Still visiting Kenya


September 25th, 2013

I am sure that everyone reading this will be aware of the awful events still unfolding in Nairobi with over 60 people killed, and almost 200 hundred injured following attacks by an armed group.

On Saturday I was still at home in the UK with a ticket booked for Nairobi the following day. As the first news filtered through, I began to get concerned calls from friends and relatives checking I was not already in Kenya, and asking if I felt safe to proceed with my planned trip.  My immediate answer was  – “yes of course”.  Though I did check with the local Practical Action office that they were still happy to host me.

Having been here for three days now, and with the final stages of the hijacking not yet fully resolved, it’s impossible to understate how horrific events must have been for people involved or their relatives.  Thankfully none of our own staff were directly affected.  However, at the same time I think it’s important to recognise how much Nairobi, and Kenya is determined to “get on with business”.

Hygiene lessons in Nakuru

Hygiene lessons in Nakuru

Yesterday I was in Nakuru, with two new Board members of Practical Action Kenya, and while they were keen to keep up to date with events, they were also excited to discover our work on the ground.  Here we are working in an amazing partnership with local county authorities; water companies; banks; landlords and civil society groups. Our target?  To ensure that everyone in Nakuru has access to a toilet.  While this may not sound that challenging, when you think that of the 190,000 people living in the low income areas of Nakuru, only 15% currently use a toilet today, you might begin to understand that this is quite a stretch.

In the middle of the day I met Joseph, an entrepreneur who we helped to set up a waste collection company which cleans up low income communities and also makes him and his colleagues a small income.

Having made the decision to come to Kenya, do I still think it was the right thing to do?  Yes, absolutely.  It has made me realise that while there is terrible news unfolding in Kenya, there are also some really positive stories.  Of course the story of Practical Action, toilets, and waste collectors won’t reach the headlines, but I do think it important that people know that there are other things going on.

Background

On Saturday 21st September, between 10-15 heavily armed terrorists invaded the busy Westgate mall, in upmarket Nairobi (Westlands). The mall has several food courts and on that particular day, there was a young chefs competition – which meant, that there were several children at the Mall with their mothers.  Al-Shabaab/Al Qaeda groups have claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack was conducted at midday, when the Mall is at its busiest. The official number of deaths currently stands at 68 (official figure) and several others (around 200) with varying degree of bullet/shrapnel injuries. Official reports state a minimal number of hostages are yet to be rescued. The operation is led by the Kenya Defence Forces and the Kenya Police with assistance from Israeli, US and UK advisors. The terrorists have refused to negotiate – they want Kenya Defence Forces to pull out of Somalia.  On the fourth day, as Kenya enters a three day period of national mourning, we are all hoping and praying that the siege is over,  people can grieve, bury their dead, and nurse their wounds.

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