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Jambo! Ahh….Africa. Isn’t it romantic, mysterious, storied, feared? Well it’s all of this – some more, some less whilst there are parts of it that can only be experienced rather than imagined.
Africa is confronting in many ways. On arrival in Nairobi perhaps the most obvious of these is the traffic that greets you as it crawls along the crusty arterial roads that lead into the heart of the city. Road rules, traffic lights and traffic management are largely irrelevant here. For persons living in and around Nairobi the daily commute is often several hours spent on a minibus in the heat and dust that is the reality of working life in Kenya’s biggest city. For an ABM staff member it means the same, at least on my first day, but safe in the knowledge that my time in Kenya will be spent outside the metropolis.
ABM’s partner in Kenya, Ukamba Christian Community Services (UCCS) is based about two hours drive outside of Nairobi in the town of Wamunyu (you’ll find it on Google Maps as a little red pinhead on the C97 road heading east from Nairobi). It’s a small town but the presence of UCCS in the local area runs deep. UCCS work within the Diocese of Machakos under the umbrella of the Anglican Church of Kenya. The work of UCCS is to build community led responses to local development issues. Given recent events involving the ongoing drought and famine as well as the influx of Somali and Sudanese refugees; there are a myriad of development issues that Kenya as a country and UCCS as an organisation are seeking to address.
Foremost among these is to help local communities around Wamunya to build up mitigation and sustainability strategies to deal with current and future droughts. UCCS is fortunate to have the knowledge and skills of two agronomists working on staff to direct community wide initiatives that ABM helps to support. John Mutua and Urbanus Mutua provide a level of expertise that gives shape to the range of projects aimed at helping to alleviate the prevailing food and climatic conditions in the areas of UCCS’s work.
The portfolio of projects that UCCS have established range from the construction of sand dams – designed to capture water in the way a traditional dam will do but also for the underlying sand foundations of the dam to capture water that can be held and harvested for up to six months after the rainy season has finished. UCCS aren’t afraid to bring innovative and context appropriate projects to the attention of communities to better promote means to building the community’s tools that they can use to respond to local development issues.
UCCS have also invested themselves heavily in establishing and building constructive working relationships with local government authorities and local community structures. John and Urbanus often meet with local area chiefs (who work in collaboration with government) as well as with management committees set up through each community that UCCS work with. UCCS have worked closely with local management committees in training them in the essentials of project management such as report writing, committee membership, voting procedures and minute taking. Whilst these are largely procedural matters often times it is the smaller and more numerous administrative tasks that are the most important to get right in order to ensure the ongoing success of a community in taking ownership and successfully managing and implementing a project.
Taken as a whole UCCS’s work in Kenya represents some of the best community led development projects that I have encountered in my time with ABM. I trust that with the ongoing support from ABM that the partnership with UCCS and local communities in Kenya will continue to grow now and into the future.
Story by Chris Peters
Pacific Program Coordinator