U.S. Sailor, Originally From Kenya, Works on Kenyan Humanitarian Projects
Several thousand miles and seven time zones away from their home base in Gulfport, Mississippi, U.S. Navy construction specialists, "Seabees," are working on bringing clean water to the Garissa District through a series of well-digging project with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).
In a location this close to the equator -- less than 1 degree south latitude -- the sun beats down ferociously on the service members. The heat, combined with the continuous need to fend off camel spiders, scorpions and the occasional angry camel, makes the idea of heading back home to Mississippi all that more appealing for many of these sailors.
However, one sailor visiting Kenya finds himself quite close to the home where he grew up. Before Petty Officer 3rd Class Jack Ndaiga moved to the United States with his family four years ago, he lived only a three-hour drive away from Nairobi.
"Actually, my family is jealous because I get to visit where I am from for two months," says Ndaiga. "When my family goes back it's only for a few weeks at a time."
Ndaiga moved to the United States in 2004 with his mother, father and three brothers. He said that since he was a child, he had always had a fascination with the Navy. Now, as a resident in the United States, his job with the U.S. Navy opened up a world of opportunities, including the chance to travel. (Editor's note: Foreign-born people must be legal residents of the United States to be eligible for joining the U.S. armed forces.)
"I have had a lot more experiences being in the United States," Ndaiga said, whose most recent deployment was in Guam. "In Kenya, it's hard to get a job, to even have your own home. I never thought I would have this chance."
He and his fellow Seabees are helping to make a difference for Kenyans by providing one of life's most essential elements: clean drinking water. In the district of Garissa, the closest water source is often the Tana River, which is several miles away.
The Seabees have been working with the Kenyan Ministry of State for Defence to exchange technical knowledge and strengthen ties between the U.S. and Kenya. They plan to complete three wells in the Garissa district during their six month deployment.
"The river is primarily only good for livestock. It's not good drinking water," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Peter Welch, a construction mechanic and derrick operator. "For the individuals who do decide to go to the river to get drinking water, there are crocodiles and hippos, which can be very dangerous. We have heard reports of people, especially small children, being killed by crocodiles."
Growing-up in Kenya, Ndaiga said he knew if he was ever able to leave the country, he wanted to come back to help.
"This is what I was dreaming about. That one day I could come to a place like this and act as a representative," he said.
As a utilities man in the Seabees, Ndaiga's main job is camp maintenance. With the drilling crew running their rig around-the-clock, camp maintenance is essential.
"I make sure all the air conditioning is running well, help-out with any electrical issues and keeping the camp clean," he said.
Fluent in Swahili and English, Ndaiga takes every chance he can to engage the people he meets, especially during the nightly soccer matches just outside the camp.
Based on experience during his two decades of living in the Kenya, he knows that the local residents might have concerns with a few dozen camouflage-clad Americans living and working with heavy equipment near their village. "I like interacting with the locals and helping them understand why we are here," he said. "It builds a good relationship between Kenya and the U.S., and it stops from us looking like enemy combatants coming to take their land."
Kenyans working with the Seabees have witnessed the changing relationship between Kenya and the U.S. firsthand. Alfred Kiragu, a Kenyan who has been working with the Seabees since 2006, has seen the relationship between the two countries blossom through community involvement and other humanitarian efforts.
"The Seabees are doing more than just giving the people water," he said. "They interact with the locals. Almost every evening they play soccer with the children. They drive the message that we are here to help, which they take home to their parents."
CJTF-HOA is a joint task force that works to prevent conflict, promote regional stability and protect Coalition interests in the Horn of Africa through humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, civic-action programs to include medical and veterinary care, school and medical clinic construction and water development projects.