All entries for April 2007

April 22, 2007

London Marathon

Well done to Martin Lel for winning the Flora London Marathon 2007 and Felix Limo who came 3rd!
A good performance from role model Paul Tergat who finished 6th.

and Salina Kosgei who finished 4th in the Women’s race!

A good display by the Kenyan runners… You’ve done the country Proud!

April 17, 2007

Apple Mac's in remote Masai Schools

Macs Join the Masai Tribe

By Barbara Gibson
The new school in the Masai village of Oloolaimutia in East Africa runs day and night now, even though the majestic tribe lives without electricity or running water in its nearby compound of mud houses.

More than 400 children attend the new school—those who tend cattle during the day go at night—thanks to new classrooms and solar panels that provide light and deliver power to three new laptop computers.

“Come Walk With Me”

Retired tech executive Patrick O’Sullivan, who launched the effort to improve the school after visiting the village in 2004, returned this year with a team of former Apple employees and 14-year-old Sean Riordan, son of one of O’Sullivan’s friends. Carrying PowerBooks and high-definition digital cameras, the volunteers shot 16 hours of digital video in the village and region for a documentary designed to raise awareness and funds for education in Africa.

“Come Walk With Me” premiered in July 2006 and will be shown in universities and foundations that specialize in Africa. Riordan, who helped train village teachers to use the laptops, also made a documentary—“The Making of ‘Come Walk With Me’”—that captures the laughter and fun of working with the Masai people.

Masai tribe members pose with the “Come Walk With Me” crew.

The Problem of Piecing a School

O’Sullivan hadn’t planned to spearhead the school improvement project when he first visited East Africa. “But,” he says, “I saw these adults tying pieces of trees together, and I asked them what they were doing. They said they didn’t have a classroom, and I said ‘How long will it take?’ And they said ‘Well, about three to four years.’ I said ‘What happens to the children meanwhile?’ And they said ‘Most of them will never go to school.’”

Moved by their plight, O’Sullivan decided to build a school for them—and even supplied three laptop computers. Dickson Mutaiti, O’Sullivan’s driver and tour guide, handled the arrangements and sent contractors with three trucks full of bricks, stones, doors and tin roofing materials to the village. They built the new school in six weeks, and a U.S.-based solar company in Nairobi installed four 120-watt panels on the school’s roof.

Feeding Curiosity

In the new school, students investigate the world maps plastered on the wall, study the science of solar power that provides their light and watch video of an ocean on the laptops. “They’ve never seen the sea,” O’Sullivan points out. “Never mind the fish. Their eyes were bigger than the screen.

“It was amazing to watch the children use the new tools with such ease,” he adds. “They were intuitively touching, feeling, laughing and investigating. It became clear to me that it doesn’t matter whether you’re from the north, south, east or west of anywhere on this earth: people are naturally curious and once they see a tool, they want to see how it works.”

Door to Opportunity

O’Sullivan, an amateur historian who has followed politics in Africa from the time he was a student in Ireland in the 1960s, is sensitive to the Masai people’s need to preserve their culture in the face of a modern world. He sees the role of education and computers as a crucial door to opportunity.

“When you look at the continent of Africa,” he observes, “it’s no coincidence that there’s never been a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates or a Larry Ellison from Africa. There are millions of them there, but they never got the opportunity to learn. Yet education is the key to choices, to personal freedom. It’s everything.”

Source: ‘Hot News’ article on the Apple website

More information

School in Mara

Mara classroom
Teaching at Sekenani Primary School

April 13, 2007

Akala sandals under threat from copycats

Popular Maasai Sandals Under Attack from Copycats
Written by Mwenda Micheni

On a recent Tuesday morning as birds still lazily emerged from their nests, the Maasai Market was already abuzz with vendors and customers deep into negotiating for best deals on akala sandals.

Inspired by the rugged tyre sandals Maasai herders have worn over the years to protect their feet from thorns, the akalas sold today are an artistic hybrid that barely relate to the originals. And as they boom in popularity with Kenyans and tourists alike, behind the scenes artists and exporters jostle for profits, while copycats lie in wait to seize upon popular designs.

Martha Muriga, a businesswoman from Coast province, says she comes to the market twice a month, carrying back about 20 pairs of Akalas to sell in her two Mombasa outlets.

“My customers in Mombasa, where I sell the sandals, prefer them for their uniqueness and the durability they come with,” she explained.
Like others from around the country who throng the chaotic market in Nairobi’s central business district each Tuesday to purchase their wares, Ms Muriga strives to get the latest innovation. But that does not come easily as the market is now flooded with copycats, and the hottest designs sell at high end prices.

The artists who design the sandals, compete to offer something fresh.

Among the success stories is Wilburn Njuguna, 30. He said having new designs is not only creatively satisfying but financially smart.

“I keep away from what the rest of the market is offering,” he says with a chuckle. “When an artist introduces new designs into the market, they cut a competitive edge and are always able to dictate prices.”

At the moment, Mr Njuguna’s “Nibore” design of men’s sandals sell for Sh1,500 a pair. Less unique designs which go for as little as Sh300 look wrinkled and dull in comparison.

“It is the artistry that goes into the sandal that forces me to price it at that much,” he said.

A pair of the hand-made sandals takes artists up to three-quarters of an hour to complete. Mr Njuguna, who spends up to Sh500 on materials, draws patterns and cuts them out before attaching them to the shoes and stitching them—a tedious process that must be done with patience. And when the product is complete it must fit the foot it was designed for.

Customer’s tastes vary, and so do the shoemaker’s designs, from simple to sophisticated, despite the inspiration being the rough and functional tyre-bottomed akala.

Entering the trade in 2004, Mr Njuguna has experimented with wood, sisal mats and even fake leather but found many designs quickly reproduced en masse by competitors.

The trail of not-so-creative copycats lying in wait, forces sandal-makers to be cautious about to whom they show their newest wares.

“We choose not to display openly for fear of losing to these money hungry guys who will shamelessly pounce on your idea, and sell it at a very low price, making the competition so unfair,” said Mr Njuguna.

Still, the artist has been able to spread his sales territory. Initially starting at Maasai Market, he currently has orders from as far as Uganda and Mombasa and struggles to keep up with demand, as he can only make 210 pairs of sandals in a month.

In his workshop, only 10 pairs of Akalas remain unsold, on the shelf.

The chairman of the Maasai Market, King David, also an akala designer says that competition for the sandals is stiff. “This asks the artists to arm themselves with the best of creativity,” says David.

To beat competitors, David displays more ordinary designs at the market, but keeps what he considers the best at his home-based workshop. Part of that private collection are what he calls “therapeutic sandals,” made of old tyres; with a well-cushioned foot-bed with pieces of beads stitched on to provide comfort and aesthetics. These can take two weeks to produce, and command a steep Sh3500. But they are a hit. Since he started making the therapeutic sandals, Mr Njuguna has been swarmed with orders. He has shipped six pairs to Norway, and is working on orders from South Africa and Nigeria.

“Creativity is always leading us onto new opportunities,” he quipped.

At the market, knowing little of the inspiration or struggle behind the sandals, tourists simply appreciate, and buy, Akalas for their simple pleasures.
“It certainly is a comfortable thong sandal,” said June Collins, an American tourist at the market. “Decorated with cowry shells and beading, the thong is perfect for the beach, showers, and with sundresses,” she enthused.

Currently, Kenyan artists are the only producers of akala sandals. Mr Njuguna adds that a new bright spot is Kenyans’ appreciation of the indigenous footwear. For local consumers, like Mary Auma, a 23-year-old student at United States International University, the unique sandals are hard to resist.

This article was published in the Business Daily Africa newspaper on Friday 13th April 2007

April 08, 2007

DIHAD Conference and Expo 2007 (Dubai, 1st – 3rd April)

Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) conference and expo has become an important event in the diaries of procurement officials from NGOs, aid agencies and their suppliers. It used to be an important marketing event for Dubai Aid City before it was made part of International Humanitarian City (IHC). IHC’s primary aim is to cut crisis response times by offering facilities located strategically in the middle of aid needy regions.

Last year I went quite unsure of what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at who the key note speakers were and the types of products on display. Sir Bob Geldof brought to a close what Jan Egeland officially opened. But, possibly for reasons of being an engineer, I was more interested in the products on show. Some were practical, functional and clearly useful in places like Darfur, Somalia, Iraq (War torn), Pakistan, Turkey (Natural disasters) and so on. Others were not so easy to digest and I couldn’t make out who they were targetting.

To simplify matters, there are two consumers of products procured by the aid agencies: victims (refugees, orphans, basically those in need) and the aid agency workers (including peacekeeping troops). The workers (apparently) need hi-tech equipment that cost a bomb (excuse the pun) and also need high quality shelter, vehicles, armour, weapons… you get the drift.
The victims on the other hand need basic essentials en masse: tents, blankets, cooking utensils, water (or access to clean water), medicines…

The products on show were wide and ranging: bullet-proof Toyota Hilux pick-up trucks and Land Cruisers, tents for refugees complete with built in cooking stoves (practical?), tents for peacekeeping troops complete with wardrobe and beds (5* hotel?), treated mosquito nets, pre-fab buildings, water harvesting and storage tanks, satellite communication systems…

This year it was shockingly quiet with exhibitors complaining of paying exorbitant rates and receiving/entertaining almost no external visitors or procurement officials. The poor website design and little publicity was probably due to the decision to incorporate Dubai Aid City into the International Humanitarian City. Dubai Aid City had been a strong supporter of DIHAD but somebody forgot about that!

So the products were pretty much the same as last year with some exceptions: interesting energy/power provision solutions using solar panels and wind turbines; water purification and filtration devices including reverse osmosis methods and chemical tablets. Toyota made their impressive presence felt again with a 2 ton armoured Land-Cruiser capable of withstanding destruction from land mines. My pick of the lot had to be the coffins made for the ‘mass fatality market’ – it definitely takes guts to get into that kind of a product!

While products for Humanitarian Aid are necessary the problem of demand and hence stocking of products is the suppliers biggest dilemna. The suppliers are trying to earn their bread and butter from these products that don’t have a consistent demand. And when there is demand, there is not enough of it the world over to supply it (Pakistan earthquake and the sudden demand for refugee tents being the most recent example). This has an effect on the pricing as suppliers try to commercialise the products. Unfortunately the people who make the pricing and procurement decisions don’t realise the differences between the two types of consumers and where these products will be used. Suppliers need to become more realistic and re-analyse their payback periods on certain products – you cannot charge European prices for products that will be used in Africa – especially if you’re trying to commercialise/commoditise it. Suppliers also need to focus on core competencies and remember that disaster relief is the most uncertain of markets. Hence seek to diversify?

If any consultants want to suggest solutions to these problems I’m all ears…

Time in Kenya

April 2007

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