From Dublin to Lake Victoria

July 19, 2017

Jack Tanner’s Volunteering Blog

Hello from Nairobi, Kenya. My name is Jack Tanner and I’m delighted to be this year’s DIT Travel Scholar and have this amazing opportunity to work with Renewable World. After undertaking a Masters of Engineering in Sustainable Infrastructure, the chance to work with Renewable World will significantly improve my knowledge of the renewable energy sector.

For the next 3 months, I will be sharing updates about my experience on the field, so watch this space!

I have been in Nairobi for almost two weeks now, working with the Renewable World’s East Africa team. Geoffrey, David, Benson, and Alex have really helped me settle into life in Kenya! My journey began when I touched down at Nairobi ‘Jomo Kenyatta’ Airport on a Friday evening, where I met Nick Mutiso at the arrival gate. Nick is a local taxi driver that has lived in Nairobi all his life and who often drives for RW. Firstly, I was brought to get a Kenyan sim card. Deirdre, last year’s scholar, had advised me to go with the Safaricom network which allows you to easily install M-Pesa, an online payment service which is vastly used throughout Kenya.

Having set up my Kenyan sim, I was alerted to an email from the owner of the accommodation I was supposed to stay in, that the apartment was unavailable till the following week when he returned from a trip. Backed into a corner, I was forced to ring David Fernandez, a colleague with RW and ask him if I could stay with him. He was out with a few friends but said he’d meet me at his apartment to drop off my bags. A quick turn around and I was out for my first night in Nairobi.

The following morning, I woke up early and went for a run to find my bearings and try to get used to my surroundings. I found it hard to run due to the high altitude and the hangover from the night before. It was a bank holiday weekend in Kenya due to the Muslim holiday Eid Mubarak. This meant that I could get out and see some of Nairobi before starting work on Tuesday. I went to watch the Kenyan Simbas vs the Ugandan Cranes in the African Rugby Gold cup, went for dinner and drinks Saturday evening, rock climbing Sunday followed by a lovely Indian meal, and a hike through the city park to see the monkeys on Monday.

The following morning was my first day of work with RW. As I had spent most of the weekend with David and was living with him, we travelled to work together and he introduced me to the team. Geoffrey Mburu, the Regional Project Manager, spoke to me in relation to some of the tasks he wanted me to carry out whilst working with RW East Africa. As I come from a Project Management background, Geoffrey elucidated that he wanted to utilise my project management experience on the projects being carried out in Kenya.

Since 2013, RW have been working on installing multiple micro-grid solar systems ranging from 1.5KW to 3KW on the beaches along the shores of Lake Victoria. The energy produced by the solar systems is being used to refrigerate fish, pump water for irrigation purposes and provide lighting for small local enterprises and households. The result is greater empowerment for the fish sellers to preserve fish to enable transportation to nearby markets, increased and more diverse income streams from the formation of new enterprises, increased learning opportunities, and to increase the sustainability of the community through tariffs for using the electricity that they themselves own and manage.

I will travel and stay in Kisumu next week where I will work closely with Osienala, a local project partner that works closely with the communities to provide training services and oversee the work being carried out by the contractors installing the systems. When I’m in Kisumu, I will travel to some of the sites to view the systems being installed, meet with the local communities, contractors and partners, and check that systems have been installed as designed.

As part of the micro-grid solar systems, we are also providing a drip irrigation system for irrigation purposes. At the individual sites, water is pumped from a well to a storage tank high above its source, a gravity-fed system then distributes the water through a drip irrigation system.

Last weekend a few of us from the office took a trip to Nairobi National Park, approximately 10km outside of the city centre, with an electric fence separating the park’s wildlife from the metropolis. On Saturday morning, David and I met Alex, Benson and his family at the front gate where we hired a vehicle to transport us through the park. The vehicle had an adjustable sunroof which allowed us to stand up in the vehicle and clearly see all the animals and scenery. It was an amazing experience and we witnessed a lot of wild animals in their natural habitat. That evening I met an Irish girl for food and drinks in a bar in Westlands.

I am enjoying my time in Kenya so far, I know it’s only been a week but I feel very comfortable with life here already. I plan to do a lot over the course of my 3-month stay here, including a trip to Mombasa this weekend to enjoy Kenya’s second largest city right on the East coast of Africa.