Category Archives: Internship

tick tock goes the calendar

Happy December!

Wow, five and a half months have passed, and I’m now looking at my final five days in Kenya now.  I have been remiss in posting these past months, sorry about that.  I learned one good lesson about Kenya (too late, alas) about a month ago, when my laptop up and died.  The plastic case I’d bought for it was apparently perfect for trapping in the massive amounts of dust, heat and humidity that Kenya is blessed with… and so my RAM and hard drive were toasted.  So… internet I’ve been catching here and there.  It was good for my productivity, at least.

Speaking of productivity… well, I have to say that I feel like I have been quite productive while working here.  Another list of finished projects probably isn’t what you want to read though. What I will tell you about is one project that I feel great pride and satisfaction in, and that is the Monitoring and Evaluation system that I have built for Hatua Likoni, and specifically for the Likoni Scholarship Fund (LSF) program.

One of my classes in my final semester of my MPA program earlier this year was Evaluation.  I was excited for that class because I felt that the field of evaluation and impact analysis might be the career path that I’ve been circling and circling, narrowing in on, and finally might have found the X in the middle of the maze.  After learning everything that I did in that class, I was very eager for the possibility of implementing my knowledge in the field.  Luckily for me, an M&E system was on the list of potential projects for me to do while volunteering!

So, I’ve now created a system of logic model, data collection tools, spreadsheets, analysis plan and report templates that feels very strong, useful and tied into the running of the program.  The Program Coordinator, Kwame, feels that it will serve as a guide for the program’s future and growth, and that it makes all of their information make much more sense now.  I hope in six months he still feels the same, but as for right now, I feel confident about the system we created together, and how it will help Hatua grow stronger and better.

I’m crossing tasks off of my shrinking to-do list, and come Sunday, I’ll be back on a plane, making my way Westward.  I’m looking forward to big hugs and big meals and big love, and can’t wait to see so many of you.  And to everyone in Kenya that I’ve become close to, may we meet again one day, and until then, many blessings to you!


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Well begun is half done

As promised, this post is an update on the work that I’ve been doing over the past 2.5 months.  It was actually a good reason to sit down with the original eight projects that I began with and examine what I’ve done under each one and which ones have changed completely.

I’m tempted to just paste in the page-and-a-half long document with all of the tasks that I have carried out bulleted under each heading.  Actually yeah, I will do that – it lays out the details better than any kind of written summary could.  And I do want to share all of the details with you (I just hope some of you find it interesting, and make it through to the end).  But to preface it, I will say this: I am now halfway through my time here in Kenya.  Twelve weeks in, twelve left to go.  Knowing this, I was nervous about looking back to see what I’d accomplished.  Sometimes working here can feel like nothing is happening.  And I know that I still have a lot of work to get done.  So it feels like a countdown has begun, since I know what 12 weeks here feels like now, and I’ve begun thinking in terms of making sure certain projects get accomplished in that length of time.  Happily, I feel very good about the work that I’ve been able to accomplish.

I was especially happy about the event that I organized last week, which was a great success with only a month of planning.  (I’ll tell you more about it in a post to itself.)  And I am very eager to really work on our Monitoring and Evaluation system, and to also work with FSD on their own evaluation this Fall.  I’m going to focus right now on getting the publicity for the Volunteer Program in place and then I’ll be able to spend most of my time on those M&E projects.  Doing such work in real-time, in the field, with deadlines, will be a very helpful experience, as I intend to pursue a career as an evaluator.

So far, I’m feeling very pleased with what I’ve been able to give and get through my volunteer role.  Sometimes it’s difficult to get the guidance I might want before moving forward, but that means I’m also gaining more confidence in my own judgments and autonomy.  Here is the original list of 8 projects, with 4 additional ones at the end.  Each one has notes under it about what’s been done so far.  You’ll see that the projects are quite varied.  That has made it both more challenging and more interesting.  One perhaps easily-foreseen consequence of being able to work within many sundry areas is that I am regularly asked to help out on lots of other things too, like fundraising meetings and the charity concert committee and football tournament planning team.  Thankfully, I’ve communicated that the bulk of my work is already planned for, and I’m not readily available for these projects, but that doesn’t make it completely easy to say no either.

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.

  • Took new pictures of Hatua House that include volunteers, to use in literature and on website
  • Created professional, engaging publicity material to use when sending out info on volunteering with Hatua
  • Researched all of the volunteering-abroad websites and agencies that are out there, and where we should post the info about our program
  • Began collecting contact info for universities globally, then learned from FSD’s experiences that our planned approach didn’t work for them; revised the plan for university outreach
  • Have nearly finished drafting the new Volunteer pages for the website
  • Expressed the urgent need for a dedicated Volunteer Coordinator, a position which we have now offered to one of our teachers

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

  • Reviewed the documents with the Secretary, created action list
  • Established a system for tracking sick and vacation leave days
  • Heightened security controls on office computers
  • Obtained program stamps for all programs, established secure storage solution for them
  • Began obtaining formal letters of agreement with our partners
  • Instigated more upfront and thorough accounting with our income-generating activity (IGA)
  • Investigated our options for donor relations software; awaiting response re: obtaining an affordable copy of GiftWorks
  • Discussed plan for donor relations and followup with Gabi, who will be taking on that role more fully
  • Monitoring and evaluation: See #3.
  • Ensured property logs with property values were completed.

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

  • Met with LSF and Twaayf Program Coordinators to discuss appropriate questions and needed evaluation tools
  • Finalized 1 of 4 documents for LSF so far

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

  • (Removed from list, as Hatua is not ready for this major project yet. We will advertise on for a volunteer with relevant skills and experience to advise us on this project.)

5. Recruit sponsors for 5 of our kids from my personal network.

  • Heidi and Joe came to visit and want to sponsor a child – that’s 1!  Our sponsorship system should be live in the next week or two – maybe you want to too?

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

  • (None of the systems are fully established yet.)

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

  • Have been regularly taking and posting pictures and information on Hatua’s facebook page, and inviting volunteers and visitors to do the same

8. Research grant opportunities for Hatua.

  • (Not really my area of expertise – we have another volunteer working on grant proposals.)

9. International Literacy Day event

  • Planned and hosted an after-school event for International Literacy Day (Sept 8th).  Over 150 people attended, including students and representatives from 9 local schools and 3 local CBOs.  Poems, skits and songs were performed.  Hundreds of our donated books had been sorted into Children, Primary School, Secondary School and Adult sections for all to peruse and enjoy.  Local businesspeople, educators and government officials gave speeches on the importance of education and literacy.
  • In the 24 hours following the event, 8 children showed up at our office asking to check out books from the “library.”

10.     FSD M&E – work with the local Mombasa FSD staff on their evaluations of data collected from community constituents about the impact of FSD intern projects on their lives and communities, in time for a report due in December

  • Still to do

11.  Info Management – Organize documents / folder systems across all computers

  • Still to do

12.  HR – Determine needed roles / job descriptions; create Hatua’s ideal organizational chart

  • Still to do

Like I said, there’s still a lot to do.  But now I am the only FSD intern left from the summer, so there are many fewer people to distract me from my work.  (More interns arrive in 2 weeks, but I won’t have too much interaction with them – except one who might be working at Hatua actually).  I plan to go on just a few more weekend trips, perhaps one a month – but otherwise, I came to Kenya to work, not play, and I’m still excited to get these projects done.  Wish me luck and brilliance!


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Katiba holiday

This past Friday was really lovely. So much so, that I want to share it with you as a taste of my days here, atypical though it was.

It was another national holiday, this time in honor of the new Constitution (Katiba) being signed into law. There were ceremonies and speeches and music performances being televised all day long, and millions of people gathered in Nairobi to be there for it. We decided it was a good day to get out of the office, and so everyone was asked to help out at Twaayf, our children’s center, as it was in need of a fresh coat of paint.

I woke up to the sound of rain, lulling me back to sleep. A little late, I woke up again and showered, and ate the yummy egg, tomato, onion scramble that my hostmama had left for me to eat (it’s the month of Ramadan, so they all wake before dawn to eat, and then go back to sleep). I head out, catch a matatu to Ferry Plaza, meet Denno at the hardware store and we buy a big bag of whitewash. We then get a tuktuk to take us to the center. Its raining again now, so we all hang out for a while, waiting for it to abate. It continues to rain, so the board games and beads are brought out, and we all start playing. The kids have all been beading a ton since one of the volunteers brought them the materials last week, and they love it. Like every new fun activity that is introduced to them, some of them show immediate zeal and skill for it, their brains leaping at the chance to engage their creative sides. I become engrossed in finishing my necklace (and excited to check out the bead store in town so I can make more) and when I’m done, the sun has emerged.

I begin to whitewash with all of the other staff and volunteers working today, slopping the pasty mix over the dingy walls and fading graffiti decorations. As we accumulate more and more white spots all over us, I’m reminded of Tom Sawyer, and realize how easy of a sell he had to make to all those boys – painting IS fun!

Denno, Omali, Sami and Burning whitewashing

By mid-afternoon, we’re done, and the place looks so bright and white and clean. The center is just across the road from the beach, so I’d brought my swimsuit. Stephie and I decide to change and head that direction. Shelly Beach is very convenient – but not super as beaches go. I love exploring the tide pools that stretch out for 200 yards, but that means that when the tide comes in, you swim through a whole lot of seaweed and floating detritus. Flip-side of that coin though is that there are no waves coming in, and so with the strong current, we had ourselves our own Endless Pool where you could swim against a current for many minutes and not get anywhere. It felt great to get some proper exercise – I think I’ll be making swimming a regular activity when I live closer to the beach.

We head back, change out of our suits, and walk down the road to a palm-filled bar. We enjoy our beers, chatting under the trees about Kenya, men and our future careers, until just before sunset. Back out on the road, a man named Francis insists I ride back to Ferry on his pikipiki (motorbike), for the same price as a tuktuk, so I agree, judging him to be sober and old enough to know how to drive it well. Plenty of pikipiki drivers possess neither quality, so I generally only ride with ones that I know and trust. Francis is a-ok, and I try to remember his face for next time. At Ferry, I walk towards the spot where I’ll catch a matatu home, but Sunday (one of my regular, approved drivers) pulls up to me on his pikipiki and insists that I let him drive me home. I don’t want to pay the 50shillings so I say the matatu’s fine (10sh), but he says he’ll just charge 20, so I say ok. We chat about his health and the holiday, and when we arrive, he doesn’t have change for me, so he just says I’ll get it from you next time. I love being a regular now.  🙂

I go inside, greet my hostfamily, wash my hands, and sit down just in time for dinner, as they break their fast as soon as the sun goes down. I make myself do some work on the computer, and finish the last few pages of my book, and then the active day, topped off with swimming, a beer and a full tummy sends me to sleep soundly and content.

Next post: “So what is this ‘work’ she’s talking about?”

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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

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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Intern update

There are five interns who arrived June 19 for Summer Session II, including myself. They are Rebecca, Tyler, Christan and Angelo. Rebecca is around my age, and the other three are in college now. Angelo is from China, but goes to school in Pennsylvania. Rebecca is from Oxford, Christan is from Seattle, and Tyler is from Chapel Hill.

It was great to have a small group of us going through Orientation together to experience the new food and explore the town. Four of us are living in the Likoni area now, and two other interns from other sessions are nearby too, so I imagine we will see each other a fair amount sometime each week. George, the Mombasa site director, also lives in Likoni.

None of the other seventeen FSD interns will be staying in Kenya beyond the end of August. There might be some arriving in the Fall, but maybe only 2 or 3? One of the FSD staff members here is also moving back home in 2 weeks to begin her Masters program. The majority of my familiar faces will be gone, but thankfully Hatua has a great staff of young people that I’m excited to become friends with. There is another foreign volunteer working there now too, from Germany, and she is very rad – and her name is also Stephanie! This has never happened to me before… neither of us has a nickname to help differentiate between us yet, and neither of us especially enjoy Stephie or Stephan. The rest of the staff seems intent on using the big-small or tall-short distinctions, which means I’m Stephanie Mdogo or Mfupi (she is the taller Stephanie).

I am the only Pro Corps intern here, I realized, out of the 18 interns. I was wondering if that changed any of the expectations or requirements for me. From what I’ve been told though, this distinction just impacted the kind of organization that was chosen for me. My non-profit and graduate experiences were considered useful for Hatua’s needs. I was paired with Hatua Likoni because they’re energetic and ambitious and have a bit more on their plate than they quite know how to deal with. They have a lot of good ideas that they want to keep heaping onto their plate, but they just don’t have their structure stabilized yet, and so my management and MPA knowledge is just the sort that they need to move them towards feeling more productive and impactful. I’ll be helping them ensure that they’re building themselves a strong, well-organized foundation.


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Here I am

I’ve arrived in Mombasa! After 9 airports, 7 flights, 5 days, and 1 lost (and recovered) bag, I am here in my new city. It’s still a bit rainy, and therefore muddy, but the sun broke through and it’s nice and warm. No flooding remains, and damage was apparently not too severe.

The other 4 interns and I are going through orientation for the next week with the staff here. Swahili lessons every day, city transport lessons, do’s and don’ts, etc. We’re all staying in a hotel together for this time, and then we’ll move in with our host families. I meant to post earlier about them when I learned about them, but moving and getting here kept me away from the blog for a while. I’ll let you know about them soon – I’ll just say that I’m really very excited to live with them!

More soon!

ps- boatride picnic along the canals of Amsterdam – bonus! Thanks again Robb and Karen!


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