Today was my last full day in Kithoka, Meru. It was also our final presentation day and my team was meeting at 8am to do last minute edits and preparation. All the groups were presenting to the community leaders our finalized projects at 10am. While two weeks of work doesn’t seem like that much at first thought, it feels like we really have done a lot within that short window of time. My entire team was late but honestly, I expected that much—8am is so early. We created a short powerpoint to follow through while presenting and went through some very rough practices before 10am.
Since we are group 3, we were the last to present. Gwin and Tomas spearheaded the first group and their idea was a tourism agency. The idea is to create a partnership among many businesses in the Meru area to develop a two to three week vacation for American tourists. It would focus on a cultural immersion experience rather than the traditional tourism experience in which people come to Kenya just to see the animals and go on safaris. It’s a good idea and one that can actually be easily implemented since they are partnering with current businesses already in place and using the infrastructure already in place. Afonso and Layne led the second group and their ideas were an poultry business and a recruitment agency. For the former idea, they and their group realized that the profit margin for selling chicken is actually quite large. They had gone into the market with the initial thought of starting an agricultural businesses but that idea transformed a bit since getting water was a huge barrier. They had also talked to some locals and realized how profitable the poultry business is. For the latter business, they thought it might be good for the community to have a recruitment agency that connects employers and employees. Both sides would work with this company to find the other; employers want to ensure they get employees who have the skillset they desire and employees want jobs. My group presented on two ideas as well: an online Swahili tutoring company and an afterschool program. I had spent more time on the former business plan while Will focused more on the latter business plan. For the online Swahili tutoring company, I noted that there are universities and students in the US who are learning Swahili and it would be helpful for them to practice with real fluent speakers. And my original objective was to create job opportunities in the Kithoka and Meru area since unemployment is such a large issue here. In the afterschool program, it would focus primarily on the younger Primary School students at first. Many students walk home or take the bus home after their classes end around 4pm but their parents may still be at work or busy. This program would create a benefit for not only parents who would know where their kids are, but also for students to develop further academically and personally.
We got feedback from the audience after our presentations but they were all pretty supportive and helpful. Afterwards, we ate lunch as a large group and then the UM students had a short meeting for our last debrief. I feel like everyone has gotten something different from this trip but it has been a good one for every single one of us. I’ve really developed some good bonds with the locals and I will miss seeing them every day, working with them, and playing with them.
Since I still hadn’t really purchased anything to take home with me, Bonnie said he would take me into town to get a flag, which is the only thing I really wanted. I have attempted to start collecting flags from countries I have visited; thus far, I have the Grenada flag and the Ghana flag. I should probably get a China flag and I will get the Korea flag once I am there. Interestingly enough, it was today, one of the last days, that I got to try some new local “experiences.” Bonnie and I walked outside of Thiiri to the road and grabbed a cab to town. How it works is that cars drive by and honk at you to see if you need a ride. If you put out your hand, they stop and ask you where you are going. If they are going in that direction, then you negotiate a price with the driver before you get in. They jam pack the taxi with four in the back and two in the passenger seat. However, being a mzungu (“white person”) made it tough to bargain with everyone because they don’t think I know any better and I will pay any price. When we got to town, we walked to a specific shop and Bonnie went in by himself. I stood outside so they wouldn’t overcharge him for the flag. We then took public transportation back to Thiiri too.
When I got back to Thiiri, there was no one around. When I had left, most people were still there hanging out. I hung around for about 15 minutes and then Muse, the Eco Lodge manager came out of nowhere. He was there for the final presentations but I had no idea he was staying. He mentioned he was planning on going into town to see some things so I asked if I could join. We took the public transportation again to town and walked around. We hung out around town, junction, and Nakumatt for quite a while. When we finally returned to Thiiri, I stopped by the Curio Shop inside Thiiri and purchased a few souvenirs for people back in the states. I actually think I spent more money today (collectively from the flag and souvenirs) than I have in the past two weeks.
Then it was time for dinner. Today was a special dinner since it was our last one and it was an appreciation dinner for the teachers in the Kithoka community. We didn’t eat at Thiiri as usual but drove to that hotel that we usually watch the Eurocup games at. Everyone we have worked with was pretty much invited, as well as the staff. There must have been at least a few hundred people there. It was pretty casual, with people hanging around and talking but it was a packed hotel and we had reserved two floors. We pretty much spent 6pm to midnight at this hotel since we ate, chatted, drank, and watched Portugal beat Czech Republic in the Semifinals of the Eurocup. Then we headed back to Thiiri and decided to call it at night.
It’s crazy how fast it’s gone. Tomorrow’s my last day and we are leaving Kithoka in the early afternoon for Nairobi to catch our evening flight.