Category Archives: Capacity Building

The real Africa?

Africa is huge. Fifty-three countries in a giant continent. Hundreds of languages and dialects, and so many tribes within those countries. Iconic images of children, animals, and landscapes, recognizable the world over. Discouraging statistics, endless genocides, and reports of pirates dominate outside perceptions of life in Africa.

So what is “the real Africa”? Is it the mud huts and fly-eyed children? Is it puttering tuk-tuks on narrow streets and bartering vendors selling beaded wares? Is it overcrowded ferry boats, or wildlife safaris? Is it cities or villages? Or is the act of delegating only a portion of Something as the “Real” Something just as ridiculous to say as when McCain-Palin uttered the same gaff regarding America?

People waiting to be let onto the ferry.

After four days of navigating Mombasa, we had kept to the main island part of the city, which is the major center and bulk of Mombasa. We went across the northern bridge just once to see the open-air market (largest in East Africa) near Nyali district, but that still had a very ‘city’ feel to it.

Finally we came to Likoni, the area to the south of the city, across the river, where four out of five of us are now living and working. Our first experience of Likoni quickly showed us a new side of daily life in Africa. The one road is dirt and full of giant puddles, lined with stalls (ie. storefronts and food vendors) made of scrap wood and metal, litter is strewn pretty much everywhere, and goats and cows wander about, munching on the sometimes-burning trash and shrubs interchangeably. This is my neighborhood. To be fair, this main heavy-traffic road through Likoni is much more drastic than the side roads and residential areas just off of it. But the poverty and lack of infrastructure here is immediately and abruptly obvious, and maybe that is what caused one of the other interns to say, with some relish, that this felt more like the real Africa.

This puddle is the road to my house.

When I heard that, I immediately felt odd about it.  What makes this more real?  Perhaps “real” is the wrong word – perhaps “reality” is more apt – all parts of Africa are real, but the reality of the challenges that Kenyans face is simply more clear outside of the city bustle. While plenty of people do live within the city of Mombasa, most people who work in the city commute in, and live in the poorer areas outside the city. And also, the overwhelming majority of Africans live in rural, impoverished areas. Areas like Likoni where the road has become a canal a foot deep, and the girl down the street dies of cholera.  But even in Likoni, one of the poorest areas of Mombasa, I live with an educated family that has done well for itself and enjoys a nice life.

My host-family's house - it's lovely.

It is here where you learn about the library that was built under the ego of one Cabinet member, only to sit bookless now after the election brought someone else into power. It is here where you learn that skinny, lean people don’t receive as much respect as larger, rounder people (because they must not have enough to eat).  It is here where babies cry at the sight of your face, as you are the first white one they have seen.

But then again, it is in the city where you have a lively discussion with the older female owner of your hotel (who owns many properties in the city and is married to a white man) about how she is ready and eager for change in the woman’s role in Africa. “Learn how to cook!” she yells at her (male) manager, only half-chidingly. She says Africa is ready for change, and woman are already making their way there. He stoutly refuses to budge on his view that women are meant to cook and clean, and that Africa cannot change because African humans are fundamentally different from American humans, and should not be the same. I didn’t bait him too much, hopeful with the knowledge that the aging of a single generation can elicit much of this impossible-sounding change.

Like everywhere in the world, the interplay of city and rural life is just a part of life – it’s the tug and war of progressive and conservative views, of import and export, of grow it vs. buy it, of cultural clashes and mixing, that has played a fundamental role in the development of civilization and the furthering of progress throughout human history.  The existence of both together is as Real as it gets.


Filed under Capacity Building, Culture

The pace of development

Now, I would like to expound on the ideas in my last post, related to what I see as a major fault in how the world works and thinks today.  I feel that the “first world” looks at the “developing world” like the bastard child that showed up and tarnished the family’s ‘honor’.  Harsh words?  Hear me out.

The industrialized countries of the world have struggled through their own development over the past centuries, and have now reached levels of technology, luxury and civilization that make us believe we are The Best and The Smartest.  The fact that people in the developing countries still don’t have sewer systems or computers is just embarrassing when you look at how far others have advanced, in such minds.

So, like the highbrow family that rejects family members based solely on their lower status, the G20+ throw as much money as they can at them and tell them to go away.  Foreign aid is not helping advance the development of these countries.  We are not treating our brothers and sisters with honor and respect.  We are not empowering them to take charge of their futures.  We are not even acknowledging them as part of our family!

Development cannot happen overnight, by dumping money into a country.  Next year is USAID’s fiftieth anniversary. Fifty years we’ve been doing this, hoping it was all that was needed, and finally people are starting to realize how little it has accomplished.  Imagine, just imagine for a moment…

What if the industrialized world had acknowledged that development is a process, that it has a pace and a rhythm that it must abide by?  What if, fifty years ago, leaders and communities in the developing countries were asked “What do you and your citizens need, to bring prosperity and opportunity to your country?”  What if we had listened to their answers?

Would I be in Kenya today, living in a community where running water is a luxury, but even if you have it, it must be boiled before you can drink it?  Would this community still have such a low regard for its own potential and worth?  Would its representatives in government be so corruptible and uncaring?

No one can say how different the world might be, or how many lives might be drastically different, if such a tactic had been taken.  All I know is that so slowly, people and organizations are starting more and more to realize that the old way is not working, and that sustainable development practices make sense.  This approach returns respect to the relationship, and honors the differences that exist, acknowledging that people within the community know their community’s needs better than anyone outside of it.

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Filed under Capacity Building, Motivation

My projects for the next 5 months

So the first two weeks at work were quite busy for me. FSD has a really good method for establishing us at our host organizations, and for training us to work well with our co-workers and communities.

The first week of work, our assignment was to complete a needs assessment of the organization. We were given training and examples, but most importantly, FSD is really adamant about us understanding the most crucial element of what “sustainable development” means:

In order to render positive longstanding impacts within a community, the changes implemented must be ones that they need, want and bring about themselves.

Let me repeat:

– They have to need it.

– They have to want it.

– They have to own it.

If the local staff members do not understand why a program is being done, or how it will benefit them and their community, or if a foreigner does all the planning and thinking to make it happen, without involving them, how can anyone honestly expect any program, no matter how good, to be maintained after the foreigner returns home?

This means that we have to understand their needs and challenges, as they personally see and understand them, long before we can decide how we think we should attempt to improve their situations.

So the first week, I had casual one-on-one interviews with nine of the staff and volunteers at Hatua, asking questions about their challenges and successes, but mostly just listening and letting them know that I really wanted to hear what they had to say. Each one started off a bit stiff, as I was totally new to them, but it was great to just keep sitting there, listening, and seeing how each of them opened up and began to share ideas, feelings, and details about their work and goals.

I took lots of notes, learning so much in a few days, and began collecting the needs and issues I was hearing about into a list. I had good discussions with my Directors about these needs. I created a program theory diagram of Hatua’s work, after defining all of the resources and activities that make up Hatua. I refined my lists of issues and needs, and defined the stakeholders and their interests. And that was Week 1.

Next, we are trained on how to examine those needs and assess our own skills, and the resources available to us and our organization, in order to determine which areas we will be of the most service, and how to progress our efforts in a sustainable manner. We spend the next week crafting a work plan for the rest of the time we’ll be working with our organization, plotting out each step of each project, when it should happen, with what resources, and who else will be involved, and finally, how to evaluate it once done.

As I’m here for a good long time, I have quite a few projects that the Directors and I felt were appropriate for my knowledge/skillls, as well as high-priority for the organization.

They are:

1. Create publicity materials for the Volunteer Program and the Hatua House that volunteers stay at, and broadcast the info to relevant volunteer agencies and universities globally.

2. Review the newly-created Constitution and By-Laws for decisions that have not been implemented yet, and put those systems in place.

3. Establish a monitoring and evaluation system for Hatua and all of its programs.

4. Work with local high-performing schools to learn from their curriculums, updating our own in time for the next session in September.

5. Recruit sponsors for 5 of our kids from my personal network (maybe you!)

6. Document the newly-established systems and processes for 1- Child Sponsorship, 2- Donor relations and 3- M&E.

7. Heighten Hatua’s online impact and information sharing.

8. Research grant opportunities for Hatua.

Some of these are big projects, and some of them are huge projects. They are in order of priority, and the last two might be taken off the list. But, now you have an idea of what I’m working on over here, and what I’ll be talking about in the coming months.

I feel very optimistic that my efforts will result in Hatua Likoni being even stronger and more capable of improving the lives and prospects of needy children and families in Likoni. And I feel very grateful to the two US non-profits that I have worked with that have brought me to this point today: American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD). These two organizations are brilliant shining examples of international development done with a smart, respectful, long-lasting approach and philosophy. Please do visit their websites to learn more about the community-based work that they focus on.


Filed under Capacity Building, Internship


Kuku means chicken.  And as promised, I visited our Kuku project today.  We have a side income-generating project (IGP) where we raise and sell chickens.  Here I am, with one of our cute little cheepers, who in 5 weeks will be someone’s locally-grown meal.

cheep cheep


Filed under Capacity Building

On the job

Last week, we met with our host organizations, and got to see where each of us will be working, and to discuss the organization with our org’s director for an afternoon. I had a great time talking and walking with Martin (Marto), one of the co-directors, and Stephanie, the other foreign volunteer there.

We visited the Madaraka Community Nursery School, where Marto had each of the classes greet me in the universal monotone sing-song voice of kids in a classroom saying ‘hellooo Stephanie, how are you?’ We took a tuk-tuk to the orphanage (~10min drive away) and I met the kids there, as they were returning from school, bubbly with enthusiasm.

There are some other smaller projects (a chicken-selling project, a Volunteer House) that we didn’t see that day, but soon enough I will.

Monday was my first day “kazini” (at work). “Leo, nimefanya kazi ofisini” = “Today, I worked in the office.” I got there at 9am, and one of the main power outlets in the office (one small room) was not working. So Kwame and I started talking about his work at Hatua, which is LSF (Likoni Scholarship Fund), the 3rd major branch of Hatua’s programming. We then decided to walk back to my house (10 min) and get my camera, so that I could take pictures of the LSF kids for their new sponsorship pages on the website. We went to St. Kevin School, which happens to be directly behind my host family’s house, and where one of the girls in my family goes to school. We had to wait about 30 minutes until the classes were on a break, and so he told me all about LSF while we waited. Then we went classroom by classroom, and I took portraits of the kids enrolled there who have received a scholarship through Hatua. If all goes as planned, you’ll see these pictures online within a month, and you’ll be able to choose one of the kids to sponsor!

I spent the rest of the day revising the sponsorship appeal letter, downloading software for my laptop, uploading the portraits and documents to dropbox, etc. Yesterday, I talked with Marto about some specific questions and details regarding Hatua, and the many potential projects that they have mentioned and that I have come up with as well.

This week, our internship assignment is to complete and write up a formal and extensive Needs Assessment of our organization. This will guide us as we work on our next assignment: by mid-next-week, we are to have our Work Plan established, and approved by both our host org and FSD. I will be assessing the areas of greatest need within Hatua, and determining which areas and projects are most in need of my attention and skills. The list of potential projects is long and I’m excited to whittle them down and begin working on them!

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Filed under Capacity Building, Internship

Hatua = “One step forward”

Hatua Likoni. That’s the name of the organization that I’ll be working with while I’m in Mombasa!  I am thrilled by this news.  I don’t yet know what work I’ll be doing with them – that we will determine face-to-face upon my arrival in Mombasa.  Their site lists a few projects that volunteers can take lead on, and the two that interest me the most are “Create a volunteer and leadership training program for Likoni youth” and “Help develop Likonet, a network of Likoni’s community organizations, designed to increase communication and collaboration between groups.”  Both require speaking in Kiswahili, so I better start practicing now!

Hatua Likoni ( is a grassroots coalition of youth-led, youth-focused organizations fostering personal development and self sufficiency among young people through education, basic care, mentoring, recreation and income generating opportunities.  Their mission is to ensure that underprivileged children and youth lead lives dictated by optimism and opportunity, guided by sustainable means and supported by an evolving network of social and entrepreneurial initiatives.

The three programs of the organization include the TWAAYF Children’s Development Center, the Madaraka Community Nursery School and the Likoni Scholarship Fund.  All programs and services offered by Hatua Likoni target orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children and youth living in Likoni, Kenya. Likoni is an economically struggling, peri-urban community that borders Mombasa.  Likoni is the poorest section of Mombasa.  Hatua Likoni’s programs provide educational discussions, school scholarships, tuition, mentoring, outreach events, free meals, art and music projects, sports tournaments, and volunteer and leadership opportunities to Likoni children and youth to help combat the challenges of life in Likoni.

Here’s an interview with Gabrielle Fondiller, who founded one of the organizations that joined together to form Hatua Likoni.

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Filed under Capacity Building