Monday, December 15, 2014

HRBA Meeting Narrative At Mukuru Kwa Njenga

Mukuru Kwa Njenga is a slum in the East of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya belonging to Embakasi constituency. Under the guidance of Umande trust, the community members have come together as one to identify their problems and seek solutions to them. Attending one of the scheduled meetings, I was able to learn so much about this community.

As the Kenyan flag symbolizes Unity for our country, so does the slogan “muungano!” for the community representatives from Mukuru Kwa Njenga ward.  The Slogan is a Swahili word meaning union. Their unification is demonstrated by the vehemence the members had as they stood up to introduce themselves: They began by strongly stating the slogan, then their names, where they come from and what they love and hate with regard to making Mukuru a better place.

“I love peace, transparency, security and water and abhor deceit, favoritism and hate,” says one of the community members. She summarizes the major challenges they face from day to day. Based on the meeting, what I realized was that Mukuru faces a major hurdle, water.

They face all the problems related to water, from its cleanliness; some of the members do not access clean water therefore they are sometimes forced to drink water from the sewage, availability; water is accessible only to people living in the flats and some of the villagers, affordability; the prices of water are high making it hard for people to buy the water and seek alternative sources(salty water), accessibility; the people find it hard  to acquire water without harassment, quality; treated, clean water is scarce, security; the piped water sometimes is diverted before it reaches the original beneficiary and there is inadequate electricity to pump the water.

To stabilize this, firstly, they went out for mapping to establish water areas where new metres could be installed.Secondly, to get a permanent office from Nairobi Water Company so that the community members and landlords could have a designated area for getting water metres and legal connection. Revive the dormant water kiosks which are sometimes used for illegal business and to investigate on who was given the responsibility of managing them.

The representatives acknowledged not only having challenges but also achievements. They are happy that the World Bank and other non governmental organizations have come in handy to ensure water availability even though it may not be sufficient and constructing some of the water kiosks where some are finished others are under construction. Accepting that charity begins at home, they deem it fit to solve the problems at home first.

They desire to know their rights so that next time they can say ‘’NO!’’ to exploitation and discrimination to water services and disposal of garbage. This responsibility was passed on to the enlightened members, the leaders. Community members who know these rights were reported to have been ignorant to helping out if not directly affected, a behavior that must be clogged.

As we departed one of the members says, “Foundation is what matters. As the rights holders fighting for our rights starts with us.” We all agreed and ended on that high positive note as everyone left for their home. 

Written by Jill Apiyo.     

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Trip to Kibera

Outside of the Bio-Centre
Just the other day, I was watching the news and I saw so many activities happening in Kibera. Many individuals within governmental and non-governmental organizations come to Kibera   to gain professional experience and education.. I knew there was something in this place, good or bad, and I was eager to find it out.

Born and bred in Nairobi, I had never been to Kibera making me feel ignorant to the area and what it entailed, a vice I abhor. I mean, Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi and the largest urban slum in Africa. Most of its residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than one dollar per day. I wanted to know how they survive, considering I spend two hundred shillings a day just on transport! People living with HIV/ AIDS are many, cases of assault and rape are common, there are few schools (and schools with affordable prices at that), clean water is scarce (hence diseases caused by poor hygiene are prevalent), and  the majority of residents lack access to healthcare.

After my external research, I came to the conclusion that this is the reason why so many non governmental organizations come to Kibera.Clearly,these are human beings who lack the basic necessities nobody can live without: food, clothing , shelter, healthcare and education, as summed up above.

 These are the things I read about before going to Kibera, and I wanted to see this practically. I ended up in one of the villages in Kibera called Laini Saba, and I visited the Soweto High rise Bio Centre.Since Kibera has so many self-help groups, I was intrigued by this significant aspect of the settlement. I wanted to know the various types of groups there were and the various functions they each have, especially those serving the vulnerable groups such as women, children, orphans and the disabled. I was also engrossed on the status and distribution of the basic necessities such as water, food, clothing and shelter.

I write my personal experience so as to give an imagine of Kibera to those who have not been there. I don’t know about you, but I had formed this attitude about Kibera before my visit, but it changed soon after. Beginning now, I hope to be a good ambassador to those who have never been to Kibera.
 Kibera is not heaven, but definitely not hell either. People do live here, and it is certainly habitable. As I was, you might be surprised to find there are gated communities within Kibera with the same tarmacked parking lots as those you see in posh areas.

However, outside these communities, what covers most of the environment is inorganic litter, smoke, congested housing with rusted roofing. 

But what captured my attention was the Bio Centre that I got to visit; Soweto High Rise. It is one among the many, but also one in a million. Those in charge at the Centre serve their community members with passion, their goal being to permanently settle their members in land owned by them to avoid eviction in the future. They have a team of leaders that are outstanding. This leadership is what captures my curiosity. They are accountable, transparent and service-oriented leaders, a hard quality to find in many organizations these days. Also, they have a constitution (see left), identification cards, certificate of membership (see right and below), and a Saving Scheme initiative, all seen below.

Nevertheless, like any other organization, they face many challenges. I was distressed to learn that presently, they face a threat of being shattered.  One of the outlets of the bio digester tanks faces a road that has plans to expand. The Government’s purpose of expanding the road is to upgrade Soweto The expansion is to conflict with the land the Bio Centre is located. If the outlet is tampered with, then the Bio Centre would need to close down and the effluents would pollute the environment.

Bio-Centre Safe
Sincerely speaking, I loved my visit and I look forward to going back, this time with zeal and a bit more insight to some of the problems I witnessed. This is one management we should emulate. The same that we should fight for to sustain.

 By: Jill Apiyo

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The French Ambassadors' Visit To Bio centres in Kibera

I don’t know about you, but I sure was happy to hear of the news. I had to go no matter what. I may never get such an opportunity again. You only live once!

Umande staff  with the French Ambassador
My colleagues seemed calm, so I went with the flow. We were all ready to tour Kibera. On such instances one would need to dress for the occasion. Just like an official wear for the office or gown for a wedding, a pair of pants and closed shoes would do you justice. The dusty roads and paths in Kibera were otherwise muddy especially with the short rainy season. Despite this, the tour had to take place.

Muvi Bio centre 
Mr Josiah Omoto with zest led the way for his flock and the visitors through each and every bio centre explaining the latest developments. We all learnt a lot from the best.

Our venerated visitors were from the French embassy with a group of journalists from France. They were interested to see the projects that they funded in Kibera. Most of those projects were in partnership with Umande Trust plus most of Umande’s agents know their way around Kibera, our presence was obligatory.

Umande deals with Bio gas projects around Kibera, so the tour was based on the bio centers within Kibera funded by the French embassy and supported by Umande Trust.
 To begin with, we visited the Nyaharwa bio centre where the visitors were given an orientation about this centre.
Muvi bio centre
Mr.Ambasa at Jasho Letu

Next, we headed to Muvi bio centre. 
They were interested to know about the facility. They were very inquisitive about the cashless system here; how they used Beba Pay cards. They had a chance to talk with the caretaker on the other hand, Mr. Amuok guided them on how to use the cashless system.

Jasho letu Bio centre followed suit. Here they met Ambasa, the chairman of the self help group heading this centre, who answered their questions.
They were content with the bio centres and the improvements made so far. This was evidenced by the exit speech given by Mr. Remi Marechaux, the French ambassador.

Written by Jill Apiyo.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Improving Access: Kianyaga High School Bio-Digesters

Kianyaga High school is a school based in Central province. They have a vision: to create a citadel of excellency.They aim to provide quality education that will produce an all-round citizen who is disciplined, creative, self-reliant and of quality service to the nation. Achievement of this would create a new breed of citizens that would drive the Kenyan Nation towards its vision 2030.

The school management thought it shrewd to make the boys’ learning experience better by partnering with Umande Trust, a nascent rights-based agency which believes that modest resources, strategically invested in support of community-led initiatives, can significantly improve access to water for all.
They had one goal, to improve the sanitation of the school, and what better agency to  do this other than Umande Trust, concreted by their unending  successful involvement with the community on sanitation and water. With funding from WARMA, their dreams became true.

With the baton passed on to Umande, they deemed it fit to construct three bio digesters in the school. The labor was supplied by both artisans and skilled laborers. The 70m3 located next to the hostels is the largest, the one next to the labs is 50m3, and finally there is a 20m3 next to the garden and pig sty, strategically placed to get waste from the pigs and cattle. The three would then be used to supply gas to the kitchen for cooking.

Human health is imperative for them to function effectively. To attain their aim, the management team of Kianyaga School came up with this strategy which is currently being implemented. The Umande fraternity wishes them the best in their project and that they benefit from it and spread the gospel.

Written by Electa Rosana
Edited by Jill Apiyo

Monday, November 17, 2014

Meet the Bio-Centres: St. Christine Bio-Centre and School

As I trekked across Kibera to the St. Christine Bio-Centre and School, I was not quite sure what to expect. I had been told St. Christine “has a lot going on” and there would be plenty of great things there, but I was still left curious. When we finally reached our destination, a compound just off the highway, we entered a small metal gate that opened up into a community filled with festive children, passionate teachers, and all kinds of inspiring projects.

St. Christine Bio-Centre and School truly has it all: latrines, showers, a solar lamp community distribution project, a computer lab, and green space initiatives. Working in partnership, Umande Trust and the St. Christine School have accomplished a great many things in the past few years. Since both the Bio-Centre and School’s inception, a world of possibilities has opened up for the School and surrounding community’s growth. And by the looks of it after I finished my tour, it was clear to me that those involved in the Bio-Centre and School’s success had no intention of stopping.

 Beginning our tour, the first stop we made was the Bio-Centre toilets and showers. We were told the toilets have served a great benefit to the students for purposes of both sanitation and convenience, but also in terms of student awareness and knowledge of what proper sanitation looks like. Adding to this, there was even a colorful mural above the sinks that mapped the hazardous germs that spread when students skip washing their hands.  

Next, we moved upstairs to check out a solar lamp distribution project the School has launched. The lamps, which can be both charged or receive power from sunlight, were donated by the United Nations. Beginning on December 5, these lamps will begin to be distributed to targeted community members in need. A small fee will be charged, but only to cover the cost of charging the lamps. On the walk back to the Umande HQ after our tour, I realized this was a noble project. The project offered little benefit to the School itself, but rather was an outward directed project that hopes to cater to the surrounding community and beyond. This project is being tested out here and will be expanded if the pilot goes well. 

Next, we went upstairs to see the cyber rooms. Due to a partnership with Umande and the Danish-based organization SustainableEnergy (, the School was able to setup two cyber rooms. One room is designated for community use and will soon have internet access, and the other room is for students and has been equipped with outstanding educational software. This software has a dictionary, picture dictionary, games, tests, and detailed progress reports, among other things. If this wasn’t enough, the School is looking to setup a digital library. The School told us that for Kibera, this is the first cyber room at a school. Once the Bio-Centre was built, Umande continued to work in partnership with the School to make this project happen, and Umande and St. Christine are excited to say that it has become a great success.  

After seeing the solar lamps and computers, we headed upstairs to capture a fantastic view of surrounding Kibera. As students setup chairs for pre-exam prayer later that afternoon, our group spoke about how far St. Christine had come and how beneficial its programs are proving to be for students there. Inside the walls of St. Christine, one finds a centre students can be nurtured and grow in safely as a result of the School’s dedication to them and the partnerships they maintain with organizations like Umande.

Next, we headed downstairs to check out more of the campus. Upon walking out of the School side of the Bio-Centre, I became intrigued by a peculiar structure next to the courtyard. It was a series of shipping crates stacked all on top of each other.  I was told it was to be the School’s secondary school, all they needed was stairs. Each crate would serve as one classroom and there were doorways and windows cut out in each of them. I thought it was an incredibly innovative idea. Who would have thought that shipping crates could do so much.

 Finally, I learned of one final project just before we left. This project is one often underestimated: green space. As most may know, Kibera is not home to many trees, vegetation, or grass in general. This has led to problems; for example, polluting erosion in Kibera is far more free-flowing without much plant-life. Moreover, green spaces encourage community activities and integration, in addition to creating an overall attractiveness in society. In concern to the lack of green spaces, litter, and pollution in Kibera, one of the School teachers told me that “[students can’t] let what they see in Kibera last when they leave.” Because of this, in the past the School has started a vegetable garden, and hopes to one day transform the central courtyard into a grassy area students can congregate, play, and hold events in.

Overall, the St. Christine Bio-Centre and School are astounding facilities. It goes to show how far you can go with the committed and collective effort of many community members and partners all dedicated to a few common causes. Currently and in the past, St. Christine has worked with a variety of NGOs and inter-governmental organizations, including Umande Trust, Under the Same Sky, SustainableEnergy, and the United Nations. The work done at St. Christine is so inspiring because these organizations did not settle for the standard many have come to expect in the surrounding community, but they pushed beyond this to give students the resources, and in turn the capabilities, they felt students everywhere are entitled to. What students carry from this institution will last a lifetime, and Umande is proud to be a partner of such a phenomenal establishment.

Written by Alex Young, Business Intern

Friday, November 14, 2014

Improving Access: A Case Study on the Bio-Card System at Tosha One

Impact of the New Bio-Card Payment System

Beginning in early 2013, a team of computer science students from Jomo Kenyatta University started developing a closed-loop cashless payment system for Umande’s bio-centres. This payment system is presently being trialed at the Tosha One bio-centre. Currently close to 1,000 people per day use the bio-centre at Tosha One, making the location ideal for testing the initial stages of this new payment system. 

So how does it work? Currently there are two cashless payment platforms being used at the Tosha One bio-centre: the Kopo Kopo system and the new closed-loop bio-card process. Implemented at the Tosh One bio-centre since January 2013, the Kopo Kopo system allows customers to pay for bio-centre amenities using their bio-cards. Patrons simply use Safaricom’s M-PESA service “lipa na m-pesa” to top-up credit on their card, which can be charged for daily, weekly, or monthly services. With M-PESA, the transactions are electronically recorded, immediate, and charge-free. Umande is instead charged 1% lumpsum each time there is a transaction from the till number to the group bank accounts monthly.

Kopo Kopo also offers the ability for caretakers to electronically submit, transfer, and record cash transactions with its mobile app. Because the caretaker is ultimately responsible for significantly less records, both the mobile and cash payment methods improve the accountability and record keeping of the bio-centre. With that being said, the Kopo Kopo method has its challenges. For one, caretakers are still responsible for submitting the physical cash for Kopo Kopo transactions, as the front-end money management is still not fully cashless.

With these issues in mind, the innovators developed a separate computer platform to make electronic transactions using bio-cards. Customers can add credit to the bio-cards either through cash transfer at Umande, online, or through Kopo Kopo, and then simply use the system at the bio-centre. By selecting either toilet or shower and holding the bio-card up to the computer, patrons can immediately pay for bio-centre services. Because the system is closed-loop and instant, the payment method allows for improved record-keeping and accountability. The bio-card system also offers a convenient way to pay for families and other sharing clients without mobile phones. 

When asked about the Kopo Kopo and new bio-card system, Tosha One’s caretaker Winnie Abuto responded positively. Abuto said that while the Kopo Kopo system initially ensured the safety of money, “the bio-cards are better.” The Tosha One bio-centre provides toilets for 5 shillings, cold showers for 10, and both for 200 shillings a month; there are currently 20 monthly clients. “More people are using the bio-cards,” comments Winnie, who is no longer responsible for the difficult and time-consuming recordkeeping of numerous cash transactions.

Although this new system does have many advantages, it still presents some issues; fortunately, Umande’s innovators are currently working to solve them. Because the system runs on electricity, frequent power-outages are a main problem. To mediate this issue, the creators are working on creating a rechargeable computer system, so there is backup power supply during outages. While not as serious of a problem, some customers have also been misplacing and losing their bio-cards. To further address the issue of traffic recording, the inventors have developed a sensor system to record Tosha One’s traffic. Though still in its initial stages, these sensors would effectively record how many people use the bio-centre in one day.

Despite the issues associated with the cashless payment systems, more community members are using the toilets and the biogas is being used. The Tosha One bio-centre is also serving the community, providing a space for both football game viewings and community cooking. A neighboring school cooks meals in Tosha One’s upstairs kitchen using the bio-centres gas. Prior to using the inexpensive and sustainable biogas stoves, the school would use harmful charcoal to prepare children’s meals. But since the implementation of the Tosha One bio-centre, water and sanitation has been improved for families, children, and community members. And thanks to innovations like the bio-card system, this improved access is expanding.

Written by Sarah Snead

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

ICT Choices for Women Voices in the Slums

Vote for Umande's Project in the Making All Voices Count Competition by November 23rd

Do you believe in providing economic opportunities for women to promote good governance and citizen participation? If so, vote for Umande’s project in the international Making All Voices Count competition. 

Making All Voices Count is an international initiative that supports innovative thinking, scaling, and research that deepens both existing and new innovations that enable better citizen engagement and government responsiveness. Through focusing global attention on creative and cutting-edge solutions, including those that use mobile, web, and other technologies, MAVC strives for a substantial push towards effective democratic governance and accountability. The Global Innovation Competition aims to support projects whose objectives match those of the wider Making All Voices Count initiative. Determined by both public votes and a peer review process, finalists of the competition are invited to attend the Global Innovative Week in Jakarta.

Umande’s submission to the GIC 2015 falls under the sub-national governance category, which includes projects aiming to improve governance, accountability, and access to information. Titled ICT Choices for Women Voices in the Slums, Umande’s project is about turning bio-sanitation facilities into women-led information centers. The project will pick 4 bio-centers in the slums of Nairobi where women will operate a menu of ICT choices (online mapping, mobile telephony, podcast, community-based FM radio stations, online portals) to interrogate, share, and celebrate geo-referenced information in respect to the setting of priorities, planning, budget-allocation, implementation, and social audit of urban development initiatives at the ward level. The project envisages a platform for disadvantaged groups (women, children and the people with disabilities) living in low income areas to engage the county government in the decision making process, on issues of governance, social accountability, leadership, and delivery of services.

Women and sanitation are inseparable; however, women are excluded from the decision making processes. Umande’s project would increase their participation through the conversion of bio-sanitation facilities into spaces for convergence and exploration of ICT choices. But their project cannot be accomplished without the necessary funding, so vote for ICT Choices for Women Voices in the Slums in the Global Innovation Competition 2015! Voting ends November 23rd!

Posted by Sarah Snead

Monday, November 10, 2014

Improving Access: Sanitation and Stoves for Kibera Police Officers

 We were recently lucky enough to speak with the Kibera District Administration Police Commandant Grace Mbinda about Kibera Internal Security’s partnership with Umande Trust. Upon her arrival to Kibera, Commandant Mbinda found the state of sanitation for the officers to be very poor. She began to pursue an alternative to the shallow, dirty pit latrines the officers were using, and in August of 2013 she found a solution in the form of a partnership with Umande. 
TOP III biocenter, left, and cooking room, right

TOP III biocenter interior
The officers, whose numbers are now around 130, are able to use Umande’s TOP III biocenter free of charge. Previously, these officers had to use their own money every week to have their latrines cleaned out, which was quite costly and a burden for them. Now, says Mbinda, they don’t have to worry about spending that money on sanitation in their workplace and can instead use it in their personal lives and for their homes and families. Additionally, the TOP III biocenter is significantly cleaner and more sanitary than the pit latrines they currently used, which has improved upon the officers’ health and well-being. Furthermore, Commandant Mbinda notes that overall sanitation in the area has improved thanks to the TOP III biocenter—she has seen fewer cases of sicknesses like diarrhea, especially among children.

Cooking room interior
The officers are also able to use the biocenter’s biogas stoves, again with no personal cost. They mainly use the stoves for cooking and for boiling water while they are at work. Mbinda hopes in the future that the officers will be able to use bottled biogas, so that they may cook with it in their private homes in addition to at the community cookers. Mbinda expressed gratitude and satisfaction with her and her officers’ partnership with Umande, calling it “perfect.” She described the improvements to the officers’ access to sanitary bathrooms as “tremendous,” and hopes in the future to see Umande partner with other groups in Kibera with similar needs.

Written by Rachel Powers