Monday, October 4, 2010

Lessons Learned In Kenya

Now that we’ve been back in the homeland for just over three weeks, we’ve had a chance to catch up on all of our schoolwork, readjust to the real world and reflect on the past three months. It doesn’t feel like we ever left Canada; our three months in Kenya feels like it was simply a really amazing dream that we never want to wake up from. The memories are too many to count, the friendships lifelong and the life lessons invaluable.

Kenya taught us both more than we ever could have imagined it would when we applied for the trip. Not only did we learn some of a new language, a new culture and the technical skills we required for our research and presentations, but we also learned life skills that we’ll be able to carry with us indefinitely.

Lesson 1: Embrace the Awkwardness

Almost everywhere we went, we were meeting new people, we were being put into situations that we had never experienced before and we were doing things we had never done. A lot of these situations were really awkward. I can’t even count the number of times we were asked to speak in front of large groups of random people when we had nothing to say. We spoke to several churches, at a prize giving ceremony for the primary schools in the area, and in front of students at schools. We didn’t expect to speak at any of these events and really had nothing to say except thank you to these people. It was always incredibly awkward to be thrust in front of a group of more than a hundred people who are all staring at you expecting you to say something epic while your mind is blank and all you can hear are the crickets chirping between your ears. But if we had gotten worked up over every single awkward situation, we would have hated our lives the entire trip. Embracing the awkwardness allowed us to laugh about the absurdity of each situation.

Lesson 2: Don’t Underestimate Anything

It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that Kenya is so different from home. The standards of living are a dramatic contrast to the conditions we accept as livable and everywhere you go there is something shocking to see. The women we worked with seemingly had nothing compared to what we are used to. You can’t help but wonder how they manage to keep on keeping on day after day. It’s easy to underestimate these women, but they are the strongest, smartest, most generous women I have ever met. They are so incredibly proud of absolutely everything they have, and are so appreciative of anything you can contribute. We made the mistake of underestimating the impact we were going to have on these women. We thought we would go, teach them a few things about nutrition, and were hoping that maybe they would take one message home with them. Instead, at the end of the session, we had women standing up and telling us that we had changed their lives. We were happy that we had had such a great impact on the women we spoke to, but apparently word travels fast in Kenya. Before we had left the country, the tips we had given the women about nutrition had spread by word of mouth to villages over an hour away. We learned to never underestimate ourselves, the women, and the impact small acts can have on individuals, families and entire communities.

Lesson 3: Expect Nothing

I don’t think there was a single thing that we did in the entire 90 days that went like we expected it to. Eventually, we learned to expect nothing. Things never quite go as planned and as soon as you think you’ve got something or someone figured out, they find a way to surprise you. Expectations are tricky; they can make or break the experience. Expect too much and you risk being disappointed by your own unrealistic ideals, and expect to little and you’ve already mentally decided that the outcome will be negative. Instead of over thinking everything and getting all worked up, just go with the flow and let things happen.

Lesson 4: Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

We met the most amazing people in Kenya. These people are so proud of what they have and where they live that they were constantly asking us to go places with them. After a really long week of presentations, data collection and analysis and report writing, sometimes the last thing we wanted to do was climb mountains all day, go to a church fundraiser or sit through a very large, very starchy Kenyan meal at someone’s house. No matter how much we woke up dreading having to do anything but nap all day and relax, we were always so glad we dragged our butts out of bed. We wouldn’t have seen nearly as much, formed such close friendships or enjoyed the trip nearly as much if we hadn’t taken advantage of these opportunities. We probably would have gone a little stir crazy in the compound if we hadn’t gone on weekend adventures with our local friends. By taking advantage of every single opportunity we were presented with to try new things and meet new people, we gained respect from members of the community. They began to see how passionate we were about what we were doing and learned that we weren’t simply rich white people. The community members respected that we were so willing to get our hands dirty and try new things.

Lesson 5: SAWA SAWA

Sawa sawa doesn’t have an exact English translation, but it is a phrase that is very commonly used in Kenya. Sawa means ‘ok’, and sawa sawa basically means ‘take a deep breath, relax, it will all work out’. Kenyans are incredibly relaxed about everything. There is no such thing as on time, there is no such thing as ‘in a rush’ and there seems to be very little stress. Sawa sawa is not just a saying, it’s a way of life. It took us the entire trip to learn how to live sawa sawa, and now that we are back in Canada, we have to constantly remind ourselves to sawa sawa. We took taxi’s to all of our presentations. We felt that we should be at our sessions early so that we could arrive before the women, so that we had time to set everything up and get ourselves ready so that we could start promptly at the scheduled time. We often found ourselves sitting on the side of the road waiting for the taxi to arrive, checking our watches every 15 seconds, hard core stressing out because our session was supposed to start 15 minutes ago and we haven’t even left the hospital to drive to the session which is an hour away. This is where you have to give up. You have to tell yourself ‘sawa sawa’ – it will all work out, we’ll get to the session eventually, there will be women there who will learn a lot and it will all work out perfectly fine. Easier said than done! Eventually we learned that no on is ever on time, and that it worked best if we were over an hour late for our own sessions because then we weren’t waiting for 2 hours before any women showed up. Sawa sawa might be the most important lesson we learned in Kenya, and it’s a lesson we are still trying to master. It takes a lot of practice to let go and trust that everything will work out in the end.

We could all use a little more sawa sawa in our lives.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Recap of the Nutrition Students Last 2 Weeks in Kenya

Sorry for the delay in our story! It was been a busy last couple of weeks since we returned to Prince Edward Island. We do, however, have 2 final blogs to post! It was amazing to see how many people wanted the end of the story! Thanks for following!! We had an amazing last 2 weeks in Kenya and a great trip home! It flew by, wrapping up our final presentations, writing reports, just enjoying our last week in Kenya, and saying goodbye.

We started the week off a little outside of our scope of practice by taking the nursing students up on an invitation to watch a caeserean section at the hospital. It was quite amazing that they even let us in, but they did! We got all suited up and went right in to the OR. It was a new experience for both of us!

Then our goodbyes started: it was our last visit to the Muchui Business Center. Upon our arrival, there were only three mothers even though it was announced to the whole group only two days before. This was a very big disappointment. We waited for mothers to arrive and started the session with 5 mothers; another joined shortly after. Once again we had a good session even with such a small number of women. We did notice that these sessions have been much shorter than anticipated; nevertheless, we believe it to be a blessing in disguise. After reviewing the original outline for the session, we realized that it was planned to be about a two hour session even though we normally finish it in about 1 hour and 15 minutes. When we created the outline for the program we did not take into account all of the children that would be present for the session. We did plan to bring flags for the children but we quickly learnt this just isn’t enough to keep children occupied for a long time. By the one hour mark many of the children started getting bored with the session. We cannot imagine prolonging the session to be any longer than it was and that was only with 6 children, not the planned 15 or even more. Once again the mothers who attended the session really seemed interested in what we had to teach them and really seemed to have learned a lot from the session, including the mother who brought her 1year old daughter a lolly pop and her 9 month old baby a cake to keep them quite as we talked. We were a little nervous talking about how you should avoid feeding your baby these kinds of foods and how healthy snacks are very important.

This day we had lunch with our new Kenya Mother, Mama Salome. She lives right next to the Business Center so every time we visit there she insists on cooking us lunch! We tell her she is spoiling us but she just says, ‘No, that is what mothers do, you have become just like Salome to me’. It was very sad to say goodbye to her, but we got a very good picture with her and told her we will keep in touch via Salome. As we were eating we got some really exciting news from Salome about how she was planting with some of the women earlier that day and, without her bringing up the subject, they were talking about our family sessions. They were discussing how they have been trying some of the tips at home and how successful they are going over with their families. One of the stories that Salome shared with us was that one of the members whose mother in law complained of not being able to eat it whole maize everytime she prepared it. The whole mazie was hard for her to chew so she always used to sneak the maize to the posho mill to get it polished. The member prepared whole mazie for her mother in law using our recommend method and then spoke her mother in law about our session. A few days later the member visited the mother in law’s house to find her preparing soaked whole maize and beans, the member was shocked and very surprised. This made us so happy and really showed us that the women listened to what we had to say. They are really making some positive changes that we are so excited about.

This was a very “Salome filled weekend” (Salome works for Farmers Helping Farmers at the Muchui Business Centre), which was great! On Saturday we went in to Meru and did some shopping as well as visit her sisters in their second home. We went on a little adventure with them to see a couple of very beautiful waterfalls.. Sunday Salome came to the compound and taught us once again how to make Chapatti’s. Although we have been taught several times every time we make them alone they just don’t turn our right, we believe that it is the mzungu fingers. However, we think that we may have it this time. We also taught Salome how to make banana bread which she enjoys so much. We spent our last few days writing reports and enjoying the nice weather that Kenya is now deciding to give us. We were hoping not to have to arrive home as white as when we left. Our very last day in Kirrua was a busy one. In the morning, we visited a few of the schools with Mama Jen and the nurses to do some follow up work that they needed to do. This gave us a chance to say goodbye to some of the staff as well as last chance to be attacked by a mob of children! Then we went to the pool in Meru with Mamma Jen to relax and enjoy her company. This was really great; we have enjoyed spending time with her. We assured her that we will keep in touch. Martin then drove us back to Kirrua which allowed us to say good bye to him. We sat outside the compound for a long time as he continued the tell us how much of an impact that we had on the community and how thankful he is that we came and taught the women what we had. He told us that we really did a great job in getting to know the women and working with them instead of just teaching them. He shared with us that on his travels he even heard talk of our presentations in Maua, which is a town about 1 hour away. We have agreed to send him some of our resources so that he can continue to photocopy them and use them as he pleases with the women. This was a perfect ending to our day.

We went to the sisters for a final supper where we enjoyed a very great meal. We surprised them with a thank you gift of 6 different types of trees that we pursued from the Muchui Business Center. They were so happy with our ‘gift that keeps giving’. They also presented us each with a lasso and a very nice thoughtful card. This was above and beyond anything we expected and will be cherished.

We had a lot of mixed feelings about leaving. Two weeks before we left, we were so excited and could barely stand to think of anything but. Now that we are actually leaving its kind of a different story, we are still really excited but it is the strangest feeling to know that you will never be back to somewhere you called home for the last 3 months. We have all grown very fond of this place as well as the people we are living with and around. It is not even leaving Kenya, it’s leaving the other girls here (the nursing students). We have all grown close and it will be very different to not all live together and to not be staring at each other every second of every day.

Then started our long journey home. We got to Nairobi mid day to meet the very busy Henry. He had some activities planned out for us which was great. We spent some time buying a last few minute things that both of us really didn’t need and then headed back to relax with our free We do have to thank Henry for all of our luggage getting home because we had A LOT..... he worked his magic and it all got on! Then a long 24 hours later we were both meet by lots of people at the Charlottetown airport! Much to KP’s surprise her mom and sister and grandparents made special trips to the island to be there!

Stay tuned for our very last blog.....

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nurses Update From Kiirua

What they say is true, time really does fly when you are having fun. We find it hard to believe that we only have three weeks left here in Kenya. We all have mixed feelings about our departure but are proud of the work accomplished during our stay and look forward to sharing stories once we get home.
Last Tuesday, we had our first blood pressure clinic with the Ruju Women's Group and today we conducted our second clinic with the Muchui Women's Group. For each of the women who attended, we took their weight, blood pressure, and did a respiratory assessment. Each of us set up our own station and recording the findings. Following this, we gathered all the women to answer any general question they had regarding their health. This was the second time the clinic had taken place. The last group of students made cards in which each women could record the findings. This was very useful. Some of the women who had high blood pressures back in February had lower blood pressures this time. It was great to see the women taking an active role in their health. We hope this trend continues for when the next group of UPEI students come. For the women who had high blood pressure or abnormal respiratory findings, we suggested that they go see a doctor and gave them advice on how to lower their blood pressure, as well as, improve their respiratory status. The women impressed us with their enthusiasm and general concern about their health. It was nice to see the women take time for themselves because we know how hard they work. The women even asked if we could check their blood sugars the next time a clinic is held. It is great that we can partner with the women and find out what their health concerns are. We hope we can make this happen for the next clinic.
This Saturday, we are having our last menstruation presentation with a group of teenage girls from around the community and will be giving them all reusable menstrual pads. Next week we are planning to revisit the schools and talk to the girls about the reusable menstrual pads. We hope to get a general feedback about the pads, as well as, answer any questions the girls may have. We will give an update on how both of these sessions go and our work we have done during our last two weeks in Kenya. We are all looking forward to sharing stories and pictures when we get home.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Complementary Feeding Sessions

The last week has been very busy! We finished the last of our Family Nutrition Seminars and have begun to present our Complementary Feeding Seminars to mothers with children 2 years old and younger. The Family Nutrition Seminars were a lot of fun, and we really enjoyed working so closely with the “champs” from each of the women’s groups. They not only prepared the food, (and taught us a thing or two about Kenyan cuisine) but they also helped us present by speaking to the women attending the session about the recipes and methods they used to prepare the foods.

The Complementary Feeding Seminars are so far not going nearly as well as the Family sessions did, and not nearly as well as we had hoped. We had planned 3 sessions at St Theresa’s hospital with the mothers from the MCH clinic, and 2 sessions with each of the women’s groups. Our first session at the hospital was a complete failure as not a single mother showed up. We scheduled a ‘make-up’ session the following Monday and had our fingers crossed that we would get a good turn out on our second try. We even posted flyers advertising the session around the hospital for mothers to see. Unfortunately, even after waiting an additional hour before starting, we only had 6 mothers attend. We are used to having around 100 people or more attend our sessions within the community so it was very disheartening to present to only 6 people. One of the nurses at the hospital was translating for us, and asked us to keep the presentation to a maximum of 30 minutes. The presentation we had planned was over an hour, so we had to think fast and simplify our key messages on the spot. Our translator knew the material fairly well since she has taught many mothers similar information at the clinic. The information they give mothers, like our recommendations, are from the World Health Organization, but the resources they have a re slightly outdated. This caused a bit of a problem because as a result, our messages were not always being translated as they should have been. But as we have learned in Kenya, “sawa sawa”! In retrospect, we should have gone over our recommendations with our translator prior to presenting to the mothers. Despite being in Kenya for the last 10 weeks, we are still learning many new things everyday, and every presentation is an opportunity to further understand Kenyan culture.

We were expecting a much higher attendance rate with the women’s groups since they had known about our presentation months in advance, however we were once again disappointed. Although it was really frustrating at first, we adapted to the small group and altered the presentation to allow for more discussion. Had we had the attendance we had hoped for, this may not have been possible. It actually ended up working well because the mothers were able to ask more questions and we were able to ensure that everything was really well understood. It also allowed us to get to know the mothers a little bit better since we were able to have conversations with the mothers, and the mothers were able to share tips and stories of their own experiences of complementary feeding to the rest of the group.

We also had a presentation in front of the hospital staff this week. We talked to them all about the various projects we have been working on since we arrived in Kenya. We shared the findings of our school lunch program research project with them and gave each staff member in attendance copies of both our Family Nutrition handout and the Complementary Feeding handout. We think the sisters were very surprised at the amount of work we had done since our arrival. Since we don’t work very closely with the hospital as this is a community placement and not a clinical placement, the sisters and hospital staff only see us on the rare occasion that we’re passing through the hospital. They never see us actually doing any work. It was great to be able to share with everyone what we have been doing and all that we have accomplished so far.

We only have a few presentations left as our time here in Kenya is quickly coming to an end. It seems unreal that in just two weeks we’ll be back on Canadian soil!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nurse Update

Wow, August 19th already. We've been very busy so time is flying by!

We’ve finished our handwashing and menstruation sessions at the schools. The last school we visited was Kamukatha, a primary school. As with all the schools the kids were very excited to have us and were very appreciative of the soap and the reusable menstrual pads we brought them. This visit was extra special because we were there for the official opening of the new boy’s bathroom. The bathroom was built with money raised by Kensington United Church. Prior to this, the boys were using very old and outdated “shacks” as washroom facilities. Jennifer Murogocho led the opening and the students and their parents were very excited and grateful for their Canadian friends. We were told to greet the people from PEI, especially those who belong to Kensington United Church!! We also go to see the beginning of the construction of a new cook house, which should be ready in October. Compared to the old cookhouse, this one will be much larger and more modern. It was great to see the impact that Farmers Helping Farmers has on the lives of the people here in Kenya, we wish that everyone who supports Farmers Helping Farmers could see firsthand the difference they are making in people’s lives. It is really amazing! Pictures to come with the next blog, as Kenyan internet isn’t cooperating this evening!

Last Wednesday Martin (who works with FHF) took us to Meru Methodist University where we met with the dean of Nursing. She told us about the nursing program, which was very interesting because it is very similar to our nursing program at UPEI. Martin took us on a tour of the university. It’s a beautiful campus and very modern. The students were in the middle of exams so we didn’t get a chance to meet with any of them.

We’ve been very busy working at St. Teresa’s Mission Hospital. We’ve had opportunities to work in the medical unit, surgical unit, maternity, outpatients, maternal child health clinic and the operating theatre. We are really enjoying this experience and getting a holistic approach to nursing practice. We are learning a lot as there are new learning opportunities for us to take part in. For example, having a very active role in caring for a labouring mother through labour and childbirth. We've even had some babies named after us and were asked to give newborns their English names! Last week we were asked to prepare a clinical presentation for the staff. They have them every week and it’s a really great chance for staff members to learn more about clinical practice. We chose to present on maternity care as it is the area we all seem to be enjoying the most. The staff were very interested in our presentation and were especially interested in how maternity care in Kenya differs from maternity care in Canada. The staff asked us to present again and highlight more differences in health care between Canada and Kenya so that we all learn from each other!

We have become especially close with one of the patients at the hospital. She is a ten year old girl who has been there for over six months. She has burns that cover about half of her body – on her back, her arms, the back of her neck/head and parts of her lower body. At first she was shy (maybe even afraid of us) and only speaks Kiswahili so it was difficult for us to communicate with her. Between non-verbal communication and having hospital staff translate for us, we’ve made friends with her. She’s really brave and strong and has a great sense of humour (she always laughs at us when we attempt to speak Swahili!). A few weeks ago she had a skin graft surgery that will hopefully heal the burns on her back. So far it’s looking like the grafts took, so we’re very hopeful that she will make progress soon!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A farewell to Kenya

It is soon time for Vionna and I to leave Kenya, although I don't know how this can be. It seems to me that we only arrived here a short while ago. The summer has just sped past leaving nothing but memory and an assortment of souvenirs. I have purchased baskets. We have discovered that I have a problem when it comes to baskets. They are so cheap and so beautiful here that whenever I see a street vendor with a pile of them I can't help but stop. I keep imagining them full of fruit and bread and yumminess. I have three so far, and I'm quite sure there will be another purchase before we fly off into the sunset.

We have been back in Nakuru since the beginning of August. It seems fitting to finish in the same town we started in. Vionna and I have developed a sort of a presence in the town. People here recognize us and the vendors don't try to trick us into buying nick nacks at outrageous prices anymore. I laughed when, on the first day, one of the market people thought he chould induce Vionna to buy a small basket for 3000 kenyan shillings. Vionna is a marvel when it comes to bartering. She got him down to I think it was 400 Ksh. Had it been me he would have taken me to the cleaners. I would be a great deal poorer if I didn't have Vionna to do my bargaining for me. I am horribly gullible when it comes to estimating an items price. The vendors I think must see me coming from a mile away and smile to themselves. They are always VERY happy to see me.

We have spent the past two weeks working at Rohi which is a privately funded charity school that takes in street kids, or kids that would have become street kids had they not been taken in. It truly is an amazing place and I am so fortunate to have met some of the students there. It astounds me the breadth of knowledge that these kids have and how polite and kind they are. In the context of their good nature, the life stories that come out of their mouths are surreal to say the least. One boy was telling me non-challantly that for the first 12 years of his life he lived off the streets and was addicted to opium and glue. Vionna and I have enjoyed working at Rohi so much and I think we have actually made a difference.

Rohi is a self sustaining school. The kids live on campus in dorms. They grow their own vegetables and keep their own livestock. Any extra produce is sold at the local market. Troy Sammons ( who we have been staying with) is the resident missionary veterinarian and we have been helping him in his work around the farm. I feel like I have learned so much from him since we have been here. Vionna and I spent the entire first day in study. It was clear that a wide breadth of knowledge would be required to look after the Rohi farm animals. I felt very ill equipped at first. We learned how to sort laying from non laying hens (the width of the pubic bones if anyone is curious), how to dehorn goats, how to castrate goats, spay and neuter cats, palpate cows, and how to raise swine properly. We have done all of these things since we have been here. It has been an eventful two weeks to say the least. However I think the most rewarding aspect of our stay has been the work we did with swine managment.

There is a community in Nakuru that squats on a very thin, rocky strip of land that surrounds the local dump. I probably don't need to say much more about the living conditions of these people. They are incredibly clever, however, in that they have capitalized on the food waste of the dump by raising pigs there. None of the farmers had ever had much formal training or education in swine husbandry however. The swine were allowed to roam at will amongst the refuse of the dump and their access to clean water was very sporadic. So Vionna, Troy, and I, along with a whole slew of Rohi students, put together a days worth presentations focused on how to raise and care for swine. Most of our first week at Rohi was spent in preperation for this conference which was set for the following tuesday. We had no idea how many, if any, of the farmers would show up. However, after setting up the chairs and having a delightful sing song to summon the flock, 50 to 60 people appeared and we had a very full house. The talks included: housing, nutrition, breeding, farrowing, water, disease mangment, zoonotic diseases, and record keeping. The talks were followed up with a quick field trip to one of the local farmers who started off at the dump with a single pig. He now owns a piece of land and raises more than 20 pigs. Quite a success story. However the real success story came a couple of days later when one of the Rohi social workers told us that the people at the dump had already started putting some of our tips into action. The farmers are not allowing their pigs to roam anymore, and they are also constructing more appropriate housing for their animals. I was blown away to think that change had been implemented so quickly. It was the crowning point of our summer for sure.

And now we are leaving. Tomorrow we will say goodbye to the Sammons and to Rohi for good. We have printed off copies of pictures taken during our stay here to give to some of the kids that we got to know quite well. After we make our goodbyes, we will spend the night at a lodge by one of the local lakes, and then return to Nairobi on thursday to fly out friday morning at the ghastly hour of 4 am. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible. I know I can speak for both myself and Vionna when I say that it was truly life altering. We will miss all of the wonderful friends we made here. I now have a list of about 20 emails that I must add to my facebook account. To my family and friends in Canada, I miss you and I'll see you all soon!!


Monday, August 16, 2010

Muchui Women's Group Family Nutrition Seminar

Monday, we finally had our meeting with the Ruuju Champs that had been previously postponed several times. When we arrived at Ruuju, it was almost eerie because school is no longer in session and the hundreds of kids that are normally running around everywhere yelling “Mzungo!” were no where to be found. We ended up meeting with 6 Ruuju Women’s group members, but the chair, Demeris, was unable to attend. When we had to start the meeting without a designated translator, we were a little bit nervous but one of the champs quickly stepped in and made sure that everyone knew what was being said. The group of women were laughing and joking and smiling right from the start which made the session so much more fun. The meeting went exceptionally well. We created a menu for the two family nutrition seminars and designated who would prepare which meals on what days, we paid the women for the ingredients and labor required to prepare these meals. The women seemed very excited, and their enthusiasm was contagious; we got back into the car to head home with huge smiles on our faces!

Tuesday was our first Family Nutrition Seminar with the Muchui Women’s group. It was supposed to start at 10:30 am, but our driver was running on "Kenyan Time" so by the time we got to the center it was almost 11:00 am. We were expecting to walk into the center to have 30+ women sitting waiting for us, but as we entered the room, there were only about 10 women. The group was very quiet at first. It was discouraging because whenever we asked the group questions, they responded with blank stares. We’re not sure if the small group made people not want to speak up, or if maybe they just did not quite understand everything. The champs arrived and we served the food and were relieved to have a short break from presenting as it was almost painful with such a quiet and small group. As the ladies ate lunch, they all began to talk amongst themselves and became more lively. The food was sooooo good! We had Mukimo, Githeri, and Chapatti with pumpkin, sweet potato and onion in them, and we brought a fruit salad for dessert. They wanted us to bring a Canadian dish but we really struggled to try to think of something using the ingredients grown in their farms or that would be readily available to them. Cyrus, our chef, had made a really good fruit salad with pineapple, banana, orange and lime juice the night before so we ended up stealing his idea. Although the women already eat fruit, they had never had it in a salad form before.

After lunch, we had the champs explain the recipes they each prepared to the group. The champs were so awesome; they were happy and proud and smiling from ear to ear. Having the champs prepare and explain the meals was a stroke of genius. Not only are they much better at cooking Kenyan food than we are, but they were able to explain in detail their recipes to the women, and everything was prepared using methods that the women are familiar with and could relate to. Even the champs were amazed at how well our tips worked in the preparation of their dishes. For example, Katherine who prepared the Githeri, said that she soaked the beans and maize all day, starting at 8 am and had planned to cooked it overnight since the session was so early in the morning. She was shocked when the beans and maize were already cooked after only 40 minutes! It was really great for the Champs to be able to share their experiences with the women, and the women really opened up after hearing from them. The end of the session went really well, much better than the first half. After the evaluation was completed, an old woman stood up to say thank you to us on behalf of the group. She told us that she had never been able to eat unpolished maize before because she had trouble chewing it and had issues digesting it. When she tasted the foods prepared with soaked unpolished maize, she could not believe how soft and easy to eat the maize was. When she found out it was unpolished and soaked, she told us that she would never eat polished maize ever again and was so grateful that we were able to teach her a way to enjoy unpolished maize since it was so much more nutritious than the polished variety. Martin also sat in on our session and vigorously took notes the whole time. Even he stood up after the presentation and told us that we had changed his life by teaching him the tips from our session. He witnessed Katherine’s 40-minute githeri and it apparently blew his mind. Apparently men never make githeri because they work all day and then don’t have the 8 hours in the evening it takes to prepare. Now that he knows he can soak it during the day and have githeri in 40 minutes, he will teach the other men at the Barrier to make githeri, which is more nutritious than the ugali they currently eat everyday.

The Family Session was unbelievably rewarding. We were blown away by how well received we were and how appreciative the women were. They’re only request was that we give the presentation to people in the community and not just women in the Muchui Women’s Group. They told us that they would tell as many people in the community as they could about what they learned in our session. Needless to say we had the biggest grins possible on our faces leaving the center and were so absolutely pumped and empowered to have had such a positive impact on the women.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mbembe Maize 2, Muthikore Maize 0

After another jammed packed week of school visits, we finally witnessed our first few victories. We celebrated by going to Nairobi for the weekend to be tourists.

Monday, we started our day at Kiirua Boys Secondary School for their 7:45am Monday Morning Assembly. We had met with the headmaster and deputy the previous week to give them our recommendations based on our analysis of their menu. One of the points we are really trying to drive home with all schools, is that all the maize used in every recipe should be Mbembe (unpolished) and not Muthikore (polished). When the maize is polished, it looses the majority of it's nutrients, which are very important for growth and development. The problem we've been facing with this recommendation is that it is the cultural norm is to eat polished maize. Students, teachers and the general population do not feel that unpolished maize is acceptable in terms of taste and texture. Like a lot of "norms' withing any society, there is no actual reason behind their hatred of unpolished maize. It is simply what they have always eaten, so they assume that they don't like unpolished maize with out actually trying it. We have made it our personal mission to change this preconceived notion.

The headmaster and deputy at Kiirua Boys laughed at us when we recommended that they stop polishing their maize. They told us that despite the obvious nutritional benefits, there was no way that the boys would ever agree to even try it. Unless....we came to speak to the students directly. So at 7:45 am, we spoke to the entire student population about the benefits of eating unpolished maize and why it was healthier and more nutritious than polished maize. I think they spent most of our little 20 minute speech laughing at us but in the end our message got through.

The next day, we went back to Kiirua Boys to eat lunch with them. Tuesday was the first day that the cook had prepared the githeri with unpolished maize that had been soaked with the beans overnight before being cooking the morning. We were a little bit nervous because the headmaster was convinced that there would be no way that the boys would find the soaked, unpolished maize even close to acceptable. We lined up with plates and spoons in hand, just like the rest of the boys, and waited for our serving of githeri. Of course we were given the same portion as the boys, which meant a overflowing heap of githeri in each of our bowls. We sat with a large group of the guys in the yard and watched nervously while they took their first few bites of their new and improved githeri. It couldn't have been that bad because they all started piling into their mouths without any looks of disgust or discontentment. We sat down and talked with the guys for the rest of lunch break while we all chowed down on delicious lunch. The boys told us they liked the Mbembe maize and asked the headmaster if it could be prepared that way from now on. They asked us lots of really smart questions about nutrition and Canada and maize and seemed genuinely shocked that they never even knew that mbembe maize was that much better for them.

We were super pumped about our small victory at Kiirua Boys and were really excited to give feedback to the other schools and to give the rest of the remaining parent sessions in hopes of inspiring even more people to at least switch from Muthikore to Mbembe maize. Our next parent session was at Kinyenjere Primary School on Wednesday afternoon. We weren't exactly thrilled going into this presentation because it was the third time we had had to reschedule at the last minute because the headmaster kept calling us with conflicts. The first time we tried to give the presentation, there was burial in the community and no one showed up. We waited at the school for about an hour before we gave up and went banana planting instead. The second time, the headmaster simply called us and asked us to come a different day than was scheduled. If our schedule wasn't already so packed it would have been fine, but we ended up having to reschedule a couple of other things and tweak times of other appointments in order to fit in the family session at Kinyenjere when they wanted it. The school was having another meeting for the parents that same day, so our presentation was simply the beginning of another meeting. It went well, and we had about 100 people attend. There were around 25 men and hte rest were women. We were really happy about the number of smart questions the women had for us at the end of our presentation, and once again the feedback we got from the group was really gratifying. As we give the presentation, you can see the light bulb light up over their heads as something we have said, that they never even considered before, makes complete sense to them. It's really rewarding to see them so enthusiastically embrace our advice and to see the determined looks on their faces as they head home with the intentions of putting some our our tips to use.

During the presentation, the headmaster left for a few minutes to check on the children eating their lunch. He came back and announced that the children were all eating, and greatly enjoying soaked, Mbembe maize in their githeri instead of the usual Muthikore maize. Another small victory!

The next day, we went to Kamuketha Primary School to give our final Family Nutritional Seminar to the parents. When we first arrived, not even one parent had showed up yet. We were pretty disappointed thinking that no one would show, knowing that we didn't have time in our schedule to reschedule. The headmaster was sure that they would show up eventually, so we played with some kids and jad tea while we waited. Even though we've been here now for 5 weeks, adjusting to "Kenyan time" never gets easier. We're still impatient and get flustered when our plans start or run a few hours late. In the end we ended up having about 28 parents show up, a mixture of men and women. Although this was our smallest group yet, we still felt as though we were able to teach them some new tips that we genuinely feel like they will try to use at home. After the presentation, we were asked to stay for lunch, and once again got to enjoy a giant bowl of githeri. Kamuketha was already using Mbembe maize, but they were not soaking the maize or the beans overnight which is another of our recommendations. Soaking hte maize overnight makes it much easier for the kids to chew and digest. Since our feedback session, they had been soaking the maize and beans everynight, so the githeri we had for lunch was once again made with soaked Mbembe maize!

Although the switch from Muthikore to Mbembe maize isn't exactly earth shattering, it's incredibly exciting and rewarding to know that our recommendations are being valued and that both current and future students are being directly impacted by our research.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Banana Planting

Yesterday, we were lucky enough to get to join the women at the Muchui Business Center for the annual planting of banana tree seedlings.
We spent the morning at Kinyenjere Primary School talking to some students about the food groups and playing with them during their lunch break. Around 1:30, Martin picked us up on his way to the center from Nairobi in the gypsy. We were expecting to barely fit into the truck because we were told that he was bringing with him 2000 banana tree plants. We told him we could walk if there wasn't enough room but he just laughed at us and said he's try his hardest to squeeze us in. When he pulled up outside the school, we were shocked that the gypsy wasn't packed to the roof with banana trees. Obviously we were way off in what we expected because Martin opened up the back of the truck for us to climb in and sitting on the seat was a small cardboard box all nicely sealed with packing tape. I guess we knew that the banana tree seedlings would be tiny, but we still weren't expecting how tiny!
When we got to the business center, there were a large group of women waiting for us to start planting. We made our way into the greenhouse where martin quickly separated each variety of banana into it's designated spot, and gave a quick demonstration of proper planting procedures. This demonstration was in kimaru, so Christina and I just kinda of chilled in the background waiting for an english lesson once the women were experts. We were a little worried that we would be banana planting failures, and that all the seedlings we planted would wither away and die, but Martin reassured us that our planting skills were quite fine.
We were expecting to spend hours in the greenhouse planting, but with all the women that showed up, it only ended up taking about 30 minutes. I took almost as long to coordinate a group photo afterward but the group was in good spirits and we think everyone had fun. We did at least! Somehow, all of the other women planting had this magical ability to stay clean. They had a little bit of mud on their hands, but other than that their clothes and feet and legs and arms were spotless. We couldn't say the same for ourselves. We had mud all over our legs up to our knees, mud up to our elbows, and we had clearly sat in something because we had giant mud spots on our pants. Not to mention our faces must have gotten itchy half way through planting because there were some mud spots on our cheeks too. The women quickly ushered us to the water tap to shower off as soon as the planting was done, and weren't exactly satisfied with the job we had done as we were heading into the gyspy to go home still pretty much covered in mud, it was simply no longer layered on so thick.

We decided that if the whole nutritionist/ dietitian plan falls through, we might have to move to Kenya to become professional banana planters.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vet students reporting: Round two, beginning in Nakuru…

So Laura and I are back in Nakuru for a week to begin our second sampling and hopefully, get to more farms that we didn’t get a chance to sample the first time around. We have discovered that the term ‘resort’ is used very loosely around here, as our ‘resort’ only consists of simple hotel rooms, a modest courtyard, and a regular dining room (where Laura and I are gawked at since we appear to be the only “muzungos” staying here). Most of them are also owned by Christian groups. However, I am more than satisfied as we have warm showers, spring mattresses, and most importantly, don’t have to pee in a hole. After having to do that twice in one weekend, I hope to never have to use a latrine again!

It’s great to be in the field again with the cows after the week-long break we have had. I was running out of books to read and words to play in Scrabble, as we finished our work early in Ichamara. The company there was wonderful though, as some of the nursing team from Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF)/UPEI joined us for the week to help with Carolyn and Dr. Van Leeuwen’s biogas project. Their visit also presented the perfect opportunity to go to Meru to check out what the nursing and nutrition students were working on.

Meru is located in the northeastern region of Kenya, the closest city to the Somalian border (about 400 km away). Being east and relatively further away from Mount Kenya, the climate and landscape is very different from Ichamara. It is much drier and hotter, with a lot less hills. There are also elephants that live in the forest just outside of the city, of which we were lucky enough to encounter, as one was just crossing the road! The nurses work at the St. Theresa Missionary Hospital in Kiirua (a town just outside of Meru) and regularly visit their children’s home/school. Laura and I joined them at the children’s home, where we assisted in feeding the children. The work that the mission and its sisters do for these children is simply amazing. They raise abandoned or orphaned children between the ages of infancy and three, and operate a feeding program and school for kids aged five and under. By providing the basic necessities for these children during such a critical life stage, the sisters are attempting to build a solid foundation for a healthy future. It’s unbelievable how two women can care for more than ten babies while I can barely feed one! That’s probably why I am only handling cows in Kenya and not little children.

The nursing and nutrition teams will also be working with some women’s groups, running blood pressure clinics and helping to build a more well-balanced diet. We were lucky enough to join in on the first meeting of two women’s groups, who have been long-term pen pals. Though I couldn’t understand a word of their local language, Kimeru, the excitement of these women was evident through their facial expressions, gestures, and apparel. The language barrier also prevented any of us from enjoying a speech intended to empower women, but at least food is universal, and we were treated to fresh, locally grown fruits, and traditional Kenyan cuisine.

While in Meru, Laura and I almost caught President Kibaki in action! We saw his personal helicopter (compliments of the taxpayers) take off for Nairobi just as we were returning home! He and other government officials were campaigning for the new Kenyan constitution, which will be put to vote in a national referendum on August 4th. The streets were flooded with people wearing green shirts and hats, which represent the ‘Yes’ campaign. And of course, what’s a national referendum in a developing country without the vested interests of foreign countries? The ‘Yes’ campaign is fully supported by the US and the UK, while the opposition is backed by various Christian groups. I have been learning a lot about the upcoming referendum from our fellow Kenyans and the newspaper, so I’m excited for the outcome of the vote (hopefully a peaceful one!). Controversial issues include abortion, the kadhi Muslim courts, and the status of Somali refugees. Could it be a new beginning for the Kenyan people? Not that my opinions really matters, but I’ll let you know as I learn more about the constitution! Stay tuned!


Missed July 4th blog

Sorry guys, I forgot to post this one here:

We have seven more farms to go to and then we are finished the first sampling for the Ichamara area. I can hardly believe things have gone so smoothly. Once we got a good system down with specific jobs assigned to each person rather than everyone trying to do the same job and no one being especially certain what had been done and what hadn’t been, we became much more efficient as a team. It also took awhile for us to get past the language barrier. Everyone here speaks such fluent English that sometimes I forget that there is a language barrier and that I have to slow down my talking and allow the people I’m speaking to time to process what I am saying. At first I found myself getting frustrated because I was having to repeat myself a lot just to get a simple point across. Usually its fine and we get to the point eventually but sometimes I’m just not clear enough and things go wrong. Like when I asked one of the grad students if he could put the milk samples in the freezer overnight. He certainly put the samples in the freezer, but he didn’t understand that the ice the samples are stored on during the day must also be placed in the freezer. In the morning we had no ice to collect new samples with as we went around to the farms. It was fine in the end as we were lucky to discover that lab at the Dairy we work out of had some ice blocks we could use. Otherwise we might have lost an entire days worth of sampling which could have left us five to ten farms behind schedule. All because I just assumed and didn’t properly explain myself. So my lesson for the past few weeks has been to speak slowly and to verbalise my thoughts because in fact people can’t read my mind.

We have been pretty much working non stop since we got here. The work is pretty labour intensive. Our day begins around 6:00 am and usually with a run. Our running route is along the tarmac heading roughly south west with Mount Kenya and the rising sun to our right and a little behind us. Usually the mountain is shrouded in mist but every now and then it can be seen peeking through the clouds. It is roughly 5500 ft and is the remnant of a once active volcano, now long dormant. It is the home of the Kikuyu god Ngai, which is one of the traditional deities of Kenya, although now it seems most everyone is Christian with a smattering of Muslim. Whichever spirit lives there, it must be laughing at us as we pant and wheeze along the foothills of its home. At home in Atlantic Canada, most of the landscape is barely above sea level in some places. In Kenya the average altitude is1500 to 1600 feet above sea level and boy can we feel the oxygen depravation while running. I now understand why Kenyans are able to run so fast. Although running for the sake of running isn’t at all common here. In the mornings we are the only ones out for exercise. Everyone else is sauntering along at a leisurely pace, on their way to work or dropping off their daily milk quota. The locals greet us cordially as we pass, but usually with a grin and a chuckle at how odd we look jogging down the road. However do not be deceived. These people are some of the most in shape people I have ever come across. In the rural areas of Ichamara and Murkurwe-ini where we are staying, the terrain is excessively hilly and all of the farms are nestled on the slopes which in some cases are nearly vertical. The farmers and their families walk these slopes multiple times a day, every day of their lives, to bring water and food to their family. All part of the daily routine for them. One lady took pity on us and decided to help us (typical Kenyan generosity) back to the combi with our crate of medical supplies. She took the crate (which is between 20-30 lbs and very awkward), placed it on her head and proceeded to walk the entire way back to the combi. It was easily a 20 minute walk and mostly uphill. I was in awe to say the least.

The rest of our day consist of as many farm visits as we can fit in before the sun goes down which I at 6:30 sharp. Dawn and dusk are not drawn out here like they are at home. They happen very quickly so that sometimes you are working away in the daylight and all of a sudden you are working in the dark and are not certain what happened. The farms are becoming increasingly far apart and so a good portion of our day is spent bumping along the Kenyan dirt roads. Some of the potholes are quite impressive and it seems sometimes like we drive into one and come out the next. The scenery is lush and green and everywhere you look is bananas. However the bananas are smaller than they are at home and much tangier and tastier I think. When we leave a farm, the owners will often send us away with a large bunch of bananas. We eat bananas with absolutely everything. Bananas in our cereal, bananas with our lunch, banana smoothies, bananas for a snack, banana sandwiches. I think I may turn into a banana before the summer is through. When we arrive on the farm, we have to ask permission of the people that we can carry out our research before we begin. We’ve only had one person turn us down thus far. It’s really in their best interest because they get free dewormer, free preg checks, free consultation, as well as any information we get concerning parasite load and mastitis in their herd. Everyone is very nice and very welcoming. This weekend we went to the Sweetwaters park and went on a safari. We just got back today. It was a wonderful and much needed break. The plains of Africa are just as beautiful as I’d imagined and just as full of animals. I find it incredible that all of these bizarre and exotic creatures can exist all in one place. We saw zebras, baboons, elephants, giraffes, gazelles, impalas, Elans, water buffalo, rhinos, and lots of different species of birds. My favorite was the maribu stork. He lives around the watering hole next to the tented village where we stayed. He is very social and will come right up to you to watch you eat your food. I suspect that he is used to getting for from people. He is about four feet tall and looks like he has a wing span of about five feet. The other girls thought he was incredibly ugly. His crop is red and wrinkly and hangs down over his keel like a deflated balloon. And he is bald like a vulture with a very large and impressive beak. I decided his name was George.

Now we are back at Ichamara to finish up our sampling. The end of the week will see us on the road again. This time we will be heading to Meru to stay with the UPEI nursing students who are also here in Kenya for the summer. Until we meet again!

Laura B.

Handwashing and Menstruation

UPEI Nursing Students- Amy Somers, Allison MacDonald, Stephanie Barlow and Jillian Grady

Today was our first school visit. We went to the Ruuju Primary School, which goes from nursery to standard 8 (which is similar to preschool up to grade 8). Allison and Jillian did the hand washing presentations and Amy and Stephanie did the menstruation presentations. Both were a huge success. We had positive feedback from the school staff and students.

Farmers Helping Farmers generously supplied each adolescent girl with reusable menstrual pads. Disposable sanitary napkins are available but are very expensive. When girls are on their periods, they may use rags or pieces of mattress as a pad. Many girls stay home from school when they are menstruating because they do not have sanitary napkins available. The reusable pads are pieces of cotton sewn together. They can be washed, dried, and reused. If cared for properly, they can last for over a year. Stephanie and Amy demonstrated how to use and clean the pads and presented each girl with a package containing 8 pads. The girls were very appreciative because this product allows them attend school continuously and be more active. The girls had many questions that Steph and Amy were able to answer for them. Information about menstruation, hygiene during menstruation, and HIV was also discussed. The girls were very interactive and were happy to have this information presented to them. There were many giggles when Steph and Amy demonstrated how to apply the pads to the underwear! One of the teachers said that the pads would make a very big difference in the girls’ lives.

While Stephanie and Amy were meeting with the girls, Jillian and Allison began the hand washing demonstrations. Again, Farmers Helping Farmers generously donated a huge box of soap to the school. The students came to the hand washing station and Allison and Jillian explained why frequent and thorough hand washing is important. The kids knew to wash their hands before they eat, after they visit the washroom, and after they cough or sneeze. The proper hand washing technique was demonstrated and the kids followed along. Then they got a turn to wash with the soap that was provided. Part way through the demonstration, we ran out of water, but the kids continued to practice the technique. The staff at Ruuju Primary were very accommodating and helped to translate our presentation to the younger children that have not yet learned much English.

Overall, we had a really great day and were happy to have the opportunity to positively influence the health of the students at Ruuju Primary School. We will be doing similar presentations to three more schools over the next two months, and look forward to meeting all of the children. Thank you to Farmers Helping Farmers. Without their generosity, these projects would not be possible.