Historic Trip to Visit Cal African Alumni Begins

Photo 1: Sheep prepared for Christmas meal at Mary Njenga’s farm

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.

Photo 2: UC Berkeley Professor Tabitha Kanogo, her nephew, and Robin Marsh, New Year’s Day

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.

Photo 3: Juliet Mbilo, Mary Njenga and Roxy Rozo-Marsh at Town Centre, HNP, Kibera

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