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More K24 Features September 17, 2010

Filed under: K24 — Admin @ 11:57 pm

I attended the Maker Faire Africa 2010 (http://makerfaireafrica.com/) a few weeks ago and had a blast. I learned about it back in July and knew that I had to do a story about. The 3-day event brings together artists, creators, engineers and the like from around Africa to showcase technology and various art work. I met a South African, a Tanzanian, Ghanaian, Rwandan, and other Africans. I also met a Nigerian guy…named Chika! We were so happy to see each other. This story was also an exclusive; no other broadcast news company featured it. But the Maker Faire Africa really is a big deal because it truly is breeding ground for innovation and Africa’s next technology genius will be there. I’m already planning to attend the Maker Faire Africa 2011. Here is the video that I did: (By the way, I wasn’t able to get a camera operator, so I was doing the camera work all by myself.)

Finishing the dyslexia story was quite difficult, but i finally got it done. First, I never got permission from Kenyan’s Ministry of Education to conduct interviews with teachers, so that took a big chunk out of the story. And secondly, I was not able to find another dyslexic kid to focus on for the story. For part 1, Felix Kariuki (Phyllis’ son) was the “face.” I wanted another face for part 2, but it was nearly impossible. Parents didn’t want their kids on the camera. One lady kept canceling our schedule interview, and so on. So, part 2 ended up being more ‘official’ that the first part, with numerous organizational representatives and stuff.


K24 Features September 16, 2010

Filed under: K24 — Admin @ 10:11 pm

This is a story that I did back in August. I’ve been following the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) for the past 3 months. NYO is the first of its kind in Kenya, a classical orchestra for youth across the nation. Yes, there are classical orchestras, but they are pretty much for the elite kids who attend international schools and such. But the NYO is supposedly, “the face of Kenya” and will incorporate Kenyan youth of diverse ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. This story was actually an exclusive. No other broadcast company had reported it.

When this story aired on K24’s IN20 program (a magazine feature program), other media became interested in the NYO and reporters asked me for Ashni’s contact.

Ashni is a sweet and bubbly girl and her family, especially her mother, are very kindhearted. I really enjoyed meeting this family. I consider the Shahs as friends, not just story sources. I wrote about one of my outings with the Shah family here: https://chikainkenya.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/a-day-at-village-market/

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I’m working on a story about dyslexia.  https://chikainkenya.wordpress.com/2010/07/24/k24-day-12-dyslexia-awareness/ Well, here is part 1 of the 2 part series. It featured on K24’s In20.


K24 Day 43: Back to Nyeri September 6, 2010

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I went to Nyeri again last Thursday and stayed until Saturday afternoon. This time, I went for 2 enterprise stories that I’ve been researching for the past three weeks and I am particularly excited about these two stories. In a small town, a youth center houses former street children and teaches them about environmental sustainability. But this center is doing some very interesting things. A social revolution is breeding here.

The socialists principles underlying the foundation of the youth center are evident in a number of ways. Firstly, at the center, the youth are encouraged to take up skills and to be a “good human being,” and by doing so, they gain points for which they can use to “purchase” items such as clothing. The “directors” of the center, Andrew and Paul are what many Americans would call radical. I’ve conversed extensively with both Andrew and Paul and one can’t help but to be inspired. Paul has a economics background and Andrew is trained in technological engineering and by combining the two disciplines, Paul and Okello have formulated socioeconomic principles to help Africans to help themselves out of poverty.

On Thursday,  Kevin (the K24 camera guy who accompanied me) and I observed Andrew and his young volunteers discussing their project called Ujamma. Ujamma means “family hood,” in Kiswahili and denotes the idea of togetherness.

Ujamma, as a concept, was first practiced in Tanzania where the country’s first President, a very afrocentric and leftist leader named Julius Nyerere, advocated socialist ideals, promoting the idea that the land belongs to everyone and such. It didn’t last, but Andrew and his volunteers are convinced that Africans must returned to its tradition of helping one another. Ujamma, African socialism, they believe that this is the best direction for Africa.

So, these are Africa’s new revolutionary socialist.

When I asked the nine of them if they are socialist, I was met with a variety of replies.

“Socialism is a revolution. The value that we have as human beings shouldn’t be attached to money. Ujamma means family. Family is all of us. “ Tabitha Wangari Muchue, 23-years-old

“As much as we are trying to adopt capitalism, we are trying to keep our tradition of socialism. We want to keep socialism in us. This is in us. We cannot run from ourselves.”  Harry Mkala, 22-years-old

“This is the time for another revolution…If you mean African socialism, then yes I am [a socialist]. I belive in Africans taking care of each other. Not the imported ideas from the West. I don’t believe in this debate between Marxism and communism. I believe in the socialism that my grandmother told me that you look after your neighbor.” Susan Nyambura, 23-years-old

“Africa has always been social. The child is brought up by the village. We look after each other.” Andrew Okello-Syata, 42-years-old

“The work of my body, my brain, my hands, that is what I see in Ujamma. That’s the beauty of it. I see money as very dirty but your sweat is cleaner.” Jannath Bhagar


Weekend in the Nyeri Countyside: (Part 2) August 27, 2010

Filed under: K24,the journey — Admin @ 5:41 am
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I’m not crazy or anything but I have a curious affection for older people and I haven’t figured out where those feelings come from. But they have to come from someplace, because whenever I meet someone who may be at least 30 years my senior, I can’t ignore the force within me that emerges. I first noticed this when a Nigerian family came to visit our home several years ago and my siblings and I came down from upstairs to greet the guest. When I saw the grandmother, I bent down to hug her and did not fail to notice the delight in her eyes.

From that moment, I noticed my ways around the elderly. In Nyeri, Phyllis’ parents were probably the most interesting part of the visit. Her father, 65-year-old Joseph Munyi, talks about the Bible almost nonstop. A retired civil servant, he now tends to his crops of potatoes, tomatoes, maize, and beans. He said he was excited to know that an American was coming to visit him and he asked for me to tell my parents that I had slept in a safe home in Nyeri.

Phyllis’ mother, Grace, is a vibrant woman. I found myself looking at her face for long periods of time, and I finally discovered what it was about her that I found so irresistible… her eyes. Chestnut brown skinned with a softly chiseled face of high-cheek bones, Grace might have been what my mom would call a “local woman” but, I’ve always fancied “the locals,” especially the women. Walking behind Grace through her field of maize, pumpkins and aro root, I watched Grace’s hips sway as her bare feet treaded the soil.

Grace is part of a local woman’s group and from what I understand, women’s groups are prevalent throughout Kenya and the mother is usually the one who keeps the family together. They meet to discuss domestic matters such as health and nutrition, farming, education and how to make more money. I asked Phyllis if fathers meet for such things. She said that men are difficult because when they get together, things go bad. Drinking, ulterior motives and big egos are too often involved. So, it is the mother who maintains the home and Grace was no exception.

Grace and her group of friends, some her age and some younger, are helping each other to construct energy efficient cooking stoves. Actually, it’s a fireplace. Traditionally, Kikuyu women cooked on a stone mantle placed on top of three stone structures. But, even in rural Africa, technology is rapidly changing. Grace and the group of mothers learned a new style of a cooking fireplace that involves less wood, so one can prepare more food with less energy.  One by one, the women in the group go to each other’s house to build the new fireplace. I believe Africa is standing today, simply because of the millions of mothers like these. But as we all know, they can’t do it alone…and that’s another story.

Khanga is the most common of fabric in Kenya. Worn by lower and middle-class women, khanga is easy to recognize because of the scarf-like pattern. I recognized the blue, black and white khanga that Phyllis wrapped around her waist as the exact one that I bought at Maasai Market last week. Phyllis said it is a popular pattern. I paid Ksh1,000 for that, and I HIGHLY doubt that these rural women paid that much for the same. I was ripped off!!!!!!


Weekend in the Nyeri countryside: Part 1 August 23, 2010

Filed under: K24,the journey — Admin @ 3:45 pm

This weekend, I visited Phyllis’ family along the outskirts of Nyeri. We had been planning the trip for the past three weeks, ever since I mentioned my desire to explore more of the country. On Friday, I joined Phyllis and her son and niece for a three hour drive out going north to Central Province. I was also going to arrange interviews for a story on an organization that was helping street children by teaching them how to live eco-friendly lifestyles, so this was K24 Day 33.

The road from Nairobi, known as Thika Highway, was safe as we joined other Nairobians traveling out to visit family.  From Nairobi to Thika town, construction made the drive a little slow, but it wasn’t too bad. Throughout Nairobi province, massive road construction can be seen along with black employees working under the guidance of the Chinese. (The road improvement project contract went to China.)

But never mind all that. I did not know too much about where we were going, Narumoru, only that it was not too far from Mount Kenya, it gets a little chilly in temperature, it is in Kikuyuland, and there is no electricity, well at least there was none in Mureru, the exact location, the village, if you may.

So, we arrived and I met Phyllis’ older son, her sister, her parents, nephew Patrick, and her sister-in-law known as Mama Grace. These are the people I spent my weekend with. (Place the cursor over the photo to identify the people in the photo). I took a photo of the family before I left on Sunday.

Phyllis told me that we were in Mureru in Narumoru in Nyeri district. Her mother gave me another description of the location: Gakawa sublocation in Githima location in Kieni east division of Nyeri district in Central province.

There are few things in this world as peaceful as the countryside. A sprawling blue sky stretched above me and acres and acres of crops, weeds, and dry grass. Sitting with Phyllis and her mother inside Phyllis’ mother detached kitchen, Phyllis pointed outside and said, “this is the electricity.” I leaned out and saw the silver glow of the moon.

Adjusting to the countryside was not too difficult, and I thank the Lord that there were no rodents! Or roaches! While in Mureru, I thought about how I wanted to write about my weekend. And Phyllis, unknowingly gave me a great idea. Emerging from the pit latrine, I walked toward Phyllis who asked me, “Is that your first time using a pit latrine?”

This weekend was full of firsts…

My first time watching a goat being milked. Actually, I thought the goat was small, but Phyllis said it is a full-sized goat. I watched her mother, Grace, pump the the udders as the goat stood quietly.

My first time tasting goat milk. Okay, I don’t even drink cow’s milk, so goat’s milk was really foreign. They used the goat’s milk for tea (Kenyans love tea, by the way-British influence). I once read that goat’s milk is more nutritious than cow’s milk and is easier for humans to digest. Phyllis confirmed and said goat’s milk is cholesterol-free. Holding the cup in my hand, I noticed its warmth. After two tip sips of the boiled milk, I was finished and Grace served the rest of mine to the cat.

My first time brushing my teeth outside and using the grass as a sink. With a mug in my hand, I brushed my teeth with the cow behind me. I was doing what I had only seen in Nigerian movies, people brushing their teeth outside and spitting where they pleased.

My first time sleeping in a bedroom with an earthen floor. I didn’t really understand that this this was dirt. On the first night, I took of my shoes and stood. ”My dear, this is earth,” Phyllis said.  I asked her why did it not seem…well dirty? She said it has been packed tightly to suppress dust.  Hmmm….interesting. Now I understand why people sweep the soil…with a broom.

First time sleeping with a cow on the other side of the wall. I could hear its every move. The walking, the munching, I wouldn’t have known if the cow had passed gas. I’m just not familiar with that sound. Does it sound like a trumpet or more like a train?

My first time using a pit latrine. I’m not going to get very descriptive on this one, which is kind of hard for me, so I will move on.

Actually, okay, I will say that this latrine was much much much much cleaner than I had imagined. It was actually cleaner than most of the restrooms I had seen in Nairobi. And because of the windy, chilly environment, there was no smell…okay, I’m moving on.

My first time using a detached bathroom made of wood. I was somewhat used to the bucket method of bathing and there was a big yellow bucket of hot water inside this bathroom. But, my facial and body wash seemed a bit out of place. This wasn’t too bad…until a fly landed on the back of my left thigh…but really it was ok. Next to the bathroom is the kitchen so I had to hold my breath to avoid inhaling the smoky fumes coming from the other side.

My first time standing in acres and acres of maize. Corn is plenty in America, but it looks different in Kenya and I wasn’t even able to recognize the crop, to Phyllis’ great surprise. But the corn in America is much taller. Phyllis’ mother, Grace, has almost 5 acres of land.

My first time sleeping in a tin-roofed house. This is the house, as in the whole house. It is about the size of my living room. The house belongs to Phyllis’ sister-in-law and late brother. It has two bedrooms and a living room. Detached are the kitchen and bathroom. The woman of the house keeps everything very clean and she’s a very hard worker; I actually never saw her sit down. She didn’t speak English but she always responded to my “thank you’s” and “good morning” with a smile.


Referendum 2010 August 4, 2010

Filed under: cultural observations,K24 — Admin @ 6:22 am
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Today is the day, August 4, 2010, when more than 12 million Kenyans are expected to go to the polls to vote “yes” or “no” for the passing of the latest draft constitution. It’s a day Kenyans have been waiting for since the re-writing process of a new constitution began in 1998.

More than 27,000 polling stations are manned with troops and police officers deployed from around the nation.

Whether the draft constitution passes or not, today is a historic one for the nation of Kenya.

Memories of 2007’s post election violence are still fresh in the national memory. President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga have called for peace and yesterday evening, hundreds of Kenyans carried fire-flamed candles at a peace rally organized by Uwaino Peace Initiative.

The common message: We are all Kenyans. Let us have peace during and after this referendum process.

Violence, well…everyone is praying against such. The hot spots are mostly in Rift Valley Province, where ethnic tensions run deep. A friend named Jayshree told me to be sure that I get a ride to work this week because it may be unsafe to walk. She also told me to stock up on foods. On Sunday night, we went to the grocery store, Nakumatt in Westgate mall, and the milk and cheese were gone. Many other common items were gone as well and Jayshree said people are storing up just to be safe. During the 2007 post-election violence, Kenyans were forced to stay inside as blood spilled in the streets….literally.

I asked one taxi driver is he thinks there will be any violence. He said no, but if there were to be, it would come from the students at University of Nairobi. If the draft doesn’t pass, they may go to the streets in protest. From what I hear, these are quite aggressive students and their protests involve burning buildings and turning over vehicles. Fortunately, my apartment is right next to the University of Nairobi’s student flats! How…exciting!

As a visitor to this country, I’ve been quite impressed with what I’ve seen during this whole campaign. Democracy is alive and well in this country. The media and Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) have done an excellent job in educating Kenyans about the details of the draft. Nearly every night, the popular news stations have broadcasted feature shows about the referendum. Sometimes the shows are funny, sometimes serious, but always informative.

Those who are in support of the referendum, the “yes” campaign have been parading the country wearing green and the “no” campaigners have draped themselves in red. Kibaki and Odinga are in full support. At one press conference, Odinga said that this constitution is for the liberalization of all Kenyans. He called for Kenyans to prove the world wrong by conducting a peaceful referendum voting process.

But, former president Daniel Moi does not support this draft and many analysts say that he is worried that he may not be able to keep all his land. This draft constitution makes a provision for distribution of land ownership. Moi owns an extensive amount of land in this country and it seems no one knows just how much.

An overwhelming majority of those I’ve spoken to (students, taxi drivers, journalists, teachers, doctors, business owners) support this draft constitution. The passion of the Kenyan people is surely a sight to see. Yesterday and the previous day, I heard music in the streets and saw three vans painted in green driving slowly along University Way. Inside the van, people wearing green t-shirts, some with face paint, danced. The “yes” campaign theme song blared loudly to what sounded like a soukous beat.  Last Sunday, I heard shouts of people in Uhuru Park and a voice from a megaphone calling for the peaceful passing of the draft.

Among its many provisions, this draft constitution calls for equal representation of the ethnic groups in the government, gender equality and the creation of a new chamber of Parliament to check the President.

In 24 hours, we will see what happens.


K24 Day 12: Dyslexia Awareness & More July 24, 2010

Filed under: K24 — Admin @ 12:59 pm
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I went to a private school in Dagoretti, Nairobi for a series of stories I’m working on about dyslexia in Kenya.

The story will feature as a three part series on one of K24’s news programs.  I’m actually excited about doing this because it will give me a chance to do some deep enterprise reporting. I wouldn’t say this is an investigative piece, but it’s enterprise.

A woman named Phyllis took me to the school. I went with K24 camera guy, Leonard. Phyllis founded Dyslexia Organization Kenya a few years ago to promote dyslexia awareness. Her sister is a special education teacher at the primary school that I visited.

Both Phyllis and her sister have sons with dyslexia. In Kenya, the condition is virtually unknown. Many teachers don’t even know about it and students who display dyslexic characteristics are labeled “slow learners.” They are called “mjinga” (stupid in Swahili) and face stigma because in Kenya, as in most African countries, education is highly regarded as the way to success. Parents have a hard time accepting that their child has an actual condition, according to Phyllis.

Phyllis is quite a remarkable woman. She noticed that her son was having extreme difficulty with reading and was lagging behind in his literary development. Among other realizations, Phyllis observed that her son avoided reading and learned that kids and teachers were making fun of him. She knew that something must be wrong and that’s when she started research online. Dyslexia.

She realized that her son displayed all the characteristics of a dyslexic child: retarded reading development, omission and/or reversal of letters when spelling a word, intelligent and creative, very hands-on and active, excels in mathematics. Phyllis learned how to help her son and is working hard to establish the organization starting from the grassroots. I was honored to meet this woman. She’s truly a soldier for her son. She informed her sister that her own son may also be dyslexic since it is a hereditary condition; her sister’s son was also slow in reading. After meeting Phyllis, I met her sister at the school on Day 12 of my reporting at K24.

At the school, I talked with a few boys who display dyslexic characteristics.

Hearing the story of the students who Nancy labels as dyslexic made me proud to be a journalist. I am telling their stories! The three boys I spoke with are in sixth grade, love math, and avoid reading. Interviewing one boy named Stephen, I noticed a big teardrop on the brim of his eyes. It didn’t come out, though. But the shakiness in his voice and the glassy look in his eyes were unmistakable. He said that he confuses “b” with “d.” The second boy said he is frustrated with the classmates who make fun of him. Getting information from the boys was a little difficult. I tried to ask open-ended questions, but they may have been having a hard time understanding my accent.

And of course, Leonard and I caused a ruckus at the school. Once the kids saw the camera and the K24 flag on the mic, they went wild. Sticking their faces out of the windows, shouting and crowding us, those kids really made my day, as kids tend to have that effect on me.

I  want to explore if there may be a spiritual rationale behind the denial. I think some parents may “pray against the existence such disorders”, so I’ll do some investigating to find out more on that angle. Many Africans that I speak to abide by the “name it and claim it” concept, so following that logic, if you name or pronounce dyslexia over your child, then you are not only accepting the condition, but you are also actualizing it, or making it your reality. God forbid! That’s what Nigerians would say. Do they say such in Kenya? “Mr.Odinga, your son has dyslexia,” so-and-so says. How does a typical Kenyan parent respond? That’s what I want to find out, without reporting stereotypes and generalizations, of course.

After returning from the school, A fellow reporter asked me to accompany him to cover a press conference with Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The reporter, Ken, is really good at what he does and always looks uber professional.

A delegation of Maasai representatives met with Prime Minister, Raila Odinga to bid him a speedy recovery from the head operation he had last month and to ensure their support for the proposed constitution. The group spokesman for the group said representatives are campaigning throughout Kenya to educate fellow Maasais about the proposed constition. Kenyans are set to vote on the referendum on August 4. Many, including Odinga say a new constitution has long been overdue.

After shaking hands with the Maasai spokesperson, Odinga said he is confident that all forward-thinking Kenyans will vote yes.  I couldn’t help but look around Odinga’s beautiful estate. It’s lovely and grand, but it’s not over-the-top.

“The constitution is actually for the liberalization of this country,” Odinga said at the conference. “I know for a fact that all right-thinking Kenyans will vote for this constitution.”