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.