Thursday, June 9, 2016

Environmental Scan of Mukuru Lunga Lunga

The research team and I plugged our noses as we crossed through garbage cluttered streets to make it to our matatu (public transport vans in Kenya). I clutched my bag tightly as I pushed through the busy marketplace. Unfortunately for the store owners trying to pull me into their shops we were just taking a short cut not there to browse. We were entering the not so posh part of Nairobi. The bumpy drive in the bus was attributed to roads in direr need of maintenance and driving over garbage piles that have spilled over from the ditch. Eventually we made it to the Clinic an hour behind schedule, and from then on decided to Uber from town. Yes, they have Uber in Kenya too!

This particular day the research the team and I conducted an environmental scan for my research. The environmental scan for this project entailed noting resources and barriers to heath, and in specific healthy eating. The Community Health Care Workers from Cana Clinic graciously guided us around the area of the Clinic to see what life is like in the slums and what foods are available there. They showed us the garbage dump not too far from the Clinic, where industries in the area dump their trash. I could see the smoke billowing from the sections being burned, not more than 100 feet away from people’s tin homes. In this same area there had been a pipe burst in 2011, which lead to a massive explosion and fire. Fatalities from this incident were over 100 and there were 116 people hospitalized with burn injuries. People are still recovering from this incident, both physically and emotionally.

There definitely was an abundance of food in the area, and at affordable prices. But in comparison to the minimal or non-existent amount some people may be making it might not be affordable. The other question would be the food safety and sanitation of some of the food venues. Meat hung form store front windows unrefrigerated while some meat was being prepared on sacs placed on the dirt ground. Stews and flat breads were being prepared on the street side, where dust and bugs could easily access the food.
As we walked along the dirt streets, the Community Health Care Workers shared about the living conditions of the women here. Many families live in or behind their shops, where they sell fruits and vegetables they have purchased from the market. Homes are fitted with illegal electricity that is not up to code, through unregulated sellers. To my surprise many homes in the slums do not have proper washroom facilities, but they do have access to public washrooms that are often shared by hundreds of people in the area for a cost of 5 Bob (about 5¢). When the choice becomes purchasing food or paying to use a toilet, the decision is obvious. There are small dug outs with sewage that flow in front of homes and shops as a result of improper waste management. Garbage bags, cluttered on the curbside are also used as a means to dispose of human waste.

Another shocking fact that the Community Health Care Workers share with me is that some mothers will stop breastfeeding their babies at one month old! Many of the women may be single mothers, and need to work to support their families. They may leave their babies with family or an unregulated daycare center where they will be feed cow’s milk or porridge. Pumping breast milk may be difficult and unsanitary for the mother and infant. Giving babies solid food too soon has been linked to a higher risk of obesity and diabetes (Journal of Pediatrics). Also, starting infants on solids before 4 months can lead to allergies and eczema (Dr. Jennifer Shu, pediatrician and AAP spokeswoman). Infants should be exclusively breastfeed for at least 6 months to gain the most nutrition and benefits. Unfortunately the situation these women are in make exclusive breastfeeding very challenging. Despite these challenges and barriers there is a light for these women. People those that work at Cana Health Clinic are providing health care and education to these women along with the hope and peace of the Gospel in partnership with Deliverance Church Sinai. I am looking forward to getting to know the women living in these areas more, and meeting their babies at the clinic! 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Visiting Makuyu

Today I returned to Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (where I had attended 2 years ago) to train students to be research assistants for my Masters project. After an hour of trying to hunt down a projector and wait for all the attendees to arrive, we were able to have a successful meeting. These volunteers will be extremely helpful in collecting data in the small amount of time we have, and with interacting with local women in the slums. As a Muzugu, the women we are interviewing might not give the most accurate information to me, nor feel as comfortable as with Kenyans speaking in Swahili. I am very excited to be partnering with Mary Mambos clinic, and their community health workers.

The following day, William invited us to Murang’a county to visit the Makuyu Empowerment Center, which was just in the planning stages 2 years ago when I was in Kenya last. It is always a joy to see the amazing progress of great community initiatives. Will is now taking student interns to assist with the several community initiatives run by the center. They have a soccer team, otherwise known as football here and a Kindergarten class. They also partner with other schools, and women’s groups. Will brought us to visit a primary school near the Empowerment Center. After the children graduate from the kindergarten class at the Empowerment Center, they will be able to attend this primary school. Our group got to interrupt a grade eight class to offer them encouragement for the next stage of their lives. I am not the greatest at impromptu speeches, but lucky Christine and Francisco had some great words to offer these kids! Often in Kenya you will randomly be asked to present who you are and offer a small speech when you appear at a new place (this happened quite a few times I when I was in Kenya last).  

This particular day Will and his intern from Spain took us to a rural village to meet the women’s groups they work with in Murang’a. The girls were the lucky ones that got to ride in the full car while the two boys were gentleman and took a boda boda (motorcycle).Yup, that’s one motorbike with a driver and two grown men on the back! Little did they know this was a very rough road that included crossing a river, massive rocks, and over 20 minutes of driving.

 These women gathered together in matching uniforms and coordinating chairs to listen to a teacher instruct them on how to rear kuku (chicken) to make an income for their families. Even our Kenyan friends we had with us has trouble understand what the teacher was saying, as this particular area didn’t speak Swahili (the national language), but rather Kikuyu and Kamba. We each got to share a little about who we were to the women, and Will translated for us. It is an interesting experience having someone translate what you say, you must speak slowly and wait for a delayed reaction to your comments.

On our way back we opted to squish 9 people in a 5 seater car to save the boys from riding on a boda boda. The road we were on had clearly not been fixed for years, and recent heavy rainfall didn’t help the cause. As we drove, each of us cried in pain as we heard the bottom of the car scrape against rocks, and thuds of hitting high ground. The car we took was obviously weighed down from the excess people, and was much lower to the ground then manufactures intended. We also managed to get jammed in a large pool of mud, but the perk of fitting 9 people in a 5 seater care is the abundance of people to push the car to mud free ground. Overall it was an eventful day, and I am looking forward to continuing partnering with Makuyu Empowerment Center. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Snap Shoot of Where I Will Be Working

Often the perception of third world poverty is depicted as that of World Vision commercials, with children outside of mud huts (which is a part of it, but not the whole picture). A large majority of low income people live in urban slums on the outskirts of the large cities. The rapid urbanization of large cities in developing countries has created a shift from rural poverty to urban poverty. Tin huts, consisting of dirt floors and often measuring 2 x 4 meters, serve as a kitchen, bedroom, and sitting area. Bathrooms are often communal, unsanitary and used by several community members. Sewage systems consist of dug out trenches in and behind settlements, and plastic bags of human excrement. There is no garbage disposal in the slum areas, thus trash accumulates on the side of the streets, creating unbearable smells.
Supper would be cooked with a charcoal fire in the streets with water retrieved from stand pipes (often not properly treated). Water can often contain cholera, giardia and E.coli, among other harmful bacteria and parasites. Food from street vendors are often unsafe to eat and along with the consumption of the poorly treated water can lead to server food borne illness furthering dehydration and malnutrition.

Often mothers leave their children with older peers or siblings while they work or beg on the busy streets of Nairobi. The sex trade is also a growing industry and provider of income for women in the slums. Due to lack of income, children are often abandoned and take to the streets of Nairobi where they turn to sniffing glue to subdue the emotional pain they have encountered.

The slum I will be working at is called Mukuru, which has about 700,000 residents currently living there. It began as an industrial area and dumping site (the English translation of Mukuru is “dumping site”). As people moved from rural areas to seek employment in the large city, many found themselves without ability to afford proper housing which lead to occupation of this dumping area.  Cana Family Clinic, where I will be conducting my research, along with a great friend and colleague Christine Kariuki, is located in this slum area. Today was the first day I was back at the Clinic after two years! I was first connected with this clinic 5 years ago, when Lakeshore Church traveled to Kenya on a mission. I remember being so touched by the genuine passion and love Mary Mambo (the director of the clinic) had for the people of Mukuru. Mary along with family and other amazing workers run an orphanage, school and church trying to bring light amidst the darkness of the slum situation.  For our research we will be conducting a dietary assessment of young pregnant women in the slum and an environmental scan of the area. Hopefully this data will provide an evidence base to support the creation of a health promoting yogurt kitchen in the area. I am very excited to spend more time at the clinic and learn of more amazing stories of how God has worked in the lives of Mukuru residents! 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sky High! My Flight to Nairobi

 May 13th, 2016

Vicki and I woke up early to the sound of thick German accidents, and the rolling of luggage. We spend the night at a Hostel called Keystone House in central London, which cost us a pretty penny for a room with no windows and a bunk bed. After checking out, Vicki and I enjoyed a traditional English breakfast at a greasy spoon nearby (white toast, one egg, 1 large sausage, 2 pieces of bacon that was half peameal half normal bacon?).

Vicki ventured off to the Tube, Germany bound, and my 3 large bags and I took a 60£ taxi (the day before we recruited an America to help carry my luggage through the subway station--very thankful!). We were too cheap to pay and have our luggage stored so we decided to be super on time for our flights (about 5.5 hours before mine!). The taxi ride was about an hour with the heavy London traffic, but the cabs GPS American accent made the trip even better. I found this most hilarious because my Here Maps GPS back home has a British accent.

I was the lucky random contestant that was chosen to get a full body scan in security (that was a first!). And then got to experience a stranger awkwardly sorting through your dirty clothes and makeup while checking it for explosive particles (no worries, they didn’t find any, fewww!).
Boarding the flight and hearing so many Kenyan accents got me very excited for my destination! I love meeting people on airplanes, and today I sat beside a Kenyan born British BBC reporter. I got to share my faith with her, and she shared how she was raised by Catholic Nuns, and how she always questioned them. She was telling me of a terrible killing that lead to many families losing loved ones. The Kenyan government officials then held a rally to pray that the one person who had information on the killing and was involved in it, would not get persecuted for what he did, because he helped the officials. I told her that when I have questions, or am questioning a seemingly spiritual encounter I will look to see if what they are saying lines up with scripture and God’s character.

Soon into my conversation with this BBC reporter we heard blood curdling screams and cries come from the back of the plane. At first I thought this was someone in terrible pain form a sickness or wound, but it was a poor Kenyan man being forcefully deported back to Kenya and physically restrained to the very back seat of the plane. Two large British officials were holding this grown Kenyan man down to his seat, as he struggled to get out of their grip. He was screaming in English that his life was being threatened, and if they brought him back to Kenya they would kill him. You know it’s bad when you would rather be in a British jail than go back to your home country. The reporter that was sitting beside me quickly got on the phone with the office and reported the incident that was happening (you can check out BBCs twitter feed). Several passengers started getting agitated at the noise the Kenyan man was making, and furious with the forceful treatment by the British officials. After 30 minutes of this conflict, the pilot refused to take off with this distraught man on the plane (thankfully! No one should have to travel 8 hours in such a condition).

My morning began with a beautiful Kenyan sunrise, and a lovely greeting from my host family in Kenya!

Tuonane baadae! 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Visiting a Maasai Village

“We can make the power of those who exploit us irrelevant…Choose to know the truth about global struggles, and live in a way that supports a just alternative.” –Vandana Shiva

     Today I had the opportunity to visit a rural Maasai village. It was both interesting and enlightening. The long journey took us on a bumpy dirt road which lead to even rougher off-roading. The Canadian missionaries I was traveling with, like me, follow signs to find their way around. Three hours later out of our way, we saw the rusty sign that was our point to turn. Our Kenyan directions consisted of points like “turn at the big tree”. It was interesting to see a reflection of the low context culture they have through our confusing directions. When we finally arrived, there was nothing in sight but a few small mud huts, and cacti. It is Maasai tradition to be self-sufficient and live off the land. Our guide for the day was a local named Jackson that had been studying in Nairobi, the most developed part of Kenya. He is the first of his village to graduate from University. His Village was very proud of him, and the men his age now have growing desires to get an education. This is an astounding accomplishment, as many of the people living in this village do not even have a high school education. Jackson went to Pan African Christian University to attend seminary, where he learned that some of the Maasai traditional customs were creating more harm than good. For instance it is a Maasai tradition to preform female castration as a means of confirming a woman into adulthood. This is an illegal practice in Kenya, but because of the rural location of the villages it is not well enforced. He is now an advocate for abolishing the practice of female genital mutilation. Jackson is pastoring the first and only Christian church in his village, and he faces persecution for his faith. Christianity is only for women and children, men are to be strong and show no weakness. By no means do I want to discount traditional beliefs, as they do hold history and value to them, but when it compromises the well being of an individual that is when the questions are raised.

     Much of the Maasai tribal life is very interesting to learn about. I had the opportunity to join Jackson`s family for dinner in their Manyatta (mud hut), which was made of cow feces, mud and sticks. Unfortunately I was unable to see what I was eating because the small circular window was not hosting enough light into the house. In order to keep the flies away they only have these small windows. I understand why after constantly swatting flies out of my face. Because of the dry arid landscape the flies were determined to find water sources where ever they could, even if that was a human eye! The sad part about this was the condition the children were in, their faces and bodies where covered with flies. I felt as if I was on a World Vision commercial for sponsoring a child. Nonetheless, the children were very excited to see Mzungus for the first time, and enjoyed seeing themselves in pictures. Coming back to the meal I ate, although it was quite tasty, the lack of running water and electricity I believed compromise the food safety. Thirty minutes after our meal I had the awkward privilege of being the entertainment for the local children. I guess it is quite amusing and interesting to watch a Mzungu chuck their cookies.

     It was fascinating to see how connected they are with nature. Much of the things they used were made from the environment around them. For instance they used thorn bushes to fence in their cattle and protect them from wild animals. They made use of what resources they could find. This also goes to show how important food is to the village. It is neither easy nor cheap to purchase basic staples like flour or sugar because of their rural location. I can speak to this, as we had to fill up our car with purchased water bottles filled with fuel. When you know food is so scarce I believe it gives you a better appreciation for what you have. Reflecting on this visit, it really hit home how much we abuse and take for granted in the Western world, and how abundantly blessed we really are.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Teaching Women How to Make Yogurt

Teaching a group of women how to produce yogurt. 
     This week I was asked to host a women`s empowerment class at a local church. Each month women gather to learn about something new. Past weeks have been about business skills, entrepreneurship and more. Today
my topic was yogurt making, as that is my specialty here in Kenya. I brought along a student colleague who is also a Food and Nutrition student at JKUAT. As the event was being held at a church the meetings are to incorporate a spiritual aspect. At first it seemed like a stretch to use yogurt as a biblical lesson, but with thought, there can be quite an illustration in the Christian context. I find it easier to teach a lesson when there is something comparable that the audience can relate to. We also taught the basics of food safety and how vital it is to our health and food preparation. When we went over the process of proper hand washing it felt like we were insulting our audience. But it is such a vital step in proper food handling that is often missed simply because it is assumed everyone knows how! Although this was not probiotic yogurt, it was something these women can try at home and share with their friends and family.

Just some tips we shared with the women:
Make plain yogurt so that you are in control of the amount of sugar (most yogurt in Kenya is           not artificially sweetened like Canada)
Add fresh or dried fruit to plain yogurt rather than sugar
Use plain low fat yogurt instead of sour cream in cooking dishes

Why eat probiotic yogurt anyway? Well, here are just a few reasons:
Rich in protein and calcium
Assist in alleviating diarrhea
Restore gastrointestinal micro flora after taking antibiotics
Alleviates vaginitis which as an infection that increases the risk of HIV contraction
Boost immune function
And much more!

Children of the women in class enjoying our yogurt!
     Overall this experience was one to remember. The women quite enjoyed learning how to make yogurt and had many questions! One I couldn’t answer was, “My Dr. told me to bathe in yogurt when I had a yeast infection, will this actually help?” Google promises it is a home remedy sure to work! I believe it is so important that women do things like yogurt making, which give them a sense of control and accomplishment. Many of the women I have interacted with in Kenya talk about the oppression they face not as a burden but rather as an accepted reality. For them to have something new to try and accomplish they find great joy. And of course the best part of the day ways the taste testing of the probiotic yogurt!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reflects on Kenyan Spirituality: Fasting

“Fasting deals with the two great barriers to the Holy Spirit that are erected by man’s carnal nature. These are the stubborn self-will of the soul and the insistent self-gratifying appetites of the body.” -Derek Prince

Today marks Eid, a Muslim celebration that concludes the month of fasting, Ramadan. 
Henna done for Eid celebration 
This marks the perfect day to reflect and investigate the role that fasting plays in religious practice. To fast is to abstain from food, or certain types of food especially for religious purposes. From a Muslim prospective fasting is “abstaining from food, drink, and sexual intercourse from dawn until sunset with explicit intention of doing so for the sake of Allah” (Sakah-ud-Din, 2011). It was interesting seeing this practiced first hand in Kenya, as I have in Canada. Each meal time my Muslim friends would have to explain why they were not eating anything, opening up conversation about religion. In the Christian context fasting is similar, where fasting is done to build reliance on God, rather than our human selves. Many religions regard starvation and meditation necessary for spiritual growth (Sakah-ud-Din, 2011).

I attended a Christian fellowship meeting at JKUAT, where the students were studying a book called Ombi, (Swahili for prayer) a devotional book written by a local. I enjoyed reading the chapter on fasting, as the spiritual importance of food is quite fascinating to me. This chapter described how fasting can deliver more than just spiritual growth, it is also used as a means of intervention when seeking answer to prayer. In 2000 the president of Kenya, Daniel Moi called for a 3 day fast and prayer to ask God for rains after a prolonged drought. As people gathered at a stadium to pray and fast together heavy rains drenched the crowds (Mbevi, 2009).

In reflection on the concept of fasting, I can see how self-discipline plays in integral role in spiritual growth. Our desire to eat is physiological, emotional and social, thus multiple aspects of desire are being suppressed while fasting. If we can resist the physical and worldly desires that fasting denies, than that reflects our dependence on God. The celebration of Ramadan in Kenya, is not as private as Western parts of the world. TV stations will display local Ramadan fasting schedules, and local feast. Eid is also celebrated as a national holiday, which gives many workers the day off, including myself!

I also find fasting a reminder of how blessed I am to be hungry by choice, and for spiritual reasons rather than true starvation. Being in a country where 33% of people do not have access to adequate nutrition, it’s a scary reality that is now close to home (IFPRI,2012). Food even in its absence can have a role in spiritual growth, intercession, and even as a reminder of poverty. I believe each of these results of fasting can be co-related; we can grow our spiritual connection to the world and others, which guides us to intercede for those that need support. Overall fasting is yet another illustration of how fundamental food is to culture and spirituality.