came into view after we crossed the border. This feeling was heightened when our driver pointed out that was only Mount Meru which stands 1330 metres shorter than Kilimanjaro. We arrived at our hotel in Arusha late afternoon and had a briefing from our two Lead Guides, Isaac and Eli (pronounced Ellie). All briefings were only ever for the following day so that we did not get overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge ahead of us. We prepped our kit, ensuring we had everything we needed, enjoyed dinner round the corner before an early night.

    Day 1
    The day would start with more travelling: along with our team of guides and porters we piled into a couple of buses for the three hour drive to Machame Gate. We signed in at the gate and got the necessary pre-departure team photo. At this point we didn’t feel too much like a team, but we would gel into one very quickly. Machame Gate is 1800m AMSL (Above Mean Sea Level), so we would START our walk nearly 500m higher than the highest point in Britain.

    Our first day’s trekking would see us climb 1300m through rainforest, many of the group saw monkeys but I was never in the right place at the right time. We would camp at Machame Camp, still within the forest, and enjoyed a meal prepared by our skilled chefs. It had been a long day and I felt particularly stiff after a total of about 20 hours traveling before the walk, so I was very happy to bed down on my particularly comfortable sleeping mat.

    Day 2
    We were woken up at 6:20, so that we could get a good early start on the day. Even though we were over 3000m AMSL it would still get warm within a few hours, so an early start was essential. After the almost claustrophobic feeling of the rainforest, the views to be seen on day two were awe inspiring. We moved above the tree line fairly early in the morning and  so we had brilliant views above the African Savanna. We would camp at Shira Camp, the coldest camp of the trip as there was no shelter at all. This did give me the opportunity to get a photo of the camp under the stars as people wandered about with head torches on.


    Day 3
    One of the biggest challenges of climbing Kilimanjaro is dealing with the altitude. I usually wake up at about 50m AMSL in Warwickshire, on day three I woke up at 3850m AMSL and would pass Lava Tower at 4600m AMSL. To acclimatise to the altitude, you climb high and sleep low. So although we would climb 750m by lunch time, we’d then descend 650m after lunch to camp at the base of Barranco Wall. Although we knew it was all part of the plan, it was quite depressing walking so far downhill when we were climbing a mountain. When we made it to camp, it was very clear to see what the next morning had in store for us as we were camped at the base of the intimidating Barranco Wall. As the sun went down our attentions turned from The Wall to one of the many brilliant sunsets from the trek. This trip is the first time I’ve been able to experience a sunset from above the clouds.

    Day 4
    Throughout the trek we had a huge support team of guides, chefs and porters who made the whole thing possible. Some porters carried our main backpacks (on their heads) and others carried the communal kit, such as tents, cooking equipment and even toilets. This feat was made all the more impressive as they left camp after us, overtook us and arrived the next camp before us. They were astonishing. Climbing Kilimanjaro would simply not be possible without them.

    We woke up at 6am to ensure we were able to be trekking by 7am. We had to start so early so that we could have got over Barranco Wall before the porters (both ours and those from other expeditions) needed to pass us. It certainly was quite a scramble with intimidating drops meant you had to stay so close to the rock, wandering towards the edge just wasn’t an option. I’ve highlighted the exact route we took.

    The day would continue with more ascents and descents finishing mid-afternoon at Barrafu Camp (4600m AMSL). We had a very early dinner before bedding down for some much needed sleep at 5pm.

    Knowing what was ahead of me, it was surprising that I slept beautifully.

    To be continued…

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  • Kilimanjaro: Why would you do it?


    August 9th, 2012

    It’s nearly time! On Friday evening I’ll fly from Heathrow to Kenyatta International Airport to join a group from Manchester as they attempt to climb the highest freestanding mountain in the world, Kilimanjaro.

    To say I’m nervous would be an understatement. I’ve got an empty feeling in my stomach and when I think about it I can feel a small, but tight knot somewhere in my gut. I’ve done challenge events before, run half marathons and a marathon, jumped out of a plane, hiked out of the Grand Canyon and even completed Tough Guy a few times, so the empty feeling in my stomach isn’t due to the physical challenge. Nor is it due the travel, I’ve spent time in East Africa before and I am so excited to return. No, the metaphorical moths doing laps of my stomach is caused by one word… altitude.

    We need oxygen, so it’s a good thing that the air is 21% of the stuff. When at altitude the oxygen percentage stays the same, but there’s just a lot less air. In fact, there’s about 50% less air at the top of Kilimanjaro than I’m used to in nice flat Warwickshire. So this lack of oxygen makes everything harder and that’s when altitude sickness can set in. Altitude sickness sounds grim, symptoms range from a light headache and nausea to in extreme cases pulmonary or cerebral edemas. As Kilimanjaro stands proud at 5,895m it is defined as being at extreme altitude and if you’re badly affected then there is no option but to get lower, fast. So what are my chances of being affected by altitude sickness? In all honesty, I have no idea. There is no way of telling whether you’re going to be affected or not, you could trek to altitude five times and be fine, and then on the sixth be badly affected. It all seems like a great unknown to me.

    It therefore seems mad that this summer we have hundreds of students willingly choosing to take on the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro and fundraising huge amounts of sponsorship along the way. I am really looking forward to finding out what has driven the different members of our team to take on such a challenge. I’ll be doing my best to blog my experiences, so feel free to come back and have read about how I get on.

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  • Living with drought in Mandera

    It has been 12 months since Northern Kenya, and Mandera County in particular, saw one of the worst droughts in 60 years.

    Thanks to your support, Practical Action was able to help thousands of poor people cope with the drought. But we need your help more than ever to ensure that the region doesn’t slip back into crisis when the next drought occurs.

    Mandera

    Mandera County has an area of over 25,000 square kilometres of dry land and a population of 1,025,000 people. Most of these people are pastoralists who depend on their livestock to survive.

    As we were already working in this area we expanded our services to help those most at risk.

    Impact of the 2011 drought

    Due to the failure of the rains from October to December 2010, water sources dried up and pastures diminished. Many livestock died as a result and their owners were unable to sustain their livelihoods and feed their families.

    Inadequate and inappropriate economic, social and political preparedness strategies and ineffective early warning systems left pastoralists more vulnerable to the effects of drought. Interventions only begin when the drought impacts have reached emergency levels and the biggest casualty is usually the livestock and their poor owners.

    What Practical Action did and how we did it

    With the onset of the drought, Practical Action, with support from The Brooke and The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) launched an emergency programme of work to minimize the losses of pastoralist livestock and donkeys.

    We set up a feeding and vaccination programme for sheep and goats.

    Donkey health service drives were provided to reduce worm infestations and treat opportunistic diseases that would have weakened donkeys or led them to early deaths.

    We trained donkey owners and handlers to take care of their working animals to ensure no donkey died from thirst and overworking and distributed hay and feed to over 5,000 donkeys.

    9,000 litres of diesel was provided to seven boreholes to support extension work on animal welfare at watering points. Crucially, water was also provided for villages located far away from water points. Four water troughs were rehabilitated, cracks repaired and piping done to connect it to a permanent water source.

    Together with SPANA, we launched a media campaign to highlight the plight of livestock and their poor owners at the time when governments, aid agencies and international communities were concentrating their efforts on refugees. You can see the coverage here. Following this coverage, the UK government pledged an additional £4 million to support livestock in the region.

    Without our urgent intervention and the intervention by others, the drought ravaging the region at that time could have got a lot worse.

    What is the situation now?

    Mandera County received some good short rains between October and December 2011. However, the long rains expected between March and May this year were below the normal level. A total of 54.4 mm of rainfall was recorded at Mandera meteorological station, compared to the normal rains of 100 to 150 mm. The pasture condition is normal but dry.

    The condition of livestock is fair to good. However, this is expected to deteriorate as pastures dry up and water sources diminish over the summer, which will increase stress on the animals before the onset of the short rains in October to November 2012.

    There is also low calving among cattle and camel due to the low conception rate during the last year’s drought. As a result, there is not much milk from camels and cattle.

    What do we need to do as we look ahead?

    Droughts are cyclical – they will return to the region. During every drought nearly 80% of Mandera’s population slide into an emergency situation –  losing livestock which lead to hunger, malnutrition and even death. That is why we need your help to support our work, so we can:

    •  Provide fuel subsidy for motorized water pumps running boreholes so these pumps can run 24/7 while poor pastoralists are unable to contribute to its running costs as a result of their animals losing value or dying. Support should also come in form of fast moving spare parts and expertise for water pump repairs.
    •  Introduce water/pasture saving, treatment and conservation technologies
    •  Maintain livestock food aid and animal health services to cushion the poor livestock owners from shocks that would diminish their livestock during drought.
    •  Initiate long term recovery activities such as de-silting and repairing strategic water sources, vaccinating and de-worming livestock to make them better able to stand adverse conditions, and supporting fodder producers with fuel subsidy and irrigation technologies.
    •  Advise pastoral communities to use reserve grazing land if available or to sell their livestock well before the water and pasture situation becomes critical.
    •  Rehabilitate degraded rangeland to eventually improve pasture availability.
    •  Facilitate animal health services and emergency livestock feed services along the livestock routes running between common border areas with Ethiopia and Somalia. This will help reduce economically important trans-boundary livestock diseases during the period of huge livestock influx between porous borders.
    •  Lobby for the suspension of taxes and service fees levied on livestock sellers during the emergency period to help in emergency off-take.

    Please help us to continue to support these vulnerable people in Kenya.

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