Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Best Job in the World!

Date: Monday July 6 to Sunday July 26
Day 35 to 55
Quote of the week: "People must make responsible choices that prevent the spread of disease, promoting health in their communities and countries" - Obama (speech in Ghana during his first visit to Africa as the U.S. President)

WOW, I can't believe it has been 3 WEEKS since I last blogged! My delay in writing has been due to work being crazy busy and I am thrilled to announce that we have finally STARTED PRODUCTION! We started production on Sunday July 19 and distribution began the following day on Monday July 20. It has been unbelievable for us to finally achieve this great success after so many challenges have set the project back (mainly the post-election violence). Roy, the Yoghurt Mamas, and the community have been waiting for this project to start for over 2 years and now we can finally say that we are up and running :)

Jen, Rani, and I have spent the past 10 days working from 7:30 am to 5 pm at the kitchen and distribution centres with Roy and the Yoghurt Mamas. We have 3 distribution centres→ Jiko La Jamii Dairies which is our yoghurt kitchen , The Rachuonyo District Hospital, and The Ober Health Centre. Rani, Jen, and I rotate between the 3 centres supervising distribution for the study which is so great because every day is different and I love meeting new people every day. The clients have been LOVING the yoghurt and they are always asking for more.

The best part of my day is distributing the yoghurt to men & women living with HIV/AIDS and many malnourished children. I have had the great opportunity to meet some very healthy happy clients who are open about their positive HIV status and determined to spread awareness and educate the general public. It is the greatest feeling in the world to wake up every day and do something so simple which can bring a smile to someone's face. I have the best job in the world doing what I love and that is why I don't mind the hectic work days that we have been having getting only 5 or 6 hours of sleep.

Project Accomplishments:• Teaching the Yoghurt Mamas to ride a bicycle which is necessary for distribution to the Rachuonyo District Hospital. Initially only 1 Yoghurt Mama knew how to ride a bike but after a week she had successfully trained 5 others. Although this was very important and a lot of fun it was also very challenging since the 2 bicycles we have are HUGE and for the women who are short like me it is impossible to mount the bike and reach the peddles.
• We went over all of the record keeping documents with the Orande Women's Group prior to distribution. We also had all the women sign a contract ensuring confidentiality of the study subjects, high quality milk production, etc.
• Sales have been relatively good considering we haven't really done any marketing yet. We are hoping to meet with the other women's group working on advocacy this week to spread the word about Fiti Yoghurt and eliminate any misconceptions about the benefits.

Challenges:• Pushing the huge broken water tank in the reception area out of the kitchen. This was pretty hilarious and we ended up taking a machete to it! This cracked water tank was in very high demand and many people tried to take it...although I'm not sure what they wanted it for.
• The study for the project→ The study is pretty demanding requiring 300 clients to come in and consume the yoghurt on site every single day for 6 months (including Christmas)! In Oyugis with their culture and lifestyle it is nearly impossible for this to happen when many of the study subjects are sick in bed, at church, or live very far and do not have the money to travel to our distribution centres every day.
o Many mothers struggle to get their very young children to consume the full 200ml of yoghurt because it does not have sugar and the children think it is medicine. On the first day of distribution I had a mother with her young child in our room for 30 minutes!
o Over 200 of our clients do not have telephone numbers so it has been extremely difficult to contact them about the start of distribution. As well, we have had to sign up many new clients and each survey takes 30 minutes to complete so we need to have someone who is capable and willing to survey the new clients.
• Communication (again)! When we are out at the distribution centres and must communicate very important information to the study subjects it is very difficult without a translator. I have been working to learn more Kiswahili & Luo phrases for the project and we have been finding ways to overcome this challenge. Sometimes the clients who know some English will help us translate to other clients which is really nice.
• Our milk supplier→ we have already had to switch suppliers after our first one failed to deliver high quality milk on time. It is impossible to find high quality milk at competitive prices in Oyugis so our suppliers come from out of town which causes delays a lot of time.
• The Yoghurt Mamas→ I have learned so much about the Orande Women's Group this past week and one thing that I had no idea about was the fear that some of the women have about distribution. Almost all of the Yoghurt Mamas have less than high school education and many of them have trouble looking up a client's ID # on the distribution sheets when the numbers are in order. We have been very patient with them supervising and teaching them every day.
• People ALWAYS asking me to give them or buy them yoghurt which is especially hard when they want it for their child.

Most Memorable Moments:• Playing football (yes, I don't call it soccer anymore) with a local high school boys team. Roy spoke with the coach previously about me practicing with the boys’ team and although he told me they were very excited to have me play I was soooooooooo nervous. I was the only girl, the only white person, so out of shape, and HUNDREDS OF BOYS at the high school were watching the entire practice. Agoro Sare Secondary School is an all boys boarding school where they NEVER interact with girls so having Jen, Rani, and I come there was a pretty big deal. Plus none of the boys would talk to me since they've never had a lot of interaction with females and they are all in high school and very shy.
I played with them for 3 days and LOVED it :) It was the best feeling to finally be getting a good workout and it was pouring rain everyday which was awesome. A lot of the boys showed concern for me when I stuck it out in the rain, they said some really nice things about the way I play, and they kept telling me to come back every day. We also spent a full day with the team at a tournament and made a lot of new friends.
• Children outside the kitchen using our broken water tank as a play pen and slide.
• Leaving our hotel for dinner for the first time ever. This was definitely a good decision since our new dinner place makes the BEST food with a variety of items and exceptional service unlike at our hotel. We thought it was such a big deal to leave our hotel after dark because everyone built up this fear inside us but we have never had a problem and Oyugis is very safe.
• Stargazing behind our hotel :)
• Teaching Sachabea (our 8 yr old neighbour who isn't in school) some English phrases and math.
• News travels very fast in Oyugis which is why we must be very careful with our actions all the time because we get a ridiculous amount of attention. We were very happy when a friend told us that people in Oyugis like us because they have noticed that we try to blend in with the local culture and live like they do. I absolutely hate seeing tourists around because we are not tourists (we live here!) and sometimes I think they act so disrespectful and only solidify the stereotypes that Kenyans have about us.
• Jen and I trekking through the market with bicycles on a Tuesday (market day)!!! This was a disaster and pretty embarrassing and will never happen again. It is impossible to move around with people, food, and clothes everywhere!
• Speaking to one of the Yoghurt Mamas about her life. She shared with me how her mother passed away when she was very young, she was sold by her aunt to her current husband, has 6 children and would not like to have any more.

Life in Kenya:• Being Mzungus (white)→ we get asked to sponsor someone every single day...I only wish people could understand our situation as students in debt when we return to Canada. My boda boda (bicycle taxi) driver even asked me to sponsor him so he could buy a motorbike!
o We are ALWAYS offered a chair to sit on...we usually sit on the ground to show them that we are NOT superior to blacks and DO NOT deserve better treatment.
o They think we are very fragile beings→ bruises, always sick, sunburns, etc.
o People call us fat...YUP! I have gotten this comment about 3 times now and it’s hilarious.
o "H1N1! Swine flu!" being yelled at us after some UK students were quarantined in Kisumu (2 hours from Oyugis) and were all over the news.
o A hospital staff volunteer asking to be my Mom's maid and if I eat snail.
• Electricity and food are luxuries for many people in Oyugis
• The market→ the one thing I don't really understand is why everyone sells the exact same thing right beside each other...I'm not sure if this is some sort of regulation or their own choice but I find it very weird with no differentiation, excess supply, and very little demand.
• Corruption is EVERYWHERE!
• Children grow up learning to ask for money and food from Mzungus and to take things for free without earning it through hard work. One of the saddest things I have seen has been around the yoghurt kitchen where very young children scavenge through our garbage bin for empty yoghurt packets to drink. I always tell them "THI! THI!" (meaning GO!) because I am so worried about them getting sick or contracting a disease.
• Every little thing is entertainment since many people have nothing to do.
• Families of 6 and 7 are very common.

Quotes and memories:• All of our friends here say that I'm the loudest out of the 3 interns...I'm sure my family and friends back in Canada are laughing about this one.
•"I am almost the small dairy God" - Roy...because he is!

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