NAIROBI Nov 17th
I was both sad and glad to leave Watamu. Sad, because I have had a very enjoyable, fruitful and educational time there. Glad because it means moving on. Changes of scene are really positive experiences at the moment.
I am staggered with what has been achieved by the Local Ocean Trust, or LOT ( as the Watamu Turtle Watch has been rebranded ). As Nicky says, what started as two old bats with bees in their bonnet has become an increasingly important voice in the conservation process. Over 5500 turtles have been released from fishing nets, the Kenyan Wildlife Service comes to LOT for advice ( even if it is often ignored ), prospective developers of beachfront sites in turtle breeding areas elsewhere are communicating in increasing numbers and several groups with similar interests are using LOT as a working paradigm. Yesterday, some highly respected elders from local fishing villages were at the centre for a meeting. In Britain, it would probably have been a case of welcoming them before telling them what the conservation work is all about and requesting their support. In Kenya it works differently and the meeting was all about how fishing traditions have been maintained and developed down the years. At no stage did anyone connected with LOT make any suggestions or requests. It was simply the first part of what will be a prolonged consultation and was very much a listening affair. It may not be for several months, by which time the people at the LOT will have gained trust and mutual respect, that the elders themselves will probably raise the subject of how they can help. A similar series of gatherings with the senior active fishermen is the next stage. The ultimate aim is sustainable use of the huge resources available, rather than the current position, which is to the detriment of marine life populations, unique coastal habitats and, ultimately, local livelihoods. Good on ‘em.
I changed into long trousers and had a sweater handy for my arrival back in Nairobi. It was a sunny 27°C so I was immediately reaching for the cold water bottle. I was met by Margaret from Starehe’s sponsorship office and driven to the boys centre via the city centre and ridiculous traffic.
Starehe was begun just over 50 years ago as a centre for Nairobi street children, abandoned by their parents. Geoffrey Griffin had been one of the young local white officers charged with supervising detention centres for Mau-Mau youth during the rebellion in the mid 50s. He had seen the potential in many of those for whom he was responsible. When detention ended, the youngsters were turned out on to the streets. Griffin set up Youth Clubs in Nairobi to provide activities. One of the clubs developed into a residential centre at Starehe. The original 17 street boys were housed in two tin huts, provided with basic education and encouraged to adopt a philosophy of independent living. There are now nearly 1000 boys at Starehe, 70% of whom are on total scholarships, from all over Kenya. It is always 1st or 2nd in the national exam league table. I am intrigued to discover how it all works, with minimal adult input, except in the classroom. I am housed in the guest cottage, in the heart of the campus and have just had supper brought to me on a tray by Shadrach, the assistant cook, who presumably plies his trade over a fiery furnace. I am going to meet up with Alphonse, the school captain, tomorrow. I have loads of questions to ask but will probably funk any about how parents select their children’s names.