Monday, July 5, 2010

It is time to say good bye…

I have spent some more time in Tseikuru District to further advance our large scale irrigation area along the Tana River. The County council increased the proposed are to 2000 hectares. I also had great times in Nanyuki and a meeting with the local government of the Segera communities was fruitful and I am hopeful we can start a 50 acres irrigation plot with them. Beside these field trips, I was tied to my computer to write up proposals for all our irrigation areas. Now we have to wait and see if we can raise the funds needed to initiate the projects.

The last big adventure for me in Africa was climbing Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain. This backpacking trip was one of the best I have ever done and the sunrise at 4995 m on Point Lenana was superb. We were the highest people in Kenya in the morning of the 26th of June 2010.

I only have 48 hours left in Africa before I return to Europe and it feels very strange to leave a place which I learned to appreciate. I think the western world has such a miss perception of Africa. Who would think that:

1) You can see three new Mercedes parked in a car park outside of a friends place in Nairobi.

2) You can watch the World Cup on large screens in a lot of fancy pubs.

3) You can go to a coffee shop and have to pay 3 USD for a cappuccino…

My point is that East Africa in some aspects is not that much different to a lot of other developed countries and yet going out into the countryside changes that view dramatically. Kenya has a lot of faces, the rich, the extreme poor and the pure beauty of the land. I did hear all these stories about people who came out to Africa to help and returned home frustrated. I now can see why, because it surely ain’t easy to pull yourself down to a zero expectation level, but if you succeed you have a chance to have one of the best times. I do not go home frustrated, because I came to learn, I came to find out what is going wrong with foreign aid. My work was very rewarding because I did go right into the poorest communities, which a lot of “aid workers” would never do because they get paid their high salaries and don’t see the point of doing that what I think is the most important part. A lot of NGO’s seems to be established just to circle the money around amongst their employees rather to get the money there where it is need. Some people call these NGO’s “Briefcase NGO’s”. The call for aid has to be established within the poorest communities and aid opposed on people needs to be extinct. More than 1 trillion USD was poured into Africa, which at the end of the day made the situation a lot worse, because it was mostly fueling the development of greed and corruption. Sometimes, I think we should leave them alone and everybody would be better off, but then I think there is chance and this chance is creating businesses based on foreign investments. I guess that is exactly what we are trying to do with large scale irrigation and agriculture, because framing is very viable in Kenya. Now it is time to go back to Europe and to see and observe where all the projects are going. I think rich people in this country will get richer and poor people are probably remaining poor, because that seems like the government approach. I just give you an example, a few days ago members of parliament announced that they are going to raise their salaries by 25% and it only took minutes to pass it in parliament. Kenyan MPs earning the highest salaries worldwide (including all western countries!!!) and they do not pay tax either. This country needs a makeover, but it won’t happen fast. I have high hopes but very little expectations about the transition toward a less greedy stage. Let’s keep the fingers crossed that Kenya stays peaceful during the referendum on August 4th to get a new constitution. I wish more people take the opportunity to visit Africa and the people. I appreciate all the great and sad stories about Kenyan history from mythology to the causes of the post election violence in 2007/08. A big part of mine fell in love with the people and I truly will miss the big hugs people give each other and you know they are coming from the bottom of their heart. People holding your hand for ages and telling you their live stories. Children screaming at you “How are you”. Orphans looking up to you and tell you that they love you. I guess saying good bye is never easy, but it seems particularly difficult in Africa…Some people told me you never should say good bye if you spend some time in Africa, because for sure you will be back. See you and all the best, my Africa.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Planning for the 400 Acre Irrigation is in Full Swing

Prof. Bill Cooper made it safely back to California just in time before air traffic over Europe totally collapsed due to the volcanic eruption inIceland. Prof. Colette Cozean did not have such luck and was stuck in Kenya for an additional 4 days, which was lucky for us and the project, because we all continued to solve critical issues. The planning for the 2000 acres set aside for irrigation in Tseikuru is in full swing. We also were invited to help to irrigate about 400 acres on a farm owned and managed by the founderof Gretsa University in Thika. The farm is beautiful and this could be a very nice additional project to get the surrounding community working and food supplies.

I continue to make contacts in the country and talked to Irrico International, a commercial irrigation company based in Nairobi. We had a fruitful 4th discussion about potential irrigation systems for the various areas. In the last week, I spent some more time with our girls in the Girls Home to fix up the greenhouse and to talk about making the surrounding farm more productive. This week, I will go to Nyeri to get important information about a 50 acre land set aside for irrigation.

I will continue my trip to go"home" to Nanyuki, the town I have spent my first time ever in Kenya and Ireally like it. I need to find supplies for the initial ground work for ourfootbridge project with Engineers Without Borders Orange CountyProfessionals. I am looking forward to get out in the field again after quite a bit of time I have spent on my computer.

All the best from Kenya.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Vision for the African People Becomes A Reality

Prof. Colette Cozean, our East Africa Partnership coordinator from California arrived on 24th of March and since then we are very busy to get things moving. We participated in a Maasai ceremony to open up a new dispensary in the Naikara area. It was amazing to listen to Maasai singing and performing. Colette received a goat as a present, which is regarded as the greatest gift to receive. We put it in the car and went to Narok to unload it.

In the 1st of April, Prof. Bill Cooper, the director of the Urban Water Research Center, came also over from California to assist us in water related issues as well as fundraising efforts.

We met with government officials including the vice president of Kenya to get an agreement signed for the irrigation project in Tseikuru Disrtict/Mwingi. We all went together to Tanzania to meet with the District Council and the Elerai Maasai community.

We were shown the land of Elerai, which is a community located in West Kilimanjaro. The memorandum of understanding (irrigation and farming plans) between us and the community is well underway and hopefully it will be signed within the next week.

After Tanzania, we went straight to Tseikuru District in Mwingi North. Bill and Colette flew in from Nairobi in a helicopter together with the Vice President, while I was preparing the ground work to get also a memorandum of understanding signed to irrigate and farm an initial 2,000 acres in partnership with a newly formed cooperative. Everybody was keen to get this document signed and I was waiting for this signature since I arrived in January. I am super happy that this was finally signed by all parties including the vice president on the 9th of April. Today is Saturday is April 10th and we are invited to the 25th anniversary to be in government service. We may have a chance to get introduced to the President of Kenya, too.

To sum everything up, we had an unbelievably successful 2 weeks and now I have much more work than I can ever handle, but I am really looking forward to the work and I can finally do everything I was coming to do.

A big hug from Kenya/Tanzania.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What Michael Found Hiking- The Beauty and The Deprived

I have been travelling for the last three weeks with Boris, a friend of mine from Germany. We had the most amazing time. We climbed Mt. Meru, went for a day to Amboseli National Park in Kenya, returned to Arusha to go to Manyara NP, Serengeti NP and the Ngorongoro Crater. What a beautiful part of the world. The climax was to climb Kilimanjaro and it took as a week, but we made it in gale force wind and freezing temperatures to Uhuru Peak, the summit. I am still taken away by the beauty of East Africa. In the meantime, we stopped at the Longido medical center, which became inofficially the district hospital, because there is no other bigger heath center. However, the condition of this "hospital" is very poor (see photos!)and they are caught in a vicious cycle.

They cannot become officially a hospital because of the insufficient infrastructure and the lack of an operation theater and intensive care unit. The government is also pulling away the only medical doctor due to the fact that he cannot perform surgeries under these conditions, etc. What happened in Longido is, a new district was formed, yet no money is available to upgrade the hospital. Without being officially a hospital, they do not get sufficient supplies from the government. They treat an average 70 patients a day and the facility is barely more than a dispensary. It is also located on the main road to Arushaand. Bad traffic accidents occur very frequently, but Longido "hospital" is not setup at all to perform surgeries. The only way out of this viscous cycle is to upgrade this facility to get hospital status, or the very least, to build an intensive care unit for surgeries, so that an MD is allowed to stay to serve about 100,000 Maasai within the district. Again, any help is highly appreciated! I am thinking about involving the Engineers Without Borders for construction and extension of the hospital. I am back in motion for my projects and will keep you updated about the progress. I also agreed to help out to establish a children home inArusha/Tanzania.

All the best from Kenya,


Friday, February 19, 2010

The car is still missing and, at this point, little hope to get it back. The insurance is on the case but it will take some time until they release the money and then we will have to look again for a car. The car I am driving is a rental car that doesn't manage well in really tricky-to-get-to remote locations. I have spent most of the week in this car driving around the country to push for much bigger issues.

Nahashon and myself left on Sunday night to go to Nanyuki. The following day we met with staff from the Segera Mission and dispensary to discuss the current situation. It almost felt like going home and this was the first time I have been back since we have been working there everyday for two weeks in June last year. Even all local leaders did come to see me. It is so nice to see familiar faces and the hope they are carrying. I gave them all a brief update on our Engineers Without Borders Project and that we have at least 2/3 of the money needed raised. They were very happy to hear that. It looks like we will start to build the bridge in June! (photo women getting water)

Beside visiting Segera Mission, we also went to talk to the head teacher in Endana Secondary School and the involvement of the Engineers Without Borders Student chapter at UCI to improve the school. We only spent about 5 hours with the community but it was highly rewarding and fun. I can’t wait to go back and get things finally started.

Later on Monday, we left Nanyuki to go all the way to Mwingi to discuss on the following day and over 140 km dirt road the big scale farming project along the Tana River. The local chief was informed that we were coming and warmly welcomed us. We were taken to the Tana River (see photo) and next time I have to bring a 4x4 car, because the little Toyota we had barely made it. We also had a chance to discuss the framing approach with the chairman of the newly formed cooperative. It was highly informative and finally things started to make sense. Miscommunication and assumptions based on little information is a common theme here. People are very open to discuss but you have to ask all questions, they simply don’t tell you the whole story. So, the challenge of putting the puzzle pieces together started successfully. I am very enthusiastic that the approach of the cooperative has a high chance of success.

A great coincidence gave us a chance to talk to many of people from the surrounding communities (see photo), because they gathered together on the same day for elections. Now everybody knows that I will be living with them to get the project started. The same day, we drove all the way back to Nairobi only to get in the car again on Wednesday to leave for Namanga at the border to Tanzania. I was participating in a Maasai meeting to discuss issues of a dispensary managed by the Partnership.

It rained cats and dogs all night making everything really muddy the next day. I started driving in the direction of Arusha in Tanzania and a bus was stuck in front of me leaving only a small way to pass. Of course, I tried to get through underestimating how deep the mud was and we got stuck (not the first incident this week, because I already had 2 flat tyres J). It took a major effort of at least 6 other people to get the car back on the road. Covered in red mud, we continued. We went to Arusha to meet the District Commissioner to discuss big scale farming in the West Kilimanjaro area. We had a great meeting and we will have a very important meeting next Tuesday in Longido/Tanzania with district council to discuss the strategic plan they have been putting together. We made it all the way back to Nairobi still on Thursday.

Now it is Friday and I went briefly over to the girls home to visit and play games with the small girls and also to financially support the construction of the foundation of a water tank. Tonight, I will go to Nairobi to have a drink or two with Megan, who has finished her last exam to get her Msc.
Nahashon and myself managed to open a bank account for our future children home. I would highly appreciate it if you could pass the bank details to your friends and see if we can come up with enough funds to get the project off the ground. A little financial support goes a long way here. We could use some for these children.

Many, many hugs from East Africa,


Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Hijackers and The Innocent

Quite turbulent times. I wanted to go this week to Nanyuki to talk to the people involved in our Engineers Without Borders project, but the plan was changed due to a incident which had happened to Peter Kamweru in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday. He was carjacked and held hostage for about 4 hours. The hijackers took everything he had including the car, which was supposed to be used by me in the field. Peter is alright, but still traumatized by the incident. In that night 4 different cars were taken and the owners robbed. We are still hopeful that the car will be recovered, because the other 3 cars were found parked at various locations.

That was a shock to all of us, but life moves on.
The plan is driving to Nanyuki tomorrow and to talk to the Segera Mission Clinic and the Endana Community early on Monday Morning.

Today (Saturday), I went to the girls home to interact with the kids, since it is their day off from school. I had a fantastic time and the kids are just great. Besides engaging with the children, I try to help where I can before I move out to the field. On Friday, Nahashon and myself drove to Nakuru to help out two former street kids, who have some computer skills as well as furniture making skills and who have started a small home for street kids. The kids battle sickness every once in a while but going to the hospital is far too expensive to keep this little NGO going. We hooked them up with a Presbytery health center “Nakuru West” and we are hopeful to get them almost free health care there. This NGO is called “Blue-G Outreach Programme”.

Nahashon and myself are in the process to open up a Barclays Bank Account and as soon as I have it, I will let you all know. We are getting close to start fundraising for our own home for orphans in Limuru area and we will need all help we can get. There is no overhead and all funds will be going straight to the needs of the kids. I would like to stress that this initiative is run only by Nahashon, his wife and myself.

I have attached a few photos from the girls home in Limuru which is managed by the East Africa Partnership. I hope you are all well and any help is highly appreciated. Volunteers are always welcome.

Hugs and all the best from Kenya,


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Michael Reaches Tanzania

I have just been down in Tanzania for the first time. We left Nairobi on Wednesday afternoon and crossed the border in Namanga. The road is under construction and driving can be very dangerous, because of gigantic potholes and diversions without warning, but I am solely getting used to driving around in East Africa. The Kenyans tend to be a bit more crazy compared to Tanzanians in terms of driving. We have met with quite a number of people in Arusha, where we stayed in a hotel.

On Thursday we drove out to West Kilimanjaro to discuss the collaboration with the local Maasai communities, this is a slow process. I have a good feeling with one of the communities, which welcomed us in a very friendly way and have been already pro-active and have built a 3 inch pipe from a stream higher up on Kilimanjaro 11 km away!!!!. They took us to the intake The water is just enough for daily use of this 5000 people community and we were discussing options to increase the water flow. They are allowed to go to 6 inch which would allow to use water to irrigate some of the area.

The local government is also welcoming me to stay down in their village, which I will do relatively soon to get a better idea of the entire area and what the people want. I also have attached a photo of Maasai children, which are going to school (a lot of them still don’t). I hope I can ease the suspicion they often have about mzungu (white people) and we can start working on how we can improve the food and health situation in this area. We are also in touch with the District Commissioner located in Longido. I am still staying in Limuru, north of Nairobi in a hotel. The plan for the next week is meeting a few people in town (Nairobi) on Monday and leaving for Nanyuki on Wednesday to visit the community we have been involved with our Engineers Without Borders project. I can’t wait to go back there to tell them that we are getting closer to actually building the footbridge and to help the new EWB-UCI student chapter with their new project in the same community to improve the water supply of the secondary school.

I just got my first stomach bug and I am feeling a bit weak, not to worry, this is normal and I was wondering that I did not get it already J.

Hugs to everybody and you will hear from me again in about a week.