Monday, June 21, 2010

Life in Oyugis

Date: Tuesday June 15 to Monday June 21
Day 15 to 21
Quote of the week: Life is like a river: the twists and turns along the way are meant to guide us, not to stop us. - an SMS text I received from a good friend here named Cena

I am a little behind on my blog postings once again but sometimes I think it is more important to spend as much time as possible living in the moment and doing what you love rather than spending so much time documenting everything that happens. Work has been hectic every day and I love spending lots of time hanging out with the kids and friends I have here. But of course I love updating my blog too and it is important, so better late than never! So back to our second week in Oyugis...Emily and I had two more students from Ivey join us this week, Kinleigh Wiedeman and Jackel Yip, which was exciting. We will be working together until the end of August (with the exception of Emily who will be leaving at the end of July) to ensure the sustainability of both yogurt businesses in Oyugis and Kadongo. It is interesting to be in such a large group of mzungus (there are 6 of us now with Aliza, the American girl) but we have a lot of fun together and spend a lot of time with my local friends from last year which is nice :)
Kinleigh, Jackel, Emily and I spent every day this week rotating between Oyugis and Kadongo to observe the current operations at both kitchens and to spend time with all of the Mamas. It is so important that we bond with the Mamas and gain their respect before assisting them with the development of the project and making recommendations for their business. As well, it is critical that we learn as much as possible about the two yogurt kitchens and how business works in Kenya. It was definitely a good idea to spend a full week at the kitchens from morning until evening and it gave us a good picture of what is currently going on. Communication is still the most difficult challenge to overcome. It isn't great that we can only communicate with certain Mamas and not with others. The project coordinator is only working at the Kadongo kitchen and he is not always there to translate so we try our best and resort to dancing and singing to bond with the Mamas.
I love Kenya but I really wish that there wasn't so much reliance on free things and funding from NGOs. However, with the extreme amount of charity and aid from the Western world what else can you expect. I find that most people spend the majority of their time writing proposals and looking for more funding rather than working on the development of their business through other income generating activities. Corruption continues to exist almost everywhere I go. Secrets, dishonesty, and fraud are too common here. I find that I am a little too trusting of people sometimes and I always want to think the best of everyone when maybe I shouldn't. It is hard to deal with the reality that some of the relationships I had with people last year were not as honest and real as I believed they were. Every day I learn something new about someone that makes me second guess if our friendship is genuine or not. It is really hard when I can't really be certain if someone is being honest with me. It hurts, but I have learned from it and I know better this time.
Again, it was another week that I absolutely loved. I love the social aspect, the excitement, the conversations, the culture, and something different. But it is still so hard at times. The conversations that I have with the people are by far the greatest learning experiences. I love it :) I met this theatre group that had travelled from Nairobi with about 15 young actors to put on performances for primary and secondary school students in and around Oyugis. They perform plays/skits for students on the novels that they are studying. There were about 10 students staying in a very small concrete building with a couple thin mattresses on the floor, but there were definitely not enough for everyone. I talked with the group for almost an hour about Canada and Kenya and everything came back to the whole you always want what you don't have and you never appreciate what you have thing. They brought up electricity and how they watch CNN and wish they could go to North America. While I brought up light pollution and how we can't see the stars as well as they can. I love stargazing here!
Jiko La Jamii Dairies - Western Heads East:
• We decided to help the Oyugis Mamas sell yogurt one day and took a cooler to a football game at Agoro Sare High School. We thought that two things would happen...1) people would be sceptical and not purchase the yogurt from mzungus or they would expect it to be for free OR 2) people would think the yogurt is high quality and very healthy and would love to talk to us. It was interesting and very successful in the end... we sold everything in the cooler!
• We are planning to do market research all next week with some local friends/research assistants through interviews. As well, we are looking into getting a stall in the market for the Oyugis Mamas.
• We gave both groups of Mamas a simplified list of our goals and action plan for the internship. I think this is so important for communication and transparency because the Mamas are typically very left out of the loop and have no idea about the role and responsibilities of interns. I want the Mamas to know exactly why we are here and what we are working on at all times which was never clearly communicated to them before we arrived.
o We have decided to purchase a communication board (maybe something like a cork board) for both kitchens to improve the communication between interns and the Mamas. We are going to post our internship goals and action plan, reminders about meetings, and any other materials for the Mamas (e.g. The Fiti Yogurt label designs).
• My observations from the past week:
o Wages are too low at 50 /= per day and Mamas are still coming in late for work.
o The Kadongo kitchen seems to be running very smoothly and lots of Mamas are always there which is great! The Mamas seem to be much more interested in taking their time with packing and production rather than focusing on efficiency which is partly a cultural thing. In Kadongo they have 3 Mamas who stay at the kitchen and 5 Mamas selling in the field every day. The Oyugis kitchen is not as well organized and they lack Mamas in the kitchen and in the field.
o The Mamas at both kitchens usually wear white aprons or lab coats when they sell in the field which is great because it looks professional and customers can easily identify the Mamas.
o Since the Mamas are still not purchasing their own supplies and equipment I think it would be a really good idea for interns to assist them in preparing a monthly and annual budget that includes all expenses that they will incur (buying a new sealer, packaging, etc.).
• We are getting a couple different prototypes for the Fiti Yogurt label for next week's market research so that we can ask customers their opinion. The most important thing is that the label is simple and clear. We are hoping that the packaging design will be finalized by next week!
• The Mamas recently had some training done by an NGO (CARE International) so it may be a good idea to assess the impact that the training had.
• On Saturday June 19th we had a meeting at the Oyugis kitchen which went pretty well. Before starting the meeting I showed all of the Mamas a Western Heads East video that my good friend Stas made using videos and photos from last year in Kenya. It was amazing to see the smiles on their faces, the Mamas loved it! We discussed our internship goals, the standardized prices & volumes we had decided on, wages and salespeople, and marketing and sales.
• We are planning a fun social get together for both the Kadongo and Oyugis Mamas to decide on the final label for the packaging, coolers, aprons, etc. However, things aren't looking great since the two groups of Mamas don't have the best relationship and they are very competitive with each other. We want the best for both of them and we are trying hard to help them understand the benefits of working together to support each other and achieve economies of scale.
• Kinleigh, Jackel, Emily and I reviewed our goals for the next two to three months and revised our action plan.
o Research potential sales opportunities for both groups of Yogurt Mamas
o Look into getting the KEBS stamp of approval (all products must have this to be sold in a supermarket). This is not very urgent right now as the Mamas still have a huge number of people willing to purchase the yogurt from the market without KEBS.
o Conduct market research through interviews and create a marketing plan.
o Assist the Mamas in branding their product and other marketing materials.
o Research different suppliers (packaging and milk) and assist the Mamas in securing and improving the relationship.
o Ensure that the operations of both kitchens are efficient and sustainable while helping the Mamas reduce costs where possible.
o Help make both kitchens more environmentally friendly.
o Research potential expansion opportunities for Western Heads East.
o Provide the Mamas with the necessary knowledge, skills, and information to improve their business.
o Conduct group discussions with all Yogurt Mamas on everything from sales and marketing to budgeting and record keeping to share knowledge between the interns and Mamas. We hope that this will benefit the Mamas while helping us significantly with our research. Closer to the end of our internship we would like to discuss long-term goals and a strategy for sustainability. We want to emphasize that these are meant to be group discussions rather than lessons from the interns.
• It has been very difficult for us to find out the balance of the project's account from the World Bank funds. We are left in the dark about how much is left in the account which makes it difficult to plan ahead and budget for both yogurt kitchens’ expenses. We would really like to communicate to the Yogurt Mamas when the funding will end and we need to know the balance to properly budget for necessary costs that the kitchens will incur.
• It is still a struggle to get more Oyugis Yogurt Mamas to show up to work and sell yogurt in the market. There is so much opportunity and a lot of interest from customers but the Mamas don't want to hire any new Yogurt Mamas from outside the Orande Women's Group. We have been encouraging them to hire salespeople on commission to increase their sales and profits for the kitchen but we must wait patiently for them to make the final decision. It is clear that the Mamas don't want to lose any control and they want to keep as much money as possible for themselves.
• The Oyugis kitchen needs some serious maintenance and repairs but there is still a problem with getting money on the ground. The Mamas don't want to use their own profits for expenses that they have been told will be paid by the World Bank funding. One day I spent a good 30 minutes as a handyman tightening the loose nuts/bolts on the legs of the gas stoves. I was covered in burnt milk and ash by the end of it.
Most Memorable Moments:
• I saw a local gym for the first time...and by local gym I mean a homemade barbell made out of a steel rod with cement cylinders at either end.
• We finally went to Agoro Sare High School to play football like last year! The 5 of us went, plus Rebecca who was visiting for the weekend, and caused quite the scene as usual. Kinleigh, Jackel, and I ran a couple laps before joining in on a recreational football game that was going on. It was so much fun and it started pouring rain as usual. As all the boys ran for shelter I stayed out in the field with the ball enjoying the refreshing rain pouring down. I loved it :) After Jackel, Kinleigh, and I debated forever whether or not to do a mud slide we finally just did it. There were quite a few boys at the school who remembered my name which was nice. As we walked home in the rain Rebecca commented on how everyone remembered my name and she also commented on my Luo saying that I even sound just like them with the right emphasis and tone. It meant a lot to me :)
• Playing football with some young kids with a really small Blue Band (margarine) container. We were waiting for hours for a football game to start at Agoro Sare so I started playing with them. It was so much fun and hilarious, everyone was watching. I love kids so much, but I can't help to always think about their future and the lack of opportunities that they have. The game didn't start for a very long time because there were players who were not actually high school students who had been recruited for the game.
• I found out that Tracy changed her name to Dierdre after I looked at her notebook from school. Her parents informed me that she wasn't happy with the name "Tracy" so they changed it.
• On Sunday I attended a funeral for a client who was in the World Bank study. He was actually a very good friend of mine from last year named Manase. He was an old man with crazy hair and an amazing sense of humour and I loved him. He would always joke about me marrying a Kenyan and having another Obama. He passed away on the exact same day that I arrived in Oyugis...I only wish that I could have seen him again.
Life in Oyugis
• There are many small video theatres/sport houses in Oyugis since the majority of people don't have televisions or even electricity in their home. They are usually packed with men crowded around a tiny screen and cost about 10 or 20 Ksh (about $0.15 - 0.25). I finally went to Sports House (just down the street) with my good friend Caxton to watch the Brazil vs. Ivory Coast game and it was AMAZING! I was the only mzungu and the only female, and everyone was really nice and respectful. I really wanted that real experience of watching the World Cup excitement in Africa rather than sitting in the empty restaurant at home in Vesture Villa. I'm definitely going to become a regular there now.

Life in Kenya
• The roads are absolutely terrible for automobiles! I enjoy walking on the bumpy, rocky, dirt roads in Oyugis but the paved highways and roads with giant pot holes make it very difficult for transportation and increase the chances of an accident occurring. Cars, trucks, piki pikis (motorbikes), and matatus have to slow down completely and swerve all over the place to avoid the potholes. The solution: the government has placed rocks in the potholes which have only made the situation worse.
o Jackel and I saw a matatu completely flipped over on the side of the road on our way to Kadongo one day. The front windshield had shattered and there were a few men there waiting around but it looked as if the accident had occurred a while before. Our matatu pulled over and the driver informed us that something happened with one of the tires hitting a pothole.
• Getting malaria here is very common (especially in Oyugis) and people have a very different mindset about illness and death. Many people wait days or even weeks before going to the hospital when they are sick insisting that they will be fine or they simply don't have the money to pay for the services at the public hospital. Not only are coffins sold on the side of the highway, but you will often see a pick-up truck drive past with a coffin surrounded by women singing after someone has passed away. The actual funeral, where hundreds of people attend, is more of a celebration than a time for mourning. People are on their phones, reading the newspaper, and talking to others during the speeches and politicians must attend if they want votes.
• Although litter is everywhere and you will see garbage being burned all the time, Kenya does have some environmentally friendly initiatives in place. The government is providing funds to people who plant large amounts of trees.
• People are extremely resistant to change. This is something very important that we must take into consideration for work. Most of my local friends will not even try different types of food (like soup and pizza) when we go out somewhere.
• People are extremely resourceful here and very little goes to waste, it is truly amazing. I found out that the black sandals that all the men wear here are made from old truck/car tires! It is so cool and they are sold for very cheap...I am definitely getting myself a custom made pair before I come home.

Oriti for now!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Miss Amstrong,bumped into your atricle while surfing and felt like i was home again.Im a kenyan from oyugis living in zurich.It`s quite exciting to red from someone who has spent sometime there in the real world than to read from some journalist reporting from mombasa or some major town, i mean oyugis or kadongo is not exactly known even in Nairobi.Would like to visit the Joghurt kitchens when im in oyugis next(august i hope)
    you have a nice day