Cannon King Walking With Africans July 2014

July 25th- A few more things

Cannon King - Friday, July 25, 2014

As my month here comes to close, I'm finding it a bit hard to write extensively on some things without the risk of being repetitive. While "on the ground" each group is vastly different and interesting in its own ways, I''m not quite a good enough writer to explain those differences well without writing a whole novel. Therefore my idea for this post is to just write a few blurbs about things too short to warrant their own post. 

- Songs in Kenya are a VERY important part of day to day life, and almost every group starts each meeting with song. I've also noticed almost everyone here sings well, probably due to musics prevalence even in kids who can barely speak.

-While private cars are still a rare luxury in this part of Kenya, motorcycles are not. Lioness tells me that 10 years ago motorcycles were as rare as cars are now. Its good to see that progress.

-10 years ago this area also didn't have: electricity, cell phones, and paved roads. All of these are now fairly prevalent (at least in the main part of town). 

-It is VERY rude to not eat everything provided to you by your hosts. Being that I was a "visitor" in every group I went to, that involved a lot of eating.

-While I have discovered many dishes I like through the above process, I've also discovered Ugali (spelling may be off.) Ugali is a dish made of corn flour made into a dough like consistency. It's not necessarily compatible to every Americans palate, and I learned the hard way that force eating large amounts of it amounts to a very uncomfortable next couple of hours. 

-Goats and cows are still very much considered tokens of wealth here, and are even still used in marriage exchanges. I like to think I'm worth at least 15 cows, but I may be underselling myself.

Anything else you'd like to know? Let me know in the comments!!! I'd love to hear what interests you most about Kenya and what we're doing here. 

Thanks for reading,

Cannon King

 

July 22nd - What Im Doing

Cannon King - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

 It's important that we at Walking With Africans are accountable to our donors, and allow them to know what we're doing all the way "across the pond". In pursuit of that, I've been travelling to all of our 16 groups around Kibwezi giving them Progress out of Poverty surveys from the Grameen foundation. This survey scores the members on many things (how many rooms in their house, how many mosquito nets owned) and those scores are used as a base to determine where they stand compared to the Kenyan poverty line. Heres the website with more information: http://www.progressoutofpoverty.org/country/kenya .

 The hope is when we come back in a year or two and do the exact same survey, the results will show that on average our members are improving their financial security. We can then bring that data to the donors to show them solid, academically based proof that what we're doing here is working. While our success stories are many, and we enjoy telling them, it will be nice to in a short time have the data to back them up. 


Thanks for reading,

Cannon King

July 17th- What We Do

Cannon King - Thursday, July 17, 2014

I just realized I haven't really wrote much about the basics of what we (Walking with Africans) are doing here in Kenya. Our main objective is to improve the living standards of our member groups and their communities by giving them capital to expand their money making endeavors. 

Basically, when a group of qualified people (usually women, but not always) is identified as a potential EPID group, our EPID Kenya staff pay them a visit to see their group dynamics and overall potential. If they like what they see, the group then gets entrepreneurial training, HIV testing/counseling, and is taught how to make a business plan. The groups then elect officers like the Chairperson and Treasurer who insure that the group runs smoothly and makes their weekly payments on time. Before receiving loans, they first must individually contribute to some savings, which then constitutes as an emergency fund for the future. This step is important because we are often loaning to those who cannot get affordable loans from Kenyan banks because they are deemed "too risky". Instead of asking for collateral (which they often couldnt provide), this fund helps alleviate much of the risk of defaulting. When they have saved enough money, the group receives their loans and begin making payments. 

While we do charge interest on the loans, that money goes back into the pool of cash available for handing out new loans. The hope is eventually to make a self sustaining organization that can constantly expand and provide new loans using that interest. Having said that, we are not currently at that goal yet, and are still in the process of injecting American capital into the system. If YOU would like to help our mission here in Kenya please go to the "Take Action" tab and click "Donate". More info can be found throughout our website, and if you have any questions just leave a comment!

Thanks for reading,

Cannon King

July 14th- Machinery Hakwers

Cannon King - Tuesday, July 15, 2014

As we pulled up to the various painted store fronts, we were greeted by a dozen smiling faces, who took our hand and led us through a labyrinth of alley ways until we finally reached the groups weekly meeting place. It was a covered courtyard in between a dozen or so small apartments with plastic tables and chairs set up in a circle, and three chairs separated from the rest for the guests of honor. For the first time ever (according to Lioness), the Secretary opened up with a page long speech, in English, telling us the story of their group. Started in 2003 as a group of struggling merchants who owned small wooden stands on the side of the road, they had blossomed into the business powerhouses of the area, and were VERY proud to report that they were sending many of their children to prominent universities in Nairobi (rare in this area).

One women told the story of her failing vegetable stand, which, after investments in capital by EPID-Kenya (our partners) she turned around into an enormous (by Kenyan standards) restaurant that not only improved her quality of life, but also employed 5 full time staff. In an area with such rampant unemployment, these jobs could be responsible for feeding and clothing 5 or 6 separate families. There was also a woman who opened a successful dress shop, and another who went from selling one bag of maize at a time to having an entire store room filled to the ceiling with bags of cereals. 

At the end of the meeting, they informed me that they had a gift for me to receive on behalf of the  "Carolina's" (where I said I was from) from the Kenyan people. They unwrapped some newspaper to reveal an intricately carved and painted giraffe, which I knew from prior shopping experience was not cheap or easy to make. The Chairwoman told me that they picked a giraffe because even over long distances it is able to see, and she hoped that even when I'm back in American I can continue to see them succeed. 

What  I think is so incredible about the work we are doing is that we're not just giving handouts. We're helping the Kenyans to help themselves. I'll go over the process of receiving loans in the next post, but it's not easy, and requires a large investment in time and money from the group members. We're not just giving money, we're helping them to understand how business works and how to best help their local communities. 

Thanks for reading and keep the comments coming!

Cannon King

July 13th

Cannon King - Sunday, July 13, 2014

I have been having a lot of Kenyans lately asking me if "America has any poor". To them, it is unfathomable that any Americans could not be well off. Its not hard to see how their perspective can be so skewed. Most "mizungus" (white people) who come to visit them are at least wealthy enough to afford an 18 hour trans-continental flight across the world. The amount of money even the American poor possess would surprise them. For example, I open each morning with a coke and the news paper which costs me about 120 shillings (120 shillings is about $1.50). For some of our micro finance entrepreneurs, that's about an average day profits. The Kenyan perspective is also skewed by their access to American TV.  In just the pass week and a half, I've seen the Kardashians show and the Bachelor showing on T.V.'s in some tiny electronic shops. I've also seen a Kenyan version of the show "cheaters" which has shown me that while American reality TV is bad, its definitely not the worst. 

Many of the Kenyans are also shocked that my family owns and feeds (sometimes too much) two fluffy dogs. They cant understand why we would want a dog that could not, in their words, "attack intruders". We kind of shot ourselves in the foot from the beginning by naming the first dog "Bubbles". There has never been a dog name in all the land of intruders that was less capable of producing fear than Bubbles. 

Yesterday we visited West Tsavo, which is the main game park here. I saw pretty much every herbivore in the entire park, yet unfortunately no lions or leopards. Sometimes a guy just wants to see one animal chase another. I'll put the blame of my thirst for violence on the Discovery Channel. We also got to pig out at one of the game park lodge's all you can eat buffet (with tons of American dishes). By the end, I took nine plates and our Kenyan guests were looking at me like I had three heads. While the hospitality and food in Kenya so far has been great, one can only eat so many rice, bean, and goat inspired dishes. 

Thanks for reading,

Cannon "Ken" King

July 11th

Cannon King - Friday, July 11, 2014

Today we visited a group in a town called "Machinery". They named it Machinery because it was where the highway workers stored all their big machines (most Kenyan city names are a bit more creative than this). We crammed into a crowded matatu, which this time uncomfortably squeezed in about 23 people. For the first time this trip, the group leader greeted me in very solid English. He was a "retired" teacher who now was now dealing livestock in the market center. The group of 10 was extremely gracious hosts, and our meeting went off without a hitch. They were incredibly thankful to have the ability to expand their businesses. 

After the meeting they invited me to go take a tour of their businesses. First, the blacksmith of the group took me to his "shop": a hole in the ground outside with what looked like an overturned bicycle. He showed me how he rigged the pedals and wheel of the bike to turn a fan that fanned the charcoal into temperatures hot enough to bend the sheet metal. It was really an impressive invention. From inside a wooden box he proudly took out a cloth sack and unfurled it to show an assortment of about 10 different metal heads of farming tools. This sack consisted of his entire stock. In the survey, he told me that on a good day he made about 500 shillings (the equivalent of about 6-7 dollars). 

I then got corralled into another group members business, a "hotel". I put it in quotation marks because Kenyan hotels are actually what Americans call restaurants.  They taught me how to make chipate (spelling may be off, I sounded it out) which is almost like a pancake-tortilla hybrid. The entire staff insisted that I take pictures of them, which caused much excitement in the town as people swarmed to see my strange camera on a stick (I mounted a gopro onto a broomstick that was cut in half). All 10 group memebers insisted on seeing me off onto the bus and waving as I pulled away.


Thanks for reading,

Cannon

July 10th-Orphan visits

Cannon King - Thursday, July 10, 2014

Today I took a day off of my micro finance trips to tag along with a group of people from my camp who tend to the wellness of about 35 orphan children from the surrounding communities. On a weekly scale, they bring food to the families who have volunteered to take care of them (often extended family). They also cover costs associated with schooling, which in most cases would prohibit them from getting any kind of education. The work that they do is really something else. The visits offer a whole new view of the lower Kenyan class, one that cant be seen from the main stretch of road that we often use.

One school that we visited was a public school in one of the poorest areas in the region. As you can imagine, a public school in a poor area of a relatively poor country can be pretty barren. The children were tattered and dirty, and the teachers were overwhelmed with class sizes of up to 80. The orphan girl we came to check up on was assumed to have learning disabilities which, in an environment like this, meant that she was consistently being held back with test scores at the bottom of her class. She was assumed to be 18-20 (they don't quite know for sure) yet she was struggling to pass grade 7. As we arrived in the office, the principle informed us that she had been absent for a few days. We then loaded back into the truck to go to her home.

 Much credit has to be given to the Tumani Orphan Care program, as they spare no expense of time or money trying to guide these kids to success. The girls home was a complex of three square mud huts with walls about 4 feet long. The kids did not have shoes, and their shirts were held on by a few threads. There was also what I assumed to be a severely autistic child shuffling around the outside of the compound. The challenges facing this girl, and many like her, are daunting. You feel an extreme sense of hopelessness seeing situations like this. However, I hope that Walking with Africans' efforts in strengthening the local economy through our micro-finance programs can make a huge difference in many of the local families, allowing them to feed and pay school fees for their children. 

It is not all sad news however. One of the orphan kids, Benson, goes to school at the Imani school on the same compound we are camping at. Despite loosing both of his parents to the AIDS epidemic, his teachers inform us that he is consistently preforming at the top of his class, and has earned test scores that have given him a very high chance of getting into one of the extremely selective national schools. Also (and perhaps most important to him), his classmates inform me that he is the best football player in the area. One even called him "Kenyan Messi". Without the help of Tumani, he would have never had such opportunities to reach his potential. 

Thanks for reading,

Cannon


 

July the 9th

Cannon King - Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Today I visited two different groups off of the highway towards Mombasa.On the way there, I hitched a ride on a "matatu"; a small 8-seater bus that often can fit much more (as I've learned from experience). I also had my first experience on the "bota botas"; motorcycle taxis that hangout on almost every corner of this part of the country. These methods of public transit are an essential part of the Kenyan experience, and I'm fairly sure I can now classify myself as a local.

As we pulled up to the first group I was struck by the sprawling greenery in the complex. A little context: it is currently the dry season in Kenya, and fresh water is fairly difficult to come by. As I came to find out, the micro finance group had been pooling their resources to purchase water from the railroad company, and were using that water to grow one of the most impressive farms I have seen here. The group uses the profits from this shared land to not only invest back into the plot, but also pay dividends to all its "share-holders". The chairwomen of the group asked the interpreter if I knew what "dividends" were. Later on I was surprised to find that the entire group had either an elementary education or no education at all. Lioness, an employee of our partner in Kenya, said that this group (founded in 1992) has been the most successful hes ever seen. The resourcefulness of the Kenyan business people continues to impress me.

The second group that we went to see only had 8 present members, as many were away for a local election. Nonetheless, they extended the typical Kenyan hospitality that is so endearing. They brought us and our bota bota driver cokes, and laid a large dish down on the table. Having not had any lunch previously, and possessing the typical appetite of a college age student, I was pretty excited. They removed the lid to show chick peas. Lots and lots of chick peas. I'm telling you, this dish was twice the size of my head, and just filled with peas. Lioness informed me that in Kenya it is considered very rude to not finish your food. Not to put down this woman's' cooking, as the first 40-50 bites really were delicious, but an American teenager was simply not built to eat this big of a meal consisting of completely peas. I could not finish, and left ashamed.

Thanks for reading,

Cannon

P.S. I have accidentally discovered the Kenyan bat's favorite tree. I do not know the name of the tree, but I do know that my campsite lies directly below it, as they are nice enough to decorate almost every skyward facing surface around me. Even as I write this, I am being lulled to sleep by a light pitter patter on the roof of my tent. As I said before, it is the dry season here... It does not rain.

July 8th- First Group Trip

Cannon King - Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Just got back from my first trip to visit two groups in the area close to Kibwezi. The Wiwano Wa Kiyuuti group is a thriving group of 33 women that has been receiving loans since 1992. Many of the loans are used to help fund their rope making businesses, which use the fibers of the cisal tree to make long sturdy strands to tie up their cattle. The loans seem to be making a world of  a difference for these women entrepreneurs. One women told me that soon with the profits of her business she hopes to add a room to her one room house. The house currently houses 22 people. Every single person in the group is using their business to fund education for either their kids or grand kids. After food, education is their highest priority. 

Unfortunately, it seems at least a third of the women have been widowed by the AIDS epidemic. Nonetheless they constantly maintain very bright dispositions. They brought out cokes for everyone in my vehicle, a delicacy in this part of Kenya that can rarely be enjoyed. I broke one of the legs off one of their few plastic chairs and somersaulted back off of a hill.  As I got up from my tumble and attempted to pay them for the chair I couldn't get a word in through their wall of laughs. They did not let me pay.

So far my during my stay in Kenya I have been increasingly struck by the character of the average person. As I walk down the street it seems that almost every businessperson that I have ever done business with comes out to shake my hand and ask (in sometimes broken English) how my day had been. All the young school kids will come up and ask "Hi how are you" which seems to be the first sentence they learn in school. Any answer other than "I'm fine" is met with very confused kids. Apparently the name "Cannon" is very hard to pronounce in Kenyan, so I am now being called by my new Kenyan name: Kennedy. 

I've purchased a modem that connects my computer to the cell towers that top almost every mountain here, so hopefully I'll be able to give shorter, more frequent updates. I'll be traveling to groups daily, and am very excited to witness some new loans being given out on Thursday. Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading,

Cannon


July 3rd

Cannon King - Thursday, July 03, 2014

My name is Cannon, and I'm an Intern from the University of South Carolina.  I will be updating this blog as much as possible to keep all of our WAF (Walking with Africans Foundation) friends in the United States up to date on what we're doing. I'll try to keep it a bit lighthearted when I can, but will also be sharing some of the stories I get from some of the micro-finance groups in Kibwezi. This is our first attempt at blogging, so bear with us as we work out any kinks. 

Currently, we just touched down and the culture shock is immense. The people talk in strange accents and use a new form of currency I have never seen before. Fortunately our layover in this British airport is only three hours. So far the trip has been good.. My body hasn't quite yet figured out the whole time difference yet, but the flight attendant on the last flight assured me another 9 hour flight will get me straightened out. Getting increasingly excited for my month ahead, and looking forward to meeting some of the people WAF has been working with.

-Cannon