Friday, February 24, 2012

The different perks of my job

So my placement has many perks. I work in a beautiful complex which is surrounded on all sides by forest and tea plantations. I work with colleagues who, for the most part, are dedicated, hard-working and passionate. There is a post office, bank and lots of places to eat on site so I don't have to go far to run errands or feed my sugar cravings.

But the best perks of my job are, in my opinion, when I get to go out and meet the different communities that UNICEF, and my department in particular, works with. So one Sunday a couple of weeks ago I headed to Makongeni Sports Ground for the Nairobi final of the Young Leaders for Life Girl's Football Tournament. The tournament is sponsored by UNICEF and is implemented by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs and I was invited along to represent UNICEF on the day. As such, I mainly spent the day watching football, playing with the many children who came up to stare at/poke/stroke the hair of the mzungu and speaking to the young women on the teams.The focus of the project is manifold. The main objective is to provide young women with a safe space to play sport, but also to discuss issues of health, HIV/AIDS, work on their self-confidence. Their training sessions are as much about life skills training as they are about football skills practice. The tournament days themselves, held in various informal settlements through the city, are a chance for local communities to get together to watch and support the teams. But throughout the day messages around health seeking behaviours are communicated, whether it's through the commentator who uses the lulls in action to talk about the importance of knowing your status, exclusive breast-feeding or immunisations. Or through the various groups that entertain the spectators and weave similar messages into their dances, songs or drama skits. There is even a VCT tent at the matches so that those who want to get tested for HIV can do so there and then.

Before the grand final I was asked to accompany the Director of Sports in Nairobi in being introduced to the teams - my very first taste of what it would be like to be President. The shaking hands and small talk I loved but then I was asked to give a speech for which I was definitely not prepared for. I hastily introduced myself in my broken Kiswahili and then spoke a few words about how important it is for them, as young women to be leaders in their communities etc etc. I aimed for inspirational. Judging by the looks on the girls' faces I landed more around confusing. After the I presented some of the prizes to the winning teams, which included new football boots and kits, as well as medals and a pretty snazzy cup.

But the absolute best part of my day was talking to people from the local area itself, both the children With the children I mainly used my 'kidogo' kiswahili to ask the name and age of any child that would listen to me. And with the slightly older people I was able to talk about thsuch as unemployment, poor healthcare facilities, poor sanititation facilities... stories all too common in settlements such as this one. What marks Makongeni out from other informal settlements in Nairobi is that it looks anything but informal. It was built by the British for railway workers in the middle part of the twentieth century and so the structures, for the most part, are built from cement and brick, giving it an entirely different look and feel from areas such as Mathare, in the east of the city, or Kangemi, the area by my house. It feels spacious, which is something that no other similar area can attest to. In Kamgemi almost all of the available space is taken up with homes, and businesses too, squeezed in between other structures. The order of Makongeni is striking.

Below are a few pictures that I took myself on the day. I'll see if I can track down a couple of pictures of me praciticing my presidential handshake and upload them later.

The crowd gathers to watch the games

Some of the housing blocks at Makongeni

Where's it going to land?

One of the drama skits

Some of the very talented children from Kibera Talent Revue

Having a bit of a dance

The VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing) Test
The winning team with their prizes
Nairobi's mayor presents the cup to the captain of the winning team

On an entirely different note, one of the other perks of my job recently has been to work with MTV and HIV Free Generation on our joint Shuga project. This meant I was able to wrangle an invite to the glitzy premiere of the 2nd series of the TV show which was held at Nairobi National Museum a couple of Fridays ago. It was a world away from my Makongeni adventures, that's for sure. Free cocktail upon arrival, canapes, all in the beautiful surroundings of the musuem exhibits. Sipping cocktails next to a giant stuffed giraffe and Massai shields. Yeah, I could get used to that! The screening itself took place in a massive tent in the grounds of the musuem and was followed by a Q and A with the uber glamorous cast. Once again, I don't have pictures of this event myself (I didn't want to be *that* mzungu) but I'll try to source a few to put up here in a couple of days.

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