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this blog is discontinued, its successor is blog.kijani.co

In the Meantime

A lot of time has passed since I wrote here. As you may recall I started a reforestation and youth empowerment initiative in central Kenya together with my friend Daniel back in October. By now we are an international team of over 14 young people from Kenya, Germany and the US and call ourselves Kijani — meaning green in Swahili.

Project Areas

In the last 6 months we have spent a lot of work with planing the project, building partner networks, developing a funding strategy, and extending our team.

The Development so far

Kijani's vision is to contribute to a sustainable and just world. We are convinced that forest regions in Kenya are not just endangered ecosystems but also have tremendous potential for economic development. Therefore we aim to empower young people in the region to develop sustainable forest based businesses. Through our international and interdisciplinary team we have a unique opportunity to succeed and to create international Dialog between young people in Kenya, Germany and in the USA, like we already do on our team.

Project Areas

In the last months we have built a relationship with the people on location in Marmanet and prepared the set up of our first tree nursery. This week our Kenyan team is conducting interviews with 300 households in Marmanet for a baseline survey which will provide us with a better statistical basis to evaluate sustainable forest-based business models for the region.

Village in Marmanet Deforestation in Marmanet

Apart from that we have built a vast network of partners. We work together with international NGOs like Plant for the Planet and have established good contacts with UNEP, we also work with important political partners like the ministry of environment of Kenya and the Kenya Forest Services and we have partners in science like the Kenya Forestry Research Institute and the University for Sustainable Development in Eberswalde near Berlin. The project is mainly kept alive through the voluntary commitment of our team members, but we have also already raised some initial funding on betterplace.

If you are interested in learning more about our project, you can download our project description.

Who is Kijani?

Clearly our competent and motivated team members are Kijani's greatest asset: Daniel, my co-founder, who manages the work in Kenya brings in all his contacts in Kenya and the US. Urs, our forestry expert, who is just finishing his Master's at Yale, is a youth representative in the UN working group on forests and has received a stipend to work full-time for Kijani in Kenya for three months starting in October. David grew up in a rural Kenyan home and studies community development in Nairobi; he always finds the right words to talk to the community and his humor ensures that work never gets boring. In Armin we have a start-up experienced social entrepreneur who never looses sight of our finances and ensures that we don't loose ourselves in concepts but 'get shit done' as he likes to say. Denise — PhD candidate at the Entrepreneurship Center of RWTH Aachen — and Thomas — business consultant at EY — develop our marketing and social media strategies. Dave who has already successfully started an NGO in East Africa consults us on project management. Our film producer Jannis is incredible at getting highly skilled new people on board from his vast network as well as total strangers like filmmaker Justin in Kenya who is helping us create our first promotional video. Dickens and Liz keep the contact with our partners alive, advance our concepts in Kenya, and help out wherever needed. Zach and Kevin from the US helped me to develop the Design of Kijani and to build and care for our website. Our Kenyan lawyer-to-be Haron helps to maneuver the Kenyan bureaucracy. Robin and Sascha do the same in Germany where we have just founded our non-profit association last week.

The Kijani Team

The following photos should give you an impression of the diverse activities inside Kijani.

Dickens and me with Kids in Marmanet: Kids in Marmanet

Daniel in Marmanet at a creek that will provide water for our first tree nursery: Daniel in Marmanet

Urs together with the whole Kenyan Kijani team and our chairman Ibrahim Omondi: Urs with Kenyan Team

Meeting with people in the community, David and Dickens are carefully taking notes of all the ideas and vision of community members: Community Meeting

David, Haron and Dickens with the local forest officer Lukas and two rangers on location in Marmanet — the rifles are to scare off elephants and wood thieves: Team in Marmanet

Me at the filming of our promotion video at home in Berlin — the video will be done soon so stay tuned: Crowdfunding Video

The founding meeting of members of the German Kijani non-profit association last week: First Kijani Germany Assembly

What's in it for You

There's one thing I haven't told you about yet: When we were searching for innovative fund raising concepts, Armin (in the next picture) had the idea to just bring the Kenyan forest to Germany. As our supporters, you can get seeds of Kenyan trees which will grow into beautiful indoor plants.

Armin with Seedling

In the last months we have imported the first seeds and experimented with how to grow Acacia, Baobab, and Flamboyant trees under simple conditions in German living rooms. We are pretty proud of our results by now.

Seedling

The project is entering beta phase now, so if you live in Germany, you can be among the first ones to grow a Kenyan tree at home. We need your support to keep this project going. If you are willing to contribute monthly or want to get seeds in Germany, please contact us at donate@kijani.co. For one-time contribution please visit our website.

Please also help us to win $10,000 by voting for our proposal on Climate CoLab now. Then we will have a good chance to win the popular choice award.

We would be glad to receive suggestions from you. You can reach us via Email, on Facebook or Twitter. You also don't have to mourn the end of this blog as it will be succeeded by the Kijani Blog.

Kijani Website

Anti-Corruption,
Church & Dance

Before I will leave Kenya for now, I wanted to take the time to introduce Diane and Ibrahim Omondi and their history a little. After all I lived and worked with them for half a year. I also wanted to share a little about my church here and give you a glimpse into the African worship style.

Diane & Ibrahim Omondi

In 1988 Diane - youngest daughter of a Mennonite pastor from Ohio - and Ibrahim - the oldest son of ten children of an Anglican Lay Pastor from Luo land - started a small group in Nairobi. Three decades later this small group had grown into a church with close to 200 congregations all over East Africa.

Diane and Ibrahim Omondi

Photo by Debbi Omondi

Ibrahim started ministering in prisons with 18 years and became a firy evangelizer in the East African revival. With 27 years he got a scholarship from Rosedale Bible Institute in Ohio. From where he went on to get his bachelors in English at Goshen and then his master in Communication at Wheaton College.

Diane had developed an interest in intercultural exchange and a heart for international missions from early on despite of her upbringing in a fairly monocultural environment. When she was 20 years old during her studies for a degree in Ministry at Goshen she went on her first international mission trip to Costa Rica for half a year. After this experience she knew that this was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

One sunday in 1981 Ibrahim was preaching about missions at a service at Goshen. Amongst his listeners was Diane. She was fascinated by the spirit of the young African preacher and wanted to learn more from him about missions in Africa. So they met for a coffee the next day which turned out to change both of their lives profoundly. They started dating and got involved in youth ministries and a year later they went on a missions trip to Africa. First they were at a youth camp in Congo and after that they wanted to attend a youth conference in Kenya. But just when they arrived in Kenya the 1982 coup attempt took place and the country was in the grip of the military for a couple days and everything stood still. They used the time to visit Ibrahims family in Kitale and got engaged.

However that set the stage for their lifelong commitment against corruption and for the betterment of Kenyan politics and for more integrity and peace in the Kenyan society. When they came back to Kenya in 1984 as a married couple they started a magazine for christian leaders called 'Beyond Magazine'. The magazine had a strong focus on integrity and national politics and brought up many controversies in the times of the oppressive regime of president Moi. After three years one of their editors was thrown into jail and they were forced to shut down the magazine. They had already been in contact with DOVE and though about starting a church. But it was then that they felt a strong calling to really give it a try. They started a small group at their house and a year later they were meeting on sunday mornings in a little room. From their on the church grew tremendosly. The church in Nairobi never became a megachurch, but very soon it started planting more congregations in Uganda and other parts of Kenya.

Diane and Ibrahim had four children and their church continued to grow exponentially as a lay movement with a relationship based structure. Diane became an educator for Montessory teachers in Kenya and started writing childrens books about integrity and the instillation of positive values. Some of these books also promote tree planting and cleaning the environment. Ibrahim rose to become the leader of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, where he continued promoting integrity and fighting corruption in Kenya and when president Kibaki installed the Anti-Corruption Steering Committee in 2011 Ibrahim was invited to become a member. They were part of the movement which finally brought Kenya to peace after the post election violence in 2009 and in the efforts to keep the elections this year peaceful. After three decades their church has nearly 200 congregations in East Africa and missionaries in countries as far as India.

The Service of DOVE Kawangware

I go to the DOVE church in Kawangware, Nairobi together with Ibrahim and Diane. DOVE is not Anglican or Mennonite or Pentecostala but pretty much nondenominational. It is a very African church though: evangelical, fairly charismatic, politically and socially engaged and very passionate and spirited. The social make up is very mixed. We have people from the slums and people which are having good businesses in the city. We often have Kenyan and international guest speakers which are mostly good but every once in a while an odd western missionary passes through. Especially in the last months you could really feel something happening in the church though and it is amazing to see how the church prays for repentance and justice in Kenya and works to break the spirit of poverty and hopelessness.

It has taken me a little to get used to the service and become part of the community, but by now I feel really at home in the church and have found some good friends here. The service is fairly different. It starts around 9 - we usually arrive around 10 - and it goes for four to five hours. There is an hour of prayer, an hours of worship, half an hour of testimonies, presentations and announcements an hour long sermon and another half hour of prayer for the peope at the altar. It is pretty impossible to describe the experience, you have to be there. But to give you a little glimps of what it is like I created a little video clip of the amazing worship for you.

I really enjoyed becoming part of this church for half a year and even though it sometimes still feels a little weird I really love these people and feel at home.

North Marmanet
Reforestation

My friend Daniel Omondi and I have just started working on a new project in the last few weeks since he has been back from Chicago.The government offered his father Ibrahim 600 acres of land near Mount Kenya for reforestation. Since last year, Daniel had been working on the development of a youth employment program for UN Habitat the year before and we saw the chance to combine the efforts for environmental rehabilitation and employment.

Old indigenous tree

Planning Session with Daniel

Since planting a couple hundrethousand trees is obviously a complex matter, we knew that we needed to have a good planning outline for even just planning the project and a solid business plan. So we took two days, a pack of index cards, and a couple pens, and started writing down all the necessary steps we could think of, arranging them on a huge piece of paper.

Daniel arranging cards Tobias and Daniel brainstorming Tobias drwaing connections

We came up with a structure, where each branch of the work would be represented: Value Definition, Promotion, Organizational Setup, Partnerships, Funding, Research, and Community Development. Eventually everything would lead to the creation of a detailed business plan. Finally we added some milestones and tried to roughly align the tasks time-wise. You can have a closer look at the digital version by clicking on the following image.

Probably this SVG Image is not displayed because you are using and outdated browser like InternetExplorer 8 or older. You really should get a modern browser! The fastest and the most modern browser available is Chrome which can be downloaded from http://chrome.google.com

With our plan in place, we knew what to do. In the last weeks we have started to define our vision and our goals, assembled a team of young people from Kenya and Germany, made some connections with experts in forestry and visited the location site.

First Location Visit

Two weeks ago I went to visit the location site and meet the local officers from the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) together with Ibrahim.

Group Photo: Lucas, Ibrahim, Me, Daniel

We drove to Nyahururu - around 4 hours from Nairobi - where we stayed overnight. The next morning we met with Daniel Nguyo, the KFS associate ecosystem conservator in Laikipia county and drove to a small village market called Kwa Wanjiku, just 15 minutes from Nyahururu town. There we met with Lucas Musasia, the manager for the North Marmanet forest from KFS, who protects the remaining trees together with four rangers. From there we continued on dirt roads through the farmlands and then finally, without any roads, through the hills up to the area which we want to reforest.

The following map shows the former area of the Marmanet forest and the area available for reforestation (which is actually 2,500 hectares in total).

Map of the area

The Marmanet forest extended over 15,000 hectares of unpopulated land before independence. Then in the 1980s, in a political move, Kenya's authoritative President Moi gave the land to people from his tribe - the Kalenjin from the Rift Valley. For roughly a decade the firewood, charcoal, timber, and furniture businesses were booming. The sad result of this unsustainable development was a forest reduced to 4 hectares, farmlands endangered by droughts, and extreme unemployment due to the collapse of the wood-based economy. In the following years the land recovered a bit, but the indigenous trees couldn't regrow by themselves. Instead a lot of smaller bushes and cypresses are growing in the areas which are not in use as farmland for wheat and maize or pastures for cattle and goats. Those are the areas where we want to plant the indigenous trees. The land is very hilly and small portions of indigenous forest still remain and are home to elephants, baboons, and several bird and insect species. The following photos show the surrounding farmlands and the deforested hills which we want to regenerate.

Surrounding farmlands Deforestated hills

KFS has a tree nursery near the Kwa Wanjiku market, where they mainly produce fast-growing species that the local farmers plant for firewood. But they also grow some indigenous species like Cedar or Yellowwood. We will need to expand on this to produce the hundreds of thousands of seedlings we will need for the reforestation. But with God's blessing and a lot of hard work there is the hope that we can restore some of this beautiful ecosystem and create sustainable livelihoods for the next generation.

KFS Tree Nursery

The area lies right in between Mount Kenya and Nakuru National Park and Nyahururu is located next to the beautiful Thomson Waterfalls (see the following photo), so the area has some appeal to tourists. We hope to offer some facilities to those tourists a couple years down the line in order to raise awareness and generate some income. It would be great to have some nature paths through the forest on which you can discover medicinal plants and meet the elephants and maybe even offer some lodging and dyning.

Thomson Falls

More photos from our visit can be found on flickr.

Project Vision and Mission

Our vision is to contribute to the reversal of local and global climate change through large scale forestation in Kenya, promotion of carbon offsetting, and development of scalable ecologically and financially sustainable reforestation models. The restoration of Kenya's water catchment forests is critical to the survival of Lake Victoria and the Nile, and the best way to battle drought, changing rainfall patterns, and to preserve the unique flora and fauna found in this eco-system.

To achieve this, we will provide employment to Kenyan youth in order to create financial self-sustenance, restore and uphold personal dignity, and contribute towards economic growth in Kenya. This employment will be comprised of training initiatives in modern agricultural techniques, basic business skills, and habits of a sustainable lifestyle. Our training will emphasize integrity and encourage the youth to become agents of sustainable transformation in Kenya.

It is exciting to work on such a challenging project and work with a team of talented young people to make it happen. I am sure it will keep me occupied for a couple more years.

My First Video Production

I'm sorry that I haven't written here in such a long time. The last couple weeks were filled with so many experiences and tasks and I was struggling to find inspiration to write. But here in Nairobi everything and everyone is fine.

There is a lot to report from the last weeks. But today I want to start by telling you about a little side project. Diane's neice Debbi and her husband Aram are heading the Eastern Mennonite Missions in East Africa and amongst other things they are running a beautiful Mennonite guest house in the middle of Nairobi.

Mennonite
guesthouse

A few weeks ago they asked me if I could produce a video for them which would give their partner ministries in the US a more personal insight into their work than the usual monthly newsletter. Even though I had never really tried to take any videos with my camera, let alone cut and compose a whole clip, I welcomed the challenge. So I visited Debbi and Aram. I searched for fitting locations to shoot in the guest house. Then I waited for the golden hour and started shooting my first videos. The next afternoon I learned how easy it was to cut and edit videos with iMovie. But I also had to discover that the extent to which you could edit videos was much limited compared to what I was used to for photographs if you don't have a very high end video camera which can shoot in RAW. But the results were decent enough.

I decided to shoot a couple more videos in town to give the viewers a little Nairobi feeling - have a look at the photos below. Additionally we added a short scene from an incredibly cheesy DVD with videos of the Eastleigh Mennonite Choir in the middle to loosen up all the talking a bit. The result was pretty satisfactory and served its purpose very well - the congregations which it was made for liked it and it even got over 150 views on YouTube.

Skaters
downtown Sundown in Uhuru
Park View of
Nairobi at
Sundown

So have a look at the fruits of my first experimentations with video production. I hope you have fun watching; the production was certainly fun and I learned a lot. I think this will not be the last video I produce and I see an external microphone in my future.

A New Logo for
Springs of Africa

Unfortunately, there are still some delays with the land ownership in Got Osimbo that keep us from moving ahead with this project, therefore I am focusing on other projects at the moment. One of those involves some administrative work for Springs of Africa. Springs of Africa doesn't work as an all-controlling centralized development agency, but rather acts as a promotional, networking and funding platform for different sustainable community development initiatives which aim to transform and empower the life of people in East Africa. The dozen or so associated projects include schools, Microfinance initiatives, training in sustainable agricultural methods, tree nurseries and in the future hopefully also promotion of renewable energies and sustainable lifestyle. But the public profile and presentation is lacking and we would like to grow the value of the network for the individual activists. Since new areas of activity have recently come up, we also need to redefine the organization's mission and develop new structures. One of my roles in this is assisting to develop a new corporate identity and especially the redesign and restructuring of the quite outdated website. The first step towards a new corporate design was the creation of a logo and we just concluded this step. You can see the result here:

Probably this SVG Image is not displayed because you are using and outdated browser like InternetExplorer 8 or older. You really should get a modern browser! The fastest and most modern browser available is Chrome which can be downloaded from http://chrome.google.com

The Idea Behind the Logo

With the rest of this post I want to describe the logo creation process, focusing first on the idea and then on the design process to implement this idea. To come up with a logo that represents sustainable community development was not that easy and it took around 2 months until I found a good idea with the help of my girlfriend Anika and Julius, a friend from church.

The first idea I ruled out was having the logo represent the name 'Springs of Africa'. Mainly because the name without any context doesn't necessarily indicate community development, but could rather stand for a mineral water producer. Therefore the logo should help clarify that Springs of Africa is not all about water, but that the name is to be understood as a metaphor. The logo doesn't need to replace the name and shouldn't be used without it either, unlike logos for commercial brands (i.e. Apple or Polo). So I decided that Africa would be represented best in the name, rather than trying to find a good symbol for it, especially because I didn't want to use a geographic representation because it didn't seem very fitting.

Still I wanted the logo to harmonize with the name and therefore I decided to use the shape of a water drop as a container for the rest of the logo, symbolizing that the water from Springs of Africa is not H₂O, but rather sustainable community development. As well as the drop being a metaphor itself for transformation - like water that flows and water that enables growth - and for the power of community - like many drops that form a strong stream - and for multiplication - like the drop which can create many ripples.

It was a big challenge to represent the human element of the work, while avoiding overused stereotypes like people holding hands. But I liked the idea from the old homepage with the open hand. The position of the hand is receiving and upholding at the same time, representing the believe that transformation happens through individuals who are empowered through training, support and community.

Springs of Africa's work is nurturing people to grow and become multipliers of a good and sustainable lifestyle. No symbol represents sustainable growth and harmony with the environment like the tree. Also the tree shows how small and weak things become large and strong over time. Therefore the tree was a metaphor which I wanted to use from the start on.

Springs of Africa is also rooted in faith, even though it isn't a denominational organization. Therefore I didn't want to use a direct metaphor for Christianity, but there are hints in the shapes and colors. The drop stands for the water of life (John 4:14), the leaves have the shapes of little flames representing the holy spirit (Matthew 3:11) and the leaves also have the colors of the rainbow, the symbol for the covenant between God and men (Genesis 9:13) and a reminder of God's love and our responsibility to protect the integrity of his creation (Genesis 1:28 & 2:15).

Shapes and Colors

So the three shapes - drop, hand and tree - represent the ideals of Springs of Africa. The colors of the leaves on the other hand represent the structure. Many different initiatives and people together form Springs of Africa. The three main colors - blue, green and orange - represent the three areas of work in Springs of Africa.

The Design Process

So far so good, once I had found an idea that I thought would work and Diane Omondi had also approved of, I just needed to implement it. Obviously it wasn't that easy to harmonize so many different elements and keep them visible. My starting point was a logo I had found online plus a basic drop and hand shape.

First Idea

Obviously that was very far from usable. First I wanted to study the hand shape. So I took a photo of my hand in the desired position. Then I extracted the outlines in Photoshop, put it in a drop shape and drew some tree branches with the Brush tool. I realized, that drawing with a mouse would obviously not cut it. So I printed the sketch, got a pencil, traced the main forms on a new paper and started sketching around (I am not very good at that). When I was relatively happy with the result, I pinned the paper on top of my iPad and retraced the forms to get a digital version.

Sketches for the Hand

The exercise taught me that the most recognizable shapes of the hand are the joints and the fingertips. But the tree looked pretty horrible so far and the drop had no interesting form either. I found that a slightly asymmetric drop shape would be best. So I changed the drop, opened the file in my iPad, put a new piece of paper over it, took a thin pen, traced the main shapes and started refining the branching of the tree. After I was done I photographed the sketch and digitalized it with the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop.

Sketches for the Drop and the Tree

Even though the tree looked much more natural now, the hand had become very unnatural now. But after replacing the hand again, I was pretty pleased with the overall shape and Diane also liked it - I had actually made a first colored version with the text from this version. But we knew it would still need a lot of refinement, however it was time to sleep on it first, I had already worked 10 hours on it.

The next day I drew the outlines of the hand and the drop with the Path tool in Illustrator. When I started drawing the branches in Illustrator, I realized it was way too tedious to correct shapes with the Path tool and I wouldn't be able to create balanced and fluid leaf shapes. So I printed it out in large again and started drawing the branches with a pencil, correcting the lines around a thousand times. I photographed the sketch again, put it in an underlying layer in Illustrator and redrew the forms with the Path tool.

Harmonizing the Shapes

The next big challenge was making the hand visible again, because at this point the branches grew directly out of the fingers and without the fingertips, the hand was barely visible anymore. So I needed some contrast between fingers and branches. I tried everything: Space, Color, Texture, Value. Nothing really worked, I tried variations and combinations of the former with glows around the fingers or reverse gradients of the hand and branches and I discussed everything with Anika (below you see a little selection of things I tried). From the beginning on I knew that spacing was the best solution because it would keep the shapes simple. But it looked odd with the outline around the fingers. After sleeping another night on it I realized that the spacing looked odd because it was just around the fingers, so I tried giving an outline to the branches as well, creating a consistent spacing between shapes and colors and it worked.

Spacing of Tree and Hand

The last step was to add the color gradients and finalize the shapes - have a close look at the differences in the branches in the image below. For the icing on the cake, I minimized the paths in the vector file by joining all black shapes and cutting the gradients to the right size to avoid the need of white outlines. The ultimate step was to run it through an SVG optimizer and create a very readable 21Kb SVG output (read here why web designers should embrace SVG).

Finalizing Shapes and Colors

The only thing missing was a nice typeface to go with the logo. After little search I decided to go with the beautiful Verlag from H&FJ which comes in 5 weights and 3 widths. I mimicked the more airy lower side of the logo with a lighter weight of the font and gave the 'of' a little twist for the fun of it. You can see the final result together with some text here:

Probably this SVG Image is not displayed because you are using and outdated browser like InternetExplorer 8 or older. You really should get a modern browser! The fastest and most modern browser available is Chrome which can be downloaded from http://chrome.google.com

Side Job Photography

Aside from working in project planning, energy analysis, documentation and structural development, I've occasionally worked as an event photographer over the last few months and once even as a wedding photographer. The demand for professional photos is high in Kenya because not everyone here has a digital camera and at least two friends who are decent amateur photographers. Creative fulfillment has a low priority for most people here and it is more likely to find its expression in dance and music when it does occur. Especially for NGOs, though, it is essential to tell stories about their work and a photo can often tell a better and more emotional story than words because it emerges the recipient in the situation. Especially when the photo gives an emotionally and contextually clear account of a situation but also leaves enough room for imagination, the viewer will experience the scene. Even though my photography skills leave much to be desired in this regard, I still hope that my photographs are sometimes telling a little story.

IMR Medical Camp

Two weeks ago we had a medical camp of International Medical Relief here. The logistics in Kenya had been organized by Diane and other helpers from DOVE Africa. 44 doctors, nurses and volunteers treated about 5000 people for free in 7 days, supported by numerous translators from our congregation. From family planning, sexual education, psychiatric consultation, medicine distribution, treatment of infectious diseases and orthopedic assistance to dental root canal treatment everything was covered. You can read more on the Omondis' blog.

My contribution was trying to capture the feverish activity, the joy of the people at work and the relationships that developed over the course of these days between the medical assistants, the interpreters and the patients. You can see my favorite photos here:

A slightly larger selection of photos can be found here and maybe in the future in an IMR brochure or webpage.

DOVE Missionary Retreat

Another occasion for photos presented itself last week when a retreat of all 18 DOVE missionaries was held on the Omondis' compound. This was a very different photographic challenge. It wasn't about capturing situations and relationships, but about creating portraits to establish a relationship between the viewer and the missionaries. You can see some of the results here:

Since all DOVE missionaries operate as families, we also took family photos and of course there was the obligatory group photo. The photos will probably be used on the DOVE website in the future.

Wedding of Jerioth & Godfrey

A few weeks ago we also had a wedding in our church and since the budget was a little tight, I had offered to take the photos. To document a whole day from the perspective of two people is a very special challenge. You can see a selection of my favorite black and white pictures here:

The full set of photos from the wedding can be found here and I also created a wedding album (12Mb PDF, view in double page layout).

Although I really like photography, I find working as a professional photographer pretty stressful, and especially the necessary post-processing of hundreds of photos on the computer can be quite annoying in the commercial context. So I am pretty sure I'd rather keep photography as a hobby and keep enjoying it.

In the Dark

Naturally whenever the rain comes, the power goes off in Nairobi. Many people find that extremely annoying - which you can see reflected in the hate of Kenyans towards Kenya Light and Power, which has the monopoly on power distribution here. Not to speak of the millions of dollars in economic value which are probably destroyed by a power outage of more than 12 hours.

Candle

But it can also be a very pleasant experience. Without power and therefore the ability to do internet research, I couldn't really do my work today - analyzing our energy consumption here in Nairobi, identifying the main consumers and calculating the related greenhouse gas emissions and potentials to save energy and emissions with biogas and solar power. Without tasks, time looses it's meaning, which in return gives the freedom to just live in the moment. Of course I have to admit that the effect is mainly psychological. But when I happen to sit in the dark - in respect to the photons in the room and in the fiber optics of the internet, which together form my main connection to the world - I just loose the burden of feeling that I have to do all the things daily life is filled with. Which opens the mind to be more conscious, perceptive and reflective of the moment and gives room for spontaneity and fresh ideas. In other words, it triggers true inspiration. The world around us today has become so overfilled with information and opportunity that one of our main tasks is to make decision and make information accessible and usable. It has never in history been easier to learn a random new skill, but at the same time it has never been so hard to disconnect yourself from all the external influences and be with your self for some time. Being temporarily disconnected from the world can definitely ease the latter.

So being set back to what feels like Stone Age (even thought it is how people lived less than a century ago - but the example doesn't work anyways because the change creates the effect not the conditions) can be a really healthy experience: There is time to write a blogpost which I never planned for, to read something I never got around to, to talk with people who are always busy with something otherwise, to eat in the dark and use my fingers instead of the useless silverware, to finally write this mail I never felt inspired for and could not force myself to write, to just sit and think for a while or to pray with real peace of mind. So I appreciate the occasional forced break in every day live here and if you sometimes feel overwhelmed with our totally connected world and like drowning in all the available information as well, maybe you should give it a try to live one day per month without power (it's nearly like going hiking in the mountains).

Dinner in the Dark Sam at the Fire

Only as long as your iPad still has charge and allows you to write blogposts of course ;-)

As a Tourist 2:
Maasai Mara

Maasai Mara

I am finally finding some time to write about the second half of my week exploring Kenya as a tourist with David. After Climbing Mount Kenya, we did what all tourists do in Africa and went on safari (which just means journey in Swahili by the way, but I mean watching wild animals of course). We had the opportunity to pay a three day visit to Maasai Mara which probably is the second most renown Safari park in the world after Serengeti. The density and diversity of animals we got to see was amazing.

We were traveling together with two US-Americans, Brenda and Theresa, from Seattle and Seoul (see the photo) and had a very funny and very experienced driver named Mwau. The days were filled with driving around in the safari van looking for animals, stopping and watching and taking photos with my tele-lens.

Our Safari Group

Because apart from seing animals nothing exciting is happening on a safari, I'd rather show you some pictures than make many words. To give you an idea of the diversity of animals, that we saw I'll give you a list of all the animals I remember seing: countless Zebras and Wilderbeests, many Buffalos, Giraffs, Elands, Impalas, Hartebeest, Tsessebes, Thomson's gazelles and some Dikdiks, Warthogs, Yellow baboons, Elephants, Hippos and Nile crocodiles and of course also many different types of birds like Ostriches, Secretarybirds, Vultures, Marabou and Saddle-billed Storks, Egyptian Goose, Ibises and Lilac-breasted Rollers.

Giraffe Zebra Impala Eland Antelope Wildebeest Waterbuffalo Elephant

Apart from those animals of course we also saw some cats. Maasai Mara is especially famous for it's Lions. Arround 300 of those live there, the densest population in the world. So no day went by without seeing Lions, by we also saw Servales, Spotted hyenas, a Cheetah, and some Leopards.

The Lion Cheetah Leopard

But the real magic of course lies in the seeing all these animals living in their natural habitat, where they are so much more active than in a zoo: We saw the migration of immense Wilderbeest and Zebra herds towards the Mara river, the Hippos lazily lying in the water, the vultures in the trees waiting for a Wilderbeest to be killed by a Crocodile when trying to cross the river, the the ritual fight of the Giraffe bulls where they smash their necks against each other and Lions sleeping in the sun, eating and the cubs playing with their mother and learning how to hunt.

It was a marvelous journey into the Lion kingdom and it was extremely impressive to see how diverse and ingenious the mostly untouched realm of nature is. If you want to see more photos, you can go here.

Wilderbeests Walking Hippos bathing Vultures Waiting Giraffes Fighting Lions Hunting

There was one more animal we saw in large herds in the park and which was the weirdest of them all. They call it the photographer and you can say a very peculiar example of this species in this last picture.

The Photographer

As a Tourist 1:
Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya in the Clouds

Even though I have just been here for more than a month, I already had the opportunity to take a week of vacation two weeks ago. The occasion was the visit of my friend and former roommate from Chicago Dave. Dave has been helping to startup an organization in Uganda called Kyklou last year, which is helping Ugandan farmers to sell their crops on the high value markets in Kenya. In his last week he had planned to take some time to travel and so we had the opportunity to explore some of Kenya's beauty together.

Our first target was climbing the eponymous Mount Kenya. With over 15.000 feet it is the tallest mountain I have ever climbed. And although mountaineering is probably not the thing one typically associates with Africa, it was one of the most beautiful hikes in my life. We had a really cool guide John and two cooks who were also carrying all our food. It would not be recommendable to do the hike without a guide (the way is not always easy to find, especially at the night hike on the las day) and the package always includes porters and cooks as well and it would be rude to do it without them, since it is how these people earn there living. But together with the ridiculous park entry fees, that unfortunately doesn't make it a cheap destination.

Our Guide John

But we were to proud to have them carry all our stuff and also decided to camp in order to save some money. It was only a bit inconvenient that it started to snow on our second night, but with bottles filled with hot water we even survived that.

Camping at Mount Kenya Snow at Shiptons Camp

The high altitude is dangerous and it is completely unpredictable if and when you might get problems. I was badly altitude sick on the first night and weak the whole second day long, but with some Diamox medication I could cure the worst symptoms. Diamox is a fascinating pill, that tricks your body into breathing faster. Dave got altitude sickness even worse on the second night, before the last summit and it is dangerous to take medications at this point since it can can lead to overestimating your condition and getting to a hospital takes a long time. So it is advisable to preemptively take medication to help the body to acclimate easily.

Night at Mount Kenya Night Hike

The last summit is a night hike to reach the top of the mountain at sunrise. To climb the mountain in utter darkness, the way just illuminated by flashlights and with a stunning star-laden sky above was an incredible experience. Arriving at the top we were rewarded by the view of the surrounding mountains bathed in the light of the rising sun (see photo).

Overall, this three day hike was one of the most beautiful mountain experiences I have ever had and I would recommend it to anyone who likes hiking. Technically and cardio wise it is moderate challenge, only the altitude can be a major obstacle. More photos from the beautiful Kenyan mountain landscape can be found here.

Sunrise at Mount Kenya At the Top

In Got Osimbo

I finally visited Got Osimbo, the village where we want to start the new project. We have secured ten acres there (partly seen in the photo below), on which we want to establish a training and community center on that land in the next couple months and years.

Project Area Victors Family

I was invited to stay at the home of the chief of the area, Victor Opondo, in a village near by. They were very welcoming and I had a great time getting to know the whole family a bit. It was also an opportunity to experience the rural african lifestyle first hand: no fluent water, no electricity. It is interesting, that coming from the West one is often under the impression, that these things are so essential to life and that if someone doesn't have fluent water and electricity he must be really poor. However it is a bit different here. Most villages are simply not connected to the water or electricity grit, even though that is changing slowly. Therefore it is completely normal not to have electricity or fluent water and since most people have grown up without these luxuries anyways, they don't even think this is anything special. I met many people who are very well educated and have a bachelor or even masters degree, they have good jobs as teachers or doctors or in the administration and have spend time in the city, but now they live without fluent water or electricity.

My Bed Breakfast

Apart from the external differences life is not so different in the villages after all. People work, have meetings, spend time with their families, drink chai, cook and eat, go to school and meet friends. The fact that life might not be so comfortable and people have less material possessions doesn't really change a lot and people don't feel that poor either. I think it might be the strong contrast of lifestyles and the fact that wealth seems so easily reachable in our society that makes people so unhappy with what they have most strongly fueled with the strong stigma that is attached to being poor in our society. There is a lot more to learn from life in the villages here and I am looking forward to experiencing some more of it in the future.

Even though life might often be much better in the villages than in the slums it is not without problems. There are some cultural problems like alcoholism, criminality and gender inequality, there is lack of education for some children and lack of knowledge about farming more sustainable and effectively and there are ecological problems. Of course many of these problems are related to each other and can ultimately just be solved by the people themselves. We hope to be able to facilitate people to face some of those problems and try to find solutions together with them. It is our vision that our ten acres in the village will become a community and learning center of the people in the village. Where bible studies can take place in the shade of trees, where people will work and harvest good crops and where the benefit and value of caring for the environment will be visible.

Buying Firewood Transporting Firewood

One of the biggest environmental problems in the villages is the cutting down of trees for firewood production. Most people rely on Firewood and charcoal for cooking and many just use three stones for cooking. I talked with chief Victors wife about their cooking practices and we went to buy firewood and charcoal from their neighbor - a very old lady who get's her only income from selling some firewood that she collects from the remaining trees on her compound. Cooking with wood is actually not cheap. If you would cook with wood on three stones you will have to buy around 20-30 pounds of wood per day for more than a dollar. If you cook with charcoal you end up spending mostly the same amount of money. Because many people can't afford that, they go and illegally collect wood. Sometimes they walk many kilometers for that and their children have to help them. On top of that cooking on open fire produces a lot of smoke and the kitchens usually don't even have windows, so it is very bad for your health. However even with a self build cooker you can save half the wood and avoid the smoke, that is a huge improvement.

Bio digester

Another possibility would of course be cooking with gas. But the main obstacle here is the cultural change, because cooking with gas is a very different experience than cooking with wood and you have to invest into a new cooker and buy a gas bottle. From there on you will safe some money though since gas is not that expensive. Even better than just buying gas is of course producing you own gas. Even if you just have two cows you can already produce enough biogas for your cooking. Patrick, a friend from the village actually knew someone in the area who is just building a bio digester. We are also in the process of implementing a bio digester at the Omondi farm right now and we are partnering with a company who also promotes bio digesters which can even produce enough gas for cooking from 2 pounds of kitchen waste per day. I believe bio digesters are a great energy solution for some farmers and we hope to be able to promote them in various regions.

All in all my initial trip to the village was very fruitful and I made many great connections, to the school, some people from the church, the chief and other people in the administration and some people in the area. I am very much looking forward to seeing our project there getting started and returning to the area. For more photos from Got Osimbo go here.

Some Days at Lake Victoria

On Lake Victoria Aligator

After my time in Got Osimbo I spent a couple days in Kisumu together with the Albitz family (the missionaries I met in the beginning of my time here). They have settled into their new home in Kisumu and we had a lot of fun together: going to an Independence day party, worshipping together on sunday, sharing lunch with a family from church in the country side, visiting a museum, making connections to people from other NGOs, hanging around at the shore of lake Victoria, eating some pizza and Asian food, playing with the kids and having many good conversations. For more photos from Kisumu go here.

Dan, Noah and Andrew Gloria Sarah and Noah

The Boy who
Chased the Cow

The boy was running through a dry riverbed as fast as he could. He was chasing a cow, one of the typical Masai cows you see in Africa all the time. You could see how desperate he was. He was crying and he was covered in dirt, because he had fallen a couple times already when he had jumped to catch the leg of the cow just missing it by inches. It was really hard to run in the sandy riverbed. For every three steps forward one would sink back a step. But even though the boy had already run hundreds of feet as fast as he could he would not give up.

The boy was fourteen and he was not just running for the cow but for his life. His father was a pastor who also tried to sell tree seedlings at the market, because he believed in the importance of trees. But the money he made was barely enough and he hadn't been able to pay the school fees for his son lately. So the boy had been send home. His father was really sorry and he knew that a good education was the only way for his children to have a better life and for the country to move forward. So he decided together with his wife to sell the one cow they owned to raise money for the school fees. Therefor the next day the boy was send to walk with the cow to the marked which was 10 miles away. When he had already nearly reached his destination the cow had run away and now he was chasing after it, running not only for the cow, but for his education, his future, his life.

The boy finally managed to grab the cow. He was completely exhausted. With one hand he was holding the cows leg, with the other he had grabbed on to the root of a tree so the cow wouldn't just drag him away. After a while some women came by and helped. At last the boy was able to get the rope back around the cows neck and get her safely to the market, where he sold her for a good price. But the experience got him thinking. He had realized that some of his classmates hadn't been coming to school anymore, probably their parents hadn't been able to pay the fees and were not so lucky to own a cow they could sell. From that moment on he knew that he wanted to make a difference with his life. He prayed that he would become an agent of change and move his country forward towards a better future, where all children could go to school, people could make a sustainable living and the dry riverbeds would be filled with water again and flow through a green landscape.

The boy's name was Isaac Kalua, who grew up to become the founder of the 'Green Africa Foundation' which is aiming to establish 'Green Villages' which aim to be a implement the following three practices and virtues:

  1. Treating people kindly through upholding ethics and training on life skills.
  2. Promoting good health, peace within communities and creating sustainable livelihoods.
  3. Conserving the environment in a sustainable way, focusing on the areas of water, soil, air and energy.

Visit in Kitui Green Center

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the first 'Green Center' together with a South African architect and Dr. Kalua himself. The center is located near the hometown of Dr. Kalua Kitui. We could see demonstrations of several 'green' activities and had some very interesting conversations. Since the 'Green Village' concept is well established, we want to partner with the 'Green Africa Foundation' with the goal of making a 'Green Center' at the Omondi farm and working towards the establishment of Got Osimbo as a 'Green Village'.

For more photos of my visit in Kitui have a look at Flickr.

The 'Real' Africa

I just came back from Kitale yesterday night where I was visiting some tree nurseries and meeting people, but more on that in a future post. For now I want to share a bit about life in 'the real Africa' which is what people were telling me I was experiencing.

Kids in the orphanage

I stayed in an orphanage called Baba Nyumbani which is also one of the DOVE ministries (the church I work with). It is one of the very best orphanages in Kenya and an amazingly beautiful place which provides a home to around 100 children and eight parents who take care of them. There is a farm attached to the orphanage with several acres of maize and vegetable plantations, a greenhouse, many chicken and a couple cows. The farm provides most of the food for the orphanage and the rest is sold at the market. It also allows the children to learn some practical skills. I had a really great time staying there for four days surrounded by so many joyful and cute children and had great conversations with the manager Walter and the pastor Amos.

Riding the motorcycle

During the day I visited the tree nurseries together with pastor Williams who overseas eight more local pastors in this region. Our means of transportation to the villages was Williams motorcycle. While he was maneuvering the dirt roads, I was sitting on the back enjoying the fresh wind and heavy shaking and getting dusty from head to toe - in the picture above you see an example of one of the better roads. Motorcycles are the best way to get around on these roads and many young men try to make a living with motorcycle taxis, so called boda-bodas. Alongside the road we saw the men working in the fields or doing business in the towns, the women searching for and carrying firewood and the kids walking to school. These are mostly the people who live of under 1$ a day and they have no other means of transportation than their feet. So children would walk 30 minutes to school which already is a huge improvement. Pastor Amos told me that in his childhood he used to walk 18 miles in total per day. Many children run all the way to their homes to be able to get some lunch because in the morning the parents don't have anything for them yet. White people are rarely ever seen in these region and even less on the back of a motorbike. So I was the attraction for all the children which would run behind the motorbike and shout 'Mzungu' meaning white man in Kiswahili.

A big African family

Literally everyone in these rural areas does some farming. The families are huge - ten children are nothing special. Gender roles are very strongly pronounced and cultural rules are stricter than in the city and more traditional. A jeans would for example not be considered appropriate on Sunday and shorts are completely out of question anytime. Also like everywhere in Kenya most Christians don't ever drink alcohol or smoke and would not take you serious at all if you would. The women are often cooking on just three stones and the food mostly consists of maize, beans and vegetables like kale. Apart from the problem of waste disposal these people live a very sustainable life and some are doing quite ok and seem to be happy. It is very humbling to see how grateful these people are for what little they have and how joyfully they praise the Lord. But nevertheless the problem is that they have no securities whatsoever and if rain doesn't come they have no food and sometimes they even lack the education to build a most basic watering system even if a natural well or pond is near by. Nevertheless generally the communities are stronger and the life is better and more sustainable in the rural areas than in the cities and towns where people often have no land of their own and sometimes the land they use can be sold to a new investor.

Conversation and chai

Just a very few people speak some English but the people are amazingly friendly and very hospital. When we visited the pastors who were in charge of the tree planting projects - which mainly had the same living standard as anyone else - we often were offered chai and white untoasted toast bread or even a real meal. Kenyan chai is THE national drink. It is black tea served with a lot of milk and sugar and sometimes spiced with ginger and other spices. Whenever people get together to talk and after every meal there is chai.

It was a great opportunity to get a better feel for the situation in the rural areas and I got several ideas, what exactly we might want to accomplish in the next weeks and months here, but more on that later.

The Omondi Farm

The last days here were so eventful that I didn't find any time to write and in my head there are already a bunch of ideas for articles waiting to be written. But for now I at least wanted to share a bit about the house in which I am living here at the moment. Actually it is a little farm with a guesthouse named Eshel gardens.

Picture of the House of the Omondis

The whole area is around five acres big. On the land there is the house of the Omondi family which can be seen in the photo above and a compound of two guesthouses which can be seen shining through the trees in the left of the photo. In the guesthouses there is space for around ten people and they contain a living room, a dining room and a kitchen as well. The whole compound is not just the home of the Omondi family, but at the same time a small farm, a social living and working community, a test lab for tree types, an assembly place for the church and an intercultural meeting center. There is a well which provides water for the house and the neighbors and since there is no central waste disposal system here, they have their own one. Apart from the Ibrahim and Diane Omondi and their children five other people are living and working here which are mostly part of the broader family. They help with the farming and in the kitchen, mostly live here and get a small wage. There are also nearly always some guests around, which stay here for an evening, several days or longer (like me) and become part of the community very quickly.

Picture of the Bell Pepper Plantation Picture of the Cow Sarah Picture of the Chickens

Tomatoes, kale, green salad, corn and many other crops are grown for personal use and there is a greenhouse with lots of peppers, silantro and a very intense tasting rocket-like salad, called kunde in Swahili. These crops in the greenhouse are grown for sale at the market. There also are two ponds in which tilapia are farmed, many hens which produce a fair amount of eggs and an old cow named Sarah which produces milk for the chai. The earnings from the farm provide for the Omondi family, the workers and the development projects of the church and the land is also used to test the growth of different tree types.

It is very impressive how the people here easily manage to live in such a sustainable way, growing their food locally and mostly organic and getting rid of most preprocessed products and cooking everything fresh. You can definitely taste the difference and life feels more connected to nature and is generally rich and fulfilled. This really is an amazing place to live at.

Some Exotic Things

To also show you some of the stuff which is fairly exotic for us, I wanted to share a couple more fotos with you. The other day the kids of the Albitz family (which have now left for Kisumu with their parents) found a chameleon which really changes its color and looks so fascinating with it's weird eyeballs and little horns. There also is a turtle living here that moves through the grass with such an african equanimity and has an aura of wisdom around it with it's ancient and crinkly skin. Of course there are many beautiful flowers as well but unfortunately I am completely clueless about their names.

Picture of a Chameleon in the Garden Picture of the Turtle Picture of a Flower in the Garden

If you want to see some more pictures, you should check out my flickr profile, where I regularly upload more photos.

Arrival in Kenya

Yesterday I arrived in Nairobi and it is beautiful here, but let's start from the beginning.

Picture of the Airplane

My plane left Berlin Tuesday evening and I had four seats for myself, because it was so empty. I have never had that much space flying. After a transfer at the very international airport of Abu Dhabi I landed in Nairobi in the early afternoon. During the flight I read an interesting book called "Aka, what would you do if your mother-in-law suddenly showed up?". The book consists of stories of failures in development projects in West Africa and how important it is to not just play them down, but to learn from what has gone wrong and share it with others, so they can learn from it as well.

Picture of my name sign

At Jomo Kenyatta International Airport everything went very smooth. I had my visa stamped, picked up my luggage and passed customs in no time. When I got out a Kenyan guy named David was waiting for me with a sign which had my name "Tobias" on it. After we had confirmed that I was from Germany and he told me he saw a picture of mine in a suit online we went to the car and drove out of the airport. We were talking about Germany and the flight and Kenya and had a great conversation. Slowly some things didn't quite fit. He thought I would work in an orphanage and just be their for a month, but all that could have just been explained with a little mixup, after all he was just a driver picking me up. Until someone called him not just someone but Tobias, who was waiting at the airport to be picked up. It turned out, that there was another Tobias from Germany arriving on the same flight who was also doing a voluntary service, but in an orphanage and just for one month. After we found out we had to laugh a lot and we made some calls and drove back to the airport, where we found the other Tobias who had already found my pick up - Sarah from the US with a nice colorful sign painted by her children which you can see in the picture above. So Tobiasses were exchanged and everyone laughed and I drove off with Sarah and her husband Dan towards the house of the Omondis - my partners here in Kenya.

Picture of the Albitz family

Sarah and Dan are missionaries who just arrived from the US with their three cute children Gloria, Noah and Andrew. They will be living in Kisumu but still have some errands to take care of in Nairobi and are staying here in the guest house of the Omondis. You can find out more about what they are doing on their website. The house is very beautiful and has a huge garden, where the children are running around playing and exploring. It is very lively and I have spend the day doing some schoolwork with the children, writing mails and meeting everyone here. We get a great breakfast and two really delicious and fresh warm meals cooked for us each day and everything just feels like vacation right now.

Beginning of this Blog

This is the beginning of my blog about my time in Kenya. I will be working in a tree-planting project for half a year. I would love to share some of my experiences with you here so that the community can develop through the work of not just myself and the people I work with, but also through you. 

To this end, I will regularly post updates here. If you would like to receive new articles via Mail, please subscribe to the maillinglist. You can also subscribe to the RSS feed for this site.

I am arriving in Kenya on the 5th of June, so make sure to check back soon.

Trees Are Life!

Trees are life! Without trees the land dries out, destroying the livelihoods of humans and animals. Trees keep the soil healthy and preserve the climatic equilibrium of our planet. They provide food and habitat for animals and wood for cooking and building homes for humans. People meet with each other under the shadow of trees. The tree has always been a sign of life and a symbol of peace.

Particularly in Africa, trees and lives are endangered. Our western lifestyle exploits the ecosystems of our planet, not just near our own homes, but also in Africa. From there we import many of our resources, while the pollution from our unlimited lifestyle fuels climate change leading to droughts, especially in Africa. The area necessary to permanently maintain our lifestyle - our ecological footprint - is two times larger than the area of our countries. We live at the expense of others! The destruction of livelihoods in the rural areas of Africa doesn’t just lead to hunger; it also drives people into the slums in the search for work. This leads to the destruction of social networks and cultural knowledge, giving rise to poverty, violence, crime, and terrorism. 

Trees create livelihoods for people, restore nature, and promote peace. Tree-planting is a task that we can do together, and through which we can learn a lot from each other through intercultural exchange. The Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai once said the following:

“We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty, and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process."