Posts Tagged 'Women'

Three Takes on Community Gardens


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.

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.


The Women’s Group


We’re walking to Mama Lucia. Our shoes crunch the dirt road and the wind whips at the plastic bags clinging to the dried shrubs. The land is a dusty patchwork of half finished construction and leaning fences. Around me are the women, seven members of the New Jordan Womens Group community bank (NJWG). They walk in flowing fabrics of red, black, pink and blue. Some children jeer at us and laughingly try to get a handshake.

“Give me my pen?” one of the children asks.

“You give me my pen.” I respond. The kids laugh harder and dart away.

“We’re going to visit an old mama,” says Hadija Mohammed, “A very sick mama.”

Again, I’ve found myself involved in a food distribution. Bringing food and midnight oil to someone unable to care for themselves. The difference here is the caregivers and the means behind the goods.

Over the past year, the 12 women of NJWG have been working to maintain a community banking project facilitated by Mama Hope though Pepo La Tumaini Jangwani (Wind of Hope in the Desert) in Isiolo, Kenya. The basic idea behind community based microfinance projects is to give those ordinarily unable to access credit, the ability to obtain small business loans, as well as the knowledge to manage these funds

Before the transition to microfinance, the women’s group had already been meeting for several years as a way to support fellow entrepreneurs. Their businesses range from small milk shops and clothing repair to a handful of roadside vegetable stands. A good day brings in about 100 shillings (approx. $1.50 USD).

Seeing the need for expansion, the group started what’s called a merry-go-round. Every week each member brought 50 shillings to give to a single entrepreneur.

“The money would help one of us, but we never moved forward. We were always waiting for our turn and could never make a higher amount “explains the bank’s first elected president, Geraldine Mugaonbi, the owner of a milk shop. “With the microfinance, we are all able to have the money through loans at the same time. So it helps us all.”

The key to this particular bank is its savings lead approach. Rather than an outside source simply giving money to the members, the bank is funded through the member’s hard earned savings. Each week, the members deposit a mandatory and voluntary savings. Once enough is saved, the members begin taking out loans and paying back interest to the fund.

“There is a saying from the coast,” Geraldine goes on, “if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat it, then ask for another. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll never go hungry. Even some of the members who came hoping and expecting money have decided what we got is better”

“I’m running the shop myself. My husband is an old man who never visits,” says Rose Mumbi, owner of a milk and charcoal stand. “I was married to him when I was 12 and he has other wives.”

The sentiment seems to be the same throughout the group. Of the 12 women, over half have no support beyond what they have built for themselves. When documenting a microfinance project in Nicaragua, I found a similar situation. The majority of men had either left their wives or had been unemployed for extended periods of time.

“”We’re not letting any men in the bank,” exclaims Hadija, a vegetable roadside stand owner, during a July 2008 meeting.

The group agrees.

They had one at the beginning. He was a local hired to help them manage the bank and act as a liaison between the NJWG, Pepo La Tumaini and Mama Hope.

“He tried to shake us, but we wouldn’t let him,” explains Hadija. “He was trying take complete control of it. Eventually he just left. No goodbye.”

Another aspect of the bank is the development fund. 20% of the interest from the loans is combined with weekly contributions and set aside to help community focused projects. Whether funding a community health day or helping the women care for the ill, the development fund gives the members the ability to make a positive change in their community. In their most common method of help, the development fund allows the women to bring supplies and psycho-social support to those in the community like Mama Lucia.

11 and a half months after the start of the bank, we enter Mama Lucia’s complex. Outside is a leaning sheet metal gate. The rectangular building is made of worn wood panels blackened with soot. It has 4 sections. Several children play in the front yard with pots and kitchen utensils.

Her room is in the back. It’s dark and she needs help greeting everyone. We spend some time with her chatting and showing her what has been brought. She asks for some petrol to burn at night and the group complies. She doesn’t say much else.

As we’re leaving I’m realizing the full circle this bank has taken. The women are finishing their first year and their capacity has been increasing in tandem with their ability to help the community. They have proposed more food distributions as well as more helping other groups to start their own community banks.

Hadija asks me if I remember a woman named Salma. I do.

We had visited Salma nearly a year ago, my first food distribution with the bank. She was a woman paralyzed from the waist down and unable to leave her home. At first she thought I was there to give her a handout. She refused until she found out it was purely from the women.

To explain her reasons, she propped herself up and said in perfect English, “if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat it, then ask for another. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll never go hungry.”

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