During the morning of my first Tuesday as an intern at Umande, I embarked on my first field visit of the semester. My guide and co-worker Joseph met me at the office bright and early to show me around Kibera, numerous biocentres, and introduce me to the people making everything run smoothly. Our first stop was the office itself. Umande Trust’s headquarters are situated on the two floors above one of its biocentres. Situated near the edge of Kibera, the biocentre caters to Umande’s employees, as well as other organizations situated along the same footpath.
We set out on our tour and little did I know how extensive it would be. We began at Tosha II, the first of three biocentres under the larger umbrella of the Tosha community organization. Once we arrived, Joseph introduced me to one of the caretakers for the Tosha II center, who was filling in for her friend who normally took care of the center while she was away running errands.The ground floor of the Tosha II center houses the toilets and bathrooms for people to use at the price of 5 shillings per toilet use and 10 shillings for the bathroom. The upstairs is designed for numerous people to live, with many of the 6 rooms currently occupied. In one corner there was a biogas stove community members could pay to cook meals on. This biocentres was not simply a place to use the toilet; it was a home and a gathering place for many families.Next, we moved on to the Muvi Community biocentre. This was the second of three in the Tosha family. Here I met one of the caretakers, who had just finished cleaning the floors. At each place, Joseph made sure to emphasize how much each caretaker valued and loved the biocentre they managed. As Joseph and I wandered the biocentre, two young boys came to show us around. The ground floor consisted of the same toilets and bathroom setups, but the upstairs was different. It had been established as a local meeting place, with church services and football match showings taking up the majority of time. Otherwise, the space could be rented for a small fee to area organizations. Once we departed Muvi, Joseph offered to show me his home and to meet a few of his family members. Diverting only briefly from the path, we turned into a row of homes and we soon entered his house. We sat only briefly, to rest our feet and for me to meet his family. This was when I started to realize the beauty and significance of Umande and the work that it was doing. Joseph lived very close to two of the biocentres, Muvi and Tosha I. He had a strong interest in ensuring their success, because their success meant greater benefits to him and his family. Soon after leaving his home, we passed a public pit latrine that was run down and abandoned. He began to tell me the story behind it; numerous government funded contractors had built the pit latrine many years back, with the intention of handing it over to the community when it was completed. However, following the completion of the building, the public pit latrine was open to public use, with no managing organization to oversee its success. Without anyone to take care of and manage the facility, it quickly became unusable. Then, we passed by a private toilet and bathroom structure. Joseph began to explain that the structure had been built by a group of individuals for their own personal toilets and bathrooms. Other individuals could use the toilets, however, the cost was high and all benefitted the owners.After walking a while longer, we reached Tosha I. This was the first biocentre built by Umande Trust and one of the largest. Outside the entrance, a large sign notified passersby of the Champion League football match being shown at the center that night. Again we met the caretaker of the center who encouraged us to take a look around the biocentre. In one of the central rooms of the center, a pot of water was boiling on the biogas burner for someone to use to cook. After surveying the toilet and bathroom setup, we ventured upstairs. On the first of two upstairs floors, an office was being rented out by a local organization focused on education and sports. Then, one floor above that, a large gathering space had been established. Designed for community meetings, church services, and viewings of football matches, the chairs were currently stacked in the corner, and the televisions were hidden behind wooden boards. Multiple signs were posted advertising the prices of sodas. Joseph led me to one of the windows. He pointed out to the different sewage pipes and open streams, as well as tracing the path we had taken to get to the numerous biocentres. He then pointed to a school across the street and explained how this biocentre also provided services to all of the children who attended that school. It was a part of the community and we watched many people enter and exit the biocentre. He also began to talk about how much he enjoyed interacting and talking to everyone in the community who managed or visited the biocentres he frequented.From Tosha I, Joseph and I traveled to a biocentre that operated outside of the Tosha I umbrella organization. We arrived at KID-YOT, a center managed by an organization that hoped to provide young men and boys in the area with opportunities to success. I met Japheth, one of the directors of the organization and the center, who was very eager to show me around. Beyond the normal toilet and bathroom layout on the ground floor, there was a large tank of water heating over a biogas burner for people to use for warm showers. From there, we travelled upstairs. Japheth told me about how he had worked and helped manage the biocentre since it was first built in 2007. He explained how the center had been a big part of his life growing up and he hoped to continue to help others in his community. On the second floor, there was a very large meeting space designed for church gatherings and other community meetings. Next to this space, they had added a room to establish loans and savings plans for members of the community. Additionally, this part of the center was a place for job opportunities and employment both inside and outside Kibera. Japheth began to lead me upstairs as he explained how the biocentre had begun as only the ground and first floors. However, the members of the Kid-Yot organization recognized the need for another floor and had decided to build the addition to meet their needs. This additional floor had opened up more space for community and social events, specifically, teaching classes on the environment and sanitation as well as watching football matches.Down below, Japheth showed me one of the newest projects they were working on. They had designed new houses that cost 1000 shillings per large room to build. These special structures were not made of tin like the majority of homes in Kibera. Instead, they were made of a more natural and fire resistant material to reduce fires. Finally, Japheth began to explain the bodaboda program they had begun to implement. Essentially, local men could sign a contract with the center and as part of the deal, they would borrow a bike from the center to use for business. Then, after one year of riding, they would be given the motorbike to own. As Japheth explained the reasoning behind it, it was very clear that he had put a lot of thought and effort into this plan, in order to provide a means for local men to earn a living. After departing from Kid-Yot, we went to the last biocentre of the day, the Nyaharwa Savers biocentre. Once we arrived, we met two of the caretakers, Susan and Nicole. Inside, they were boiling water for lunch on the biogas stove and heating water for showers in the corner with the electricity they had. The stairs leading up had been blocked off, as the center had realized that the meetings that took place upstairs sometimes ran later than the women were able to stay at the biocentre. So, in order to continue to allow the meetings to take place, they simply moved the stairs outside. We left, headed back towards the Umande headquarters, as Joseph told me about how much the biocentres had meant to him. He explained how after construction, Umande primarily takes a backseat on the management of the biocentres and allows the community organizations to run and operate the biocentres.The emphasis on the community has been at the heart of the success of the biocentres built by Umande in Kibera and other parts of Kenya. Umande Trust itself is primarily run and staffed by people who live in Kibera, or spend a large amount of time in Kibera. By handing the biocentres over to the community organizations, it gives them ownership; this ownership ensures the success rests with the people who use and care for the biocentres. Finally, by establishing the biocentres as a part of the community, and more than just a toilet or a bathroom, it guarantees the long-term success of these projects.