OHR Executive Director, Richard Magerenge (right), discusses the radio and Internet tower with Mzee Okello (left) during land negotiations at his home atop Soklo mountain on Mfangano Island.

OHR Executive Director, Richard Magerenge (right), discusses the radio and Internet tower with Mzee Okello (left) during land negotiations at his home atop Soklo mountain on Mfangano Island.

Free Internet access has taken a step closer to 20,000 rural Kenyans living on a remote island in the middle of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya. The Organic Health Response, with the help of San Francisco-based partners, Inveneo and Equal Access, is preparing to install a wireless Internet link and community radio tower on the top Soklo mountain on Mfangano Island. Based on a comprehensive topographical survey by Inveneo’s connectivity engineers, Equal Access is developing a radio broadcast map using open access satellite software to assess the reach for Mfangano’s first community radio station. On the ground, OHR is moving forward with site preparations and the tower’s challenging construction 1600m above the Lake shore. Thanks to land generously donated by the Okello family, a 12th generation Mfangano family living atop Soklo mountain, the tower site will serve as both the point of reception for OHR’s 70km long-range Internet link, and the point of transmission for the Ekialo Kiona Youth Radio Station.  Actual construction of this unique tower will be carried out by the Ekialo Kiona Sustainable Design Guild, a team of local Mfangano carpenters, welders, and masons who successfully completed construction on the Ekialo Kiona Center in May 2011.

The view from Mzee Okello’s land atop Mfangano Island, where OHR’s new Internet tower will direct a wireless Internet link from Kisumu, 70km to the northwest, to the Ekialo Kiona Center along the shores of Lake Victoria on the southern side of the Island.

The view from Mzee Okello’s land atop Mfangano Island, where OHR’s new Internet tower will direct a wireless Internet link from Kisumu, 70km to the northwest, to the Ekialo Kiona Center along the shores of Lake Victoria on the southern side of the Island.

Born in 1925, Joseph Okello Misiara is a native of the Soklo clan that has lived on Mfangano Island for over 12 generations. He is now the Elder responsible for taking care of the sacred Kwitutu forest, an old growth forest and ancestral burial site that remains atop the highest point on Mfangano Island. Inspired by the land donation made by Joel Oguta for the Ekialo Kiona Center itself, Mzee Okello and his eldest son have generously donated their family’s land near the Kwitutu forest, to bring free Internet to 20,000 of their fellow residents on Mfangano Island. During a visit this June, Mzee Okello explained that although he has never used the Internet or touched a computer himself, he knows his land will be used to build a tower that will “connect the world together.” Mzee Okello sees this donation as a landmark for his children and grandchildren and his final legacy to the community of Mfangano.


Selected from over 200 entries, OHR has won 1st place in UC Berkeley’s “Big Ideas” Competition. The annual competition inspires innovative and high-impact student projects aimed at solving the world’s most pressing problems. The aquaponics project aims to address “Big Ideas” category Global Poverty Alleviation by increasing food security in the Lake Victoria basin.

Headed by Matthew Tierney, the aquaponics project is a sustainable food production system that combines aquaculture, or fish farming, with vegetable and chicken farming. Not only could this system provide a more secure and nutritional diet, but aquaponics disincentives unnecessary slash and burn agriculture and overfishing in Lake Victoria, and allows fishermen to stay at home with their families.

Update 18


OHR members from across the U.S. recently convened in San Francisco for the first official OHR retreat. With over 15 volunteers present we spent the weekend getting to know one another, bringing the team up to speed on the many projects and programs, and dived into OHR’s first visioning session, led by our very own Hal Campbell!
Overall, the retreat was a huge success. We emerged with a promosing action plan for the upcoming year and OHR’s new vision statement:
“Seeding health possibilities through community-rooted partnerships.”

We look forward to having our Kenyan partners join us in our next great get together!

Update 17Update 17-2

FEBRUARY MFANGANO UPDATE from EK’s Executive Director, Richard Magerenge

Update 16Ampath and Imani have teamed up again with SEP for craft and business trainings. This week the women have expanded their jewelry product line, among other crafts, and will soon receive course completion certificates.

The ferro cement guild has also been so busy at EK center doing their construction and I had a brief meeting with them and they are very confident that they are ahead of schedule. By next week all the gables will be completed and all the palings and trashes will be on the roof.
Joel Oguta, OHR’s Agricultural Coordinator has been attending business training from Ampath. The farm is doing well, though it is a very dry season, however, soon the rains will come and the farm will recover from the shock from the heat, which has affected most plants. Joel has also been participating in the business trainings and said they will really help him on the farm.

Construction of the VCT wing has kicked off and in a few months time we will be having a new building at the center to host VCT, clinical activities for care and treatment, a small store and a Library. We appeal to anyone reading our website and is interested in donating a book or books to our library.


Craig Newmark of Craiglist featured the Organic Health Response on his February 1st post, stating:
“The folks at Organic Health Response are doing really good stuff, using IT and environmental sustainability on Mfangano Island in Western Kenya to work against HIV/AIDS across Lake Victoria.”

World AIDS Day 2010

Update 14On December 1st, the Ekialo Kiona Center hosted its 3rdannual World AIDS Day celebration. Hundreds of guests gathered to hear speakers from all over Mfangano, with special messages from the Mfangano East Chief (above), Mfangano’s public health official, representatives from FACES and the Ministry of Health, along with other area chiefs, clan elders, church elders and community members.

Youth representatives from various villages performed poems, songs and plays, informing and challenging their peers to avoid risky behavior, to stay informed and to know their status. Twenty people were tested and counseled, helping to bring the Ekialo Kiona Center’s total number of people tested to 776!


All of us at OHR would like to extend a personal thanks to Craig Newmark and the Craigslist Charitable Foundation for their generous contribution of $20,000 to the OHR-Inveneo Partnership to help us improve our computer lab and encourage HIV counseling and testing at the Ekialo Kiona Center on Mfangano Island.

Craig Newmark of Craiglist has also featured OHR on his December 6th blog.


In June, Organic Health Response officially opened the Ekialo Kiona Center for membership! Since opening, Ekialo Kiona has enrolled over 400 members, all of whom have gone for Voluntary Testing and Counseling.
Voluntary Counseling and Testing – World Cup Program:
The World Cup Program was a sounding success. In just a few months after opening our VCT program, OHR has tested over 400 individuals, more than any other Suba Disctrict VCT Clinic in this time period.  Ekialo Kiona Club members also enjoyed the opportunity to watch the World Cup with our new projector and satellite tv!

Research Project:
OHR is hosting a team of UCSF/UCB Global Health students and supporting a research project in Mfangano East. The student group has supported nine newly hired research staff members and OHR staff in learning research methods and how to carry out the upcoming household survey. The survey will assess community health and demographics, including income, food, and water security, HIV/AIDS knowledge, and social support. Both staff and community members look forward to getting started with the project and using the information to shape OHR’s programming.

With the help of a grant from the Rotary Foundation, our farmers are planning farm improvements and new programs! The increased support is allowing OHR’s organic farmers to prepare the farm for demonstration and to support broader community programs.
Grant Writing:
With the help of OHR Grant’s Coordinator, Hannah Graft, OHR hosted a grant-writing workshop in mid-July. Over 20 community members were trained on how to formulate a proposal, research grant opportunities online, and write a grant.

HIV+ Women’s Craft Group:
The craft group’s sewing, paper, and beadwork departments are going strong. The group is looking forward to additional training in sewing and will soon add a suite of apron designs to their repertoire!

Ekialo Kiona Radio:
The Ekialo Kiona Community Radio Committee is currently working to develop strong programming for EK’s radio station, to air sometime next year, focusing on positive health, environmental issues, and social solidarity, amoung other relevant topics. The committee has hosted several community events, including a hugely successful Earth Day, and several HIV awareness forums, and continues to meet regularly for journalism skill development workshops.

Sustainable Design Guild:
In addition to constructing the Ekialo Kiona sustainable building, the Sustainable Design Guild has led several ferro-cement training workships with local masons and a neighboring technical school.


Update 10 Sisterhood ExchangeThe Sisterhood Exchange Program connects HIV+ women of Mfangano Island, Kenya with local and global sister organizations to model “positive living”, increase social support, and train in entrepreneurial craft making.

Thanks to the support of individuals and organizations in western Colorado, the Sisterhood Exchange Program is off and running.  In just a couple weeks, Glenwood Springs resident Nancy Reinisch will travel to Mfangano Island to lead a crafts training workshop and connect the women of the Ekialo Kiona Crafts Cooperative with their sisters of the Advocate Safehouse Project.  She’ll be joined by members of the Imani Workshop.

For any other information or to order products from our local-global sister please contact Nancy Reinisch, SEP Liasion, at nrein [at] rof [dot] net. Donations to support the Sisterhood Exchange Program are welcomed and appreciated … Thanks!


I’m writing to you today on a cell phone modem and a solar charged laptop from the one and only official home of the Organic Health Response, the Ekialo Kiona Center at Kitawi Beach. I hope to provide semi-weekly updates over the course of the summer, so that all our supporters have a sense of the ways that their energy is contributing to our mission.
I’ve been back on the Island for one week and my cup is really overflowing.  Its wonderful to back among old friends, introducing our student volunteers from the University of California San Francisco to the Ekialo Kiona family, and getting down to business with a summer full of hard work, research and service.  Its very inspiring to see our vision materializing, and our ideas beginning to have a real impact in the lives of the families and people we’ve come to know and come to care for greatly. EK Center is now operational and the place is beautiful. Big, cool ferro-cement domes over the office, and high open ceilings with wind vents in the computer and seminar rooms.

The EK Ferro-Cement Crew has done a wonderful job (Thanks Gabby, Adam, Mike, Ochieng, and Sam!). We have not yet finished the roof over the VCT block, so our offices are serving for now as counseling and testing rooms.  Each day more and more members have been coming to join our Voluntary Counseling and  HIV Testing Club. To date we have over 350 Members. Each member joins by going through a specialized HIV Counseling and Testing session. I received unofficial news yesterday that we are currently the leading stand-alone VCT center in Suba District for monthly intake.  Not bad for our first month of operation! Last night about 200 of us piled into our hall to watch the World Cup final on satellite TV and our new projector. We rocked the house until midnight, and I’d say pretty much everyone was rooting for Spain.

We are still waiting for the arrival of our computers and solar panels. Expectations are really growing, the community is eager. I think once we have them installed our membership is really going to skyrocket. The community is so excited to be wired, and I really want our members to be able to start signing up for emails and corresponding with their friends in the US.  We’re being patient with our partners in Nairobi who are also working hard to bring the hardware and connectivity that we need out here on the Island.

I’ve been very encouraged to see all the Ekialo Kiona groups that remain active and dedicated to helping build solidarity and hope within their communities.  The EK Women’s Crafts Cooperative has been meeting each Friday, beading jewelry, recycling paper into journals and books, and showing an example to all of us on the possibilities of positive living.  The EK Organic Farm, coordinated by Joel Oguta, is going to begin making fence and irrigation improvements this month, and we’re designing a future nutrition program for HIV-affected families. The EK Youth Radio team has also been meeting each week, we’ve organized journalism clubs in the area secondary schools, and we look forward to going on air within the next year.

Lake Victoria remains cool and inviting, however the catch is significantly down this year. The Fisheries department is promoting fish farming very heavily and we’re making place to promote our own specialized version of aquaculture/agriculture designed by Matthew Tierney.  We’ll keep you posted.

We’re also very fortunate to have 8 medical, pharmacy, nursing, social work, and public health students from the University of California in San Francisco.  We’ve designed a community health baseline research study, in partnership with the Kenyan Medical Research Institute.  We’ve spent the last week training a group of 20 local research volunteers and staff who will work with us to complete the study. Its been a great workshop, the first official seminar series within the EK Seminar room.

That’s it for now from Lake Victoria.  Thanks again for all your encouragement and support, it really means a lot to us out here on Mfangano.
over and out from Kenya,

Chas Salmen