June 11 - 14, 2013: Logistics, trials, and tribulations. oh my.
I arrived in Kenya a few days before the NWC members to arrange for various bits of logistics. This included hotel arrangements, material delivery to the camp, rental car issues, and beginning work at the camp. It was these few days that I learned quite a bit about working in development.
I had met several people involved in the bottles project last summer during my fellowship so familiar faces were welcoming. I stayed this time with Sam in his home in Nakuru, about two hours away from the camp via public transportation on matatus. This gave us the chance to talk quite a bit about the plans and how the project was coming. Sam was indispensable at this time as he has numerous contacts for vehicles, materials, and other necessities. Always on his phone, Sam worked extremely long days getting everything arranged and I was happy to help where I could.
These days were spent shuttling ourselves back and forth to the camp, negotiating hotel fees, car rental fees, finding materials, and finalizing details of the NWC’s arrival. Our to do list looked something like this:
get materials to the camp:
six bags of cement
80 feet of timber
8,000 plastic bottles
locate a rental car that is reliable
find a hotel for four
While this list is not that long, it was exhausting, as I will detail now.
One major problem was that the months of June through August are the rainy season in Kenya and Hope Camp is located in the Central Province, considered to be the highlands. It rains a lot and is cold during this time, about 40 to 50 degrees fahrenheit. When mixed with unpaved roads, travel became a major issue not previously considered seriously enough. Roads became extremely muddy and even major roads in Kenya are not kept well as potholes and washed out sections of road are normal. Smaller towns were completely unpaved. Mud and clay delayed travel quite a bit and it rained every day during my stay. It was one of the first lessons I learned there, weather must be considered and taken seriously as it can permit or deny projects carrying forward. The camp itself is located in a remote area about 20 minutes away from the main road. There are no roads, just various trails that some are used more than others. The rain made it very difficult to get to the camp and getting stuck happened frequently. One particular time we got stuck shortly after leaving the camp. It was nice to see many camp residents race to our aid, we thanked them profusely of course for getting our van out of the mud. Unfortunately, this did not stop the van from spraying mud and clay all over the residents pushing. So it was muddy.
Transportation was not just an issue for us, it was also an issue for getting the materials to the camp. We learned that transportation was one of the most expensive parts of our project. We had to rent pickup trucks, motorcycles, and cars to get the materials to the camp throughout the week. The car carried the water tank, motorcycles carried cement bags and wheelbarrows, and the pick up truck carried the timber and 8,000 plastic bottles. Explaining the difficulties in transportation cannot be given justice in writing about it here, but it was an issue. For instance, the pick-up truck got stuck near the camp. It set out to deliver the bottles with Sam around 11:00 PM and didn’t get back until 5:00AM. It had gotten stuck near the camp around 2:00 AM and stayed stuck for hours. These are the issues that are left out of proposals and quarterly reports of larger development projects.
One incredibly important part of our project was to clearly outline the objectives and our hopes for the future project. A setback that the project experienced early in May threatened to end the project was an issue with the camp’s leadership. Unfortunately, the Chairman of the camp was removed from his position for lack of transparency and siphoning funds from the camp. After this potential crisis was solved with new camp leadership, I had a lot of ground to make up in the forms of communication. This type of problem could have been devastating as I had no idea what the former Chairman had been telling the camp residents about our project, or if they even knew. I had planned the project based on communications with the former Chairman and I feared the worse. Luckily, Sam and others on the ground conducted swift damage control and communicated with the camp as they elected new leadership. As the crisis passed, I wanted to make sure that I prioritized communicating with the camp leadership as soon as I could on the ground, and most importantly, in person.
Consider the weather, even if that means avoiding certain times of year.
Transportation is often the easiest part to forget about a project, but can be the most expensive.
The wrong local leadership can often be a problem rather than a solution, however, good communication can fix these problems quickly.
When possible, communicate with multiple beneficiaries to ensure leadership on all sides is transparent - though be careful not to muddy the waters of communication, too many people involved can get caught up in small details and stall a project by losing the underlying vision of development and progress.