Friday, January 29, 2010

week 2.

I would like to say it's hard to believe that we have been here two weeks already, but in reality, it feels like we have been here months. Not in a negative way, but simply because we have gathered and learned SO much information in the past two weeks- not only about the IDP camp, but about the area and Kenya in general. I think I have used my brain more since arriving in Kenya than I have since college. It feels good.

At the beginning of the week we completed the (beg pardon) godforsaken greenhouse! After determining that we would need to chop the greenhouse plans in half and leave the remainder for construction at a later date, we worked furiously hard on Monday to remove and re-build one wall of plastic. The few volunteers that were left on this project were as unenthusiastic as we were, but we did it! It is finished! On Tuesday the seedlings were planted, and most of them are taking quite nicely to the soil. The entire project is very ill-planned, as whoever decided to donate this obviously did not think about the climate and situation of the people at the camp. We ran out of donated water today (water is about 20 cents/5 liters, and the plants take about 500 liters a the calculations), but luckily our contact (Irene) at VICDA came through and gave us some more money and promised a water truck (80,000 liters) to come next week. I think that she now realizes how ridiculous the project is, and hopefully it will impress her enough that she will follow up with potential donors in the future as to the logistics and site-specific requirements of each project.

While Ben worked on expanding and perfecting the chicken coup (he got 9 very enthusiastic volunteers to help!), Robin and I went to the Pipeline IDP camp near Nakuru, about a half hour's drive from Kikopey. Pipeline is a camp of 1,000 families, roughly 6,500 people. It is huge. With this major increase in size comes (obviously) more funding, projects, and talents. It was a fantastic visit because it not only gave us community-organizing ideas (about what works and what doesn't work), but it also gave us a new spirit of inspiration (which we desperately needed after the greenhouse situation). We met with the Camp Chairman and Secretary, and then were given a tour by a current volunteer (read: total space cadet) in their medical clinic. Two of the original volunteers to the camp were an older couple from Australia, and upon leaving, they donated a very substantial medical clinic and business center, solar panel, library, and tin house for a "special needs" school. They also have a security guard, a community center, a huge chicken coup, a greenhouse (same donor as ours), a school, and a fish pond. They are also in the process of building tin and wood houses for all residents (see for more info). We learned that with more people there are not only more problems (mostly health related), but more willing people and more talents to draw from. Nonetheless, the chairman and secretary still admitted that sometimes, it is just them building something. And most of the time, people don't agree with what they have to say. But like all good leaders, they take it into consideration and pursue what they believe to be best for everyone. Pipeline was a good base, a great foundation that we can look at for ideas on how to begin to organize our small camp. What is one crucial thing that Pipeline has that we are in complete deficit of? Water. They have a pipe that supplies water directly, at no cost, from the town of Nakuru. Funny how something so simple can change the way everything works.

So, why don't we have water? We found out from Irene that the District Commissioner for Naivasha (our DC) basically sucks. The DC for Nakuru made sure the IDP camp had a water source almost immediately upon moving in to their new land, whereas ours has denied any involvement for the past year. Robin and I were about to go pound on his door the next day- but the Kenyan Government just (today!) established a new position for a DC of Gilgil- our town! So, we're going to hit this guy while he's new, and find out what it takes to get water to the camp, and residents of our valley. We should be meeting with him next week. If not, I'm getting Amnesty International in here. There is water in the mountains, why can't we have any?

After talking to those at Pipeline, and another volunteer that was just leaving Pipeline after a 6 month placement, Robin and I decided it was best to begin our Asset-based Census project ASAP. What Ebenezer needs is some group inspiration. And calling them together as a group doesn't work. So we figured, why not go house to house and perform a census? Mapping the community both physically and through assets/talents will (hopefully) identify common interests, talents, and ideas. Though we know there would be no "concrete" or physical result from this project, we really do believe it will create some crucial ties and bonds that will help Ebenezer become more cohesive in the future. Performing an asset-based assessment is relatively new, as most assessments of communities are done based on 'need'. Though we will be deciphering needs through this as well, we hope to focus more on past successes, future dreams, and solid talents and skills to inspire both the residents and their leaders in forward growth and cooperation. And we get to meet everyone in the camp! We are going to start this up next week, and we really don't know how long it will take... it depends on how much people want to talk to us. While focusing on smaller side projects in the morning (like talking to the DC), we will perform the census mostly in the afternoons/evenings, when people are home. Then, hopefully, we can evaluate the material and go from there! We hope to encounter ideas and stories that will help us to identify how we can best direct funding and VICDA, so that money isn't wasted, as it was in the greenhouse. Better yet- we can map out future projects so that when more volunteers come here, they will have an idea where to start!

I also went to school this week! I have wanted to go for a while now, but I finally had time on Wednesday. Nova had 45 children that day, ages 3-5. Yikes. It was a lot of kids. Luckily, she is young and fun, but overworked and underpaid- as usual. She is basically a volunteer, receiving 50ksh/month, per child. The equivalent of $0.75/mo/child. Just being there, though I didn't know the language, helped out a ton- I could focus on discipline while Nova taught. Flustered and tired, during the children's recess, she came over and asked "what should I do?". She is so sweet. So, the next day, we met and talked for almost two hours about teaching methods and lesson plans. In fact, we created a notebook of information (as much as I could provide with my random teaching experience!), and mapped out a theme-based lesson plan for the next 12 weeks. She seems really excited about it, and I am too. She's going to begin next week, when she has volunteers (we recruited 5!) to help her. It was like pulling teeth to get people to help out (seriously, how hard is one hour per week, when school is 5 steps from your house?? ) but I feel like the 5 we roped into it will actually find it much easier than they think. I will help out when I can, hopefully for an hour everyday, and just be there as support while she tries out different teaching methods.

Wow. Maybe I should try writing more than once a week. I never get to talk about when we're not working! Basically all we do when we're not at the camp is read, write, talk and eat. We just discovered this place in town (Kikopey) where we can get a leg of delicious goat and a beer for like $4- and no one bothers you! It is a daily temptation. Especially when you have dry yams and tea for two meals in a row. FYI- the stomach does not respond well to starch-on-starch. For the second yam meal I insisted they let me make yam pancakes with pico de gallo... because I couldn't even imagine trying to swallow dry yams again. Ben needs to get his ass (pardon) in the kitchen sometime soon. I think he's a little disheartened by the fact that they laugh at him whenever he says he's a chef. I told him that just one meal would change their minds.... we shall see. Perhaps this weekend- we're going to Hell's Gate National Park (you can bicycle through with giraffes and rhinos!) and Lake Naivasha (flamingos and hippos!), and hopefully we are going to have a kitchen and a real bed. Did I mention we are in bunk beds in an 8'x 12' room? Hilarious. I love it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

on the big screen?

On our way to town today with Samuel and John, we heard that in today's Nation (Kenyan newspaper) there was an article- about our IDP camp! Evidently a Danish film crew came two months ago and used camp property and camp residents in the filming of their movie- about a white doctor in Darfur. Hm. Interesting. Samuel and John were both very excited about the whole thing (John was even quoted in the article!), but after further reading, Robin and I determined that this was kind of a weird situation. I'm still not really sure how I feel about it, from an ethical standpoint. I mean, these guys came in and paid the IDPs minimal wages (which to them of course, seemed more than enough) for their participation in a movie about Sudanese refugees. The residents of the camp that were lucky enough to look like residents of Sudan were chosen as participants, and now that Sudan has found out about it they are very angry. For good reason. An interesting moral dilemma. Check out the link for a picture of the camp though! The two men sitting in the background are two of the hardest workers on our current greenhouse project.

Ah yes, the greenhouse. Yes dad, it does require a lot of water. We don't really get why they chose tomatoes as opposed to say... potatoes? Other root vegetables that require less water? We did ask them, and the simple fact was that it makes more money at market. We still don't know how we are going to keep them alive. Right now we are trying to focus on the task at hand. A few of our questions were answered the other day when our contact at VICDA (the volunteer organization in Nairobi) came to visit. Irene told us that they had provided funds for the entire start-up of a greenhouse at three separate IDP camps. The other two camps are already producing, and have harvested their first crop. We, evidently, got the slacker camp. Samuel and John said that they did in fact try to start the project when they received supplies two months ago, but in the middle of the night someone stole 30 meters of plastic from the exterior. It took us 10 seconds to look around the camp and find who it was. 50 feet from the greenhouse was a tent entirely covered in neon yellow plastic. Hm.

Shortly after the plastic was stolen, Samuel and John removed the remaining plastic, for fear others would steal the remaining. And they kind of put the project off. I think they were probably partially embarrassed and partially scared to talk to VICDA about it. They are the leaders of this camp, and they have a hard time actually "leading" the people in any sort of direction. I believe they encounter more difficulties dealing with their residents than any other camp in the area. In fact, the 240 family camp was recently split into two camps- Ebenezer A and B- we think because the people that DID work together didn't want to deal with the others any more. Yikes. So, we had to regroup. Our tomato plants are ready to be planted in the ground- the seedlings are currently being held at two other IDP camps with functioning greenhouses- so we have to cut our greenhouse in half. Originally we thought about buying the extra plastic to make up for the missing piece, but when we heard that it was stolen we decided it would be better to work with what we had. Hopefully we can get it all done by Tuesday! Meanwhile, the chicken coup awaits it's remodel... hopefully no chickens die in this waiting period. It's pretty dirty in there. Like, 2" of chicken crap dirty.

More about what Robin and I hope to do in the form of Asset Based Assessment for the camp next week.... we want to go around and talk to everyone at the camp, each in their own homes, about their talents, their strengths, and just basic information about their families. There is no documentation of anything here, and I think it would be great to have a map, both physical and asset/need based in order to identify where each resident can help/participate, and where donors, if they are absolutely necessary, can give for the greatest return. Because no one works well together, maybe we can hit them on the individual level...and ease them into the idea of teams and groups. Yep. More on that later.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

mzungu (aka "white person" in swahili)

To all those who are wondering whether we in fact fell off the face of the earth, we did not! It being about a week since we left the good old USA, I figured it was about time I wrote a little something. Now inhabiting the outskirts of the small town of Kikopey, near Gilgil, we have been at the Ebmezer IDP camp for about 5 days. Ben and I are staying with Theresia, an older woman who lives on her own, but has a revolving circus of relatives and children constantly coming to help her out (something is wrong with her foot... I think she broke it a while back and it is now pretty severely infected...thus why she has the house help). Her house is 5 steps from the IDP camp, so getting to work in the morning is super easy! She has been feeding us so much food that I think I will probably come back home 20 lbs heavier than when I left. After spending the last couple of months whittling my stomach down to miniscule proportions (thinking that we would not be eating that much), both Ben and I have been forcing down three huge plates a day of delicious food. Potatoes with beans and corn, chapatis with lentil and goat stew, pancakes and eggs in the morning...seriously, FAR more food than I can afford when living on my own. And the "ugali" that guidebooks say is the nastiest Kenyan staple food? Not bad. Actually, quite delicious. Think corn flour made to a mashed potato consistency. Everything is turning out to be very good, except of course, the condition of the IDP camp. We are starting our term of 6 weeks with another volunteer, Robin, who has worked in an international volunteer organization in San Francisco for the past couple of years.

When we arrived on Sunday, we got the tour. We would be working with Samuel and John (everyone has English names and Kenyan names, English are easier), who are the Camp Chairman and Secretary, respectively. Samuel gave us the low down and we hung out with some of the kids, and returned the next morning to start "work". Monday and Tuesday were spent brainstorming. The facts: There is very little water. There is little food. There is no source of income for the camp residents. There are no other organizations working in the camp. In fact, all other organizations pulled out about a year and a half ago, when the crisis wasn't a "crisis" anymore. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the residents of the camp that we have run into (and will surely prove to be a continual challenge throughout our stay) is their unwillingness to work as a group. The Kikuyus (the most populous tribe in Kenya, and the residents of the camp) are known to be stubbornly individualistic, almost to a fault.

After hearing all of these things, it was hard to know where to start. Obviously, water is critical. When the 240 families at Ebmezer relocated from a more massive camp at Lake Naivasha 1 year ago, they moved to the current location hoping they could start anew. They purchased their own piece of land, hoping to farm little by little and get back on their feet. However, the camp sits on a hill. The hill is about a mile from a lake. Unfortunately, it is a salt lake. The sodium deposits in this area have robbed the soil of almost all nutrients and rendered most water sources nearby unusable. The closest water source for the residents is 7km away during the dry season (which happens to be right now), and most of the residents are single mothers who lost their husbands in the violence...making it hard leave the home to retrieve water. During the wet season it is better, but no one has any means of water collection. There are 4 unused tanks right now, because no one has come up with a way to capture the rainwater (it is hard to put a gutters on a tent).

Right now we are working on brainstorming ways to collect water more efficiently during the rainy season, for cheap or free. I'm actually looking that up on the internet right now! In the meantime, we have two other projects underway, things that were started that no one ever cared to finish (see what I mean about the unwillingness?), and LOADS of ideas for other things. Most of the unwillingness probably has to do with the fact that when you are hungry, or when you are thirsty, you can't think about anything else. Even if that something else is going to help you in the long run. Samuel (camp chairman) is a very inspirational man, but to a fault. I'm pretty sure he makes false promises to these residents (like all politicians). But, the good thing about him is this: he wants people to come together in the camp, even if it is the last thing they want to do. Because he knows it will help them. Which is what we all believe too! So while here, we are the enforcers of group work and group participation in any and all projects that we start. Because in reality, this camp is theirs. They cannot rely on outside donors or funding ANY MORE. They seem to rely on it right now, even though it is little and far between. We want to make them more sustainable, because that is what will help them grow as a community and as individuals.

The two projects we are beginning with are 1) a greenhouse for 1,000 tomato plants (some supplies and plants donated by someone... sometime and never finished), and 2) a functioning chicken coup (they have one right now, but it is overcrowded, dirty, and there are like 5 roosters. I mean come on, this is not going to work). The past two days have been spent constructing the greenhouse, slowly but surely, with most of the help provided by the male residents (when given a task, men will do something!). Unforunately, the ladies sat around and barked orders yesterday, and didn't even show up today. You'd think, with 1,000 people living there, more than 10 people would show up (especially when you don't have a job...), but no. We need to work on this. The chicken coup project, led by Ben's passion for farming chickens (he is SO EXCITED to be using farm knowledge. seriously.), will start when this project is over, hopefully next week. We also have ideas for many other things, but I won't bore you. I'll try to write more this weekend. It's hot. It's dirty. But we petted a cheetah and Africa is proving to be awesome.