Friday, May 31, 2013

Final goodbyes for Nutrition Prof

Jennifer here- the supervisor of the UPEI nutrition interns for 2013. I am approaching the end of a four year experience supervising nutrition students in Kenya. Today is Saturday, and Monday is my last day of ‘work’ before I head to Nairobi on Tuesday to return to Canada.  I always have mixed feelings when I am leaving Kiirua, since, although I am excited to see my boys, my husband and my family after 3 weeks, I have to say goodbye to the women my students have worked with, my Kenyan friends and the beautiful hills and children of Kiirua.  Most of all, I have to leave my students behind to do development and educational work until August. That is always a tough one for me: I have done my best to prepare them, arranging for introductions to women’s groups and schools, a ‘reliable taxi man’ and a woman to translate for our students, and learning to adapt-and thrive- in the Kenyan culture. However, I always want ‘one more week’ to attend another educational session, home visit, and just enjoy my time with these young people who have become so very special to me.  I have gone through this every year since 2010, but this year is especially poignant for me.  This is our final year, since CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) has cut the funding we had been granted for next year (2014). This meant that everything we do this year has to have a ‘sustainability lens’: we need to try and set up conditions that will enable the women to carry on the work and spread the messages about nutrition and healthy family meals into the broader community.
First Family Dinner 2013!
It is a beautiful Saturday morning- birds are chirping, sun is shining and the sky is, as always, blue. The weather has been amazing- a few very hot days, but most have only been too warm at noontime. A special gift this morning is POWER! We lost it for about 26 hrs and nearly lost about $40 worth of ground beef and chicken. But we managed to save the food (thankfully Kim bought it frozen). Last night we had our first family dinner with the full team: 2 Biology students (Alicia and Jennifer) 2 nursing students (Vanessa and Danielle) and 2 nutrition students (Sydney and Megan), Kim Critchley (Nursing advisor), Kevin Teather (Bio Advisor) and myself (Nutrition advisor). The hospital cooks, Cyrus and Belton, arrived and were able to create a masterpiece dinner even without power, since we have a propane stove top. The water stopped working, so we had to run to the bathrooms to get water for them to wash vegetables and boil pasta.  They deep fried most of the veggies for the pasta (!) and the chicken- it was amazing, although less healthy than I had hoped. Sawa sawa! We had them join us and we all sat together by candlelight.  Cyrus told us about working for the military, and how the men are ‘crazy’ when they return from working guarding Kenya’s borders. They loves cooking for us since he cooks only ugali, uji, githeri and stew at the hospital- a rather starchy monotonous repertoire! The pili pili curry (hot peppers), garlic, eggplant, fresh tomatoes and pili pili ho (green peppers) were, I am sure, a nice change for them, and for us! The girls are so lucky to have these guys 5 days a week. Kim is paying for them, as I am tapped out from paying for other things- and this makes the new higher rent at St Theresa’s quite affordable for the students. Thank heavens!
Today we are planning a party (sort of Hello/Goodbye) since we have not greeted all the Sisters yet, and we want our friends Salome, Festus, Mwenda, Gikundi and Harriet as well as our fave driver Charles and his wife to come and celebrate our friendship. The cooks are making pizza (although I will start the dough) and I am making chocolate chip cookies (a HUGE favourite with Kenyans, who love their sweets). I am going to present the small TV and DVD player to the sisters, which my girls will use to create a breastfeeding/healthy infant feeding video for the women who come to the hospital to give birth, and later for immunization. I wish we could make that more widely available but having access to power can be limiting. I DO think that we could make copies of the DVD and give one to the Muchui Business centre where it could be shown to the women.
The biggest excitement we have had this year is creating resource binders for ‘Super Star Champs’ teams: these include women from the Muchui and Ruuju women’s groups matched with nursery (e.g. 3-4 yr olds) parents at 5 primary schools in the area. This means we have four teams for the muchui area (a total of 20 women) and three teams for the Ruuju area (a total of 14 women).  Megan and Sydney have had to ‘hit the ground running’ since we had to compile all the materials from all previous years (Kaylynne and Christina from 2010; Amy and Harrison from 2011 and Janet, Sam and Fergie from 2012) AND get these translated into Kimeru, the local language. This has resulted in some hilarious experiences with the translator, but when these were presented yesterday to the Muchui teams, their smiles made it worth it.  Can’t wait!
Elizabeth, a lead teacher at Kinyenjeri school, congratulates the nutrition interns on their binders

They said “We can understand now! We can teach others!”. It was great, and we all felt this was a perfect way to use and honour all the work that has come before. My last day will allow me to finally observe a “Champs” session at KK Ndege primary school, where we will cook at one of the women’s homes, and then transport the food to the school. There, the Champs, not my students, will teach the nutrition messages AND explain how to cook healthy for the first time.
Mama Salome (Muchui woman champ) and two nursery parent champs for Marinya School
The nutrition team will do a separate blog on their experiences soon. 

I want to thank my students, Farmers Helping Farmers and CIDA for giving me an experience that I will never forget, and one that is a highlight of my life. We don’t have any more funding to bring groups of students like this, which I think is a huge loss. To watch the students learn first hand about another culture, and to become independent creative thinkers, has been an amazing experience for me. I am hoping I can choke back the tears when I say goodbye to the women, and to my dear friend Jennifer Murogocho on Monday. It won’t be easy, but I am determined to get different funding to do some research here, which would allow me to at least bring a few graduate students back to this awe inspiring place.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Nutrition Interns first meeting with Muchui Women 'Champs'

Megan, Sydney and translator Rosemary explain what we would like to do this year

Jennifer Taylor here-  nutrition faculty advisor for the Students for Development Nutrition team. Just a quick note to let you know that we had our first meeting of the Muchui Women Food Champs today. It was a great success! The women enthusiastically agreed to work with the 2011 Nursery Parent champs in forming a "SuperStar Champs Team" for each of the four primary schools in the area: KK Ndgege, Marinya, Kamuketha and Kinyenjeri.  Sydney and Megan worked with Rosemary, our translator, for the first time, and it went very well.  I brought my laptop and showed them pictures of previous years. Gales of laughter and back slapping resulted.  I am so proud of their confidence: we asked them to provide special cooking tips which we can include in their teaching binders, to be used by them in the future.  We are doing the same thing tomorrow at Ruuju, and will be meeting with our teams next week to plan our detailed education sessions. We also start our home assessments of food security and diet quality at Ruuju.

Miriam PROUDLY wears her personalized t-shirt from Roger
I also wanted to post a picture of a proud and happy Muchui woman Margaret Mwoira, who was presented with her t-shirt provided by Roger Henry of Farmers Helping Farmers. Roger is fundraising for pitch forks so that the women can more effectively compist. She was so happy that she danced around the Muchui Business centre grounds, and asked me (passionately) to tell Roger how happy she is and how she looks so 'smart'. She kept it on the entire meeting! I have a video which is priceless, but too large to post. You 'done good', Roger. After watching the reaction (and Mama Salome was coveting it yesterday), we are trying to see how we can make t-shirts for our champ teams here. Must get to bed early- big day tomorrow!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nutrition Team 2013 Arrives in Kenya!

Megan Ellis, Jennifer Taylor and Sydney Abells begin their Kenyan Adventure 2013!
After a long flight, we were greeted by Henry of Sportsman Safari at the airport. We had a good rest in Nairobi (including a visit to an elephant orphanage and Kazuri Beads and delicious meals at Fairview hotel). We headed to the Meru area on Saturday. When we arrived at Jennifer Murogocho’s guest house (a.k.a. Momma Jen) in Meru late afternoon, we were welcomed into her home with open arms.

First dinner at Mama Jen's in Meru

On Sunday morning, Momma Jen took us to her church in Kinyenjere where we sang, Jen T. danced (rather badly but was helped by the women) and enjoyed the beautiful singing.   We participated in an auction of some goods donated by members, and distributed a box of bananas to all the children and most of the women!  Because Kenyans are so generous, they invited us to stay for tea and lunch. Every Sunday, after the service the community sits down and eats a meal provided by different women from the community. Our jaws dropped when we were each given a MASSIVE bowl of Mukimo (plantain and potato) plus 2 different types of rice. Jen T saved the day and suggested we share one of the bowls…guess this is something we will have to get used to!! This morning (Monday), we were up bright and early to walk Jen T (who wants to be ‘encouraged’ to exercise! Even at 7 in the morning, the roads were packed with school kids and boda bodas (motorcycles) and cars. After our walk, we headed out the highway towards Kirrua where we were lucky enough to cross paths with baboons. So far, we are still dreaming of spotting elephants on the side of the road!  We then braved the bumpy roads to Muchui, which are full of ruts and have the sides washed out by the recent rains. We visited Grace, the Chair of the Muchui Women's Group, and had a great conversation about how we can approach our work. She showed us the maize drying in the sun- see the photo for an action shot!

Grace, Chair of Muchui Women drying maize in the sun at the Barrier market

We at last arrived at the Muchui Business Center, we were greeted 
warmly by Salomi and Festus. They gave us a tour of their screen house and all the plants they are preparing for market. After our tour, we went over to Mama Salomi’s farm (a Champ from previous years, and an amazing farmer and Muchui woman) where she had generously prepared us lunch. Our stomachs are slowly starting to adjust to the Kenyan food and we were able to eat and FINISH their own bowls of Gacere beans and carrots (delish), rice and cabbage.
Since lunch was given to us again on Day 2, our ‘fabulously prepared’ almond butter sandwiches sat in the trunk of the car, yet again. Jen T tells us she will fry them up in the morning with some butter and we can have them for breakfast... Yippee.
Sydney and Megan meet Mama Salome (Rael)- one of the first Muchui Champs!

Tonight we were given an expert chapatti making lesson by Mama Jen. We learned to roll the soft dough according to the highest standards, and swirl the hot chapatti on the pan with our hands without getting burned. And they were delicious with cabbage, and Jen’s coconut chicken. It is great to have the opportunity to learn first hand how to cook Kenyan food before we start our work with the women this summer.  
Sydney and Megan making chapatis with Jennifer M (Mama Jen)
Every day, our hearts melt when we see the beautiful Kenyan children and always shout out “aawwww cute”. They sometimes stare back at us like we are aliens- or celebrities!  Jen T is keeping a close eye on us, and we are all feeling very safe, and adapting very well. The jet lag is subsiding, and we are no longer waking up in the middle of the night.  
Tomorrow morning we are headed to the Ruuju school, where we will meet with the headmaster and Grace where we will go over this summer’s plans to work with the Ruuju champs from 2010 and 2013, and the nursery school champs from 2011. We are putting together binders for the champ teams so that they can carry the nutrition education and healthy family food preparation forward  after we leave. It is going to be an exciting and challenging project- stay tuned!

Kenya is amazing, and far more than we expected. The sun is shining every day, and we are excited to meet with all the women of Ruuju and Muchui and get to work!!

Muzungo’s out-
Megan and Sydney (and Jen T)