Thursday, 23 January 2014

Kenya 2014 - By James Haughton

Well I’m coming to the end of another trip to visit projects here in Kenya. It has been a useful trip. It is easy in the UK to lose track of how things work over here and the challenges that local people face. Life is very difficult for people here but there is genuine hope and heaps of potential.

What’s “Africa”? Its 1 billion people, 53 countries and maybe 3,000 languages. It’s impossible to simplify about one nation, made up of many tribes such as Kenya, and generalising about a continent is plain dangerous. Each community and tribe has its own dynamics and social systems. It was really hammered home this trip how important it is that our Field Officers originate from those contexts in which we work with the locally elected water committees. This is a direction in which we have been moving over the past few years.

While I’m on the topic of generalisations just type “African child” into google images and compare it to “European child”. It’s sad for me to see the results of the former search with every other image a child in tears or a victim of disaster or famine. I do not deny the suffering of many, but rather it is the representation of hopelessness that pervades our conceptions of “Africa” that irritates me.

One thing that humbled me this trip was meeting so many Head Teachers that provided free places (no free schooling in Kenya) to orphaned and destitute children. Such charity has a very detrimental effect on the economy of the school but nonetheless this is a society that does what it can to help its neighbour.
It’s surprising even to me know how a water project at a school can have unanticipated benefits. Increasingly access to clean water attracts new students, encourages children to board instead of walking kilometres a day and thus increases the budget of the schools to reinvest in staff. At Rotik school in Ndanai region I spoke to the deputy head about his water supply and was taken aback at his estimate of how much the school pays a week for the transport of water, £51, when the average salary of one of his staff a week was just £10.
What’s worse is that the donkey fetched water from a spring 2 miles away contains unsafe levels of bacteria and contaminants. But it’s deemed worth 5 teachers’ salaries a week because it is essential to the existence of the school and education in that district.

I am optimistic about the future of Kenya and of Africa as a continent. By cooperation with those who know what needs fixing in their communities we can open up opportunities, beyond the immediate health benefits of clean water, to remove barriers and aid the development of stronger schools and local economies.

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