Thursday, 6 September 2012

A Weekend in Kitale

Two months since last post - where has the time gone.  The normalcy I spoke of in the previous post has become high octane!  The past 2 months have seen the arrival of Nick in Kenya, a house move to a new part of the city, and involved numerous "urgent" projects at work which have demanded more of my evening and weekend time than I was expecting.
Nick and I at the wedding around 10.30am.  Wedding started 1pm.
However, in the midst of all the business, Nick and I managed to get away for a long weekend to attend a colleague's wedding in Kitale.

Kitale is a small agricultural town in Western Kenya near Mt Elgon and the Ugandan border, and to get there we would be taking matatu (a cross between what we call a 15 passenger van in the US and a minibus in the UK). It was Nick's first experience travelling across country by matatu which is an experience I think he will be happy to forego for the foreseeable future!

Matatus in Kenya wait until they are full to leave. We were told that the journey to Kitale was about 6 hours (in truth it was 8 hours) so we arrived at the matatu stage (like a bus stop) at 10am to buy our tickets. However, not until 2 hours later had they sold all the seats and we were finally ready to leave at noon.  

The journey was beautiful.  45 minutes after leaving Nairobi on the highway you come to the edge of the Rift Valley and the rest of the journey was inside the Rift Valley - which you should Google to see photos better than ones I could show you!  There are zebras and baboons and donkeys along the whole journey and small farms and huts dotted across the landscape - a nice change from the smog and buildings of Nairobi. We arrived in Kitale at 8pm - much later than anticipated (it currently is pitch dark at around 6.45pm) - but some people on our matatu we spoke to helped us find where we were going which was extremely helpful!

Kitale is a small town and not really on the way to anywhere - except to Mt Elgon, meaning that for such a small and remote town there was an exceptionally high number of mzungus (foreigners) who were staying there for a night prior to trekking or a night after having come back.  Because of the high number of tourists that come through the town, there are actually surprisingly great ammenities - including a proper coffee shop and a restaurant/bar that serves a great collection of Indian, Chinese and Pizza dishes.  For cheap!  In Nairobi eating Kenyan food is very reasonable - you can get a nice plate of chicken, meat or fish with rice and vegetables for around $4 or £2.50. But foreign food is much more expensive.  So we were delighted to randomly find great world food we could afford in a small agricultural town in very rural Kenya.

My colleague's wedding was lovely. I had learned from my previous wedding attendance that Kenyan weddings do not necessarily start on time. So where the invitation said 10am, Nick and I cleverly arrived at 10.20am armed with the Saturday newspaper. We were the very first people to arrive - they were still setting up - and the wedding didn't actually begin until 1pm.  Although there was musical entertainment from a local choir which sang for about an hour (see pictures below).

The choir was a bit tired of waiting too!

Here they go!

Precious, my colleague's new wife, arrives with her parents.

The ceremony was very nice - set outside under enormous trees - and was entirely in Swahili, but I think we got the overall impression that at the end the couple was married!  

Mr and Mrs Evans Yegon

Lunch was served in somewhat chaotic fashion (food appeared to be the primary motivator for many of those attending).  The queue was probably 75 people long when Nick and I joined and the style of queuing is to stand immediately behind those in front of you - so close that you are basically touching them. As the queue was very long, Nick and I stood more side by side to chat to each to each other (rather than me standing directly behind him and staring into his hair for 20 minutes). This however was a mistake, as we were very soon pushed out of the queue and standing next to (but definitely not in) this tightly packed line.  Someone took pity on us and invited us to join a different queue in the wedding party tent - but this was again a mistake as that queue was more than 30 minutes.  Anyway, we ate in the end a nice lunch.  The sky sadly had turned very dark by this point, and we managed to leave about 30 minutes ahead of a down pour.

My work colleagues and newly-weds. 

The Kenyan government had announced a week before that the Monday following the wedding would be a public holiday (not in honour of my co-worker's wedding, but rather to celebrate Eid).  We happily took the opportunity to extend the trip and spend an extra day in the area exploring. A quick review of our guidebooks led us to deciding to visit Kenya's smallest National Park - Saiwa Swamp. At 3 square kilometers, it is a pedestrian only park which was set up to protect a small water antelope.  To reach the park we needed to take a matatu about 18km and then walk another 7km. The matatu I think was record breaking - we had at one count 29 people inside (well, mostly inside - some were hanging on but kind of outside).  A matatu only has 14 seats.

The 7km walk was lovely - down this long dirt road with farms on either side.  The people we passed were busy with their cows or preparing food - and were absolutely intrigued by these 2 mzungus strolling past their homes.  The children we passed followed us for a long way - walking directly behind us so silently that we would turn to see if they were still there and they would nearly trip over us.  The road went up and down hills and over swamp land and was the greenest lushest walk I have taken in years.

We finally arrived at the park (after having wondered many many times if we were going the right way (7 km down a dirt road is a long way when you don't know for sure).  The guide books had said you could arrange for a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to take you back to the main road, so when we arrived we asked the ranger and he said he could call someone when we were finished.

There is an antelope in this picture.  Really.

We were the only people there that afternoon.  The park is one of the loveliest gems I have come across in Kenya - and if for some reason you ever find yourself in Kitale take a few hours for a visit.  The park has a large swamp in the middle with a 7km path that goes all the way around it, one bridge that cuts straight across it, and 5 viewing platforms (about 40 feet in the air) where you can sit and have a picnic and look out at the swamp to see the wildlife.  Which is exactly what we did - and as soon as we sat down we spotted a few antelope and watched them peacefully for about an hour.

There is a turning point to this story.  After about an hour it started to rain - just lightly - so we decided to try to get across the swamp to another viewing platform and sit there for a bit.  We started to walk and the rain got heavier, and we walked faster and the rain got heavier still. We finally made it to the platform - this one much much higher, up quite rickety stairs. The rain got heavier and heavier.  There was a canvas covering on the platform, but as the wind picked up the rain was getting in everywhere.  Skip ahead 10 minutes to Nick and I, hoods up and head down, standing in the heaviest rain, hail, and wind storm I have been in up on 50 foot wooden platform.  The wind, rain and hail was so fierce that we couldn't look up or it would slap our faces and it was so loud we couldn't talk to each other.  We stood there, bundled up, for about 15 minutes - absolutely soaking wet and freezing - and then the thunder and lightning started, and was getting closer every minute.  

When the rain had just started, before we knew what was coming!

I remember thinking I wished I had better wilderness training and was trying to decide if standing on a wooden platform was safer or less safe than standing down amongst the trees.  With the thunder and lightening coming closer we decided to try to start the 2 1/2 km walk back to the park entrance.  We very carefully climbed down the stairs - which were now covered in hail - and began walking back.  "Walking back" makes it sound like a Sunday stroll.  It was still pouring and hailing and lightening and thundering and wind was relentless. Not only that, but the path was now covered in standing water up to our ankles - freezing cold standing water.  And I was wearing sandals.  The path also had some very very steep sections, which now contained mini rivers - leaving me the only option to climb up and down them with hands and knees.  

We then started to come across some trees which had blown over during the storm.  At first they were smallish so we could climb over them, but then we came across very very large ones.  One so large that our only option was go out into the swamp in order to get around it.  We continued to trudge through running ice water for 2 kms and finally made it back to the entrance, soaked and freezing (I couldn't feel my feet by this point).  We felt we deserved a medal for our efforts - it was one of the most intense nature situations I have been in (and hope to ever be in!).
The car park was in about a foot of standing water and we deliberated a long time about if a motorcycle would be the safest way to get back to the road or if we should try to find someone with a car to drive us.  We ended up on a motorcycle - and very grateful as about a mile outside of the park a large tree had falled across the road and no car would be making it past that until someone came with a chainsaw!

All in all a great trip - and definitely visit Saiwa Swamp if you get the chance!

Have been on a few field visits the past month and have 2 more coming up in the few weeks so will be writing about that in the near future!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

When did things become "normal"?

I've struggled for weeks trying to think of what to write about.  There have been no visits to anywhere of note, no special conferences, nor mishaps of comic value.  Things have become quite normal here. Which I've decided is actually very nice.

It's been nearly 8 months since I arrived in Kenya.  On one hand I can't begin to explain where 8 months has gone, and on the other it feels like I've been here for years.  When a new colleague at work asked how long I'd been there, another colleague standing nearby said she'd been there 3 years but couldn't remember me not being there. 

And I know that this happens with every big move and every new job.  In the first few days and weeks you think you will never settle in - you will never learn how things are done or get your head around the work - and then a few months later you catch yourself giving instruction to someone on how something is done and come to find that without realising it you have settled and become the expert - the one driving and shaping things.  

I've experienced it before - moving to London when I was 22, starting work at the Students' Union - but for some reason I thought that the African volunteer experience might be a bit different - that I would feel unsettled and a stranger for most of my time here.  Not that I wouldn't find routine - but that it would never feel "normal".

But after nearly 8 months it does indeed feel "normal".  Well, "normal-ish".

So the past few weeks as I have been struggling to think of what to write as things have become "normal", it never occurred to me to write about the normal things.  That is until I talk to my mom last night who scolded me for not blogging and told me to get on it!

Therefore, here are 5 "normal" things in my Kenyan life.

1. Commuting to work.  I leave the house between 6.45a-7a and walk about 5 minutes to get to a big highway.  Actually, it's the biggest highway in Kenya - it goes all the way from Mombasa (on the Indian Ocean) to Kampala (the capital of Uganda) and just happens to run right past my house.  After very carefully looking for traffic, I run across the road to the matatu stage (bus stop).  I wait there as many buses and matatus pull up and the conductors shout out the destination and the price of the journey (public transport fares aren't standard - it's up to the individual vehicle what they want to charge).  In morning peak travel times buses generally go to downtown Nairobi and have set prices no matter where you alight, so I usually take a matatu which has more flexible fares. I usually wait 10 minutes for a matatu and then  travel only 6 minutes and alight and walk the rest of the 2 1/2 mile journey to work (it's a lovely walk down tree lined streets that house lots of embassies).  I've even made a friend on the walk - Daniel - who is a house painter and keeps me entertained with stories about his crazy German boss.  The whole journey is 1 hour exactly door-to-door.

2. Managing Resource Mobilisation.  As the Resource Mobilisation (RM) Manager at I Choose Life (ICL) my VSO placement is focussed primarily on training a team of people (now 6) to be able to develop funding proposals. With 6 people on the team it means that at any given time we are working on a minimum of 6 proposals, and sometimes more if my boss or I are working on separate ones. The work is busy and involves me regularly spending evenings or weekends reviewing drafts, but I can say that I really enjoy it. I especially enjoy working with the RM Team and seeing them learn and develop in their ability to put together a strong funding proposal (although I have to admit that keeping track of where 6 different proposals can be a bit tricky - but so far no dire mistakes!). This is probably where things feel the most normal. When I arrived at ICL I knew very little about HIV&AIDS (our main emphasis) and even less about democratic reform (or secondary emphasis), and I had never fundraised in an international development context where everything is just different. I wondered if I would ever be able to get my head around the issues or really contribute. I don't know when or how it happened - but I got up to speed and starting actually managing and leading the work.  And now it's normal - meaning, like all regular people, I feel the weekends are too short and Monday mornings too early and Friday afternoons too slow.  But normal is actually quite nice.

3. Shopping.  I still go to Kangemi (the nearby "informal settlement" - slum) every weekend to buy my fruits and vegetables.  I usually go with Andrea, but sometimes on my own.  It is about a 10 minute walk down a dirt road, and along the way at least 20 children will yell "Mzungu!!" ("foreigner") and "How are yooouuuu!?", and some will come and shake our hands.  The market in Kangemi is immense - it's made of a network of sheds with dirt aisles that are only about 2 feet wide (and generally quite muddy).  You can buy all kinds of fruits and vegetables, clothes, house wares, used electronics, and shoes there.  It is the main shopping market for this area of Nairobi and can get very busy - but we usually go on a Saturday or Sunday morning before the crowds come. 

4. Washing. Every Saturday morning I still get up and wash my clothes by hand and hang them to dry.  I have it down to a science and have learned how to most efficiently and effectively get my clothes clean.  What I haven't yet learned is how to protect my poor finger nails in the process...

5. Going out. Sometimes I even have fun! Nairobi is quite expensive, so meeting up with other volunteers for a night out isn't often possible on a volunteer allowance - but it does happen every once in a while.  This past month several of us went to the Alliance Franciase (the French language centre) to see a film in the International Film Festival (a lovely film about a Dutch boy who gets lost in Kiberia), we went back to the Alliance a few weeks later to see a of 9 different musical acts from Turkana (which was brilliant), and with Euro 2012 on there has been a few visits to bars to watch football matches (and hopefully another couple if England win tonight as well!).   

I hope you have found this very "normal" blog post a little bit interesting.  While things in Kenya are not boring and adventure is surely always around the corner, I have actually enjoyed realising that I have come to a place where my daily life feels a little usual and regular. Things, however, are about to become a little less normal in my life as in less than 2 weeks my boyfriend arrives in Nairobi to start his very own VSO placement!  

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Institutional Strengthening

Sadly no photos in this post - just some interesting information about a new programme taking place at my work.

A bit of background.  My organisation currently receives most of our funding from the US government, however we do not at present directly receive funding from the US government (USAID).  Our funding comes from American agencies and organisations (such as Centre for Disease Control, Walter Reed, Family Health Initiative) who receive funding from the US government to implement programmes in developing countries which they do through subcontracted organisations, such as mine.

USAID (United States Agency for International Development) has recently had a significant policy shift away from funding international bodies to implement programmes in developing countries, and to directly funding domestic organisations.  These are not small grants we're talking about.  When USAID provides direct funding it is in the millions of dollars and intended that the recipient organisation is not using all that money themselves - but is subcontracting out elements of the grant to smaller organisations.

There is a problem with this.  Currently in the health sector USAID directly funds around 30 organisations in Kenya to deliver health services, however only 4 of those are Kenyan.  The solution is not as simple as just stopping funds to non-Kenyan organisations and starting to fund Kenyan organisations directly - the problem is there aren't any other Kenyan organisations who have the capacity to receive such large and complicated grants from USAID.

But a clever solution was devised. USAID recognised that to achieve their goal of providing funds directly to Kenyan NGOs, they would need to spend time capacity building a few organisations first. 

Last October I Choose Life applied to be part of this capacity building programme, called FANIKISHA (which means "accomplished" in Swahili).  In December we made it through to Stage 2 (which involved piles of paper work, auditors coming into the organisation for 2 days to assess capacity of every department, and several interviews), and the end of March we learned we were one of 6 organisations selected.

The programme is 5 years.  This first year will focus solely on institutional strengthening in 6 key areas: Leadership and Governance, Organisational Planning and Resource Mobilisation, Human Resources, Monitoring and Evaluation, Finance and Administration, and Management.  The FANIKISHA team have been working with us on developing our plans for the year (which total at last count 107 pages).  The plans involve key milestones as well as how we will be mentored to accomplish those milestones (mentoring will include support from FANIKISHA as well as use of funds to employ USAID pre-approved consultants).  

In my role, I will be working on the Resource Mobilisation plans, which are very similar to the work plan I had already developed for VSO placement, which is great as I now have additional funds as my disposal for trainings and workshops.  I was also delighted to have been asked by the Chief Executive and Head to HR to lead the work on the Organsiational Planning, which will involve working over the next year to facilitate the development of a new strategic plan for the organisation. 

Those of you who have worked with me will know that while I understand and am quite capable at fundraising, strategic planning is what really gets me going!  I really look forward to the unexpected opportunity to use those skills and experience, as well as employ some new techniques learned from my studies at Cass last year.  I will not be working alone in the strategic planning at all - we are a large national organisation which needs a strategic plan which will need to balance the personality and character of I Choose Life with needing to intentionally evolve into something much bigger in 5 years.  For that reason and that the strategic plan will be largely health focussed, the scope of the work is a bit outside of my experience and knowledge and so we will be recruiting a consultant to work with me in facilitating the process.

After this first year (July 2012 - June 2013), FANIKISHA will begin to work with the 6 organisations on setting up systems to distribute funds to other organisations, something none of us has done before in a formal capacity.  In years 3 and 4, USAID will provide "mentored grants" to the organisations to distribute, meaning we will receive funds to commission out to smaller organisations, including application process, finance procedures and monitoring and evaluation.  But during this time, FANIKISHA will be holding our hand and supporting us as we learn and perfect how to become grant makers.  Along with distributing grants to other organisations we will be required to support them in their institutional strengthening - helping them build robust internal system.

It is not promised that by the end of the 5 years I Choose Life will automatically receive funds directly from USAID - we will still need to apply, but we are being given the support to grow into the kind of organisation that can deliver national health programmes.

On a final note, I was at a conference this last week for the launch of FANIKISHA and the press was there.   In the matatu on the way home there was a 5 minute segment on the radio about FANIKISHA with interviews from the conference about how important it is to Kenya for Kenyan organisations to have the capacity be able to deliver services.  I was thrilled to hear that the programme had made national news and that I would be participating in one of the 6 organisations "the country has hope in".

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Rain and Mud

I am currently writing this blog post in the dark.  The start of the long rains has meant that while our water supply has now returned to normal, we are experiencing frequent power outages.

When I left Kenya 4 weeks ago for a visit to the UK the long rains, which are meant to last from March - June, had not yet started.  Kenyans were beginning to get a bit nervous.  Last year the long rains hardly made an appearance leading to a severe drought in the Horn of Africa and the creation of the largest refugee camp in the world being set-up in the north of Kenya.

However, while they were a few weeks late this year, the rains have indeed started.  Oh yes they have!  When it rains in Africa, it pours.  None of this weak British half rain/half mist nonsense.  We're talking proper sheets of water coming from the sky. The rainy season presents its challenges for sure. Drying clothes requires strategy as it isn't usually possible to hang them outside long enough to dry. The traffic is horrendous - there was unprecedented traffic jams of up to 5 hours in Nairobi on Monday evening which made national news.  And everything is soggy all the time.

And naturally, with the rain comes mud.  Lots and lots of mud.  Many of the pavements (sidewalks) in Nairobi are simply dirt paths, meaning that they turn to mud in the rain, and often into rivers of mud.

A few months ago I changed my commute to work to include a 2 1/2 mile walk each way to and from the matatu.  This change happened in dry season when the mornings were fresh and the evenings warm, and everything was dry. I hadn't given much thought to what this walk might be like in the rainy season, and returned to my commute this week with some important lesson learning.  Here's a few:

1. Walk slowly.  Or at least more slowly than usual.  Or at least look at where you are stepping.  This learning come from my walk to work on my first day back when I slipped on a rock and did a somersault and my trousers ended up caked in mud (my colleagues were very nice to me regardless of the fact I walked in looking a mess - probably helped by the face I brought them chocolate from the UK).

2. Be brave. Be very brave.  Tuesday the rain started around 4.30pm.    The sky was very dark and the rain was the most fierce and serious torrential rain I may have ever seen. With a bit of thunder and lightening thrown in for good measure. With half an hour of work left I began to question myself if I was really going to walk 2 1/2 miles in that. But I am made of sturdier stuff and decided I wasn't going to let some water deter me.  Full of resolve, I laced up my trainers and pulled the toggles on my rain jacket hood tight and ventured forth.  It was probably the longest 40 minutes of my life.  I was slammed with rain the entire time, which meant my ears were ringing and I couldn't look up or my eyeballs would get stung. My skirt stuck to my legs making it hard to walk, and water got in around my neck soaking my clothes under my jacket. Mud wasn't so much a problem as the water was several inches high and racing down the street.  I was once standing in water up to my calves. But, I did it.  I felt I deserved a medal afterwards, but I did it.  Every stitch of my clothing was wet when I got home - but I did it.  And a few days later when I was faced with the similar prospects as I was heading out of the office, I didn't think twice and just went.

3. Wrap everything in plastic bags. Twice.  This lesson comes from that Tuesday walk home where I had the foresight to bring plastic carrier bags to work to wrap all my things in before sticking them in the rucksack, however my poor book still fell victim to the rain (my rucksack had more or less filled entirely with water which had to be dumped out) and 5 days later is still a bit soggy.

4. Stop caring.  The rainy season is wet and muddy.  It means my trainers and rain jacket and rucksack are constantly a bit wet and muddy. So what? In the grand scheme of things it's not really that big of deal. The rainy season can be inconvenient, and I would definitely not recommend to anyone planning a holiday to come during the rains, but the rain is important to Kenya and only lasts a few months and so I will continue to trudge through the rain and mud everyday and even maybe try to enjoy it too.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Resource Mobilisation Training. Resource Mobilisation Training. (Because twice is better than once)

One of the really great things about VSO is the opportunity to learn from other volunteers and utilise their skills and experience in your own placement.  A couple months ago Helen, another volunteer working in the area of Resource Mobilisation, and I realised we were both planning to hold upcoming training in resource mobilisation for staff in our organisations.  We thought about it and recognised almost immediately that while training delivered by 1 volunteer is good, training delivered by 2 volunteers is really good, and so we decided to team up and co-facilitate both training days.

Helen leading a session at her organisation.
In February I attended the VSO annual conference at which Helen was one of the facilitators – she was excellent and I was very excited to have her enthusiasm, dynamism and creativity in my organisation for a day.  In addition – I thought it would be a great opportunity to have some of the ideas I’ve been trying to bring into ICL (such as cash is not the only resource to mobilise) echoed by another volunteer. And we all listen better to voices we don’t hear as often.

Francis, one of Helen's colleagues, practising his organisational elevator pitch.
The process started about 2 months before the training when we each individually started preparing our training sessions, specifically identifying what the learning objectives for the training would be and some activities we might include to achieve those.  In my department plan for 2012 I have included 4 pieces of in-house training across this year, and it was suggested in January by the CEO that the first training look at developing, building and keeping relationships with donors.  I was asked to include in the training the resource mobilisation team, project managers and executive management team (15 people in total) in order to start to build the capacity of senior staff in approaching potential donors.  Working with that brief, I decided to widen the training to look more broadly at supporters of all kinds (not just monetary donors) – however the principles are the same.  The learning outcomes I developed for the day were 

1.Increased knowledge about types of supporters and their varied importance.
2.Increased knowledge of how to pitch to potential supporters
3.Increased confidence to approach (methods and content) and build relationships         with potential supporters.
4.Increased resources through relationships developed and nurtured.
5.Increased supporter satisfaction.

Two of Helen's colleagues enjoying their training,
 About a month before the training Helen and I met together for half a day to plan out the two training days.  This was one of the most beneficial aspects of the process; it helped me clarify what I wanted to achieve in the training and how to best to realise those outcomes.  I had spent so much time planning and researching for the training that I was getting a bit lost in it and found it difficult to come up with fresh ideas.  Helen had a lot of ideas for how to make sessions interesting and engaging and new, for example an activity about how to nurture a relationships supporters which involved audio recording “a donor” (my housemate Andrea) describing their experiences with different NGOs.

Helen next to the agenda for the day's training.
I was able to support Helen in flushing out her training as well.  Her training day was focussed on providing core fundraising understanding and skills to all staff at her placement.  Helen works for a national union of the blind, an organisation with large reach but quite a small central staff team with varying experience in raising funds.  As part of the training she was specifically interested in supporting the staff to understand how to put a project plan together – which I have quite a bit of experience in and was able to support.  We developed a basic template with 5 steps: identify the need the project will meet, state the aim of the project, identify a few outcomes (changes that will occur as a result of the project), specify what activities will be carried out to achieve the outcomes, and create a budget.

Me, standing next to visual representations of the various types of support NGOs should look for - a key theme of the day of training at I Choose Life.
The trainings were held on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, with Helen’s organisation first.  Helping to facilitate training for Helen’s organisation was really interesting as several of her colleagues are either blind or visually impaired and things I have taken for granted when delivering training sessions previously became apparent, such as using flip chart or handouts. I’ve not worked in an organisation working with persons living with disability before, and all of a sudden the concept of accessibility was more than government orders we begrudgingly comply with, trying to decipher how far we have to go to make “reasonable adjustments”.  Rather I saw accessibility as something that either enables or disables someone from participating.  

Group work during training at I Choose Life.  This particular exercise involved analysing the types of relationships we have various supports and how to learn from those.
Her organisation was extremely welcoming and friendly.  Compared to my placement, which has a much more corporate culture and image and is a much more fast-paced and stressful place to work, Helen’s organisation is typical of what we think we sign up for with VSO – grassroots capacity building one small slow step at a time.  While there are great things about my placement, I was able to see what this experience might have been like if I had that typical VSO placement – and there are some lovely things about it.

Mutie, a member of the Resource Mobilisation at I Choose Life, practising his organisational pitch.

On Wednesday we delivered training at I Choose Life (ICL).  We had quite a full agenda, but I think the agenda successfully included enough variance in activities while still rearticulating and punctuating the theme for the day.  Despite the fact that some of the attendees regularly work closely with me on developing proposals and other have no experience in fundraising, the topic of relationship building seemed to be new and pertinent to everyone in the room.

Facilitating a session on how we talk about our organisation to the public.
One of the highlights of the day was an activity in which we explored how we talk about ICL when we meet new people – the kinds of things we talk about and the language we use.  ICL has a wide range of activities and beneficiaries and can be complicated to explain succinctly and passionately to those who don’t know us.  There was good discussion around the importance of creating an institutional platform (the common things that are included in what the public hear or read about the organisation), while wanting to avoid creating robots required to recite a script. Each attendee was given 10 minutes to prepare their own 1 minute pitch about I Choose Life, starting with the phrase “I work at I Choose Life because...”.  While being quite a lot of fun, the activity also gave everyone the opportunity to think about what they would tell someone about the organisation and practice what they might say.

World Cafe(ish) activity exploring various themes around how to grow our
relationships with supporters.

Helen was a great asset throughout the whole process – her ideas and enthusiasm really added value to the training, and she developed quite a fan club at ICL!!  My co-workers are already asking when she can come back (although thankfully they haven’t asked if they can trade me for her!). 

At the end of the training many shared that they felt they had really learned and benefited from the training, with several staff members not directly involved in resource mobilisation saying they felt they understood how they could help build relationships with all kinds of potential supporters – which is a great result.

Peris preparing for her organisational pitch.

We received some interesting feedback from the training as well, which highlighted some of the challenges delivering training in a different culture.  For example, one staff member mentioned that some of the sessions were left-open ended without the right answers being presented.  This specifically referenced an activity in which attendees discussed some sticky donor relationship topics in groups and then shared their thoughts with the group.  Helen and I elaborated on some of their thoughts, and I provided a few examples from my own work – but no fixed and firm answer was given on how to respond in those certain situations.  What I found really interesting about this feedback is that when I attend training it actually really frustrates me as well when facilitators summarise input without providing a concrete solution.  I am generally not a big fan of group work – I always wonder what is being said in the other groups and if their groups are more “right” than my group.  My boss highlighted that part of this cultural – his experience of training with North Americans and Europeans is that the facilitators are encouraging and find it difficult to challenge a bad idea, whereas training delivered in other cultures might involve just being presented with facts with very little discussion, participation or collaborative thought.  I think in this particular case that there was value in presenting the topics for discussion, but that there aren’t necessarily concrete answers – all relationships are different with different dynamics and there can’t be a one size fits all response, however I will definitely take this feedback into account when working on the next piece of training.

Helen and I at the end of 2 days of delivering training.  A job well done partially explains our radiant glow - although is was also very very hot!
This will be my last post for a few weeks as I will be taking a bit of a holiday – but don’t forget about me, I will be back in full force the end of April!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Saturday 10 March in 10 Photos

Forgive me all for I have been busy.  It's been two weeks since my last posting.  

We are in the middle of completing 4 funding proposals at the moment, and I have been working steadily (early mornings, evenings and weekends) since my last post.

However, last Saturday I thought to myself:  Nicole, what shall we blog about this week?  And having drawn a blank, I decided to photograph my Saturday in 12 photos, one each hour from 6am - 6pm.  Well, it all started well, but around 2 in the afternoon it was hot and I was tired and I started to wane.  So I share with you here not 12 photos, but 10.  And they don't span 6am - 6pm, but rather 6am - 3pm.  Anyway, it's what I can offer you now so hope you enjoy!

Photo 1: 06:01
I usually wake up at 6:30am on Saturdays to wash my clothes.  It takes about an hour and a half  (including boiling the water, letting them soak, scrubbing and rinsing).  It's good to get the clothes done in the morning so they are hung up early to dry.  Having a busy day planned for last Saturday, I got up at 6am to wash the clothes. No alarm needed though - I wake up around 5:30am for work everyday, so even 6am is a lie-in.

Photo 2: Washing Done
Around 7:30am the washing was finished and hanging up to dry.

Photo 3: Waiyaki Way
The highway that runs next to my neighbourhood.  Looks tame here, however in order to get transport into Nairobi we have to cross these 2 lanes and the 2 lanes on the other side.  This is around 8.30am on a Saturday, but weekday mornings involve saying a small prayer before crossing as cars, lorries, matatus and buses come flying down the road.  The key is, according to my housemate Sandy, to wait.  And wait.  And wait some more. Until it is safe.  So far, knock on wood, there have been no close calls.

Photo 4: Moi
According to Andrea this is a statue of Moi, president of Kenya from 1978-2002 (who did the county no favours).  I took this picture as we were walking from one matatu stage (similar to a bus station) to another.  I don't really know why I took it - but there it is. The building in the background is the Hilton Hotel.

Photo 5: Route 46
While matatu is the most common form of transportation in Nairobi, there are several bus routes as well.  This photo is of Kencom, the name of a bus stop.  The buses don't individually have their route numbers on the outside, the conductor will hold a sign out the window indicating which route it is.  On this day, we were taking Route 46 to Yaya.  I should preface as well that this was around 9am on a Saturday morning.  Visit this same spot on a weekday, it is not quite so tranquil!!

Photo 6: Tunasoma Kiswahili
The reason we were travelling across town so early on a Saturday morning was for our monthly Swahili lesson.  Andrea and I (try to) meet with Lucy once a month for 2 hours for lessons.  Lucy is an absolutely excellent teacher and we enjoy our lessons very much.

Photo 7: Swahili Notes
My scratchy notes from lesson.

Photo 8: Toi Market
After our Swahili lesson, Andrea and I walked to Toi Market - one of the largest and best quality second-hand clothing markets in Nairobi.  It takes a lot of effort and determination to find gems and to get them at a fair price (there is a common unwritten mzungu tax of about 500% which seems to be added), but can be worth it.  On this particular trip Andrea got some great trousers and I got a lovely vintage dress from Japan.  After about an hour and a half of shopping we were very very hot and decided we had had enough success for one day.

Photo 9: Trousers
A pile of trousers at Toi Market.  Taking photos in public in Kenya is very difficult and Kenyans really dislike strangers taking their photos, so there sadly aren't more photos of the market.

Photo 10: Mint chocolate milkshake
After Swahili lessons and shopping in the market,  we decided to stop by a cafe for a treat.  This doesn't happen often - less than once a month, but is very nice when we can.  I asked for a milkshake with mint and chocolate.  The mint was fresh, and for the first few sips it tasted like chocolate and basil.  Very strange.  But I got over it and enjoyed the rest!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Devolution and Voter Education

Yesterday I travelled 2 hours to Kangundo to attend a community forum about devolution and voter education.  I discussed in a previous post (see previous post) that my boss, Mike, has written a book to launch a political reform movement in Kenya, and as part of that process the programme is being piloted in his home County.

The event took place at this church in a town called Tala which is in Kangundo constituency.

The pilot has so far involved the formation of a steering group made of about 40 community members to develop a draft strategic plan which maps out how key priority areas for how the County will develop in the next 3-5 years.  Mike believes strongly that the fact that Kenya has lagged so far behind in development cannot be blamed purely on corrupt and incompetent politicians, but that average Kenyans are also responsible for making sure their country develops, and that begins at the local level.

Constituents registering as they arrive. 

Waiting for the event to start.  It began an hour late, but ran over by 2.5 hours to compensate.
Now that the County Strategic Plan is in draft form, it is being taken around to each of the eight constituencies for consultation and to ensure local community leaders understand devolution and the new political offices it has created.  This is the second of these consultation events, and this one was hosted by my organisation so about 12 staff from my organisation arrived in force to ensure it was a raving success.

Wambui, Finance Manager, and Barasa, Programmes Manager, modelling the t-shirt.

Myself and Keter.  We were on photography and sales duty.
The meeting started about an hour late (which actually isn't too bad), with delegates continuing to trickle in over the first 3 hours. The delegates were specially invited by members of the steering groups and selected as individuals interested to contribute to this process and able to action change in their local area.  The forum started with prayer (as pretty much all meetings do), and greetings by the local chief and chairman of the local community development forum.  Mike then presented the concept behind the draft Strategic Plan and explained that while the plan highlights 13 specific areas for development in the County to ensure it's development over the next few years, it was up to the community to determine the priorities within those areas and specific measures.  Following this, the delegates broke up into 4 groups to look at and feed into 4 of those priority areas: water and sanitation, agriculture, finance and education. 

Mike presenting the outline of the Strategic Plan.
Group discussing water and sanitation.
Group discussing finance.
Then four members of the Strategic Plan steering group and who are experts in the 4 sectors being looked at came to share feedback from the small groups and background information on those particular sectors in the County. For example, currently while nearly 65% of children make it to primary school, less than 15% make it to secondary school and less than 4% attend any kind of post-secondary education (university or vocational). I've written quite a number of funding proposals and concept notes for this particular piece of work since arriving at my organisation, but it was the first time I actually was able to observe community consultation on strategic planning take place and it was really inspiring to see so many (nearly 400) members of this local constituency come together to discuss the needs and issues of their area and the changes they intend to make over the next few years.  Too often Strategic Plans are developed for individuals and not by them - and this demonstrated the start of real ownership of this process by the community.

Just a note that I was able to understand about 75% of what was said during the meeting.  The other 25% was in kikamba, the local tribal language.  But I think I got the general gist!

The best photo I could get of the whole group.
Koki Muli, key-note speaker.
The key-note speech was given by Koki Muli, a university lecturer and political columnist in a national Saturday paper.  She spoke about devolution - what it is and why Kenya has decided to devolve power - and what implication is has at County level.  I mentioned in a previous post the up to now Kenya has a very heavy and very corrupt central government and that the new Constitution (2010) has provided for a new devolved government which will be achieved through the creation of 47 new Counties.  The counties have been formed - but the upcoming elections will be the first time that newly created posts (e.g. Governor) will be elected, so the Counties aren't actually really anything yet as they have no government or resourcing.  Ms Muli explained that unlike American states which are fixed and permanent, the Counties can be easily changed, and she predicted where there are now boundaries for 47, if some are seen to be under-performing they will be merged with stronger Counties and so the result in 10 years time will likely be fewer Counties.

She also spoke about one of the key tenants of my organisation's political reform programme - which is leadership vetting, which is about creating a framework by which voters assess the candidates and select which is the right one for the job.  It is a key theme of the upcoming elections and the way my organisation is proposing to accomplish this is by using the Strategic Plan as a type of JD and then having candidates demonstrate how using their skills and experience they will deliver the plan. For me, it is a strange way of looking at candidate selection - that the community determines first what is to be done and then unanimously selects a leader to accomplish it.  My experience of elections is that there are often two quite different proposals from political parties on what needs doing and voters select the approach they most agree with.  What's being proposed in Kenya allows very little freedom for the candidate to present their own priorities and ideas for how the County should develop, but it is a very different context here and it is the common way of thinking - my boss and I actually just met with a Swedish development agency last week which is very interested in adopting our candidate vetting model across their governance reform programmes.

A bit of entertainment to keep everyone alert.
While there was no break during the 6.5 hour meeting,
we did distribute snacks of a loaf of bread and a soda or bottle of water to attendee.
The forum yesterday was really the beginning of this process - the introduction.  All the attendees have been asked to identify which sector they would like to work specifically on, and in coming weeks there will be a series of meetings for each sector to look at specific issues, objectives and targets at a constituency level to feed into the County Strategic Plan.  The meeting was 6.5 hours long, running 2.5 hours over, and I think if it hadn't been cut off could have gone on another hour or two.  People are excited and hungry for this kind of change and first the first time are being actively involved in shaping the change and being asked to directly contribute to it.  As I said before, it was inspiring to observe.

Briefly, in other news - I found out that my very first funding application has been approved since starting with the organisation 4 months ago (and considering average turn around time for most applications is about 6 months - this is pretty good!).  In addition, it was a (smallish) proposal to a UN agency and is as such the first piece of UN funding I've ever secured.  I can feel my CV getting fatter already!!