Monday, October 7, 2019

Why Umande Trust Biocentres Have Succeeded Where Others Have Failed:

During the morning of my first Tuesday as an intern at Umande, I embarked on my first field visit of the semester. My guide and co-worker Joseph met me at the office bright and early to show me around Kibera, numerous biocentres, and introduce me to the people making everything run smoothly. 
Our first stop was the office itself. Umande Trust’s headquarters are situated on the two floors above one of its biocentres. Situated near the edge of Kibera, the biocentre caters to Umande’s employees, as well as other organizations situated along the same footpath.


We set out on our tour and little did I know how extensive it would be. We began at Tosha II, the first of three biocentres under the larger umbrella of the Tosha community organization. Once we arrived, Joseph introduced me to one of the caretakers for the Tosha II center, who was filling in for her friend who normally took care of the center while she was away running errands.
The ground floor of the Tosha II center houses the toilets and bathrooms for people to use at the price of 5 shillings per toilet use and 10 shillings for the bathroom. The upstairs is designed for numerous people to live, with many of the 6 rooms currently occupied. In one corner there was a biogas stove community members could pay to cook meals on. This biocentres was not simply a place to use the toilet; it was a home and a gathering place for many families.
Next, we moved on to the Muvi Community biocentre. This was the second of three in the Tosha family. Here I met one of the caretakers, who had just finished cleaning the floors. At each place, Joseph made sure to emphasize how much each caretaker valued and loved the biocentre they managed. As Joseph and I wandered the biocentre, two young boys came to show us around. The ground floor consisted of the same toilets and bathroom setups, but the upstairs was different. It had been established as a local meeting place, with church services and football match showings taking up the majority of time. Otherwise, the space could be rented for a small fee to area organizations. 
Once we departed Muvi, Joseph offered to show me his home and to meet a few of his family members. Diverting only briefly from the path, we turned into a row of homes and we soon entered his house. We sat only briefly, to rest our feet and for me to meet his family. This was when I started to realize the beauty and significance of Umande and the work that it was doing. Joseph lived very close to two of the biocentres, Muvi and Tosha I. He had a strong interest in ensuring their success, because their success meant greater benefits to him and his family. 
Soon after leaving his home, we passed a public pit latrine that was run down and abandoned. He began to tell me the story behind it; numerous government funded contractors had built the pit latrine many years back, with the intention of handing it over to the community when it was completed. However, following the completion of the building, the public pit latrine was open to public use, with no managing organization to oversee its success. Without anyone to take care of and manage the facility, it quickly became unusable. 
Then, we passed by a private toilet and bathroom structure. Joseph began to explain that the structure had been built by a group of individuals for their own personal toilets and bathrooms. Other individuals could use the toilets, however, the cost was high and all benefitted the owners.
After walking a while longer, we reached Tosha I. This was the first biocentre built by Umande Trust and one of the largest. Outside the entrance, a large sign notified passersby of the Champion League football match being shown at the center that night. Again we met the caretaker of the center who encouraged us to take a look around the biocentre. 
In one of the central rooms of the center, a pot of water was boiling on the biogas burner for someone to use to cook. After surveying the toilet and bathroom setup, we ventured upstairs. On the first of two upstairs floors, an office was being rented out by a local organization focused on education and sports. Then, one floor above that, a large gathering space had been established. Designed for community meetings, church services, and viewings of football matches, the chairs were currently stacked in the corner, and the televisions were hidden behind wooden boards. Multiple signs were posted advertising the prices of sodas. 
Joseph led me to one of the windows. He pointed out to the different sewage pipes and open streams, as well as tracing the path we had taken to get to the numerous biocentres. He then pointed to a school across the street and explained how this biocentre also provided services to all of the children who attended that school. It was a part of the community and we watched many people enter and exit the biocentre. He also began to talk about how much he enjoyed interacting and talking to everyone in the community who managed or visited the biocentres he frequented.
From Tosha I, Joseph and I traveled to a biocentre that operated outside of the Tosha I umbrella organization. We arrived at KID-YOT, a center managed by an organization that hoped to provide young men and boys in the area with opportunities to success. I met Japheth, one of the directors of the organization and the center, who was very eager to show me around. Beyond the normal toilet and bathroom layout on the ground floor, there was a large tank of water heating over a biogas burner for people to use for warm showers. 
From there, we travelled upstairs. Japheth told me about how he had worked and helped manage the biocentre since it was first built in 2007. He explained how the center had been a big part of his life growing up and he hoped to continue to help others in his community. 
On the second floor, there was a very large meeting space designed for church gatherings and other community meetings. Next to this space, they had added a room to establish loans and savings plans for members of the community. Additionally, this part of the center was a place for job opportunities and employment both inside and outside Kibera. 
Japheth began to lead me upstairs as he explained how the biocentre had begun as only the ground and first floors. However, the members of the Kid-Yot organization recognized the need for another floor and had decided to build the addition to meet their needs. This additional floor had opened up more space for community and social events, specifically, teaching classes on the environment and sanitation as well as watching football matches.
Down below, Japheth showed me one of the newest projects they were working on. They had designed new houses that cost 1000 shillings per large room to build. These special structures were not made of tin like the majority of homes in Kibera. Instead, they were made of a more natural and fire resistant material to reduce fires. 
Finally, Japheth began to explain the bodaboda program they had begun to implement. Essentially, local men could sign a contract with the center and as part of the deal, they would borrow a bike from the center to use for business. Then, after one year of riding, they would be given the motorbike to own. As Japheth explained the reasoning behind it, it was very clear that he had put a lot of thought and effort into this plan, in order to provide a means for local men to earn a living. 
After departing from Kid-Yot, we went to the last biocentre of the day, the Nyaharwa Savers biocentre. Once we arrived, we met two of the caretakers, Susan and Nicole. Inside, they were boiling water for lunch on the biogas stove and heating water for showers in the corner with the electricity they had. The stairs leading up had been blocked off, as the center had realized that the meetings that took place upstairs sometimes ran later than the women were able to stay at the biocentre. So, in order to continue to allow the meetings to take place, they simply moved the stairs outside. 
We left, headed back towards the Umande headquarters, as Joseph told me about how much the biocentres had meant to him. He explained how after construction, Umande primarily takes a backseat on the management of the biocentres and allows the community organizations to run and operate the biocentres.
The emphasis on the community has been at the heart of the success of the biocentres built by Umande in Kibera and other parts of Kenya. Umande Trust itself is primarily run and staffed by people who live in Kibera, or spend a large amount of time in Kibera. By handing the biocentres over to the community organizations, it gives them ownership; this ownership ensures the success rests with the people who use and care for the biocentres. Finally, by establishing the biocentres as a part of the community, and more than just a toilet or a bathroom, it guarantees the long-term success of these projects.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Voices of the caretakers:Florence


Florence has been working at the Tosha 2 bio centre for the past 3 months but already had so much information about her job to contribute to our series. The Tosha 2 bio centre opened in 2007 and is run only by women. Like most bio centres, tosha 2 has a few toilets and a shower, the only shower in the area, and cost 5ksh to use. Upstairs, this bio centre has 5 rooms, which are currently unoccupied, but sometimes houses families that need a place to stay. Tosha 2 also has a large tank of water which holds about 800 liters of water and costs about 700ksh to fill each day. Florence says that her biggest challenge is that this bio centre is less popular than the others because it was on strike and closed for a long while and is not as well known in the area as some of the other bio centres. That being said, the company Shofco has a relationship with this bio centre, paying them some money every month to allow their workers to come in and use the bio centre when they need to. This increases the amount of money florence makes each day by about 200-300ksh. Overall, Florence has had a fine time working at the tosha 2 bio centre and enjoys her customers who she has formed a relationship with by seeing them so often.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Sex for Water Project


Friday morning, Umande trust in partnership with WASH interviewed ten women on the struggle and harassment they face trying to fetch water for their families. Most of these women were in their early twenties and all of them were mothers. All of these women told stories about how they had been harassed either by men on their way to fetch water or the water cartels themselves. The water cartels, the people who run the centers where water is fetched from, often take these women’s money without giving them water and beat and harass the women who complain about there being not enough water or the water being dirty. Every women who had been interviewed seemed to have had money stolen from them from the water cartels forcing them to return home without money or water. These stories were more of the tame ones when it comes to the struggle these women face. A lot of them told stories of harassment and rape by men on the street as they were heading to get water. In Kibera, there is a high rate of teen pregnancy and a high rate of abortion due to women being raped on their way to fetch water. Lots of these women have had to work hard to strategically plan when they are going to go retrieve water and often have to find new routes or go to different centers to avoid this harassment. Looking towards the future, these women are worried about the lives of their children, how they will afford school fees, whether they will have to endure this harassment, and how they will continue to get water when everyday has the potential to be dangerous.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Voices of the Caretakers: Joseph

Upon entering the Starra Bio Centre, one would assume that this centre is just the same as all of the others neighboring it in Kibera. But once you walk past the circular centre itself, you are greeted by a large tent filled with plants, a greenhouse. This is where Joseph has worked for the past two years, and like his coworkers at other centres, Joseph spends most of his day cleaning and collecting pay. But he also has an extra job, tending to the greenhouse, planting, sowing, and harvesting the tomatoes and green peppers they sell there. Joseph enjoys earnings  living this way and says that it is a much fairer job than his previous one as a servant. He also says there are many challenges to his job. He often has to deal with abusive customers who refuse to pay after using the bio centre. Joseph says that he does not want to fight these thugs and often has to let them go without paying. Another challenge Joseph faces is the water scarcity in the area, and finds it frustrating that water is such an expensive commodity. But overall, Joseph is happy with his job and feels so comfortable working at the Bio Centre.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Voices of the Caretakers: Kennedy

On an average day Kennedy spends his days taking care of the kidiot bio center in Kibera. His job description includes but is not limited to front desk work, cleaning, and making sure everything runs smoothly. One of the reasons Kennedy likes this particular Bio center is because it is so environmentally friendly. Kennedy also mentioned that this particular Bio center brought the first toilets to this area of Kibera! Kennedy enjoys being part of this effort of providing sanitary and cheap toilets to this area. For Kennedy, this Bio center has made  tremendous effect in his life because it's something he is passionate about as he has learned so much about the environment and has also helped him to earn a living wage. Kennedy feels like working at the bio centre has made him more environmentally aware and he is proud to be helping an organization that promotes action against climate change and environmental sustainability.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Voices of the Caretakers: Stella




Easily spottable from any matatu driving in on the gravel entrance to Kibera, the Umande Trust building and attached bio-centre stands three stories tall overlooking a busy road filled with people, umbrellas, shops, and cars. While the top two floors of the building is office space, the bottom floor is a complete bio-centre with 4 toilets on each side and 2 showers in total. This bio-centre also comes with a fridge filled with soda for passersby who may want a treat. The caretaker of this bio-centre is Stella, a 29 year old woman with three children at home. This is Stella’s second month working at the bio-centre here and in her first month here says that she considers her job fair.
 Stella spends most of her day sitting on a white plastic chair outside of the steps of the bio-centre, collecting the five shilling fair for using the toilet and the fifty shilling fair to get a soda. She also cleans the bio-centre two to three times per day. While she is not sure of the exact number of people who come to her bio-centre everyday, she estimates that there are about 200-250 customers on an average weekday. Stella says that the biggest challenge of her job is the lack of water in the bio-centres. She says that there have been quite a few times where the bio-centre has been inoperable due to water scarcity and in return her customers become upset. As the caretaker, this is little she can do about the lack of water and she finds these times frustrating.

 Stella took this job because of the lack of job opportunities in Kibera. She uses the money she makes from being a bio-centre caretaker on food, clothes and school fees for her and her family. Overall, Stella says that she would describe her job as “good”. She wishes there were more opportunities for her, but she is content with being employed at this bio-centre

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Less Wood & More Biogas @ Ngaru Girls High School



On March 9th, Umande was able to send representatives to the Ngaru Girls High School in Kerugoya, an all girls boarding school a little over two hours from Nairobi. The facilities here (a bio-digester 84m3, renovated 20 toilets, biogas piping and burners) were built last fall and opened for use since November 2016. As one of the several boarding schools utilizing the bio-centers they were pleased to see the facilities up and running efficiently. Mikayla, our new intern, and Gladys, our sanitation marketer, were able to tour the property and meet with two kitchen staff members, Muthi and Mwaii, the school nurse, Pascaline, and a member of the cleaning staff, Margaret. The Umande Team were impressed with the overall cleanliness of the toilets and the kitchen and the excellent conditions the infrastructure installed by the organization were in. Through an open conversation with the staff members they were able to gather information on the success and the possible future improvements of the bio-sanitation model. While Margaret reported initial difficulties with the students using the toilets correctly, she says after several reminders the girls have been utilizing the toilets properly with no
issues whatsoever. Muthii and Mwaii both were overjoyed to report that the biogas has been a tremendous help and now they are able to cook all the staff meals using it. However, the biogas cannot yet be used to cook the students’ meals because the biogas burners are not large enough to thoroughly cook the large cooking pots the students’ food is prepared in. Despite this, the biogas project (from human waste) has enabled the school to use less firewood for cooking which helps the environment and decreases smoke inhalation for the staff as well. Overall, the staffs had little to no complaints and were grateful for our visit and overall help with the project.