Tag Archives: climate

Visiting the schools of western Kenya: Koyoo, Kachar, Homa Bay, and Kadie

20 Mar

I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s hot in Kisumu, Kenya. On March 10th, we saw its hottest day on record, 37o C. Kisumu, my home for the month, is located on the eastern shores of Lake Victoria. It lies in a woodland savannah ecoregion with two distinct rainy seasons – one in March and April and another in the fall. Outside the city, the third largest in Kenya, people fish or rely on subsistence farming in homesteads that sprinkle the landscape.

Just south of Kisumu, TAHMO began its School-2-School project in earnest last spring when Zach Dunn installed our first school weather station. TAHMO piloted the program at Koyoo Mixed Secondary School, near Rangwe, and partnered Koyoo with East Boise Jr. High in Idaho. This March, I’ve come to Kenya to visit Koyoo and several other schools as the program expands. The goal of TAHMO is to install low-cost, robust weather stations across sub-Saharan Africa in response to the critical need for weather data in a region where livelihoods are particularly vulnerable to climate change. While doing so, TAHMO is also committed to enhancing primary and secondary education by using schools to host our stations and creating science, technology, geography, and math related educational resources for teachers. Using TAHMO weather stations provides schools with hands-on material for lessons, and partnering with TAHMO ‘sister schools’ from the U.S.A. creates the excitement and motivation that accompanies cultural exchange.

Portraits of teachers I met in western Kenya. Check our Facebook page for more!

Portraits of teachers I met in western Kenya. Check our Facebook page for more – including female physics teachers! 🙂

TAHMO’s S2S program published its first set of teacher resources in January of 2015; these lesson plans were designed to help teachers in low-resource contexts use innovative ideas and go beyond theoretical learning, such as allowing students to download and analyze their local weather data. This past week I visited four schools throughout western Kenya, meeting teachers, assessing future school sites, and testing TAHMO’s hands-on lessons with students. During the way, I interviewed 10 teachers to better understand their perspectives, how they gather and incorporate new material into their lessons, and the obstacles they face to increasing the use of applied activities in the classroom. I also trained teachers from Koyoo and Homa Bay High on how to access data from their TAHMO weather station and use it to discuss the local environment with their students. Koyoo’s staff was eager to look up the data from their weather station online and compare notes with East Jr. High – and maybe put to rest the mysteries of life on a cold snowy winter day from their seats in a hot and dry classroom.

As TAHMO’s S2S program moves forward, we are working with teachers and encouraging them to share their most successful lesson plans on TAHMO’s resource portal. Many teachers I met wished they could use field trips, chemistry experiments, computer work, or school gardens to improve their students’ experiences. They wanted to ground topics in the real-world, but felt they could only use demonstrations methods due to their resource constraints. Despite these challenges, the same teachers had great ideas to share with one another for explaining concepts and engaging students with the limited materials available. Their passion was incredible. By tailoring our lesson plans to low-cost activities within the curriculum of Kenyan teachers, and spreading well-tested lessons contributed by fellow teachers, I think TAHMO could become a great educational tool for our partner schools!


A week of Early Warning Systems

12 Mar
Walking up the to UN building in Nairobi.

Walking up to the UN building in Nairobi.

Almost one year ago a severe mudslide devastated the community around Oso, in Washington State, making news headlines in my home region of the Pacific Northwest and across the country. In Uganda, deadly landslides happen every year as deforested mountainous regions experience heavy seasonal rainfall. These landslides leave hundreds dead and thousands homeless. Flooding, lightning strikes, landslides, severe droughts, and tsunamis are all examples of the power of nature, and a reminder of the importance of emergency preparedness and response.

When I headed back to graduate school 2 years ago and begin to work with TAHMO, the Trans African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory, I delved into the world of weather and climate. Weather information had never been on the forefront of my motivation to study Water Resource Engineering; its routine role in my daily check for a “rain pants addition” was taken for granted. As I learned about the dearth of weather data across sub-Saharan Africa, a region particularly vulnerable to climate change, I began to see the many uses these data play for weather nowcasting and forecasting, contributing both to useful information on ‘how to dress in the morning’ as well as critical knowledge of pending hydrological and meteorological hazards due to severe weather. Through the generosity of OSU’s Humanitarian Engineering program, I embarked on a trip to East Africa to gather first-hand experience with the climate issues faced and the need for weather data.

During my first weeks in Kenya, I was fortunate enough to attend two conferences focusing on weather and climate information, early warning systems, and climate adaptation. In early March, I joined as the UN’s CIRDA program convened representatives from 11 of the least developed countries in Africa in Kampala, Uganda. We discussed the role of partnerships between private companies, NGOs, and the academic sector in enabling better collection and application of climate data. TAHMO was presented as an opportunity for national meteorological agencies to collect low-cost automatic weather data while educating the next generation of meteorologists, hydrologists, and climate scientists. I learned about the challenges different countries face in implementing weather and climate related programs; from lack of infrastructure and sensor equipment to the inadequacy of political mandates which promote such work. Despite the challenges, each country had detailed plans to install weather stations, employ SMS and other communication alerting systems, and improve local capacity for weather data analysis through trainings and education.

As a contrast to CIRDA’s country-focused approach, I also attended a workshop in Nairobi hosted by the UN’s Clim-WARN project. This science based group shared tools and resources available to integrate into a multi-hazard global early warning system. Clim-WARN’s thorough assessment of both men and women in rural and urban settings of Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Kenya to better understand the best methods of communication and hazard-related vulnerabilities experienced by different target groups was a backdrop to the conversation on application of tools and resources. Finally, a key take-away reminded me of my King Elementary School days when we crouched in lines along the hallways during tornado or hurricane drills: educating stakeholders of actionable responses to early warning information is a key to ensuring the effectiveness of these systems.

Reflecting on the discussions had and information I learned about EWS and climate adaptation, I am more convinced than ever about the importance of weather data and it’s far reaching utility. I’m excited to work these ideas into my conversations with students and teachers when talking about “why should we install a weather station?”