Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sand dams, singing and sodis

It's been a few weeks of wonderful experiences working with our MCC partners, we will miss these rich experiences when we leave Kenya this July.

Our whole family was honored to accompany an MCC work and learn tour group from Alberta (they have a nice blog of their trip here) for part of their activities here.  The group came to help several days building a sand dam, so we joined them out with a community in Machakos.  Although I've now been to many sand dams, this was the first time actually helping with the process, and gave me a new perspective on them (certainly a new view on the amount of work in the hot sun needed!)

The process of building a dam takes many weeks, and the community had come together to do many days of hard work before we arrived.  The site had been dug down to bedrock, forms and rebar were up and they had started the process of actually building the dam with rocks and concrete.

Alex and Evan were happy to skip school a few days to help with the building, here with putting rocks into the base of the dam trench.  Building a sand dam is a community activity, while UDO (our partner that gives technical and organizational help) provides materials to build it, the community provides the labor and the food for the work days.  

Alex does his imitation of a rural Kenyan boy - taking the donkeys to get water!

Cristina helps the women with gathering smaller stones needed in the process.

 Building the structure involved alternating between putting cement in the forms, and then embedding rocks in the cement.  We formed rock-passing lines to move the pile of rocks to the dam.

Everything is done by hand.  Here the process of mixing many wheelbarrows of sand with barrels of water and many bags of cement.  We had sweaty dusty bodies, aching backs and raw hands by the end of the days!

A random bag at the dam site, left over from a world food programme.  Food distribution does occur in the region when times are hard.  More recently there has been a move to simply give cash rather than pass out material goods.  This has advantages such as supporting local markets and giving people dignity of making their own decisions on what to buy.  The BBC has a good recent story on cash disbursements in response to the Kenya drought.

A group of local women came to do some traditional singing and dancing during a tea break at the dam.  County government officials also came to give their moral support with speeches and a few scoops of shoveling.

 The group spent a day visiting conservation agriculture farms.  While visiting one farm, we met a good friend of UDO field officer Arnold (right).  This dignified "mzee" (older gentlemen) was a delight to talk with and like most Kenyans had a wonderful sense of humor.

Market day at Kola.  Machakos and Makueni are known for their exceptionally good mangoes, and it's mango season now, so we enjoyed lots of great fruit.

At the end of the day we decided to climb a local hill in the hopes of seeing Kilimanjaro at sunset (unfortunately the clouds did not oblige).  A group of kids going home from school joined us, they didn't seem fazed by the steep climb that challenged us.

It's wonderful walking through the countryside and enjoying the scenery, the sounds and the smells of rural Kenya.

Back in Nairobi, we joined the group on Sunday at Eastleigh Mennonite Church, an urban church in the Somali area of town.  The church always has an amazing choir, a real highlight whenever we visit there.

The singing continues at the end of church with a traditional round of shaking hands in the courtyard.

After church, lunch (well, at 3pm, as often happens in Kenya) at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant "Abyssinia".

And you have to have Ethiopian coffee after Ethiopian food.  It always comes with bowls of popcorn, and lots of frankincense incense (hence the smoke at the table here).

MCC kids are so friendly!  Evan and his buddy Sam.

I've been helping WaSH promoters and science teachers at the schools do some water testing with students and their families.  Here students at Mukuru along with teacher Nixon are helping with the testing.  At Mathare North school, we had about 30 households send their source and drinking water in with students, then we did tests for bacteria in science class.  Two days later we had a Saturday parents' meeting to show them whether they were drinking contaminated water.

In Kenya, like many places around the world, time means something different.  The official start time for the Saturday workshop was 9 a.m.  Here is the crowd at 9:30 a.m.!  No worries though, by 11 a.m. we had some 60 parents and had gotten things started...

Parents sit in small groups and look at the results of their water tests.  They discussed what the tests meant, then we came together and talked about the results.

SODIS (solar disinfection, water in plastic bottles set in the sun) worked great - no blue or purple dots meant no bacteria present in the water!

An unexpected number of households had drinking water that actually had more bacteria than where they got it from the tap.  Most likely this is an issue of water storage.  If you have clean water but don't store it in a closed clean container, you can get recontamination.  So this is something the school program will emphasize now.

Some households are successfully treating their water, here one family has a contaminated source but they have clean water to drink because they properly treat it.

Jane Otai has been a great help through the years with these schools, she brings a wealth of experience and skills.  After talking about water testing, she took them through a community mapping exercise where they created a map of the community with locations that are relevant to WaSH.

Mukuru school is doing a good job with "talking walls".  Here they have a recent mural along an industrial wall that many people pass by every day.  

Mukuru Arts Council has a nice row of murals with positive community messages, here one by Gandhi.  

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