Blogs tagged as Kenya visit

  • A simple stove is transforming lives

    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.

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  • Kenya Visit – There is beauty everywhere

    August 15th, 2011
    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.

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  • Livestock health key to drought survival

    August 14th, 2011

    Great news – one of our projects to help poor people cope with the drought in East Africa is in the national newspapers!

    UK national newspaper journalists came out to Mandera, northern Kenya, to see an emergency drought response programme that we’re running.

    See my previous blog here:

    It’s a livestock feeding and vaccination programme we’re managing with funding from the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA).

    They gave expansive coverage of the plight of the poor livestock owners and the impact of drought on livestock in the region.

    Their articles were published today. Here is the coverage:

    from the Telegraph

    from the Sunday Mirror

    from the Daily Star


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  • Veterinary care helps pastoralists cope with drought

    Pastoralist communities in Kenya’s arid lands depend on their livestock and their donkeys for income. Basic veterinary care is one of the best ways to protect their animals and pastoralist livelihoods in these areas.

    This is especially vital during the drought because weakened animals are at major risk from contagious diseases. But in remote areas such as Mandera in north eastern Kenya, pastoralists are unlikely to have access to veterinary services.

    That’s why Practical Action vet Dr Golicha and animal health assistant Abdi Hamid, with funding from animal welfare charity The Brooke,  have been training and mentoring 110 community-based animal health workers (CBAHWs) in the area in an effort to bridge this gap.

    Dr Golicha from Practical Action (right) with some of the community based animal health workers

    What are CBAHWs?

    CBAHWs are predominantly herders themselves from pastoral areas who live and move with their animals in search of water and pasture.

    I spoke to some of them at a watering point near Mandera town where pastoralists bring their livestock to drink and load their donkeys up with water to transport back home.



    CBAHW Adan Ibrahim told me that they provide animal healthcare services to members of their communities. They diagnose and treat common diseases and play a major role in disease reporting, surveillance and community mobilisation. They contact Dr Golicha and Abdi Hamid if there’s anything that comes up which they are unable to treat.

    I watched the team treat donkeys for worms and give them vitamin supplements aimed at reducing opportunistic diseases and infections associated with drought.

    “My donkey is vital because it carries water from this shallow well 16 kilometres back home.”

    Pastoralist Adan Abdirahiman with his donkey

    Pastoralist Adan Abdirahiman said many of their livestock have died and donkeys are their only hope of earning money – through collecting and selling firewood and water:

    “My donkey is vital because it carries water from this shallow well 16 kilometres back home. We are grateful for the help that Practical Action and The Brooke have given us – drugs for our donkeys and animal welfare advice to ensure we’re not overloading them – this is especially important during this drought when they have to carry water over longer distances and are more likely to suffer from health problems.”


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  • A call for prayer and donkey welfare

    The dulcet tones of the pre-dawn (4am) Islamic ‘Call to Prayer’ blaring from speakers at Mandera mosques set the scene for the day.

    Call to Prayer

    I was soon to learn that these loudspeakers play a vital role in one of Practical Action’s projects.


    There are 191,664 donkeys in Mandera. They plough, carry water and firewood and transport produce to market. Because of their low status, donkeys are often overloaded, neglected or mistreated.

    Donkey owners here are often squeezed out of pastoralism as a result of drought. They want to get the most out of their donkeys to earn enough money to live on. However, the poor physical condition of their donkeys makes them unable to realise their economic potential.

    Practical Action is working with animal welfare charity The Brook to improve the lives of donkeys by changing management practices and care for these animals.

    What we’re doing

    Many people in Mandera are illiterate, so we’ve teamed up with radio stations to promote donkey welfare and produced these billboards that have been erected all over the town








    So where do the mosque loudspeakers come in?

    We’re also working with the Mandera branch of the Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa, which promotes good deeds for the “betterment of the community”. They’re helping Practical Action by preaching to an estimated 80,000 people about donkey welfare at markets, water points and at the 40 mosques in the town. Yesterday they also used the mosque loudspeakers to promote donkey welfare. If I’d understood Arabic, I would have been able to hear what they said as I laid in my bed.

    And we’ve worked with them and the town council to get a by-law passed that stops people mistreating their animals. If people breach the by-law they can be fined, jailed or given a community punishment order.


    It’s clear that this project has been a success – donkey owners understand the linkages between the welfare of their animal and the success of their business and now they’ve been educated about the issue, they’re educating others.

    When I travelled through the town, I didn’t see donkeys being whipped with huge sticks and I didn’t see their carts being overloaded. I didn’t see donkeys in a poor condition. What I did see were donkeys being fed and watered and being looked after. I saw happy donkeys and happy owners…and I fell asleep, happy…happy that I’d witnessed another Practical Action project that’s making a difference to the lives of poor people.

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  • Kenya Visit – in which I am ill

    If anyone had asked me a week ago, before I came to Africa, ‘have you ever suffered with sickness and diarrhoea?’ I would have nodded and said ‘of course, hasn’t everyone?’. But now my answer is ‘you haven’t properly experienced sickness and diarrhoea until you’ve had it in Africa’. On thursday night I hardly slept – I spent 7 hours in my bathroom. I was so sick that at times it felt like I had parted with my whole digestive system.

    So on friday my colleagues decided I was too ill to visit our projects. I spent the day in bed, shivering and feeling icy cold inside. Every time I touched my skin it felt as if a fire was emanating from my body. I was so weak that walking to answer my door became a marathon, although it is only a few paces.

    Last night when my colleagues returned to check on me, my fever had worsened. I was taken to the hospital in Mandera town where I was fortunate enough to be seen almost instantly – something that would never happen in my own hospital in the UK. Blood tests ruled out malaria, but I was diagnosed with severe dehydration and gastroenteritis. The doctors put me on a drip and I was filled with fluid, glucose, painkillers and antiobiotics. Within a few hours the fever dissipated and my strength slowly returned.

    The doctors told me I had probably fallen ill due to contaminated water. Instantly, I thought of all the children I have met over the last few days who are also suffering with sickness and diarrhoea. I think the statistic is that across the world today 2.2 billion people don’t have access to clean water, although the tools and technologies that are needed to make this happen do exist. Unlike me, most of the people who fall ill as a result of consuming contaminated water will not receive the healthcare they need to recover. This experience has only reinforced me belief that Practical Action’s technology justice movement is needed now more than ever

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  • Microfinance empowering drought-hit poor

    I’ve never really been interested in finance. Just the very mention of “savings and investment”, “stocks” or “retirement planning” makes my eyes glaze over.

    So I surprised myself with the excitement I felt about a Practical Action finance initiative funded by animal welfare charity The Brook.

    In fact, it’s the project I am most passionate about in drought-hit Mandera Why? Because it’s a fantastic example of how we’re building the capacity of people to generate their own income from livelihoods; how we’re helping them become self-sufficient so they can avoid having to depend on hand outs to survive.

    What it’s about:

    Working with the Equity Bank, local authorities and other organisations, we’ve just launched the Equine Savings and Investment Group, a pilot group lending initiative for donkey owners. These people are mainly pastoralist ‘drop outs’ – they’ve lost their livestock and their way of earning a living.

    How it works:

    Practical Action recommends a group of up to 15 donkey owners to the bank, pays the application fee, interest and insurance. Individuals pay a minimum of one Kenya shilling into a group account. The collateral of the group acts as a security net for the bank so if anyone defaults on loan payments, it can take the money from the group.

    The members can then apply for loans to improve their livelihoods. These applications have to be approved – ensuring the money will be used in the best possible way, rather than just to buy non essentials. One example is buying more donkeys and carts which can be hired out to people who can’t afford them.

    But that’s not just it. We’re also doing this:

    At the same time, Practical Action works with the community to identify and then train people on alternative income generating activities like donkey powered transport for firewood, water and crop produce, or becoming donkey cart artisans and harness makers.

    What the donkey owners say:

    So far 56 groups have been set up. It’s early days but donkey owners are excited about the difference this initiative could make to their lives.

    One of them said: “We’re grateful for the assistance we’ve received in empowering us to strengthen our livelihoods. This provision is a good financial solution to our problems. We can raise our income and our quality of life. We feel that now we have a very bright future.”

    If this is successful, it could be replicated all over Kenya. Watch this space!


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  • A long walk to water

    We’ve all read about how Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. But have you ever read about how people in Mandera, north eastern Kenya, can walk a round trip of up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) to fetch water?

    For someone who only has to walk a few paces to get clean running water, this is incomprehensible; especially when you consider that these people have to walk this distance in temperatures of up to 40˚C. I almost consider trying it just to see if I can make it and appreciate the suffering that these people have to endure.

    But this journey is one fraught with danger. Water is in such short supply that violence regularly breaks out at the few remaining wells – with many innocent women and children wounded or killed.

    Practical Action is reducing the trek that people have to make to fetch water by rehabilitating shallow wells dug into seasonal river beds.

    I spoke to a woman at one of the rehabilitated shallow wells who said she now only has to walk two kilometres to fetch water and feels much safer. While I was there, I was told by several pastoralists that the trough next to the shallow well gives their livestock easy access to water and as a result, is helping to keep them alive.

    Patoralist Adan Ibrahim said: “The rehabilitation of these wells and the building of new wells is crucial to the livestock because they will always have water. This will ensure that they survive the drought until the next rains come.”










    It’s clear that amongst the complex solutions we’re introducing to this area, this simple technology is a life-saving answer.

    This is why it’s so critical for us to dig more wells and rehabilitate more wells. 90,000 households across Mandera county depend on them.

    Find out more about our shallow well work.

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  • Kenya Visit

    This morning we visit Mandera hospital which is running a feeding programme for mothers and children who have been severely affected by the drought and are now suffering malnutrition. The women are strong and proud in colourful scarves and dresses. The children, with their huge eyes, are desperately hungry. One two year old boy I met weighs only 620grams. Another little girl who is HIV+ is 8 years old but looks no bigger than a 4 year old. Her parents died of AIDS several years ago. She has malnutrition and is now living in the hospital. These people are starving. I cry, and feel so guilty. The sheer need of this situation only confirms my belief that Practical Action’s long term development work which is reaching out to these vulnerable communities to increase their resilience to climate change and drought is needed now more than ever.

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  • The future of pastoralism

    Emergency relief camps in north eastern Kenya are full of pastoralists whose livelihoods have been destroyed as a result of recurring droughts.

    The droughts have decimated their livestock. Now many of them have been forced to forsake their traditional culture.

    Kausa with one of her remaining grandchildren

    We visited a refugee camp in El Wak where I met Kausa, a 50-year-old grandmother. After the rains failed and drought killed her livestock, she was forced to leave her home and walk more than 50 miles to El Wak to get help. By the time she arrived at the camp four days later, two of her grandchildren had died. She said:

    “My husband ran away when the animals died. There was no water, no food. First the cows died, then the goats and the camels. I knew we had to leave. Everyone was weak from hunger and thirst.”

    She now depends on handouts in El Wak as she’s unable to provide food for her remaining ten children and six grandchildren.


    Former pastoralist Fatima outside her make-shift grass hut in an emergency relief camp.


    Another grandmother, Fatima, aged 56, told me that when she lost her herd of 200 goats she knew that life as a pastoralist as over. She said:

    “I know I cannot go back and I will now carry firewood on my back to earn money to feed my family because there is not enough food here to feed everybody.”

    The pain and suffering that I saw here made me so deeply sad but also frustrated. There is aid coming into the Mandera region. Indeed, the guest house that we were staying at was also hosting people from humanitarian aid organisations.

    People collect food aid from a distribution centre

    But this is food aid they are bringing for people, not the livestock they depend on. Yes, these people are hungry and need food – I can’t disagree with that. But this is a short-term survival solution. They cannot live on handouts forever.

    In drought-affected regions of Kenya, 25-50% of livestock is expected to be dead by January. In parts of Mandera County, 65% of cattle are estimated to have died.

    Unless decisive action is taken to help these nomadic herders adapt even further to the extremes of climate change, they will no longer be able to sustain their way of life. There must be a huge programme of investment to enable pastoralists to cope with climate change.

    Practical Action is working with communities on a variety of projects such as:

    • rehabilitating water structures such as shallow wells
    • improving the market for livestock
    • supporting animal health services working with authorities and organisations on managing drought situations
    • improving access to information services on health, water, vaccinations, seasonal forecasts and technology
    • linking them to other emergency service providers.

    You can find out more about these projects by following my blog.

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