THIS BIRD HAS FLOWN


Good Morning Good Morning
June 19, 2010, 12:23 PM
Filed under: TRIP SHENANIGANS (Kenya 2010)

Hey friends.

Greetings from Nairobi, Kenya! Today is my second full day in the city and so far, everything is absolutely magnificent. I am currently broadcasting from an internet cafe in downtown Nairobi. I’ll get to Kenya in a minute, promise, but I figured I’d start things off with what I’ve been up to this whole week. Prepare for a long post, sorry I’m not sorry.

On Monday, June 14th, I traveled to DC for ThinkImpact’s Global Development Internship (GDI) training. The other interns (we call ourselves GDIs) and I stayed at the Potomac House residence hall on GW’s campus. Infinitely nicer than Darnall…typical. Anyway, we crammed an intense amount of material into two straight days of training. Although it was an large amount of information to digest in a short time span, I am finally relieved that I have a much firmer grasp of my duties this summer. I might be able to articulate it quickly, so here goes.

We began our training with a discussion of ThinkImpact’s development philosophy. This part assuaged any of my fears about choosing the right organization and experience for this summer. ThinkImpact originally began as any other aid organization, building infrastructure like schools, soccer fields, latrines, etc. However, after these interventions were completed, the staff quickly began to realize that this method of development was not sustainable. The community of Kayafungo had no involvement with these projects besides enjoying their eventual completion, meaning no local ownership and by extension, a general dearth of empowerment. Also lacking was any income-generating components, essential for smaller enterprises to achieve sustainability and lift individuals out of a cycle of perpetual poverty. Since the completion of these projects, ThinkImpact’s development philosophy has shifted from development as building things to development as encouraging relationships, networks, and social innovation. Social innovations, ThinkImpact’s core area of emphasis, is effective, efficient, and most important, sustainable. Incorporation of the creativity of the stakeholders serves to ensure the project’s success. This philosophy was foreign to me, but it seemed incredibly appealing. I have always been a supporter of grassroots, bottom-up modes of development, and ThinkImpact finally articulated a model that actual seemed to have real, tangible, achievable benefits and successes.

The work I’ll be doing as a GDI seems fascinating. GDIs live and work in Kayafungo, a rural developing community in Kenya, to serve a facilitators catalyzing ideas into action. Our primary responsibility is to lay the foundation for the development of local social businesses. To do this, we work specifically to incorporate ideas of the asset-based community development (ABCD) methodology (I know, about time I told you about this, right?). ABCD encourages community members to identify and understand their own gifts, talents, and resource. Thus the participatory development can strive to be sustainable. We work to empower, not overpower, by focusing on the “possible” not the “obstacle” within the community structure. Now, this to me seemed appealing, but still pretty abstract and a lot for me to digest in one sitting. I was having issues conceptualizing how these ideas actually function when put into practice.

Luckily, we dived right into the actual procedures we would follow to accomplish our goals. In Kayafungo, our first responsibility as a GDI is to complete capacity inventories, intensive interviews with diverse segments of the Kayafungo community to help them and us discover their talents. After completing a high number of these inventories, we compile the data by using a technique called asset-mapping (sorry this is so technical, but you asked to know what I was doing, so boom, there you go). Asset-mapping explores the resources available in the local community and analyzes their unique linkages. It allows community members to map their assets in such a way to facilitate relationships and identify possible opportunities for linkage between said assets. The exercise helps people understand the intricacies inherent within their local economy.

Once we complete these steps of ABCD, we will begin a phase of monitoring and evaluation (M+E, so many acronyms, I know) of past projects to determine their effectiveness and societal impact. This step is crucial to the data collecting process, because if one does not measure results, one can not tell success from failure. M+E relies on ideas from the Social Return on Investment (SROI) methodology. SROI takes into consideration the impact on social, environmental, or cultural aspects of a community by expressing social value relative to investments. Basically, through valuation games with community members, we look for quantifiable answers to the question of societal impact. While it involves some technical steps (and math?), I think it will be both important and fun work.

Everything I just described above will take up my first four weeks in Kayafungo. We will also have a lot of time to just experience the community, through interactions within our homestay and the people we meet in our interviews, etc. I cannot stop talking about how excited I am to play with every child in Kayafungo. It is a personal goal of mine. I also can’t wait to check out the local music scene and hopefully get a dance/drum lesson or two (or ten, fingers crossed). Beyond the immersion, once the four weeks are over, we as GDIs reach a pivotal point in our internship. Our next step involves choosing a track for our final four weeks of research, either through an Advocates or Fellowship track. If I decide to pursue a Fellowship with ThinkImpact, I need to find a community partner and work together to develop a comprehensive model and plan for a new social business. This is such an incredible opportunity, because if selected, I would become a funded fellow, allowing me to return to Kayafungo in 9 months for a stay of one year to carry out my project. Obviously, a great opportunity leaving me lots of options to consider (ex: Georgetown, Vittles, life, etc.). The Advocates track requires me to choose a research project and carry it out within the last four weeks I have in Kayafungo, but no commitment to return to Kenya like the Fellowship offers. Both are amazing opportunities, so it’s going to be quite the decision when the time comes. We’ll see how my first few weeks in Kayafungo go. I’m sure the answer will manifest itself!

So, that’s training in a nutshell. I hope it gives you a better picture of what kinds of things I’ll be doing this summer. After training was finished, the real fun began. Wednesday night my flight to London left, arriving early Thursday morning. We had a long layover in London and left for Nairobi late Thursday night. We arrived in Kenya at 6am yesterday (Friday). I had never felt so disoriented mentally and physically before. I guess that’s what two nights on a plane and like 300 time changes will do to you. Right after we got in, we met the Kenyan team, specifically the ThinkImpact country director Abdullah, who is the MAN. We drove to our hotel in Nairobi, dumped our gear, then went to some meetings. No shower, no sleep, no complaining. It was quite the day.

We met with Root Capital, an organization in Kenya working to extend finance/credit to agricultural businesses. Banks in Kenya normally refuse to lend to the agricultural sector because of risk, even though so much of the economy is dependent on it. Quite a fascinating problem. We next met with the Kenyan Ministry of Water to discuss Kenya’s water crisis. The UN benchmark for water per capita is 1000 cubic meters, the US is 8000 cubic meters, Kenya is 647 cubic meters. The disparity is blaringly obvious. The meeting was informative and really put everything into perspective. We last met with Kickstart, a Kenyan NGO working to get people out of poverty using simple technological innovations. Their technology was so neat. I was struck by the possibilites that these innovations represented. Incredible.

On the way out of the meeting, exhausted and barely lucid, we drove through parts of the slum to gt back to Nairobi. Maybe it was the exhaustion, or the disbelief that i was finally in Kenya, or the incredible amount of information I was attempting to process, but I was blown away. This face will prove to be quite the mental roller coaster.

I can’t believe I was in DC only four days ago. I feel like I have been here for weeks already. I also feel like I’ve known these GDIs for years. Everyone is amazing! I am inspired by all of their stories. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to share this experience with.

Time to go check out the National Archives. More to come later.

Much love.

Kwaheri,

Arianna



Tomorrow Never Knows
June 14, 2010, 6:50 AM
Filed under: PRE-TRIP JITTERS (Kenya 2010)

Hey friends.

BOOM. Packed.

Somehow I managed to shrink mountains of crap to fit in a backpack. It was quite a feat and exactly the Tetris match that I previously imagined. Good thing I discovered all of the secret compartments. This giant nugget of a bag needs to make it to DC tomorrow for training, to London on the 16th, and finally end up in Nairobi sometime in between the 16th and 17th. Cross your fingers that it makes it in one piece. I’ve crossed all my toes, too.

Special shoutout to my parents for helping me pack (and prepare for this trip overall). I would have literally lost it (meaning my sanity) without their help. Although our patience was tested numerous times, I feel as prepared as I could possibly be and it’s all because of them. I should probably also throw out a huge thank you for letting me go in the first place. They’ve been relatively calm throughout this whole process, which I can’t really understand. If I was shipping my only child off around the world, I’d be a little bit on edge. So, Mom and Dad, thank you so much for supporting me through this incredible experience. It means the world to me.

So now that the stressful packing is all out of the way, I have got a serious case of cabin fever. It’s the night before I leave for training and I still have no idea what to think. I’m obviously incredibly excited, but I can sense some anticipation and nervousness tucked in there somewhere too. I wish I could bypass the three days of traveling and just meet my host family and community already. Then again, the luxury of air travel really does minimize the time I can spend reflecting on the places that link and separate my home from my destination. And that came out deeper than I intended. That was basically my attempt at saying that I’m anticipating digesting some intense ideas and experiencing some cognitive dissonance in the process. By the end of this week, I’m sure I’ll find some beautiful scenery to appreciate while I think through some extremely deep thoughts. Perhaps I’ll be accompanied by a giraffe or two to help me get my contemplation on. If that’s the case, you better believe I’ll be posting pictures.

Even though I have no idea what to expect, I’m ready. Tomorrow never knows, and at this point, that’s okay with me.

Kwaheri,

Arianna

PS- This is my last post from the US. Hopefully you’ll hear from me again soon and if not, see you in August! Much love!



Carry That Weight
June 11, 2010, 5:52 AM
Filed under: PRE-TRIP JITTERS (Kenya 2010)

Hey friends.

I’m testing out a new strategy in preparing for my trip. I call it the “increments method.” Meaning I do everything in small, miniature parts so it doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything at all. It follows the “slow and steady wins the race” philosophy. Perfect for those of you out there who really despise packing, just like I do. Packing really stresses me out. Maybe this time around I’m stressed mainly because I have zero idea how to pack for a two month trip not having a clue what to expect. Well, that’s a bit of a stretch, considering I have been provided with a packing list and I have some idea of what’s going on, but still. I was never one to follow packing lists anyway; 10 years of summer camp have taught me that 3 t-shirts and 5 pairs of socks (as dictated by the list) will last like three days instead of the four weeks that the “man” assumes those quantities can handle. I may or may not just identified the source to my chronic overpacking problem. May.

My new method prevents me from stressing about how exactly I’m going to fit everything I need to take into a backpack, because I only look at my gear for a few minutes at a time each day. It’s wonderful, really. I’ve been instructed that a hiking/backpacking backpack is my best bet, especially because the communities where I am working are not cut out for rolling suitcases (duh). So, hiking backpack it is. This will prevent me from making any impulse buys to shlep home like I did during my Tanzania trip (I bought a big djembe for those of you interested, getting that home is another story for another time). It’ll be like a real-life game of Tetris come Sunday night when I need to cram everything in there, but every increment that I spend staring at my pile of stuff and not doing anything about it, I end up finding another secret backpack compartment. Which then makes me breathe a baby-sized sigh of relief. Travelers are crafty.

I started perfecting this methodology back in February when I was first notified that I was accepted to my internship. Since I was at school, there were only small amounts of time I could devote to preparing everything that I needed to. Fortunately, I already had many of the vaccinations that I needed because I traveled to Tanzania in 2007, so I was pretty much covered in that department. Except for rabies shots, which were a nice addition to my vaccine resume because of the rurality of Kayafungo and possibility of interaction with rabid animals. Hence the shots. And those shots hurt. The 3-shot series is given with a beastly large needle which was utterly terrifying. Not to mention that there is a strict waiting period of a precise number of days between each shot. My very last shot, the one I could not miss for anything or all the panicking over needles would have been pointless, had to be administered on, wait for it, Georgetown Day. I guess it got me out of bed super early (try 6am early) to travel downtown, but it also simultaneously made me a little more than loopy during the day. Mix that with Georgetown Day festivities and it made for one pretty epic day full of many, many feelings. Sorry I partied.

The tiny mountains of unpacked clothing and gear aside, I feel pretty prepared. I mean, at this point, what I bring is basically the one thing I can control. And that thought has me pretty excited. I’m practically dancing in my chair from anxiety (read: I want to get this show on the road asap). I can choose what I pack but the rest of it is completely out of my hands. At home and at school, I pride myself on having things pretty under control (i.e. I iCal like my life depended on it, but I digress). I think it’s about time for a change of sociocultural pace. I can’t wait to see what this trip throws at me, reveals to me about myself, and shows me about the world. Those are the things I can’t control. Nor would I want to.

Kwaheri for now,

Arianna



Ticket to Ride
June 10, 2010, 7:48 AM
Filed under: PRE-TRIP JITTERS (Kenya 2010)

Hey friends.

So, yes. I bit the bullet and joined the blogosphere. The fact that I think I used ‘blogosphere’ correctly in a sentence makes me cringe a little bit, but sorry I’m not sorry I guess. Anyway, welcome to my attempt at a blog.

The idea for this blog stemmed from some initial family anxiety over contacting me this summer (that has since toned down, I think), mainly because I am going off the grid. Like really off the grid. I figured a blog was a step in the right direction to broadcast the fact that I was in one piece somehow.

Off the grid? Well, yeah. And I cannot wait. I am traveling to Kenya this summer, leaving on June 14th and arriving back stateside on August 9th. More specifically, I am interning with a small social entrepreneurship organization called ThinkImpact, working on asset-based community development (ABCD) projects in the rural community of Kayafungo (see below). As I see it, ABCD involves utilizing unique local assets as the foundation for sustainable development. ABCD’s main focus incorporates and recognizes the power of local community associations and institutions, acknowledging community strengths in order to organize effective development projects that the community members identify as necessary. Obviously, this is all a little vague. Expect a more detailed post on ABCD and my role as an intern eventually.

The internship immerses us (meaning myself and some other interns) within the Kayafungo community by working directly with community members and placing us in homestays with various Kenyan families. This opportunity is, to me, the most appealing part of my entire summer and what looks to be an incredible experience. Kayafungo as a community possesses numerous developmental challenges operating in a variety of different spheres: social, economic, political, you name it. I’m sure deconstructing these challenges with members of the community and my host family will enrich my perspective in ways that could not have been accomplished in the classroom (sorry SFS).

Kayafungo is located in the Kaloleni District of Coast Province, about 52 km northwest of Mombasa. Here’s a map so you have a better spatial ideal of where I’ll be…

Kayafungo, Kenya (indicated with the red star)

I have all these really ambitious plans for keeping this blog updated over the summer, but realistically, I doubt that it’ll happen. My internet access will be spotty and sketchy at best, so if I can’t post, I’ll be sure to type up some entries from my travel journal upon my return. I guess that slightly defeats my original purpose for writing this blog in the first place. Whatever. I’ll try writing more before I leave about where I’m going, what I’m doing, and my goals, etc. Also, I leave this Monday to fly to DC for training, and my flight to Kenya departs June 16th. I hope to hear from you before I leave pleeaaaseeee.

And, obviously, I wish that all of you have an amazing, amazing summer! I look forward to hearing all of your crazy stories when I get back.

Kwaheri,

Arianna