SR article

Blog 1: Getting to know Okana.

A short overview of our first 4 weeks in Okana, Kenia.


Week 44:

First glance of the Pavilions

After a 11 hour travel we arrived in Nairobi on the night of 3 November, the start of our 3 month internship. After spending 2 days in Nairobi visiting some sights and getting used to the looks we get  and  the culture, we flew to Kisumu. Here Reiner, a German volunteer at SRI, picked us up. After a short drive we got to Okana. Even though it is so close to a big city, Okana is very widespread and rural. The SRI compound consists of the Pavilions, a carpentry workshop, the guesthouse and various small sheds which are used for various purposes (depends on what is needed at the moment.) The Pavilions are in a quite evolved state. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the actually buildings are there. Also all the electric wiring is finished and the acacia tree, small as it may be, is growing. The guesthouse is surprisingly luxurious. Despite the fact that there is no running water, it is a very comfortable way of living. The first day in Okana we spend exploring Okana road both ways and making ourselves used to the surroundings. We quickly discovered that the internet connection is not (yet) good enough for us to actually work on our project and send big files and pictures.


Week 45:

We started our week in Kisumu.  After our first project meeting in Africa we decided that our main goal for the first month will be finishing up the construction of the pavilions. Besides that we are planning on researching if the BamGoo bike is a feasible project in the Okana area. This will be done by talking to the workers and the local community. Our main mission is to make sure that, besides the construction of de pavilions, we implement some sort of business. Hopefully this will be the BamGoo bike or the cybercafe.

After working on the compound for a couple of days, it is very noticable that the African way of working is very different to our way of working. There is no system or routine and due to the lack of tools you spend a lot of time waiting around. On the positive note, they are very open for suggestion. Especially in the carpentry workshop they really listen after you have proven that you know what you are doing. It does seem like as soon as we are not actually working in the shop, the productivity goes down a lot as well. Maybe implementing a schedule or well working system per item of furniture is a good idea, since then they can use this after we leave.

Helping out in the carpentry workshop

As for the construction, it seems like they are going in a steady pas. The pavilions should be finished by the end of the month. They are finishing up construction and redoing the coat on the roof. All the electrical wiring is done. Starting next week we can probably help with painting and decorating, since the furniture making now is going in a steady pas as well. Besides this there is a lot of research that’ll need to be done, our open research website need to be evaluated and adjusted. Also for the community centre itself. What is it that people would want from the pavilions? How much can it cost? How feasible is? In the upcoming weeks we will try to discover the answers to these questions.


Week 46

After spending the weekend in Kisumu, enjoying the city and playing in a videoclip, our second week in Okana started. As far as construction, even when we got back that Sunday afternoon there were still people working on site. It seems like various little tasks are being finished, which will allow us to start making plans for some income generating facilities. As for the carpentry workshop, not efficiency, but lack of materials is now the problem. Monday morning the last of the remaining wood was used. This means the furniture for the Pavilions cannot be finished as well as their other assignments.

Interviewing the local community

After setting up  a clear interview, we went into Okana to question some people about the resource center and the BamGoo. Spending Tuesday inside various homes and talking to the community gave us a clear view of what they actually want and expect. The  language barrier is quite a problem still, it seems like only the young kids are able to speak a decent amount of English. We did gather quite some useful information on how they perceive the community centre.  As for materials for the BamGoo, we have been trying to get in touch with a bamboo farmer in Yala, but channels of communication are very confusing in Okana. Monica, the compound manager ended up taking us into town to check out the various hardware needed.  This so we could make a clear overview of what the cost will be. We ended the week with creating the first BamGoo prototype using some of the leftover bamboo from the Pavilions


Week 47

Via one of the summer volunteers we got in contact with Gaby. He is one of the roofers that worked on the Pavilions. He invited us to his home on Mfangano Island. This is the biggest island in Victoria lake.  This is not only interesting as a nice getaway, but also because on Mfangano Island a very similar resource center has been set up some years ago.  It is still a quit rural island, but is a bit more evolved than Okana. The Ekiola Center is attached to a health care clinic and uses a new technique of beaming wifi from the city. Our main goal was doing some research on their self-sustainability, but we ended up having a very warm welcome and a great weekend at Gabys families place.

Exploring Mfangano Island

Since the carpentry ran out of wood, nails and screws and there is no paint  yet, it is hard to find anything to actually work on here on the compound. It seems like SRI is expecting us to take charge and pay for everything. We did help paint most of the community centre. Halfway through the week we spoke to Laura, one of the architects behind the Pavilions. She explained us a lot about the SRI dynamics. Julius is now in charge of the carpentry and there is more budget for wood. Money does seem an issue, since no one can actually give us what we need to continue.

After talking to Laura some new projects have been set up for us. Since only 3 out of the 5 originally planned Pavilions have been build yet, there needs to be thought of a temporary cafeteria. Most of the week has been spend on making some designs for this temporary cafeteria. During their building process they also stepped away from their original waterstorage. The plan is to harvest rainwater for drinking, washing and irrigation of the cropfields. Since okana has dry and rainy seasons, this water needs to be stored. Various plans have been thought of and will be processed in the report.