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Monday, April 14, 2014

Pausing in Attir

Sometimes you need to press pause
to let everything sink in.

                                        Sebastian Vettel

It has been pretty much go, go, go for five days. And now, having arrived at Attir, we stop. After leaving the Land Cruiser, we greet a good number of the men and women of the village under some trees providing welcome shade. In this place we will discuss issues of a level of importance that is hard for us, who have so much, to fathom.

As we drive up, we see two women coming into the village, each carrying one of the ubiquitous 20 liter yellow containers they have filled with water at a stream about 3 miles away.

And we see a water tank sitting on a tower about 10 feet above ground. This must be a good thing.

Everyone seeks shade, whether it be under a tree or the water tank

Habiba addresses the good sized group from the village assembled under two trees whose branches intertwine, providing shade for the meeting. Speaking in Turkana, she is, I think, more or less introducing us and explaining why we are here. As I have said, this is the first visit by GHNI with people from outside of Africa. But Habiba, Wubshet, Martin and Dire, all representing GHNI in Isiolo, have been involved in the preparations for initiating the TCD program for some time now.

Habiba addresses the villagers in their tribal language – Turkana; she translates for us. This picture came from later in the meeting, after we had asked permission to take photos.

As is usual, the men and women congregate in separate groups, the women at or beyond the fringes of the shaded area. Habiba later tells us that the two groups are closer than normal, this in some way influenced by our presence.

Remember that quote I had stumbled upon on the long flight to Nairobi - "It's not about what is best. It's about who gets to decide what is best." Well, it starts here. One of the village leaders is going to tell us about the issues facing the village. Access to sufficient clean water is at the top of the list. No surprise here.

He is speaking for the village, we listen

Then, we hear about the tower...

"It's our statue," he tells us. No water in it. No way provided to get water in it. There are many sides to the story, I suppose, but here is the story from the viewpoint of the village: A group came in to offer aid. Arriving in newer, four-wheeled drive vehicles, they took pictures, made some assessments and apparently decided on providing the tank without a lot of emphasis on partnering with the village. Once it was erected, there was (little or) no additional contact. "We would like to tear it down," we are told.

Water tank in Attir. But, no water.

The challenge is to create a partnership to pursue development that results in measureable improvements in the quality of life that can be sustained without additional outside investment.

In addition to the obvious issue with water, we hear of the need for school facilities. Primary school children must make a dangerous walk to one of two schools in adjacent villages; we are talking about 2 to 3 miles each way. There is an abandoned church building a kilometer or so outside of the village. During the last period of fighting in the area, it was too far away to be used on a regular basis. Now, the village suggests dismantling it and rebuilding the structure nearer the village center. There, it would serve as a school facility. Seems as if this would be a good idea.

Jeff speaks for GHNI, validating the input from the village and addressing concerns that stem from the water tower, not by mentioning that issue at all, but by simply providing simple, direct communication of GHNI's intent and expectations.

Jeff waits to speak to the village, providing a promise and outlining expectations

I do not have a recording and there are only a few lines in my journal about the talk. So, this is the way I heard it:

Jeff explained that GHNI was ready to partner with Attir in a meaningful way. They were ready to provide "small support" to go along with the large amount of hard work that the villagers would put in to the projects. He talked about the plan to provide teaching, mentoring and encouragement, this to help achieve development that would make a long term difference; it would be aimed directly at the important issues we were told about; it would provide the village a chance to plan and carry out meaningful work that was to their long term benefit; it would be sustainable. He also reminded the villagers of the success that other villages in the area had already experienced as a result of to their participation in this same sort of cooperation.

Thanks to the wonderful work by Habiba and the Isiolo team, the village already has working teams assigned to each of the five areas of focus in the TCD program: water, wellness, education, nutrition and income production. Leaders in each area introduced themselves. Each team has 5 members: 2 or 3 men and, correspondingly, 3 or 2 women. So much of the success that will be achieved will come from the talents and commitment of these groups.

In my work with a number of missions and development projects, I have heard that one of the most important things to keep in mind is to not promise something you cannot – or will not – deliver. Jeff stood before the village and promised that GHNI would stand with them for five years. And reminded them that this was a promise with a condition, that they must do their parts. This was a big moment.

It is hard for me to gauge the villagers' feelings. They have said that the trees are tired of hearing a lot of stories. But, there is excitement at the promise. Before we break up, we are each given a Turkana name. Mine is Lokure. I am told it means "thirsty." However, some discussion later leads to an explanation that it is a bit more complex than that – it is meant to convey an ability to go a long way without water. As we are each endowed with our names, there is applause and laughter. There may be a joke or two in all of this, but it is all in the spirit of being accepted and honored.

Our pause in the literal travelling was coming to an end. We would let all of this set in in due time. Now, we set out to explore the village, visit the remote church building and walk to the water source.

Next: Walking Attir

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Road to Attir

Most roads lead men homewards,
My road leads me forth.

                  John Edward Masefield Roadways

We are far from home, having covered miles and miles in cars, planes, trains and busses; and one matatu. Today, we travel the last short distance to Attir, and end up farther from home than ever imagined.

On the way to Attir, we shared paved roads with motorbikes...

and cattle;

There were dark dirt roads with tuk-tuks...

that narrowed and changed to red...

then rough and rocky.

We went down, we went up...

until we reached the end of the road...

and the beginning of a new part of the journey.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Road to Isiolo

“Roads are long; make them short
with good company!”

                                     Mehmet Murat ildan

Jennifer and Kieran join Jeff, Martin, Tony, Chris and me; Martin, with GHNI in Isiolo, has come to accompany us. He arranges for a matatu and we head out for Isiolo, the capital of Isiolo county in what was Kenya's eastern province (divisions in Kenya changed with the adoption of a new constitution in 2013). Big changes around Isiolo are anticipated as part of the development plans outlined in Kenya Vision 2030. We have our sights set on changes, too. Not as sweeping, of course, but certainly important to the villages participating in the GHNI Transformational Community Development program.

We have our own matatu for the drive to Isiolo

On the way to downtown Nairobi where we met Jennifer, we went by a bus. The bus was identified by these words, painted on the side under the windows: Kenya Prison System. Inside the bus, about 100 primary school students. You need a bus, you use the one they send you. Maybe they should consider driving prisoners around town in a bus proclaiming Nairobi Kindergartens.

Once again we travel the new, four lane, divided highway north out of Nairobi. It just like the interstates in the U.S. Except maybe for the towering speed bumps at the crosswalks. I am not making this up – there are crosswalks all along the way. And, pull off areas for the matatus where the drivers can drop off and pick up passengers. These areas also attract vendors who offer their wares by pushing hands full of fruit, meat on a stick or cell phone accessories through open windows. This all adds a bit of sporting challenge to drivers who need to maneuver around, through or over these obstacles.

There are other reminders along the way that we are not in Kansas anymore. Names of businesses and organizations have a special charm. A few of my favorites are:

Spring of Living Word Church
Seldom Nursery
Highway of Holiness Center
Hot Pot Hotel
God is Able and Boutique

I am still trying to sort out that last one. We also stop at an OiLibya service station (pretty sure we do not have any of those here) and see a Starbucks. Sort of.

OiLibya station in Kisumu; restrooms, snacks. And ---- Coffee!

Starbucks right next to the Chicken Inn; too bad, but we
did not have time to check them out.

Farther along, Jeff points to a cloud covered area in a range of mountains to the east. He says that the peak of Mount Kenya is in the clouds. This is typical he says; you almost NEVER actually see the peak. Sure, Jeff…

Jeff: "The Mount Kenya summit is almost ALWAYS cloud covered."

Once again, we stay at the comfortable Bishop Mensa Pastoral Centre. We go in to town and get oriented. Jeff points out the new construction recently completed or still underway. As noted earlier, the Kenya Vision 2030 program promises to bring some big changes around here. There is already an airport capable of serving international destinations – nothing yet, but it is there and ready. One of the newer buildings is a more contemporary hotel.

New construction in Isiolo. Scaffolding and supports are typical.

However, Isiolo, to me, still has the frontier town look. The paved, two-lane highway goes through it, but the brightly colored stores and shops are set very far back and fronted by dusty streets used in a rather free form way by vehicles, pedestrians and the occasional cow and goat. There are a couple of small grocery stores where we can buy bottled water, supplies for lunches in the field and even ice cream treats and cold coke!

Shops in Isiolo town

Jennifer and Kieran at SDJ Supermarket

Back at the center, we meet in the cool garden and talk about what to expect tomorrow – for those of us who do not live in Kenya, the day when we visit Attir for the first time. Habiba and Martin from GHNI in Isiolo are with us; they have worked hard to connect with Attir and set up the TCD program with them. Jeff goes over the elements of the program, which are: Water, Wellness, Nutrition, Education and Income Production. We learn there are about 180 families in Attir, living in homes that are scattered around in a fairly large area.

Meeting area at the Pastoral Center

Water, Education and Wellness are the high priority issues for Attir. Women in the village must walk 5 km (about 3 miles) to get 20 liter containers of water filled in a stream of dirty water, then carry the load back, most on their heads or on their backs, supported by a cloth sling wrapped around their foreheads. Primary school students must walk to one of two “nearby” villages – again, walks of about 5 – 7 km. There is a church building that was damaged in fighting during the Isiolo wars; the people in Attir would like to dismantle the building and move it closer to the heart of the village to use as a nursery school. Martin, a trained clinical officer, is teaching various wellness classes. He told us a few of the challenges he sees, which include a reluctance to use latrines.

The approach is to help the village with development in these areas, not by bringing in and executing big projects, but to offer small levels of resources, but a big dose of teaching and mentoring. For me, I know this means a lot of learning.

Thus armed with this introduction, we share dinner at the center before retiring to prepare for the first real day in the villages – the reason we are here.

My room at the center. The mosquito net is the best I've seen
I got it at Long Road Travel Supplies

En suite! Toilet and shower to the left