Archives - ‘Kenya’

Mid-Point….A month and a day to go

March 26, 2010 | Claire, Intern, Nairobi, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT)

In my previous blog I mentioned that I had a meeting scheduled with my supervisors to brief them on my progress. I was extremely nervous about this meeting because I was unsure of whether I had prioritized my activities well. However, the meeting was encouraging and I received positive feedback. Now it is crunch-time because I must deliver several reports by mid-April, the largest being a baseline review of pro-poor land policy reforms in developing countries.

Beside office work, I managed to participate in several activities within the complex.

The first venture was to an intern training workshop on career planning. The United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) internship program facilitates monthly sessions; however, I was unable to attend the one for last month because it was scheduled on the same day as my office retreat. I decided to attend the latter because it was a rare opportunity to observe how activities in my section, Land Tenure and Property Administration Section are interrelated with those in the other units within the Shelter Branch. Subsequently, I was keen to attend this month’s workshop and was pleased because I walked away equipped with several tools to map out my career plans. I am currently drafting a hypothetical resume to help me identify more clearly the qualifications and experiences needed to pursue a career as an urban planner. I will thereafter use this as a framework from which to consult my supervisors and other professional staff members in my office.

The second venture was to the World Water Day 2010. Although I was unable to participate in the entire day’s activities, I learned about some of the initiatives taken by the local Kenyan government to improve the water quality within the city such as the Nairobi River rehabilitation project. UNON has also taken several measures to conserve fresh water within the complex. One of the most visible initiatives seeks to reduce the amount of water used to flush toilets. Users are advised to press the lever fully and hold for one second for a full flush, and to release the lever immediately for a half flush. It is difficult to ignore the benefits of creating and maintaining a healthy environment while on the UNON complex, a prime location to realize the beauty that nature holds. The grounds are beautifully adorned with numerous trees, fauna, flora, and fish ponds. I often take walks during my lunch hour; however, on occasion I have come across monkeys, which are notorious for snatching cell phones, and green mambas. Except for these surprises, I truly enjoy my time. In fact, I just realized that I have not taken any pictures; I must do so before I leave for Ottawa in May.

Chao for now.

 

Welcome to the Sunny Side of Life

March 18, 2010 | Claire, Intern, Nairobi, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT)

Habari! That means, hello in Kiswahili, the national language of my home country, Kenya. I am in Nairobi, the capital city, working for the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). I am contributing to activities advocating pro-poor land policy in developing countries, an issue that is gaining greater visibility on the international agenda as a result of rapid urbanization-visit the Global Land and Tool Network website (www.gltn.net) to review one of the recent global efforts towards pro-poor land policies. This is my first international development experience and I anticipate that the end result will be a foundational building block to my career in urban planning policy.

Since my arrival the office has been operating at high gear in preparation for the World Urban Forum in Brazil next month. My initial reaction was to avoid interrupting anyone; however, I soon realized that my colleagues are keen to create a supportive environment that will enable interns to flourish. For example, by observing other interns in the office, I learned that professional staff members are willing to share their experiences and offer advice in career development; I intend to make the most of this opportunity seeing that it will be invaluable to my career mapping exercise.

Working in Nairobi has availed moments of genuine reflection concerning my academic and professional goals. It is one thing to study development in a developed country and another to observe the implications of poverty suffered by millions of people in a city. This is particularly relevant to me because I was disconnected to this reality having lived abroad since the early years of my adolescence. Consequently, undertaking my internship in a developing country is helping me to better understand and place a human face to the theoretical knowledge I have attained during my studies.

Overall, life in Nairobi is at a different pace compared to Ottawa. I must admit that I experienced a bit of culture shock the first time I commuted through the central business district. I remember feeling like a deer caught in headlights, or so I think that is how it feels, when I attempted to cross the street only to realize that on-coming traffic would not slow down for pedestrians even at designated cross-walks. However, I have quickly re-integrated into the pedestrian culture; whereby I always anticipate to jog or sprint across the road. Despite the drama, it is amazing that nobody ever gets hit.

In the weeks to come I will have a briefing meeting with my supervisors so I have prepared a work plan to help me keep track of my deliverable dates. In fact, the work plan was my supervisors’ idea; it has helped me develop a methodology for each of my activities, a key tool for prioritizing my activities and managing my time.

Until next time, kwaheri (goodbye)!

Claire

World AIDS Day 2009 in Nairobi, Kenya – Internship Gone Full-Circle

December 2, 2009 | Joanna, MA in Globalization and International Development, Intern, Handicap International Kenya

I mentioned in an early post that I was planning to launch the results of my research on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, and I don’t think I truly realized the potential impact my research could have on the Deaf Community in Nairobi until then. Yesterday was one of the most inspiring and hopeful days of my life, and I felt very proud of my efforts, but even more so for the team at Deaf Empowerment Kenya, who worked tirelessly to ensure the success of my project.

Yesterday morning at the HI office was especially busy, as nearly everyone in our office was heading out to participate in one of the many celebrations HI was supporting with various disabled persons organizations around Nairobi. We were all given bright yellow t-shirts to wear that said, “Universal Access and Human Rights” and “Make services disability-friendly”. My supervisor, Kevin and I took one of the HI vehicles to Dandora, and had to re-route our trip several times due to the numerous parades taking place all over the city. When we were about half-way to our destination, it began pouring rain, and knowing that DEK’s World AIDS Day event would be held outdoors, under a tent, I was starting to wonder if the day might be spoiled. Nevertheless, we arrived at DEK’s office in Dandora to discover a tent packed with Deaf and hearing community members, a full sound system with music pumping and a curtained stage for the Deaf puppetry show, already set up.

The events quickly got under-way upon our arrival, since the representatives from the Kenyan government were late to arrive. After a brief introduction to DEK’s mission, Kevin was invited to say a few words on behalf of HI on what World AIDS Day means for the Deaf community. I was then called upon to give a brief overview of my research findings. I talked about how stigma is very high in the Deaf Community, and most people interviewed believed someone who is HIV positive should keep his or her status private. I talked about how the Deaf interviewees showed a preference for learning about HIV in a personal, face-to-face setting, such as a seminar or one-on-one counseling, and that there is a need to continue to advocate for services offered in KSL. Also I pointed out that while nearly all interviewees had been shown how to use a condom properly, only 50% of respondents said they use condoms. Most of the interviewees had been for HIV testing, yet 41% do not know the status of their partners. I told them that it is encouraging to see that many Deaf persons are being tested for HIV, however it’s only half the story, and they need to encourage their partners to be tested as well.

After my brief speech, the Chairperson from Kenya National Association of the Deaf spoke about the implications of Kenya’s Draft Constitution including provisions for sign language. He insisted that the Constitution must specify Kenyan Sign Language, so that Deaf persons’ right to accessing services in their own language is respected.

We then had several drama presentations about how HIV is spread throughout the Deaf community, one with live actors and then with puppets. There was also a dance group that performed a hip-hop/popping and locking performance, which was a real crowd pleaser. Afterwards, there was a speech by a representative from the Ministry of Culture, which was in Swahili, so I don’t really know what he said. The event was concluded with a closing prayer, and then the soda and biscuits were brought out for a social and dance break.

After the morning events wrapped up, my thank you party was set to commence. However, I am so grateful I was not the one organizing it- my team of mobilizers had gone to great lengths to ensure no one who had not participated in the research would be attending my party. It looked like a logistical nightmare trying to track down every person who had been interviewed, and ensuring they were given money for transport to the hotel-restaurant we were using to host the event.

We all boarded a public bus towards Huruma, not too far from DEK’s office, however it was an emotional trip for me, since I hadn’t been to that side of Nairobi for some weeks, and I had forgotten how poor the living conditions are in that particular area. This is where the bulk of the city’s garbage ends up, and there are people who literally go through the dumps to find any refuse of potential utility. The houses are made from sheet metal and there is no proper sanitation or clean drinking water. I really felt the polar-dynamics of the wealth I had experienced just this weekend, in Muthaiga, the diplomatic neighbourhood, swimming in the Canadian High Commission’s heated swimming pool; in stark contrast with the abject poverty right under my nose. When we finally arrived at Jowanga Hotel, I was relieved to find running water and proper (more or less) toilet facilities. I was happy to see nearly all of my research participants had found their way to the dining hall, and their excitement when I entered the room. In talking with my interpreter, David, I realized that most of these people never eat lunch on a daily basis- let alone a rotisserie chicken and French fries with a cold soda. One lady joked, “It’s back to sakuma wiki (greens) tomorrow”. Chicken is very expensive in Kenya, and most people from the communities I interviewed cannot afford to buy meat. Needless to say, everyone was delighted to have been invited to this party and they ate their food with big smiles on their faces.

After the food was finished, it was time for speeches. Mr. Garry, the director of DEK, spoke about how hard I had worked for DEK and the Deaf community, and that he was really pleased I was not like other Wuzungus, who come and take pictures and make films, and never return to share the results of their work with the community. I decided to take the opportunity when it was my turn to speak, to pose questions to the group in front of me, instead of boring them with statistical analysis from my research. I asked them what they suggest the community do to help counter-act stigma towards PLWHA. People were at first reluctant to speak up, but once the ideas got flowing; it was difficult to get a word in edge-wise. Most people agreed that the Deaf community should take care of people who are HIV positive, and not treat them badly. I also asked them why so few men were attending seminars on HIV education. Some said they were not aware of such seminars, but many agreed they want to see male role models teaching them about HIV, in-depth, not just superficially. I tried to emphasize that the Deaf community must stop waiting for international partners and donors to solve their own problems, and that organizations like DEK and HI want to work with the community to make programs that meet their needs; that we should not being doing the work for them – it’s their health, their lives, their community that is at stake. Nearly everyone waved their hands in the air (applause in KSL) in response, and said they agreed that something needs to be done. I almost forgot that there were only two hearing people in the room, since David was doing such a good job interpreting, and I could feel the positive energy and excitement in the room, as people felt they were being listened to and taken seriously. The chairperson of DEK, Mr. Okwach, pointed out that they were taking the discussion more seriously because I was a foreigner, and likely many had only shown up because they knew they would be fed, and compensated for their transport. I figure it was worth it to get their attention, even for a short time, and I hope that at least some were inspired to tell others what they had learned during the course of events, and would be engaged with future activities initiated by DEK. I concluded my discussion with a comment that I could have opted to give everyone a small cash amount, in appreciation for their participation, but I thought it was better to have a gathering where we could discuss the problems facing the Deaf community in the context of HIV, and work together to find solutions.

On Friday, I will present a more detailed summary of my research findings to a group of representatives from NGOs, disabled persons organizations, donors and staff from HI. I hope it goes as well at World AIDS Day. It’s not a day I will soon forget.

Wrapping up the research and learning about diabetes in Africa

November 24, 2009 | Joanna, MA in Globalization and International Development, Intern, Handicap International Kenya

It’s been awhile since I updated you on life in Nabob- so let me get you up to speed.

 

Last week I was supposed to finish conducting interviews in Dandora, but my mobilization team from DEK surprised me by recruiting two more HIV positive women, since I had mentioned that the sample group under-represented Deaf persons who are living positive. Obviously there is a lot of stigma surrounding being positive, especially if you are disabled. DEK worked hard to get these women to agree to the interview, and they both were honest and candid about their experience. One woman was far more confident and comfortable, and I had seen her in a HIV workshop before, volunteering dramatically and enthusiastically to demonstrate the correct way to put a condom on a Coke bottle. She said being open about her status enables her to help others learn how to protect themselves. She even invited me to an HIV positive support group at Liverpool VCT in two weeks. Should be very informative and insightful.

 

Once those interviews wrapped up, I rushed back to the office to fill in the last columns in my beautiful excel spreadsheet. Little did I know what a mistake that was… I asked some colleagues in the office to help me manipulate the data, in order to cross-reference multiple questions, for example, how many women (gender q) from Dandora (residential q) who haven’t attended an HIV seminar (HIV means of education q) know that married people can get HIV? Okay, maybe I am being a little too complicated for my own good, but it turns out you can’t do any of that with excel (please don’t write to me and say you can, I’ve literally spent 3 days transferring my data manually to access- who knew they’re not “copy paste” compatible?).

 

In the mean time, I was asked to sit in on a screening of Handicap International’s new Diabetes in Africa video. It was a thought-provoking film, and it generated a lot of questions among the staff, as diabetes is on the rise in most of the developing world, and countries such as Mali, Kenya and Tanzania are ill-equipped to treat this disease. Diabetes used to be considered a disease of the rich, because it is associated with eating high-fat, high-sugar content foods and a sedentary lifestyle. This stereotype no longer holds water, as cheap processed and packaged foods have become just as readily available in Africa as in Europe and North America. The worrisome trends in increased usage of motorized transport and “desk-jobs” are also contributing to the rise in diabetes, along with increased stress levels. The film graphically depicted the grim outcomes of several people who had minor foot and hand injuries, which left untreated, had to be amputated due to gangrene. A few issues were raised in the film, about the chronic nature of the disease, and how it is more expensive to treat over a lifetime with insulin and medication, than through preventative measures early on. In addition to contracting a chronic disease, many people will become blind or physically disabled because of complications in managing diabetes. Also, the regular usage of needles for injecting insulin, if not disposed of properly, could pose another serious health risk; spreading HIV through used needles. It might not be such a significant vector for HIV, but on top of all the forces working against the health care systems in the African countries profiled in the film, they don’t have a lot of resources to spare on the odd case of HIV contracted from diabetic needles.

 

Last week while driving to work, my colleague noticed a pregnant woman attempting to cross the street with the assistance of two men, over to Kenyatta Hospital, a very busy street during rush-hour. No one was stopping to let them cross, and judging from the woman’s expression, the baby was about ready to make its debut on the street if she didn’t get there fast. So we offered them a ride to the hospital, which was on the way to work anyway. We pulled up to the main entrance, and just as the woman was getting out of the car, the security guard slammed the door shut on her, to let his boss, presumably the hospital director, pass by in his shiny blue Benz to get into his parking spot. There were some heated words exchanged in Swahili, but my colleague said he didn’t blame the security guard, since he was likely uneducated and told his job was to keep the driveway clear for his boss, and nothing else. Another unfortunate microcosm in the world of Kenya.

 

Later in a staff meeting, we were instructed not to help anyone experiencing car trouble or if they slip in the road, because there have been reported incidences of car-jacking and robbery when people try to be good Samaritans. I know we did the right thing, and there was no way that lady was faking, but it’s sad to think that other people like that woman, in serious need, will be ignored because of fear of theft or worse.

 

This week, while waiting to get some technical advice on my data manipulations, from an IT whiz friend of a colleague, I was asked to edit the HI Kenya monthly newsletter. I was really impressed with the variety and scope of the projects HI is working on. They avoid the charity-based approach to disability, and instead focus on human rights issues, disability mainstreaming, and peer education. Many of the articles were written by disabled persons or persons living with HIV.

 

This week has been a bit lonely at work, since nearly half the HI team is in Gariassa on a training mission. My friend Karen, who I went to Lake Naviasha with back in September, is in Nairobi for the week, so we went out to lunch together on Tuesday, with her colleague Hassan, a doctor from Somalia. It was really fun catching up and hearing about their proposallitis, since they had written 6 proposals in 6 weeks, totaling over 2 million dollars. Let’s pray they get the dough! After work, we decided to meet up for beers at Sipper’s, a nice pub not too far from work, where Agata and I have become regulars. We were about half-way through our beers, when a colleague from HI’s disability inclusion team, James, sent Karen an sms, wanting to meet her for beers, so we invited him to join us. James lived in Sudan for over a year, and Karen had also lived there briefly, so they lots of stories to share, and Karen suggested James come to visit her team in Somaliland to give them some more background on disability inclusion. Neither of them had ever been to Sipper’s, but we all agreed we should make it a regular thing, since we enjoyed the conversation, food, drinks and live entertainment. The singer/guitarist had an amazing voice like a Kenyan version of Angelique Kidjo. I think I will go back next Tuesday with Agata and her neighbor, David, who we’ve recently befriended, since he’s wanted to go there for a long time, and I’ll try to get their album.

 

Today Agata and I are leaving for Mombasa! So excited to sit on the beach, get a tan, ride a camel and go dolphin-petting! We’re staying in these huts on giant poles- the hostel is called Stilts- go figure! I’m sure it will be just as amazing as all of our other adventures so far!

“What are you doing for your internship in Kenya?” “Asking Deaf people about their sex lives, of course”.

October 14, 2009 | Joanna, MA in Globalization and International Development, Intern, Handicap International Kenya

October 6 2009

 

Working in Dandora the last week has taught me a lot about international development

at a practical level. Dandora has the highest concentration of Deaf persons in

Nairobi, and a high rate of unemployment. Deaf Empowerment Kenya (DEK) is a very

‘grassroots’ (I use that term loosely, since it’s one of the buzz words in

development literature these days) level organization, operating on a shoe-string

budget, but doing impressive work with the Deaf community, in the areas of

education, peace-building (post election violence), advocacy and HIV/AIDS. DEK has been instrumental in recruiting participants for the interviews I will be conducting for the next month or so. They know how to mobilize the “opinion shapers” of the community, and once we had those individuals on board, it was (relatively) easy to get other people to agree to be interviewed, barring the usual hindrances, ie. African Time.

 

My research is on knowledge of HIV transmission, sexual behaviours, attitudes and

beliefs about living positive, and opinions about how to go about improving HIV and

AIDS awareness in the Deaf community in Kenya. There are already HIV workshops and

support groups in Dandora for the Deaf, but DEK wants to see if the programs are

effective, identify weaknesses and embark on strategies for improvement. I ran two focus groups, one with four women, and another with three men to get their ideas on the types of questions I would be asking, and if there was anything missing. We had fun brainstorming the different drugs used and abused in Kenya (marijuana, tobacco, cocaine- my suggestions; heroine, brown sugar, Miraa, Viagra, steroids- the Deafs’ suggestions) and I could barely keep from falling out of my chair with laughter when they helped me list the different types of sex Deaf people could have (oral, vaginal, anal, masturbation, breast sex, thigh sex, sex with objects (ex. carrot, banana- I kid you not!), sex with animals).

 

I don’t want to give you the impression that every Deaf person is partaking in these activities, but the fact that they were suggested indicates that there is an awareness, and the

Deaf might be more liberalized in their sexuality than their hearing counterparts (at least of those who I’ve asked are willing to admit). From my literature review so far, I don’t think any researcher has asked these detailed questioned before, and DEK read over my questionnaire yesterday and is really excited to see the results. It gave me a great boost of confidence to hear that I had developed such a comprehensive questionnaire, and DEK could already see the potential for the report. At first I thought my questions were way too “Muzungu” – out-there Western woman, corrupting the young minds of Deaf Kenyans, but quite to the contrary, they had a lot to teach me about the sexual behaviours within their community, and they were quite happy to share those details. It gives me great hope that future peer counseling and seminars on HIV could include discussion, not only of modes of transmission, but also offer some of these “alternative” sexual activities as low-risk behaviours that can actually help protect the Deaf community and have fun at the same time.

 

One challenge we face is that some of the volunteers recruited are refusing to participate because they are not being paid. It’s an ethical dilemma all researchers are bound to face, but DEK is adamant that we not give any sort of reward until all the interviews are finished, and if we so much as mention payment, it will compromise the ability of any other researcher to recruit participants in the future. I agree with them, that’s why we’re planning a “launch party” as a “thank you” and to release the report on World AIDS Day – Dec 1! Doesn’t give me a lot of

time to write the report, but I’ve already told DEK and HI that they will get the first copy of my thesis when it’s finalized in August 2010. A long way off, but I think it will be worth it!

Reflections on Poverty, Pollution and swelling car Population in Nairobi

September 29, 2009 | Joanna, MA in Globalization and International Development, Intern, Handicap International Kenya

So far I’ve found my stay in Nairobi very comfortable and enjoyable. The family hosting me is so gracious, my fellow colleges are very professional and welcoming, and the city itself is exciting, interesting and for the most part, I have access to everything I could ever need. However, there are a few negative things about Nairobi you can’t help but notice. There’s the traffic, the pollution and the poverty. Almost every day one of my host family members or my colleagues mentions how the number of cars in Nairobi has probably doubled in the last five to ten years. There were hardly any two-lane roads in the country not too long ago. It’s pretty astounding anyone can afford a car, considering the price of a comparable vehicle here is about double what you would expect to pay in North America, because the tax on cars is close to 100%.

I was a little surprised by the number of high-end cars on the road, especially the prevalence of SUVs.  I had previously considered those vehicles a fetish of the over-consuming (compensating) North American, which by the way, has recently fallen out of favour with the average Canadian consumer, with rising fuel prices and increasing awareness about climate change. To the dismay of the “Big Three” automakers in North America, the bulky SUV production lines quickly needed to be converted into high-efficiency-good-fuel-economy car production lines. This was only made possible with financial rescue packages from government. However,  the need for an SUV, most of which look like battering rams with metal cages on the front, has yet to dissipate in Nairobi. As Uncle George’s brother so aptly put it, “It’s hard to take the jungle out of a Kenyan,” meaning there are very few road rules abided by in the streets of Nairobi. We see mutatus drive on the median, over sidewalks and nearly run over people, just to get ahead 3 or 4 cars in the jam.

After last weekend at Lake Naivasha, I’ve noticed the air pollution in the city more this week. The sky is permanently tinted grey even when it’s sunny. Kenya’s Nobel laureate, Wangari Maathai, has warned against the negative consequences of urbanization, plunder and destruction of flora and fauna for decades, and the evidence is rich in Nairobi, there are many polluted waterways, and not much green vegetation and many people are struggling to subsist in the massive urban slum dwellings of Kibera.

I heard Nairobi referred to as “Man-Land” before I left Canada, and the name rings true. As I drive to and from work each day, the sidewalks are lined with men in worn and dirty clothing, walking from Kibera in search of work. There are about 15 men for every woman we pass. The men are usually migrants from rural farms, which are dependent on rainfall and desperately dry at this time. The men are trying to earn wages, to send back to their wives and children. Uncle George explained to me that many of these men will walk to construction sites every day to see if there is work, and there is no formalized employment contract. This leaves them vulnerable to unsafe work conditions, as there is seldom sufficient safety equipment for the informal workers, and they are more likely to accept unsafe and under-paid jobs. Another common means of employment for the men is working in the mushrooming supermarket centers, such as Tusky’s, Uchumi’s, and Nakumatt. These African-ized Wal-mart knock-off retailers are owned by Asian firms, and hire staff for 10 days at a time to avoid paying full-time wages and other contractual benefits. While the stores offer the same modern conveniences I’m accustomed to at home, only a small pocket of the Kenyan population can afford to shop there.

On the news a few weeks ago, was a positive announcement that the government had built a subsidized apartment building for slum dwellers to move into, as pressure increases to “clean up” and “develop” the slum land. While the building would house about 500 residents, the slum population is in the thousands, so needless to say, it’s a drop in the bucket. What’s more likely driving the government’s “good will” to slum dwellers, (who are reluctant to move, since they know the price of the subsidized houses- although more comfortable with electricity and running water- is more than they can afford without stable employment prospects) is the sky-rocketing real-estate market. Expensive apartment buildings are shooting up everywhere, side by side with the slums, because they are affordable for the relatively wealthy Kenyan Diaspora who send money back home, to purchase property and rent it out at high prices, in order to retire comfortably. Another popular source of real-estate finance is Somalia pirate booty (I just had to write “pirate booty!”). One of my co-workers told me successful pirates take their ransom money and invest it in expensive Nairobi real-estate, and also profit handsomely from renting out units at prohibitively high prices. The Kenyan government knows there is profit to be had by attracting foreign investors, and clearing the urban slums for expensive real-estate is a simple cost-benefit analysis.

My research participants will mainly be from another large slum, Dandora, which also faces some urban land reform legislation. Many buildings are unsafe, and informal structures made from scrap metal, wood and canvas, which serve as retail outlets for a myriad of cheap items, will be removed by 2010. This may mean improving the organization and safety of the urban environment, but it will threaten the meager livelihoods of many poor people from this area. I anticipate that early next week I will embark on focus group discussions with Deaf community members from Dandora. Unfortunately, there was a tragic bus accident, involving a Deaf man, the week I arrived in Kenya, and he died a day after he was released from hospital. This has been a major loss for the Deaf community, and Deaf Empowerment Kenya (DEK), the organization I will be working closely with, has taken on a lot of responsibility advocating for a proper police investigation, and offering support to family and friends of the deceased. For now, I am outlining the types of interview questions I would like to ask Deaf persons related to HIV and AIDS education, treatment, and care, and setting up meeting times with DEK.

Lake Naivasha or the Garden of Eden- you could have fooled me!

September 23, 2009 | Joanna, MA in Globalization and International Development, Intern, Handicap International Kenya

One of the nice things about Kenya is its inclusiveness. The country recognizes both Muslim and Christian holidays without any second thoughts. Monday was a national holiday in recognition of the end of Ramadan, so I was able to get out of the city and visit Lake Naivasha. My colleague, Karen, who works for the Anti-land mine unit of Handicap International in Somaliland,  and I were extremely lucky to get accommodations for two nights over a long weekend at one of the most luxurious and exclusive guesthouses in that area, called Oleria House, which only offers 6 rooms. We also got a great deal because we stayed in the smallest room!

We departed early in the morning, so we would be able to see the Rift Valley as the sun was rising. We stopped at a look-out point and took in the beauty of the valley in all its greenery. We could see white steam spouting out of the hills, from a geothermal power generator; someone was farming fish in among thousands of vegetable crops; and in the distance was Lake Naivasha. The view was something to hold in my mind, since my camera certainly could not capture the beauty of it all.

We took a long, bumpy unpaved road to the guest house we were staying at, and on the way we saw baboons, and a herd of zebra crossing the road. It was pretty exciting, and just like typical Musungu we snapped away with our pocket-sized digital cameras. Little did we know we were staying in a wildlife sanctuary, home to over seventy zebra, one giraffe, hundreds of Thompson gazelle, impalas, water bucks, Columbus monkeys, and hundreds of species of birds. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time taking pictures. The couple who owns of the guesthouse is a leader in elephant conservation, and started the non-profit organization, Save the Elephants. They own a second guesthouse and conservation park in Northern Kenya, which I would love to visit some day.

Upon arrival, we were offered tea and coffee on one of the outdoor beds in the garden, overlooking the grazing zebra- surreal! We walked around the sanctuary with our guide, Isaac for about 2 hours, and he introduced us to several different bird species, taught us how to distinguish male gazelle poo from female poo (the male’s is more scattered, the female’s is more concentrated and neat- go figure), and informed us of some of the medicinal properties of the various plants around the property. Karen commented that it was a shame most people have forgotten about these plants as modern medicine was introduced, and thought it would be great if the local community could start harvesting these plants and selling them commercially, for example Masai deodorant, and a plant (I forget the name) that could be used to heal cuts and wounds. As we continued on our hike, Isaac asked us if we wanted to see a giraffe, to which we happily agreed, and it seemed we had just turned the corner and there he was- quietly munching away on some acacia tree leaves. I couldn’t believe how close we were able to get.

We headed back to the garden because it was getting pretty hot by that time, and we were served the most delicious lunch with three different cheeses, fresh bread with rosemary, salad with vegetables from the garden, fruits and the most delicious ice cream. The rest of our meals were along the same line- amazingly delicious and made with foods grown or raised on location. It was an amazing weekend, and Karen and I had to stop ourselves from sighing and saying “Wow” every five minutes. We really didn’t want to leave on Monday afternoon, but just then we got some much needed rain, so we took it as our queue to head back to the city.

Day One at Handicap International Kenya-Somalia in Nairobi

September 16, 2009 | Joanna, MA in Globalization and International Development, Intern, Handicap International Kenya

Monday, September 14, 2009

Today was my first day at Handicap International (HI). It was a fantastic day. I was a bit late getting out of the house this morning, with no electricity, it took me longer than expected to shower and dress, but Uncle George waited for me and gave me a drive, since his office is not far from where I work.

I got to the office early, around 7:45, and met a few people as they gave me a hand with setting up my office space. We had a staff meeting at 9 and everyone gave their project briefings and then I was introduced to the group. I was surprised that Kevin was the only Deaf staff member, but he has a full-time interpreter, Catherine, who works with him all day, although he can speak and read lips very well. My signing isn’t the best, but most of the other staff is just learning the alphabet.

Kevin was very warm and receptive to my research and interest in the organization, and he brought me around to meet everyone informally. There are people from all over the world working in the office, in addition to the majority of Kenyan staff, there’s someone from Kosovo, France, the US, and Belgium. HI in Nairobi is also the headquarters for the Somalia program, so many people from the office are on mission or returning from mission there, or at the bordering refugee camps.

I was really impressed with the professionalism in the office and the resources available. There were taxi drivers on call, a technical support team, logistics, hr, finance and so on. I felt a little like I did at Health Canada, a little cog in a big machine. I had lunch from the cafeteria on the top floor, where you can actually order your meal in the morning, via email, and have it delivered to your office, or take part in the all-you-can-eat buffet, at only 130 Ksh, which is about 2 CAD, and take the china and silverware back to your office.  I would say I had to remind myself I wasn’t in Canada, but I’ve never even had that great service back home!

In the afternoon, Anthony from logistics ran me through the emergency protocol, instructing me on the safety risks and strategies to minimize risk during my stay in Kenya. There is a 24/7 emergency phone to call, if I’m feeling threatened, lost, or even if I have a question. He made sure I had insurance coverage, contacted my embassy, and took down important phone numbers. Everyone was very friendly and supportive, and the day flew by. I had internet connection and a new HI email address before it was even time to go home. Before I left, Kevin suggested we make a joint submission to a Canadian disability journal, currently soliciting submissions about deaf culture and access to health and educative services, among other things. I’m really excited to contribute to this undertaking. There are also some CIDA connections to HI, and hopefully I will get to see the work my country is doing with the NGO in the coming weeks.

Prepare for Take-off

September 8, 2009 | Joanna, MA in Globalization and International Development, Intern, Handicap International Kenya

I’ve been anticipating this day for almost a year now. I first starting making inquiries about participating in an international internship when I started my Master’s program last September.

I knew I wanted to build on my experience of working at the Ashanti School for the Deaf in Jamasi, Ghana in 2007, but finding the right fit with an NGO that would allow me to do serious academic work, while also gaining practical field work skills was a challenge. Emails to various contacts, NGOs, and professors around the world went unanswered for months, and some were never answered at all. Finally, by some brilliant stroke of google-ing good luck, I found an email for a contact in Nairobi, Kenya, who works for a program supported by Handicap International (HI), which provides Deaf Kenyans with HIV/AIDS educational, counseling, and testing services. When I told Handicap International about my background, and asked if I would be able to work as intern, they were immediately receptive to the idea. We corresponded for several months, deciding what the internship would entail and what we each hoped to achieve.

The stars finally aligned the day my application for the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada Students for Development Program was due. I received a text message (early!) that morning from my supervisor from HI, Kevin Henderson, directing me to check my emails for a document finalizing the details for our memorandum of understanding. A few weeks later, I was told my application was accepted!

The last few weeks has been extremely busy, gathering supplies for my trip, participating in training sessions, and hearing ’safe journey’ from my friends and family, as I prepare for what will be “home” for the next three months. I’m lucky enough to have a friend whose extended family lives in Nairobi and has agreed to host me for the duration of my internship, so I can safely say I feel a much lower sense of anxiety than I did the first time I travelled to Africa alone :)

I know this experience will be extremely different from Ghana, but I feel much more confident about how to interact with the people I meet in a more professional setting, after working in similar professional environments and producing academic and policy-specific research and analysis papers for both work and school. It will be a challenge to communicate at first, with several local languages and Kenyan Sign Language to learn, but I know I’m up for it. I have my Swahili disks to listen to on the plane-ride, hopefully it will give me a crash-course in some common sayings!

Kenya Field Research Course 2009

June 25, 2009 | Jessica, Intern, Ghana,Toyace

I have been back from Kenya now for a few days and am reflecting on an amazing experience. There was so much experienced and accomplished in such a short time! Some highlights included a trip to the AFEW Giraffe Rescue Centre, a safari  weekend at the Masai Mara Game Reserve and other trips into Nairobi. My research focused on the Nairobi River and pollution. It was a  very eye-opening experience to see the pollution that exists and how access to water is a very important issue.

Overall the course, allowed me to get a better perspective of issues that affect Kenya but also can be seen in developing countries around the world.