Meetings, meetings, meetings

Sanergy had a really busy week last week. So busy in fact, that I didn’t have time to write any updates, so this will all come in one big lump.

Monday was a very interesting day. We headed over to the favored meeting spot for all “cool” expats: the yaya center. There we met Joseph, an independent consultant who told us about Carolina for Kibera before we headed to Kibera to see some of their work firsthand. CFK (for short) was started by the University of North Carolina, and is one of the most respected NGOs in the Kibera community (by the people, which is of key importance). They like to play the role of the enabler; rather than start and build their own projects, they help support projects already underway in the community by getting funding, or by introducing proven ideas/projects to youth groups in the community looking for work to do.

When we arrived at Kibera, we stopped near a wall painted bright pink where a few young guys were washing a car. Behind the pink wall was a shack, which is the office of the youth group “Zulu.” We met with their leaders and Medina from CFK. Watch a short video interview we did, here.

Zulu formed many years ago (20?) as one of the many soccer clubs in Kibera (around 60 for a population of 800,000 in the slum). The boys wanted other ways to earn money to support their team, so they started a car wash. They take turns manning the station, and can earn a few dollars a week (in total) doing it. They later started a trash collection service, where families pay about 20KSH (25c) per bag of trash. They then collect the trash in a trash dump they cleared by the side of the main road, and sort it into compostable, plastic, electronic, glass, and metal. They plan on selling the recyclables at some point, but they’re waiting for a buyer to come. The remaining trash is put in bags and is collected once a month.

Most recently, they’ve taken an interest in the Umande biocenters, which are tall, circular buildings that have toilets on the ground floor, and community space on top. Below, all the human waste produced is collected, where it naturally produces biogas (a mix of methane and co2). The gas is piped upstairs to the community space, where it is burned in normal stove burners to heat water or food. The umande centers have been successful in gathering about 3-600 users per center, and generate a small profit each month.

The Zulu group wants CFK to help them get funding to build their own center that they can operate for the neighborhood. People would then have a clean place to go to the bathroom, and Zulu would have another income source.

We said our goodbyes to Zulu, Joseph, and CFK, and Dave noticed he had about 11 missed calls and messages. Apparently, Lindsay’s friend’s brother (Eric) arrived in Nairobi that morning from Mombasa via bus, and was forced into a taxi by two guys posing as taxi drivers. They hit and threatened him with clubs, took all of his belongings (wallet, passport, backpack), and then threw him out of the car. He rolled down a steep 20 foot drop, but managed to get up and make his way to the embassy. When we got the call, he was in the hospital getting x-rays and ct scans. He had no money and no cards to pay for anything, so we headed over there to meet him and help him out.

We wandered around the hospital for a bit, until I saw a guy I thought might be him and said “hey, are you Eric?” He was in good spirits, and didn’t look too beat up at all. A couple of us headed out to use the net as he waited for his turn. We were in the Indian area of town, and I decided to get a haircut at an Indian guy’s place. I was a bit surprised at one point when I looked up and saw that my hair looked exactly like his!

We then had an informal visit with some Technoserve consultants. All were great guys, and we had a fun time just chatting without a formal objective. We then took Eric back to our lodging (a shack with 2 bunk-beds in what looked like someone’s backyard). Good thing we had an extra space for him!

And that was just Monday!

Tuesday was the first time we didn’t have anything in the morning, so we took the opportunity to reorganize our things and do our laundry. No laundry machines means hand-washing. Housewives need to have strong forearms. (We filmed our efforts – watch the video here.)

That afternoon, Ani and Dave met with CARE while I caught up with some work. We then had a quick bite to eat at Ani’s new favorite restaurant, Mlindi Dishes. They serve coastal Kenyan food, which has an interesting resemblance to Indian cooking in certain ways.

We met up with a recent MIT alum, who’s now working in Kenya at the IFC in the investment division. He told us all about his job, life in Kenya, and the other MIT grads he’s seen around. Seems like all the ones he knows are doing very well (including himself!)

It was then time to head back to our favorite 6×10 ft smelly cabin with four guys and their dirty clothes.

I’ll leave you in suspense concerning the happenings of Wednesday/Thursday.

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