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Kiatu/Amukat (Shoe) Project February 25, 2014

Filed under: Projects in Countries — travelchokri @ 12:53 am
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While I briefly wrote about this project in earlier posts (projects in countries), I realized that I had not written a full account of the activities that had transpired. Thank you to all who supported the shoe drive.

Kiatu/Amukat (Shoe) Project

It’s a matter of food or footwear for thousands of people around the world. A choice must be made between putting food on the table and buying a pair of shoes. This is especially true in many areas of Kenya and Uganda. Living in poverty means having to think about the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. To most of us, shoes are a basic need to protect oneself from the harsh environment which could lead to foot diseases and other long-term effects on the body, but to others, the need for shoes is not a priority.

My colleague and I drove through the bumpy, dirt roads within the Kinango and Kwale districts, just outside of Mombasa, on a day trip to the field. We were heading to 3 villages that day, in order to learn more about an early grade reading initiative that we were both involved in. Along the way, I witnessed numerous individuals – men, women and children – without any shoes. I had travelled to many remote villages in several countries before but this was the first time that I had noticed a great number of shoeless people. I asked my colleague if there was another reason, other than not having enough money to afford a pair, but in the end, it came down to affordability.

Later that same evening, I wondered how feasible it was to provide people in Kinango and Kwale with a pair of shoes that were good enough to protect them while they walked the several miles that they did each day. Sometimes, as foreigners we think that our ideas make sense and perhaps what we view as simple solutions, may not be really simple at all.

I woke up the next morning, with the same thoughts that I had fallen asleep to the night before. When my colleague picked me up the next day in the company pick-up truck, I buckled myself in and before he could even ask me how my evening was, I was already sharing my most recent idea with him. Growing up and working in Kenya gave him a better sense of the cultural nuances in those areas. The idea was well received by him, and by the end of the day, I had a better sense of what to do. I plugged in my Safaricom modem and sent a message out to friends in different parts of the world. I provided them with a brief background on how the idea came about and informed them that I was prepared to hand deliver the shoes to people in Kinango and Kwale myself. I requested that people give donations so that I could purchase the shoes locally. The response was delightful. Donations continued to flow in over the next 2 weeks. This is how the Kiatu/Amukat (Shoe) Project began.

I was based in Mombasa town while on this particular trip, and through my conversations with my colleague, I had already identified areas in which I could purchase shoes for our shoe drive. There were several independent shoemakers lined up in the narrow alleyways throughout the city centre. Flat shoes seemed the most sensible to distribute, but not all that I tried on, felt comfortable. I bought a few pairs from those vendors during my first afternoon of shoe buying. The following day I ventured to some smaller, independent stores but they had a very limited selection of flat shoes for women, and the shoes for men seemed too dressy. I came across shoes for children that were reasonably priced but they were made with a plastic-type material and so I opted to buy only a few pairs to test them out first. As the days passed, I realized that it was more difficult to find comfortable shoes at a price point which would allow for the purchase of many pairs. And while my intention was to support independent shoemakers, this proved to be somewhat difficult. I had to go into a larger retail store. Here, I was able to find shoes for the whole family. They felt comfortable and looked like they would last a long time. I decided to buy a hundred pairs, in various colours, styles and sizes.

As we drove back through the familiar territory of Kinango the following week, my colleague and I paid attention to people’s feet. We had come up with a strategy the day before. Since my colleague speaks Swahili, he would do most of the talking, as my Swahili would probably scare people off even before they tried the shoes on! This way, people would feel more comfortable and open to speaking in a language more familiar to them.

A young lady wearing a colourful Kitenge, balancing a large sack on her head looked into the pick-up as we slowed down to get her attention. She walked up to the passenger side where my colleague had been seated. After some light conversation, which I could barely understand, my colleague asked her in English where her shoes were. She giggled as she looked down at her feet. She was not the only one who found our questions amusing. This reaction was shared by many people along the journey. Perhaps they felt it was absurd for strangers to be asking them about their shoe whereabouts? Maybe it made them a bit uncomfortable? A few people told us that they had left them at home, finding it easier to work in the fields barefoot. But most of the responses we received were consistent with the fact that they could not afford them. We never indicated ahead of time that we were handing out shoes, so the responses all seemed genuine.

The next question my colleague asked the young lady was ‘would you like a pair?’ She stared at him, wide eyed, but speechless. My colleague repeated the question, ‘would you like a pair of shoes?’ This time she nodded but looked away and giggled softly. I hopped out of the truck, pulled out one of the boxes that we had piled the shoes in, and assessed her foot size as I began to pull out a couple of pairs for her to try on. The first pair that she tried on fit perfectly. She had the most beautiful giggle and seemed truly happy. She thanked us and we said bye to her, without any other explanation, other than my colleague telling her that she should wear them and not worry about them getting dirty. They were there to protect her feet.

Our method of stopping people elicited many different reactions along the way in both Kinango and Kwale. Some people were confused and didn’t know how to respond to my colleague when he asked them about their shoe situation, so they just kept quiet. Others explained how they did not have any money on them to pay us if we were to give them a pair. We even had one elderly man ask us what we wanted in return. But many just smiled and said yes, they wanted some shoes! We came across two young boys that were so excited, they said they were going to run all the way home in their new shoes. The smiles were contagious and the laughter that echoed out of the many joyful people, were priceless. The hugs and high fives that were exchanged gave me a certain sense of happiness. A few days later my colleague and I headed to Uganda. We were able to find suitable shoes in the local market. The reactions were nearly the same as in Kenya when we stopped people. One woman danced and sang in the middle of the road, wishing us well and promising to pray for us. The most interesting run in was with a boy, around the age of 14, selling women’s shoes on the street. He himself, was not wearing any shoes! He was most delighted when we offered him a pair of new sandals and told him that he was not to sell them! Our final pair was left in the middle of one of the narrow but never ending dirt roads. We hoped that someone lucky would walk by and find a small surprise, making his or her day a happier one.

We did learn a few things along the way. It was interesting to note that there were many more women that did not own a pair of shoes, compared to men, especially in Uganda. Women’s feet were bigger than I had anticipated and so during our first drop off in Kenya, we had many small sizes that did not fit and could only offer men’s shoes to a few, which most women were happy with. Two ladies shared their concerns that their husbands would take the shoes away from them once they got home. In some villages, people did not speak the official language and on a couple of occasions, communicating was difficult. But in the end, the conversation was somehow understood.

2 men sporting their new shoes

2 men sporting their new shoes

It is easy to brighten somebody else’s day with something so small, like a pair of shoes – something that we take for granted. Of course, this does not solve the larger issue of poverty, but at least it will provide some protection to the feet and support to the body, as people set forth for their day’s activities, which for many includes walking miles and miles. My colleague continued purchasing and distributing shoes long after I had left Kenya.

Perhaps the next time I am back visiting those same villages, I will see more souls with soles.

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First Time on A Plane October 16, 2012

Filed under: Projects in Countries — travelchokri @ 8:19 pm
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I arrived in Nairobi last Wednesday night. My first meal was eaten at Art Cafe. Then I headed to Nafisa’s, the friend from Tajikistan but has been working in Afghanistan but now in Kenya. I’ve written about her before.
Meetings in Nairobi went well and I stayed there over the weekend. It was so nice to see everyone again Thanks to those that made me feel like I was at home again. And omg, there are going to be so many babies soon!

Not much has changed otherwise, a few new buildings here and there. Tamambo, my favorite restaurant has shut down in Westlands. The expat scene has definitely grown since I was there last October. And the traffic is still madness!

I left for Mombasa on Sunday night and have been occupied by work since. I was out in the field yesterday, in Kinango looking at some of our literacy programmes. There were some good conversations with people in the communities and there seems to be a shift in perception on the importance of literacy and a greater sense of ownership of the libraries. Today, I engaged with staff from our different teams, in order to find out more about their early literacy initiatives, lessons learned to date, and the challenges they’ve experienced. As we expand this programme into the West Nile and Tanzania, it is important to document, share and discuss these elements, in order to go in with better insight.

One volunteer, an elderly man, shared a recent experience with me that I must write about. He lives in a village way inside Kinango. The drive was really rough this time in the pick up, as the roads are really bad, and then of course, as we got further in, there were no roads. Dirt and stone slates still embedded in the ground. My poor head and chest ached, as the seatbelt snapped against me a hundred times. Anyway, back to the older man. He was so energetic and lively, and a great leader to have in his village. He was given the opportunity to go to Nairobi by plane to talk about the literacy programme at a conference. It was his first time on a plane. When he and a few others traveling with him were in the air, he looked out the window, and he saw white everywhere. He asked his colleague what they were flying over, because whatever it was, had been covered with so much snow! He was referring to the clouds! What a great experience for him. At least he was able to sit on a plane once in this lifetime.

So usually, I am fine not having to release for hours…but yesterday in the field, I really had to go. There weren’t even any big trees, so I had to squat near a bush, watching out for any snakes, trying to make sure I didn’t spray my feet, and make sure that no one was within a few hundred metres of me…I’m sure someone saw me from a far! And to top it all off, I had forgotten my hand sanitizer.

Mombasa has definitely changed! New plazas, Java, Planet Yoghurt and many new apartments.

Back to the field tomorrow to do some home visits and chat with beneficiaries. Weather is beautiful right now. Not too hot. I don’t even need the ac on!

 

Back to the Motherland May 8, 2012

Filed under: Projects in Countries,Travel — travelchokri @ 11:36 am
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The CIES conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico in April was informative and interesting. I presented for the first time, as one of my colleagues from Kyrgyzstan did not make it. I took one day off prior to and one day after the conference to see some of San Juan. Of course, one of the days was dedicated to the beach. It was nice spending some time with Linda and Nafisa, who also work within the network. On the way to San Juan, I had an 8 hour layover, which was planned, so that I could meet with friends. The bus ride from Manhattan back to Newark only took 45 minutes on a Friday evening. I met up with a friend of a friend’s to chat about education and development. Faizal K happened to be in NY too at the time for his birthday, so him and I met up for lunch. It was nice and warm and definitely walking weather. I headed back to the airport, met up with Linda and off we went to SJ. Linda and I have roomed together for the last 2 years. I learn quite a bit from her since she has been in the field for a long time, not to mention an AKF employee for ages! She is one of those genuine and honest people and you know that what you see is what you get. I ended up getting tendinitis somehow in SJ and could barely walk mid week. So of course, lucky me, fell not once but twice in the main lobby, hurting my other foot! Oh Shez.

On the way back, I reconnected with my long lost soul sister, Tasleem. Everything was the same in the sense that even though we had not seen each other in years it was almost like we had never left each other. We went for a great brunch and I got to see her place in Manhattan, which was warm and welcoming. It is amazing how her and I experience similar emotions and events in our lives at the same time, truly understanding what the other feels. Then I met up with pal Shaffin, whom I stayed with on my first trip to New York alone. Seeing him is always entertaining and light hearted. Farah, his tiny wife, met with us very late! I missed my connection from NY to Geneva on the way back from the conference. Luckily, I was re-routed but had a longer flight since it was not direct, but had a layover through Frankfurt. I ended up getting to Geneva 4 hours later than planned and went to work.

Back at home in the evening, I began to pack for my long trip to India. My flight was scheduled for the next day. In addition to the India packing, I also had to pack for my US trip, which is soon, since I will be flying straight from Delhi. In my hurry and scurry that evening and my 2 bad feet, I ended up getting into a small accident which sent me to the emergency room for 3 hours. Yes, 3 hours while my head bled. I am not sure if I was tired, physically and mentally exhausted or what. But I alternated between crying and laughing fits, that I think the staff thought I belonged in a straight jacket. My friend Kahila, who was super supportive, even though her and the doctor were flirting insanely, was amazing to sit with me through all of it. I had to ask the doctor to focus and concentrate on my head as I felt the conversations between the two were insanely inappropriate. What does dating mean in America vs Switzerland? Are Kahila and I lovers and would she be staying the night to take care of me? Yes, this was some of the conversation. He was very kind of course to email me only an hour later with a report and to let me know it was a pleasure to treat me. And of course to pass his regards on to my friend!

So I did end up packing for both trips in a timely manner and of course, forgot a few super important essentials, like underwear! Yes, I brought a few, but will have to pick up some things next week while in Amreeka! I am very much looking forward to that trip. For now, I will not mention what the plans are, but will write about it once I return to Delhi. The plan is then to be here for a month and a half in the sweltering heat. I am enjoying staying in my place. The last time I was here in March, I found an apartment to rent during the duration of my stay. I have TV, with English channels for the first time in years. Except for a brief moment in Kenya, I have not had TV in about 6 years. It is close to the metro. Oh yes the efficient metro. I must say something about that. It is fast and clean and there is a lady’s only compartment. However, at one station the compartment becomes mixed male and females, where there is a transfer. Never be the last person on this train. I almost got mowed down by the men. I have never in my life witnessed grown men running into a train, pushing each other so that they can get a seat. How did other countries learn about ‘subway etiquette’? Or is that just part of courtesy that some learn over time depending on the context within where they live? I mean how do you not wait for people to get off before you get on? So today I did something that I have seen other women do on the train. Yes, I am already becoming Indian…not sure that makes much sense when I am. I wanted to sit down and I saw a small space between 2 women and so I squeezed myself in and then I looked over at the other lady and with my hand told her to move aside and make room as she had some extra space there. Yes, I have integrated into society here. The metro station is not that far from my apartment which makes it quite convenient as walking alone after 6pm can be an issue in some areas. I feel safe in the neighbourhood that I live in- very residential. And around the corner is a plaza with food, such as McDonalds, which I have been indulging in. Yesterday was a spicy chicken wrap and a strawberry milkshake! There is also a cinema if I feel like watching a Bollywood flick, without subtitles. But then again, if John Abraham is in it, who needs subtitles anyway?! I will meet him soon. i can feel it in my bones.

The temperature has changed drastically since I was here a month ago. Dry heat. In some ways it feel like Mombasa heat actually. I think it is 40 degrees today. There is no beach of course as Delhi is not a coastal city, but there are some exquisite and superior hotels in India, which one can frequent. I believe a day pass can allow you to dip in the pool. I hope to travel over the weekends within India. When I am back in June I will head to Bihar again and Gujrat for work. I flew to Bihar the day I got into Delhi for an inception workshop on one of our proposals. I did not get to see any of it as we were out by the morning and back to our hotel when the sun had already disappeared. My grandparents are from Gujrat, so it will be nice to locate where they were born and grew up.

For now that is all I have to share. Will post soon. It has been sometime.

 

The Kiatu/Amukat (shoe) Project Update January 28, 2012

Filed under: Projects in Countries — travelchokri @ 4:41 pm

More shoes will be bought this Tuesday and distributed in February in Kenya.  This was a personal project in which friends contributed funds in order to purchase shoes for people who needed them the most in both Kenya and Uganda. If you want to more about it, read Oct 21 and 29 entries.

A few of you wanted to know how else you could help, since enough money had been collected for shoes. Thanks for the additional funds, which were used to pay for tuition, food, books etc, for a year for children’s education. While, Kenya has implemented Free Primary Education, there have been issues that have arisen, that perhaps were not forseen. The children that have been supported with the donations are going to schools where the fees are nominal, but some of the issues experienced in the public system, are not present.

In the first year of the introduction of FPE, enrollments jumped by 22 percent. Students in large numbers enrolled into schools across the country, causing class sizes to increase. Schools became overcrowded and the conditions, unbearable; not enough toilets, water or good lighting to accommodate the students. In addition to this, resources were lacking which meant students had to share textbooks and desks. Teachers were not sure how to cope with the large class sizes and training was not provided to better handle this situation.

Free Primary Education means that families are no longer responsible for paying the yearly tuition for their children. However, in addition to tuition, there are other costs associated with going to school. Students are responsible for their uniforms, textbooks, and transportation. These costs can amount to a lot for one family, especially if they have several children to educate. Parents will also consider the cost-benefit ratio. Does it cost more to send a child to school than the income that he or she provides by working on the farm or in the fields?

These are just some of the issues that the education system is facing. If you would like to put a child through school, let me know. People are sometimes hesitant to donate to an organization, unsure of whether or not 100% of funds will go where they are supposed to. The schools are paid directly by a contact person that I have in Kenya and this fundraising is not connected to any organization- again, a personal project – so all the monies go towards educating children.

Below is a picture of one of the classrooms that I visited on a recent trip.

 

Soroti, Dokolo, Amolatar and Kampala October 29, 2011

Filed under: Projects in Countries — travelchokri @ 9:52 pm
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 Uganda – the land of the red soil and lush green pastures. What an intense but great trip. I was out in the field for 4 days, doing site visits, meeting with all sorts of people and having meetings with the organization that funds our programmes. The last two days were spent training programme officers and teachers on how to write good texts. I was not sure how people were going to react, as some parts that I had planned felt perhaps too basic to me. But I learned that all was appreciated, even the basic stuff. I guess sometimes what we think is ‘known,’ is really not to others. The  people in general, that I met along the way, were wonderful. Beautiful. I have never felt a connection to the country before this trip. A few specific moments made my eyes watery. I guess Uganda is my third home. My mother’s home.

The Shoe Project continued in Uganda (read more on this at the end of this blog). Many people were happy. As in Kenya, as we drove to different areas and noticed people without shoes, we stopped to ask people why they were not wearing any. This lead us to determine whether or not someone needed a pair. One woman danced after putting hers on. She got down on her knees and prayed. I did not feel comfortable with the women going down on their knees. We had some confused people too. Why were we asking them where their shoes were? What did we want in return? We encountered an angry man today. We did not give him shoes because he had a pair. He followed us to our next stop, where we met 3 women and a man without any. He told us if we did not give him a pair, he would call the police! Then we had a blind man asking us for a spare pair. Something interesting to note – in Kenya there were equal amounts of men and women that did not have shoes. In Uganda, 9 in 10 men had shoes, while 2 in 10 women did. Research project??  We went through Lira this time to get back to Kampala, rather than using Soroti. It still took about 8 hours! But that is because we stopped to talk to people and distributed shoes. But really, the driver just could not multi task. He could not talk and drive at the same time! I finally made it to the hotel at 10pm and I got my first, proper, hot shower in days!

There is a young woman that i have been training, etc. for the past 4 days, and it was not until our drive back to Kampala that I learned more about her. she was an orphan. her parents both passed away when she was young. she has a younger brother too, who is still in the orphanage. she left the place when she was 23, when she found someone to sponsor her to go to college. after college, she joined a young professionals development programme and soon after that, she was hired by one of our programmes. she found out a couple of years ago, that she is HIV positive, but  shedoes not want to take meds, as she thinks that will make her feel like she is sick. how do i get this woman to understand that taking the meds is a good thing for her? she also seems to believe that there is a cure for AIDS. gees, i went through this with the kids at the academy in Nairobi, after they watched the news, where a woman said she went to the villages and was cured. and our driver indicated to her that there is some german organization who thinks that they have found the cure! she has written her life story. i cannot wait to read it.

I felt a bit panicky in the late afternoon. I realized that there is still so much that I want to do, and half my life is over!

Driving through Uganda

I am in Kampala for 2 more days before I head back to Geneva.

     Oranges being sold on the side of the road.

october 30

wanted to sleep in. and could not. have the whole sunday off today, so i decided to go buy more shoes for the shoe project and leave it here with my people, so that they can distribute. went to bata, as it was around the corner. 20 minutes later, they still could no sort out the shoes that i wanted and honestly, it was only 20 pairs. so i left, asking them to coordinate amongst themselves so that when i come back in the evening, they are all there without any issues. the man that makes the carrot  juice at nakumatt told me to come back in 15 mins as it was not ready. of course, when i got back he realized he forgot about me, and they only have one blender, which was being used to make tropical juices. i decided to unwind at the serena. imagine, i think it is the only serena i have been to that charges an additional 50 percent on top of the spa prices if you are not staying there. and to use the internet for an hour you  must pay, even if you are going to eat lunch there, etc. i was pretty annoyed and of course, me being me, just decided to up and leave at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. i guess i just woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. i did decide to leave the kindle aside and buy a real book, so that will get me through the rest of the day. i have seen a lot more mzungu women here who seem to have adopted black babies than i used to see in kenya. just an observation. i finally bought the photography book, ‘kampala’, which i first saw when i came here in 2006 and did not see again during my last visit.