Siaya County, Kenya: December 21, 2018

I slept until Benji woke me 20 minutes before our driver was scheduled to arrive to take us to breakfast.  I had a minor meltdown because I had planned to wear a dress and flip flops to the ceremony, but the Health and Safety Officer, aka Benji, put the kibosh on that plan, because, needles.   I begrudgingly put on my usual pants and closed-toed shoes and regained my composure quickly; luckily the driver was 30 minutes late so all was well – or, “sowa sowa” in Swahili.    

George met us and we quickly ate breakfast before heading to the hospital for the 9:00 commissioning ceremony.  True to “Kenyan time”, 10:15 rolled around and we were still waiting on the start of the program. People were trickling in the entire time and by the time the Minister of Health arrived, we had a full house.  

Before I get to the ceremony, I must acknowledge one small detail: Fridays are the day that families come to pick up the bodies of their loved ones from the hospital mortuary. The ceremony/incinerator site is located directly behind the mortuary.  The stench was overwhelming at times, and throughout the ceremony we tried to ignore the sounds of celebrating and mourning families as they arrived to collect bodies. Our view was thankfully obscured by a wall but it did little to deter our awareness of what was transpiring.

The ceremony began with Gottfried as MC – the appropriate choice, as he is the biggest man – a gentle giant who was annoyed with us the first day but who was a friend by the end of the week.  The program allowed for several speakers, including Andrew Hongo, Anthony Kibunja, George, and of course Benji. Following the Minister’s remarks, the ribbon was cut.  Abraham, the youngest of the Evolving Technologies engineers, officially switched the switch, the incinerator lit, and the commissioning was complete!

We all celebrated with lunch together at the County Club, then returned to the hospital for a final tour of some areas we had not yet gotten to see.  These included the operating “theaters”, the dental unit, the eye ward, the TB ward, the HIV support ward, the prosthetics workshop, the hospice and palliative care ward, and the autoclave sterilization room.  It is amazing just how much goes on at the hospital that isn’t apparent upon first glimpse!

The team gathered one final time for debriefing, per George’s command, and we all went around and shared our impressions.  Everyone shared their initial skepticism of the project, based on literally years of “talking” without perceived action; as well as their excitement and gratitude that the project actually came to fruition.  I got to share how impressed I am at the openness and kindness of everyone we have met, and how we have made lifelong friends. Everyone else shared a similar sentiment. It truly felt like the end of a family reunion – one during which a mission was set, worked toward, and achieved by working together.  In one Kenyan word: harambee.

Kathryn Blount
Asheville Engineers Without Borders Chapter Secretary