Monday, July 18, 2011

East Africa Day 66 (Mon July 18): If it was going to be easy, then someone else would've already done it.

Maybe it was the excitement of last night's USA vs Japan Women's World Cup soccer/football game, or maybe it was the fact that today is a Monday ... but it's been a productive day.

This AM I made plans to meet up with a friend of friend tomorrow - Angela, a Fulbright Scholar. Looking forward to it! I also got a little bit of research done for Garang/New Scholars. I discovered that Alexis from the US Embassy in Uganda has counterparts here in a Nairobi US Embassy office - can't wait to meet them!

Early this afternoon I headed to the Akili Dada Nairobi office. (For a quick summary about the org, check out this old blog post.) Their office is in the city center, in a 16+ story building about a 10 minute walk from my compound. It's shared office space - a few other nonprofits in the same suite. The familiarity made it very welcoming! I found Purity, who runs the Nairobi office, sitting at her desk in a bright, light-filled office. She spent an hour talking with me about Akili Dada, Daraja, and how I can best prepare Daraja students for life after graduation.

I learned that the organization partners with three excellent girls secondary schools in Nairobi - that's where the Akili Dada-sponsored students attend secondary school. After graduating from these three secondary schools, all of Akili Dada's students have been admitted to the Kenya Public University System through the Kenya Joint Admissions Board. Very impressive!!! Akili Dada does not pay for their students' university fees - the students pay for those themselves. But that's not insurmountable for the students - students admitted to the Kenya public universities pay a much lower fee than students who have not been admitted through the Joint Admissions Board. Think of it as paying in-state tuition vs out-of-state tuition for a USA state school.

I also learned that Akili Dada invites all of its graduates to intern in the Akili Dada Nairobi office between their secondary school graduation date and their first semester of university. I didn't get to meet her, but I heard that one of Akili Dada's recent graduates will be attending UPenn this fall! On my way out of the office, I met Wanjiru, Akili Dada's founder who lives in San Francisco but happens to be in Nairobi, right now! How funny! It was great to finally meet her in person.

I exited the building with new ideas and information, but also a little overwhelmed by the work ahead of me, and perhaps weighed down by a slight lack of direction. However, if you know me then you know that I rarely give up on something. So the feelings of frustration lasted less than a block's walk away from the office, before the idea popped into my head that "If it wasn't hard, then someone else would've already done it."

I didn't think that I'd be able to remember who I stole that phrase from, but by the end of the afternoon I'd recalled its source. It was spoken by a man whose photo will be hung on my wall, next time I have a wall. Excerpt from the Sept 28, 2010 Rolling Stone article "Obama in Command: The Rolling Stone Interview":

What has surprised you the most about these first two years in office? What advice would you give your successor about the first two years?

Over the past two years, what I probably anticipated but you don't fully appreciate until you're in the job, is something I said earlier, which is if a problem is easy, it doesn't hit my desk. If there's an obvious solution, it never arrives here — somebody else has solved it a long time ago. The issues that cross my desk are hard and complicated, and oftentimes involve the clash not of right and wrong, but of two rights. And you're having to balance and reconcile against competing values that are equally legitimate.

So I'll just keep movin' along! I was going to head back to the compound after my meeting with Purity, but instead decided to visit the Ministry of Education HQ to see about gathering some previous years' KCSE exam results statistics. I found the MoE compound on the other side of the central business district. I figured out how to get into the building, but then at reception/ID check I was told to cross the street and check with the Kenya National Examinations Council. When I got to the entrance to the office building, I met with a tight security check point. Fortunately I was able to gain entry and made it up to one of the KNEC floors. However, there I was told that I needed to cross the street again and visit the Kenya National Housing Council building, where I'd find a different set of KNEC offices. I snapped this photo of downtown Nairobi, before stepping back onto the elevator.

When I walked through the National Housing Council building's front doors I encountered another tight security check point. After I divulged even more information about my work and its purpose, I was granted access to the suite of elevators. When I walked off of the elevator at the appointed floor, I needed to sign in again, and was then granted access to the KNEC staff. I inquired about the stats that I'm looking for - which as far as I'm concerned are so bland and unclassified that they should be available on the government website - and was told that there was an entire system that I'd need to follow, before I can receive that information. And even after I follow the application system, I still might not be granted access to the data, and if I am granted access then I have to pay for the data. And the authorization letter I'd need from my sponsor, essentially needs to be signed with an original signature. Ummmm I am not getting the data, at least not this way.

The KNEC staff person I spoke with was exceedingly nice. She told me to check the book shop (oh, not a "book store" as I later learned, when asking for directions) to see if I could find the information I'm seeking in a pre-printed book. I headed down to the ground level of the building and was directed to the "book shop" where I found some very helpful information, but not exactly what I'm looking for. Ohhhh well. The book shop sells previous years' KCSE exams for a very reasonable price. I got to flip through some of them before heading out - the shop was about to close. I learned that there is a library in the KCSE building across the street that I'd just come from, and I could check there to see if they have additional information. Uhhh that means clearing security again. Another day.

I called Garang on my way back to my compound, and he said that New Scholars supports a venture run by a current University of Nairobi student. The second supported venture is in Kisumu, and the third is in Sudan. I hope to meet and visit the two Kenya-based ventures this month!

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