First day in Nairobi and it is an interesting mix of meetings with two large organizations – CARE Canada and the Canadian Embassy. Kura and Sarah meet me at the Fairview for breakfast and once we have my bags packed into the Gumpsmobile we take the short drive to CARE. Wrong office.
CARE USA handles Somalia and Sudan. “You want CARE Canada,” a polite security guard tells us. “They are in charge of Kenya.” We cross the Ngong Road and wander along rutted dirt paths until we reach a building with a small sign and intense security arrangements. Once past the hand-in-your-passport-and-I’ll-give-you-a-security-pass process we wait to meet with Gary, the assistant country director. Gary has lived in Kenya for 14 years, 11 of them working for CARE in Sudan. He shares a quick update on the referendum in southern Sudan and it is a mix of short-term optimism and experienced cynicism when young countries struggle over oil resources.
CARE has been involved in the Hunger Safety Net Programme that distributes cash to eligible recipients in place of food relief in northern Kenya. We are interested in anything that puts cash into the economy as it will support our small businesses. We would like to know more about how the program works and how they determine locations and recipients. What follows is a reasonable but difficult to follow explanation on consortiums, monitoring mechanisms, design agencies, internal governance and external financing organizations. We recognize some of the names, others require a pause in the conversation and more explanations. It is a bewildering soliloquy of acronyms: DFiD, OPM, PISP, ASAL’s, STC, KBDS, FHI, WFP, ECO and FSD.
Gary is kind and patient with us but makes it clear that unless we want to become a government or non-government agency of large policy programs, there is not a place for us as we seek funding for our micro-finance program.
We are also given a reality check on the drought situation. “Are you sure this is a drought?” he asks. If you read the Kenyan press, and reports from agencies that are seeking donor funds, like Red Cross, you might think that we are in an alarming situation. “But look,” Gary says, “we’ve had one season of rain that was light. But what are you going to call it in August if the rains do not come in April?” The statistics support his position – malnutrition rates are slightly higher, but not alarmingly so. Livestock prices are coming down, but not plummeting.
When we get outside I ask Kura for his take on the drought. “He’s right, Mama Rungu. There is still forage for the livestock in the region. It’s just that there is no water so the herders must go long distances to places where there is forage AND water. That means that the livestock – still the main source of nutrition and income for families – are now far away from the families who remain in villages so that their children can go to school. They might have one goat to provide milk for the children. That is it. We are good, Mama Rungu. Our businesses give people what they need so that they can buy food. And we are not creating dependency.”
The meeting is another reality check for us. As a young organization we are finding out what we are not. We are not an organization peddling a replicable, business school, cookie-cutter model. We are a geographically-focused organization that concentrates our efforts on programs that will provide an income for the people who live in our region. Our greatest strength is our relationships and the local people who run the programs.
“Remember, Mama Rungu, we are setting the highest goals for the poorest people in our region: ‘Prosperity with Dignity’”.
“You are right, Kura. Let’s finish up these appointments and head north.”