Saturday, April 2, 2011

Construction Begins!

Grocery Kiosk for Two Turkana Women Refugees - a New Business in Progress!

Mpoyan (left), her son Kevin and Regina in their almost built kiosk!
Here's the back story. I came up about 1.5 months ago and learned a little about the Turkana tribe. This visit I have learned much more. The tribe has been moving to Maralal for the past 2 years or so to escape the fighting over cattle, little resources due to drought and old colonial lines that have always left the Turkana on the Eastern side of Lake Turkana without their own land or area to call home. The first refugees to move, connected with members of their extended tribe in Maralal and were generally able to get help from family and get plots of land. The more recent refugees have had no where to go are are in quite a bad situation.

The tribe elder Bartholomew gave me the full story over tea in a combination of broken English and through a translator I hired on the first day I arrived. The translator was a great English/Turkana/Samburu/Swahilli speaking guide on my previous trip. The elder talked more about what I had learned before about Turkana being excluded from assistance because they were now located in a predominately Samburu community. The few aid organizations here had board members made up of Samburu tribe, the government official was Samburu and he felt he had to help is own people most of who were all not that well off themselves.

I asked the elder to meet with some women who were struggling but were doing thier best to get by.

Turkana elder's home lounging area
The next day I met Mpayan a 30 year old woman. It turns out she had walked for 2 weeks to get to Maralal in May 2010 shortly after her husband died in the cattle violence. (It took me 15 hours by truck to cover the same distance last time I was there.) She brought 3 of her children, 15, 4 and a one year old at the time and left the other 2 others with a relative. After struggling for quite a while she and her oldest daughter started a home brewing alcohol business. This was lucrative because it was illegal and the goverment recently changed the liquor laws to make it even more costly and illegal. Men in this area like to take this potent drink to escape poverty for the few hours they drink it. Unfortunately this landed her now16 year old daughter and two of her friends (a 15 year old and 18 year old) in jail. They have been in jail for the last month and are sentenced to a year. (Side note:) Yesterday I was lucky to meet with the equivalent of a city council person, the only person in the government who supposedly helps Turkana. He showed me a place that he started - it was an old age home for Turkana's over 70! It was an amazing place to see. The tribal elders were sitting around on benches drinking tea in thier tribal outfits, with the darkest wrinkliest skin I've ever seen. Anyways I took this opportunity after seeing how much he cared about them to tell him about the young girls sentence. He seemed moved and asked if I could meet with the child advocate office on Monday, to tell this story. Hmm who would have thought I'd get involved in the Kenyan legal system. Cross your fingers - let's see if we can get these young girls out of jail and at least on probation or something. Supposedly they think they are over 18, but since they are young and couldn't speak the language of the officers or the jailers once they know the truth the might be able to let them out.  The problem is the 15 day appeals period is over - but I think if anyone can help this guy can - so we'll see.

A ride with the council person
Mpayan wants to figure out a way to live with out doing illegal activities and to try to get her daughter out of jail. She started to save, but that was when the police came and took everything. She now has no capital or even a place to live. She had been moving from place to place sleeping on friends floors and on the floor of the place she rents for $5 a month where she had brewed the alcohol.

Mpayan is like a mother to Regina who has been living on the floor of the place where the alcohol was brewed. Regina's father wanted her to marry at 16. She didn't want to marry this young or the man they were forcing on her. She was preparing to flee when her father was killed in the cattle violence. Her mom had previously died of malaria, so at this point she fled to meet Mpayan who she knew from living Baragoi. Regina has only gone to nursery school but both can do math and a business due to their home brew business.

Both said they could be successful at another business if only they had the money to buy the supplies and a place to start it. "But even I couldn't help with a business, could I help with a bed or blankets?  We are so cold at night especially now that the rains have arrived." They showed me the floor, how damp it was and the rice sack they had been sleeping on. I gulped and said to myself I think I have found my project.

Mpoyan, Regina, and 2 of Mpoyan's kids, the baby is a friend's on their new bed
So after alot more discussion about business planning, their pasts, their goals, who could be their business mentors, testing their math skills and discussing the best place for a small start up business I thought the situation seemed right to put some money towards a small grocery business. Oh and I definitely broke down and bought them a bed. Two budding business women can not be sleeping in the dirt, right, Maslow's pyramid of need needs eh? That is what I told myself anyways - but really their situation was so ugly it had to be done. Admittedly, it was really fun to whip through town on top of a truck with a bed for them. Even better to watch their smiles as they cleaned their house and made their bed and crawled up on the bed for the first time. I planned to get them a pillow, because it just seemed to go with the purchase and they said, instead of a pillow can we get a water canister instead - obviously they had their priorities in order.

Just getting started with construction
The next day, we had a community meeting with a bunch of people who showed up looking for hand outs at the time we had scheduled to do more business  planning and to find out what was going on. The community elder and I talked about issues of community support and overcoming jealously and the troubles these young women have had. After some more discussion everyone agreed to support them and help them market the new business to the community. We decided to build a kiosk near where they live, the property owner was friend so they agreed to waive rent fees. The spot has road access with pretty good foot traffic.

So this little project is starting fast! Here are some pics. This first one is going to cost about $150 to build it load the simple kiosk with some start up groceries and send the women to an adult training center to improve their business skills. In the process, I've learned how to make a cheaper kiosk and could start another for $100 with groceries. 
Regina and Mpoyan's son Kevin and my two translators/organizers behind her

Its been pretty easy to do and there are alot more people who could use similar help, if anyone would like to contribute to other small kiosks. I've even learned the local products, where the wholesalers are and the local prices charging for rice, ugali and even condoms. Ha!

I am going directly to the source - through the elders and to the community, buying supplies myself (after a local gets the best price) and supervising the building.

Some kids I caught trying to drown a boat on Lamu Island
The view from the ferry boat from Lamu
So I guess I'm going strong after a week at the beach.  It was just what the doctor ordered and so interesting. The Kenyan coast is so diverse.  I hopped to a few different beaches, strangely some are populated by mostly Italians, others by a bunch of Rastafarians and others almost exclusively Muslims. So many people would come up and talk to me in Italian, I had to stop them and tell them sorry - I don't speak Italian - who would have known I would have to learn Italian before coming to Kenya! I burnt my hide seriously because I haven't really been in a bathing suit since leaving CA in June. Worst burn I've ever ever had. I guess I should have thought about being pretty much at the equator. I could hardly sit for a week, as the back of my legs were yoosah burnt.

Lamu is a fishing village populated by the most friendly of Muslims. Its a UNESCO site full of old swahilli architecture and has sailboats called dhows sailing everywhere off the coast. I met some new friends and went sailing on a dhow and snorkeling. I felt better about my burn when a few people who got on the boat were from Iceland, the first Icelanders I've ever met. Turns out there are only 350,000 Icelanders in total.  No wonder I've never met any before!

Swahili architecture on Lamu
I stayed on Lamu an extra few days because there was so much more to this community that I expected. I returned by taking a ferry, and two buses -  one overnight to return to Nairobi. I had arranged to teach a computer class, that next day to the women's group in the Mathare slum and decided to milk my last hours on the beach, not knowing if I'll get time to go back.

Computer class in Mathare (I love the we have rights too t-shirt)
The computer class was good, though I forgot how sensitive a mouse is when you've explaining how to use one to folks who have never used one before. The women knew some English but I had to speak really really slow. The class took all my patience, but the women seemed to be excited to learn. Fortunately I had a friend teach the 2 hour intro class with me who I met working in Kibera at St. Catherine's. They are eager to continue learning basic computer skills and I am seeking a community partner to teach the classes in Swahili. The class will cost $200 to rent the cyber cafe with a teacher to teach 15 women for 8 weeks. The women have somehow (with out any computer skills) organized over 300 women in Mathare, 500 in Kibera and over 2000 women from other communities all over Kenya who are living in slum conditions to empower themselves to strive toward better lives. I feel a small computer class is such a steal for $200 for such a big impact. The women want to begin connecting with more people internationally - especially in regards to human rights issues and ease their troubles of taking public transportation to other communities so frequently. I will likely end up paying for this out of my pocket, but if you want to help with these or other classes for them please do! I have agreed to write a volunteer posting on for internationals who want to teach classes, help with capacity building projects, advocate for human rights and work with maternal heath issues, amongst other things. The leaders speak English so if you know any college students looking for projects or just with helping out I will add the write up about the volunteer opportunity shortly to this blog shortly. 

Thanks Sam, Chad and Kara for the recent donations. Sam - your money contributed directly to the building of this kiosk. Chad and Kara - yours will go to hiring a teacher at Watoto Wa Baraka - the orphanage that I started working when I first came to Kenya.  The next donation of $100 will complete the needed $1200 to hire the orphanage teacher. So exciting! Thanks for all of the support. It is making a huge, huge difference!