The great Nairobi guesthouse swimming pool dilemma – cast your vote now……

Nairobi is a major NGO hub, currently the epicentre of the drought relief effort, and Oxfam’s regional office realized some years ago that we could save a pile of money if we ran our own guesthouse, rather than park the numerous visitors in over-priced hotels. It’s nothing fancy, definitely wouldn’t get many stars, but it’s much more relaxed than a hotel and a brilliant place to meet the kind of people I profiled recently. It’s really rather unique.

But there’s a problem. As a large converted house in a nice part of town, and like most such houses in Nairobi, it has a swimming pool. But the swimming pool is covered over and closed, even though it would be cheap to keep it open. Why? Reputational risk – back in the UK, where swimming pools are luxury items, Oxfam’s big cheeses saw a tabloid scandal in the making and closed it (see right, the blue of the pool is a protective tarpaulin, not water). It didn’t help when some bright spark decided to advertise for a swimming pool attendant on the Oxfam website……

On my recent stay at the guesthouse, I asked everyone I met there and whether African or mzungu, they all said  it makes sense to open the pool. Exhausted aid workers arrive hot and dusty from remote areas of East Africa for some R&R, but there’s no chance of a refreshing swim. I need my exercise so had to go running instead – the combination of altitude, hills and choking traffic fumes nearly killed me.

On the other hand there’s no denying that most of our supporters back in the UK, let alone the people we are working to help, are not likely to have access to a pool in their back yard, so why should aid workers get special treatment? (And I have to confess, when I interviewed the members of a sex workers’ collective in Rio de Janeiro a few years ago as they relaxed by their aid-funded organization’s pool, I was rather shocked myself.)

So what do you think? Should Oxfam open the pool and take any bad publicity on the chin, or should we stop whining? It would probably cost about $200-300 a month to keep the pool open – if we could find a way to do it without creating an accounting nightmare, we could probably raise that from contributions from guests, and even have money to spare to plough back into Oxfam programmes. Vote now (see right).

Vote choices: Open the pool; Open the pool but only on if it at least covers its own costs; Keep the pool closed; Don’t waste my time – use the blog for something more high-minded please (and you can choose more than one option).
Update: check out the comments – some hilarious suggestions and yes, I am a bit depressed that this is already the most popular poll ever on this blog………

[poll id=”12″]

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90 Responses to “The great Nairobi guesthouse swimming pool dilemma – cast your vote now……”
  1. You write: “back in the UK, where swimming pools are luxury items, Oxfam’s big cheeses saw a tabloid scandal in the making”
    I want to point out that a swimming pool must be considered a luxury EVERYWHERE in the world, but especially in countries like Kenya. And that is what makes it a difficult subject for me.
    Even if such an amenity would operate at zero cost to Oxfam, it would still convey a certain image and attitude, regardless if this attitude really exists with the aidworkers that are on the ground and are using it. So I’m in favor of keeping it closed.

  2. Dominic Haslam

    I’ve voted to open with no cost – but should declare that I’ve been the one returning from humanitarian efforts needing R&R so declare an interest. This is linked to a wider point for me, so it isn’t trivial… The sooner we’re honest that aid workers are human too, with a different job to most and perhaps different drivers but the same basic biology, the better… and we can be a bit culpable here ourselves with our “stories of heroism from the field”.
    That said, some parts of the press here would ignore the caveat that guests pay and run the story anyway so I’d be prepared for that. Perhaps openly publicise it as a fundraiser if you can make the funds work, rather than it looking like you’re hiding something..

  3. Mike

    Many happy hours spent recharging at Shangri-La swimming pool Accra after periods spent on fieldwork in Tamale, Northern Ghana. Also all the aid/development people stay at the Catholic Guest House Tamale cos of all it’s mod cons- video, etc. No shame in that!

  4. msksquared

    I feeled moved to comment on this clearly Very Important Issue of the day 🙂
    As a former humanitarian worker I know how difficult it can be to look after your physical and mental health when working very long hours.
    The costs to Oxfam of keeping the pool open are likely a lot less than dealing with staff illness and burn-out. And there aren’t so many viable exercise alternatives in many large cities where running or biking have their own hazards.
    In comparison, I imagine that many staffers permanently based in Nairobi and other cities have pools in their gardens, and that the costs of their accommodation is in many cases paid for by Oxfam.
    If costs are reclaimed it needs to be done in a way which doesn’t actually cost more in terms of staff time and administration. One practical low-bureaucracy option could be to reduce the standard per diem paid to staff on R&R in Nairobi slightly as a notional contribution to the costs of running the pool.

  5. Rosemary

    Think a bit outside the box, please. How many young people in Nairobi (especially the slums) don’t learn how to swim. Think about running some swimming classes for them – water safety is a good thing. Then you could hire a lifeguard or two (job creation), provide needed water safety training for those who would never otherwise get it, AND provide some needed r&r for returning aid workers (and maybe even some positive headlines about the pool to make the powers that be happy?)

  6. reny van der kamp

    A tricky subject. It’s definitely a luxury, locals can’t relax after their work. But what about keeping it open and also open it for local people during certain hours?For medical purposes, for schools, for sport talents etcetera. The NGO-workers can use it for winding off, and locals can make good use of it as well. It can even provide more local jobs.

  7. Why don’t you open it and run it partly as a business to cover costs, and also let kids from the poorer parts of Nairobi have a go. Will feed their souls.
    Like this:
    6.00 am – 8.00 am – open to Oxfam staff
    9.00 am – 16.00 – Monday-Friday – open to paying customers
    16.00 – 19.00 – Oxfam staff
    All day Sat and Sunday – open free for kids from places in the city where Oxfam has projects (you can use one of your many minibuses to bring them in.
    Then you can have your cake and eat it
    Why am I doing this when I should be working?

  8. Mtega

    Interesting poll. I wonder how many of those who’ve voted to keep it open are Oxfam staff in the East Africa region? Or other aid workers who are now looking through the Oxfam website’s job pages?
    Having said that, I have no problem with Oxfam having a pool in Nairobi. After all, most DFID staff have free access to pools at the various “British High Commission Clubs” all round the world.

  9. Rachel Mac

    Get the pool open and make the most of it with your fundraising from guests who will no doubt appreciate a refreshing and relaxing swim after hot, dusty and stressful hard work!!
    People in the UK, please stop being so precious. Swimming pools are less remarkable in hot countries and I agree, many people do not understand the intensity of aid/development work.
    I certainly vote for the cost efficient provision of a restorative swimming pool that will add value to your guest house in Nairobi. Wow, I’ll come!
    Rachel, local NGO worker, Tanzania.

  10. PJ

    Lease the pool to a company that is contracted to maintain it and which may collect a small charge for using it (this can be done at reception). It is then a personal matter for each guest whether to use it, not an Oxfam freebie.

  11. A) Form a swimming pool collective with a rotating chair, with use of the pool to be voted on every week. Pool to be funded by bake sale at the local international school.
    B) Divide the pool surface area into 100 square use rights – sell rights to the staff and/or guests, who are only allowed to swim within their allotted area, unless allowed to by other freeholders. Let residents buy and sell these rights to each other and let the market reach an efficient outcome
    C) Let NGO workers use the pool, but constantly make them feel guilty about it: surround the pool with posters of photos from recent/ongoing drought. Actually, this could be a win win situation – if you run into anyone who seriously objects to the idea of Oxfam using a pool, let *them* stand on the side and heckle the swimmers.
    D) Randomly allocate 50% of your guests with passes to the pool. Use pre and post survey data on stress levels, health, etc to evaluate the actual impact of pool usage. If you’re concerned about financial viability, charge a high price and then randomly distribute vouchers of varying levels to the treated group to tease out the demand curve for pool usage.

  12. Liz A

    You advocate for positive change elsewhere, so must lead by example. NGOs have such a bad reputation in Kenya and other parts of Africa, largely because of the big houses, expense accounts and 4x4s their employees enjoy the benefit of. Adding a swimming pool into the mix seems to just add to this reputation.
    And this from someone who’s spent a lot of time in “the field” as development/aid workers like to call it ( aka the real world)

  13. Andy

    Duncan, are you sure all of Oxfam is always so cost conscious? This is just an anecdote, and might be unfair, but when I arrived in Kigali, and was looking for accomodation, I was taken to some ‘luxury flats’ in the centre of town…I quickly lost interest when I found out the price (US$2500 a month in a country with an annual av. income per capita of 600USS). But in any case I was told that the only room available had already been reserved by Oxfam for the arrival of one of those ‘big cheeses’, which kind of surprised and shocked me, as I also donate money to Oxfam. Of course, the truth is the vast majority of the ex-pat community (including aid workers/NGOs, etc) live a very privileged life in Africa, with a much higher standard of living here than back home. I have moved from renting a small flat in Europe to a house with four bedrooms and a beautiful garden. And a maid who comes in to clean three times a week. So I guess we all have to grapple with these moral dilemmas. On the swimming pool issue, why bother? There are plenty of pools in Nairobi – people would just have to go to their local hotel pool and pay, just as we do back in Europe.

  14. Michael

    Spin it off as a separate concern. It would make some micro-entrepreneur happy.
    Beware, there is still a risk. And it relates less to your reputation as development professionals, but to Oxfam’s policy coherence as far as advocacy on water issues is concerned:
    In short, there may be no alternative to the hair shirt if you want to keep raising funds from the great unwashed (i.e. the British public).

  15. Thembekile

    As Andy points out above, this is a typical Oxfam window dressing.
    They waste lots of amounts of money on things that show less return than a pool for tired aid workers.
    Maybe if you cared more on the 150 pounds per person per NIGHT they recently spent for a big managment meeting at a luxury game lodge in South Africa it would make a difference (but that isnt in the public domain is it, so I guess its ok?)

  16. Gareth Price-Jones

    Always a tricky one – Matt’s response was awesome.
    I’m always very aware that I live in a big, reasonably nice 3-bed apartment that costs Oxfam 800 quid a month, and I top up the (small) difference. This is partly because it’s just across the lake from a massive slum. I have regular access to a pool in an expat club, access to a world-class hospital, and my wife has a maid who helps 9-5 with the kids – all things people living just a few hundred metres away can only dream of having.
    However, I’m also aware that my not-quite-a-year old child has three times got seriously ill due to the environment we live in, that even with a maid cleaning daily the apartment always has a thick layer of dust everywhere, that the club costs me more than a Fitness First in London, that our electricity supply is dodgy, regularly leaving us in the dark, and that our food costs us roughly 2-3 times more than it would in the UK.
    Being an aid worker is a choice I’ve made, and a choice many would love to have. Its also a choice many would not make – most of my family think I’m barmy. I think I have the best job in the world, but I’m also convinced that without maintaining some semblance of a first-world lifestyle (recognising that there are a range of trade-offs such as more help at home but more dust and pollution) we wouldn’t attract competent expat staff who, unlike the people we work for, DO have a choice about where they live and what they do.
    Overall, I think Oxfam are extremely cost-effective, and we have a lot of evidence to prove it. Yes, we do have occasional big meetings in nice hotels, but where else would we have them? I’d argue that having them under a tree (where we also have lots of meetings) would be less effective, would result in less high-quality programs, and less impact.
    One last thing – I was horrified arriving in Haiti after the earthquake to see a couple of hundred gleaming white UN 4x4s in a car park – big white car syndrome at its worst. But then it occurred to me that it was less ironmongery than in an average Tesco car park. Why are we happy that people have cars to do their shopping, but unhappy that aid workers have them to do their work?
    Open the pool, and manage any publicity that comes up. Perhaps it might end up making more people think about the complex realities of poverty in the world.

  17. Ken Smith

    Another way of saying “manage” any publicity that comes up is “spend time and therfore money that could be put to better uses” on any publicity that comes up. Suely that was the call that the big cheeses made in the first place ?

  18. Suzanne

    My 2 cents worth from over 18 years living in various parts of Africa.
    Yes there are slums, yes there are poor neighbourhoods, but yes there is a rapidly growing middle class across the entire continent. And a n equally rapidly growing honkingly rich class. All of whom have pools and mult-4x4s at their massive homes.
    In Zim, the neighbourhood where I last lived had many more blacks than whites; our swimming pool also served as our water supply with the frequent electricity cuts.
    G P-J, is right. Open the pool, manage any publicity.
    And btw, Oxfam is not the NGO which attracts bad publicity by its White 4x4s, drivers with cellphones and girls in the back!

  19. I vote for Matt’s option D. Or get a couple of second-hand exercise bikes.
    Disclaimer: over the last year or so in Mali I likewise got to the point where I had had enough of the dust/fumes when running and signed up to gym/pool membership at the Radisson. Is there a moral difference between NGOs having a pool for staff vs NGOs paying their staff enough that they can afford to go to another pool if they want?

  20. Rachel Haynes

    I am surprised that I am in a minority in saying keep it closed. To me a swimming pool speaks of privelege and water to spare, and there is no getting away from it. The contradiction is too stark. Sorry!

  21. Liz A

    I’m with you, Rachael!
    Also, Oxfam might not be THE NGO with the flashy white 4x4s, but in order to stand out from that crowd, it needs to operate by its principles in every sense, not just those which suits its employees.

  22. Bernard Garandon

    Considering that Oxfam is currently recruiting a Communications Director on £80,000 a year, that staff – not those actually working in overcrowded camps and difficult conditions, but the managers in modern capital cities, get on top of their comfortable salaries free education for their children, and various very generous allowances, while renting out their houses in UK, and doing very nicely financially fighting poverty while a secretary in Oxfam/Oxford has to get by on around £14.000/year, paying all their own expenses, I do not think that the issue is the swimming-pool, but that for a organisation promoting a fairer world, to not do what it preaches and to align itself more and more on big businesses in terms of salary differentials.

  23. Empower the pool! Provide it with a voice to decide its own fate and then stand alongside it in solidarity. BTW – have we established the gender of said pool as this is obviously critical and i’m fed up with the failure of monitoring processes to adequately differentiate on gender basis in pool related aid programmes

  24. Rosa

    Are we asking the right questions here…? I’d be keen to know what are the water levels like in Nairobi? What’s happening to the city’s water supplies? Are the cities boreholes being pumped dry? Is there enough water for everyone? During times of drought here in UK most of us observe hose-pipe bans; people avoid washing the car, watering the garden, topping up swimming pools etc. Is it naive to think that the same general principle would apply in Nairobi for a private swimming? What impact do all the private swimming pools in Nairobi have on the water, land & livelihoods of poor women and men in the city? Is our dip at the expense of someone else getting hotter and dustier as they walk further for water/struggle to irrigate their crops? Especially given Oxfam’s focus on WatSan, should we feel confident we knew the answers to these kinds of questions before making a decision?

  25. Beth

    If only every issue on your blog got this much attention Duncan! I’m all for the pool – I don’t understand why aid workers need to be saints, they do a flipping difficult job. After 6 months spent away from home in a refugee camp solely to serve the needs of others, what harm can a dip in the pool do? Bring on the tabloids, lets see them do the job of a humanitarian… actually that might make an interesting story…

  26. Elm

    My business sense is telling me to keep it open for PUBLIC USE… and not exclusive to oxfam staff, operate at no cost to oxfam, and use it as sort of fund raising… a portion of the entrance fees goes direct to fund WASH facilities or support community projects for example.
    Just a thought!

  27. Kadebe

    I said keep it shut as Nairobi has plenty of reasonably priced venues that Oxfarm workers can visit. You dont want to be crowding put such facilities in order go keep a select group of people happy. Besides, regardless of the arguments in the comments so far,keeping the pool open does pose a reputational risk to the organisation, and thats just that!
    Folk should just live with it,move on and enjoy the many luxuries Nairobi has to offer outside those four walls of the Oxfarm compound using the excess liquidity that they obviously have.

  28. Jessica

    While I understand people’s concerns about the hypocrisy of aid worker perks, many bright, passionate people choose not to join the NGO world because they receive more lucrative job offers. Relatively small investments like the swimming pool could help attract and keep talented people, who will do more to help alleviate poverty and suffering than many other NGO investments ever hope to accomplish.

  29. Mary

    The article and comments maybe don’t make clear enough that most NGO staff in any country are locals, who wouldn’t be staying in the guesthouse or getting subsidised accommodation. The people who are staying at the guesthouse are probably doing an intensive programme of work and travel with very long working hours and I guess anything that keeps them going is helpful. However for reputational reasons, it might be better if Oxfam could negotiate a discount at another pool!

  30. Filipe

    So, first, we need to determine what category emergency this is, send in the appropriate level of staff, do a needs assessment that includes imput from the affected pool, and ensures that it’s needs are taken into account/voice is heard. Based on that information, we need to develop a strategic plan, probably just one programme, but it should include objectives, activities, verifiable indicators and a strong monitoring and evaluation plan. The pool should be meaningfully consulted at all stages of the programme (from design, to implementation, to monitoring, to evalutaion)to ensure ownership. We should make sure that we have consulted the local authorities and may need to consider setting up a community consultation group – which would include poor women (at the heart of all of our work). Best case scenario would be that there is a local organisation that has the capacity and strategy to help us to design the programme. We should also consult with local government and get their buy-in and ownership to try to ensure the sustainability of the programme. Of course, the programme should support/link to the government’s development agenda.
    Once we’ve done that, then we can decide on what to do with the pool.

  31. Liz A

    “After 6 months spent away from home in a refugee camp solely to serve the needs of others…”
    The folks I’ve worked with do what they do for a whole range of reasons…..soley to serve the needs of others is rarely one that comes up. Bit sanctimonious, no?

  32. Steph

    Although I love Matt’s comments, I agree with Gareth and Beth on this. Aid workers do a difficult job in often harsh conditions. If they cannot find a house large enough for their needs without a pool, then why not use it? It seems crazy to have a perfectly good pool sitting there unused! By all means charge the staff to use it, and use the money for the pool’s upkeep and to support Oxfam’s work. After all, chances are staff are already going somewhere else and paying to use a pool anyway – why not put that money towards Oxfam’s programmes?
    Staff staying there for R&R need just that – rest and relaxation, and if they were in another country they would most likely be sent to a hotel with a pool to relax before going back out to their post in the field – where in some cases staff are living in tents in the desert for weeks on end (something very few people from the non-aid sector would be willing to do).
    I think Oxfam should stand firm and ride out the press coverage if need be. Leaving a perfectly good pool unused seems just as wasteful.

  33. TB

    If there are other NGOs nearby, they could also be allowed to use the facility, in exchange for a contribution to upkeep.
    This would of course mean many organisations putting cash in to one dedicated resource. But what could such a fund be called?

  34. Modi Mwatsama

    I grew up in Nairobi and know how difficult it can be staying physically active in the city for all the reasons you outline. So I would say definitely open the pool – for the mental & physical health and welfare of the hard-working guests. Otherwise what’s the alternative for a bout of exercise? Being driven to a nearby gym / club / hotel with facilities??
    The pool already exists and maintaining it will give someone a few extra hours of paid work!

  35. sue

    Thanks for some very humerous replies!
    I’m visiting Haiti at the moment and I’d say the same applies to NGO homes/guest houses having a/c, DVD players and satellite TV – which are probably much more common and ‘standard’. In Afghanistan I’ve seen a gym in a team house – again for much needed exercise when you can’t even walk to work.
    I say enjoy the pool for much needed R & R, recoup costs and perhaps share with/charge other aid workers?

  36. Rosalind Eyben

    What a brilliant piece, Duncan! You have clearly put your finger on a very sensitive topic. How we all agonize that we are not Gandhi…..With this little story you have exposed a seemingly unavoidable paradox of international aid. Any solution is inevitably a pragmatic compromise, as is everything we do in international development work. Having said that, I do think some really good suggestions have been made by your 44 commentators to date (Is that a record for one of your blogs?) – and it is certainly better to talk about these things rather than shove them out of sight, however embarassing and difficult they might be.

  37. qowieu

    Thank you Duncan. This stupid little organisational pimple is popped, one way or another. That it would have to come to you blogging about it, is shameful enough on us all that I’ll hold my tongue on the rest.

  38. Michael

    Swimming pools are not considered luxury items in the US — there are public pools in nearly every town, and most hotels keep indoor pools for the use of their guests.
    This is a cultural thing.

  39. John

    How about this: You open it up, but not just for aid workers.
    You utilise the resource by charging people to become members of the pool who can use it at set times, such as 7am – 9am weekdays. 9am – 12am on Saturdays etc.
    You’ll need a business plan…it could create income for Oxfam and jobs too.

  40. Mtega

    Duncan, I expect you’re now regretting having written this post, given the attention its getting. And for the various other reputational risks it has dragged out into the open.
    But I do hope you will follow up on some of the comments, and on the voting (noting the inherent bias of your readers).

  41. Marc

    The cost issue in this case is superficial as is the Oxfam Management approach of shutting this pool.
    Water, energy consumption and cabon emissions issues are more important than the cost of its operation and should be looked at in other ares of Oxfam’s operatoin as well.
    The other big question, that some comments above have touched on, of how resources for development are used and the dramatic inequlities in pay and benefits within Oxfam and between some Oxfam staff and the staff of partner organisatons we work with not to mention of course the communities we work with are serious and could do with being addressed in a serious way.

  42. adrain

    This repeats or at least reflects one of the more colourful incidents in George Galloway’s career. About thirty years ago he was chided for staying in a four-star hotel in Sudan when director of War on Want (in those days a direct rival of Oxfam). Though censured, he defended himself well and used the publicity to build his political career with the Labour party and when that failed the Respect party. WoW suffered and went to the dogs immediately thereafter. Oxfam should watch out as its director joins the ranks of the G and G.

  43. Ken Smith

    Lots of posts here still seem not to have addressed the issue of bad publicity. That’s not something just to be “ridden out “or “managed” , it would be a major cost to the organisation to deal with – money that would have to come from somewhere. (that’s not counting the impact on future donations.)

  44. Tom Goodfellow

    Wow, what a response! I think we know where one of the spikes in next year’s blog graph may end up being…
    I have to confess to swimming in that pool when I was staying at the said guesthouse in October 2009 – it was certainly not covered over then. I seem to remember that the showers barely worked at the time so use of the pool didn’t feel too decadent. For the record, it is not an excessively luxurious-feeling pool, and is a very sensible shape. If it were in a more extravagant shape – the shape of Africa, for example – then you might have a bit of a problem.
    I’d have happily paid a dollar or two to use it.

  45. Our house (GOAL, at the time, 1993) in Mogadishu had an empty pool. My field director suggested we open it and charged other NGOs for using it, and then got some PR value at home. I said “you are out of your tiny”. But Mog is not NBO (how cool am I?) and this is expat life. Journalists I work with are amazed that I drink beer and swear and fart, they assume I should wear sackcloth and ashes. If the Oxfam employees want a pool (or a snooker table, or Sky Sports) and are prepared to pay for it in one way or another, good luck to them. Yes, you’ll get hammered for it by the tabs, but you can take it on the chin. The debate is a useless exercise in handwringing… what next, should you cook on charcoal stoves? Go to meetings on Mutatus? Drink Chang’aa?

  46. Bura

    I am a former employee at Oxfam (Nbi)and I remember the controversy this matter brought. Its really nice that you highlighted it Duncan. Its pretty easy to run the pool at no cost to the organization because previously, staff often made use of the guesthouse, pool and grounds to relax with their families over the weekend. If a small fee was introduced for this as well as possibility to hold some events (like staff member’s kiddie parties) at a cost on the grounds, this would bring in considerable income to Ox and run the pool easily as well as keep the sustainability of the guesthouse. I’m all for reopening the pool!

  47. Rob

    A classic example of Social Enterprise. Open the pool, charge folk, make a small profit, feed that back into the office running costs, ultimately freeing up more donor funds to go to programmes. Completely ethical and provides work for that pool attendant.

  48. Mag OB

    Why not take your salary and pay to use one of the many hotel pools in Nairobi. Aid workers aren’t saints but they aren’t heros either. It would be grotesque to those people who donate to charities to think any of that money going to this ’cause’

  49. Rae

    There’s really only one solution – re-open the pool but on the strict understanding that all users display suitable feelings of guilt about its use. Cost can be balanced by also opening a bar close to the pool where staff from other NGOs can comment smugly on Oxfam’s ethical plight while enjoying a cool beer (which is okay, because we do it in UK, even in the poorer northern regions) while contributing to the pool running costs. The pool attendant could double as a barman, thus expanding his livelihood opportunities. Perhaps, to be on the safe side, get in a consultant annually to ensure that the pleasure doesn’t outweigh the guilt, and since it’s likely to be an old friend who shifted over to consultancies from NGO work, why not throw a farewell pool party?

  50. Julia

    Oxfam already made the frugal decision of using a guest house instead of hotels…probably saving enough in one day to operate the pool for a month…Open it! Aid workers don’t (and shouldn’t) suffer when away from the field, why act like we must? Interesting how much play this pool story gets; but it is because we’ve all worked through similar dilemas. A Nairobi housekeeper once said to me: Why would you have a nice dress, if you aren’t going to wear it?

  51. Kadebe

    After re-reading the article and the comments section i think perhaps the move to purchase the property to begin with needs to be re-evaluated.
    P.s. In addition to my vote for keeping the pool shut, i’d also suggest that Oxfarm sell the property and buy a dogdy looking apartment in Kibera somewhere. This will not only bring in extra funds through capital gains on the sale of house, but will provide great photo opportunities for marketing purposes aiding with the flow of sponsorship dollars…
    Duncan: it’s rented not purchased, Kadebe

  52. Interesting Topic

    Keep it open, it may amount to being wasteful by having it and not using it…while considering that, it should be ensured that all staff including national staff have equal access to use it. If the guesthouse did not exist, the guest would have stayed in hotels with a pool and even much more….

  53. KS

    Was close to voting ‘trivial’
    Last time I was there I was thinking how nice it would be to open the poolside bar!
    I think your risk averse decision makers are completely wrong. How long have you had that house now? And nothing heard? Now you’ve decided to advertise it to the world! And frankly, the world will have forgotten about this in a couple of months.
    You forgot to mention to readers what ‘guesthouse’ means – that the arrangement is that a fee is charged for staying at the house. It is a small hotel, with a, tiny, and very kind, staff, where people can pay for a room and board, have somewhere to work. It serves a very useful, paid-for, service.
    I think as long as it’s articulated that way, the question of its having a pool is irrelevant – it is equivalent to a hotel. And moreover, I don’t think you’re the owners, you’re renting a large multi-room house, which is hard to find, and it came with a pool.
    If it was really such a concern, and I think it isn’t, perhaps make a very tightly limited contract with someone (the landlord) to run the services and stop calling it the ‘Oxfam’ guesthouse. Then you can rightly point out that your staff stay in cheap, locally run, guesthouse rather than expensive hotels.

  54. Lon

    Don’t forget these people are just doing their job. Do we ask the same question to a Shell employee relaxing at a pool? Do you not drive a car in the UK because there are people who don’t even have a bike? Aid workers deserve as much as people in other branches.

  55. Julia

    I’m in favour of either:
    a) keeping the pool and making good use of it (and I also like the swimming lessons!)
    b) getting rid of the water in the pool (e.g. use it for cleaning floors?) and using the empty pool for an out of the box idea, like putting a ping-pong table inside (+ extend ladder) for an after work exercise and get-together or anything else that brings some fun (and perhaps money for a small project?). A brainstorm on this would be fun already!
    To me, keeping the pool how it is now, is just a waste.

  56. Allys

    A large number of people in Nairobi cannot afford ipods, laptops, cameras or books: do you ask your staff not to use these items? Of course the pool should be opened, perhaps at a small cost per use, to allow people to exercise and relax.
    It should also be pointed out that Kenya is a diverse country and while many cannot afford basic necessities, middle class Kenyans in Nairobi have access to several public pools at affordable prices.

  57. Charles Hauser

    Pool.. fantastic tool 😀
    Allys you got the point….!
    You have that resource? Use it!
    swimming courses for local and poor childs, courses for local schools, use it for coaching activities in water for team building, gender and multicultural awareness (I use this methodologies, you’ll love it).
    Please stop with Philantropic comments or taleban vision of what aid & development should be …. This is a swimming pool, a sport and recreation attraction, and a tool for cultural, sport and other dozen of other use. Or give it to someone to run it.. including the guest house. If not you will be accused also of bad competition against the local tourism sector. Costs? just with little extra price per night per room or person…..
    If at the end of this you will decide to give it to external.. call me.. I will come foward 😀
    As a Senior pro poor tourism advisor, I know how to develop all this ;D

  58. former humanitarian worker

    Your poll is insulting. It could be in a parody about the humanitarian industry and its asurdities. I suggest you ask some sudanese refugees, what do they think.
    Sadly it goes in the line of what I saw at Oxfam (Intermon) Haiti in 2011 and it reminds me of why I left this industry. Shame on you.

  59. Sarah

    This is not about image but about OH&S for duty of care of staff – use the pool,it’s an insult not to, and to just have it sitting there going to waste is pointless and wrong. Keep workers mentally and physically healthy, and share the pool with others if you can – swim lessons for kids is a nice idea (above). There is enough ridiculous shameful suffering in the world – not using a pool to keep well in a difficult job is not going to fix that.

  60. Open the Pool. Create some local sustainable employment for a pool attendant. In the UK we all have access to swimming pools,albeit public ones, so this should not be seen as a luxury. If you are concerned about it being a private facility, let a local school or orfanage have access a couple of times a week. Make it a communal facility that helps the poor.
    Not using an already existing facility is a waste and an organisation as large as Oxfam will always have its knockers but should be able to take this on the chin.

  61. Concerned African...

    Open the pool if it pays for itself.
    Then beat the tabloids to the story and announce it loud and clear.
    As an African, a more important question is why are there so many aid workers?

  62. By all means, please open the pool! It’s not like you are constructing a new pool from scratch…. I’m a Kenyan native, not Oxfam staff but really, I don’t think anyone would think of it as a luxury (at least in Kenya, maybe so in the UK). One of the best swimming pools in Nairobi (that is not in a hotel) and famous with the locals is the Methodist Guest house run by the Methodist church. I believe church and aid work somehow go hand in hand. YMCA also has a pool. Simply open it up and let locals use it at a small fee (cheaper than the big hotels) yet offering cleaner services than the Nyayo National Stadium pool. Nairobi has a shortage of swimming pools….I love swimming but lack options in terms of affordable pools. I bumped into this post looking for the new premises of Oxfam…they moved from Shelter Afrique…can someone update the website?
    PS: Currently you accommodate your staff in big overpriced hotels, don’t these hotels have swimming pools?? If the issue is luxury then you probaby should be accommodating them in one star hotels with no swimming pools. You are just transferring the same ‘luxury’ from a costly hotel to a more affordable (and cost saving) option, being the guest house

  63. And besides, if you don’t use the pool then it’s just going to be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, frogs and algae…..either way you will need someone to clean it from time to time….so why not have someone clean it as you also enjoy the benefits of having a swimming pool around??

  64. Hassan Noor

    please- stop the media-mania mentality:
    As a one of the past serious aid workers who also used to frequent in the Oxfam Guest house, It was nice to see the big guest house and always a delight to see the bluse water and yes the natural spring water that is in the house- yes, there is a natural spring water next to the pool.
    I remember onething that often used to come to my mind but never had time to tell anybody, that was, find a way of using the facility better.
    Yes, and please do not come with this excuse that you have to look poor to help the poor. I recall, the debate about the office building and the issue we had had with the former offcie tiolate- of which some never flashed properly. And, the next oppertunity came, I was the first to say, please find a suitable and desent office.
    And, yes, if oxfam find an appropriate solution to use this facility, I will sponsor the 200 to the 300 dollars per month.

  65. Mbali

    Don’t remember there being that many swimming pools in Nairobi last time I was working there – apart from in the house belonging to local and expat elite. Certainly one of the biggest government boarding schools didn’t have access to one, let alone have one on their grounds. I’m sure the YMCA allows public access to their pool which, was perfectly clean last time I did a few lengths there. I sure tough development/aid workers could manage the journey there.

  66. Cat

    I find this post hilarious….I am Kenyan and have lived here all my life.Don’t worry about looking like you lead posh lives, you already do. You frequent the high end shops in malls and restaurants are overpriced because of NGO world people with your bloated salaries that are a reward of adding zero or negative value to the economy. The dream of my ambitious classmates in college was to work in the NGO industry not to become entrepreneurs or bankers because this is where the money is for minimal effort.
    Go ahead and open the pool.After shedding your khaki pants and safari boots, I am sure you need to refresh your weary bodies after a long day saving Africa.

  67. Mr O

    If it helps, I’ll volunteer taking care of your pool FOR FREE… well maybe transport and meals wouldn’t be refused, as a motivator.
    That said, if anyone would like swimming company, feel free to get in-touch. In addition, I offer
    Swimming lessons (One-on-one) with optional video tutorials.
    Available all days except Sunday.
    Flexible to travel to your preferred favorite pool
    With notice, can get you attractive swimming apparell (costumes and gear)
    And I have great weight-loss tips
    7OI 822 336