Sarah Obama and more…

By Monica Richardson | June 04, 2009 | Kenya

I'm back on...

My apologies to those of you who have been logging on only to find that I have not logged on. Internet service has been up and down here. Around the area, you find men digging trenches where cables will eventually be laid to increase access to the Internet. The people here are excited about that.

The other reason I have not logged on is because this is NO vacation. This is work! Exciting work, but work nonetheless. For anyone who thinks I'm hear just enjoying the luxuries of Africa, trust me that is not the case at all.

So I left you Monday headed into one of the world's largest slums -- Kibera. The people here make $1 to $2 a day. It was poverty like I've never seen it.

We visited the Pamojo radio station. Here the focus is on community activism. Sure they play music but are also a major source of communication for the people of Kibera, the majority of whom have a radio station. Over a million folks live in Kibera.

Everywhere we went, children followed behind us in packs. Many sang in unison: how are you? how are you? It was both a sad and inspiring experience -- sad in the sense that it's hard to believe that poverty exists on this level. Inspiring in the sense that despite their circumstances, the people here continue to live and survive in their conditions.

It reminded me of how blessed I am.

It really can only be described in photos. (For anyone interested, I have uploaded about 500 photos at the following web site, look at them when you have time. They are pretty impressive if I must say so myself.)

While in Kibera we also visited a school for children of parents with HIV and AIDS, some were orphans. The one-room school house had about 42 kids, no electricity and run by volunteers who were very passionate about their work.

By the way, everywhere you go children sing to you. At this school, the kids sang a song about how AIDS is a monster. Imagine that, when you think kids 4-8 should be singing about Humpty Dumpty, these kids are signing about AIDS. Isn't that just telling.

After a day in the slums and getting an eye opening experience, we have dinner with some of the brightest students I have ever met, students from the University of Nairobi. The students spoke about what it will take to build the future of Kenya at a level that was beyond impressive.

Later we head to purchase local cell phones. I only mention it because cellphones here are cheap cheap cheap and there are NO contracts grin

The next day, Tuesday was a day of office visits.We meet with human rights and civil society groups such as the Kenya National Human Rights Commission and others. We learn quite a bit about the justice system in Kenya where locals say reforms are needed.

Our lunch meeting is with leading businessmen who discuss the challenges to econonic growth in Kenya. The group includes James Shikwati, director of the InterRegio Economic Network.

Later we had to the U.S. Embassy in Gigiri. On the way back, I realize that traffic in Nairobi is just like being back in Atlanta, bumper to bumper. Here though they drive on right side and say Americans drive on the wrong side. There are also few stop signs and stop lights and if they do exist few people obey them.

I'm sorry to run through the days so fast.

On Wednesday, we're up at 4 a.m. and head to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. You have to be at the airport by 6 a.m. for the one 7 a.m. flight to Kisumu, otherwise you aren't allowed in the gates. It's a very rural airport, very rural. There's one flight out at 7 in morning and one at 7 in the evening to Kisumu.

(One note: Kenya has the best cashews and macademia nuts I think I've ever had. It was the best part of the 35 minute flight to Kisumu.

In Kisumu, we meet farmers through the Millenium Development project. They have fish ponds with catfish and tilapia, sweet potatoes, bananas, corn known here as maiz.

We also see a feeding program at the Migosi Primary School. The school is still undeveloped but is making the difference in the lives of so many children who otherwise might have no where to go.

Then we head to meet Sarah Onyango Obama, President Obama's step grandmother, who raised his father and we see where Obama's father grew up. Her compound has become a tourist attraction. It too is rural however a fence has been constructed out front for privacy. There are two guards. Outside her home we sit in a semi circle. She sits with a translator. The language here is Swahili. It was humbling to meet the 87-year-old who is a community activist in the area. Obama, she says, has helped bring electricity, cable and clean water to the area.

Later we meet with the mayor of Kisumu and other leaders of the Kisumu area.

The next day (it's Thursday) we are with the CDC, Centers for Diseases and Control. There is an enormous compound. We are briefed on the latest malaria trials. The trials are in Phase III, it means that it is as close as they have ever come to a vaccine for malaria which is killing thousands of Africans each year.

We visit a pediatric ward where kids are being treated for malaria; we also walk to homes of folks to witness the AIDS/HIV testing. This is quite an experience.

By the way, the homes here are built with mud and sticks but they are incredible works of art if you really think about the construction.

Then we head to Senator Obama Primary School where we deliver school books to the children in hopes of starting a library at the school which serves about 700 children.

This has been an incredible experience to say the least.

I will be off line for a few days. Friday and Saturday we experience land management, the Ecosystem, water issues, and see livestock and wildlife in Mpala.

We'll also take a game drive; then Sunday we're up at 5 a.m. in order to meet with the prime minister by 10 a.m.

Well folks, I will see you back here on Sunday and let you know how the next few days go. For now, see my photos at Look up my name and you'll find the photos. I've taken about 500 so far.

More photos to come.

Monica Richardson is in Kenya for the International Reporting Project.

God bless...

On a personal note:

I am not drinking the water, not even to brush my teeth.

We've been eating box lunches in SUVs but had a great business dinner at the Kiboko Bay Resort Restaurant with some leading Kisumu figures and staff from the Millineum Goals Development Center. The resort is off the coast at the beginning of the Nile River where hippos are often spotted.

I'm spraying my DEET spray daily along with sunblock. Apparently the rainy season just ended here and locals say it's the cold season. Well, it's only rained a day and cold is a relative term I suppose. It's about 60 at night, cold to the locals but certainly not to the American visitors.

View All Posts By Monica Richardson

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