Sunday, June 18, 2017

At about 5:30 AM Nairobi time, our plane touched town onto the tarmac and chills went down my spine. The moment we four had been waiting for was finally here, and it took all my self control not to claw my way out of the plane to go running into Jane Karanja's arms. Over the past week, we have learned countless lessons, one of the most lasting being the way in which Kenyans treat their visitors- with such a warmth and kindness that I have never before experienced.

Our drive from Nairobi to Molo was peppered with excited and nervous chatter about our upcoming days, things we noticed on the side of the road, and several questions about Jane's life. I stuck my head out the window for almost the entirety of the three hours, and observed baboons, zebras, condor-looking vulture things, some sort of antelope, flamingos, and seemingly millions of cattle, sheep, and goats, accompanied by sunbathing farmers and skipping children. On the way, we stopped at the beautiful Rift Valley Viewpoint, looking over several peaks and featuring a road stretching all the way from Cairo to Johannesburg.

 The drive was around three hours total, and upon arrival, we were welcomed into our wonderful home - a two bedroom apartment complete with a kitchen, furniture, running water toilet/shower, and my favorite amenity- a deck on which we can observe our neighbors and beautiful community.

The next morning we started with a meeting at the NECOFA office with many of the staff. We had a quick crash course in Kenyan customs including the importance of greetings, starting meetings with a prayer, and signing in visitors books everywhere you visit.
Our first project visit was to Olenguruone D.E.B. Primary School. We were greeted by Madam Nancy, Madam Caroline, and several other headteachers, as well as hundreds of smiling faces in brilliant red sweaters. First, we were ushered into the headteacher's room for mursik, a traditional milk drink flavored with the ashes of an indigenous tree. It was a little peculiar with the first few sips, but after we got over the unfamiliar taste, we gulped it down! Mursik tastes like kefir drinks that you can find bottled in the dairy aisle. We took our mursik outside and watched around 25 of the students perform a traditional song and dance, with a call-and-response style that highlighted the lead singer's beautiful, strong voice. Their outfits were traditional Kalenjin wear, in shades of yellow with many beautiful bead embellishments.

We took several pictures, and then went back in for lunch - ugali, chapati, sikuma wiki, cabbage, potatoes, and goat stew.

Then, we went into another classroom where we introduced ourselves to all 528 students, and at Jane's request, performed a wince-inducing rendition of the YMCA. Our final activity was a tour of the school garden led by the incredibly knowledgeable 12-year-old Ronald. He explained all about how the crops grow and what the cultivation process is. 

As far as NECOFA's involvement with the school, they have been partnered since 2007. Together they started a school garden growing mainly potato and maize, which they sell locally to benefit the 4-K club. They have also started a pen-pal program with a school in Scotland and the teachers of each school have gone to visit one another. They are currently trying to save enough money so that one day the students may visit each other as well. The teachers rave so much about Jane and are endlessly grateful to her for making them "global citizens". They feel so much more connected to the world and believe that this is an unparalleled experience for their students that will grow their self-confidence and leadership abilities. Additionally, NECOFA sends a representative about once a month to teach the students life-skills including female empowerment, sexual education, self-worth and much more.

On our second full day we toured the Kiptagich tea factory. We saw the whole process, from fresh leaf to dried grounds and got to do a little tasting as well. The drive up was spectacular, rolling hills covered in bright green. (NECOFA isn't involved with this organization, they just thought it'd be fun for us to learn about Kenya's main export!)

Madam Nancy, through her connections to other schools in the area, led us to Olenguruone Secondary School. Here, we got to dine with the principal and headteachers over ugali, lentils, pilau, sikuma wiki, cabbage, and goat (a standard Kenyan meal) while we discussed the prospects of their students. Olenguruone Secondary has some of the best students in Kenya, with a high percentage going off to university to study business, medicine, and government policy. Some of the subjects they offer there are: Kiswahili, English, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Christian Religious Education (CRE), Geography, and Social Studies. We were then ushered into the performance room where we were introduced by the Principal and Deputy Vice Principal, followed by a lovey emcee from rafiki yenu ('our friend' in KiSwahili) and a series of traditional and modern dances. One student particularly stood out to me- she discussed how thankful she was for our visit making their school one step closer to the global community, and stressed the importance of hard work to find success, similar to the kind we have had through a university education in the United States. These students are ambitious, hard working, and ever so welcoming to us outsiders, and I will never forget the lessons they taught us of valuing education and always looking to a brighter future.
On day three, we went into the home of Madam Salome to pay a visit to the Furaha ('happiness' in Kiswahili) Womens Group. They taught us about the importance of community involvement in developing sustainable business practices, and discussed how they implement a loaning program called 'table banking' in which women can take out microloans to get on their feet. However, these loans are only given to women seeking to buy things that will replenish the income - for example, buying cattle or goats for animal products, or seeds for planting. There is a 10% interest rate, and these loans are carried out by pooling women's group members' money on the table - hence the tell-tale name. We then toured her 5 acre farm and her personal garden, complete with potatoes, peas, maize, cabbage, avocados, strawberries, and several other nutritious and indigenous plants. Madam Salome makes her own organic pesticide through an indigenous weed concoction, emphasizing the importance of natural and organic foods - the true "Slow Food" way! They fed us amply with traditional Kenyan foods, and taught us how they pump fresh, clean water, and how they grind dried stinging nettle products to sell for tea-making at the local markets. Through this experience, we learned the importance of sustainability and how crucial farms are for women to empower themselves through income generation and group support. For Salome's efforts, she has acquired several high accolades, from the local Kenyan government all the way to awards honored by the United Nations women division. She is the definition of a strong and independent lady, and I hope to grow into half the woman she is. 

On Friday, we visited the Community Forest Association, Molo division. Among their 4 divisions they have nearly 2500 members, including a community council which they make sure to balance based on gender, age, and disability. Their two main focuses are environmental conservation and community needs. For the former, they are aiming to get 10% forest cover in Kenya (the international standard) and are currently at about 8.6%. For the latter, the forest provides an innumerable amount of resources, and 98% of Kenyan people rely on wood as their main source of energy. We then stopped at the community tree nursery where locals come to replenish the resources by cultivating seedlings. Dozens of members came to watch us learn the process of reforestation and plant our very own trees. We finished with a walk in the beautiful Koibatek forest where the CFA protects indigenous trees and habitats for local wildlife.

Saturday, we were picked up by our trusty driver Lawrence at 10AM to head to two slaughterhouses where we saw the importance of sanitation and community involvement in the construction of a new facility. Afterwards, we headed west to Elburgon where we met with the Karunga Womens Group. Beatrice, their chairwoman, led us through a tour of the machinery they use to create textiles. Their main products were felted/knitted animals, the kikoi scarf, and thanks to the help and donation of machinery from NECOFA, they also produce different colored sweaters to sell for local school uniforms. They have a thick sweater machine, a thin sweater machine, a loom, and a few sewing machines, donated through the help of NECOFA and the Friends of Kenya School and Wildlife. These women emphasized the way that the group helped them pay for school fees for their children, and that they took great pride in their work. We are so thankful to have had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with these inspiring women, and we are eager to see what new projects they undertake in the coming years, hopefully to fulfill their dream of building a second workshop. 


  1. WOW. You guys are doing some amazing stuff! I'm so proud of you all. <3

  2. Incredible! Way to go Rachel.