Yesterday was my first day in Kenya-
I arrived early in the morning on a Virgin Atlantic flight that was notable only for the stringent, repeated seatbelt checks.

Dalia remarked that Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta is much bigger than the airport in Lome, Togo. Go figure.
After picking up my bag, I stepped out to the waiting crowds and easily spotted Susan wearing her Jamii Bora t-shirt. Jamii Bora is the name of the microfinance institution that I am volunteering for. It means “good families” in Swahili. We took off towards her house in the taxi of Alex, a Jamii Bora member. The cool of the morning was being burned away by the sun as we negotiated the road. I had just read that arriving into Mombassa and leaving the airport was quite a culture shock. Arriving in Nairobi is not. There were large numbers of people walking up and down the streets, on their way to work in the industrial area. Matatus, buses, cars and motorcycles all jockeyed for position while avoiding crossing pedestrians. Other than that, though, it was nothing too extraordinary. We ran into traffic, which is infamous in Nairobi. Every car ride I’ve taken so far has turned excruciatingly long because of traffic jams.

Susan and I exchanged small talk about my flight, my country, my motives for coming out and the operations of Jamii Bora.

We finally arrived to her apartment in the Emily Flats complex. It is somewhat west and south of the city’s center. She had warned me that she lives a middle-class life and that her apartment therefore wasn’t much to brag about. However, I have a large room with a bathroom all to myself and the whole apartment seems like the sort of thing that I’ve seen plenty of in Spain. The apartment I shared with friends on summer in Tarifa is comparable (although there’s no pristine beach five minutes away from here).

A nice breakfast was laid out on the table for me. It included both the very British Weetabix and the very American peanut butter and jelly. (Peanut butter not entirely American, you say? It was Skippy.) They are spoiling me with food, I think.

I was more tired than I thought due to the aforementioned seatbelt checks. Susan suggested that I rest a bit and I followed her advice.
I took a shower (well, the shower’s busted actually. so, it was more like pouring water from a basin over myself. Very hot water, though.) and slept for two hours.

We ate some lunch and went over to the Jamii Bora headquarters. It is a large building in the industrail area that they have recently acquired and set up as the main office. It is bright white and spacious inside. In another place it could be a hip loft space.

I was greeted with singing by the staff members (and members) of Jamii Bora. They lead me up to the conference room for a briefing. After a short introduction, I heard the stories of staff members and the clients.

I have to say that the stories that the clients tell about their lives are so heart-wrenching and beautiful. They have faced innumerable hardships – mafias, fires, HIV/AIDS, tribal conflict – and yet they all end by saying that God is Good because now they are happy, now they look towards the future with hope.

I will be writing up a lot of information that they want to be on their website, so perhaps you will be able to read these stories there. If not, here is a link to a video of Ingrid Munro (the boss around here) presenting these same stories at the Global Microcredit Summit in Halifax. I met Wilson, Beatrice, Clarice and Shosho; they are all mentioned in that presentation.

I also met the heads of several different divisions within Jamii Bora. As a microfinance organization, what makes them so unique is that they treat the problem of poverty holistically. And they get the job done. They started giving out loans until they realized that many members were not paying back those loans because they were getting ill. So, they started a microinsurance scheme that now has hospitals coming to them asking to be their partners. They could see that there were problems with drug and alcohol addiction so they started a counseling division. Knowing firsthand that the slums where the bulk of their clients live are pathetic and inexcusably bad, they started building their own town.

The last I had heard of this town, from the presentation in Halifax, was that it had been stalled by complaints from landowners in the area. However, I was thrilled to find out that all the legal battles had been won by Jamii Bora and construction was nearing completion on the first batch of homes. This town sounds amazing; it will have garbage and recycling services, a wetlands to treat greywater and every home comes with multiple rooms and a flush toilet. In a country that I have found has incredily high property prices, these homes are very affordably-priced. I’ll add more details when I see it for myself.

I didn’t have my camera with me, but I promise I’ll post some illustrative pictures soon. Until then, let me end by saying that I am very happy with my decision to come here to Kenya and to work with Jamii Bora. They have welcomed me with open arms and I think I am going to get a lot out of helping this ‘family’ grow.

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