Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The full moon here has been quite incredible.  The sky is so clear without the pollution and all the diffused lights of the cities in places where most of us live.

When we were here in May we were amazed at how green the vegetation was.  We had never seen it like that in all our prior visits.  See below:

This is how it looks now only 2 months after the short rainy season ended.

A couple of the schools have water tanks/cisterns to catch rainwater from the roof but even those are already empty.

Today, Tuesday, we had arranged to be taken by Kimali, the chairman of the Ndandini Water Project Management Committee to Kitui town (about 1.5 hours by car) to meet with the lady who manages the Jamii Bora branch there and would service the Ndandini area.  So shortly after 9am Duncan and I left the wellsite in Kimali's car.  You cannot begin to understand how bad the "path" is to get to the wellsite!

Everytime someone comes here in a vehicle I shudder.  It was bad enough for the big drilling rig (which you saw on the blog) but for a little passenger car, it is definitely not something that i would do.  I wouldn't even want to do it in our Jeep.  About 200 feet from the tanks we got stuck.  So we all bailed out to see the car sitting there with the one back wheel about 2 feet off the ground and the other 3 wheels in various positions on the deeply rutted path.  I am amazed that Kimali was able to get the car backed up and then reposition the approach so that he could drive the car through the rutted area - even if the car was on a terrible tilt.  We had other similar events along the way, but I won't bore you with them here.  You should come and experience this for yourselves!

Anyway, we picked up others along the way so that by the time we arrived at Jamii Bora we had Kimali,the chairman of the committee; Andrew, the principal of Ndandini Primary School; and Japheth, the sub-area chief along for the meeting.

I had briefed them a little about the great things that the Jamii Bora Trust (micro-finaince bank) does.  Not only providing micro-finanance loans to very poor people, but also offering them an affordable health care program.  They were quite excited to hear more.

Our meeting did not disappoint!  Zipporah the manager of the branch had been out to Ndandini to present to the village in January 2009 so she understood a little about the Ndandini area.  She was very impressed that we had a new management committee and with the quality of the three men who had come.  Everyone hit it off very well and I believe that a lasting bond was established.  A bond which will pay great dividends for Ndandini over time.

Once a villager becomes a member of Jamii Bora, They must save a mimimum of 50 Kenyan shillings each week.  That's about 75 cents each week.  After 6 weeks they can then apply for a small loan of up to twice their savings account balance.     But even more valuable is that a member can immediately start paying a health care premium of only 30 shillings per week (about 45 cents) and get free unlimited in-patient medical coverage for one parent and up to 4 children.  Even pre-existing conditions are covered!

Tomorrow a baraza has been called for the Ndandini/Kyaithani area.  It was originally called to talk to the community about the well and the coming September 5th celebration/dedication day.  As a result of today, these gentlement are also going to talk to the entire community about Jamii Bora.  The members of the water project management committee are going to become members of Jamii Bora as examples to the community (and also because they were so impressed by what Jamii Bora can offer even to people like them who are much better off than most people in the area).

I am so excited that today happened.  It has been a year and a half since I found out about Jamii Bora and tried to get it started in the village.  Finally it looks like the great benefits will be taken advantage of by some villagers and I know that with the encouragement of the committee, it will quickly spread.  

The benefits of much needed affordable health coverage are within their grasp!  And without any donor having to build a local health clinic with all the operational costs and difficulties that entails.

As well, the committee will be opening a savings account with Jamii Bora in the name of the Water Project Management Committee.  This is where the income from the well will be kept.  Using Jamii Bora for this will provide a means of ensuring proper documentation and accountability for funds received from the small water fee per jerry can and the money received by charging people's cell phones.  We expect that water will cost about 2 Ksh per 20 litre jerry can (3 cents) and 

I am so pleased to see the committee eagerly decide that this is what they wanted to do!

We had over 3 hours in the car together and it was a most enjoyable day.  We talked about a very wide range of subjects and especially about community development ideas.  The sky is the limit - limited only by the committee's ability to catch the dream and inspire and motivate the village.

Here's an example.
Problem:  students have trouble completing homework because of lack of light at home at night.  There are some 200 students at Ndandini Primary School from 50 homes.

Possible solution:  from proceeds of the greenhouse, the school buys 50 D-Light solar lights at a cost of about us$1000 and provides one to each home that has a registered child at the school as long as they have a child at the school.  Duncan has tested this light for about 6 months and after leaving it exposed to the sun, can use the light for 5 or 6 hours each night.  The light is enough to light a whole room.  Alternately, a family could get a Jamii Bora micro-finance loan to buy one light and pay off the us$20 cost over 6 months.

Result:  students grades improve, money spent on kerosene for lamps is eliminated, and the air in the hut/home is much cleaner leading to less health problems.

There was also much discussion about ways to get the water from the well distributed to more people.  The largest population centre is some 4km from the well and that is very long way to carry a 20 litre jerry can.  We talked at some length about the idea of a community owned fleet of donkey carts to carry water and the employment opportunities that could be offered to men of the village to operate this service - men who currently have no employment opportunities.  The committee would own the carts and employee men and their donkeys.  The water would be delivered to schools, other potential storage locations and even individual homes for a slightly increased cost to cover the costs of the service.  Imagine the benefits of women having more time to tend their gardens (and improve harvest yield) and train their children; imagine the extra time that students would have for homework because they are not sent to fetch water every afternoon after school.

By 5pm when we got home everyone was very excited but also quite tired from the heat of the day and the mental stimulation.

We are all looking forward to tomorrow's baraza.  And after that I will be meeting with the entire Water Project Management Committee.  No doubt I will be tired after that.

Stay tuned.  I promise great news tomorrow!


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