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Nairobi or Bust!

February 14, 2012 by anisa

When I took this job and made the move, I wasn’t sure what my days would be like. I had spent time in Kenya before, but was living quite modestly in the coastal region, working on our project with Books for Africa, and enjoying the quiet beauty and slow pace of coastal life. Nairobi is quite the opposite of this – there are over 3 million people living in this prominent, urban hub for business and culture, and everyone is always going somewhere. While parts of the city are far more impoverished than I remembered, Nairobi is also very livable and vibrant, with an emerging middle class, and a large community of folks who are not part of the expat/aid community.  I’ve met plenty of journalists, filmmakers, designers, and pretty much every kind of start-up entrepreneur you could think of. Just the other day I had dinner with some new friends who have started a social venture, Mobius Motors, whose goal is to provide inexpensive, sustainable African-built cars. The innovation coming out of this city is unbelievable, as is the ability to impact change.  At my last job, it would take months to see the impact of an effort– and even then, the pendulum would not swing very far from where it was.  I loved my last job, but my efforts here go a long way, and you can visibly see the difference a bit of time or expertise can make.

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My work has been exciting and challenging– I’ve been running fast, and the days are very long, but I’m working along-side a group of really talented and committed people. My boss is a fireball in the best sense of the word – she has great energy, and really believes in me, and in the work we’re doing together.  I’m starting to take on smaller projects of my own, and the opportunities to learn and contribute are endless. I don’t think twice about the hours or the learning-curve because the work excites me, and it’s got to get done. There are unique challenges in trying to get work done in Africa. Internet and phone seem to be down just when I need them. And meetings can be cancelled at the drop of a hat depending on how much rain has fallen that day, or what time the football match is coming on. We roll with the punches and end up with good stories at the end of the week.

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So what am I doing exactly? The day-to-day of it varies with each country, but essentially, I’m working directly with Ministries of Health across the continent to scale up programs for HIV testing and treatment in children. While the prevalence of HIV tends to be lower in children than adults (thanks to successful mother-to-child prevention programs), there are still millions of kids being born with and ultimately dying from HIV each year, and there are very few countries that have developed programs targeted towards early-infant diagnosis of HIV.  On the one hand we work with local governments to drive the importance of developing pediatric programs, and on the other hand, we’re working with drug and testing suppliers to make the market more equitable and more accessible to these remote, impoverished regions.

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Just last month I was reading Bill Gates’ annual letter, and was excited to see that he specifically highlights HIV testing as an essential part of the solution to the HIV epidemic moving forward.  I highly suggest taking 15 minutes to read the entire letter, as it discusses an array of incredible work taking place across the globe. Our team’s work is highlighted as the fourth approach under Global Health in the section under HIV.

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Amidst all the work, I’ve yet to find an apartment, and have been living out of my suitcase for the past few weeks. I haven’t minded it thus far – it feels good to be traveling, and meeting new people. Last weekend, though, I took time to hike the Ngong Hills where “Out of Africa” was filmed, and it was just breath-taking. Kenya isn’t exactly the safest country these days, and the law says you aren’t permitted to visit National Parks without an armed escort. Of course I found this to be completely unnecessary and protested this requirement, but it turned out to be a lovely day. The guards were about my age, and I loved hearing their stories, and understanding where they’ve come from. The day reminded me that having some semblance of life is good too.

 

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In the coming weeks I have trips planned to: Ethiopia, South Africa, and Cameroon.

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Stay tuned!

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5 Comments

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Do everyone a favor a take the armed guard:). Love u.

  2. Sara says:

    if you get kidnapped, I will be PISSED! #DontBeAHero

  3. Jess says:

    “Look at me, I’m too cool for an armed guard.” <- don't be that. i like to sleep at night knowing you are relatively safe. <3

  4. alixrose says:

    Yes, please be careful, but its great to read the passion you have in your work. Miss you.

  5. caz says:

    A.Mazing. SO happy and excited for you and the experiences you’re having and going to have. <3

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