Thursday, February 7, 2008

February 7, 2008 - UNICEF

Yesterday marked two months in Kenya for me and Kristoffer. I suppose it is fitting, then, that it was my first day of work; after two months of getting settled I am definitely ready to do something! Being a volunteer is very similar to being an intern, which I feel is an interesting regression for me at this point in my life. I don’t have my own desk or computer or keys to anywhere…and I have to ask a million questions! Lucky for me, everyone at UNICEF is extremely grateful for anything I can do to alleviate all of their overburdened workloads and they have all been very nice to me. The work I am doing is not extremely difficult, but it is extremely interesting. So far, I have two major tasks:

1 - I read and edit grant proposals for education projects to help the current crisis (mostly for children in displacement camps) that would require UNICEF support or money.

2 - I compile and analyze education news and data from field officers and NGOs about the status of children, schools, and any education-related programs in displacement camps around the country. My reports are alternately distributed to all UNICEF officers, related NGOs, the Ministry of Education and other UN agencies over 4 days each week.

I have learned that among the hundreds of displacement camps around the country there is a range in the quality of the camps. Some of the camps are spacious so that well-made tents aren't too crowded, people have access to proper kitchens and toilets, and the grounds are well lighted for security. In other camps, however, people basically live under thick sheets with no toilets, kitchens, or security and, in many cases, little food. It has been documented that at least 19 schools have been burned in the violence, and dozens more have been vandalized or looted. Thousands of displaced people are living in police stations right now, because of a lack of camps or transportation to camps, and there is one police station just outside of Nairobi that has 7,000 people living there, including at least 2,000 children. While schools throughout the country have opened, obviously children in these circumstances are not regularly attending any school and UNICEF cannot set up learning centers in police stations.

The most interesting statistic I have learned is in regards to Kenya's economic situation: for every tourist who cancels a trip to Kenya or decides not to book a trip at all, 7 Kenyans will lose their jobs. So the bottom line is that you have to visit us! Soon! Kenya needs you!

I am really happy to have something to do besides be an internet junky and watch TV/DVDs. I think that as I get more knowledgeable and comfortable at UNICEF my boss (the Director of the Education Sector of UNICEF for Kenya) and her colleagues will be able to benefit even more from my skills and, perhaps, will find me so indispensable that they will have no choice but to offer me a job. J

In other news, our "sim card theft" investigation is going as well as can be expected, and in fact the diplomatic police are doing more than we expected. In the last two days they have investigated colleagues and even the boss of the guy who was using the sim card. My parents received a T-Mobile bill in the mail and scanned/emailed it to us so the police can see the call log. This was very helpful but there are a few factors working against the case. First, the sim card has not been found yet; mostly likely when T-Mobile eventually suspended the account the guy tossed the sim card. If they could find the sim card, which the police have not given up on yet, it would be an open-and-close case in terms of prosecuting the guy. The second problem is that if they don't find the sim card, they would need a representative from T-Mobile to present and authenticate the call log in a court of law in order for it to be accepted as evidence. We're thinking it might be a bit tricky to get someone from T-Mobile to come over to Kenya (they don't like me too much and it is pretty far!) but if we could get a subpoena than maybe T-Mobile would just wipe away the charges to avoid the hassle. It is still a frustrating situation, but the initial shock has worn off and we are doing everything we can. We are also hoping that some legal help in NYC might make T-Mobile slightly more sympathetic to the situation than they have been so far. I’ll definitely keep you posted.

The political situation in Nairobi is very calm, while terror reigns in the Rift Valley. Ten people were killed last night, houses and churches continue to be burned, and yesterday two teachers were shot by police during a protest of the arrest of 4 local leaders who were charged with inciting violence. With two teachers killed, it could present problems for the government if they want the teacher's union (KNUT) to be an ally in the future. The police manning the protest were supposed to fire only rubber bullets and, obviously, the union is up in arms that they actually fired live rounds.

Kristoffer continues to like his job and this week has learned how important it is that each person at WFP does their job well. If anyone makes a mistake it means that hundreds or thousands of children might actually not receive any food, which lowers school attendance and is obviously not good for their health (this happened this week, but it was not Kristoffer’s mistake). It is critical that the WFP gets food to the children for the school feeding program, in addition to the fact that they are now also providing food to people in displacement camps (there is a lot of collaboration between UNICEF and WFP in regards to the current crisis).

We look forward to a short Friday work day tomorrow (in Africa Friday is always a short day!) and a relaxing weekend.



strib said...

I am glad that your are going to work for UNICEF Lisa. Because that is one af the organisations that I give some money every month. We still enjoy reading your blog. It's so go to know you are well, thinking of the situation in Kenya.
Aja and Jesper are looking for a house in Fredericia. Aja have started job at DONG in Skærbæk.
Greetings from Kitte

WindowToEthiopia said...

Lisa, thanks for sharing a little bit about your life in Nairobi. I have a good friend in Addis Ababa who went to school in Nairobi and went home due to an illness in his family at Christmas. Then, all the unfortunate things happened in Kenya while he was gone. I've sent your blog entry so he can see what's going on. He's trying to decide if he should return and if he should volunteer or seek some type of minimal pay employment job to help. I've told him I'm sure the need is great, but that I don't see any quick fixes coming to Kenya. So I told him to seek humanitarian or NGO work with his accounting background and good English. I hope you didn't mind me sending your blog information to Mulle, my friend in Addis. Thanks. Thanks also for you and your colleague's fine work. James Larsen, Window to Ethiopia/Ethiopia Reads!supporter.
Alexandria, VA USA