Kara Wevers and Gerald Cook visited over a dozen GlobalGiving projects in March of 2009.
"Constance Hunt, the founder, director and only staff member of KWENCH, allowed us to spend a few hours with her during our visit in Nairobi. She took us to visit her current project on GlobalGiving, where construction is underway for a creative, sustainable, eco-friendly building. Once finished, this building will have toilets, showers, a kitchen, and, hopefully, a community room in which to gather and hang out. The stoves in the kitchen will run on the methane gas collected from the sanitation system’s processes. It is a really innovative set-up. It was great to actually see people working on the building while we were there. It should be up and running within a matter of time.
The location of the building is especially exciting, as it is on the grounds of a school in one of the Nairobi slums. The headmaster was full of hope and smiles as he walked us through the construction site. The location of this site means that the school children will have the opportunity to use the new sanitation facility. Constance also hopes that this will become a spot where the community can gather, where women can use the kitchen to open a small restaurant on the second floor and earn an income this way. It is a great concept, and I hope it works out as planned."
"Today Kara Wevers and I visited “Kwench,” globalgiving project #1761, “Ablution block and Kitchen for 500 in Nairobi Slum.” We met Ms. Constance Hunt at her church. She was an amazing, quirky, American woman who has decided to stay in Kenya to build toilets and other facilities for impoverished schoolchildren. Upon meeting us we got into her vehicle and she began to lead us out into the field.
She led us into the heart of one of Nairobi’s largest slums. We passed by small shack after shack, small alleys and roads packed full of people. We saw fingers pointing and voices shouting “MUZUNGU!” (white person) as we passed. We visited two schools where Ms. Hunt had built or was building water facilities.
“Sanitation,” she explained, “is very important.” As we watched the construction of a structure that would house toilets, showers, stoves, and other facilities, she described for us how people now are using “flying toilets.” Apparently people defecate into small plastic bags, the type you might get from Wal-Mart, and then simply throw them out the window of their shacks onto the street!
Ms. Hunt is working on educating people on the health perils associated with this practice while also building facilities so that they are able to remain sanitary. She seems to be an expert in water and sanitation and described for us how EVERYTHING within the construction site was environmentally friendly and helpful for the community. The methane from the toilet waste was even to be converted into energy so that less charcoal (which is very dangerous to health and the environment) would be used.
Ms. Hunt was kind enough to introduce Kara and I to two school headmasters, and she watched as we played with the children and enjoyed ourselves. Constance Hunt is an amazing woman doing amazing work, almost entirely on her own."
When asked what they would tell their friends about this project, Kara said it was "Good" and Gerald said, "Great, they are making a difference!"
GlobalGiving is committed to incorporating many viewpoints on our 600+ projects. We feel that more information, especially from eyewitnesses helps donors like you continue to support organizations doing great work in the community.
Construction of Phase 1 is finished.The next steps are to install the plumbing fixtures, put in the doors and windows, lay the tiles, plaster and paint, construct cabinets and buy the other things we need for the kitchen (stoves, table, refrigerator, eg.).
You will note in the photo of the plumber on top of the staircase that we actually did construct a staircase in the hope that we will be able to add an upper floor for a meeting space. The meeting space would add a lot of value to our project as the women who cook in the kitchen could cook snacks and sell the snacks and drinks to people gathered in the meeting space.
Please help us add this value to our project! It will reallly help the community.
Thanks again for your support.
Today Michael Nolan and I visited globalgiving project #1761, “Ablution block and Kitchen for 500 in Nairobi Slum.” Constance Hunt, the project leader, met us and took us on a brief tour of one of Nairobi’s largest slums, Kawangware.
I handed her a microphone and MP3 recorder as just listened as we walked the two kilometers or so from the nearest transport into the heart of the slums. Endless shacks of rusty iron and cement lined the paths through this “informal settlement,” as euphemists prefer to call it. Walkers, bikers, and mothers glut the alleys as we weave a path to the community center she is helping construct.
Constance said, “If you tell them you are less likely to get cholera if you have a toilet. They don’t care. But if you tell them it will impress your guests… that’s the hook.”
“I heard the same about toothpaste,” I said, “People don’t brush to fight cavities, they brush because ads promise fresh breath.”
My visit was part of a larger listening tour of Kenya. We at GlobalGiving search for ways to let the people in communities like Kawangware speak to the world themselves. They are the experts on what they need. We believe everyone who uses globalgiving will answer their prayers if only there was a way for them to speak directly. I explained this to Constance. I mentioned that something as simple as twitter on a local cell phone could allow slum dwellers to begin a dialogue that will draw attention to their daily realities.
Constance looked a skeptical. “I’m just wondering does that mean that eventually it will add up to money coming into this project?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
Few believe mobile phones can fight poverty, or that local people would text what they see so that visits like mine become superfluous. Looking just above her head I saw dozens of TV attenas poking through the rooftops. A block later, the familiar “SafariCom sold here” sign jutted from a shack. Poor they may be, but not isolated.
We entered the school grounds where the future community center will stand. Despite the short notice (I requested a visit by text message only the night before) a dozen or so Kenyans were piling on cement blocks and concrete.
“Wow! They work fast!” Constance said. “I was here just last week and they had barely a foundation. This phase is ahead of schedule but we’re still short of full funding for the project.”
As Constance explained, this community center will immediately provide toilets for the thousands that live nearby. There are NO toilets in this slum, period. The current practice is a “flying toilet” where a person deficates in a plastic bag and litterally chucks it out the window of the shack without regard to the mess it leaves in the community as a whole.
Down the road, the project will provide clean water with a new bore hole. Human waste will ferment into methane biofuels that will provide sustainable cooking facilities for the people nearby. If she can attract more funding, she even hopes to add a second floor for community activities.
“What one thing does this community need most?” I asked.
“Sewers. The whole slum grew up without any infrastructure. Now it is expensive to lay them. But I wish we could add sewers to improve the health and livelihood of these people,” Constance said.
This tour, our twittering villages in Kenya, its all an experiment. As a scientist I know that most experiments are in a sense ‘failures,’ but ‘progress’ only comes after the last failure, and only for those who persist. Our goal: give people louder voices.