Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A really long post about Nuru stuff

Oh man! I can’t believe how much is happening for Nuru right now. Things are really moving. It makes me feel good. It’s really easy for a new and budding organization like ours to stagnate for lack of funding, dedication, etc, so I’m really excited that that’s not happening to us. In fact, people keep commenting on how well we’re doing. Here are some of the things we have managed in the last few days:

The Sufuria

On Monday, we went and bought a huge sufuria (a stainless steel pot) for Marycliff Primary to cook their food from the World Food Program. Prince, Bobo, Pudus and I spent a good chunk of the day going to different places to find a good one for a good price. I had to force them to take me along actually cause they thought I would get too tired. I was annoyed that they thought I couldn’t handle it, so I told them I didn’t come here so I could sit around and let them do everything. But of course I did get tired. And sunburnt. So now I can add that to my list of discomforts. Still, I was much happier doing something useful, and it was nice to spend the day with them.

On Tuesday we went to a meeting of the board at Marycliff and formally presented them with the sufuria. They couldn’t believe it. Here in Africa, you can be promised something for ten years and never get it, so they couldn’t believe that in less than a week, we had obliged their request. Lots of “thank you”s and “our pleasure”s were exchanged, and we took a picture of all ten or so of us who had shown up to represent Nuru passing the pot over to the headmistress and the senior board members. The kids were also really excited and they all wanted to help carry the pot for us. I have some cute pictures. The kids here really make me smile. They get so excited about things like shaking hands with me, carrying a pot, going to school. Things kids don’t really get excited about at home.

The Computer

Meanwhile, Bobo’s friends Payne sold us his computer for about $200. It’s almost new, about a year old. It’s decently fast and has all the programs and everything we need. We got a portable modem that runs off a sim card from a phone, so we have internet now as well. This is going to be a big asset for Nuru, cause we will no longer have to pay for internet cafes for keeping our record and files and sharing pictures, updating the facebook group and, hopefully soon, the website. When we have an office, we will put it there.

Speaking of offices we haven’t managed to get a meeting with the mayor yet. I don’t think we’ll have a big problem getting an office, but the mayor has been busy. The municipal council started charging taxes from hawkers. It makes sense to me, cause the shops can’t compete when the hawkers don’t have to pay rent, tax, labour etc. The hawkers were not amused and they rioted Mombasa. Don’t worry, I stayed away ;). In any case, that turn of events has occupied the mayor, understandably, so we’re still waiting for that meeting.

The Drainage System

This is a pretty awesome piece of news. Obviously, sanitation is a problem in the slums here. That’s why I was originally hoping to start a project to build some proper washroom facilities. The Municipal Council of Mombasa, it turns out, has some funding that they have allotted for cleaning up the area, including two drainage projects, one sewage disposal project and one for public bathrooms. But they haven’t done any of them. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has recently begun an initiative for job creation in Kenya. This initiative requires that projects like the aforementioned ones be delegated to youth groups who can take on the planning, engineering and labour using government funding. You can see where this story is going I think.
This morning (Wednesday), the Municipal Council of Mombasa invited community-based organizations from around Chuda and Kachongo to discuss this. Only two organizations turned up for the meeting, ours obviously included. This is a really great opportunity for us. We have to write a proposal for the drainage project by Friday to present it to the council. Because there is only two of us, there is an excellent chance that we will get the funding (600 000 shillings, or like $8000). We will also have a chance to work with the Mombasa Municipal Council, and hopefully form a good relationship with them.
Prince was especially excited about this project, cause he loves working the bureaucracy and organizational stuff – going to meetings and asking questions and making proposals. One of the great things tis project has going for it is the variety of skills and interests. We have people like Prince and the Chairman Jay who are all about meetings and letters and amending the constitution and stuff like that, and then we have people like Bobo who hate that stuff but love the hands-on doing of things. None of us has a lot of experience though, so of course we need lots of advice, but we are getting a ton of support from people in the community who work with NGOs and international organizations. This evening, we had a meeting with a local man named Jimmy who works for the Kenya branch of the International Center for Reproductive Health, and a colleague of his that is an expert in finding funding. They both gave us some excellent advice about running the organization, where to go for funding and how to approach our proposal for this drainage project. We’ll be struggling to get this proposal done by Friday, I think, but it will be an interesting learning experience. And there is much more to be dome once that is finished!

Ok that’s enough I think.

That blog was probably kind of boring for some of you. Those who aren’t really interested in the inner workings of an organization, that is. But a lot of cool things are starting to happen so I hope you will continue to tune in anyway. And I’m going to try to upload some pictures so that should make things more interesting as well. Right now, I have to go watch the finals of British soccer between Manchester United and Barcelona. But I will write again soon!


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Week one of seven is already over

Hello again!

I guess you'll all be happy to know that I made it through the last few days with very little money. Thanks to my mom's midnight efforts to send me money, I have managed not to starve. Thanks mom.

Things are still awesome. Still strangely comfortable. I mean that in the sense that I don't have the same sense of fear and unknown that I remember from last time I was here. It feels familiar, as if I just went to visit some friends on the other side of town and not of the world. Maybe it's because I'm missing the getting-mugged intro to Chuda that I had on my last visit. maybe it's because everyone knows me and I know them and so I don't feel quite so out of place. All I'm sure of is that I don't feel like sitting inside and watching movies as much as I did last time.

My comfort, however, does not extend to the physical. I hadn't realized that I would get so soft being away from here. I guess I got tough during my six months last time, but now... I cut up my feet using African sandals Bobo's mom lent me. Then I tries to do laundry and made my knuckles raw after like three pieces of clothing. I couldn't even finish it. I also have like 800 mosquito bites. I'm taking malaria medication, but they're still aweful even if they don't make me sick! On Thursday morning, I went running with Bobo and joined some other guys at Chuda beach for their morning excersises. They go from 5 to 6 every morning while it isn't too hot. I kept up. Sort of. But I'm only just able to walk properly again today. You know how Kenyan people are always winning races and stuff? They told me they'll make me fit like that before I go home. We'll see how that goes. Meanwhile people keep commenting that I got too skinny while I was at home and are attempting to make me fat. That makes me laugh, especially when I think about how much people fight against getting fat at home. I explain that to them and they think we're crazy. In a way, I agree. I guess there's a happy medium. In any case, it will be interesting to see whether I come home fit or huge, cause I doubt it will be both.

As for Nuru, things are moving. A little slowly, but as they say, "this is Africa." No hurry. Hakuna matata. We should be meeting with the mayor this Monday or Tuesday with the help of the Tudor (Chuda) area councilor. I had a long conversation with the councilor yesterday. He is very interesting. He was telling me the story of how he became coucilor - against the odds. He was a conductor on a matatu (minibus), and a kid from the slums. Several years ago a small girl, five years old, was raped here in Chuda by a matatu driver, and found miles away across the city in a ditch. Mr Unziru (mostly they just call him the councilor) heard about it and went to the matatu park, where he found the man, arrested him by himself and took him into the police station. When the rapist talked himself out of prison, the councilor rallied the angry women of Chuda and demonstrated at the police station until they jailed the man. He has since been released and drives matatus in a different part of town. In any case, the councilor decided he wanted to become a leader. So every night after he finished conducting, he would poster his small black-and-white posters around Chuda with the help of a few friends. He told the chidren of teh neighbourhood, who liked him a lot because he was plentiful with the sweets, to tell their parents to vote for him. To everyone's surprise, he beat out the former councilor who was rich and affluent in his campaign. The story was all over the news, and he is still famous. The Mombasa council couldn't believe a slum kid could become councilor. he still comes to sit and smoke and chew miraa with the guys at ruff howz and he refuses to buy a car and always takes the matatu to work. He has done a lot for Chuda though and his voters love him. He has offered to help us as much as possible with Nuru including getting us some land in Chuda to build a children's home, securing us some government funding for working with youth, etc. This is all in the future of course.

Well, that was a digression. But an interesting one I think.
I'll just finish up with a few more updates. They are indeed lacking kitchen equipment at the school, so we will be our first use of the money so generously donated by my friends and well-wishers in Canada. I had a lovely tour of Marycliff Primary school on Wednesday. The headmistress is great. I really liked her. I'm looking forward to help them out. All they really need is a couple of really big pots so they don't have to waste tonsa of fuel cooking over and over in order to feed everyone. And someone to do the cooking of course. It's looking like about $300 for everything there, and it will get a lot of parents from the slums off the hook.
Other than that, we're waiting on the mayor and a couple meetings with other organizations. And we had to revise the constitution and are working on a couple of other organizational things. Further news on that to come as soon as something interesting happens.

Today we're going to a group counseling session led by a friend of mine from WOFAK, the organization I worked for last time. One of the things i would like to do is get some of the mombers, and us, educated in peer counseling. there are organizations that do this for free so we are looking into that. Again, I will say more about it when something interesting happens.

Thanks for tuning in. See you next time, same time, same channel!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Back in Africa

Wow! This is weird. It's been nine months and here I am again at the cyber cafe in Chuda writing in my blog. The weirdest part actually is that it feels surprisingly normal to be back here, like I'm coming back after a weekend away. It's nice. I feel a lot more comfortable than I expected.

The trip was good. Long, but I slept for a lot of it. Probably couldn't stay awake without the mass amounts of coffee I've been drinking since exam period. When I arrived in Nairobi, I stepped off the airplane and the heavy air and the vaguely incense-like smell hit me with such a barrage of memories that I couldn't stop grinning te whole shuttle ride to the airport. Two of my friends, Moses (Bobo) and Mwangi were there to pick me up. It was really exciting to see them.
I spent the next few days in Nairobi, visiting various people. My photgrapher friend Jose recently had a baby, so we had to visit him and bring some gifts. I spent an afternoon with his wife, Tracy, arguing pleasantly about whether white or African babies are cuter and cooking mboga and ugali. We met a few other people on Friday and went for drinks. We ended up staying there for hours as the rain started and we couldn't even manage a step outside the bar without getting drenched.
It was really awesome to be back in Kenya, walking the dirt side streets of Nairobi, with the colourful concrete apartment buildings and endless clothelines, the crazy traffic and bustling atosphere of downtown. I'm sure that doesn't sound like paradise to most people, but I've missed it.

Moses and I took the bus back to Mombasa on Friday night. I was grinning again as the Tuktuk pulled into Chuda, even though there was no one there and it was still dark. Since then, my time has been a whirlwind of meeting everyone again and being welcomed back. On Saturday several of us went out with Bobo's friend Junior who runs his fathers shipping company and was more than happy to buy us all drinks. I culdn't buy them because I'm a little tight on money. I forgot my wallet. Those of you who know me are rolling your eyes right now. Actually it's turing out to be an interesting experience. The guys here know how to live on almost nothing and they are teaching me quite well.

Junior is very interested in Nuru and has given us some excellent advice. He invited us to his place for a meeting yesterday which was incredibly productive, and we now have a course of action for the next week which includes securing the office promised to us by the head of the Mombasa council, and making a few amendments to the consitution. I don't have the time or money to go into detail right now, but I will definitely keep you updated as our plans play out.

Today, we are going to visit the school. This morning, seveal uniformed students were hanging around outside our place. It turns out they had bee sent away when they were unable to provide an extra fee of 60 shillings that the school was suddenly requiring of every student. That's a dollar by the way. Bobo and Jay speculated that government food has come for the school, but they don't have the resources to cook it. Aparently the headmaster was worried about this several weeks ago. So we're going today to see if we can help. if we can get some stoves or whatever for the school, we can save all the families of the kids in the school the trouble of coming up with a dollar, and the school won't have to send home the students who can't pay. I will let you know how that does in the next couple of days.

Thanks for reading!! Lots more to come!