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...