Karibu! Welcome!

Since 2004, EWB@ MSU's professional and student volunteers have worked with community members in Khwisero, Kenya to provide water and sanitation infrastructure at the district's 58 primary schools, making it easier for Khwisero's children to avoid waterborne disease and get an education.

In that time, the group has grown from a small club to one of MSU's premier student organizations, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund seven borehole wells, six composting latrines and a biogas latrine that serve thousands of community members.

Thank you for joining us as we continue to work hand-in-hand with local partners to make a difference in one small part of our world. As Western Kenya's limited internet access allows, we will update this blog while in-country with the successes, stories and lessons provided by our work.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Under the African Sun: Surveying and Politics

Our team spent the day dispersed somewhere between Emwaniro Primary School and Mundeku Primary School along the proposed course of our pipeline project, approximately 1.5km. What was unique about the workday was the leadership. We set-up our GPS equipment and met with our Kenyan partners: Mr. Lanya, the retired water expert from our Kenyan Board, stepped up and directed our team, the ligurus (village elders) and the various community and committee members as to how we wanted to survey the route. Lanya, Caleb, the Emwaniro Water-User Committee Chairman; Wycliffe, the Mundeku Primary School Management Committee Chairman; Amos, a local youth; myself and Eric went ahead of Hillary and Joe and staked out the pipeline route while discussing the complexities of the route from a social and technical standpoint. We met the assistant-chief, a short jolly man named Willie, who is the head of one of the governmental sub-locations that our pipeline will crisscross. Overall, our planned pipeline will begin in the Emutsasa Sub-Location, continue to cross the road, which is a political boundary, to serve Mundeku Primary School, which is in the Mulwanda Sub-Location. The third phase will serve Namasoli Primary School and Health Clinic, which are located in the Mundeku Sub-Location.

Now for a bit of a political science lesson, to the best of our knowledge, the assistant-chief is similar to a small-town mayor and is an official in the civic services division of the executive branch of the government. The civic service structure is incredibly complex as Kenya is divided first into provinces, while each province is headed by a Provincial Commissioner; Khwisero is in the Western Province. Each province is divided into districts, Khwisero is one of twenty-seven in Western Province, and is overseen by a District Commissioner. The Khwisero District is divided into two divisions, Kisa East and Kisa West. Each division has a Division Officer and each division is cut up into locations, which have a chief, and then sub-locations, where our friend Willie comes in, he is in charge of the Emutsasa Sub-Location.

We recognize that we have to engage politicians from Willie on up to the District Commissioner in order to generate appropriate support. We have scheduled meetings with most of the officials that will be associated with our projects and it is incredibly fascinating to learn about the governmental structure in the area, especially what works well and what doesn’t.

After the surveying we all relaxed and enjoyed a soda under one of the “umbrella” trees in the Emwaniro School yard and discussed how the management committee should be structured, waited patiently for results of the survey and were in awe of the GPS technology that the university loaned us. This day went precisely how we wanted it to, we were following the lead of the community members, they were ahead of us along the route, staking and discussing the pipeline with the landowners. We scheduled two barazas, essentially community meetings, and the committee and government officials are organizing it. Ultimately we want this project to be in the hands of the community, more and more it appears that we’re seeing our goal materialize before us.

After surveying the other day, our team remained at Emwaniro Primary School and leeched some electricity while meeting various community members who have been coming by the school to see the annual test results from the past year. One would be making a profoundly understated observation by saying that education is important in Kenya. Families will live in the slums of Nairobi so they can afford to education their children and annual standardized tests are the one measure of how a school and its students perform versus every other school in the country. Douglas, an Emwaniro student who helped us on our hand-washing stations and I played football with last visit, scored the top in the school with a score of 387. The next highest student scored nearly 50 points lower than Douglas whose mother just came by, recognized me, and told me how excited Douglas was after working with us last summer and how proud she was of her son.

The impact we have on the kids at these schools by just talking with them, taking their pictures or running beside them in a football game is far more profound than we can comprehend. Phelisters, one of the ladies that cooked for us on our last trip came by to visit our team and told us how nearly all of the twenty children who we played football daily with last August were asking about us every time they saw her.

Last summer I found myself in front of the equivalent of an 8th grade honors class after ducking out of a school tour. The student apparently didn’t feel comfortable asking questions about America in front of their head-teacher so I snuck away from our school tour and spent the better part of an hour answering political queries from the student body. What struck me was how incredibly advanced the students were, they didn’t just ask about what I thought about Obama, but rather what “the implications of globalization would be on the U.S. economy.” Or what the U.S. Secretary State Clinton was up to that day in Nairobi or how U.S. environmental policy was different from Kenya’s. I was astounded, but went through the process of legislation in the U.S. Senate and House of Reps, how Obama loaded his cabinet, etc. Eventually the head-teacher found me and made me attend the meeting that we had come to the school for in the first place, where everyone was patiently waiting for me.

You’ll never guess where you’ll find yourself when you just take up chance encounters. A year ago I never thought I would ever visit Africa, now I’ve spent nearly two months of 2009 in Kenya and have begun 2010 in a mud-hut in the middle of Sub-Saharan Africa; and, after needing only brief reflection, I couldn’t be happier.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt, I appreciate your descriptioin of the political aspects of the pipeline, adn your personal reflection on your impact on the children and the childrens influence on you. What an important, meaningful and amazing journey you are taking.

Patty Inskeep