Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Jamhuri Day

Yesterday was Jamhuri Day which celebrates Kenyan independence from the British in 1963.  My housemate Barbara's boss, Josephine, invited all of us over to have lunch with her family.  Josephine and her family live in Kangemi, the slum which surrounds my neighbourhood on three sides.  She is a local leader in the community and her husband's family has been there for generations.

Nancy, another of Barbara's colleagues, stirs the rabbit.
We arrived around 1pm as the cooking was underway and were greeted with bottles of soda (and realised I could count on one hand the number of sodas I've had since I arrived in Kenya). Much had been prepared in advance, but I went outside to see if I could help (I was not surprised to be told no) and watch Josephine and her friend Nancy finish preparing the salad and the rabbit (yes, rabbit).  I learned through this that there are two types of lemons in Kenya - green (which I often see) and yellow(ish).  The green are better for cooking with and yellow better to use fresh.  Who knew? Lemonade anyone??
Barbara and Josephine

Lunch was soon ready which included typical Kenyan dishes of chapati, irio (mashed potatoes, peas and corn), rice, chicken and vegetables.  There was also rabbit on offer (the first time I've seen it in Kenya).  Lunch was great and we all had seconds.  The TV was on in the background during lunch and we caught snippets of the national celebration taking place at a stadium in Nairobi which included dancing, some rather interesting dramatic interpretations of Olympic running and a speech by President Kibaki which I couldn't tell if it was in English or Kiswahili.


Following lunch Josephine took us on a tour of her house and grounds, which ended up a tour of her local area and tea (and a reggae boogie) at a niece's house.  We saw a row of shacks which her family lets out to other families, a small cemetery in the garden where her in-laws are buried, and a lot of children (who thought it was funny that 3 wazungu were walking down their road).  Just a note that it's actually not usually ok to photograph people you don't know in Kenya, whether children or adults. There is a myth that Westerners are making money off the photographs being taken and therefore one can cause considerable insult or get into a sticky situation taking photographs at the wrong place or time.  As Josephine knew all the people on our tour, she gave us specific permission to take pictures - which I am happy to share with you.

This is a row of 4 separate family houses.
We felt a little like the Pied Piperettes. 

Josephine's nephew shows us what to do with corn.
Kangemi borders our neighbourhood.  You can see and hear it from our front porch.  I go there once a week to buy my fruit and veg.  But after spending 5 hours there yesterday I was left confused by the gap between the wealthy and the very poor in Nairobi.  10 minute bus ride away and I can be at a shopping centre, cocktail bar, or restaurant that rivals any in London.  There are many middle-class children who live on my street who are daily out ide playing with their bikes and toys, yet less than a 10 minute walk away are children with no shoes who literally play with small bags of rubbish - empty wrappers or cans.  I wonder about the kids on my street and what their perception of the kids in Kangemi is.  As they grow up, how are the kids on my street coming to understand the world and the city they live in?  I find it difficult to get my head around.

We came back from our wander and had a final glass of wine and brownie (both our gifts to our hosts) and made our way out into the yard for a group photo (which ended up as 20 group photos to ensure we had the possible group combinations!)  We were also very kindly invited to Josephine's son's wedding in February which we are already looking forward too!

Saturday, 10 December 2011


I thought as my last post was heavily about work (which is going great by the way - the SWOT analysis and recommendations for the Resource Mobilisation Team were extremely well received by the CEO and HR Manager and I have already begun acting on them), I would write a quick post (as am about to head out the door) about the domestics of living in Nairobi.

In terms of shopping, there are three main supermarket chains in Nairobi - all of which have branches near where I work so they are very convenient to access.  Supermarkets stock everything food related as well as appliances, dishes/cutlery, linens, household goods, hardware, stationary, and often clothes and books.  They are very much a one-stop-shop.  Food can be relatively expensive - particularly "western" foods such as pasta sauce and cheese - but I am slowly learning how to shop smarter using local foods.  For produce we walk into the local slum, Kangemi, where there is a large produce market where all sorts of vegetables and fruits (as well as live chickens)  can be purchased inexpensively.  The photo above is our pantry after a trip to the market.  I generally try to cook two or three times a week to have enough food to last for dinners and lunches for a few days.  There is often no power in the evenings which, despite having a gas stove, makes cooking difficult.

The other main domestic task is washing clothes - which is done entirely by hand.  I have discovered there is a learning curve to this as after my first (somewhat corner cutting) attempt my clothes were not exactly clean.  Strangely, the more work you put in - the cleaner your clothes get!  This is definitely my least favourite thing about my experience here so far - but at least I am developing strong arms and a strong back in the process!  (Although my hands are a mess!).  My housemates and I have decided to cheat a bit and every two weeks we have a local woman come to wash our bedsheets.

As we live in a big house we have also decided to employ someone to clean our common areas every week, a lovely woman named Beatrice comes and makes our floors shine!

In terms of other domestics - Monday is the Kenyan Independence Day and my housemates and I have been invited over to a local family's house for lunch and Andrea and I will be attempting to bake brownies to bring with our tiny easy-bakesque oven.  Watch this space!!

Monday, 5 December 2011

What I've been working on

I have just started my fourth week with I Choose Life (ICL) and I cannot tell you where the past 3 weeks have gone.  They are a blur.  It feels as though I have just started and have been there a year all at the same time.  I am mostly settled into my work, although there is still a bit of work for the CEO and I to do around my objectives which will take place on Wednesday this week.

Some of my colleagues during the fortnightly Manager's Meeting.  My first experience of this meeting was 6 hours - although this particular meeting was 5 hours.
I'm working on a couple pieces of work at the moment, but quite a bit of the past few weeks has been spent on conducting an audit of what has happened in the area of Resource Mobilisation over the past 12 months and meeting individually with the 6 members of the Resource Mobilisation Team to ask them a series of questions in order to gain a better understanding of how the team works.  The products of both have been interesting - although perhaps not unsurprising.  It appears that there is very little joined up fundraising work currently taking place, there are lots of knowledge gaps with regards to funders and where responsibility for various aspects of contract management sit, and the volume and quality of fundraising work which has taken place was far less than I had initially thought.  All this information has been very valuable, and after discussing these with the CEO (who agreed fully with the findings) I have been able to use this in creating my 2012 workplan as well as the first draft of my VSO placement objectives (the key things I and ICL agree should be complete by the time I finish).

From left: Yegon (the IT guru), Mike (the founder and CEO of ICL), and Pascal (one of the Project Managers).
The feedback from my individual meetings with the Resource Mobilisation Team members was also not necessarily surprising, but was very telling.  It is a relatively new team, the product of a somewhat hasty restructure through which the current team members were assigned to the department without necessarily having any interest, experience or skills in the area (only one reported they were happy to be on the team).  The team members currently spend their time researching potentisl bids and developing Concept Notes (similar to an Expression of Interest), but do not at present work on full proposals - which is currently done primarily by the CEO and Programmes Coordinator.  And even their research skills need support as there are cases of applying for funding which the organisation was clearly not eligible for. Numerous yet similar concerns were expressed from the team members about the structure of the department and I realised the full extent to which I have my work cut out for me if I intend to leave ICL in a year and a half with an operational Resource Mobilisation Department.  

My colleague June and I.
After thinking quite a lot on what the best way to present my findings from the team interviews to the CEO and HR manager would be, I settled on a conventional SWOT analysis template (thank you Francis Cooper and Cass Business School) for the reason that it would enable me to present the feedback in categories (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) without putting too much of my own interpretation on it.  The recommendations I divided into short, medium and long term and included the outcomes I hope to be achieved through each of the actions.  The short term recommendations include actions such as the team members meeting monthly with me and changing their job roles to specifically include proposal development and writing (which they unanimously requested), and long term recommendation is to recruit a Resource Mobilisation Officer in October next year to begin a 6 month training up and handover with myself (a key action in order for my work to be sustainable through skill sharing - which is the VSO model).

Wambui (Finance Manager) and Sarah on a much needed lunch break in the sun.

This is all work in progress, but I am optimistic about the work I will be and am already doing at I Choose Life.  The Resource Mobilisation Team is great (sadly no pictures of them here - but will in future) and several are extremely eager to learn.  The organisation is an exciting place to be at the moment as it is in a period of evolution, currently diversifying into support for civil society in the areas of leadership and governance and is positioning itself to play a role in ensuring that citizens are making informed choices in the upcoming elections and holding their leaders to account - which is very exciting work (and about which I will write more in future).  All in all a good start to week 4. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

The Baby Elephants

I and my housemates hired a car and driver yesterday and went to the Elephant Orphanage and Giraffe Sanctuary in Nairobi.  The Elephant Orphanage was brilliant.  It is set inside Nairobi National Park and currently is the home to 18 baby elephants, aged 8 days to 3 years.

Elephants become orphaned for two primary reasons - either the victims of poaching or of human/wildlife conflict.  Human/wildlife conflict occurs when animals stray out of Kenya's many national parks and on to nearby agricultural land and farmers have little choice but to kill the animal.  The Elephant Orphanage is the national programme which forms an immediate response to take in any elephant found to be orphaned. 

Once the elephants reach 3 years they are moved to Tsavo National Park where there is an Elephant Sanctuary where they are able to informally stay until they choose to leave and wander into the park and don't come back to sleep or to be fed.

The elephants are fed by bottle every 3 hours, and visitors are allowed to come to watch their daily 11am feed for the cost of Ksh. 500 (or about £3.50).  It was fantastic!  The elephants are so cute and are very sweet with their handlers, who are with them 24 hours a day until they leave to move to the Sanctuary.

After the elephants we went to a local shopping centre food court for lunch before going to Giraffe Sanctuary, and I will shamelessly admit that I had greasy Chinese food and it was great!

The Giraffe Sanctuary was nice, but there was only one giraffe at the feeding deck (there were about 5 more in the distance) and quite a lot of visitors.  We all waited patiently-ish to get our turn to feed the giraffe which was quite cool (and a bit slimy).  They are beautiful animals - and their eyes are amazing up close.  But I was actually slightly more entertained by the warthogs wandering around!

After a splendid day yesterday, today (Monday) came as a sharp awakening.  Got lost on way to work after matatu took a detour, showed up at work quite muddy as it had rained buckets last night, and left today realising that what I'm going to work on at ICL is not that clear and needs more refining with the CEO after I prematurely thought we had hit it on the head last week.  Was bit demoralised on way home so I stopped to buy a Twix (a very special treat considering my tiny volunteer living allowance).  It needed to be done.

Ah well. Sawa sawa. Tomorrow is Tuesday and I'm going to go in fresh, mud or no mud!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

We call her "Baby Blue"

I would like to introduce you to a new addition to my household: our beautiful new (and quite blue) Samsung fridge.

With four of us living here the previous little fridge had reached its limit, and we decided to pool together to buy a new one.  My housemate Andrea and I took on the responsibility of selecting the fridge which included visiting every supermarket chain (most household appliances are sold in supermarkets here) to cost compare.  We knew as soon as we saw her that the blue Samsung was the one for us!  So last Saturday all four us went to the supermarket to make the purchase (and go out to lunch since we were at the shopping centre anyway...)

My housemates (Andrea, Sandy and Barbara) shortly before buying the fridge.

The day of delivery arrived.  The supermarket said the fridge would be delivered at 11.30am so we sat on the porch anxiously hoping that every motor we heard was the delivery truck, until at last around 2pm it was what we were waiting for!  (Just a note that nearly 3 hours late might seem like a lot - but at least the fridge was delivered on the day we were told - which in Africa is in no way a given!)

For those of you concerned about our former fridge and that we carelessly cast him aside, don't worry!  A lovely VSO volunteer, Harvey, purchased him and took him home to a very nice house with a generator.

Speaking of generators, on the phone to my dad the other day he asked a good question - with so many power outages (we have electricity about half of the time) how does our food stay cold?  The answer is through a nifty little device called a Fridge Guard.  We don't have a generator at our house, so when the power goes out (which is daily) the fridge is plugged into a mini generator (looks like an adapter) which feeds the fridge enough power to keep the food chilled for a few hours.  Pretty nifty indeed.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A bit about work

This post is sadly overdue.  Finding time to sit down to write a substantial  entry never happens - so my housemate Andrea has suggested writing more frequent bite-sized bits.  So here we go.

I started my new job at I Choose Life - Africa last week on Monday and have been busy ever since.  We have 9 hour working days (8am-5pm) and remarkably I already am struggling to fit everything into that.  My role is head of the resource mobilisation team (a fancy way that international development types say fundraising) and I oversee a unit of six people.

Our receptionist Purity.

The organisation recently restructured so the post is newish.  ICL approached VSO for a volunteer to help them develop the infrastructure to move the organisation from a $1.2M to $5M over the next few years.  My role will be to work with the team to develop systems to achieve this as well as capacity building the staff themselves (many of whom are new to the world of fundraising).  After a bit of mapping of what is already taking place, I have agreed with the CEO that I will focus on donor mapping and engagement, developing tracking systems for proposals and contract management.  I will also be working with them on changing their current mentality of getting as many applications out as possible (their current target is 1 per person per week) to developing a strategy for funding so we are spending more time on carefully selected fewer applications.

The outside of the ICL Headquarters Building.
ICL is a large and very well respected organisation.  They have 82 permanent staff and a total of 200 staff including seconded/sub-contracted staff and interns based in a few regions around the country.  They are a preferred provider of USAID, and the majority of their funding currently comes from US government bodies and I will be working to move away from reliance on US funding to include European funding and trusts and foundations.

ICL has previously focused primarily on HIV & AIDS prevention through peer work and reproductive health (RH) in universities and high schools, but have recently moved into testing and counseling of at risk groups (including sex workers and truck drivers) and even more recently are exploring options to support local government leadership and democracy.  It is going to be a very exciting and informative place to be!

View to the garden from inside the office.

I have already attended a government committee meeting and a conference this week where I sat at a table with representatives from the Ministries of Education and Public Health as well as representatives from USAID and DIFD.  Definitely rubbing the right shoulders - but think I should have brought a smarter outfit or two... maybe with nicer shoulder pads...

And, the other important thing about starting a new job - I know where the coffee is! But even better, there is a lovely woman called Florence who brings me (and everyone else) coffee or tea just as we like it in the morning and in the afternoon. Brilliant!

Ok, realise now this was a longish post - but the next one will be sooner and shorter!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

End of Training and Moving House

Been quite a week.  Was ill for a few days which made the last day of training and moving house slightly rough - but got here in the end!

Our partner organisations arrived on Wednesday and spent the last 3 days of training with us.  We look at VSO's key priorities in Kenya (HIV/AIDS, Disability and Secure Livelihoods) .  It was great to have these discussions with the partners there and get their insight into why these are are areas in need of development.  We also covered issues such as monitoring and evaluation, governance and the partnership arrangement between VSO, the Volunteer and the Organisation.  We did also have a bit of fun and managed to meet together for a drink on Friday evening before leaving the hotel on Saturday for our various placements.

Some of the volunteers and partner organisations on the last night of training.
On Friday I also met with the representative for my organisation (the HR Manager) and my Programme Manager at VSO to review and sign the agreement.  Based on conversations I had earlier in the week with other current volunteers I asked for my contract to be changed from 2 years to 18 months with option to extend to 2 years - which was well received by both VSO and I Choose Life.  The work I have to do for the organisation will still get done - just slightly quicker.  But more about the job in the next post...

On Saturday I moved to a suburban neighbourhood called Mountain View.  It is about a 15 minute matatu or bus ride from Westlands (a large shopping area - and also where I work) down a long highway that apparently goes all the way to Uganda.  The neighbourhood is bordered on one side by the highway and the other 3 sides by Kangemi (a large slum).  Mountain View is a secure neighbourhood with 200 homes.  I am living in a large 2 story house with 3 other women who are also VSO volunteers.

Now, I must admit that when I signed up for VSO I was completely prepared to live in a cave with no electricity and having to carry my water 3km each day.  But, I am not going to complain!  The house has lovely living space, a great kitchen, running water during the week (we have to use our reserve tank on the weekend and with 4 women need to conserve) and electricity most of the time.  All in all very happy here.  We also have 3 adopted cats (Mango, Tango and James Dean) who are quite shy but I feel will warm up to me over the next year and half.

Spent part of Saturday and Sunday shopping for a few things for the house.  One of my housemates, Andrea, is also a new volunteer who was in my In Country Training and has been brilliant to explore to go around with.  On Sunday we also did trial runs for getting to work - so I saw the outside of my office (but, again, will talk about the job in the next post after the first week). I have also learned to do new things such as assemble and use a water filter and hang a mosquito net.  In Nairobi malaria is almost non-existent so our doctor told us we don't need to take the antimalarials or use the net. But after the first night I learned better!  The reason for the net is to keep the pesky things away from you!!

Harvey, another new volunteer from my training, lives in Mountain View as well and it's great to be able to walk over to his and vice versa (and he cooks amazing Filipino food so is definitely welcome anytime!!  Alright, enough for today.  Have been in work for 2 days now and will write more on the weekend all about that and anything crazy which happens between now and then.

Andrea, Harvey and I (note: I was suffering terrible cold and therefore not my usual lovely radiant self!)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

In Country Training

I have been in Kenya for 3 days now.  Currently staying at a lovely hotel with other newly arrived volunteers for a week of In Country Training (ICT).  Previous to this the VSO training has not been "context specific" (a phrase we joked was used often by VSO trainers in the UK to get out of answering a question they didn't know the answer to).  On the training are eight other volunteers: 2 American, 3 Filipino, 1 Irish and the rest from the UK.  3 of the volunteers have already been in Kenya for a few months and are very helpful (and patient!) answering lots and lots and lots of questions. All together a great group of people I have enjoyed starting this journey with.

Lucy (our Swahili teacher extraordinaire) delivering a lesson.
ICT so far has included Swahili lessons, health and safety briefings, and cultural expectations and norms.  The Swahili lessons have been amazing - our teacher Lucy has been able to get us to learn so much in so little time. Have already decided to pool with a few other Nairobi-based volunteers to continue lessons after training.  Tomorrow our employers will come for the day, the purpose of which is to ensure that there is clear expectations on the part of the volunteer, VSO and the employer (what VSO calls the three-way partnership).  I looking forward to but also a bit nervous to meet my employer - I want to make a good impression and am also nervous to hear what their expectations are for me.  I've been told by a current volunteer that this meeting is really important to ensure that I communicate any concerns and expectations I might have with the placement - but I (and most other volunteers) have such little information about our actual roles that I suspect this will be difficult to do.

Coffee break from Swahili lessons at the hotel.
Have seen very little of Nairobi so far.  The hotel is in a compound (as I have learned most buildings are), but I have been to a local bar, a cafe and two shopping centres.  We are still very much walking around in a large conspicuous group and have yet to take public transportation - so lots of learning (and mistakes) to go with navigating the city.  It is rainy season which means that every afternoon it pours with rain for about an hour (but the rest of the time is lovely and sunny) which makes the dirt roads and dirt pavements quite muddy.  The main roads and pavements are paved, but side streets are not.  This afternoon Lucy walked us to the doctors office about a mile away on muddy roads in heels and didn't get any dirt on her whereas I walked in flat sandels and my toes were caked in mud! Think there might be a learning curve here!

Volunteers visiting the VSO Jitolee office.
ICT ends on Friday and Saturday we all check out of the hotel and head our separate ways to our permanent accommodation and start our new jobs on Monday.  I found out today that I and two other volunteers from ICT will be moving into a large house in a compound that already has volunteers living there which I'm looking forward to and will report back on next week...

Friday, 28 October 2011

One week to go

One week to go until I board a plane for Nairobi where I will be based for two years on a placement with VSO.  The past 6 weeks has involved decanting my personal possessions into the three small boxes pictured above.  Strange yet liberating to have so little to represent my 31 years.  

I have been ready to go for a while now, the last of my VSO training was completed in September.  There are two training residentials, several on-line modules and self-briefing volunteers need to complete prior to departure.  Training looks at preparedness of the volunteer for the realities of volunteering long-term in the developing world and basic professional skills for working in that context.  I will receive another week of training once I arrive in Nairobi more specific to Kenya.

I have also been jabbed more times I can count - my nurse at my local practice even got a bit teary after my final immunisation having spent so much time with me over the past 3 months.  My airline ticket has been confirmed and visa is ready, and now have a final week of couch-surfing and goodbyes before I'm off.  Will write again from the other side.

If you are not familiar with VSO, definitely check out their website (www.vso.org.uk).