Monday, July 30, 2012

#KivaTrip: First impressions, old friends, and cows

This post is by Buckley White and Liz Nagle, two Kiva staff members traveling to Kenya for the first time. The mission: To give our lenders an unfiltered view of life in the field. We hope you enjoy!

We arrived in Nairobi at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning after an overnight from London. We managed to get a good night's sleep in after spending our 11 hour layover in London touring Windsor Castle and Eton.

Arriving at Nairobi airport, we could barely contain our excitement. This was the first time in Sub-Saharan Africa for either of us, and we wanted to drink it in. In the cab on the way to the hotel, we couldn't stop pointing out baobab trees -- this is the level of giddiness that we were experiencing.

After checking in, having breakfast, and getting a quick nap, we met up with Kiva alum Stephanie Koczela. Stephanie left Kiva about a year ago to co-found Penda Health, a startup health clinic in Kitengela, about an hour outside of Nairobi. We piled into her car and set out to see what she had been working on.

We weren't prepared.

First, driving here sucks. There's no way around that; it's hot in the middle of the day, cars grind along on poorly maintained roads, people walk across freeways with a casualness that is alarming to the uninitiated. But we were delighted to see that people and cars weren't the only ones on the roads. Here's the view from my window as we approached Kitengela.

These cows are cool customers, casually sauntering in and out of traffic, just chilling out. They will put their heads in car windows (as we nearly discovered), but otherwise they seemed as at home as anyone else there.

A little about Kitengela: it sits on a dusty plain about 30 km south of Nairobi and is home to a large number of factories. It's these factories that brought Penda out here; it aims to serve the women working in them with high-quality outpatient care.

Kitengela is poor. It's poor in a way that we were familiar with in theory (since we do work in international development), but we still weren't prepared for the visceral experience of poverty. Seeing so many people crammed into small spaces, with the smell of exposed sewage and the persistant heat all added to an experience that we're still processing. We know we've got a lot more of that coming on this trip, but it was nonetheless shocking for our sheltered, American eyes.

That said, visiting Penda Health's clinic and seeing what they have done with so little, we were inspired. In less than six months of operation, they have seen over a thousand clients in their small, five-room ground floor space on Kitengela's main road. They're serving women who don't have access to affordable, high-quality health services including family planning, preventative treatments such as pelvic exams, or treatment for common conditions such as urinary tract infections.

Meeting the staff and seeing how proud they are to be helping their neighbors and improving their community was the highlight of the day. Furthermore, we were amazed by the entrepreneurial spirit of the people working there. This is a risky business; it may very well fail, but they're trying it nonetheless. One of Kiva's core values is entrepreneurialism, but we can't imagine ever making the leap that these folks have made. Our hats are off to them.

Sunday we're doing some tourist stuff. We'll share some pictures of it on Twitter, so check out Buckley's feed (@buckleywhite) for pictures of baby elephants, Lake Naivasha, and other Kenyan delights.

To follow Liz and Buckley on their journey through Kenya, search #KivaTrip on Twitter and check back here on the Kiva Blog for regular updates.