Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Follow-Ups and Aprons

We've spent a lot of the past week doing follow up evaluations of the programs we implemented last summer. Our two main projects last year were to assess the school feeding programs at 5 schools based on the World Health Organizations recommendations and to work with 2 womens groups to give family nutrition seminars. The feedback we've gotten this year is unreal. We've discovered that every school is at the very least soaking their beans and maize and using mbembe maize (whole grain / unpolished....all the nutrients are in the outer husk that they normally remove by polishing the maize) and they are all adding more vegetables to the meals now then they were this time last year. I honestly wasn't expecting so many positive changes to have been made. When we arrived in Kiirua and the Meru area (where all the schools are) there was no mistaking that they have been experiencing severe draught. The short rains season just ended without nearly enough rain and the long rains season before that had passed with very little rain as well. The majority of the crops were not successful enough to harvest and the school gardens are looking pretty rough. Some of the schools have access to water piped in from Mt Kenya (CEFA water) but an elephant stepped on the line last week and it hasn't been repaired yet. When the conditions are already so incredibly dry, even a few days without water for drip irrigation can make or break the harvest.

Despite the incredibly challenging conditions, each school is making nutrition a priority and has really done all they can to make changes. Ruuju school in particular has even gone above and beyond the goals we made with them last year and has made even more changes than anticipated! It's been really greta not only to see that our messages were listened to and are being followed, but it was equally as awesome to get to see all of the wonderful people we met last year at each of the schools. We were even greeted as fellow staff at one of the schools by the headmaster. I can only imagine what the school feeding programs will look like once the area gets some rain and the conditions improve. The school feeding programs run by donations from parents. Each parent is responsible for donating a specific number of kilograms of maize and beans, but right now, the parents have nothing to donate. Most of the schools only have enough maize and beans stored for a few more weeks, not enough to last the rest of the school term. I'm not really sure what will happen when they run out, but it's not looking good.

We have been working with Esther again to have more aprons made. We were asked to speak at the Souris Village Feast and we are going to sell aprons there too. Ester has just finished making us more than 200 more aprons! They look awesome and I'm really excited to sell them! She is planning on using the money from these aprons to buy a solar panel for her home so that her kids can have light to read and do school work at night. How cool is that?! Her husband has been helping her make them so it's turned into a family affair.

We've only got 4 more days in Meru, and 1 day in Nairobi left until we head back to Canada. It's crazy how fast three weeks go by! I wish I was staying all summer but at the same time I really missed summer at home last year, plus I'm pumped to start internship!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New Projects

So much happens everyday that by the time I get around to writing a blog post I am so excited about one thing that I forget to mention other fun things. This week I learned that I need to be less afraid to embarrass myself because the majority of my most memorable Kenyan experiences have been the result of being placed in incredibly awkward and humiliating positions. On Sunday, we were invited to attend Mama Jen's church in kiirua. We arrived as the Sunday Schol kids were singing and promptly got asked to sing and dance with them. We looked like fools, incredibly off-beat and muttering because we didn't know a single word to any of the songs. Once the actual service started, the women's choir stood up and sang and danced. Of course we got asked to join them, and let me tell you, Kenyan women can definitely dance. I'm not sure how it's even possible to move the way they do. And then there we were standing beside them, trying to watch their dance moves and dance with them and instead were flailing around out of sync, and bumping into women who actually knew what they were doing. As idiotic as we looked, it was so much fun! I need to get the guts to put myself in ridiculous situations like that at home too.

We met with a focus group from the Ruuju women's group today to get some help with our new projects. I saw our but really I mean the UPEI / Farmers Helping Farmers projects that will be completed this summer by the new students. Part of the project is to assess food insecurity in the area by doing home visits with some of the women and completing a questionnaire used to quantify how severely food insecure the household is. We are using an assessment tool developed in the US and are adapting it to accomodate kenyan culture. We used the focus group to determine standard definitions of households etc. We also used them to help us learn what was considered appropriate in terms of foods and what foods were preferred and what foods were consumed when there were inadequate resources to obtain preferred foods. I really really wish I was staying all summer to be part of this project! It's really interesting and I am excited to see what the outcome of the research is. I'm sure they'll learn a lot and discover some unexpected tidbits about kenyan food insecurity.

When we first got funding, I thought that there was no way I'd want to come back for a full 3 months. I was ecstatic to be coming for 3 weeks, but 3 months is a whole different story. I missed a lot last summer in terms of family events and such and after being away for so long I wasn't sure I'd want to miss it all again for a second year in a row. Now that I am here though, I wish I was here for 3 months! The new project is soo interesting and I am back into the Kenya-groove. We have been seeing all of the people we met last year and have met more key informants and I realized again why I love this country, this culture and the work that I get to do here. I need to find a job doing something just like this for when I'm done internship in November. I'm already dreading having to leave in 2 more weeks...

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Fruits of Our Labour!

Today was phenomenal! We had a super jam-packed day but it was so incredibly awesome. The nutrition team went to Ruuju Primary School this morning to complete a feedback questionnaire regarding the school lunch program recommendations that we made last year. Last year, during the three months we spent in Kenya, we did an evaluation of the school lunch programs using a program called World Food. We analyzed the recipes for uji (maize porridge) and githeri (bean and maize stew) based on a third of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations for macro and micronutrients. Based on the results of the analysis for each individual school, we made individualized recommendations for each school and we met with each school to go over our recommendations. Once we discussed all of our recommendations, we developed realistic goals that each school felt that they could achieve. Each school committed to making one or two alterations to their recipes that would enhance the nutritional value of the meals served. Ruuju Primary School was a bit of an exception to the schools we analyzed. Their school garden happens to run by the Ruuju Women’s Group, which means that the garden contains a greater diversity of crops and the crops are much more successful. As such, the only two goals they made last year was to add more flour to the same amount of flour when making porridge, and soaking the beans and maize over night and then cooking them in fresh water the next day to make the githeri.

During our feedback session, we learned that not only are both of those goals being implemented, but they were also adding a fortified oil to the uji! They actually went back to the list of recommendations we made, and went beyond the goals they made to make further improvements to their recipes. Tuck and I were actually bouncing off the walls with excitement because today was the first day that we actually got to check up on our work from last summer, and we learned that people actually listened to us and learned from us. What we taught them last year is being implemented and is positively contributing to the nutritional status of the 500-600 students that attend the school.

To make the school feeding programs work, each parent has to donate a specific number of kgs of beans and maize. We learned today that when parents come to the school to drop off beans and maize, they notice that the school cooks are soaking the beans and maize, or are preparing meals slightly differently then they are used to and they ask the cook about the differences. The cooks have been explaining to the parents the changes and the reasons behind these changes to the parents since last year. As such, our nutrition messages have been shared with the members of the community and have extended far beyond the schools and women’s groups who we taught directly.

We also sat down with the “Champs” from the women’s groups to do an evaluation of the “Champ” model that we developed last year to work with the women’s groups. The new students this year are going to be using this same model with the nursery school parents this summer. The champs all loved the experience of being chosen as experts and the opportunity to speak to their own peers about the nutritionally improved recipes that they prepared. They also loved that they all got to prepare meals together and became really good friends through the experience. They also mentioned that they were so impressed that we actually helped them serve the food and ate the Kenyan food with them. They felt appreciated and proud to have been chosen. Such positive feedback was unreal!

Like every visit to the schools, we got to run around and play with kids for a big part of the day, which is always my favorite thing to do. We also walked to a couple of different farms to see grain cradles and thriving crops.

When we visited farms in the Muchui area on Saturday, we saw first hand the impact the draught has had on the crops and the livelihood of the women. This is the second harvest in a row that has been impacted by draught. In fact, most people don’t even have a harvest at all this season because of the severe draughts. Ruuju in contrast, actually has a maize harvest this year, and the farms were lush and green instead of brown and dry. It will be interesting to see how the schools in the Muchui area have fared with the goals we made with them last year given that their crops have suffered so dramatically.

We’ll be going out to schools in the Muchui area on Wednesday and Thursday so our fingers are crossed that we get feedback as positive as todays later this week.

Kenyan Homecoming

After an uneventful 36 hours of traveling, we finally touched down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi Kenya. I remember feeling way more gross and way stinkier stepping off the plane last summer than I did yesterday which was nice. Don't get me wrong, I have no doubt that we still all stunk - when waiting in line at customs I spent the majority of the half our wait trying to figure out if the stench was me or simply a collective of body odor seeping from each of the many travellers all crammed into a small space awaiting their turn to face the immigration officer and to be admitted into the country. When we got through immigration, Henry was waiting for us as expected and we were greeted with giant hugs and a huge smile. We've been excited to see Henry again since we found out we were coming back! He worked his magic and got our baggage, including 4 cases of veterinary medicine, through customs without a hitch and with no fees and we headed out of baggage claim and into the airport. I was really surprised to see so many people waiting to greet us at the airport! We had a welcome party of 4 of our favorite Kenyan friends! It made me so happy to get to see everyone that my face was hurting from smiling so much. I felt loved and missed and genuinely happy to the core upon seeing everyone. Definitely felt just like coming home, and quickly the exhaustion of 36 hours of travel melted away as we laughed and caught up with friends.

We headed from the airport to the wonderful Fairview Hotel where we checked in for a quick 2 night stay before heading into Meru and Kiirua to start our projects. The Fairview is awesome - the rooms are clean, there is hot running water, fabulous buffet breakfasts, multiple restaurants and bars, a gift shop, free wireless internet, a pool, a gym and gorgeous landscaping. Although the hotel is glorious, we spent the day shopping in Nairobi. Our first stop was obviously the kikoi shop! We've become quite the frequent customers at this place. It's called Haria's and it's on Biashara Street in Nairobi. The owners are friendly and accommodating and they have consistently good quality fabrics so it's worth going back every time we're in Nairobi. Tuck and I had "official business" to take care of today. We are having another 200 aprons made to sell at the Souris Village Feast on PEI this summer. The feast raises funds to build the cookhouses that we saw at the schools and they invited us to speak at the feast and to sell the aprons. We had 75 kikoi's (1 kikoi = 2 aprons) purchased before we got here and in the last week Esther has already turned half of them into aprons so we had to buy her more fabric so that she could make the rest.

The price of kikoi's has gone up significantly from last year and we were talking to the owners about it and they said that it's due to a drastic increase in the price of cotton. Although the cost of a single kikoi has risen from 350 ksh each to 550 ksh each over a year, their profit margin has also decreased. Apparently the tsunami in Japan and the flooding in Brisbane Australia, two areas that grow a lot of cotton, have greatly affected prices.

I somehow managed to leave the kikoi shop with only 1 new kikoi and 1 new kikoi towel (kikoi on one side, towel on the other....epic.) We took a quite stop into the Java House to get lunch to go and then headed to Kazuri Beads. All of these places I have been before and likely blogged extensively about them last year. This whole trip so far has given me a warped sense of deja vu. Last year I bought only a bracelet but also some pottery. This year I went all out with the jewellery and came home with some necklaces, bracelets and multiple pairs of earrings. You can also buy individual beads! There was a back room that had all four walls covered in shelves that contained buckets and buckets of single beads. While rummaging through them all trying to find awesome beads to make a necklace out of (the ones in the shop were all quite heavy with quite large beads on them..not really my style) I managed to find 4 giant yellow buttons! I love buttons. I have a whole box of them at home. I’m not really sure why I like them so much, but I was squealing in excitement when I found these yellow buttons. Last summer, I had purchased a double bed sized kikoi with plans of turning it into a duvet cover. Like most of my plans, it has never happened…at least not yet. The fabric has quite a bit of yellow in it, so I am going to use the yellow Kazuri buttons to fasten the bottom on the duvet cover and to keep the duvet itself from falling out the bottom. I happened to think that I was quite the genius for thinking this up, but in all likely hood these buttons will sit in the box with the rest of my buttons until I move into my own place and am a grown up and actually have a reason to unpack the fabric from the multiple boxes that are sitting in my parent’s basement.

I am blaming my extra purchases on the factory tour we took prior to shopping. The shop wasn't open last year so we had never taken a tour. We got a real-life "How It's Made" tutorial including getting a chance to observe and meet the women making the beads at every single stage. It blew my mind how much work goes into every single bead! They are all shaped by hand, and designed by hand, sun-dried and fired, painted by hand (including all the intricate designs) and fired a second time. The factory employs 300 women and pays them fari wages, provides transportation to and from home everyday and provides their entire families with medical coverage - all of which is almost unheard of in Kenya.

We got back to the Fairview around 5 ish, took advantage of the hotel gym (including treadmills, eliptical, rowing erg, bike, free weights and weights machines!) and then had a lovely dinner in the hotel restaurant. We lingered over dinner for a few hours and really got a chance to bond a bit before leaving this wonderful paradise of a hotel tomorrow morning for the less luxurious (but still awesome in it's own way) Mama Jen's for a week and then St Theresa's for two weeks.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Contrary to popular belief, I haven't actually vanished off the face of the planet. I have no reason for taking a two week hiatus from the blogosphere, but the last two and a half weeks have been extremely busy and a bit crazy.

I didn't really do anything productive at all but yet I somehow kept myself busy most days. I hung out at the canoe club a bit, braved the freezing cold and rainy weather on the creek and got to get back into my boat after almost an entire year land locked. I love my boat, and I don't think I will ever get sick of paddling. It's strange being at the canoe club and not training though. I just kind of did my own thing, jumped in on a work out or two with the younger group (aka the only group I can still keep up with!) and tried not to tip. I didn't stress about missing a practice, I got to decide for myself if it was cold enough to swap a paddle for a run or weights and I didn't even think twice about sleeping through a morning practice. It's such a different mentality than I'm used to having. I don't think I've managed to find a balance yet though - I went from one extreme to the other and give myself way to much slack sometimes when it comes to getting my butt to the canoe club or the gym or the yoga studio. But whatever, I'm sure that once I get into a routine with internship and work and everything I'll figure it out. The hardest part about going home, and in this case moving home until further notice, is the lack of structure and routine. I like routine. I like having a plan for the next day before I go to bed at night. I like to know what and when I'll eat, where I'll be when and I like feel as though I'm being productive. This isn't so easy when you have no school work, no job and really nothing to accomplish. I'm actually really happy to have a job and internship placements when I get home in June, I don't think I can handle another few weeks of having nothing to do every day!

While I was home, my trip to Kenya got changed from May to June, which subsequently meant that my internship placements would all have to be changed and that the Dietitians who had been willing to take me on for the summer could no longer take me as an intern because of the 4 week shift in dates they'd be stuck with me trailing along behind them. Needless to say I was not a happy camper and was stressing out hardcore. I'm pretty sure I was convinced for a few hours that I was never going to find anyone to take me and that I was going to be an intern for the rest of my life and living in my parent's basement until I was 50. Not that I overreact ever or anything. Anyways, so I eventually calmed down, and a few days later got notice that the trip was back on in May, and that my originally planned internship placements were still a go. Phew!

Last week, about 9 days before I was scheduled to be boarding a plane to Africa, I get an e-mail from the University apologizing for having LOST my PASSPORT! Cue a teary breakdown followed by intense grumpiness, as evidenced by my new passport pictures that I needed to have taken. My eyes are red and puffy and I have a scowl on my face that could represent nothing less than the deepest loathing possible. I filled out all the forms and took them to the passport office that same day just to find out that I needed to write out a detailed description of how the passport was lost and have a lawyer or notary or a commissioner of oaths sign off that the story was in fact true. Since I didn't know any lawyers or notaries, the passport office recommended I go to City Hall to the Commissioner of Oaths, so I drove straight there. But of course he only works 4 hours a week, two hours on two separate days. Luckily, he was working the next morning so I was able to get it signed and back to the passport office the next afternoon. 200 dollars later, I was able to get my passport back 5 days before travelling. The only catch was that I also still needed to send my passport to Ottawa to obtain a Kenyan visa. It all somehow ended up working out in the end, and my passport is now safely (I hope!) sitting at the University, complete with a Kenyan visa, ready to be picked up.

I also managed to get into my very first fender-bender. Unfortunately my very first car, lovingly known as the Mary Kay, is officially dunzo. It would cost more to fix the car than it did to buy over a year ago. I'm actually ridiculously sad about it. On the bright side, no one in any of the three cars involved was hurt.

I finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Prince Edward Island, earning a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition. I graduated officially yesterday! My parents and I flew down east on Wednesday and my grandparents joined us on the island yesterday and last night for the ceremony. The weekend was full of grad events, and friends. I didn't realize how much I'd miss Charlottetown until I came back and realized that I don't actually live here anymore and won't likely be back on a regular basis. I guess it's finally sinking in that it's all really over. This weekend was definitely a highlight of my University career, not because I finally got the piece of paper that I spent countless hours working towards, but because I got to hang out with all my friends and my family at the same time. It was so fun to be able to introduce my friends and parents and to all hang out over drinks and delicious food. There's nothing like a post graduation ceremony lobster feed on the island with all the fixin's...

We leave on Tuesday morning super early, so in approximately 36 hours. I'm finally getting a chance to get excited about it!