Category Archives: A Rocha Kenya Staff

CELEBRATING A HARD-WORKING CONSERVATIONIST-GABRIEL KATANA

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“I was introduced to Gabriel Katana in 1998 by his brother Safari as someone who would be good to take over the House Crow control fieldwork that Safari was no longer able to do. A tall, quiet and very respectful young man, Katana quickly proved himself to be a very dependable, honest and hard-working conservationist who, despite not having completed primary school, was easily able to understand and carry out the important work of surveying crow numbers together with careful and proper use of a highly toxic avicide to control the alien pest species of crow in Malindi and Watamu. Known to many as ‘bwana Kunguru’ and regularly seen riding his bike through Malindi or Watamu with his binoculars and note book, Katana was single-handedly responsible for reducing numbers of the pest House Crow to five or six birds in Watamu and c.25 in the larger Malindi (which, since the programme was forced to stop, have risen to over 5,000 crows between them). This was achieved by Katana to his credit with no record of any death of other non-target species.

With the ending of the crow control work and at the same time a greater interest being shown in the conservation of the Dakatcha Woodlands which was Katana’s home area and given his clear integrity and passion for conservation, it made total sense to employ him as A Rocha Kenya’s field staff member of our science and conservation team in Dakatcha. Initially he directly assisted the Nature Kenya conservation officer stationed in Dakatcha and was involved in the start up of the Dakatcha Conservation Group. He then expanded his birding from just House Crows to all birds and became a key member of the Conservation Group bird monitoring team and more recently was almost solely responsible for mapping the birds of Dakatcha through the Kenya Bird Map project submitting no less than 45 species lists to the project. Katana furthermore became a key reference person for me to discuss Dakatcha conservation issues with and it was a result of these talks highlighting that people living in Dakatcha primarily needed to be able to feed themselves if they were to stop cutting trees down that led to A Rocha Kenya introducing Farming God’s Way into the area to help boost food production and reduce forest destruction. Katana took to FGW like a duck to water and was incredibly enthusiastic, implementing it in his own shamba and demonstrating just how well it worked – as described and shown in this blog post in 2011.

When a small but critical population of the Globally Endangered Sokoke Scops Owl was discovered literally just down the road from Katana’s village – Africa’s smallest owl and previously only known from Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and a few in northern Tanzania – then Katana went all out to see how to protect the Cynometra forest thicket they depended on. It was he who came to me saying 200 acres of this thicket were for sale and could A Rocha Kenya either buy it – or help him buy it to protect it from destruction. This eventually led to the purchase of the block of forest which Katana took a crucial lead in the negotiations, mapping, discussing with local community members that resulted in the successful formation of the Kirosa Scott Reserve (funded by a kind donation from the Bob Scott Appeal).

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Katana was a unique man in his ability to understand the real issues at stake in the local community and conservation scene – understanding that throwing large amounts of cash at people does no good in the long term and rather knowing the benefits of working alongside people to grow in their appreciation of God’s creation and how to care for it. Katana also had a remarkable thirst for knowing God better and a deep passion for Jesus and all that he had done for him over the years and for studying the bible to learn more about him. His quiet, respectful character of real integrity was something we really appreciated and his love and concern for his family of five was very evident whenever we visited him at home. It is therefore with deep regret that we have lost a treasured and key member of our A Rocha Kenya team but rejoice to know that he is with his Lord Jesus who gave him purpose for living and hope for the future. We are grateful to God for the privilege of being able to know Katana and become his friends and colleagues and give our sincere condolences to his wife Elizabeth, their five children and the wider family.”

By Colin Jackson

THE YEAR 2015, THE HOPE AND PROMISE OF 2016

Conservationists of all persuasions have embarked on a quest for environmental sustainability but in the face of an acutely difficult task we all need to consider what would motivate us to achieve it”- Peter Harris (Kingfisher’s Fire).

In retrospect, the motivation for the previous year for the A Rocha Kenya team can certainly be traced to the reinforcement of the Christian principles already upheld by the staff. This was instilled and fueled by the bible studies conducted every Monday morning which inspired and rallied the team to take care of God’s creation as alluded to in the book of Genesis, despite their job descriptions. It was further propelled by the visit of the A Rocha Founder- Peter Harris and his wife, Miranda Harris. They were able to be involved in the A Rocha Kenya’s activities and in turn they motivated the team and inspired many more in churches at Nairobi and Malindi through preaching the gospel of care for creation, by emphasizing the need for Christians to reconcile with God and his creation and ensuring restoration of God’s creation

Focusing on the Science and Conservation team, they were able to get a lot of research work going on. Despite being a team of two, they still soldiered on with support from numerous volunteers, interns and even the rest of the staff members. The terrestrial research team was able to conduct several bird ringing exercises held at Mwamba, Gede Ruins, Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek. The annual water fowl counts were successfully carried out followed by many others at Mida Creek. One of the major highlights was mapping of the newly acquired Kirosa Scott Reserve and the monitoring of the endangered Clarke’s weaver breeding sites in Dakatcha Woodland. The team was also able to host several researchers.

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Moving on to the marine side of things, the year marked a beehive of activities for the team ranging from research in the intertidal rock pools to the coral gardens of Watamu Marine Park. The major highlight of the year was the presentation of marine research work that has been conducted by A Rocha Kenya since the year 2010 until the end of 2014 in the Watamu Marine Park. This was spearheaded by Benjamin Cowburn and Peter Musembi. They organized workshops at Watamu, Mombasa and Nairobi where several stakeholders were invited including Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, National Museums of Kenya, Watamu Marine Association, Watamu Turtle Watch and boat operators. However, it was not all hard work and no play for the marine team, there was always the occasional recreational snorkeling and swimming for anyone willing to join.

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The larger Community and Conservation team worked to bridge the gap between the research team and the community at large, getting them to understand the need to restore the threatened habitats and ecosystems. The team was able to oversee the implementation of two projects into fruition, with one targeting empowerment of community forest associations (community groups who are actively involved in management and conservation of forests) through building their capacities and the other targeted empowering communities in Dakatcha Woodland through a livelihood project that promoted the adoption of Farming God’s Way (a conservation agriculture model). On the other hand, the pioneer program of the department-ASSETS, which has stood the test of time, was able to disburse scholarships to the many bright and needy students that come from the villages adjacent to Arabuko Sokoke Forest, amid a difficult year for the tourism industry since most of the funds are sourced from the ecotourism facilities at Mida Creek and Gede Ruins. Lastly, the vibrant environmental education team was able to conduct many lessons that were taught in schools around Dakatcha Woodland, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Watamu Marine Park and Bamba.

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The mother of all- Mwamba Field Study Center, was able to host numerous guests throughout the year. They included researchers, volunteers, holiday makers, kite surfers and honeymooners. The year saw the center introduce a restaurant which is up and running, offer accommodation to water sports enthusiasts, host numerous workshops and to crown it all hold a kids festival followed by a successful fundraising dinner for the ASSETS program.

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Karara Field Study Center-which acts as the national base of A Rocha Kenya at Karen in Nairobi did not lag behind. The team was able to conduct numerous Farming God’s Way training, host several schools for environmental education lessons plus carry out various outreach activities to various community groups and churches.

presention on how to increase waste control through recycling and awareness creation

In order to instill and reinforce the spirit of team effort. The two teams from Nairobi and Watamu were able to participate in a team building exercise that saw them go on a blue safari that involved snorkeling at the Watamu coral gardens, lunch at the pristine Sudi Island and participate in beach games thereafter.

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It is my belief that there is no blueprint for a perfect course of action, since it is our job to identify it. The idea that there is such a blueprint reduces the whole business to a kind of a celestial game show with dire consequences for wrong guesses, but sadly it seems to be widely believed. However, this demonstrates our path for the New Year filled with uncertainty but promising with hope as written in Jeremiah 29:11 and Mathew 6:23-33. Certainly, I am convinced, the team will able to achieve even more than the previous year and continue ensuring nature is conserved while people’s lives are transformed.

The Power of Team Work…..TIME OUT well spent

Even through the aroma of the tantalizing samosas Mathias the chef had prepared for the team, you could still smell the excitement in the room. This was indeed a special day. It looked like a great reunion filled with handshakes, patting backs and laughter as the A Rocha Kenya family from around the country piled into the Mwamba dining room. We were even privileged enough to have a volunteer from A Rocha France. It is incredible that we all seemed to keep time, 6.00 am sharp and it was almost a full house; defying the old adage of African timing.

What better way to start the day than a long overdue lesson on creation care, reminding us of our role in the world. This was a stark reminder that what we do is not just mere conservation, but rather it goes beyond the physical. It is spiritual; it is indeed the will of God. Not even a little choppy water could deter us from snorkelling which was activity number two for the day. Even after some coaching and pep talk on safety from our marine scientist, you could literally see the apprehension on most of our faces. Well, most of us are comfortable on land than in water. Still people put their courage hats on and struggled to get their masks right and floaters were handed out. All this uneasiness was soon forgotten as some of us for the very first time had a peep of the blue world under the waves; Myriads of colours of tiny and big fish, corals; some massive and some branching like hundreds of little fingers and sea weeds and anemones that danced in the waves. Lizard fish crouched in the sand and the occasional ray swam by. Beautiful does not even begin to describe the sights we saw, we could only gaze in awe at God’s wonderful works.

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Time for rugby!!  Did I mention this was in the water? What fun this was! The exercise was funny, exhausting and competitive. I think this should be an official Olympic sport. A mixture of barred teeth, glaring eyes and weird grunts filled the play area as the teams put out their most competitive edge. So we sweated and panted and scrimmaged for the ball, a scratch there an elbow here… sometimes we looked like one big messy tangle of limbs. Within twenty minutes of play, we knew what real hunger pangs were, and the whistle to mark the end of the game and time for lunch was all too welcome. Who would have ever thought that some people are faster when they are in a sack than on two legs?! Well this was evident as we all hopped around in the sack race and played many more games after lunch to build our team spirit.

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But alas the games and fun and food and competition came to a close. With songs and prayer we gave thanks to God. At the end of the day we came out a stronger team, more united to the purpose and cause of the A Rocha family, and maybe we lost a couple of pounds from all that exercise!!

Five things no one will tell you about when joining A Rocha Kenya

It has been an exciting,eye opening and educative journey  with A Rocha Kenya; a christian conservation organization that is part of the  larger International Network of A Rocha organizations in 19 countries around the world.

With offices in Nairobi and Watamu, A Rocha Kenya aims to conserve and restore threatened habitats and biodiversity through research, environmental action, advocacy and community empowerment.

For the time I have worked with this christian organization, I have learnt a lot more than I imagined I would.And today I want to share with you the five things that no one will tell you when joining A Rocha Kenya.So here we go:

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At Karara (A Rocha Kenya’s forested property in Karen)

1.Too much love

Well, the love I got when I joined A Rocha Kenya is indescribable.Normally as a newbie in most organizations after your orientation you are left on your own to execute your duties as per your employment agreement.At A Rocha it is a  completely different thing,everyone is always willing to lend a helping hand wherever and whenever they can,which makes most employees,interns and volunteers settle in quickly.The love can be overwhelming at times especially on birthdays and farewells.If you are the emotional one,pocket tissues and handkerchiefs will come in handy.

2.You must embrace the spirit of  communality
The spirit of communality is embraced throughout A Rocha Kenya.More so at Mwamba(A Rocha Kenya’s field study center),where are required to interact with each other and guests with love and respect as we work towards conserving God’s creation.

3.Getting your hands dirty

Be ready to get your hands down and dirty.A Rocha Kenya operates on the principal that, for one to understand conservation work better they have to get involved practically in the activities such as gardening,tree nursing and rock pooling.So you might want to  get yourself a pair of gloves (if you are a girly girl like I am and care about your nails) and to avoid looking ridiculous in heels on that field day, a pair of good gum boots would do.

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Preparing a farm for Farming God’s Way at Logos Christian School Nairobi with A Rocha Kenya’s National Director Dr.Raphael Magambo.

4.You must own a bible or rather have access to one
Being a christian conservation organization,every activity carried out by A Rocha Kenya  is aimed at caring for God’s creation.And most of the time quotations from the bible are used to pass across the message of conservation.You will also need your bible during Monday morning meeting and sharing.Oh yes! We do have a rota where each individual gives a sharing from the bible.You do not want to injure your neck by overstretching.So just get yourself that bible,will you?

5. Deprivation of titles
Aha!You read that right!.No titles at all.Titles can get to people’s heads causing detrimental effects at times. A Rocha Kenya is aware of this and therefore encourages equality and co-operation at all times.Make use of that title when conducting business on behalf of A Rocha outside the office and remember not to let it get to your head.

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Sharing a dance with A Rocha Kenya National Administrator Mrs.Carol Kitsao in a white trouser and Mrs.Sue a volunteer at A Rocha.

You are now in the know zone,aren’t you?

Claire Nasike

Communication and Community Conservation Intern

Nature Calls

Nature Calls
“Home” as T.S.Eliot wrote “is where one starts from.” As an affirmation to this statement, I have come to call A Rocha Kenya, my home away from home.

The day is 21st July 2014. It marked the beginning of a journey, a journey that can be alluded to the Biblical Moses Story, a journey that brings into light Prophet Jeremiah’s words, “For I now the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not harm you.” – Jeremiah 29:11

After a successful orientation on day one, I got down to business establishing my primary role as being able to carry out environmental education and awareness activities among communities and schools in A Rocha Kenya’s focal areas at the coast. Fundamentally, we (community conservation Department) are supposed to build the capacity of the local communities and schools towards conservation and making them realize the need for such effort. Nature trail survey
The most exciting part of this job is that, it has offered me a platform where I get to interact with the environment coupled with communities and schools but at the same juncture I get to answer “the call by nature,” that is saving it by participating in activities or programs that spearhead conservation taking into account our Biblical obligation of caring for God’s creation.

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A  flash back to my past experiences as a high school teacher and as an intern at the then Ministry of Environment and Natural Mineral Resources (which were extremely eye opening experiences and contributed to whom I am today) am left with words like “Routine” and “Rigidity” to describe the former and the latter was characterized by a hierarchical, bureaucratic, protocol, command following experience. Despite all this, am still heavily indebted to them because they catapulted me to joining A Rocha Kenya.Snare walk

Flash forward to my current experiences at A Rocha Kenya the word “spontaneity” springs into life, highlighted by a roller coaster of activities. These range from participating in the snare walk (For a personalized experience of the walk look at In The Name Of Saving The Forest at http://www.majaliamjomba.wordpress.com) with a community group from Chipande to visiting Dakatcha where a project is currently underway on enlightening farmers about Farming God’s Way where a tremendous effort has been put in the farms and the farmers are enthusiastic about their harvest.Whale watching

Not forgetting the whale watching experience, the bird ringing exercise at Mwamba, taking part in the nature trail surveys, and just being part of an intertwined team, has been an exquisite experience. The best part is the organizational structure, horizontal it may be described but everyone seems to know his/her right place and formalities are given little thought. In addition one can literally be involved in everything from the Science and Conservation Department to the Hospitality Department, therefore, empowering one to carry out his/her roles accordingly and lend a hand where necessary.

“There is no blueprint for a perfect course of action which it is our job to identify”- Peter Harris, Under the Bright Wings. Hence, I believe any challenges encountered are towards discovering the perfect blueprint in order to execute one’s tasks and on my part so far so good.

Finally as Peter Harris (in Kingfishers Fire) puts it, ”Conservationists of all persuasions have embarked on a quest for environmental sustainability, but in the face of an acutely difficult task we all need to consider what would motivate us to achieve it.” It’s my humble believe, I have found my motivation, in the name of being a community conservation officer at A Rocha Kenya, ready to heed to “the call by nature,” Manifesting itself as the continuity of a self-discovery journey in the world of Environmental conservation packaged with a rich Christian touch.

Allan Mjomba Majalia-Community Conservation Officer

 

 

Cross-cultural experience at ARocha Kenya

Cross-culture is one of A Rocha’s core-commitments and it’s a privilege working with people from all corners of the globe. We believe that each one’s presence is a blessing to the communities in varied ways.

We are therefore glad to welcome Jaap Gijsbersten and his family to A Rocha Kenya. The family has been at Mwamba (Watamu) for the past six months to complement the team following the absence of Colin Jackson our conservation and Science director; on a one year sabbatical leave.

I had quite an interesting conversation with them and learnt a few things about their Kenya experience.

Jaap 33, a nature enthusiast and an Msc degree holder in forest and nature conservation with a specialization in ecology and management is the New Conservation & Science director while Esther 33; as well is responsible for the Hospitality at Mwamba Field Study Centre. Together they have three beautiful kids Boaz (5), Aurelia (2) and Arthur (1).

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Stepping into a different culture is enriching and challenging at the same time but things worked out so well and the family has fallen in love with the country especially Mwamba (Watamu). Esther suggests; “home is where our family is and to us Mwamba is our beautiful home, safe and very peaceful.

The kids who are home schooled, seem to have blended in with the team as well; in fact they are learning to speak English and Swahili. The place has made them quite creative in such a way that they can make their own toys from the plastics they pick along the beach. They seem to be nurturing their environmental interest as well by getting involved in ARK programmes.

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And just as A Rocha’s core commitment is bringing together people from different cultures, they are taking this as an opportunity for a cultural-exchange rather than a challenge.

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They commend A Rocha Kenya’s work in spreading the message of hope for creation and the unity displayed among staff when performing their duties.

 

Nairobi farmers go ‘God’s way’ in their farms……

Cities over the world are known to be biodiversity deserts. They are synonymous with tall buildings, lots of traffic and a sea of humanity, so is Nairobi. The one amazing thing about Nairobi however, is its ability to combine the hustle and bustle that is characteristic of a rapidly growing city in Africa with rare biodiversity.
Seated in my office at the Karara plot in Nairobi’s Karen, I enjoy this stunning site of a beautiful forest, with a wave of lovely butterflies gracing the flowers, a community of rather friendly monkeys complete a magnificent and quite ecosystem.
On this particular day however, I gladly welcome an interesting visitor; Sarah Young from A Rocha International. She quickly blends in as I lead the team in transplanting a few seedlings; Meru Oak, Ehretia symosa and Margaritaria discoidea in our garden.
We then decide to seize the opportunity, invited farmers from the neighborhood for two days of training on Farming God’s way. It was a wonderful experience sharing with farmers from diverse religious backgrounds; and by this I mean a huge Muslim delegation including the vice-chairman of Supreme Council of Kenya Muslim!
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Additionally, we ministered to them on the need to show our love for God’s creation not only in the farm but also in our everyday lives.
Encouraging enough, I have recently been answering lots of phone calls from farmers asking specific clarifications regarding the same, which tells me that people are going ‘God’s way’ in their farms!

New ASSETS Community Centre opens at Gede

A little perseverance goes a long way… On August 6th A Rocha Kenya celebrated the long-awaited opening of A Rocha’s Gede office and community centre. The project has been more than ten years in the making; ‘It’s been a long gestation period; many hurdles were encountered, but we overcame them all,’ said Stanley Baya, ASSETS programme coordinator and, along with Festus Masha, the driving force behind the new office.

The community centre will provide a focus for the ASSETS programme, which sponsors children’s secondary education and environmental education and ecotourism initiatives around the Arabuko-Sokoke forest on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, home to several endangered species.

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In attendance at the opening were ASSETS committee members, various partners, several community members and A Rocha Kenya staff, including Colin Jackson, Conservation and Research director at A Rocha Kenya’s Mwamba Field Study Centre in Watamu. Cake and chai were served to all guests as A Rocha Kenya staff and volunteers celebrated the opening along with 50 members of the local community.

Community leaders and parents of children sponsored by the ASSETS programme will now be able to visit the Gede office rather than making the journey to A Rocha’s Mwamba Field Study Center at the southern end of Watamu. Stanley Baya envisages that the meeting centre will soon house a library, a high-speed internet connection and will offer educational displays for tourists and students.

Stanley opening GedeCake and chai

A focus of the programme is the tree nursery, where indigenous species seedlings are offered for sale. Over time the centre hopes to remove all alien species from the plot of land where the centre is located. Alien and exotic species invasion has long been a problem on the coast, where imported species have crowded out local trees.

In the meantime the community has two brand new buildings, constructed in an innovative pentagram design, which hold offices, educational and meeting spaces. All visitors are warmly invited to visit the new centre.

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A Rocha Kenya needs a wet lab

Our fledgling marine project is expanding, with more and more people interested in our work and coming to the Mwamba Field Study Centre here on the shores of Watamu Marine National Park to conduct research. As we expand, so we need more resources and facilities. In particular we need a space to store and take care of equipment, a place to look at biological samples and an area which can get sandy and wet without upsetting the rest of the A Rocha Kenya family! We need a wet lab.

Currently we have been using a semi-converted garage, where we can rinse and store some of the equipment, but it is not effective in the long-term. In order to raise funds for this new facility, three A Rocha Kenya members, Benjo, Stanley and Jonathon are going to compete in the annual Turtle Bay triathlon. We are going run, bike and swim in order to raise money for the following items below.

–          A secure metal door:                      18,500KSH           £145       $215

–          Electricity connection:                    7,000KSH             £55         $85

–          Water connection:                          10,000KSH           £80         $115

–          Constructing a rinse tank:             5,000KSH             £40         $60

–          Furniture and fixings:                     6,000KSH             £47         $70

–          Total:                                                    46,500KSH           £367       $545

The event is on the 14th of April starting from Turtle Bay Beach Club with a 10km cycle, 5km run and 750m swim. To donate you can give on our ASSETS fundraising page stating it is for the marine lab; https://my.give.net/arochakenya_assets. Thanks for your support and wish us luck!

Benjo

The Current Wet Lab The Triathalon Team

Beach Clean-Up!

This morning, A Rocha Kenya staff and volunteers teamed up with Watamu Turtle Watch to clean up the trash on almost 3km of beach. It was warm work, but very satisfying to look back along what we had done and see only sand and seaweed instead of plastic glinting in the sun!

A Rocha Kenya staff team members

A Rocha Kenya team members

At the end of it all, we had a lot of trash to show for our efforts:

Not bad for 2.5 hours work!

Not bad for 3 hours work!

As usual, the main type of waste we collected was footwear, especially flip-flops. However, sometimes we’d find something a little more interesting, like the glasses that Henry (Mwamba Center Manager) is modelling below!

Henry looking stylish and having fun

Henry looking stylish and having fun

Beach clean ups are a fun way to help improve our local environment, though of course its always sad to see what people think is OK to toss away. We all need to work together to keep our oceans clean!

– Hannah (A Rocha Kenya volunteer from Canada)