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Project Coordinator's Report:

Part I: Organisation and Preparation for the Kenya Trip

by Keron Niles
September 02, 2006

UWI Students Trip to Kenya


Keron Niles 
Keron Niles 
"It takes three months to plan a trip to Kenya." This statement was made before any student of the University of the West Indies even set foot on an aircraft. In retrospect, that person was probably right. Notwithstanding, I was to have no more than one month of intense planning to achieve the aforementioned goal but it was done. The trip was in many ways, an outstanding success. By the time our delegation was ready to return to Trinidad and Tobago, not only had we completed work in a local Tree Nursery, in Agroforestry and done a significant amount of community outreach, but we made a valuable link to a local university.

Shortly after February 14 2006, I received correspondence in my office (at that time, I was Vice President of the U.W.I. Guild of Students) from the Ministry of Public Utilities and the Environment inviting the University to develop collaborative links and exchanges with the Kenya Volunteer Development Services. I decided to investigate all aspects of the opportunity; reading the relevant documents, studying the organisation's website in its entirety and writing to the organisation's Executive Director; Mr. Silvanus Alwanga Malaho about the prospect of an internship for students of my University. After surveying the wide variety of projects in which the organisation is engaged, I requested more information about their projects in agriculture as that seemed to be a central focus of their organisation.

It was from his response that I realised that there were indeed quite a number of opportunities for students from other academic disciplines to participate in such an exercise. From this point onwards, the scope of the program became intrinsically more inter-disciplinary in nature.

Mr Malaho stated that June would be the ideal month for any possible visit to Kenya. I was very concerned about the proximity of that time to the end of Semester II examinations but I eventually agreed after learning that the cost of traveling would almost be twice as expensive if we were to travel in July or August. No other person was willing to take up the venture and as I would have completed my course of study at the University of the West Indies, I would not have been available anytime after August 2006 to ensure that this project took place. If this volunteer project were to become a reality, it would have to take place in June 2006. I was able to utilise the months between March and June to prepare for this journey. The intense fund-raising for this project began only after May 12th 2006 (last day of Semester I examinations); when the availability of students to assist me in the planning of the project increased significantly.

Apart from funding and technical planning, it was also necessary to select and train student delegates. The name of the project, "In Honour of Service", would indicate to a large extent the type of students that were being considered. In order to be selected for this volunteer programme, students were required to submit their curriculum vitae outlining their involvement and service in student activities during their academic career in UWI, along with an essay on why they should be chosen and the contribution they hoped to make. If they were applying to attend as part of a cultural group from the UWI, they were required to submit a portfolio, as a group, addressing the same topics as the essay. Upon submission of this documentation, the final selection of twenty (20) students was made by a screening panel of lecturers. The panel comprised of Dr. R. Pemberton from the Faculty of Humanities and Education, Dr. A. Bissessar from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Dr. I. Bekele from the Faculty of Science and Agriculture. It was decided that a retreat, in a rural village in Trinidad was necessary, in order to mould the individuals selected into a cohesive unit and to familiarize them with the type of work that we would be undertaking in Kenya.

This report will focus on two major topics: our preparation and our experience in Kenya. Preparation, this will be addressed under the following sub-titles:

i. Fund-Raising
ii. Technical Preparation
iii. "The Retreat to Cumuto"

As far as the experience in Kenya is concerned, this report will recap the events as they unfolded, by giving a synopsis of every week spent abroad. The report will also be done in a narrative format in order to facilitate easy reading.

Part One: Preparation

i. Fund-Raising While the intense fund-raising activities took place between May 12th and June 8th, I decided, early in the month of April, firstly, to address the invitation from the Ministry of Public Utilities and the Environment by inviting them to participate in this venture. I was advised to get other government agencies involved, especially in light of the multi-disciplinary nature of the project and the fact that it would be unlikely that we would rarely locate any one agency willing to finance all twenty students. Consequently, I wrote to a number of government and private enterprises, requesting that they contribute towards the airfare for this trip, which was estimated at TT$10,723.46 per ticket. A few agencies were indeed contacted early in the month of April. However, final examinations for Semester II, which began in the final week of April, brought most activities of this nature to a standstill until May 12th 2006. From this date I was to have just less than one month to plan an extensive volunteer internship and research programme. I could have chosen to abandon the idea at this point, but I sincerely believe that education must be geared towards exposure that would empower a person to view the world in an entirely different and unique way. I had and still possess a profound belief in this principle, which is exactly what I knew would be achieved on an educational mission of this nature.

Letters requesting sponsorship were sent out daily to public and private entities throughout the country in a bid to raise close to four hundred thousand Trinidad and Tobago dollars. Due to the academic nature of this venture, the Head Panelist and I agreed that the Faculties of the University should be an integral part of the project. As such, through consultation with the Deans of the Faculties, I was able to secure a substantial amount of technical and financial support as they too recognised the need to create opportunities for students to be able to apply the concepts learnt in the classroom to the real life situations. Although this did aid our fund-raising efforts, the Secretariat I had set up specifically for this project would target a different industry every week. Individual packages requesting assistance were sent to each firm, outlining the nature and goals of the project. Notwithstanding, it was largely due to the slow rate of responses that the idea of donation sheets arose. Though there was some opposition to idea initially, it was soon adopted and after checking with the District Superintendent of Police and the UWI Guild Secretariat; donation sheets were released. The idea proved to be a great one. We were able to raise thousands of dollars via the donation sheets. Eventually, the money raised was sufficient even to purchase airline tickets. In addition, as part of the invitation issued to students to apply to participate in this project, students were asked to contribute TT $5000 each in order to help reduce the large sum of money necessary to make the trip possible.

Further to this, shortly before our departure to Kenya, due to concerns expressed by members of the Academic selection panel and myself concerning the standard of accommodation in Kenya; the Kenya Volunteer Development Services decided that our students should stay in hostels, and not in Kenyan homes with Kenyan families as was originally planned. Though this decision proved to be a wise one, it cost the delegation an additional USD$200 per person. This, along with the withdrawal of one of our potential sponsors delivered a significant blow to our fund-raising efforts. Thankfully however, due to the support of the University Administration, we were able to overcome this hurdle.

In the final analysis, at the end of the month of intense fund raising activities, while most of the costs associated with our stay in Kenya was covered by corporate sponsors and by the Faculties of the UWI; the cost of our airline tickets was financed mainly by government Ministries and agencies, inclusive of the Tobago House of Assembly, the Ministry of Public Utilities and the Environment, the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education and the Ministry of Social Development. Without the assistance of these public bodies, which shared our vision for this Mission to Bungoma, Kenya, this trip would not have been possible. Through their support we were able to overcome the seemingly overwhelming task of purchasing 18 airline tickets from Tobago to Nairobi. We also received assistance in this regard from [[[[Superl]]]] Travel Agency (the agency which handled our flight arrangements) who advised me to take the "fast-ferry" to Tobago in order to save money on airfare and also sponsored the cost of a ticket to London.

Despite the fact that we had raised funds to make the trip possible, not all of the finances acquired had been deposited in the bank account opened at Republic Bank (UWI Branch) specifically for this project. Money still needed to be collected and other sources of funding were still being processed and forthcoming. Yet, money needed to be paid to the Kenya Volunteer Development Services in order for them to finalise our accommodation, pay transportation costs and other costs associated with our trip. In order to facilitate this, arrangements were made with the Treasurer of the UWI Guild for two payments to be made via wire transfer to the Kenya Volunteer Development Services. Any amount paid on our behalf would then be repaid through the funds in our bank account and from the monies still to be collected. The task of securing those funds that had not yet been received was accepted by Mr. Marc Chauharja Singh. In addition to this, we purchased a Visa Travel Money (VTM) Card from Republic Bank in order to enable us to respond to any eventualities during our stay in Kenya. In order to attain the level financial flexibility necessary for a month-long stay in Kenya, Mr. Chauharja-Singh was given the "Power of Attorney" over our bank account during our stay in Kenya in order to enable him to replenish the funds on our VTM Card if they were to become depleted.

With arrangements now in place for the collection and payment of all money related to the trip, the Mission to Bungoma, Kenya could now commence.

ii. Technical Preparation - Preparing a delegation of students to go to Kenya takes a lot more than money. Every factor which might influence the success or failure of the project needs to be considered. On this trip, a significant amount of research was conducted into the location, size, topography, climate, history and political and social environment of Kenya. Even more specifically, research was also conducted on a micro level, in order to learn more about Bungoma, Kenya's 7th largest town. Equally as important was our diplomatic relationship with Kenya, which would have direct implications on visa requirements and any other associated costs. Through consultation with an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs we learnt that we did not require visas for our visit to Kenya. What we did need, however, was to be vaccinated. Thus, I arranged a special visit to the Health Service Unit at the University of the West Indies for us to be given injections for the following diseases:

I) Meningitis Meningococcal A&C
II) Hepatitis A
III) Hepatitis B
IV) Yellow Fever
V) Typhoid Fever
VI) Tetanus diphtheria
VII) Poliomyelitis
VIII) Mumps Measles Rubella (MMR)

Separate arrangements were made with Insect Vector Control for us to receive tablets to protect us against Malaria at no cost. I was also assured that our insurance coverage as students of the UWI would be sufficient as travel insurance for the trip as well. A medicine kit along with a wide assortment of pharmaceutical products was also purchased.

iii. "The Retreat to Cumuto" - A large part of our preparation also involved specific, technical knowledge of what was required of each delegate in Kenya. As such, I thought that it would be best to address such matters at a single forum where long, detailed discussions could be facilitated. "The Retreat to Cumuto" was put together out of a desire to ensure that all technical arrangements and preparations were completed and that the group of student delegates selected would be moulded into a team. We would be visiting Kenya for one month to participate in, Tree Nursery and Community Outreach projects. In order to familiarise each student with the necessary type of agricultural work we decided to travel to a farm owned by a relative of a member of the coordinating committee. An agreement was therefore made with the owner of the farm; the students would set up camp on the farm, plant crops daily and be allowed to use the facilities there to have discussions. The retreat was meant to simulate the environment and expected living conditions in Kenya. Indeed it was; we all slept in tents set up near the front of the farm and planted a number of crops on the second day of the retreat (see Appendix Retreat Agenda [Meeting of the UWI Delegation].) The retreat provided us with an opportunity to discuss many critical issues at length, including our expectations of life in Kenya. The retreat provided members of the delegation with the opportunity to prepare themselves psychologically for all aspects of the project. During the retreat, food was prepared on a coal pot and we restricted ourselves to a limited amount of bottled water per day. We dealt at length with the historical significance of Africa to the West Indian region and with the current economic and social problems facing Kenya as well as how we would tailor our daily lifestyles to suit this new environment. It is at this point that we all were able to agree upon a single cardinal rule which would have to be respected throughout the trip; No one was to go anywhere by themselves, at any time. Safety was our first priority at all times.

As this was a multi disciplinary project, which involved students from every faculty of the University of the West Indies, at the retreat, I took the opportunity to share the academic expectations they were required to fulfill on and after the trip. Each student delegate had to respond to at least one (1) question on the Academic Scheme done for the U.W.I Delegation to Bungoma 2006 (see Appendix Academic Scheme). The Retreat also provided me with an excellent opportunity to address the 'Dynamics of Representation', recognising that it was necessary for every student to represent the University of the West Indies as well as Trinidad and Tobago with pride. After spending three days together, we left as a team prepared for a unique experience. A plethora of information was given to the delegates, inclusive of what articles they should or should not carry with them on the trip. Arrangements were also made for the delegation to meet and have a 'Question and Answer' session with a Kenyan national who was visiting Trinidad for a few months. Now that all students possessed technical knowledge of what was required of them, academically and in other respects; I felt comfortable and ready to make the project a reality.

Part II: Mission to Bungoma, Kenya

UWI Students Trip to Kenya in pictures: