We awoke early on Wednesday morning, and it was time to pack up and head to Kisumu with Daniel for some much needed R&R. The ride into town had plenty of potholes and speed bumps, which gave us all incredible “Kenyan back massages.” When we finally arrived, we were all ready for a nice, relaxing meal. But of course, things work a little differently in Kenya. We arrived at our hotel, checked into our rooms, and made our way back for some food, hoping to avoid the dreaded H.I.G (Hunger Induced Grumpiness) that comes so easily when you’re a westerner expecting speedy and prompt service in the land that is Kenya.
After our meal, we took advantage of our “break from work” day and went to do a bit of shopping at the Maasai Market for our friends and family. The market was composed of shops made of materials that the ‘Big Bad Wolf’ would hope the ‘Little Pigs’ would use to hide from his mighty wind. They were all connected to form an alleyway in an outside market with tons of souvenirs packed within each shop. The pushy storeowners tried coaxing us inside each of their shops to look at, and hopefully, purchase, some of their products. We walked away with bags filled with masks, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, canvas artwork, plates, bowls, and several other knickknacks. With our shopping needs satisfied, we went back to the hotel and relaxed before we went out to a nice dinner. Perusing the menu of Indian fare, some of which was familiar, and some on the more exotic side, we each chose various dishes and refreshments to fill our bellies and start the night off right. After we were stuffed to the brim and there was no coaxing anyone to try another bite of their meal, we went to a rooftop patio with amazing views of Kisumu to relax and hang out before heading back to our hotel.
The first half of the trip in Kenya is meant to get the team acclimated to the culture and lifestyle of the people in Sigomre. We invest most of our time on the forefront introducing the team to the many relationships that exist between The Invictus Initiative and community members. In addition, past projects are reviewed and discussed with community members to receive feedback on how well the project worked. From there, The Invictus Initiative, together with the community, can identify new ideas, receive valuable feedback, and develop or improve sustainable solutions to better empower the people of these communities. The break in the middle of the trip allows team members to assess everything they have experienced during the first week. By refreshing and recharging in Kisumu, the team would be prepared to head back to Sigomre with fresh ideas, a second wind, and a sharp focus for the remainder of the trip.
The Next Day
Thought we had had the opportunity to relax a bit, Kisumu was by no means “all fun and no work”. We started off the morning by eating breakfast at the hotel, which had the most delicious passion fruit juice. We decided to divide and conquer for our morning activities. The guys went to the hardware store to price materials for the Hawagaya Bridge while the girls went back to the Maasai Market for some last minute shopping before getting groceries for the remainder of our time in Sigomre.
Over the past year at the Colorado School of Mines, a team of engineers had worked on a bridge design for the Hawagaya community. One thing that people may not realize is that there is no “one-stop-shop” for building a bridge in Kenya. We take for granted places like Home Depot where people can buy supplies for an entire project. With the challenge of finding and pricing the needed materials, we quickly made our way from warehouse to warehouse, like a ping pong ball in a master’s match, pricing out the specific items that each store specialized in. Five warehouses and a few cab rides later, the group was able to find and price the bridge materials needed to construct the Hawagaya Bridge. This was information that we promised to provide to the Hawagaya Bridge committee during our next meeting. With groceries and pricing in hand it was time to head back to Sigomre.
The ride back from Kisumu was no different than the ride there, full of “Kenyan Back Massages,” compliments of the Kenyan Department of Transportation. Although we were eager to get to Sigomre to meet with the Hawagaya Bridge Committee, the group took advantage of the last opportunity for pictures of “crossing the equator.” Back in the Northern Hemisphere, the team put the groceries away as the Hawagaya Bridge Committee trickled into the guest house.
With most of the Hawagaya Bridge Committee members accounted for, the meeting began with the usual introductions and a brief update from the committee. It was promising to see that the committee had grown and included more members from within the affected communities that the bridge would serve. They were excited to hear we were able to gather pricing for materials, even though their project engineer wasn’t able to meet us in Kisumu because he had come down with malaria. The new pricing for the bridge was a bitter pill to swallow for the committee, as it was nearly double the original estimated cost. The committee took a few moments to digest the new information before expressing their concerns and urgent need for the bridge. Many of the members appeared deflated and immediately turned to us for their bridge needs. We reminded them that The Invictus Initiative doesn’t build bridges—we build relationships that empower communities to build their own bridges. Through a true partnership, we would walk alongside the community, bringing together the skills and resources needed to initiate sustainable projects that improve communities and transform lives.
As the meeting progressed, the committee was presented with two options: start to gather the financial support from the community, something that was supposed to have begun the year prior for the communities share of the cost for a permanent steel bridge, or raise some funds to do basic repairs on the current bridge to keep it operational, while fundraising continued for the construction of a permanent steel bridge at a later date. After both options were laid out before them, the committee made it clear they ultimately wanted the permanent steel bridge, and would need to discuss both options with members of the community before making a decision on which option to move forward with. As the meeting came to a close, it left with the committee feeling a bit frustrated, but empowered; they needed to decide between the two options and brainstorm ideas for fundraising. We assured the committee that we would review and price alternate bridge designs to find a less expensive, permanent steel bridge as requested.
The most incredible point of our discussions with the Hawagaya community was reached when the community members realized that they had within their community everything necessary to create their own solutions. After all, it was the community that had originally created a way by which they could cross from one side of the river to the next. Long before an outsider had built them a newer and better bridge, they used what they knew and had to find their own solution. Perhaps our meeting together helped to remind the wonderful people of Hawagaya just how capable they truly are. Time will certainly help to answer that, there’s no doubt about it. And Invictus Initiative will be right there, ready to walk beside them.