I am now home. While I did not do very well updating this blog, I did take many pictures. Over 9000. Over the next few weeks I’ll be going through them and uploading them to my website calumbowden.com so stay tuned, if anyone is tuned in.


After my hottest week in Machakos, it rained. Really rained. It started Sunday afternoon and it actually only stopped raining earlier today. Now there is heavy mud everywhere, or “ndaka” in Kikamba, which a man in the matatu told me I had collected lots of on my shoes .

Unfortunately the rain has come several weeks too late to save the crops. But a few weeks ago my family was able to harvest a massive sack of beans and some thumb-sized bananas from their shamba farm. Many of Jitegemee’s families are hit hard by the increasingly unpredictable rains so it was a good time to talk about protecting the environment with the students.

Two Saturdays ago, all of the primary school students came to the center. We talked about what the term environment means, the interdependent nature of ecosystems, and why it’s important to protect it. I tried hard to make it relevant to their lives. Not just “recycle used peanut butter jars and decorate them for fun” as my Google search had suggested. I wanted the students to understand that pollution and dwindling natural resources pose a serious threat for our generation. If we throw our litter on the ground, livestock/a small child could mistake it for food and choke on it. We could further pollute the water. Climate change affects the rains. We will eventually run out of fossil fuels.

With Jitegemee about to start the construction of a new, “green” center, we wanted the students to understand that it doesn’t mean it will be painted that color, as one primary school student suggested. The new building will have solar panels for electricity, a solar hot water heater for cooking, toilets that use little/no water, a roof designed to collect water, and a large shamba.

I organized 3 activities: an environmental scavenger hunt, the “taka taka challenge!” (just a rubbish pickup), and some typing and drawing activities on the computers. The kids excitedly ran around the center looking for the different things I had asked for. One group even found a turkey, which I didn’t think lived in Kenya, let alone Jitegemee’s grounds.


For over a month now I’ve been working with the NGO Jitegemee in Machakos, Kenya that rehabilitates street children through formal and vocational education. I’m their first long-term volunteer and I’m working on developing a basic computer skills curriculum, a networked computer lab and a litter management program. Living with a local family has given me an opportunity to fully experience life here. They have made me feel like their son always referring to each other as “mom” and “dad”. Many of our conversations are spent comparing our cultures and asking each other questions. What I’ve found most interesting is how surprised they are when I explain how different life is back home. I remember their shock when I explained I didn’t know how to make chapatis because I don’t eat them back home. But they’ve made sure to teach me and now I’m pretty much an expert- I’ll post some instructions soon.

Over the first two weeks of January, we had many visiters to Jitegemee. Two Columbia graduate students studying international development came for 10 days to research the impact of the formal schooling programme. Not sure how they got anything done as we spent most of our time together dancing with all the students. Their findings fully support the huge, life changing impact that Jitegemee has on children’s lives. Just read “REFORMED“, a poem written by several vocational students, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Last Friday we had three donors visit from the US who shared a day of performances and celebration with us here. Hopefully soon I will be able to find the internet power to upload some pictures.

Slowly I’ve been making progress teaching the students how to use computers. We have five (if we’re lucky and they all decide to work) in a mini-lab that is now decorated with some posters the students made about the different parts of the computer. Since the most of them had never touched one before, I start by teaching them about the parts, why its important to learn computers, and how many jobs can benefit from using them. Then we move into turning them on and off correctly, and how to hold the mouse and use the left click. My first major activity involves the paint application and they have all loved learning how to draw and color on the computer. It’s a fun way to learn about interacting with the computer using the mouse. Some of them have been able to create really detailed portraits, maps of Kenya and Africa, and 3D houses. It’s amazing to think that a week ago most of them had never used a computer before and now they’re able to do all that. This week I’ve been introducing them to the keyboard, going through what all the keys do and having the students practice using them. In the next few weeks we will continue to work on typing and formatting. I’ve also been working with the teachers on typing, word processing, powerpoint, and video editing. Hopefully by next week we will have the entire center connected to the internet so everyone can start playing with it.

For the litter project, we now have five bins for taka taka trash and a bottle of soap. I made some posters about keeping Jitegemee clean and healthly and put them up all over the place. I’ve started to explain it all to the students and already I’ve seen many people putting their trash into the bins instead of throwing it on the floor.And we’ve nearly finished the bottle of soap. Great success! Hopefully we’ll be able to get hand sanitizer dispensers which I think will be better for the limited water supply.

Now I’m off to Nairobi to spend the weekend with my host brother.


It’s been hot. It’s been cold. It’s been wet. It’s been fast-paced. It’s been manic. It’s been amazing.

On the 5th of November I arrived in Mombasa. The mysterious and misleading lack of signs at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport nearly prevented me from finding the domestic terminal in Nairobi within my 30 minute layover. But it didn’t and after a short flight past Kilimanjaro, I found myself in Mombasa, confronted with what I now know as normal behavior here in Kenya; many people trying to persuade you to spend your money on what they are selling. In this case it was taxis into the city. I chose the man holding the nicest looking sign and after he spent several moments deciding who among his team of drivers would take me, I was off to the Reef hotel for a night of three star luxury before I began my GVI volunteer expedition.

I can summarise my first impression of Kenya in two adjectives: frightening and beautiful.

I was intimidated because of how different it was from anything I had ever experienced before. But it was stunningly beautiful for the same reason. I was awestruck by the colorful and textural vibrance I saw everywhere I looked. The deep, amber earth. The polka-dot texture of low lying bushes. The horizontal lines created by acacia tree tops, as if flattened by a frying chapati pan. The moss green color of trees and bushes. The light green of buildings painted with Safaricom’s livery. The ever present, intense blue sky, at times speckled with low hanging clouds. The bright, multi-colored Kikoys and Kengas adoring men and women in various, creative ways. The flashes of white as people laugh and smile. My eyes, driven by my curiosity, danced to soak up everything they could.

But Kenya is clearly a developing country: poverty, children in the streets, piles of rubbish, poor hygiene, the apparent wealth held by so few, and (particularly on the coast/in Nairobi) the number of old mzungus with young Africans.


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