Travel and Trainings

I can’t believe it’s been almost two months since I’ve posted here, and that my placement is almost halfway done. I’ve been learning a lot (often the hard way) and I feel really lucky that I get to live and work in two different environments. I’ve been back and forth between Nairobi and Kakuma a few times, each offering a different type of experience. When I’m at the Kakuma office, I get to visit schools and learn more about the ins and outs of implementation from our experienced field staff. When I’m in Nairobi, I can observe how decisions are made while managing expectations from both the field and our donor. Both are valuable, but things are a little easier in Nairobi, where there is high speed internet and hot water and grocery stores. Here are some highlights (and lowlights) from the past little while:

In mid-August, we held a conference for girls on KEEP scholarships. The conference included sessions on goal-setting, health, and an evening hike. My favourite part was when the students had small group discussions on their experience with the program, and then made presentations to the larger group. The first few presenters were shy but slowly they became more candid, being silly and making each other laugh as they shared their insight. There was lots of dancing during the lunch hours, and everyone freaked out when I joined in. I don’t think I’ve ever made so many people laugh at once.

A few days later, I saw it rain in Kakuma for the first time. When it rains there, it raaaaaains. It only happens a few times a year, so the ground has little ability to absorb water, meaning that a completely dry stretch of land can become dangerously flooded within a few hours.

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That week I helped distribute some materials to the schools in the camp. In the camp, the flooding had damaged people’s homes and businesses. Our vehicle got stuck in Kakuma 3 for two hours, and so a co-worker and I walked around in the mud while the driver fixed the situation. The local kids were delighted to see a barefoot mzungu ankle-deep in mud.

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That week, I attended a teachers’ training on gender responsive pedagogy. It was held in Lokichoggio, a town about 30km from the border with South Sudan. I wasn’t there to be trained, but I enjoyed attending discussions on gender stereotypes, barriers to girls’ education, safe schools, how boys and girls tend to learn differently, and creating gender-responsive lesson plans. The teachers enjoyed the training, but some of the refugee school teachers were concerned that the strategies would be too difficult to implement in their classrooms, many of which are crowded with upwards of 50 students. And some of the teachers have not been formally trained. Several had never seen a lesson plan, let alone one that considers gender dynamics in the classroom. But introducing any discussion about gender in education is a step in the right direction.

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With one of KEEP’s education officers at the training in Lokichoggio

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Back in Nairobi, I finally wrote my research proposal for thesis, which is very exciting. Before coming to Kenya, I was almost sure that I would explore something to do with schools in the refugee camp. However, I’ve become more interested in the host community outside the camp. I’m curious about education among the Turkana, a marginalized community in Kenya and whose education services remain minimal despite the presence of NGOs in the region making large investments in refugee education. There are several studies on tensions between refugees and their hosts, especially about resources and land. But there is nothing in the literature about education services in a refugee-host context. The KEEP project is the only NGO initiative in Kakuma delivering support to both refugee and host schools, and I’m wondering how KEEP’s work can inspire thought about an integrated approach for education in such a context.

Hope you didn’t fall asleep there. I celebrated finishing my research proposal with a day trip to Naivasha, a lovely town about 1.5 hours drive away from Nairobi. Actually, I tagged along with co-workers who were going there to preview a potential venue for a conference we are holding in December. While there, we took the opportunity to visit the beautiful Hell’s Gate National Park. It’s called Hell’s Gate because of a geothermal activity underground from nearby volcano Mount Longonot, creating hot springs (“Devil’s shower”) in and around a spectacular gorge (“Devil’s bedroom”) that visitors can walk through. We rode our bikes to the gorge from the park entrance, a 7.5km trek. Along the way we saw dozens of zebra, as well as some gazelle, buffalo, monkeys, baboons, and secretary birds.

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When I got back to Hell’s Gate, I went to a concert with my friends at a club in Nairobi. The famous Kenyan group Sauti Sol was performing. I had recently heard some of their music, and I’ve always wanted to attend a Kenyan concert. Here’s one of their recent hits, Sura Yako: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEJw64Zl28U. I can’t believe that in the same day, I rode my bike up close to beautiful wildlife, and had a night out at a concert in the city.

And then back to Kakuma on October 1st, this time only for 6 days. We held a two-day field-level planning session with all our remedial teachers and community mobilizers. On Saturday, our clubs development consultant coordinated a networking day with teachers and students participating in clubs activities in our schools. I was given the task of facilitating some focus groups and activities. I really enjoy practicing my facilitation skills, and I seize the opportunity to do so whenever I can, especially because my role as monitoring and evaluation assistant keeps me at a computer most of the time. I learned a lot about clubs activities that day and some of the gendered implications of extra-curriculars. We hope that through trainings for teachers and networking days, we’ll start to see both boys and girls become more engaged in sports, the arts, environmental stewardship, and most importantly, FUN.

At a KEEP field-level planning session in Kakuma

At a KEEP field-level planning session in Kakuma

So now I’m back in Nairobi, and things are quiet in the office while many of our staff our in Dadaab. I’ve spent the hanging out with friends, cooking, and catching up on some much-needed alone time. Thanks for reading this long post! Hopefully it won’t be long before you hear from me again.

In conclusion, here is a picture of me kissing a giraffe.

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The views expressed in this blog are entirely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of the World University Service of Canada, the Kenya Equity in Education Project, or Windle Trust Kenya.

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Getting to Know Nairobi

Hi friends,

Tomorrow marks two weeks that I’ve been in Kenya. I’m having a wonderful time so far and feel like I have learned a great deal already. Nairobi is a diverse, bustling, rapidly growing city with various opportunities for economic and social activity and a strikingly wide wealth gap. The city is headquarters for many East African industries and is a hub for regional and international governance, while also being home to huge informal settlements and poverty. From what I’ve gathered so far, the city is made up of a small downtown core known as the CBD (Central Business District) surrounded by neighbourhoods of varying character, some of which have quiet residential areas tucked away from the major streets. I live in such a neighbourhood. It’s called Kileleshwa and I’m pleased to call one of its apartment buildings my new home.

My apartment building  is visible just behind the vendors and trees.

My apartment building is visible just behind the vendors and trees.

A notable first impression I’ve had is the level of security in this city. Before arriving, I knew Nairobi would be highly securitized given its history of crime and recent acts of terrorism. But it’s been more of an adjustment than I had expected. Guards with metal detectors stand at the entrances of various public spaces, like the mall, restaurants and bars, and even a KFC I went to in the CBD. They open your bags and sometimes pat you down. If you’re driving into the parking lot of a mall, a guard may check your back seat and trunk, and possibly check under your car using an extendable mirror. My apartment is in a gated compound with a friendly guard, and the entrance to our flat has a heavy wooden door with two locks behind a barred metal gate with a padlock. I’m really bad with keys and so getting into the apartment is its own event. I’m sure I’ll get better at it. Anyway, despite the nuisance it can be, I’m privileged to be able to keep myself safe the way I can.

One of my favourite aspects of Nairobi it its public transport. I take a minibus, or matatu, to work. A matatu is a 15-seater van (although they can hold many more than that!) that races through the city streets at incredible speeds. The conductor hangs out the side door waving to passengers and yelling out the final destination. Once inside, you might enjoy some East African hip hop or reggae, sometimes blasting so loud that you wonder if your ear drums are still in working order when you hop off. You’ll see Kenyans in suit and tie on their way to work, parents with their kids, and maybe the occasional nerdy mzungu trying to fit in (me). At most of the loading stages, a matatu can arrive as frequently as every two minutes. Depending on where you’re going the cost is between 10 and 50 shillings ($0.12-$0.60 CAD).

Last week I went to the CBD for some exploring on my own. I walked around, had KFC (chicken tastes the same but I had ugali instead of fries), and visited the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC). The KICC has a rooftop observation deck that offers a great view of Nairobi. I was able to see various hotels and commercial buildings in the CBD as well as the Parliament building and Nairobi’s city hall.

The KICC.

The KICC.

The view from the top of the KICC.

The view from the top of the KICC.

This past week, I went on a staff retreat with the Kenya Equity in Education Project (KEEP) team. We stayed in a lodge outside Machakos, only 60km away from Nairobi. KEEP hosted a weeklong planning session and had some critical discussions about the project’s progress and areas for improvement. It was wonderful to meet the rest of the KEEP team and learn about the roles of education officers, counsellors, finance/procurement officers, scholarship program coordinators, and so on. We are 31 in total, which includes the Nairobi team and staff in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps. I’m thrilled to be part of this team and will certainly tell you more about the project and my role in future blog posts. For now, check out these photos of giraffes, wildebeest, gazelles, and zebra that I captured only a short distance away from our lodge!

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The views expressed in this blog are entirely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of the World University Service of Canada, the Kenya Equity in Education Project, or Windle Trust Kenya.