Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Vancouver, here I come!

This week, I received some news that had me jumping up and down in my seat. And then on my feet.

This week, I received an automatic email.

It advised me that I had been selected to volunteer for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games as an ONS Reporter.


Some of you might know that working the 2010 Games have been a dream of mine since, well, since Canada and Vancouver were announced as its host.

I have been waiting and waiting, checking and double-checking, and not one to leave such an important dream up to fate, I've been applying for straight-up paid jobs with VANOC, trying to get on the broadcast team from the host and domestic side, and all to no avail.

Because it was written in the stars, volunteering was how I would accomplish my 2010 destiny.

Can you tell I'm excited? Even my writing is poetic!

As I await more details on my schedule and other logistics, I will continue to stay up-to-date with the latest on everything 2010. Call it research for my position, which includes getting quotes from athletes, writing bios and briefs and event updates, and all around assisting the Olympic News Service team in getting the info out to the press centres for other journalists and broadcasters to use in their work.

With glowing hearts... Vancouver, here I come!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

On hand washing

A few days ago, when Canadian children started school, various health officials underlined the importance of proper hygiene in the classroom. These tips and precautions were distributed because of the H1N1 swine flu scare. However, it's probably good advice to follow at all times.

In Kenya, a similar campaign is underway. It's a constant struggle to educate children about the proper hand washing techniques as well as when one should scrub: before meals, after using the washroom, etc. This is especially true for the rural regions of Mombasa, where a water sanitation & hand washing awareness project was implemented.

One of the problems in this situation is the lack of education at home. Parents and other family members don't understand the need for proper hand washing to reduce the spread of disease. Obviously, when your water is scarce and its source is far, washing your hands is the last thing on your mind. It's more important to use water to cook, drink, and of course, feed the animals and water the plants... it's a priority thing. You can't lose your sole source of income to drought.

But drought or no drought, the Coastal Rural Support Programme, funded by the Aga Khan Development Network and run by the Aga Khan Foundation Kenya, strives to educate the children, because that's their way in to the rest of the family. Informal local studies have shown that the kids actually bring home the things they learn at school and tell their parents what's important and why. They get used to a certain standard of living and want to improve their lifestyle at home as well. This applies to prevention as much as to other tough issues, health-related or not.

As the CRSP(K) representatives informed us, the number 1 priority in rural communities is always water. When they visit different villages, the first request they get is water related. However, CRSP is not a service provider. It's a facilitator. Its motto is "Sombeza", which means "boost". This is their goal: Help people help themselves. This is a key principle of AKDN as well.

Fortunately, this programme doesn't require too many resources. In terms of human resources, CRSP is able to train administrators and teachers in the rural schools so that they can take charge of the local initiative and monitor it effectively. The project is sustainable, as most schools have some source of water, whether it's natural or purchased. In order to keep it low cost and effective, schools hang up tubs containing still water off trees in key areas: in the school yard where children eat and right in front of the outdoor bathrooms.

Keep in mind, these are regions where bathrooms consist of latrines, some of which no longer have doors. The school we visited benefited from another CRSP project that saw them build 3 additional so-called VIP latrines per gender, which are wider and have blocks on either side of the hole for easier squatting. This doubled the school's capacity: now boys and girls each have 6 stalls in which they can do their dirty business.

Here's a little perspective: there are 1300 students at this school.

Assuming a 50-50 gender split, that means 650 students for 6 latrines, or 108 people per latrine. Taking into account multiple uses per day and villagers that might wander down to use the facilities, that's a big boost!

*Old latrine*

*New latrine*
The waste from these latrines is contained in a landfill a few steps away and covered with old tin roofs, so there's obviously still a lot of work to be done in terms of proper hygiene and sanitation. And yes, it stinks!

With this school water sanitation project, CRSP has a community-wide impact. Because of the children's persistence in bringing the information they learn at school to their homes, the whole family gains a better understanding of the factors at play. According to the nurses at the regional dispensary, which is conveniently located just across the street, there has been a 50% reduction in water-born illnesses since the water sanitation project was implemented.

This is a battle that is far from over, but washing your hands is a good place to start.

So as we tell our kids in North America to "scrub for 30 seconds and don't forget between your fingers", let's also remember the African children, learning the same lessons, even though they are hundreds of thousands of miles away and living in a different reality.

These are good hygiene principles to have no matter where you live, and it's a shame we don't practice what we preach.

For now, lather, scrub and... stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Taking care of business

A few short business items...

As you may have noticed, I've changed the URL to this blog to better reflect my online brand. I started the transition from starshine_diva to NailaJ a few months ago when I switched my Twitter account name. Now, all my public accounts can be found by searching for "nailaj". The sole exception in the URL game is Flickr, where my display name is now "NailaJ" but my URL remains unchanged at

So please, do update your feeds and take note. My blog is now located at

I've started the process of uploading my 2009 AKFC Awareness Trip pictures to Flickr for easy public viewing. Hopefully, you'll see why I enjoyed Africa so much. Next step, the videos...

... "real" blog posts to follow, I promise! Stay tuned...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Why blogging about Africa is tough

Many of you have been asking me to blog more about my trip to Africa. As you can see, that hasn't happened.

Sure, I've been busy catching up on work. I was out of town again this week too. It's not that I don't want to blog. It's not even that I don't have time to do it.

It would in theory be very simple for me to treat this as any other assignment, look through my notes from each day's visits, select a few explanatory pictures, and put together a short text on what we saw and learned.

But it's so much more than just that. It was an experience. It wasn't so much a cultural shock, at least, it wasn't different than I expected it to be. But the mounds of information we absorbed in the little amount of time we had to absorb it... I know I've said this before, but I haven't sorted it all out yet.

I want to make sure that my blogs are truly reflective of this experience. I want to share the best anecdotes with you, from the personal and the professional sides of this trip. I want to show you the most beautiful or tearful pictures so you can better understand what I mean. I want you to feel like you were right there in Kenya with me.

And until I figure out how to share all of this with all of you, I'd prefer not to post lame little textbook-style descriptions of the projects we visited in Nairobi and Mombasa. I'm not trying to be selfish. I just want to be true to myself, to my fellow tripgoers, to AKFC, and most importantly, to the efforts of all the thousands of people involved in each and every one of those projects, from start to finish.

I hope you can understand... Until then, stay tuned!