The journey to Kenya-Uganda- South Africa to interview UC Berkeley alumni has begun with the discovery and enjoyment of multiple Kenya- Berkeley connections. Landing in Nairobi during the Christmas-New Year’s season, when Kenyans traditionally go home to their villages for celebrating with extended family, my daughter and I were fortunate to share such an experience with good friend, Dr. Mary Njenga (UCB/Bears Environmental Leadership Program 2009) at her mom’s vegetable farm in Lari District. The men in the family selected, slaughtered, skinned, boiled and roasted one of the sheep, as we prepared the vegetables and chapatti (photo). For more on Mary’s life from rural poverty to PhD in renewable energy, have a look at her video on YouTube – “Purpose”. After Christmas, we were joined by Narissa Allibhai (UCB MDP/MasterCard Foundation Scholar graduate), for two days in the Rift Valley visiting Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha, and learning about Narissa’s recent work with Friends of Turkana/International Rivers Network, and current position with Mercy Corps – East and Southern Africa Regional Office. She also plugged us into her favorite hang-out, the Nairobi based creative innovation hub PAWA254.
Next we met up with Enos Kabelle, older brother to Civil Engineering Junior and MCF Scholar, Lillian Kabelle, who showed us around Nairobi and shared the story of he encouraged his sister to strive forward and apply to her dream school – UC Berkeley. The full story can be found here. Enos joined us for dinner with Prof. Rose Odhiambo from her family, introduced to us by UC Berkeley anthropologist, Deborah Lustig (ISSI Assistant Director), who spent two years as a Fulbright fellow in Kenya at Egerton University where Rose is a professor.
The next Berkeley connection was visiting the newly completed multi-purpose Town Centre of the Human Needs Project in the second largest slum of sub-Saharan Africa, Kibera. The Centre offers clean toilets, hot showers, washing machines, high speed internet, a training facility and a café. UC Berkeley has supported HNP in various capacities over the last few years (Prof. Dan Kammen – solar energy, Prof. Kara Nelson – sanitation, MDP graduate student interns, and two HNP trainees attended ELP 2013). John Gage (Berkeley alum, 1975, co-founder of Sun Microsystems), is one of the key supporters of HNP. He is currently in Nairobi to host 15 Harvard students for a month of exchanges with HNP, and I had the pleasure of a long conversation with him about Berkeley’s early computer science/networking contributions. Mary Njenga and I will be following up with HNP about establishing demonstration vertical vegetable gardens, and training on manufacture of efficient low-cost fuel briquettes and improved stoves.
I was consoled from parting with my daughter on New Year’s Eve, with a wonderful traditional Kenyan meal (roasted goat/nyama choma) at the invitation of UC Berkeley history Prof. Tabitha Kanogo (photo). Tabitha is home in Kenya for a few weeks and was gracious enough to include me in her family’s feast to celebrate the beginning of 2015, and stimulating discussions about Kenyan politics, the new Marriage Law, the threat of a teacher’s strike on Jan. 5th, and all of our hopes and wishes for the new year.
Sidee Dlamnini (UCB, MDP/MCF Scholar and GSR for the African Alumni Project) travels from Johannesburg to Nairobi to join me for interviews with Kenyan Berkeley alums starting on January 5th. We will first meet up with Jacinta Mbilo (UCB, City & Regional Planning/MCF Scholar), home for the holidays, and then travel to Kisumu, Western Kenya on Sunday for interviews with UCB/SPH alums on Monday. Sidee and I are invited to sample local fish from Lake Victoria at the home of Lilian’s sister in Kisumu, joined also by her mom and dad who are traveling in from their village for the occasion. So exciting to meet Lilian’s family!
Between Jan. 5th and 10th, we will be interviewing eleven UC Berkeley Kenyan alumni – stay tuned for their stories.
Happy New Year from Nairobi !
By Robin Marsh