Work and Life in Kuria, Kenya

20 05 2011

By Nina Woolley

Rising senior; Candidate for B.S. in Biology and Certificate in Global Health

The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of SOTENI Kenya or SOTENI International.

In the luggage that I brought to Kenya, I packed five novels (each with over 400 pages), one book of 100+ crossword puzzles, two books of MCAT review, and a headlamp with many extra batteries. I figured that I would have plenty of time for reading, studying, and leisure during my stay here, particularly during the evenings.  Since Kenya is on the equator, it has almost exactly twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness each day, and I thought that those twelve hours of darkness would provide a lot of time for reading, in addition to sleep. Boy, was I wrong! I feel like I have been constantly engaged during the first week of my internship, and I have not even had time to write in my journal, much less blog or read novels. I am certainly not disappointed, however.

I am now writing from my host family’s house in Kuria, a village in Nyanza Province near the Tanzania border. I am here with my friend, fellow Duke student, and partner-in-crime during my SOTENI internship, Harrison Hines. I am very happy to be staying with a host family, as they have been wonderful in welcoming us and introducing us to the Kurian lifestyle. I have particularly enjoyed the food (ugali, kale and meat; rice and beans; lentils and chapati) and the conversations about politics, a favorite topic of conversation for many Kenyans. I would be withholding information, however, if I did not mention my other favorite part of living with my host family: watching “Soy tu dueña,” a very passionate (and poorly-dubbed) Mexican telenovela that is popular in Kenya and airs five evenings a week.

Harrison and I have been kept very busy here in Kuria by working on two main projects: visiting and doing needs assessments of all of SOTENI’s sponsored children, most of whom have been orphaned by AIDS, and assisting in developing a work plan for a community center and farm. We visited five sponsored children in four different boarding schools yesterday, meaning we did a lot of travel and were completely covered in red dust from the road by the end of the day. It is wonderful to meet with the children, and the facts and figures about the effect of HIV/AIDS in rural Kenya came to life as I heard their personal stories. The information we collect is used by SOTENI to track their progress, address unmet needs, and keep their sponsors informed of their well-being.

My role in the community center and farm project is a bit less defined, as the project is a large ongoing effort and I am here only briefly. However, in the few short days I’ve been in Kuria I have been able to assist in strategizing and writing, and I have learned so much about community-based development projects. The community center would provide, among other things, a safe space for girls to stay during the annual female circumcision/genital mutilation ceremonies. Several steps to put the plan into action – securing the grant money, surveying the land, speaking with community members, buying building supplies, hiring laborers – have been started and/or completed this week, so from my point of view, progress has been made. There is, however, such a long way to go. After participating in numerous meetings which start late, last hours, stray far from the agenda, consist of many differing opinions vocalized in long-winded monologues, and somehow conclude with one “baby-step” forward, I am still trying to determine how large-scale progress is made on community development projects. Is it two steps forward and one step back? Or moving in circles, while slowly trying to push the circle forward? Or perhaps it is simply a long, winding path? It certainly is not a direct route from A to B, something I’ve long known but am just beginning to internalize.

In any case, I look forward to finishing up the rest of my projects in Kuria, including meeting all of the guardians of the sponsored children and meeting with the SOTENI-Kuria committee to finalize a community center work plan. All too soon, I will be leaving Kuria and going to my next location, Ugenya. I am excited to travel path ahead!




One response

23 05 2011
Lysa MacKeen

It sounds like you are having a really interesting time. I wasn’t expecting the telenovela! I’m looking forward to hearing more about your work as the summer progresses and you move between locations.

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