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First Days in Nairobi

Habari! (“Hello” in Kiswahili.) Well, after many intensive weeks of planning and transitioning from my daily work responsibilities to my fellowship objectives, I’ve made the journey from Dublin, Ireland to Nairobi, Kenya. Casting my mind back to late one evening in January this year, I clearly remember nervously opening the confirmation email from the global health fellows program, seeing the words ‘Congratulations’ and ‘Kenya’ and being so excited. I won’t lie—a celebratory beer was had that night.

There have been many mixed emotions since then as I prepared to depart, but I am very happy to be here now and begin work on my assignment. During my four-month assignment in Kenya I will work with IntraHealth International colleagues to strengthen financial and HR [human resource] capacity in the health sector.

I arrived in Nairobi on the afternoon of Saturday April 28th after a 26-hour journey from Dublin via Abu Dhabi. Having paid a lot for excess luggage in Dublin (it’s not easy to pack for four months, and I am not very good at it!), I was keen to see both bags appear. After about 20 minutes of anxiously trying to decipher the baggage claim system, I spotted the Irish tags on my bags being off-loaded. The luck of the Irish perhaps! The IntraHealth office in Nairobi (special thanks to Leigh Shamblin and Felister Mwangi) had organized a taxi to collect me and bring me to my apartment in my new neighborhood called Westlands.

One of the first things that struck me on the journey in, aside from the heat, was the sheer number of people out walking or waiting on the local buses. The second thing I was quickly introduced to was the infamous Nairobi traffic. In Dublin, as in most cities worldwide, we do experience traffic, but to me this seemed liked chaos—no traffic lights, and vehicles just nudging their way along, some on the wrong side of the road! After almost two hours we eventually reached my new home. It was all very real now. After a quick supermarket run, I was unpacking and settling into my new surroundings.

A short commute from my apartment, IntraHealth’s office is based within my neighborhood. On day one, I attended briefing sessions on the Capacity Kenya project. Capacity Kenya is a USAID-funded project led by IntraHealth, and its mission is to support the development of the health workforce and strengthen human resource systems for quality health service delivery. Kenya is currently classified by the World Health Organization as having a critical shortage of health workers. High-quality and accessible health services cannot be delivered without sufficient numbers of well-skilled, well-distributed, and well-managed health workers. IntraHealth collaborates with a number of key partners on this project. During my time here I will work with one of these partners, the Christian Health Association of Kenya (CHAK), a leading national faith-based organization of Protestant churches' health facilities and programs from all over Kenya.

On day two, I moved to the CHAK offices in the suburb of Lavington, a 10-minute drive away and luckily against traffic. This is where I will be based for the majority of my time here. Over the past two weeks I have had some initial meetings with key stakeholders from both IntraHealth and CHAK to finalize my main objectives and goals. I have spent the majority of my time thus far performing research and familiarizing myself with the Capacity Kenya project, the CHAK organization, and more generally the Kenyan health sector. In the international public health sector, most use and work through acronyms… another area I am trying to get up to speed on here.

At the end of week two, I have confidence in my goals, have met all my new colleagues, and am working with various departments on deep dive sessions to gather requirements and set timelines to ensure we can achieve some sustainable results. The two priority goals identified are on the implementation of the HR management system, iHRIS, at pilot CHAK medical facilities and on the investigation into reporting efficiencies/improvements on key CHAK-led projects.

One word I would use to sum up the experience so far is ‘Karibu’ (“You’re welcome” in Kiswahili). I have to say staff members at both offices have been so friendly and welcoming but also evidently very motivated by the work they are performing. Good signs for some productive and interesting months ahead.