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March 21, 2013
Presidential Elections in Kenya
By Vibrant Village field team
 
Kenya went to the polls on Monday March 4, for the first time since the disputed election in 2007, which saw over 1,000 Kenyans killed and 600,000 displaced by ethnic clashes. 
 
Kisumu, where I live, is the stronghold of presidential aspirant Raila Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe and the main challenger in the disputed 2007 elections. In 2007, ethnic violence erupted after Mr. Odinga made allegations of vote rigging against incumbent President, Mwai Kibaki, a member of the Kikuyu tribe. The town witnessed a number of ethnic clashes as Luo’s targeted and destroyed Kikuyu-owned business and homes in reprisal attacks.
 
Due to the small risk of disruption and violence, I left Kenya and went to Uganda the week of the election to wait out the results. By Thursday, I, along with many Kenyans, was tired of waiting for the results and returned to Kisumu. 
 
On my return, Kisumu appeared quiet, with far fewer cars on the usually bustling Jomo Kenyatta Highway. Many shops were still closed, but there was no sign of the violence from five years ago. Perhaps because the final results were yet to be published or perhaps because, learning from experience, all local Kikuyu families had left Kisumu to cast their votes elsewhere in the country. 
 
News finally filtered out on Saturday morning that Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the first Kenyan President and also a Kikuyu, had won the Presidential race. Kenyatta won by reaching the required 50% + 1 threshold by the smallest of margins, 50.07% or 8,419 votes. Odinga has of course challenged this. The shambles of an election this past week gives him a number of points to argue including failures of the electronic identity kit, problems with the technology employed for vote tallying, controversy over rejected votes, and allegedly irregular turnout in some areas. 
 
Talking to my Kenyan friends in Kisumu after the announcement, there was a feeling of resignation at Odinga’s loss and some frustration that the election has been tainted by so many problems, leaving the result open to dispute. Yet there is still a strong desire to avoid the violence that plagued the area five years ago. 
 
Thus far, Odinga has called for calm and his legal team is collecting evidence to file a challenge at the Supreme Court. However, with murmurings from Odinga’s team that the electoral commission, the IEBC, is making it difficult for them to access documents, potential for trouble still remains, particularly in the lead up to the swearing in of President-elect Kenyatta on March 26. 
 
Odinga has a big job now to ensure that his desire for peace is maintained and not crowded out by the clamour of conspiracy theorists and calls for mass action. Either way, it seems clear that Odinga’s legacy is unlikely to be as the first Luo President of Kenya. Given that he is now 68 years old, he will more likely be remembered for how he conducts himself, and his party, over the coming weeks. 
 
March 19, 2013
Welcome Tiffiny from I Have a Dream
By Laura Koch
 
Earlier this month, I had a chance to visit Alder Elementary for the first time, and to get an update on the housing mobility work the Vibrant Village Foundation is supporting.  As I learned, there is a lot going on!
 
Tiffiny Hager, “I Have a Dream’s” new Mobility Reduction Resource Coordinator, started on January 22th, and is sharing space with us at the Vibrant Village office on Alberta. We drove out to the school together, on SE 172th and Alder, which gave me an opportunity to pick her brain about what she has been learning in her first few weeks and where she sees the biggest priorities for families at Alder. 
 
Tiffiny’s role was created to help mitigate the flux of families moving in and out of the Alder school catchment area due to different stressors, like substandard housing, feelings of cultural isolation or disconnect and economic insecurity.
 
Prior to coming on with “I Have A Dream”, Tiffiny worked for Multnomah County for ten years, where she gained experience with similar projects at Vernon and Harrison Park Elementary schools and coordinated housing programs to increase student retention. While with the County, Tiffiny also worked at Columbia Villa (now New Columbia) in North Portland which is notable considering she is now working with some of the same populations that have migrated east in search of more affordable housing. According to Tiffiny, “We are continuing to see increased registration in east county schools, which will continue to drive the need for more culturally appropriate services and opportunities to make this community feel like home.” 
 
Tiffiny shared some of the goals for her new position, “I am hoping to help end this cycle of poverty and displacement and help families get established with the resources they need. Through the Housing Mobility project, we are dealing with similar problems but looking at it from a more integrated and broader community-partnership perspective.”
 
“I Have A Dream” is partnering directly with Human Solutions and Home Forward to provide short and mid-term rental assistance and social service support. Already this year there have been 140 new families registered at Alder in need of such services. “I Have A Dream’s” goal is for the housing mobility program to increase housing stability, help families gain a better attachment to the school and ultimately help kids do better in school. Through this partnership, 62 families have been securely housed already this year, which is a huge success and movement in the right direction. 
March 11, 2013
Managing Expectations in Western Kenya
By Vibrant Village field team    
 
My first two weeks in Kenya have involved a lot of work in one of our target communities, Esabalu, to get to know the people in the area, their day-to-day lives and the challenges they face. 
 
This has involved talking and listening to people from every facet of the community, from head teachers to village elders, boda-boda drivers to small-scale shop owners, widows to the young men idling about the village. 
 
My commute to work has been an hour-long journey via matatu, the ubiquitous local minibus service in Kenya. Matatus are battered, overloaded 15-seater minibuses where passengers are squeezed in 2 or 3 to each seat that race along all the roads in Kenya. Forget any idea of giving up your seat to the old Mama who climbs aboard with her three sacks of maize, she too must fight past the jumble of arms and legs to take any available space inside. The drivers rip along the potholed roads at an alarming speed but with remarkable dexterity, weaving in and out of traffic on the one-lane highway (and often off the highway too). One journey in the front seat of these vehicles and you can see why Kenyan roads are among the most dangerous in the world.  
 
 
While this commute in the morning is an uncomfortable, bumpy, sweaty journey, using local transportation has actually been a good thing for meeting the communities and managing expectations as we get to understand one another and build community relationships. If the community sees me driving through their area in a Vibrant Village jeep, particularly in the first few months, it could raise unrealistic expectations. Instead, I have been criss-crossing the area on foot with my translator and guide, Phanice (even in the midday sun), moving at village pace and being visible and accessible to all the community members who want to introduce themselves.
 
Managing the expectations of the community has been the hardest part of Vibrant Village’s initial activities in Esabalu. Secondary school recommences next week, and, with subsistence agriculture and high unemployment the norm in the community, most families struggle to raise school fees for their children’s secondary education and rely on scholarships, NGOs and wealthy family members for funding. Phanice, my translator and guide, told me that only 2 to 3 households in the community of approximately 2,000 households are able to fund education from their own income. Unsurprising then that only 12.7% of the population in Kenya has completed secondary education. In this context, with the arrival of a muzungu (white man) talking about community development, I have been asked in almost every meeting to sponsor someone’s child to go to school. 
 
 
While short-term sponsorship can be important for this generation of school-goers, I try to explain to them that our vision for Vibrant Village in Kenya is to support parents and guardians so that in a few years’ time, they can provide for their own families’ education and wellbeing, rather than relying on the support of well-wishers and charity. It will be a long process, but only through community empowerment rather than hand-outs can Vibrant Village support sustainable development in the area.

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