I took an Uber across town to Imara Daima for two meetings today. Luckily the traffic wasn’t too bad and so I easily arrived on time at Java House coffee shop to meet June.
June is an awesome computer scientist who taught herself to code. I couldn’t believe how young she is! Aged only 23 and she has already set up an initiative called GirlsCode which uses bootcamps to teach coding. She now works at Moringa School which trains students in data science and software development to equip them for jobs in a data-driven digital economy. Something that really jumps out is that the team at Moringa really design the syllabus with employability in mind and they take such ownership over the results of the students that their metrics are based around students that go on to employment rather than just passing the course!
June is really passionate about social impact design and experiential learning. She designs and improves the curriculum for the Access Scholarship Program, which is supported by UNESCO. This scholarship enrolls students from the slums and disadvantaged backgrounds and instead of lasting for 5 months like the traditional bootcamp program, it begins with a month to help get the students up to speed and in the right mindset for learning the technical subjects at pace. The students get laptops and internet access bundles and are given psychosocial support and individualized lesson plans to help them succeed in this tough program.
We had a really interesting conversation about career choices and linear life paths where people aren’t necessarily encouraged to seek and try out many things that they are good at before settling on a field of study and then a career.
It was a really great chat over a coffee and then I headed to the headquarters of Sanergy, a company tackling urban sanitation in an innovative way.
I was greeted at reception by Melody who took me through the open plan office to our glass meeting room. The place has an unmistakably American feel and I found out that the three founders had all met on an orientation hike when they joined MIT back in 2009.
Melody is a Research and Development engineer in the New Technology Commercialisation Team. She is responsible for designing and running trials at the Pilot Scale plant that Sanergy currently operates while their main factory is being built.
Sanergy is an interesting company/concept and you can check out the Sanergy page on this site and their website for more details.
Sanergy take human waste (poop) and they turn it into fertiliser using Black Soldier Flies (BSF). In the process of breaking down the poop, the larva of the BSF multiply to 150x their hatching weight. These bugs are then a fantastic source of protein and the bugs are dried and used as a really sustainable source of animal food (pigs, chickens and fish mainly).
That’s it in a nutshell. But the story is so much more powerful. The urban slums have an indescribable problem in dealing with poop. There are so many people in a really small space. There are no sewers, so the waste has to be contained in a pit, known as a pit latrine (if it’s contained at all).
Even toilets that were created with space around them suddenly have absolutely no way to reach them to empty out the pits with the vehicles which are designed to “exhaust” the pits when they are full. The toilets must be emptied by hand and then the waste is usually dumped into a very unsanitary location either inside or outside the slum, but usually this leads to contamination of a water source somewhere.
A diagram showing where the human waste in Nairobi goes, and how much of it is safely disposed of is actually fairly horrifying. Sanergy are trying to significantly improve the statistics on what percentage of waste is treated to make it safe. They have a non-profit arm called Fresh Life which installs specially designed sanitary toilets into slums – the waste is extracted from the toilets daily and this waste is input into the Sanergy factory process to create animal food and fertiliser.
I spoke to two more of the team at Sanergy who are responsible for piloting a project to safely clean out existing pit toilets which constitute the majority of toilet facilities in the slums. Really sadly, it was completely illegal work for crews to empty the pit latrines and so the work was all carried out in the middle of the night. Sanergy have secured permission from the government to create a large disposal site for the workers to bring the waste from these pits as a pilot project. This has legitimised the work, the workers can now carry out their work in daylight. They have created a sort of union, they are responsibly disposing of the waste, and the word is spreading. It is looking so positive and I’m really glad to have spent time with the organisation making such progress in a fundamental right to adequate living standards.
It was an interesting day learning about two really compelling projects. The trip back across town involved a crazy amount of traffic but at least my driver didn’t get completely lost like the one in the morning!