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Archive for the ‘Kenyan Culture’ Category

As promised, I thought I’d take the weekend to upload my backlog of photos.  I’ve been privileged to meet some wonderful Kenyans and volunteers since I’ve been here.  I’ve also enjoyed all the animals that wander around the streets or come to visit me in my hut.  I’ve posted well over 30 pictures in Flickr (link to the right), but here are a few of my favorites.  I’ll continue to upload pictures and posts every day or two, so don’t forget to check back regularly.

Alastair and Steve

Alastair (KCP Volunteer) and Steve (Kenyan college student)

Paka Mweosi

Paka Mweosi - my adopted pet (Black Cat in Kiswahili - clever, huh?)

The gang

Josie, Esta, and Emmanuel - Friends and Kiswahili tudor

Kenyan baby sheep

Random baby sheep on the side of the road

Kiki and Caleb

Kiki and Caleb - Kids in the extended family

House guests

House guests

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I mentioned in yesterday’s post that you really need to dig to uncover the truth in the field interviews. There’s a powerful combination of people wanted to give the “right” answer, people assuming the Mzungu knows best, and people thinking that maybe they’ll get something for free if they express interest. Today I had a bizarre conversation with a woman who knew we were from the water filter plant that basically went like this:

Do you treat your water today?
– No. Nobody is sick and the water is clean
Are you familiar with WaterGuard? Have you ever tried it?
– No . There’s no need. The water is safe.
So would you be interested in purchasing a 1,500 shilling water filter?
– Yes, I would very much like to purchase a filter
Why? You said the water is clean and no one is sick.
– I’d want it as a precaution. The water would be safer if I purify it.
In that case, why don’t you use WaterGuard as a precaution today?
– I don’t know. How much does it cost?
20 shillings treats your water for a month
– Wow, very exciting! I didn’t realize that.
So will you start using WaterGuard tomorrow as a precaution since the filters aren’t ready?
– Silence.

Actions speak much louder than words. Even with these challenges, I’m still learning quite a bit from these interviews. I’ll have another post plus a bunch of pictures over the weekend, so be sure to check in.

Kenya Village Interviews

Kenya Village Interviews

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Day 1 of the field interviews is now complete and after 6 interviews, there were some interesting findings.  One issue that I somewhat expected, but not to the extent I saw it, was the tendency for people to tell me what I wanted to hear instead of what’s really happening.  There were numerous instances where people would contradict themselves during the interview.  When I questioned them on the inconsistencies, I would often find the truth to be very different from what they first told me.  Here are a few examples.

  • One woman told me that she used to use WaterGuard, a chlorine solution, but stopped because it was too expensive.  When I asked how much it cost, she said she didn’t know.  She eventually told me that her daughter used to buy WaterGuard, but since her daughter moved to a different town, she really just never thought about buying it herself.
  • Another woman told me that she usually boils water, but occasionally uses chlorine tablets.  When asked about the price, she said firewood for boiling 20 liters of water costs 20 shillings.  Chlorine cost 40 shillings for a 20 pack of tablets, each good for purifying 20 liters of water.  I asked why she didn’t use the chlorine tablets more often, and she said they were too expensive.  When I pointed out that per 20 liters of water, tablets were 10x cheaper, she then said that she actually doesn’t buy firewood, but rather goes on long walks to collect it from the ground.
  • Every person told me they believe their drinking water source is not clean and would pay up to 1,500 for a water filter.  Several said they have gotten typhoid, which cost 2,000 – 3,000 shillings to treat.  Yet many of these same people said they don’t currently purify their water because it’s too expensive.

Fortunately, there were some valuable findings.  Please note that all 6 of the women interviewed were from the same village, in the same widow’s club.  They were also on the more extreme end of the poverty scale.  Over the next several days we’ll interview people from other areas to get a more representative sample.

  • Nearly every woman said they would be extremely interested in buying the filter in installments.  Most know the vendors in the local Kiminini market, and would feel comfortable paying anywhere from 100 – 500 shillings per month for 3-10 months until they’ve saved enough to take home a filter.  They would not feel comfortable paying in installments with a vendor they did not know, and all but one said they would have no interest in the filter if they had to pay for it in full.
  • In this group, most preferred to buy the filter as opposed to the water kiosk model because it’s ultimately cheaper.  Some were also afraid there would be days they didn’t have the 5-10 shillings to purchase water, or that they might forget to buy the clean water.  Many did say that if that they preferred the water kiosk model to their current behaviors of boiling or drinking unfiltered water, but buying the filter in installments would be their first choice.
  • Their financial situations are dramatically improved during the harvest season (Sept – Dec).  That is when most of them make any big purchases.  If we are going to spend resources promoting the water filters, it likely makes sense to do it around September or October.  Many said that even if the filters were ready now and they wanted to buy them, they simply couldn’t at this time due to lack of funds.
Kenya Village Interviews

Kenya Village Interviews

It will be very interesting to see how answers differ as we meet with people from different areas and slightly higher incomes.  I will post updates in the next day or two.

Also, be sure to check out several new pictures on Flickr.  I have pictures of the village and of the market in Kiminini.  Pictures of the water filter factory will be up soon.

Stream for drinking water

Stream for drinking water

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I thought I’d take a break from the serious stuff and share some random observations I’ve found interesting as well as some pictures of where I’m staying.  Keep in mind that these observations are based on my very limited time here so far.  If any Kenyans find mistakes in what I’ve written, please let me know.

  • I’ve been told that if someone gets caught stealing, the thief tries to run to the police station for safety.  If he’s caught by the people in the community, the consequences are far more dire.
  • Caucasians are called Mzungus.  Interestingly, some people I spoke with said Barack Obama is a Mzungu because he has “light skin” and talks like an American.
  • In Kiswahili, the primary language in Kenya, many words or phrases are different if you’re speaking about a living thing versus an inanimate object.  For example, “where is ____” is different if you’re asking where a person is versus a table.  There is no distinction based on the “gender” of the word like in many languages.
  • You don’t subscribe to a monthly/annual phone or internet plan here.  Most people prepay for minutes.  There are little shops everywhere that sell cards in many different amounts.  You can go by 30 minutes of cell phone service, text the code to the phone company, and off you go.  It’s actually a pretty efficient system.
  • Kenyans, especially less wealthy ones, by and large deal with expense management on a very short-term basis.  The same person drove me around in Nairobi for a few days and filled up the car with a couple gallons of gas ever day instead of just filling up for the week.  Similarly, I haven’t seen anyone buy more than a week’s worth of cell phone minutes.
  • There are very few leisure activities other than sitting with family and friends and talking.  Other than the lack of rock climbing gyms, it’s not too bad.  There is television, but it doesn’t seem to be a cornerstone of leisure activity like in the US.

Here are some pictures of where I’m staying.  There will be more on Flickr later today.

Common Ground for Africa

Common Ground for Africa

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Guest Hut

Guest Hut

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Inside my guest hut

Inside my guest hut

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Chickens taking cover in the rain

Chickens taking cover in the rain

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After a fun day at the elephant orphanage yesterday (pictures on Flickr), today was the kick off to the real reason I came to Africa.  I had the opportunity to take a 4 hour private tour of the largest slum in East Africa with two men who were born and raised there.  While I have pictures of Kibera, they simply cannot deliver an accurate assessment of this massive community.

Kibera Slums

Kibera Slums

First of all, let’s just say that the lack of proper sanitation is extremely apparent to all senses as you walk through the streets.  Second, the sheer size of the area isn’t adequately portrayed in a photo.  Finally, from the high level pictures, you miss the most intense element – the people.  There are just so many people, thousands upon thousands out in the streets.  Most people not only live here, but operate tiny shops out of their homes.  There are children everywhere.  The most incredible thing is that while I wouldn’t last a week there and you generally equate extreme poverty with extreme crime and despair, most people are high spirited and exceptionally friendly.  I can’t even count how many random strangers came up to shake my hand or welcome me to their community.

During my tour, the guides and I discussed numerous topics including water cleanliness (obviously), financial services constraints, population control, education, public housing, and more.  While there are numerous areas for improvement (which may be the understatement of the year), the locals told me that they considered sanitation and water to be the most pressing issues.  I can completely understand why sanitation ranked #1, as a handful of pit latrines are shared by thousands of people and overflow, forcing people to resort to a far less desirable option when relieving themselves.  Water obtained from the public (though not free) tap is unclean and stored in dirty jugs, when available at all.  Due to these conditions plus the density and openness of the slums, disease spreads like wildfire throughout the slum.

Paying for water at the tap

Paying for water at the tap

We discuss two different options for providing access to clean water with the ceramic water filters, and they were both received very well.  In fact, they told me that if I could bring samples back from Kiminini, they would be able to put me in touch with the leaders of several community groups.  I have little doubt from my research and conversations with the other volunteers that having community leaders promote the filters is one of the best ways to obtain high adoption.  I’ll discuss these options in far greater detail very soon.

We also discussed many of the financial challenges that the residents of Kibera are faced with on a daily basis.  High unemployment is a critical problem, and there are simply too many people for this to be easily resolved.  In addition, the economy is largely internal.  By that I mean that it’s poor people buying and selling to and from each other.  There is little opportunity to inject new capital into the system and fuel economic growth, so their scarce resources just circulate amongst themselves.  There is massive redundancy in terms of the products and services offered and little to no economies of scale.  Identifying opportunities to consolidate and export / sell to higher income areas is worth additional research.  Cash management is also a topic that the locals brought up several times, and that is very consistent with prior research.  I’ll discuss this topic in more detail at a later date as well.

Orphanage

Orphanage

The last two pictures I’ll post here show a privately run orphanage dorm and school, funded primarily through donations.  The dorm was stifling hot when I was in there alone, and the children share 4 to a bed, cramming 64 people into a room I would barely find suitable for storing old junk.  The school consisted of 3 rooms of less than 100 sq. ft. each that accommodate up to 20 children per class.

For additional pictures, check out the Flickr link on the right.  I head to the village of Kiminini tomorrow morning, and will start learning about the similar but distinct challenges faced by the rural poor.  I look forward to sharing more stories and pictures with you.  As always, don’t hesitate to comment if you have thoughts you’d like to share.  Thanks.

School

School

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I wanted to share some details about an incredible program called Kick it with Kenya.  One of the biggest challenges to educating people in rural, developing areas on the benefits of safe water is not being able to reach large numbers of people at once.  There are no television commercials, no magazine ads, and very few large organized events.

To get around this problem, we’ve started planning the second “Kick it with Kenya” inter-village soccer tournament.  Soccer is one of the few activities that can draw a crowd, and we have some lofty ambitions.  This year, we’re planning to reach roughly 16,000 people in over 40 villages.  At each of the 40 regional games, we expect over 300 people to come watch.  That presents a perfect opportunity for us to conduct educational seminars about critical health issues like clean water, distribute medicine and conduct HIV testing, and promote and sell water filters.  At the finals in the larger town of Kitale, we expect around 3,000 people to attend!  Opportunities to reach this many people in this region are extremely rare.  Keep in mind that if we can educate one or two people from a household, the benefits will reach the rest of the people in the household.  With an average household size of 8 people, that means we can potentially impact over 100,000 lives with this event.

As you might imagine, this event is not easy to pull off and is certainly not free.  The total cost of the tournament is roughly $13,000, and we have very little time to raise the funds.  If you’d like to help, your donation would be deeply appreciated.  Here are some of the ways your donation could help:

  • $1,500 pays for the total salary, transportation, and promotional materials costs to demo the water filters and provide educational seminars at the 40 soccer games.
  • $800 provides a water filter for each of the 40 teams so the players can drink clean water while they practice and play in the tournament.
  • $350 pays for the promotional materials at the finals, where we expect to reach 3,000 people.
  • $13,000 pays for the entire event – and I’ll buy you dinner at almost any restaurant you choose.  I’m pretty sure a plaque or small statue could also be arranged.

To donate to this amazing program, please visit the following site:

http://www.villagevolunteers.org/donation/donate-info.php

When asked to specify the purpose or sponsored volunteer’s name, enter “Jeremy Farkas – Clean Water Project

All donations are tax deductible and are greatly appreciated.  Thank you so much for your support!

-Jeremy

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