Archive for the 'Kisumu, Kenya' Category

Where it all began

Bernard and I, 2006

This originally is a letter that I sent out to my friends and family but I have been urged to share it on the blog as well.

-Nyla

As I write to you I am sitting on the porch of my hotel in Kisumu. This is the same hotel that in April of 2006, I shared a dinner with Bernard and talked about his dreams for the future. So much has changed since then. First, Bernard is no longer a boy but a man whose dreams are now within his grasp. Second, this is now my fourth time in Kenya and instead of it just being 3 months after my mother passed away it has been years. And it is only now that I am truly starting to understand how I ended up here in the first place.

I am here in Kisumu. Where it all began. Where 3 months after my mother died I came here to meet Bernard, the orphan that she sponsored. Not really knowing why but just following my instinct that when I got here things would fall into place. And they did to a certain extent. I met Bernard, learned about the project that my mother funded at OLPS-Neema that helped hundreds of women and out of this experience sparked the inspiration for Mama Hope. But what I have learned now is that this really is just the surface story. There is actually so much more.

A couple days ago, while driving with Bernard and Anastasia, the founder of OLPS-Neema, I asked her to tell me a little bit more about how my mother contacted her. She said one day in 2003 she just got a call from my mother and in true Stephanie Moore fashion, she just launched into her pitch. “Hi, I am Stephanie Moore. I am Bernard Olando’s sponsor. I want to help the young women in your community who are losing their parents to AIDS to become self sufficient? I saw a special about this on TV about how these women end up needing to take up prostitution to support their siblings and I want to help prevent this. You see I have a daughter and I hope that if anything happened to me she would be able to be self sufficient…and so on…and so on…..etc.” Once Anastasia could get a word in she told my mother that it was her dream “to start a program to teach these women how to run their own businesses.” Then she told my mom how much she needed to raise to start it. She said that my mother answered confidently, “Give me two weeks!” And so began a wonderful relationship where my mother would call Anastasia, ask her what she needed, then raise the money from her friends and send the funds to Kenya to help these young women.

Time went on and at the end of 2005 Anastasia got a very different call, “Anastasia, I have some bad news. I am very sick and I don’t think I will be around much longer. But I have a daughter and I promise that she will not abandon you and Bernard.” This was the very last time they spoke.

Anastasia told me that she had a beautiful picture of my mother who she said looked like a very young woman and so she thought for sure that the daughter must still be a young girl. She said that after that call she just prayed for the girl; that her whole community prayed that she would be alright. She told me that she wished to bring that girl into her home and care for her.

So four months later when I called her she thought it was a miracle. And a few weeks later when I showed up at her door in Kenya to meet Bernard she was so shocked to see a young woman who looked so similar to her picture of Stephanie Moore. She told me, “you know when you arrived and you were crying, and my whole staff was crying too. It was tears of joy because we knew that you had made it home.”

I want to point out that up until now I KNEW NONE OF THIS. My mother never told me of her promise to Anastasia. I didn’t go to Kenya to fulfill some destiny. I just saw it as an opportunity to meet Bernard and escape from my life in California and everything that reminded me of my terrible loss. Little did I know that what I was escaping to would eventually be the thing that healed my grief.

I remember now how I felt when I showed up; totally defeated and hopeless. The day before I met Anastasia and Bernard for the first time I was sitting on the porch of this very same hotel by myself. Cursing the universe. Asking why the hell I was in Kenya? How could my mother’s death ever have any meaning? How was I ever really to have faith again? I did not know that it would be renewed the very next day by meeting the people that my mother helped and inspiring me to create something so special in her absence.

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The Women's group during a drip irrigation training in 2009

So today, I am meeting with Anastasia to launch a garden in her community to honor another mother, named Rita Rose. Through Mama Hope a young girl named Mimi Rose contacted me who also lost her young beautiful mother to cancer and decided to fundraise in her memory. The Rita Rose Garden is going to help 100 women, (the very same women my mother helped, who are no longer girls but now mother’s themselves) have a sustainable source of nutrition for their children.

And in two weeks Bernard begins Medical Training College. We were so excited when he got the call with us on Saturday and learned that he was the only student accepted from his high school and that he also got a $1,000 scholarship. I know my mother is beaming with pride!

Bernard and I, 2009

I have no idea why I woke up this morning to write this to you. I think I just wanted to share that the universe works in strange ways. People might leave us but it seems that love is something that can connect us beyond the boundaries of death in the most miraculous ways and that sometimes when you think you are completely lost you are just on another path home.

Three Takes on Community Gardens

-Bryce

The Ngeya Training Garden in Maai Maihu, Kenya

The Ngeya Training Garden in Maai Maihu, Kenya

Since leaving Tanzania, Nyla and I have been traveling throughout Kenya helping to implement drip irrigation projects with communities in Mai Mahiu, Isiolo and Kisumu. Earlier this year Mama Hope received a grant from the William Zimmerman Foundation to launch these gardens. Initially, we thought of doing a single pilot “Demonstration Garden” that we could replicate in all three communities. Though, in typical Mama Hope fashion, the gardens have evolved according to the needs of our partner communities. Jargon? Yes, but it’s true. Single template solutions only seem to work on paper. Here is a brief rundown of the three different approaches to the gardens. We’ll have more about their progress as time moves on.

Comfort the Children, Maai Mahiu, The Rift Valley

The Enviroment Club in their training garden at Ngeya Primary School.

The Enviroment Club in their training garden at Ngeya Primary School.

First stop was up in the Rift Valley about an hour north of Nairobi. Small buses whine up steep hills, pass broken guard rails, overlooking the expanse of the Rift Valley. Up the hills towards the town, volcanic ash mixes in with the farm lands and winds roar up the town’s main strip stinging the face and the clouding the eyes. Our partner project here is Comfort the Children International (CTC), an American based, but locally run organization working to create sustainable project models for local community based organizations.

Earlier in 2009 when Mama Hope first received the funds from the William Zimmerman Foundation we gave CTC a project grant to start a youth run Demonstration Garden. Currently, the garden is in its third harvest and will continue to produce year-round through the use of drip irrigation. It’s run by the local primary school’s Environmental Club. Mostly the group consists of coy quick-witted children between the ages of 7 and 14 who are taught an amazing amount of farming knowledge by their teacher, simply known as “Rocky”. Every Tuesday after school the Environmental Club meets to discuss the logistics of running the garden and on Thursdays they work in teams to maintain the garden.

Rocky going through his student's notepads in Maai Maihu.

Rocky going through his student's notepads in Maai Maihu.

The approach here is simple. Educate and work with the children to install and maintain the irrigation systems through lessons and practical activities, then involve the children’s parents in the training in an effort to spread the knowledge of the drip irrigation systems to the local community.

Wind of Hope, Isiolo, Kaisut Desert

The beginnings of the Wind of Hope Pilot Greenhouse

The beginnings of the Wind of Hope Pilot Greenhouse

8 hours away in Isiolo is our original partner project Wind of Hope in the Arid (WOHA). It’s a worn and dusty town surrounded by safari destinations. WOHA is an HIV/AIDS Community Based Program struggling through a particularly severe drought to feed its community. Four days ago we heard a story about a 79 year old man being repeatedly robbed by his neighbors for his food relief.

James Sunday helps to clear space for the greenhouse.

James Sunday helps to clear space for the greenhouse.

We had planned to help organize for a youth drip irrigat CTC, but food insecurity lead the youion program similar toth to decide on a smaller more easily guarded project that would better utilize the little water resources they have. It was decided that a drip irrigated greenhouse should be constructed and used as a demonstration for the community of ways to conserve water and to provide better yields during drought periods. Also when the rains come the water can be harvested from gutters on the roof into water tanks.

Within an afternoon the greenhouse had been plotted and the land cleared completely by the youth. They also organized for building materials, soil, and skilled labor to help them construct the timber. Currently, they are documenting the project themselves through a camera and computer class Nyla and I have been teaching them.

Our Lady of Perpetual Support, Kisumu, Lake Victoria

Anastasia, OLPS director, (right) consults garden plans with the local community.

Anastasia, OLPS director, (right) consults garden plans with the local community.

Coming up to western Kenya is a bit deceiving. It’s green and after being in a drought in the desert it was a shock to our system to arrive in a rain storm that could have doubled as a monsoon. Kisumu sits on the shores of one of the biggest fresh water lakes in the world. A 15 minute cab ride away from the city reveals tired farms and dried up fields of corn. It’s green, sure, but once you get away from the city water sources, food security is entirely dependent on very undependable rainfall.

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Our project partner Our Lady of Perpetual Support for People Living with HIV/AIDS (OLPS) does exactly as the name suggests. They are a community run program offering health care, home based care gardens and an orphanage. Their basic mission is supporting children from conception on. As the founding director, Anastasia states, “It is not enough to simply feed a child. They must be fed and educated, so they may do the same for others.”

Planting Kail during a drip irrigation training.

Planting Kale during a drip irrigation training.

The project here has come together as drip irrigation training for 100 female home based caregivers taking care of orphans (most have been widowed by HIV/AIDS). They are to revamp a 3 acre garden with easily replicable drip irrigation systems. OLPS’s goal by the end of the year is that these methods are adopted by the women for use in their home gardens. The women’s hope is that the produce from the garden will be used to supplement the food supply for an elementary school that is across the street from the project.


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