Thursday, December 14, 2017

Building Dreams from the Grassroots Up

 On a nine-hour, 326 miles road trip from bustling Kampala heading south to the spectacular mountains of Kisoro, I interviewed an extraordinary man.

From humble beginnings, Obed has become a champion of Uganda’s poor, empowering thousands of rural communities.

He was part of the CSO side meetings in New York that helped shape the UN Global Goals in 2015, attends international conferences with famous leaders such as Bill Gates and has been honoured with countless awards and accolades.

And he’s just beginning! Obed’s next ambitious project is building a multi-storey training centre teaching dynamic community development strategies to key change agents throughout east and southern Africa.  

This is his story.
The Courage To Serve the Poor

Kabanda Obed grew up as one of 11 children in a struggling peasant farming family in Kasese District in Western Uganda and knows the gnawing feeling of being constantly hungry.

Obed with some of his brothers and sisters

As an enthusiastic graduate in Community Development and Leadership, after struggling for years to pay his way through university, he faced a moral dilemma: should he pursue a lucrative career in the city of Kampala or devote himself to grassroots action serving impoverished communities?

He was 26, the year was 2003, and the horrendous social problems of his cherished country were overwhelming.

“We had just come out of the Allied Democratic Forces-ADF War, which impacted Uganda’s western border where I lived. We had an influx of refugees returning to their homes from the camps, the HIV/AIDS rate was a staggering 13 per cent and we had a broken health care system. Many of the health workers in remote areas had left, running for their lives. We had a high number of orphans and vulnerable children who ended up on the streets".

“Amidst all this chaos, women were the ones earning money because the men were in hiding in fear of being abducted by the rebel forces. Given our African patriarchal society, husbands were feeling emasculated to have their wives’ be the providers and domestic violence erupted.

“For me as an idealistic graduate returning home, excited by theories of development and how to cause social change, I was confused to find all this suffering.
So I had two voices in my head; one saying: ‘Go get a job in the city’ and the other voice saying: ‘You can not ignore this tragic situation. You have to do something.’ 

This was a turning point for Obed. He remembers: “I did a lot of soul searching and was torn between the desire for a prestigious career and the desire to make a contribution. I had grown from a humble background seeing people suffer in poverty. I was fortunate to even make it to university and felt I wanted to give back to my community. And I had a lot of empathy for the children and vulnerable women and men trapped in despair, which in the end was stronger than my personal ambition.

“I was the first graduate in my family and everyone was expecting me to get a job and start supporting my siblings. It was hard to go against the family.”

Grassroots Action
Obed in the field

Obed was ready to take immediate action in response to the emergencies that surrounded him. He founded Action For Community Development, with the acronym, ACODEV.

A natural organiser and networker, he rallied a group of supporters comprising medical, educational, government and charity experts.

“I brought these people together under a tree – where all the best meetings are held – as we didn’t have money to even hire a room. We discussed the profound social problems and they gave me their support and encouragement. We formed a board with a plan to work in three districts initially, where the problems were rife.

Obed leading a community meeting 

"I went around to meet the district leaders and community members to gather information and stories. But then, the challenge became: ‘How do I enter the communities?’ I didn’t have funding to pay for venues so I held meetings in schools and churches that did not require any cost.

“I discovered that a lot of the social problems were interlinked and
realised that domestic violence was at the centre of the disruption of home life, health, education and economic livelihood. I started promoting safe, healthy families with support from the established board and volunteers.”

Obed's parents celebrating their anniversary with family 
“My parents had a Christian foundation and were living as examples to us but there would be moments that we would observe as children where they needed more forgiveness, coexistence and better parenting. But I witnessed domestic violence in the neighbourhood fuelled by alcoholism and polygamous practices that saw many marriages breaking and suffering of children. All this shaped my thinking and ambition to do something about the vice of domestic violence.”
Obed managed to break the silence and get people talking about the hidden problems in their families. And once the discussion started it was unstoppable!
Visiting hundreds of churches and schools, the workload became overwhelming so Obed recruited volunteers to help facilitate meetings.

Risking Disapproval and Failure to Follow His Dreams

“Following African custom, my parents had given me a small plot of land to farm but I decided to sell it to pay for rent of an office in Kasese and buy basic furniture. This was very radical and risky. I wasn’t sure if ACODEV would succeed. It took faith and hope.

“I was dreaming big, believing we could make a difference and drawing on courage and willpower to keep going. It was necessary to have an office to be taken seriously in the community. We started training volunteers in communication skills.

“I am thankful to the first board members who continued to make contributions to have the office running but it was so difficult. One time the landlord chased us out of his house for failing to pay rent after almost a year of paying rent and no funding was coming through. And I had to shift the office to my small house until we received a first grant a year later and we rented an office once again.

“I knew I had to network and build partnerships. So I approached the Association for Human Rights Organisation- AHURIO. They were shocked when I said we had no funding! And offered space for training volunteers in gathering domestic violence information and research skills.
“This is when we attracted our first donor, KIOS, a Finnish NGO Foundation for Human Rights, who were impressed by our grassroots outreach and gave us a €7000 grant to expand our work into radio shows, print media, drama and musical performances to inspire communities with the message of Safe, Healthy Families.”

We raised robust awareness raising including a widespread radio campaign and drama series on domestic violence and its relationship with other development sectors, established mediation services at DV clinics to help couples overcome domestic violence and child abuse.

KIOS renewed their funding and more funding followed from other charities impressed by ACODEV’s effective strategies and later expanded its work to include HIV and AIDS prevention and mitigation activities, and reproductive health promotion.

Obed narrates how difficult it is to raise and attract a first grant and the challenge of building trust by donors by grassroots organisations who realistically have great ambitions but with limited capacity at the start and the many requirements to meet granting conditions. But he stresses how important it is to have seed grants to such start-up grassroots organisations to help stand with them in building their systems to grow into strong organisations like ACODEV is now.

These days Obed’s trains other start-up charities in how to attract funding.

Relocating to Kampala

In 2009 Obed was asked to contribute to the drafting process of the government legislation to recognise domestic violence as a crime and joined a national board committee of Uganda Network of AIDS Organisations - UNASO, which took him to Kampala twice a week.

ACODEV was also later on contracted to work with UNICEF, the Ministry of Gender and the Human Rights Commission to promote the Human Rights Based Approach to Programming - HRBAP models to integrate human rights including women’s and children’s rights into development programmes and District Development Plans.

Suddenly ACODEV had gone national and needed premises in the capital.

By this stage, Obed, was married to his wife Louise, who worked for Compassion International, based in Kasese under South Rwenzori Diocese, and they had a baby son.

On top of all the demands, Obed was also studying for his Masters Degree and still not making a salary. He once again took a giant leap of faith and moved to Kampala on his own to establish an office.

“Louise and I had to take a hard decision. I’ve been blessed to have a very supportive, loving, understanding and courageous wife to stand with me and share my vision. And we were depending on her salary, which I’m grateful for.”

The sacrifice paid off because ACODEV grew rapidly working from a small rented office in Kampala city. And in 2011 with contributions from Board members ACODEV bought office land in Kampala and later on starting construction of an office and in 2013 a donor funded the remaining part of the building of spacious office premises that ACODEV enjoys now in Kampala.

And now, in 2017 ACODEV has nine substantial grants supporting far-reaching programmes in over 20 urban and rural districts throughout Uganda run by a dedicated team of 60 development specialists and community workers. Obed shakes his head in disbelief at how his organisation has grown from a one-man band to a vibrant staff of 60 in the span of just 14 years!

How Communities Develop

Obed and his team designed an integrated programme that pulled together issues of health and human rights such as the right to safety and protection, food,water and sanitation, , healthcare, education and livelihood.

“We train young people in vocational skills for improving their employment and economic livelihoods, and train mothers in birth preparedness, early childhood development, and offer pre and post natal care and support. We educate parents about child abuse and domestic violence and family planning and avoiding HIV/AIDS. We reach women and children and men –we include everyone.

“We work closely with communities to discover their priorities and start with their most desperate needs,” explains Obed.

ACODEV’s systematic approach comprises five specific steps: research and learning; awareness-raising; systems strengthening that includes capacity-building for different structures so that communities can demand services; identifying gaps and filling them through advocacy and activism and finally partnership and collaboration with stakeholders.

Obed is adamant that raising awareness of social problems is not enough. He believes it’s essential to build communities’ capacity to solve problems through accessing social services and resources.

Over 14 years ACODEV has reached close to one million people in thousands of communities throughout Uganda, empowering them to overcome their problems and meet their basic needs themselves, breaking free from dependency and hand-outs.

Obed with some of the dedicated ACODEV team

Healing the Shame of Obstetric Fistula

Obed is proud of the team’s work in the promotion of integrated health, child protection and early childhood services, the uptake of family planning and the reduction in domestic violence and the rise in happy, safe homes.

And he has been deeply touched by witnessing the transformation of lives.

He recalls cases of women suffering from obstetric fistula, caused by the tearing of the vaginal wall during childbirth, which leaves a woman leaking urine and faeces and ostracised in shame and disgrace.

“The look of joy on the face of a woman who has undergone surgery to repair a fistula is radiant. It inspired me to do my research for my Public Health Masters on the subject and I interviewed over 50 mothers who had sustained fistula. Talking to them I came to understand that the damage to the women was caused through a combination of early marriage of immature girls and malnutrition meaning the birth canal was not adequate enough for the babies but also the delays in labour due to delays at home for lack of making timely decisions, delays on the way to health centres due to poor roads, and delays in the health facility as a result of either lack of personal or necessary infrastructure to support timely birth were apparent .”

“It was hugely rewarding to see the transformation of these women who had lived with the devastating condition for many years believing they were ‘bewitched’ and seeing how the reparative surgery restored their health and dignity was so fulfilling.”

Recognition For A High Achiever

Obed and wife Louise and their four children
Obed, now the father of four children and just making 40, has achieved so much at a young age.

His achievements have been recognised by prestigious awards.
In February 2013, Obed was awarded the "Safe Motherhood Change Agent of the Year" by Save The Mothers International Canada.

In July 2015 Obed won the “Angel for Africa Award” for his remarkable contribution to social change, which attracted widespread publicity

In November 2016, he also won an award for being one of “40 men under 40” in Uganda who achieved great accomplishments under the age of 40.

In November 2016 Obed was recognised for the "Global Leadership Fellowship Award" The Fellowship, awarded to accomplished leaders, is managed by ILEAP Seattle Washington State and includes a paid five weeks training on Leadership to strengthen the leadership capacity to manage social change and growth;

And in September 2015 he joined world leaders in New York in brainstorming the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which form the inspiring plan for social change by the year 2030.

A respected authority on community development, Obed is inundated with invitations to international events. In October 2017, he attended the Grand Challenges Conference in Washington DC with legendary philanthropist, Bill Gates as the keynote speaker.
The building has a long way to go but Obed has unshakeable faith

Obed chats with a labourer on site 
Obed on the top floor of the building in Oct 2017

Build it and They Will Come

And yet his most daring project is ahead of him. He has a grand vision to build an impressive, multi-storey Leadership Training Centre to offer innovative courses in community development to charities and NGOs throughout east and southern Africa and also philanthropy awareness to donors on grassroots models and operations and how to effectively work with frontline grassroots

The spectacular building,set in beautiful farmlands on the fringe of Kampala,is halfway complete and Obed is seeking visionary donors to finish the building, which will include training rooms, IT rooms, 44 rooms of accommodation and modern kitchen facilities for full catering.

“I have a vision to see an Africa where development is being championed by grassroots organisations that are people-driven with local solutions to transform lives within their communities.

“Some International NGOs often come to Africa and when they are not in touch with the realities on the ground they often prescribe solutions, which turn out to be a waste of resources when their projects do not produce the desired social change because they don't involve the communities they are trying to help.

“For us to achieve the UN sustainable development goals, we need grassroots organisations to take the lead.”

He aims to start offering courses next year in 2018 and is actively seeking a range of partners to share the vision by contributing to a Grassroots Forward Fund

“This Leadership Centre will train grassroots leaders, social change champions, and high calibre, intelligent leaders capable of taking on the challenge of sustainable social change.”

Already Obed sees the Leadership Centre as his legacy that will impact the 21st century bringing much-needed community development through raising accountable leaders with the moral fabric to support the suffering humanity of Africa.

Why? Because he knows in his heart that humanity matters and Africa matters. And he knows grassroots leadership will be the catalyst for social change.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Period Peace in Rural Kenya

I didn’t realise how important sanitary pads are for girls and women in Africa. Pads and tampons are essential items widely available to women in the developed world and yet here in the poorer parts of Africa, a lack of pads during menstruation is a source of embarrassment, shame, distress and trauma.

In the backstreets of Nairobi, Christine, now 44, recalls the first time she got her period. “I saw all this blood on my dress at school and when I got home and told my step mother, she sent me to bed. When my father came home, she told him I’d been raped. From that day on my father looked down on me and treated me badly.

“When I got my period every month I didn’t know what to do about the blood so I tried putting leaves in my panties to soak it up, then I tried dirt and then I tried my father’s socks but nothing worked. So I would go to the maize fields and just sit there for days on my own. I was lonely and sad about missing school because I wanted to get an education.”

Eventually the monthly embarrassment and disruption forced Christine to leave school and give up her dream of becoming a lawyer. However, when she married, a talented seamstress mentored her in the art of sewing. 

Now Christine runs a dressmaking business from a cheerful little room festooned with colourful fabric, next to her comfortable home.

A team of sewing ladies use two manual Singer sewing machines to produce beautiful dresses, skirts, pants, purses and embroidery. Sheila is one of Christine’s star sewers.

Sheila is 21 and when she first got her period at 13, she couldn’t tell her parents so she told her boyfriend who said he would ‘help’ her. He gave her money to buy disposable pads in exchange for sex. This is how she survived every month.

The two women are passionate about their charity project called Days for Girls, producing hundreds of re-usable cloth sanitary napkins for schoolgirls throughout Kenya.

The ingenious invention comprises a fabric shield, which clicks into panties and holds a panel of absorbent fleece, which can be removed and washed and reused. The shield and pads, panties and soap are put into a pretty fabric drawstring bag.

This snazzy kit empowers a girl to manage her period each month, hygienically and privately with dignity. Most importantly it allows her to attend school without embarrassment and ensures her education is not disrupted every month.  

Christine visits schools far and wide giving talks about managing menstruation and supplying these lovely kits to adolescent girls, which transforms their lives and self-esteem.   

I have joined a road trip with four warm, friendly American women who run a charity called 4 The Good Period, producing and supplying thousands of reusable cloth pads to girls in remote villages in Kenya.

In our mini van loaded to the roof with massive bags of supplies, driven by a very patient Mr Livingstone, we have made a stop to visit Christine and learn about this sister charity to explore ways to work together.

Sharon Secur, 66, has been coming to Kenya for over 20 years, as a dedicated humanitarian and fundraiser through the Presbyterian Church in Fargo, Dakota, building strong friendships and partnerships. Sharon and her husband Gary have four daughters and nine grandchildren.

In 1996 she took her daughter Molly on a trip to Kikuyu Hospital in Nairobi when she was a Sophomore in College and undecided about her future career. When Molly witnessed a baby being born she was awestruck and decided to pursue a career in midwifery and nursing.

Dr Molly Secur-Turner, 40, is now Associate Professor in Nursing and Public Health at North Dakota State University and the mom of three young children.

In 2012, Molly started conducting research and bringing groups of student nurses to rural Kenya. In interviews with schoolgirls and their mothers, she discovered a desperate lack of sanitary products, which was causing girls to miss school, and started bringing supplies of reusable pads.

Molly and Sharon founded the charity 4TGP in 2014. The dynamic duo was joined by Kayce Anderson, 39, a doctor of ecology, and her running buddy, Kate Lapides, 52, a photojournalist from Colorado, who share the passion for empowering girls in Kenya.

Kayce had a friend, Sadler Merle, who manufactures eco-friendly cloth nappies and enlisted him to produce the sanitary napkins, made from non-absorbent fabric for the shield, fitted with soft velvet washable pads.

We are crammed in the heavily laden van, chatting all the way from Nairobi along the impressive Meru Highway, Sharon and Molly, Kayce and Kate and me and Njoki, a stunningly beautiful young Kenyan woman who is returning for a visit home after studying and working in the States for 10 years.

Njoki Kinyua, 30, has just started her new position as Assistant Professor in Environmental Engineering at the University of California in Davis, near San Francisco. She is planning to research the possibility of a bio-gas latrines project.

We set out just after 8 am and it is 4 pm by the time we reach the lush hilly countryside of the Meru district, of the Tharaka-Nithi county in the eastern province where the fertile rust-red soil nurtures flourishing banana, coffee and tea plantations nestled in the foothills of Mount Kenya.

After the long journey I’m exhausted and ready for a cup of tea when we arrive at the comfortable Chogoria guesthouse, run by the nearby hospital, but my robust travelling companions, despite jetlag, suggest a “walk”.

I imagine a gentle stroll around the garden, however we head for the bustling marketplace, weaving through rows of roadside stalls bursting with assorted household goods and fresh produce and weary smiling shopkeepers; dodging vehicles and motor bikes, the air filled with traffic noise, bird song and African music.

Trudging along rocky backroads, chatting with Sharon, I am mad at myself for forgetting my water bottle and sunglasses, when suddenly we hear a faint whistle and turn to see beautiful Millicent, who has come to greet us.

This is not how I imagined our reunion, on a dusty track, Millicent in her lovely dress with her hair beautifully curled and her radiant smile, and me sweaty, dishevelled and parched! However it didn’t detract from the joy of seeing each other again after meeting in Senegal at the Tostan training course just two months earlier.

“Ah my friend! My sister!” We hug and squeeze each other. Sharon and Millicent have been close friends for 21 years so their reunion overflows with love, and tears and laughter. All the women greet Millicent with that special heartfelt connection that spans countries and cultures.

We walk on for what seems like miles, talking excitedly, until Millicent leaves us to head home and we return to the guesthouse to a meal prepared by the devoted kitchen staff and clever cooks, Douglas, Anne and Lucy.

After dinner I’m on the point of collapse, when the girls unpack the massive bags full of hundreds of pads and start folding and bagging them. My brain has turned to mush and I’m fumbling hopelessly with the fabric squares, so I excuse myself to crash in my warm double bed, promising to do my share of the huge task tomorrow when I’m fresh!

The dynamic women are off early to a Board Meeting, so I am left to contemplate and write and then sit down in the living room to tackle the task. So I clear the coffee table and set up a systematic production line, first folding the shields, then the brown velvet fabric into bundles, placing them into zip lock bags and finally into pretty drawstring bags.

I’ve loved colourful fabric since my fervent teenage attempts at sewing my own clothes so I am thoroughly enjoying handling the beautiful little bags, which have been lovingly made by countless volunteers, including quilting ladies, in Sharon and Molly’s hometown in Dakota. They introduced the novel idea of setting up sewing machines in a local brewery and having fun “Pints & Pads” nights! Even the men joined in sewing the bags while enjoying a beer!

Engrossed in the pleasant task, suddenly there’s a gentle knock at the door and young Silas appears in search of Sharon. He’s travelled on the bus to see Sharon, who is sponsoring him at Poly Tech school. I offer him a cup of tea and biscuits and chocolate and we chat about how he’s in final year of carpentry. His face lights up when he shares his dream of opening his own furniture business.

I ask Silas to help me assemble the packs and we sit together absorbed in the manual work while he tells me about his large family of six children. As the eldest boy he is responsible for caring for the young ones and helping with the cows, goats, chickens and vegetable garden. At 21, he has a girlfriend, who is training in hairdressing and they are planning their future together.

It’s 4pm before the women return and we all pile in the car, me with my huge bag full of African storybooks, colouring books and packets of pencils for the children at Millicent’s community centre. This is a sublime moment, seeing the centre that Millicent, a nurse, midwife and community health worker, and her handsome husband Josephat, a respected pastor known by his surname, Garama, have funded and built.

Vulnerable children from resource-poor families, many orphaned, some living with HIV, have come to play and have fun in this cheerful room and have a nutritious meal every Saturday since 2002.

Millicent and Garama and their daughter and two sons together with Justus, a retired teacher and other dedicated community members are devoted to caring for the children and making a difference in their young lives. Their loving “intervention” has produced many success stories of poor children who have grown up to stay in school and get good jobs.

We are all delighted by Millicent’s generous hospitality of afternoon tea and traditional pastries and we sit chatting together in the centre before seeing the sewing room where this multi-skilled lady is starting to produce soft fabric bags and clothes to raise funds for the centre. I have brought a stack of flamboyant fabrics from Senegal and special gold tailor’s scissors to support the fledgling social enterprise.

That night, Sharon shares some heart wrenching stories about the impoverished families she has supported over the years and how she has seen children’s hopeless futures transformed by sponsorship that kept them in school to gain qualifications and jobs.

Molly shares the results of her academic evaluations showing how sanitary pads ensure rural girls stay in school. We are all brimming with the creative possibilities of empowering women, men and children, through cross-cultural projects!

After my pleasurable day handling pretty fabrics and socialising, the next day brings a rude awakening. We set off in a four-wheel vehicle driven by our experienced rough road driver, Gbae, into the arid rural area. The dusty red roads are studded with rocks and we bounce along, the dry air is getting hotter as we pass thirsty, desolate fields, where sparse crops are desperate for rain.

We reach the first school, Kajiampau Primary, where the diligent students have created neat rock borders around spindly shrubs and planted thousands of gangly samplings, which will be wonderful when they grow into towering, shady trees.

The Principle is proud to introduce us to each classroom of children, immaculate in their green, blue and gold uniforms. The students are intrigued by their visitors from the U.S and U.K and especially inspired by Njoki, a Kenyan girl who is now very a successful, after studying hard and gaining a scholarship.

We leave Kate and her camera and Kayce and her notepad to interview and photograph the girls who received the pad kits in April, to follow up the effects of menstrual hygiene on their school attendance.

This model rural school of 200 students is well established compared to the next isolated school, which has only been going for a few years through support of the Presbyterian churches in the district and their sister churches in the US.

As we pull up next to the mud brick and tin  latrines, my head is spinning with the sweltering heat. Principal Benson greets us, with a beaming smile and unbridled enthusiasm for the progress the school is making.
He shows us the dank, mud brick, dirt floor classrooms, his cheery office and the staff room, which doubles as a store room for sacks of millet.

I’m swept up by Benson’s optimism as he demonstrates an English lesson on a wonky blackboard about the difference between ‘two’, ‘too’ and ‘to’ with the sentence: “The boy was too sick to eat two bananas!” We laugh at our cleverness then the impact of the sad sentence hits me.

He proudly shows us the new classrooms under construction, being built from concrete bricks and concrete floor, which will be rendered in plaster; a design similar to the new houses of my former hometown on the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Our group is impressed by the vision of the future for this humble school and Sharon is deeply touched by the good work underway through the funding of her church.         

Suddenly we walk behind the buildings to discover all the school children assembled under a gigantic tree, sitting quietly at their desks, waiting for the visitors to arrive. With a shortage of seating, the children carry their desks from room to room and outside, as they need them.

Community members, teachers, mothers, the pupils and us guests all participate in this important meeting, as Sharon brings greetings from their partners in United States and some of the children give a musical performance.

When the children are dismissed, Njoki talks to the adults about the possibility of bringing eco-friendly bio-gas latrines to the school and everyone is curious about how recycling waste into energy would work.

I return to the car to scoff a boiled egg and bread and swig some water. I’m fading fast; drowsy with the heat, hungry, thirsty, tired, busting to pee, and so wimp out on hiking with the children to collect water from the river. I thought I was a hardy traveller but now I’m starting to doubt if I have the stamina for this tough fieldwork. I’m feeling like a weakling dependent on creature comforts, my cups of tea and my sitting-down, indoor “work” at my laptop.

We visit another school, a Poly Tech College, where adolescents learn trades such as carpentry, mechanics, computing, tailoring and hairdressing. The teachers are proud of their simple buildings and basic equipment and the success of their students. I am filled with respect for their determination and achievements in these harsh rural conditions, compared to the luxuries we enjoy in the UK.

The bone-crunching drive home along the rocky roads feels like hours and I am exhausted and mentally and physically shaken up to the point of incoherence and tears when I fall into bed, tormented by a sense of inadequacy and self-doubt, wondering if I could ever handle working in remote communities of such desperate deprivation and poverty. The world is not fair, I cry to myself.

Sleep has restored my sanity and confidence. I am ready to face another day. I am travelling back to Nairobi, to my comfortable room in the delightful Khweza B&B. It’s a four hour pleasant drive through the fascinating countryside, sitting up the back of a jaunty 12-seater van, lost in reverie, enjoying the African gospel songs.

Back at Khweza, the staff are so sweet and kind; Carol and Daniel on the front desk, Wilson and Zedekiah on hospitality, Mary, who cleans the bathrooms beautifully, Abigail, the chef, and Grace and Victor serving meals at the rooftop restaurant that overlooks miles of high rise buildings, workmen hammering, precariously balanced on planks, amid splashes of purple jacaranda.

The friendly staff makes me feel at home and handsome young Wilson with his dazzling smile is teaching me Swahili. But that’s another story.