Presidio ISC: Nairobi to Maungu

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By Charles Knowlton (C20)

Published 1.22.15

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We awoke to a beautiful sunrise and went for a refreshing walk/run from the Amali “team house” in Limuru (suburb of Nairobi). We passed children walking to school in their uniforms and exchanged enthusiastic calls of habari asubuhi (Swahili for good morning). The soft morning light on the hills of the surrounding tea plantations provided a strikingly beautiful backdrop.

Following a delicious breakfast, we packed the land cruiser and mini-van for the 6 hour journey to Maungu. Our drivers knew a few dirt road shortcuts that circumnavigated Nairobi proper, avoiding “the jam,” and we quickly landed on the main artery headed south. We passed the Kibera tenements, a humbling, sprawling mass of family huts and shelters before reaching more remote stretches of highway. Speed bumps at each village slowed our caravan and allowed countless village vendors to practice their selling techniques, each shifting garlic, potatoes, tomatoes or mangoes. We avoided one rather close head on collision with an oncoming semi truck but otherwise enjoyed the drive and the various sightings of acacia and baobab trees as well as giraffes, elands (Africa’s largest antelope) and zebras.

Along the way we also ‘interviewed’ Cindy Mayanka, Zawadisha’s Opportunity and Development Director and only full-time employee.  She joined us with an infectious smile and Dany was quick to compliment her beautiful, salon-quality hair. She’s agreed to share her answers and photo with the PGS family:

1.  What’s your favorite part of working with Zawadisha? Meeting the women and going to different places. I meet all different tribes and learn so much from the others. I love that exposure. And, Jen’s (Zawadisha Founder) easy to work with!

2. How do you explain what you do and what Zawadisha does? I manage Zawadisha’s local accounts and I train women in financial management. Zawadisha offers micro loans to women of all races, especially poor women. We try to train them skills to make their lives better and enable them to be more self-sufficient. We train on 3 main things: saving, investing, and negotiation. We also teach how to manage debt.

3. Do you consider the entrepreneurs of Zawadisha to be your friends? Yes! How do you balance business and friendship? Zawadisha has certain policies they must follow but they are easy to manage and the women are certainly my friends.

4. Is there anything you want the PGS group to know about Zawadisha’s operations or the entrepreneurs you work with? We work with all types of women so there is no prototype of person we lend to. Instead, we listen intently to each applicant and work with them in assessing whether our eco-loans would make a good fit with their personal situation. I personally am outgoing, I like people and I’m a happy person. You practically can’t get me down!

5. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working? I like dancing. I like all types of music.

6. That’s convenient, we hold a school dance off every semester. Will you teach us a dance move or two? You bet!

We arrived to the tranquil oasis of Mama Mercy’s in Maungu late afternoon and couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome. Quite the gardener and community advocate, Mama Mercy explained the improvements she’s made to the grounds and served up a scrumptious meal of sucumwiki (think sautéed greens). We can’t wait to meet some of the women members of Zawadisha tomorrow.

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Charles Knowlton Kenya Maungu Zawadisha
Charles Knowlton (C20)

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