Why are you here?

So many conversations, so many stories, so many observations in the past few months have led to this question… Why are you here? What exactly are you doing here?

When I write here, I’m talking about all the countries that you’ve listed on your website… The countries that you say you work in. The countries represented with pictures of poor dirty children with runny noses and  flies on their faces… Countries in Africa, South America, Asia… The global south…

Recently while talking to a community leader from a local informal settlement, I asked her how she felt about all the organisations and the researchers that visit the community… I asked her whether there had been any difference after the organisations that had come to ‘help’ or ‘build the capacity’ of the community, left. She said that many people come and go. A majority come with promises or train the community on things that the organisations find important… Another large number mostly made up of researchers come and collect information from the community then disappear. At some point it seemed like a trend that these organisations would give ‘monetary tips’ to the community so it has become the norm, that to get any information, the researcher has to part with some money.

The communities are tired. They are over researched with no change to show for it. I have experienced this numerous times when out in the field. The first question I’m asked is, ‘You’ll benefit from this information, how will I benefit?‘. After a brief explanation, I’m asked, ‘ How is your organisation any different from all the others that have been here? You all come seeking something, looking to achieve some sort of target, then you disappear’. Unfortunately I can’t speak for the previous researchers and organisations that have set a bad precedence… This has been experienced in both informal settlements and the rural areas. I have been fortunate that most of the people eventually allow me to talk to them, however I have also experienced hostility… I remember that once my colleague and I were literally chased away by a fisherman after we said that we didn’t have ‘chai‘ for him.

Then you wonder why your projects aren’t working out…

i.  You come in with assumptions of what the community wants. You are here to achieve an organisational objective. You simply want to meet a target and burn the money allocated to some activity within the required timelines. So, you go to some informal settlement, have a one day event, take photos, send to your donor and voila! Target achieved.

ii. You have zero focus. That’s a polite way of saying that your intention never really was to help the people. You are here to make money and you don’t really care about the people…which may be considered okay, but thing is, you work for a ‘humanitarian’ organisation. So you are supposed to have a heart for the people.

I’m told of many expats who come here, saying that they live in an insecure hardship location i.e. Nairobi. Yet, they live in high walled gated communities, drive big cars, enjoy the vibrant night life in the city, shop in only the best malls… the only interactions they ever have with the locals, is giving instructions to their house helps and greetings to their watchmen. Quite a number have turned from expats to immigrants because of the ‘nice’ life here.

iii. You hire locals only to show that there is diversity in the team… You only hire them when you have to, otherwise you’d rather get people from wherever you came from. You hire people who have absolutely no idea on what actually happens on the ground.  You think that the locals may not have the necessary skills, qualifications or capacity required to fill in the position. Or maybe you hire them as your information machines on the local situation, which again, is rare because you feel that you know better.

You may ask, how do I read your thoughts on what you think of the locals?

I say, I know because its crystal clear in the actions. Locals are hired with remuneration that is waaaaay lower than what the international people are given for the same qualifications. Which would then make sense to hire or train locals but then in your eyes, what do the locals know?

Ask yourself:

i. How long have I been in this location and what are some of the changes and improvements that I have made?

ii. If I leave this country today, will the projects that I have started be sustainable? Will they last? Did the community embrace it and see the project as something worthy of being continued?

iii. Am I using the money allocated to this project, as it should be used?

Because, it doesn’t make sense that you would be saying that you work in an area, yet there barely is any change to show for the millions of dollars donors have invested in the project. However, there are organisations that work. The community leader mentioned a few organisations that work. One organisation  built water kiosks for their community and the kiosks are still functioning to date.

iv. Do I really want to empower the people? Do I think that the people have knowledge on whatever I am doing in their community? How can I really work with the community to improve their situation?

v. What did I learn from this community? If there’s nothing you’re learning… you probably aren’t doing it right

Commercial break:

To the locals who have given the foreigners the perception that we are clueless and cannot be trusted etc… Shame on you!

I’m looking forward to the day that we’ll have organisations say, ‘We are proud to have worked with communities in improving their lives and in the process, we have achieved our objectives. We are therefore leaving to find another location where we can uplift and transform more lives‘.

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Day Zero

Cape Town has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. I feel that the sun shines brighter, the ocean is bluer, the sea food is fresher, there’s a wider variety of flora and fauna… Not to forget the Table Mountain and quaint little places such as Simon’s Town…

Last December, my friend Bobo, visited the place and amid conversation and viewing of the photos from her vacation she mentioned that their Air BnB host had requested that they take 2 minute showers. I thought that was funny, until she explained the gravity of the water situation in CT.

Below in italics are excerpts from various news outlets on the situation in the city:

What was the biggest reservoir in the system – Theewaterskloof Dam – has mostly evaporated or been sucked dry. 

Source: Landsat Image Gallery

 

One side of the lake is now a desert. Devoid of life, this is a landscape of sand dunes, cracked earth and dead trees. It takes more than 30 minutes walk under a burning sun to reach the last pool of water, which is barely wide enough to skim a stone across. In what looks like a dark failure of evolution, it is ringed by the carcasses of stranded fish.On the other side, by the dam wall, the water is nearly 10 metres deep, but the shoreline is receding at the rate of the 1.2metres a week, leaving the bed exposed to the sun. The afternoon winds once attracted sail boats; now they whip up white dust storms that envelop much of the valley. – The Guardian

Residents have been asked to use no more than 50 litres of water daily, down from the current limit of 87 litres. The use of city drinking water to wash vehicles, hose down paved areas, fill up private swimming pools and water gardens is illegal. Residents using too much water will be fined or have devices that limit water supply installed on their properties, according to the rules… Political factions are also bickering about alleged failures to respond to warnings years ago about a looming water crisis.- Global News Canada

Poor management of the city’s water system, which relies almost entirely on rainfall, also contributed to the growing crisis. But as fossil fuel emissions continue to drive up global temperatures, drought risk is expected rise in places like southwestern Africa and California.- The Verge

Day Zero is an estimated date between April 15 and May 11 when taps will be turned off everywhere except at hospitals and at communal taps.Residents, with nothing in their homes to drink, wash or bathe in will have to collect water from about 200 collection points in the city. – The Guardian

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is real. It could happen anywhere in the world. When you look at the images and hear the stories of people fighting for water, it looks and sounds like something out of the apocalypse. Sadly, there are millions of people in the world, whose reality at this very moment is no water.

There have been many arguments as to how Cape Town got to this point. The drought began in 2015, are the measures being taken a little too late? What can we learn from this experience?

i. The importance of the 3Rs- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

  • Reduce the use of water in your household. Yes, you may have free flowing water, but consider the future. If you’re not using the water, close the tap.
  • Reuse your water. Capetonians have been advised to use their washing water to flush their loos… It is quite common in Kenya, to use the water used to wash clothes to clean the verandas, flush loos…
  • Recycle the water… This is at the municipal level. The reclaimed wastewater can be used for irrigation of gardens and farms, to recharge groundwater which will help in time of drought and for other non-consumptive uses e.g flushing loos in the house.

ii. Engage us watershed managers to develop Water Action Plans for your town/city. These plans usually revolve around the 3Rs and ensure sustainable and efficient water use.

iii. Political will in conservation matters… Mr. Politician… Ecology is permanent Economy… Consider the environmental conservation in your strategies and plans.

iv. Community awareness on environmental matters. If I was a resident of Cape Town and didn’t understand what was going on with regards to the drought, lack of rain and lack of water, I’d be very annoyed. I’d have steam coming out of my ears, because, I wouldn’t understand why I didn’t have water running in my taps. It is important for the community/ we the people to know, acknowledge and understand our rights, roles and responsibilities in water/ environment conservation.

I earnestly pray and hope for rain…

 

 

Water Colours

In my world, people frequently talk about different types of water, in colours. If you ever hear or read the terms, this is what they mean:

Blue water is freshwater found on the earth’s surface (rivers, lakes, swamps and streams), in aquifers (groundwater) and in glaciers. Of all the water in the world, blue water accounts for approximately 3%, however only less than 1% of the 3% is easily accessible.

Water Distribution (BluePlanet)
Source: BluePlanet

 

Green water is found in the soil’s pores after precipitation (rain) or irrigation. Yes, soil has pores.:)… The water helps in dissolving nutrients for the plant’s uptake.

Green water final
Source: Floodsite

Grey water is the wastewater found after domestic use (bathing, laundry and even washing dishes) or agricultural use because of pesticides and/or the nutrients from fertilizers. Grey water can be recycled and reused for domestic use and irrigation.

The final and least exciting is,

Black water AKA Sewage is wastewater that contains feaces (that sounds disgusting, huh? especially since I’m thinking of it in Swahili)…wastewater that contains feacal matter (sounds better).

Have a colourful week! 😀

For more check out The Water Network and  Water Footprint Network.

So Will I

This song has been on repeat since I first heard it a few months ago. It’s part of an album by Hillsong United called Wonder. I absolutely love the lyrics.

Enjoy! 🙂

Wonder Woman

724030
Source: cultjer.com

Mekatilili wa Menza, Wangari Maathai and Harriet Tubman are some of the women I consider heroes. Women who stood up for a cause and were willing to take risks to ensure that their voices were heard and their causes triumphed.

Mekatilili led the Giriama of Kenya, in a revolt against British colonialists. She was arrested twice and was jailed over 1000 kilometres away from her home. Both times she escaped and walked! SHE WALKED back home. I can’t even imagine… the distance, the wilderness… Yet she did it. She believed in her cause.

Wangari Maathai began Green advocacy in Kenya. She not only stood up for nature but also for nurturers (women). She had her hair pulled out, she was harassed, she was publicly humiliated however, she was resilient and stood her ground. Examples of the fruits of her resilience are spaces that I thoroughly enjoy include Karura Forest and Uhuru Park. She had a vision.

Harriet Tubman aka Moses was an African American born into slavery. She escaped from her masters and didn’t stop there. She went back  quite a number of times, risking her safety and freedom to lead other enslaved family and friends to freedom. She believed they had a right to enjoy freedom like she was. She says she would have freed more slaves if they knew that they were slaves. She had courage.

Another woman, albeit fictional, who stands out for me is Princess Diana of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta aka Wonder Woman. When I watched this movie, I was particularly impressed by the character of the Princess.

First, she was a warrior. She trained hard, worked hard, she was ready to learn and was willing to fight for her people.

Second, after finding out about the ongoing war, she was willing to leave her paradise of a home, her mother and everything that she knew to save man from war. She did everything she could so that she could find the King of War, kill him and stop the war. Because according to her, ‘It is our sacred duty to defend the world’. She was not going to be held back in her cause. She was not going to sit pretty …

 movie woman trailer from wonder woman GIF

However, what stood out for me most was that she had compassion. Even when she saw the evil and desolation amongst men, she was still willing to fight for them. The King of War more than once tried to make her see that man did not deserve her good deeds. But…in her words, ‘It’s not about deserve… it is about what you believe. And I believe in love’ because, ‘Only love can truly save the world’…

Moral of this story:

You and I can be heroes too. We don’t have stop a war… It’s in the little things as Wangari Maathai said. Hers was planting trees, what’s yours?

Harriet Tubman said, Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.