Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Great Jerrycan Trek

Ok, so I have to give a disclaimer:

I don't really believe in handing out stuff when I travel to other countries. When I travel places, I can tell when groups of white people have come before me bearing gifts, because I get mobbed by groups of children chanting whatever that gift was ('give me a pen!' 'give me candy!' 'give me money!' etc.) In other words, it sets an expectation that seems to be something like this: when white people come here they give us things.

This is upsetting. Not just because it is hard to build relationships with people when they are expecting something from you right off the bat, but also because it builds on this idea of the 'great white hope' - the idea that white people come and hand out things, give money, fix whatever problem is at hand. I don't want to be that or do that.

That said, we decided as a group that we wanted to give something to the women that we interviewed that would help promote health for their families. Each interview lasted almost an hour and it was pretty intense. The women gave us their time freely, even though they had dozens of other things they needed to be doing, so we felt that giving them something small was the least we could do. We did not tell anyone that we were giving them anything (in other words, we were unwilling to 'bribe' people to interview us) and we didn't give anything out until the very last day that we were in the field.

We also thought through exactly what we wanted to give.
We all agreed it had to be something sustainable (not something like food or something else consumable - we wanted it to be something that would help the families out long term), and we wanted it to be something we bought from the community in which we were interviewing to support local business.

And the verdict was....... the Jerrycan.

Jerrycans are the tools women in Kibera use to collect and store water:

They are actually old cooking oil containers that have been washed out. Each one holds about 20L of water. And most of the families we interviewed only had a few, which limited the amount of water they could collect and store each day. In light of the fact that there is SEVERE water rationing in the Nairobi area these days, this meant that they were often not able to collect as much water as they needed for their families.

So............... Sadique trekked us over to the Kibera market:

And introduced us to this man (the Jerrycan man, if you will).....

And he hooked us up with 48 Jerrycans.

Yes, 48 Jerrycans. And even though they look nice and yellow and light, they are actually quite heavy, even without water. There were 8 of us, so each of us carried 6 back. I tried many different methods of carrying them, but this was the only one I could come up with that worked:

And we trekked back, about a 40 minute walk, to where we had done our interviews. People laughed uproariously at us the entire way, and we laughed right with them... I mean, we looked pretty ridiculous.

We then retraced our steps and handed them out one by one to each of the women we interviewed. And when we woke up with sore arms the next morning, we had DEEPLY more respect for the women who haul 7 or 8 of these full of water back and forth to their house every day.

1 comment:

Victor said...

It's hard for me to imagine empty cans being so heavy. Sounds like a good design problem to make them as lightweight and yet sturdy as possible. Glad you guys were laughing, too. I was going to ask if the gift was even suitable as I thought they had some, but I see that you are saying that the women and their families needed more jerrycans. Very thoughtful (literally).