Sunday, September 13, 2009

Meetings at the Heron

The Heron Hotel has proven to be a central meeting place for our water discussions. Today a Member of Parliament (equivalent to a US Senator) from the Nyarbari Chache constituency paid us a visit. He and several of his staff told us about the need for sanitation and water storage in their area. It is truly a small world. Nine years ago, my daughter, my mother and I worked on a volunteer project in his area. In fact, he lives within 3 kilometers of where we were working at that time.
We hope there may be several school projects that blossom out of our meeting today.

Directly following that meeting, we met with the Water for All Organization based in Nairobi. They shared information about several projects that they have completed that look very promising. They focus on rainwater catchment with a unique sanitation system that on paper looks great. We need to do more investigating.

After meetings through-out the day, we are looking forward to tearing apart our suitcases and re-organizing all of the things we have gathered on this month long journey. Tomorrow will be our last full day in Kenya and once again we have a full schedule of meetings. Although it will be somewhat sad to end our journey, we are also looking forward to returning to Minnesota to family and friends.

The motto of today is: Kunywa maji safi. Drink clean water!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

To the Indian Ocean and back to the city!

We have been out of computer contact for several days. During that time we have covered a lot of ground!
We completed our visit to a family Maasai manyatta of our friend Jacinta LePaiton. She no longer lives the life of a traditional Maasai woman, but her brother and sisters continue to live in mud huts, away from town. The Manyatta consists of several family groups living in a circular arranged community of mud houses. Many Maasai practice polygamy, so there were many children of similar ages assembled. Jacinta introduced me to a baby named Patricia, (after me) but I have a feeling she was only Patricia for the day! We watched as a young woman began preparing a goat skin for market, men building a structure for cows, and children playing in the surround. We were invited into a hut to share a cup of boiled Maasai tea- milk and tea-quite tasty, and hopefully safe to drink. We'll find out!

On our way back to Rombo from the manyatta, we stopped to visit the local health center as it was now open for the day. Years ago my daughter, Katy, and I worked on the construction of this health center. We talked with the nurse on duty and found that much of her work centers around water-borne diseases. She spends many hours educating and leading seminars for women on the importance of safe water and hand-washing. The clinic provides medicine and immunizations and provides service to over 700 people monthly. (mind you, there is only one nurse and a pharmacy tech available)

We had lunch with my dear friend, Monica, who I met when volunteering in MaliTatu. She now is the proud mama of 3 beautiful children. We had a fabulous lunch and visit. The rest of our afternoon was spent with a women's group of Maasai women who discussed plans for community development with us. It was very interesting.

On Tuesday morning, we left by 7:30 for the coast. Our destination was the town of Malindi and Hemingway's Resort for a day of rest and relaxation! It was a long and dusty drive which has become the norm in this drought laden territory. We could see that crops were dried in the fields, and people are suffering. After 6 hours of driving we arrived at a beautiful resort on a beach at the Indian Ocean. We had a lazy afternoon enjoying the scenery and the pool. (What Patty failed to mention is that for us to get anywhere, we spend hours in a hot, dusty car while riding over roads that on their best day are considered impassable by US standards. We were beyond ready for the ocean!)

On Wednesday, we took advantage of our location on the Malindi National Marine Park and planned a "goggling" adventure. (the term used for snorkeling) First, we needed to teach our guide and friend, Christopher, how to snorkel.
It was his first experience! We practiced in the pool, and after a short time he was comfortable with the equipment. He did find it a little more difficult once we entered the ocean. We took a boat out to the reef and spent several hours exploring the coral and seeing the beautiful fish.

Later in the afternoon, we were on to another adventure. We met Madi Mohamed, the head of an eco camp in the town of Malindi. We could tell, that we were in for an interesting few days. He loaded the car with food, packages, and himself- and with enthusiasm and the cue- "We move, we move"- we were off! (we heard that phrase often!)

Madi and others in his community manage an eco island called One Love Island. Their profits are used to help the community of Ngomeni. They help with schools and help to replant and conserve the mangroves in the area. We stored our luggage at Madi's home in Ngomeni and headed for our island transportation. The 10-15 minute transport was provided by a dugout canoe, made from the trunk of a mango tree. It felt very tippy, but they assured us we wouldn't tip. Once again, the look on Christopher's face was hilarious. He told us that it was a "terrifying moment!"
The eco camp is very rustic- no running water, or electricity, but has a beautiful palapa shelter and a tree house for sleeping. It was comfortable and relaxing. We met Chris McKeown, a Peace Corp worker, from Pennsylvania. We discussed the need for water and sanitation at his school, and learned that he was working to help the village develop the marketing and improvement for One Love Island. We enjoyed meeting and talking to him. (his parents should be proud!)

The food on One Love Island was fantastic. Madi's mom is the cook, and her coconut calamari was delicious!
On Thursday, we spent the day hunting for sea shells, and again spending time with our new friend Chris. Around 4pm Madi raced onto the island with his mantra "we move, we move", and we were off on a visit to the Mangroves. We sailed part of the way in a traditional dhow, and then transferred to a dugout canoe to weave in and out through the mangroves.
Madi is passionate about the mangroves, and he and others are working hard to restore the area that has been affected by the salt plant that is located nearby.

Early Friday morning we headed to Mariakani and the Kayafungu area to visit community development headed by Student Movement for Real Change. Their name has recently been changed to "Think Impact". They are exploring ways to get water to the many schools in this sun-parched area. We all agreed that this was the hardest hit area, in terms of water, that we have visited. We met young children that were walking many miles to gather water. We visited a large dam project that was absolutely bone dry. The schools are receiving food from relief agencies, and for many children this provides their only meal of the day. It is truly an area that is in desperate need of water. We hope that H2O for Life will be able to assist with schools as projects are identified.

Today, we are back in Nairobi, preparing to meet with several Prime Ministers, Rotary Club members and others that will further educate us about the needs of local schools and how we may be of help.

Kwa Heri ya kuonana! (Good-bye until next time)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Check out this video of our visit to Uganda,

Monday, September 7, 2009

Visit to Maasai Land

On Saturday night, after watching many animals cross in front of our lodge, we were treated to a private walk by one of the night gurads at Amboseli Serena. We walked quietly to a secluded area adjacent to the lodge to find a group of elephants feeding on the trees and leaves. There was a full moon, and we watched them for quite a while.(We were 15 feet away) They are amazing animals and HUGE! Around 5:45 a.m., I peeked out the patio door, and again, the elephants were there. They stayed very close to us for a nice visit.

On our travels out of the park, we saw a family of lions with several small cubs. They are shy, but we were able to snap a few photos. THEN the dusty ride to Rombo began.

Much of the road has been improved since my last visit, but there was a stretch of road where the dust and bumps were unbelievable. We covered ourselves with our kangas (cloth) but still were very dusty by the time we reached Rombo. Our first visit was to the health center in Rombo. I worked many years ago with Global Citizens Network on the building. The clinic is wonderful, providing services to many people in the area. The facility has flourished due to collaboration between Rotary of Ireland, AMREF, GCN and the local community.

We walked along the river- which is now a very small trickle in many areas, and visited people along the way. The drought in Kenya is severe, and food and water are scarce. People are suffering, and doing their best to survive. Thanks to the help of NGO's, there is access to piped water and kiosks that are available to people in the Rombo area. Many walk long distances to access these water points. There is more work to be done!

We are leaving momentarily for a visit to a maasai manyatta for tea, and then will visit the market in Rombo. We will spend the evening visiting with a woman from Ireland that is doing great work in this area. Perhaps we will find a way to collaborate with schools in the area.

Enjoy your Labor Day holiday! The kids in Kenya are back to school today after a month long break. Tomorrow, for those who have not already started--it is back to school for US students!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Government at Work

Jambo All!

Patty and I have been out of easy Internet range for a few days so we are a bit behind in our blog. In fact, I am attaching a picture of myself using the computer in a field. I had to climb up a hill before I could access the Internet. What you don't see is that a herd of cows and goats had just passed around me minutes before. I'll bring you up to date with this entry.

On Wednesday morning we had a very exciting meeting. We had a meeting with the Honorable Richard Onyonka, MP, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs. He is the elected Prime Minister of the Kissee District and then is appointed by the President to be the Assistant Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs. We went into the meeting hoping to get him to earmark some dollars for the IkoToilet project for schools. He is on board! In fact, he is so excited about the project that we have a follow-up lunch with him on the 14th with the people from IkoToilet and the Minister of Water for Kenya. How is this possible? We are getting to the right people and they are so enthusiastic about what our U.S. students are doing. They cannot say "no." Now H2O for Life will have the Kenyan government as a partner on many of our projects.

From there, we headed back to Christopher's home and village of Kathungu. We would also like to see the IkoToilets compliment the work we have done there so we headed off to a meeting with the village leaders including the Chief (like a state representative) the Counselor, (like a mayor) and the leadership (like a city council.) We never want to force a project on a community that does not want it or support it. We presented the idea of IkoToilets and school and they love it! Now we have to wait and see if they are willing to contribute the 50% matching funds from their CDF funds. (Community Development Funds) If they can do that, we will work to get our schools on board for this exciting opportunity to provide clean water and latrines to the schools! Keep your fingers crossed! We had one more meeting with another District Official who controls CDF funds and just paid a courtesy call on him at the request of the village leadership. There are lots of layers to the approval process in Kenya but everyone we have met with is encouraged that the government will find funds to help in this endeavor.

After all of our meetings, we finally made our way back to Christopher's. In a way, it felt like we were going home. All the kids and women were there to great us. We spent the afternoon visiting. Patty brought along light-up bracelets for all of the kids. In the dark Kenya night, it was fun to watch the excitement on the kid's faces as they marveled at these.

We awoke the next morning to a bit of rain. Kenya is so dry. We shake our clothes out at night to remove the dust. This little bit of rain was welcome but it was not enough to do anything other than to help control the dust.

We had a meeting in the afternoon with the women from the village. They have formed a Woman's Group who are also looking to make improvements in their community. They gave us a request for an addition to their existing dam. Further research is needed but we hope that we can help them find a solution in the coming months. It was an interesting meeting. We always have to have someone interpret for us. Although most Kenyans in this area speak English, it is the kids who know more English than most older adults. Something is said and everyone starts laughing except for Patty and myself. We hear the interpretation and start laughing after everyone else is finished. It is much like watching a movie with sub-titles. We are both very happy to see women start to take an active role in the politics of their villages. They have a long way to go but before we left, we had them chanting, "We can do it!"

The rest of the day was spent polishing the girl's nails and teasing the boys. We also spent most of the afternoon working on a video of girls and their need for water at schools. Once it is put together, we will send it out to all of our schools. Patty is the next Steven Spielberg! We spent lots of time in the kitchen with the women and enjoyed the camaraderie. Both Patty and I took a turn at making Chipati. I am not certain why all the women laughed at my Chipati!? Oval is a nice shape.

We are now in Amboseli Park. Amboseli is a Masaii word that means very dry and dusty. Wow. Did they get that one right for this area. Last night we sat outside our lodge and watched gazelles, a hippo, wildebeests and a herd of elephants walk by. They were only a few feet away from us. It is amazing to witness these sights and I hope that this area can be maintained for many generations to come so that we can forever view the animals in their natural habitat.

We head to the Masaii area around Rombo tomorrow. We will be out of range for a couple of days before we head off to see some of the projects completed by Student Movement for Real Change.

We will think of all of you as you enjoy this last weekend of summer. Get ready for a fun year and continue to work on your H2O for Life projects. Your work is making a significant difference in the lives of these students. The only sad thing that I have witnessed on this trip is that there is so much work to be done but together we can make change happen!

Val and Patty

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Day in Nairobi

This morning H2O for Life members met with Kenya Rainwater Association. They were the implementing partners for the 2007-08 school year on three of our school projects. The US partner schools working through KRA were: Highview Middle School, Irondale High School and Centennial Middle School-all located in Minnesota. Two of the schools were visited by us last Saturday. We hope to visit the third school, time permitting, next week.

Kenya Rainwater has a long history in Kenya. They are experts on rainwater harvesting, and we are very pleased with their project results. We were delighted to see that their June edition of thier monthly magazine has Entonet School on the cover- a project supported by H2O for Life and Highview Middle School. The article has beautiful photos of Entonet students and the water tank and a thank-you note written by a student.

Beatrice Nkeyian, student, says in her letter:
"There before we used to walk for more than 4Km to fetch water and sometimes we even miss school because of water and this may even lead to poor performance but now you have converted the kilometers to some meters. You have pulled us from nothing to something."

We will post the article on our website soon.

We have 5 school projects available with Kenya Rainwater for this year. Let us know if your school or YOU can help!

We had anticipated a visit to a school project, but when we found that the targeted project was a 4 hour drive (one way) over bumpy roads that we had already covered- we decided to forego the visit. We know that we can trust KRA to complete great projects in the future.

Val Johnson and I decided to walk around Nairobi! We stopped to get a city map, and with the help of a young man from Kentan Safaris, we headed to the City Market. Once we arrived at the market, we were on our own! There were rows and rows of shops- all stocked with jewelry, wooden carvings, bowls, baskets, purses- all the crafts available in Kenya in one place. The standard mode of operation is BARTERING! We were strong and only bought the items we really wanted! (I'm sure at an inflated price, but that's ok) We had fun talking to the vendors. I had an "Obama" bag, that was the impetus of many conversations. In the market, President Obama's face appears on batiks, kangas(cloth used as skirts) and paintings. People in Kenya love Obama!

The market sits next to a meat and fish market- the smell was not very inviting. We did manage to take a few photos of the meat slabs hanging in the open air. It will make us think twice before ordering meat tonight.

We stopped at the Norfolk Hotel for a late lunch. It is an historic hotel with many photos of Nairobi in the early 1900's. The lunch was delicious. We decided to walk a few blocks after lunch but found that crossing the streets in Nairobi is a real challenge. The cars careen around the corners, and move very fast! After crossing a few streets we decided our safest mode of transportation back to our hotel was a cab!

Tomorrow we meet with the Assistant Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs. Our meeting was arranged by the Prime Minister's brother, Jimmy- whom we met in Minnesota! It is a small world. We look forward to learning more about the Kenyan Government. Now....if we can only find out what happened to our laundry, we may be able to dress appropriately for our meeting tomorrow.

Ulale Salama! (good-night)