Friday, August 4, 2017

Weeks 7 and 8 - Molo, Olenguruone, Kokwa Island

OLENGURUONE

In the first week of this internship, we visited the Olenguruone DEB Primary School and Olenguruone Secondary School. We were received very warmly, and in just a short visit, felt a strong connection to the students and their community. After visiting several other schools in many different regions of Kenya, we decided to embark upon a project with the ones closest to our hearts - Olenguruone. We went back to visit them again in Week 7 to bring them the news of our intentions. As always, we were greeted with many smiles and hugs, a light snack of banana and malted milk biscuits, and a wonderful performance by the students in their common hall. We presented our idea of creating a Pen Pal Program with Olenguruone Secondary School students. We were inspired by the relationship Olenguruone Primary School had with Dunrossness Elementary in Scotland, and we decided to model our program after theirs, connecting Kenyan students with American students from our university chapter of GlobeMed. This program stemmed from their identified need of global citizenship - the students and teachers crave connections beyond Kenya that sensitize them to global issues and an awareness of the world around them. With this Pen Pal Program, we can connect students that have never met, and foster the sense that they know a glimpse of what life is like on the other side of their correspondence. This is a project we are very excited to bring back to our chapter, and can't wait to continue cultivating strong relationships with the students that we have grown to love over a short period of time.


JIKO TRAINING

With the leadership of our esteemed colleague John Wachira, we embarked on a jiko training session located 20 minutes away from Molo town. This training was to learn the process of energy-saving jiko installation. A jiko is a stove made from clay and mud mixtures, with a space in the bottom for firewood placement. The jikos we installed were energy saving because they are designed such that they require less firewood because they are insulated. This is important because the women who stoke the fires will have to go out and forage firewood less often, which also mitigates the issue of deforestation. This training was located at the house of Christina, a grandmother of the Koriema women's group. This group was incredibly welcoming and warm, and shared a lesson of prayer with us before we installed the jiko. The installation included placement of rocks, a mud/ash mixture, the placement of the jiko on a level ground, and covering with mud/ash and a clay paste.

KOKWA ISLAND - Community Needs Assessment

In Week 8, we traveled back to Baringo County in order to revisit Kokwa Island. We traveled by boat in the morning, and took part in a Community Needs Assessment that included secondary school students attending school outside of Kokwa Island that are being sponsored by donors secured by NECOFA and FKSW. Our friend and soon-to-be Michiganite Raymond was also in attendance. The purpose of this workshop was to understand what these students and the greater Kokwa community perceives their biggest challenges to be. These challenges were fleshed out in small group activities, with presentations and analysis on how these problems are influenced by other factors. Many of the challenges the students identified aligned with those we brainstormed with the NECOFA staff, in addition to some great ideas that we had overlooked. We demonstrated the creation of problem and objective trees, a tool for analyzing the root causes and consequences of specific problems, and showed the students how to make their own. Finally, we heard a heartfelt speech by Raymond imploring his colleagues to work hard and not let your mistakes get in the way of a brighter future. We shared a delicious lunch of ugali, cabbage, and nyama, and headed back to Molo to use the feedback from the students to refine our budget and solidify the activities involved in our program on Kokwa Island.


BUDGET PROCESS

Over the past few weeks, we created and refined a budget that reflects the logistics of our short-term project planning. The initial draft was completed with the help of Jane and Lucy, where we went through all our proposed project ideas and factored in costs such as transportation, materials, trainers, accommodation, and labor. We then met with Samuel and he gave us more feedback and helped us with some of the project ideas that we couldn't quite budget for. Then, we revisited this budget after speaking to the community of Kokwa, and trimmed projects here and there to reflect the identified needs of the community.  Lastly, we scaled the budget down to fit the amount of money that we have raised with GlobeMed over the past year. The interventions that will be completed this year include:

-bringing internet to Kokwa primary school to enhance global citizenship and engage out-of-school youth
-building a public toilet to reduce pollution of the lake
-expanding the library to enhance the reading culture of the island
-exam exchanges between Kokwa Primary and the prestigious St Mary's school
-educational workshops on FGM and early marriages
-exposure visits for Kokwa Primary students to navigate institutions on the mainland that the island is lacking (banks, police stations, etc.)
-demonstrations of water filters
-maternal/child health and hygiene workshops
-training on animal husbandry
-education on entrepreneurship
-education on civic rights and responsibilities
-comprehensive community needs assessment with all demographics

We were astounded by the amount of incredible interventions that could be completed within this year's budget, but have a very long list of things to achieve in the future of our partnership. We are looking forward to bringing home several ideas we have had about how we can raise more money, so that we can expand our impact even further and serve the community to the best of our abilities.

All in all, we could not have asked for a better GROW experience. We learned more than we could have imagined about the work NECOFA does and how important they are in the lives of their countless beneficiaries. We've bonded deeply with all NECOFA staff and built not only a network of respect and trust, but also of friendship. We were happy to have received glowing feedback from the staff about our conduct with communities and our active participation throughout the entire internship.

Finally, Samuel informed us that if any GlobeMedders or their families are ever in the region, they would love to be in contact and maybe share a cup of chai.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Week 5

7/10

We started our week with a courtesy call to the Molo district government office facilities, which includes branches of education, development, planning, and more. We specifically visited the branch of the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss their relationship with NECOFA. They introduced to us their mission, values, and core functions which are outlined below. They also stressed how much they value this relationship with NECOFA, and how it allows them to more effectively implement community interventions. Samuel Muhunyu prefaced this visit by explaining that ideally, an NGO compliments and fills in the gaps of pre-existing policies set by the government.


One of the ministry officers, Grace, led us through the way in which they implement policies focused around food security, nutrition, youth involvement and gender mainstreaming in agriculture, and sustainable resource management for income generation. Grace noted that even policies surrounding issues such as HIV/AIDS are relevant to their ministry because the disease affects everyone, and those on ARVs (anti-retrovirals) require good nutrition for their bodies to respond positively to the treatment. This is a prime example of the interdisciplinary nature of community development.

We furtherly discussed the challenges faced within the department. Firstly, although agriculture accounts for nearly 70% of the country’s employment and small scale farming is the primary source of food in the country, agriculture is allotted less than 7% of the national budget, a source of money that is not only lacking, but often misused by officials. A major setback this has caused is the loss of “extension officers”: those in charge of bridging the gap between research that is done in the field of agriculture and the community farmers who would benefit from this knowledge. Another challenge that the department faces is the amount of youth involvement in agriculture. Young students are highly disinterested in farming and are overwhelmingly moving toward urban white collar jobs causing rapid exodus from the rural settings that provide produce for the country. Additionally, poor infrastructure leads to difficulty selling products in local markets and extreme weather can make people unable to transport their crops for weeks at a time. Finally, only 25-30% of the land in Kenya is arable, and this number is steadily decreasing due to poor resource management. The ministry would like to be able to restore more land for farming, and train a larger number of farmers on issues of soil erosion and water retention, but the lack of resources makes this unfeasable for the time being.

In the afternoon, we visited the Molo Youth Polytechnic, where we met the principal and various teachers, sitting in on class sessions and touring the facilities. They offer studies in auto mechanics, electrical fixation, refrigeration and air conditioning, construction, communications (computer skills), hairdressing and salon services, and fashion and textile production. Their classes are open to anyone, but most of their students come after graduating standard eight (eighth grade). The Polytechnic is also an exam center, providing the means for their students to get certified in their vocational studies after a two-year course. These students pay 10,000 Kenyan Shillings ($100 USD) for their full two years, but can apply for government subsidies if they are unable. This is a much cheaper alternative to secondary school, which allows the impoverished members of community to earn accreditation and start an income generating career. We ended the day by playing a friendly game of volleyball, and mingling with these bright and amicable students.


7/11

Today was a nice break from our busy travel from community to community. We thoroughly enjoy meeting so many different individuals and groups from all kinds of backgrounds, but it’s equally nice to have a calm office day like this one. This week, we are focusing on consolidating all of the information we’ve gathered from our community visits. We synthesized the lessons we’ve learned and the topics we’ve addressed, and we worked on making a spreadsheet to allow for the community impacted, topic of project proposal, pros, and cons. We additionally wrote an article about Raymond, the young college-bound man that we fished with last week in Baringo. We will post a link to this when it’s live!



7/12


Today was another office day, and we continued the pros and cons list. We furthermore worked on a spreadsheet with side projects for the GlobeMed chapter to pursue as separate ventures from our main GROW Project. We are very excited to have found several ways for our whole chapter to be involved in this experience, from selling Ogiek honey at farmers markets to being pen pals with some schools that we’ve met. We worked on a powerpoint to demonstrate our ideas to the NECOFA staff, which we will present in a meeting on Friday.



7/13

Today, we travelled about 40 minutes to Mariashoni, a community that we’ve previously visited to stay in the NECOFA Manitese Guest House and explore the Mau forest with the Kenya Forest Service. In this community, we had a meeting with several local leaders, in order to discuss the research of an Italian masters student of Anthropology named Antonio. He researched the interaction between the Mau forest, the indigenous tribes there, and climate change. He specifically studied the interaction between their traditions and the forest. This meeting was interesting because it was entirely in Kiswahili and Italian, so we had gracious university students from Eldoret help translate. After this, we ate lunch at Samuel Muhunyu’s favorite cafĂ© for githeri, and then rehearsed our presentation.

7/14/
The day finally came to present our ideas to the NECOFA staff! We started off this meeting as we do every meeting – with a word of prayer. The staff were so helpful and encouraging, with very positive feedback and new ideas for the projects we presented. We mainly discussed interventions in Kokwa Island, and the staff helped us expand these ideas to reach out to neighboring communities in the Baringo area. We hope to engage the community as a whole, even if the interventions we present are at school level. If funds allow, perhaps we can even reach out to Kachiru to extend our support. The staff helped us brainstorm ways in which we can focus on both the short term and long term impacts of our ideas, and we left the meeting feeling very hopeful about moving forward with the process of program implementation.


Additionally, we helped the office set up a PayPal account so they can receive direct donations separately from GlobalGiving, and we pursued a sponsorship from LUSH Cosmetics. All in all, it was a very productive week in the office and we can’t wait to keep taking steps forward with designing our project.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Weeks 3 and 4 in Kenya - Marashioni, Ogiek, Timdorel, Molo

MONDAY, June 26

After a relaxing weekend of gardening at the NECOFA office and hanging out in Nakuru, we were eager to head off to the Marashioni Guest House. Beforehand, we stopped in the community of Giteru. As is every home we visit, they were incredibly warm and welcoming. With the guidance of Jane Karanja and John Wachira, we entered the homes of several families' homesteads. These families demonstrated their sustainable farming techniques, growing crops such as tarere, spiderweed, maize, pyrethrum, cabbage, peas, sorghum, and millet. We came just in time for cow milking, and Rachel was the best out of all of us despite having never done it before.


They also showed us a demonstration pig fattening pen, because one of the projects NECOFA is working on is promotion of piggery as an income generation activity, a high yield venture that has thus far been untapped in many households.

Giteru is a very special community because it was created after the post-election violence of 2007 and 2008, with all the families inhabiting it being previously "Internally Displaced Persons," meaning that they were driven from their homes and were temporarily forced into makeshift refugee camps located in the churches of Molo and supported by NECOFA. After the election violence, each of the 177 families received 10,000 Kenyan Shillings ($100 USD) from the government, which they pooled together to buy a plot of land which was then divided up into 1/4 acre for a homestead, and 2 acres for farming per family. NECOFA supported each family with seeds and seedings they could cultivate to ensure they were food secure. After this initial kickstart to rebuilding their lives, the community came together with the Community Development Fund to build a school, and are currently working on erecting more classrooms to fulfill the needs of 300 children that still don't have the space for a learning environment (the 3 classrooms they currently have are pictured below). They are also focusing on income generating activities in the realm of agribusiness because, although 80% of families in this community are food secure, the majority do not have a way to make money to buy other essentials such as clothing. This community is made up of the Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Kissi, and Luhya tribes, all working cooperatively to rebuild their lives and their families after suffering terrible atrocities fueled by ethnic clashes.



We spent the night in the Marashioni Guest House, built by NECOFA and Manitesse, which is managed by community members in order to promote ecotourism in the Ogiek community. This guesthouse is seated on a hill overlooking the historic Mau forest, with a jovial in-house staff, and some of the best chapati and sukuma we've had!



TUESDAY, June 27

We began the morning at the Mau forest station, picking up The Forester and our friend from the Ogiek community. The Ogiek people are very unique because they hail from the Mau forest, and sustain themselves by using its bountiful natural resources, especially honey from indigenous bee foraging. This honey has medicinal properties because of the herbal trees found in the Mau forest, and we were so lucky to witness a demonstration of how they use traditional beekeeping practices.

Matches are illegal in the forest, so the Ogiek men rubbed sticks together to create natural smoke, adding it to a ball of moss so that he could smoke the bees out. He then put it in his sack and shimmied about 40 feet up the tree barefoot without any protective equipment or roping, blowing smoke into the hive to evacuate the bees for long enough to acquire the honey.




We learned that there are up to 60,000 bees in a given hive, made from specially hollowed logs.

He tossed honeycombs down to us and we tasted the best honey we've ever had, straight from nature, no different than the way the Ogiek had been eating it for over a hundred years.


We then took a hike to a cave where the Masai and Ogiek women and children worked together to survive while their sons and husbands were taken to fight for World War I. The cave currently holds religious significance and is used as a site for prayer and for circumcision, a rite of passage for Ogiek boys that occurs at the age of 18.



WEDNESDAY, June 28

We visited the Ogiek honey packaging facility this morning, powered by the Malando Co-Op, an organization of Ogiek honey harvesters. Currently they are packaging manually because they are lacking electricity, but with the continued support of NECOFA, they will be able to increase production from their current rate of 3-5 tons per year, peaking in September. NECOFA also helped them get proper certifications needed to sell their honey internationally, and are working on getting them certified as organic. We purchased 200g of pure and natural Mau forest honey for 200Ksh ($2 USD) and had the idea of bringing a suitcase full of honey back with us, so that we can sell them in the farmer's market in Seattle and send profits back to the Malando. More details to come!


THURSDAY, June 29

Today was wild, because we had 20 people in our 4 person apartment. On Wednesday, Samuel Muhunyu informed us that the location of our pork recipes workshop was our humble abode, so we speed-cleaned and hoped for the best. It worked really well, with several jikos (charcoal stoves) located in the living room, the kitchen, and outside on our deck. We made pork chops, pork loin, wet fry, dry fry, bacon, goulash stew, spinach, tarere, ugali, chapati, and assorted fruit. After laboring over our beloved Wilbur for hours, we finally had a lunch feast at around 3 pm, paired with choice wines and the best staff members an NGO could ask for. We ended the night with a little dance party and a LOT of cleaning. The point of this workshop was to familiarize ourselves with easy and affordable pork recipes, so that we could then promote our piggery projects complete with convincing and delicious ways to utilize the pork these families will be rearing.



FRIDAY, June 30 - SUNDAY, July 2

A touristic weekend spent in the Masai Mara Game Reserve. On the bumpy road to our campsite, our driver hopped out and said simply "big problem." We were on the side of the road no more than 45 seconds when another driver pulled over to pick us up. His passengers were a lovely Spanish couple here on their honeymoon. They dropped us at our site, an incredible campsite near the Masai village. As our driver tended to our car, the camp site set us up with a local driver free of charge. Samson has been a guide at the Masai Mara for over 10 years and was the best guide a safari-goer could ask for. He knew all the secret spots and wasn't afraid to go off the road to get a better view. We saw just about all the animals we could have hoped for including 15 lions (Samson says it's a good day if you manage to see 1). He also taught us all about the Masai culture and took us on a tour of his village. After a few breakdowns on the way back to Molo, we ended up spending an unplanned night in Narok.

MONDAY, July 3

Travelled all day from Narok to Molo, then from Molo to Baringo. Ate dinner at the Tamarind EcoLodge, and got a brief from Samuel Muhunyu on the Baringo community's multiculturalism and its unique struggles. This is still a hot zone for tribal violence between the Pokot and the Ilchamus, and this violence has recently evolved as the availability of handguns has increased over the years. NECOFA mainly works in regions populated by the Ilchamus, who have a great deal of internal challenges to overcome as well. Many of these stem from perseverance of potentially harmful cultural practices without willingness to adapt to changing landscapes. For example, the island is quickly becoming overpopulated with livestock, but number of livestock one owns is a main determinant of social status, so community members are currently unwilling to reduce breeding. Another challenge faced by this community is very high rates of early marriages and FGM, with very few girls being able to finish primary school. Finally, the water available to those living on Kokwa Island contains excessive amounts of fluoride and is deemed unsafe to drink, although all of its inhabitants do. NECOFA is struggling to find an effective and affordable way to filter to fluoride from this water, but is thus far unsuccessful.

TUESDAY, July 4

We got an early start on the day to travel by boat to Kokwa Island nestled in the heart of Lake Baringo. The people of Kokwa rely almost entirely on fishing.

We picked up Sammy Mathu, the NECOFA - Marigat staff member, as well as Irene, a beautiful, educated woman that initially benefitted from NECOFA's scholarships to students on Kokwa Island, then graduating to becoming a part time staff member as she pursues her university degree.

We visited the two primary schools on the island. The first features a boarding option available only to girls in efforts to shield them from forced marriages so they can finish through grade 8. Its 271 students are taught by 8 dedicated teachers who are always looking for ways to improve the quality of education on this remote island. They are currently looking to expand their library to improve the community's reading culture, and we are hoping to hold a book drive when we return to benefit these students!

They also want to become equipped with internet so that they can attract youth that are not currently attending school to come and receive free internet classes and give them practical skills. They hope to engage more youth in vocational training, however skilled labor such as mechanic work, carpentry, tailory and others are very much looked down upon within the community and locals are currently forced to go back to the mainland if any of these services are needed.

The second school we visited is currently working with help of NECOFA to be registered with the county government as an official public school, so the teachers are working on a volunteer basis. This institution was constructed because students as young as 5 and 6 were walking alone for several kilometers to reach the one primary school on the island, and it was very much unsustainable. Nonetheless, the excited children and their 3 teachers greeted us with huge smiles and a heartwarming song and dance.




WEDNESDAY, July 5

We met Raymond, a student who had recently graduated secondary school thanks to a NECOFA scholarship, as he was fishing on the Southeastern shore of the lake, and we joined him for a day of catching mudfish, catfish, and tilapia, as well as the occasional guppy half-gnawed by a crocodile.

Besides seeing Raymond's impressive fishing skills, we also got to learn more about the scholarship that he received to attend the University of Michigan this coming school year. Raymond's mother prepared us an incredible meal of fried tilapia and ugali which we devoured while discussing more about his plans for college.



Raymond received a scholarship through ESEP, Education and Social Empowerment Program, funded by the Kenyan government. The ESEP scholarship is only awarded to 10 students in Kenya every year, Raymond being one of them. He is excited about college life in America and is planning on majoring in Biosystems Engineering. His plan is to use his education to engineer more effective fishing technology, as well as a faster growing fish species to replenish the declining the fish population of Lake Baringo due to climate change and overfishing. In addition, Raymond is also interested in taking French and Psychology classes while at university. Overall, he could not contain his excitement about his new adventure to the US and neither could we. We are anxious to keep up with Raymond and hear all about his college experience.



THURSDAY, July 6

We had the unique opportunity to visit Sokotel Primary School where we were able to watch a NECOFA sponsored talk led by a representative from the Ministry of Education, Winnie,  and a local nurse, Jessica on the dangers and issues surrounding the cultural practices of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and forced early marriages. The talk was presented for girls in 7th and 8th grade. This was their first formal talk on either of these topics. The students were very active in voicing their concerns on FGM. They noted that FGM can lead to painful childbirth, difficult urination, trauma, and infections including HIV/AIDS. They also talked about the practice of early marriages where young girls are forced to marry men typically more than twice their age, often in exchange for livestock and land. While these practices are common in their community Winnie stressed how important it is to respect our bodies as women and girls. She also stressed to the girls that if they ever find themselves in these dangerous situations that the female teachers, local priests and police are always available if they need help. After the talk on FGM, the nurse talked to the girls about puberty and what to expect when they get their periods. In communities across Kenya there is a stigma about periods that still exists, often causing girls to be embarassed and skip school during their menstruation cycle. This is especially common in rural communities like Baringo. The nurse explained to them that getting period is normal and that there is no need to feel ashamed, as well as how to maintain good hygiene. Emma then shared the story of the first time that she got her period with the girls who were very excited to hear about it. NECOFA was also able to donate reusable sanitary pad kits to every girl that attended the talk. They were taught how to use the pads and how to clean them. The girls could not stop smiling with their new kits and can now be confident every month.


After leaving the school, we drove to Longumngum women's group, a group of 14 women beekeepers who use beeswax to make organic lotion. Beekeeping is generally a profession done solely by men in Kenya, and when these women decided to do it themselves many in their community were disapproving. However, these women persevered  and were able to design their own beekeeping suits and have been making their lotion since 2002, meanwhile breaking down gender stereotypes and starting to change the minds of those in their community. They hope to get their product approved the Kenya Bureau of Standards so they can sell in local markets. They are also looking to expand their market by creating more beeswax products like candles.


SATURDAY, July 8

The morning started by giving seedlings to the Molo tree nursery at the Kobaitek Forest Station. We then spent all day driving throughout Molo to visit the homes of families who are recipients of scholarships funded by NECOFA. We stopped by 6 different families throughout our day. The students are all in secondary school struggling to pay their school fees. NECOFA awarded these scholarships based on the student's need and also their excellent academic performance. Each student was given a new school uniform.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Week 2 in Kenya

MONDAY

We left Molo at 8 am en route to Nyeri. We briefly stopped at the equator, and at Thompson Falls where we met some cool chameleons (I named this one Chameleonaire).



We then visited the Mutitu B Water Project in Kieni, a town that relies heavily on farming for subsistence. However, this town has been in crisis since the Karmeno river (their primary source of water) has been dried almost completely due to climate change and overpopulation. This has left no water for the people, their crops, nor their livestock.


The lack of water has caused incredible tension between the residents who live near the mouth of the river and those at its base. To make matters more dire, the town hasn't seen rain in over a month, and most of its inhabitants do not utilize roof water harvesting, a tool for sustainable water catchment. The community is working towards alternative sources of income like beekeeping, but due to lack of government assistance, they are fending for themselves and all interventions are funded by the community members. This method proves very difficult, because the out-of-pocket expenses are exorbitant for those struggling with poverty as it is. As the chairman of a local water group pointed out, many people in the town go to bed hungry every night. NECOFA assisted the association by writing a grant proposal for monetary assistance from Slovak embassy which is still pending. 

After a night in Nyeri, we visited the Kenya School of Agriculture. We learned about how they train community members to increase crop yields and market access through contemporary technology, which they subsequently share with their respective communities. They also dedicate one day a week for drop in questions where the farmers can come directly for advice on specific issues, always resulting in nearly 100% turnout from those they invite. Additionally, the school has a department working on alternative energy sources which they hope to offer at an affordable cost to reduce the burden of resource accumulation for Kenyan citizens. These alternatives include solar energy, biogas, and jikos (energy saving stoves). This additionally helps combat deforestation, a significant issue for indigenous trees and a depleting tree cover.



On Wednesday we spent the day in Kachuru, a remote community in an arid region that relies mostly on livestock rearing for income due to the inability to grow crops. As pointed out by NECOFA's director and founder, Samuel, this is a place where Muslims and Christians coexist very peacefully, and represent a fairly even portion of the population. 


Until a few years ago, they did not have a school for the local children. Thanks to a generous donor from the US, they now have a primary school, but they are looking to expand because the three classrooms serve nearly 200 children from preschool to grade eight (although this number varies due to a highly nomadic population). Depicted here is the early childhood development center and some of their pupils.



This community is burdened by the fact that the majority of their children are unable to move on to secondary school due to lack of funds, and furthermore, lack of an accessible secondary school, with the closest one being over an hour away without regular public transport. Only five girls from the town have been able to get a high school education. The school and the police station are the only structures in town with access to regular electricity, and their access is very limited. Another challenge faced by this community is a lack of government assistance due to the fact that they are on the very outskirts of Meru county and only represent a small fraction of the voting population. Over the years, NECOFA has participated in several interventions in Kachuru including a school feeding program and a grant from the Community Development Trust Fund to construct a borehole for steady access to potable water. However, this is still a challenge for the community because the water contains a high level of salinity deemed unhealthy for human consumption. NECOFA is currently looking for a low cost and effective method to desalinate the water.


The most recent intervention was the building of a health dispensary for the community, desperately needed for lack of access to care, with the nearest hospital being located more than 75 kilometers from town. We were so excited to be there for the clinic's grand opening, and so proud to see NECOFA's name boldly displayed on the front as a key sponsor. We were honored by standing among Meru's governor as he ceremonially cut the ribbon and officially opened the clinic to the public.


On our way to Meru, we visited two students who have received scholarships secured by NECOFA at the St. Stephano Girl's Secondary School. They were shy to be among the principals and staff of NECOFA, but very bright and dedicated to their studies. Caroline and Maurine's soft smiles lit up the room, and we could tell how proud the school was of their accomplishments, as they have both come from very humble backgrounds. Caroline aspires to become a teacher, and Maurine intends to become a doctor. 

That night, we spent time in Meru town amidst rolling hills of lush green forest, a surprisingly stark contrast from the dry and dusty Kachuru we visited that same morning.



On Thursday we made the eight hour drive back to Molo. Along the way we caught a beautiful view of Mount Kenya, rising out of the clouds at just over 17,000 ft.


We also got to meet some beautiful rhinos, accompanied by their egret friends, which eat the ticks and other parasites and help protect the rhinos from disease. What a breathtaking manifestation of symbiosis in action!


Friday and Saturday were spent in the office creating spreadsheets of donor information and updating NECOFA's Global Giving page. For those of you interested in supporting NECOFA's dedicated work to vulnerable communities in Kenya, July 12th is one of Global Giving's Bonus Reward Days. From 9 AM to 11:59 PM EDT all of your donations to NECOFA will be matched by 50% and all new recurring donations will be matched 100%. You can view/ donate to NECOFA's Global Giving page here: 

https://www.globalgiving.org/donate/1523/network-for-ecofarming-in-africa/  

When we weren't inside working on the computers for office logistics, we got the opportunity to get down and dirty in the demonstration gardens. These gardens are planted so that visitors to NECOFA can see their agricultural techniques and technologies in action, complete with diagonal planted plots, kitchen gardens, and organic compost production. In the diagonal planted plots, we had fun planting spinach and kale, which we will harvest in three weeks' time. The seedlings were purchased down the street in a seedling garden nestled into downtown Molo, a quiet escape from the bustling shirt shops and street-side fruit stands navigated by noisy motorcycles and bustling Matatus (public busses). 


As always, if you have any questions or comments, leave us a message below or email us at emesselstyn@gmail.com. Thanks so much for tuning in, and we can't wait to describe our adventures next week as we head off to Ogiek and Mariashoni for traditional beekeeping methods, and waste management techniques, as well as an excursion to the Masai Mara national park. Kwaheri, tuonane baadaye! (Goodbye, see you later!)




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.