Sorry for the hiatus in wiritng on my blog. It's been almost two months since last time I have written. I will be adding more posts over the next few weeks to make up for the ones I have missed. I'm going to back date them because they are about things that happened over the last two months. I hope to catch up to the present time over the next two weeks. Thanks! Chris

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Map update

  • the map has been updated, check it out on the right hand side
  • Andrew and I walked 15 mi (24 km) to map out the boundary of the area we work in
  • many new markers have been added with pictures, click on the markers to see them
(Note: Sorry for the delay, I've been overloaded with work as I try to finish up some of our projects before we head out of Kenya for a month, more on that in my next post. I did get the content of what I was going to post up on time, just not my post. Check out the map on the side.)
Last week I spent most of my time roaming around the area with GPS and camera in hand to map and photograph as much of the area as possible. The original map I made didn't have much in the way of location information and no pictures to associate with any of the structures. This time, I've filled out the map with just about every interesting place there is to see along with pictures of most of them.
On Tuesday of last week, Andrew, the agriculture field manager (like Lucas for w+s) walked all over creation with me to map out the boundary of the Nyametaburo and Nyangiti sub-locations that we work in. Andrew and Jake had walked the boundary before but the data was lost to a virus.
It was a pretty amazing walk, taking about 5 hours and covering 15 mi or a little more than 24 km. We walked through swamps and marshlands, crossed rivers countless times, went up and down huge grades, and pretty much wore each other out. The views were amazing the entire time as the boundary is out in the middle of nowhere for most of the time. A good portion of the boundary follows rivers so we got to see some of the beautiful valleys in the area. Unfortunately, because we have just finished the rainy season, all of the rivers are swollen to the brim making every time we crossed the river quite an adventure.
The perimeter walk was probably the most involved and biggest day of my mapping efforts simply due to the sheer effort required to walk every foot of the perimeter. I can't thank Andrew enough for being willing to take the time to spend a day hiking with me. I definitely got him a few cold ones and dinner in return for his selflessness.
The rest of the week I spent walking and driving the motorcycle (piki piki as you learned in a previous post) with the GPS in my backpack and camera on my hip. I added quite a few features to the map including schools, churches, meeting places, and some points of interest (like Taragwiti hills and a picture of a typical path I drive on).
I've also included some important infrastructure such as the many bridges we use to get to and from Nyametaburo, our central hub for most of our work. The bridges are really important to Nuru and we are considering some projects to improve a few because they are so vital to the people we work with. One of the main bridges, on Nyametaburo road, floods when it rains hard. It makes the river impassable and can make people have to wait hours at a time. If we were able to work with the local government and possibly another non-governmental organization (NGO) like Nuru, we may be able to raise the surface of the bridge by adding a structure on top of the existing bridge and provide more drainage to prevent flooding.
Please check out the map on the right hand side and the pictures associated with it. I haven't posted any pictures to my album because all of them that I have taken this week have gone to the map. To see them, just click the place markers and the pictures will pop up.
Enjoy the map and leave any comments, suggestions, or questions you may have about the map. We're trying to improve it every day to not only use it as a tool for our work but also to give people like you the chance to follow what we do.
Funny side note, Sammy, Sally's (the salamander that's not a salamander, see pictures in previous post) younger brother, was hanging out in Aerie's pants the other day. Aerie was walking around complaining about some insect being in his pants, up on his thigh, biting him. At first he wasn't sure what it was or if there was actually anything in his pants. Eventually, he realized he wasn't crazy and shook the leg of his pants and Sammy popped out on Aerie's shoe.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


  • Nuru works in six to seven month shifts for each foundation team, like Aerie, Meghan, and me
  • with such a brief period on the ground, our time is incredibly valuable
  • African time is a problem, making it acceptable for Africans to be incredibly late to meetings
  • we fight against African time everyday, and we're making progress
One of the battles we fight everyday is with one of the worst kinds of enemies, time. Nuru's strategy is to enter a community, work at an incredible pace for five years, and then leave the community on the upswing, having escaped the grasp of extreme poverty with the future looking bright. Five years is a short time for a community wide growth project, especially when fighting against extreme poverty. Even so, five years is a good limit as it avoids creating dependance, a problem many non-governmental organizations (NGO) face.
With such a short supply of time, every minute of everyday is incredibly valuable. If we're awake (and it's not Sunday), we're either working or thinking about work. We'll even discuss projects over dinner. Our time is a precious resource that we have a limited quantity of, a mere six to seven months per foundation team. Unfortunately, we use a different time convention than that of the area we work. We don't use African time.
African time has many definitions but the definition I am using is the time keeping of farmers in rural Kenya. It's a problem of punctuality. African time affects our meetings, functions, and farm supply distributions. If only a small portion of the w+s representatives are present when the meeting is supposed to start, we can't start on time, forcing us to wait around for a half an hour or more to let the masses trickle in.
It's not a problem of laziness or lack of respect but a different approach to time. We're working with farmers that don't notice a few hours lost here or there because they are waiting months for crops either way. For us, African time is a frustration, but more importantly a challenge to be overcome.
Ever since Nuru has been on the ground, before I arrived, we have been instilling a sense of punctuality in the members of the community we work with. Our CDC, including Lucas, has been doing exceptionally well with keeping time but it is still an issue with the general community. Even within the w+s program, our meetings are delayed because not all of the w+s representatives arrive on time.
The w+s representatives have an important role in the community to attend the bi-weekly w+s meetings with Lucas and me to get new information about the w+s program. If the w+s representatives don't arrive on time, or don't arrive at all, then they will be missing part of the information. This information is not only for the w+s representatives but also for the group of ten other farmers who elected them to the position. So if they are not getting this information and passing it on, they are not doing their job.
So how are we approaching this battle with African time? There are three ways, one of which is by not wasting anyone's time if they do arrive on time. There is nothing worse than a meeting that drags on about something unimportant so Lucas and I work hard to make every meeting efficient and relevant. We make the meetings worth coming to.
The second way to work towards punctuality is to make it part of the job description. The w+s representatives are not paid for their work but they do enjoy benefits. They are the first to receive projects from the w+s program such as our most recent, the rainwater catchment program. In fact, for the rainwater catchment program, the w+s representatives (all 48 including our six leaders), will be receiving the rainwater catchments for free in return for their work in spreading information and letting their homes be used as construction examples when we roll the program out to the rest of the community. But, I have explained to the w+s representatives, if they are not doing their job by not showing up on time, why should I distinguish them from the general community. If they aren't willing to come on time and pass on the information we give out every two weeks, Nuru won't be willing to give them a rainwater catchment for free.
The final way we get w+s representatives to arrive on time is to make their attendance the responsibility of the six leaders. Each leader has six to eight w+s representatives they lead and we have now incorporated their average scores into the leaders scores. The leader's scores will determine the order and amount of benefit the leaders receive in the future. It's a tough job but the leaders are already enjoying their catchments and all of them have been willing to work hard. I reviewed the scoring system with the leaders and Lucas before putting it in place and all of them agree it's fair.
Our plan has been working very well. We take attendance at every meeting and function, assigning different values depending on the arrival time of the w+s representatives. When the attendance sheet began, before I arrived, only 32% the first week and 22% the second week of the w+s representatives arrived on time. Now that the w+s representatives understand our system, we're sitting at 85% two weeks ago and 72% last week and will be improving that next week as we replace leaders that don't come or always come late. Below are the up to date attendance sheets if you want to see how we score and how the system works. Click on the sheets for a larger image.
African time will soon be a thing of the past, at least in Kuria, Kenya.
3 new pictures

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Children's training

Everyday this week I had the joy of attending Lucas's w+s training for children. The training was to teach the children basic water and sanitation practices to keep them healthy and free from disease. Our 48 w+s representatives did the bulk of the work on their own time, holding training sessions for children in the groups they represent. The purpose of Lucas's trainings were to check how much they learned, field any questions, and fill in the gaps. Kiswahili was the language of choice for the training so I relied on the pictures and hand gestures to figure out what was going on. From my simple form of observation, and debriefing with Lucas, I found out that not only had the children been trained, but they knew their stuff. Great news for the w+s program!
We decided to hold the children's training in five locations, Taragwiti, Sirori Simba, Nymetaburo, Gukipimo, and Nyangiti, to make the training more accessible for our audience, the children. We also planned the training for the month of vacation students get after their exams early on in April, so we know they don't have anything more important to do than learn about water and poo. And I mean really, who doesn't want to learn about poo, right?
The training covered a multitude of topics from the water cycle to how to filter water with a panga, or large cloth. We are lucky to have some great posters from the Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) that are a tremendously useful visual aid. I couldn't imagine doing it without them. Click here to see a sample of some of the sheets we used. Ours were made in kiswhaili so the people could read in their native tongue.
Most of the w+s representatives attended the meetings with the children and were excellent in assisting Lucas with the teaching. The posters are only the size of a sheet of paper so they would go up and down the aisles with the posters so everyone could see. On the second day, Lucas had the great idea to let the w+s representatives teach part of the material. They are, after all, trained in how to train so it was pretty easy for them to get up and go to it. Some of them were excellent teachers too! When we expand Nuru to include many more people, they may be great as trainers, even outside of w+s.
As you'll see in the pictures, the children were excited to be there and be learning. Mind you, this was during their vacation so it was really exciting to that they had such positive attitudes. I think a large part of it is Lucas's skill not only with teaching but also with interacting with children. I don't think we could have found a better person to head up Nuru's w+s program in Kuria, Kenya.
fifteen new pictures

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Boda-boda na piki-piki

  • roads in Kenya, specifically our area, leave a lot to be desired
  • most personal transport for Nuru is two wheeled
  • boda-boda is a taxi service using piki-pikis (motorcycles) where a driver carries one or two passengers
The roads in Kenya in general aren't that great. In particular in our area, the roads are pretty atrocious. The two roads leading to Nymetaburo, where we do most of our work, are Kehancha-Nymetaburo road and Nyangiti road. Nymetaburo road is nearly impassable in four wheeled vehicles most days, especially after it rains. Nyangiti road is a little bit better although a key bridge halfway to Nymetaburo washed out and is currently being rebuilt. It makes taking a four wheeled vehicle on Nyangiti road hairy at best. Trucks, carrying maize mostly, prefer Nymetaburo road because although it's much worse than Nyangiti road, the bridge is intact and allows large vehicles to pass, unlike Nyangiti road.
There is a simple solution to the problem, don't use four wheels. It sounds a little bit silly, but you'd be surprised how many places motorcycles, known as piki-pikis in kiswhahili, can go that cars, trucks, and SUV's can't. When we need transport, we hire motorcycle taxis, known as boda-bodas, to get around. Boda-boda drivers can get you pretty much anywhere through any conditions. Sometimes, passengers may have to hop off and walk behind them in mud or through puddles because the drivers can't make it with them on board. Usually it's just a short walk with the passengers quickly hopping back on to continue the ride. It's fairly inexpensive too, $1.25 for the 20-30 minute ride from our home to Nymetaburo.
It's pretty amazing how good of drivers the boda-boda drivers are, well the vast majority of them. It's a little unnerving at first riding three deep, one driver and two passengers, on a motorcycle (125cc mind you) over dirt roads and through paths barely wider than three people abreast. Eventually, you get used to it and just trust the driver's skill. They make it look pretty easy so you might think, "Hey, I can do that!" Boy would you ever be wrong.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Open house

  • open house this week, very successful!
  • I attended two of five, Pauline's and John's/Elizabeth's
  • great debrief at the end of the week with the leaders
Our open houses were a success! Nearly all of the w+s representatives showed up to their respective leader's homes and attended the open houses that replaced our bi-weekly meetings. I was able to attend two of the five open houses because we had two on the first day and three on the second. The first open house I attended was at Pauline's in the Sirori Simba area, close to the center of the map.
With half of the leaders having the event on Tuesday and the other half on Wednesday, I thought it would be good to pair them up. They were able to help each other with questions from the representatives and keep on top of the long agenda we discussed on Monday. Pauline and John were paired up with Elizabeth coming along too because of only having two open houses the first day. Pauline and John worked well to talk about the rain catchments, update the w+s representatives on the well progress, and emphasize the attendance requirements. I only came in when there were some questions about the leaders being required to share the water from the tank. It is an issue that has come up before and the both Pauline and John answered the question properly but I wanted the w+s representatives to hear it from me. It felt it was necessary to make it crystal clear that the leaders have and will continue to work very hard for the tanks and and sharing is at their discretion.
The second day I attended the open house at John's, in Nymetaburo, because it was for two groups instead of one. With Elizabeth's home still being unfinished, we have decided to hold off on placing her rainwater catchment system so Elizabeth's and John's w+s representatives attended the open house at John's home. Elizabeth and John are both very strong leaders so it was great seeing them in action. All of the pictures below of the open house are from John and Elizabeth's meeting. You can see them trading off and complementing each other. They were doing so well that I was able to slip off my w+s program manager shoes and grab the camera, and try to soak in Nuru at work, building leadership in the community and getting people to work hard to help themselves and each other out of extreme poverty.
At the end of the week we had a great de-brief with the six leaders going over how they felt the open house went. The general consensus was that it was an awesome event for the leaders to step into their roles and the w+s representatives really enjoyed seeing the catchment systems first hand. We have been having these meetings every week so I can get the leader's feedback on their catchments and how things are progressing in general.
I really enjoy these meetings because the leaders put an incredible effort into the feedback. In my first few weeks one of Lucas's fellow Community Development Committee (CDC) members, James, was telling me that the w+s leaders really appreciate the meetings. The leaders were impressed that I cared so much about what they had to say, writing down every suggestion and pestering them with questions about their ideas. All of us at Nuru realize that the Kurian people are the most valuable asset to our work. We give respect to the community and don't rely on the westerner card to force our own ideas upon them. After all, Chris, Aerie, Meghan, Janine, Nicole, Doug, Gaby, Don, Karina, Kim, Bjorn, Billy, and even Jake are not Nuru. The Kurian community, especially the leaders, are Nuru. When we leave, they'll be the torchbearers.
twenty-three new pictures

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


  • our work requires lots of off road treks
  • there is no good map of the area due to neglect
  • Nuru is working to develop a map using GPS starting with the below working rough draft
One of the things we've had to develop in our work is a sense of direction. We have meetings in churches far back in the brush on top of hills, team leaders to interact with dispersed throughout the area, and even the trek into town to get food and supplies is an adventure if you take the "short" cut. Thankfully, we had a map to learn all of this quickly. Oh wait, no we didn't.
Unfortunately the area we work in is rather neglected in many ways, one of them being cartography. The only maps we have been able to find of the area have been very simple, just having one portion of one of the three major roads. This brings me to one of my side projects, a detailed map of the area.
click here to see a larger map
A secondary goal of this map is to give my family, friends, and blog readers (all two of you) an idea about where I'm actually doing my work. I've put markers on some of the important places I've mentioned in posts before such as the towns in the area and our leaders' homes (in purple).
Some interesting things to note, our six leaders were strategically selected to be far apart from each other so we could spread the wealth so to speak. As you can see from the map above, the purple dots are pretty well spread out throughout our working area. Our home is outside of our working region which is all the land between the two intersecting yellow roads and just outside of the roads. The Nuru office for the Community Development Committee (CDC) is near the intersection of the two roads in Nymetaburo at the dispensary marked by the medical cross. The motorcycle ride, our preferred way of transportation, is about 20 minutes from our home to the Nuru CDC office.
The map is a work in progress and I will be adding a lot more information to it as I gather more data. Our long term goal is to provide a map for Nuru to better plan activities and roll outs as well as giving a quality map to local officials who are currently lacking such a tool. We're quite a ways from that but we'll get there. In the mean time, please explore the map and drop me a comment or e-mail if you have any suggestions for the map!
two new pictures

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Well permits, BH2O+

  • we received the well permits on Thursday and all four wells were approved
  • BH2O+ is an experimental event Nuru is putting on with universities across country
  • Christine's and Maurice's catchments were completed bringing the total to five
  • Aerie and I met the MP, or member of parliament, for the Kuria district
In the past I have referenced my three main projects here in Kuria, Kenya. The first one I have described pretty thoroughly, the rainwater catchment, but the other two may still be a bit of a mystery. This week, I'll be going into a little bit of the detail on the second project, our deep wells or as we call it, Water for Schools.
Water for Schools is a program we are organizing to bring wells to four of the local schools as they are centrally located and publicly available. Each school also has a security guard at night that will be able to protect the well, securing Nuru's investment in the community.
On Monday we finally got the call we have been expecting from the water ministry for just over a week. They told Lucas all of our information for our well drilling permits was sufficient and we could come sign one last piece of paper and collect our permits. Lucas made the five hour trip to Kisumu on Tuesday, returning late Wednesday night and I had the permits in hand at our meeting on Thursday morning. The well permits are written approval by the Kenyan government for us to physically drill the four deep wells we are hoping to drill. Now we can begin the discussion with a drilling partner and work to raise the funds necessary for the drilling. Here is an example of one of the four well permits, this one for Taragwiti Primary School.
One way we are working to raise money for drilling is through an experimental event we are organizing with universities across the country called BH2O+ or Bring Hope to Her. From the website,
What Happens on April 23, 2009
BH2O+ is designed to be a day of solidarity as students become advocates for those living without access to clean water in the developing world. During the event, ladies on campus will step into the daily experience of women in Africa by walking to a water source and carrying a bucket of water on their heads back to the rally point; simultaneously, guys will sweep the campus, inviting every student to embrace awareness and attend the rally following the solidarity walk.
BH2O+ will be an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of women and girls in Africa who spend hours a day collecting water for their families. It will also serve as means to work towards a solution by providing up to four reliable, accessible, and clean sources of water for families in Kuria, Kenya. Students from each of the currently eleven schools participating are organizing and orchestrating the event, all of them joining the fight against extreme poverty. Please take a moment to check out the three and a half minute video explaining more about BH2O+.
The rainwater catchment program is chugging along. We have finished off Christine's this past Monday and started and finished Maurice's this week as well. Maurice's catchment has been my favorite so far because it was wholly and completely done by the leaders.
Nuru's goal is to enter into an area of extreme poverty, work very hard with the community for a brief amount of time, and then withdraw before the community can become dependent on us. Part of the process to move towards the withdrawal is fostering independence and leadership within the community. Maurice's catchment was a huge step in that direction for the w+s program.
Going into Maurice's catchment I had told the leaders that I would not be helping them in any way, even if they messed up. I would observe them but not make any comments until the end of the day when we de-briefed. I had faith that they would be able to manage any problems themselves, a faith that was vindicated. The leaders did an excellent job placing the gutters despite Maurice's roof line being the most complex of the five we have dealt with. On the second day, the leaders completed the foundation completely independent of my guidance, I only provided manual labor.
The absolute best part of the foundation was that the leaders did not need a fundi (local worker) to finish it off. The leaders have been doing the foundation construction themselves since Pauline's, the third catchment, but they have always had problems with plastering. Plastering involves throwing cement on the sides of the foundation above ground to protect the less than weather proof bricks from the elements. It's very hard and requires patience and persistence to fight gravity with wet cement on a vertical surface. Maurice volunteered to do the job and the plastering ended up looking like it was done by a skilled fundi. In fact, after he had finished, Maurice came up to me and said, "Chris see, we don't need a fundi, I AM A FUNDI!!!!" and we exchanged a huge and loud hand slap, something you do between close friends. You would have needed a yard stick to measure the smile across my face after that.
Aerie and I had the unique experience of being introduced to the MP, or member of parliament, for the Kuria district. Nuru has not been involved with the government beyond the local level. We focus our projects locally so we like to keep our involvement within the community. On Saturday the MP was making a visit to see how his community was doing and to get updates from the local chiefs and elders. He had heard of the work Nuru was doing within his community and was hoping to get the chance to meet us. Interestingly enough, we ran into his convoy as we were driving down the road to grab some groceries before heading home. He had stopped to inspect the progress on a much needed bridge being built on one of the main arteries to Nymetaburo, where we do a significant amount of work. We work closely with the MP's local representative, called a counselor, who made the introduction for us as we got off our piki piki (motorcycle) our helmets still in hand.
The MP was very thankful for our work and we had a brief discussion where he told us of the projects he has in the works for the community, a key one being a power line to Nymetaburo, currently without power. We were happy our meeting was brief because we don't want to get too wrapped up in the realm of politics as an NGO. Showing bias or favoritism from either side can lead to a difficult relationship with the community, hindering our ability to do our work. We plan to keep our heads down, make sure everyone is informed, and keep up our fight against extreme poverty.
five new pictures