From left to right: Stephen (me), Mariah, Martha, and Martin (June 11, 2007)
Today is my first day at the office of Women Economic Empowerment Consort (WEEC), residing in Kajiado district, just outside of Nairobi district, Kenya. Kiserian could not be more different from Nairobi despite its proximity. As the gentlemen who drove me to Kiserian stated: “When you see donkeys, you know you are in Kiserian.” This comment reminded me of a phrase I had learned the day before: “A man without a donkey is a donkey.” I do not have a donkey.
Amidst the hard working donkeys of Kiserian bringing purified water to the residents much in need of clean water, you will also find a bustling town. To get to Kiserian from Nairobi City you drive past the Nairobi national park, past a glimpse of the slums of Kibera, and past the cozy suburb of Karen where mostly expats reside. The streets are lined with open air markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables and small business selling everything from cell phone accessories to the above mentioned clean water and kerosene. There are also the obligatory noisy street vehicles working to rebuild the roads, but you quickly get past that and anxiously await their completion. The roads leading into Kiserian are fantastic, so when this stretch is finished, it should encourage even more visitors.
In the actual city of Nairobi guidebooks and individuals, local or otherwise, warn against riding the matatus (an insane form of private transportation), walking around freely, rolling your windows down, using your camera or cell phone in public, etc. In orther words, in Nairobi City you have to be rather guarded and cautious and this removes you a bit from the experience of being in Nairobi and Kenya.
Kiserian could not be more of a different story. Here, I am told, you can walk freely, even ride a bike, and, if you are feeling courageous ride a matatu. I plan to do all of the above and to enjoy the cleaner air, more ample trees and see if I can get to know a few of the residents in the more friendly confines of the surrounding area of WEEC’s operations.
So, to provide context as my blog entries roll along, WEEC is in Kiserian, about 25 km from Nairobi, but a world apart. The other members of the photo: The lady directly to my left, Mariah, works in operations and is in charge of entering many of the records that the Micro Finance Officers bring back from the field. She is a very hard worker and is the one charged with bringing me up to speed on WEEC’s operations.
To her right we have Martha. Martha is quite a firecracker. She is one of the most senior employees at WEEC and a true holder of the vision of WEEC. She used to be a teacher and it shows. She conducts quite a bit of training for the various women’s groups so she quickly points out that she still is a teacher. Except now she can provide even more tools, such as capital through Kiva, to help get rural women to believe in themselves as individuals and as business women. You can rarely talk to Martha without hearing a story of one of her loan recipients and I am very thankful for getting to work with her. I am sure to learn a lot from this woman and Kiva lenders should be elated to have her on the case of distributing and monitoring their loans.
To her right we have Martin. Martin is the Micro Finance Officer (MFO) responsible for Kiambu, an area of Nairobi that I have not had a chance to visit yet. If you are in possession of a Lonely Planet Kenya travel guide, this area is actually mentioned (unlike Kiserian) as it has a national park called Paradise Lost within its confines. Martin sounds like a proud father pronouncing his child’s name when he speaks the name of his territory: Kiambu. I very much look forward to visiting this area with him soon.
Oh, in case you were wondering, Karibu (the title of this, my first posting) means welcome in Swahili, and that is just the way I felt after my first day working with WEEC.