On the Audacity of Hope*

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On the Audacity of Hope

            *Shout out to my main man, and fellow Luo, President Barack Obama

I don’t usually enjoy writing solely about emotion, without critical analysis of community development, but it seemed necessary this week.

I’ve been back for about a month now. It’s been rough. I try to start each day with gratitude. Gratitude for the friends who welcomed me with love, for housing, for EBT, for the part-time job I walked right into, for my breath, my legs, and my beating heart.

Without fail as the day proceeds, niggling insecurities creep in. That I have a lot of money left to fundraise, that it is improbable that I’ll reach the goal. Moments of doubt and fear, and wanting to give up pervade.

Last week, we started harvesting tomatoes at the greenhouse we built while I was at the farm.

A moment, a connection with someone, or a problem solved enters, and my heart and smile beam, and I remembered the power of hope, and why I do this. 

I have never accomplished anything positive by focusing solely on the constraints of a situation. I’m not saying we ignore the facts, but remember there are always assets in a problem, even if they seem few stacked against the odds. What makes the seemingly impossible possible is the power of illogical hope. Hope that I have for my future, hope that mamas have for their children, that is what gets the impossible done. 

Dream and hope with us. Give here: www.stayclassy.org/ritarose

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Rocky’s 30 Shillings and Other Lessons in Community Development

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     The Kisumu team went on a fact-finding mission last week to visit Rocky Murri, environment coordinator for Comfort the Children International in Maai Mahiu, Kenya to see what things we could work on implementing in our own Rita Rose Garden and Sustainable Farm.

     Rocky’s been working on teaching local schoolchildren how to make sack gardens for their households—a garden that can grow 80 plants out of a large sack with holes poked into the sides. After some kids were so interested in the sack gardens, he also began gauging interest in backyard drip gardens. Drip tape with small holes allows a small amount of water to irrigate the base of each plant, addressing the challenge of water access.

     As we asked loads of questions about cost, feasibility, and sensitizing the community, Rocky showed us one of his backyard garden hacks—instead of buying another connector to plug the end of the tape, he cuts a piece of tape off the end, folds the line in half and uses the other piece to seal it, and says, “There’s my 30 shillings saved”—the cost of one more connector.

     Talking about the need to ensure whatever intervention you may be working on is one the community actually wants and will use, he emphasizes the need to “go deep, don’t spread wide” in your project. People are resistant to change, he says, go slowly, in Maai Mahiu people have always grown beans and maize, they say you can’t grown sweet potatoes, but here at the farm, I’m growing them.” Don’t tell people-show them.

We owe Rocky some tremendous gratitude for demonstrating what can work,  and for his great hospitality.

Help us sensitize, train, and provide drip kits to our own caregivers by donating here:

http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=249512

Reflection and Hope for the New Year

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What I’ve learned about farming in Kenya thus far:

For the majority of subsistence farmers, every bit of it is manual, exhausting work. It takes patience and a lot of time. If you want to see crops, you have to wait for them. Women are paid less than men. Water is critical. It’s a balancing act of understanding soil deficiencies, when to weed, plant, spray for pests, how many people are required to do a piece of work, and what you can afford to pay them, and how to get the best market.  At the end of the season, you hope for the best returns, and pray that whatever mistakes you have made, the lesson was learned for a return next time.

What we’ve accomplished at Rita Rose in the last few months:

We completed a successful beekeeping training to the great enthusiasm of our participants, women, men, and youth alike. In one part, we learned to make cough syrup from honey, lime, and an egg white, a product of value addition to sell along with pure honey. Our trainees received their own hives to manage as they manage the farm’s hives.

We’ve nearly completed an apiary, or house for the bees, that makes sense in our local context. Some of us on the farm management were ecstatic to watch an apiary just like ours featured on a local educational program for farmers on television last weekend.

We’ve constructed a second greenhouse, so that we dramatically increase our tomato production, and our sales to financially support farm operations. Tomatoes are particularly susceptible to pests and disease; with a greenhouse, we can provide quality tomatoes. Drip irrigation lines inside the greenhouse combat lack of rainfall.

What we hopeto see over the coming year:

 In the coming year, our farm needs to provide food year-round for 30 people at the Kisumu Rescue Center. The center is a unique approach to the situation of orphans and vulnerable children in the area. Rather than an orphanage system, OLPS believes the best solution for such children is to be placed with an extended family member, or guardian who can adequately care for a child’s basic and psychological needs. The center provides a home for the child to stay until such a guardian can be found, and will offer social work and counseling services.

 Our caregivers and their orphans and vulnerable children also need a dramatic increase in support for their food challenges. We’re working on modifying a drip irrigation kit so that some of them may use it at home to grow their own vegetables while using minimal water.

Our vision is to see Rita Rose Garden as a demonstration plot, so that those in the local community can come and see our hives, our fish ponds, our plots, and ask questions, and apply these strategies at home for their own sustenance, and especially to grow their incomes.

As we have closed 2013 and opened a new season for the farm, I want to express our tremendous gratitude for the support we have received at the farm over the last year. The things we have accomplished have been wonderful, and we will see the fruits, or veggies, of them for many years to come. I also ask that you continue to see the importance of our farm in fighting food poverty, and support us with a donation, or simply by sharing our story with your friends and family.

Please give here:

http://stayclassy.org/ritarose

Imora: You make me happy

            It’s been a little over two months that I’ve been on the farm—I can’t believe how quickly time has passed.

            We completed our first beekeeping training. With 10 participants, from ages 16 to 60, I was so impressed by their enthusiasm for learning this crazy, new skill. At times, beekeepers in this area are thought to engage in witchcraft, these new beekeepers are eager to train others and dispel this stereotype.

            We’ve nearly completed construction on our second greenhouse, and are preparing to plant another generation of tomatoes in the other greenhouse. 

            In our weekly caregivers meeting, we made stories and laughed our hearts out. Pamela, Angeline, Helen, Carolyn, Rose, and Milka enjoyed my grasp of the local language, Dholuo, too much. Angeline told me, “Imora.” You make me happy. In fact, I was searching for a way to tell her how happy she makes me. No, rather, “imora malich”, you make me very happy.

            I asked them, when the harvest is little, what keeps you coming back to the farm every week? “Our children.”

            As far as we’ve come in building a stronger infrastructure at the farm, improving our assets, and investing in new ones, this is only the beginning of a journey to sustainability.  We have inputs, and harvest, but securing access to a consistent market is still difficult. Most critical is providing means for self-sustainable strategies- that is taking our solutions and putting them into the caregivers’ homes. Along with that, is ensuring that the farm is a site for learning, so that the local community can transform our strategies into projects on their own farms.

            What would make me tremendously happy would be to provide 50 kitchen garden kits to 50 caregivers, as a start. These modified drip irrigation kits represent a solution to water shortages. One study in Lesotho showed that such a solution can provide up to 90% of a household’s vegetable needs within 1-2 years. Rather than spending each day struggling to provide meals, this would mean years of caregivers growing their own food.  Consider investing in these women’s ability to support their families for more than a day. Share our story with someone you know, and donate here: https://www.stayclassy.org/ritaroseImage

Kisuma–Go and seek assistance

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Yesterday, I heard a story of how Kisumu was named. From what I gathered of the story, long ago, people would travel to this area when they had no food. They would be given grain. So, the Luo people called this place Kisuma, or “the assistance” as in, go and seek assistance when there is famine.  People can be kind anywhere. But after years of being accustomed to the ways giving and caring is enmeshed in African social structure, I feel it every time. Finding ways to turn this assistance into empowerment is what keeps my heart and head churning.

This week I attended a training given by nutritionists from the Kisumu District Hospital at OLPS, the office where I work. They demonstrated the correct ways to measure a child’s height, weight, and went over the signs of chronic malnourishment of children. These conditions leave children skeletal, or with swollen bellies, though they are not so common in Kenya now, disturbing cases remain. As a team of nutritionists and social workers, and myself, we discussed the ways to prevent children from reaching this stage of undernourishment.

I also met with a few of the caregivers as we planted sukuma wiki, kale, on the farm. The caregivers were far too jovial and kind to me, as I am clearly the slowest farmhand this side of the Nile. Probably, all sides of the Nile.  

Our vision behind Rita Rose Garden and Farm goes beyond supporting these caregivers by improving their families’ livelihoods. The Kisumu Rescue Center is another project of OLPS. The center will provide a home and rehabilitation for 20+ vulnerable children who have faced a myriad of obstacles, most often associated with the death of a parent by HIV/AIDS. The center is a unique alternative model to traditional orphanages. By scaling up the yields of the Rita Rose Garden and Farm, we aim to provide food for the rescue center year-round.

In other buzzworthy news, we will begin to invigorate our honey production as we build a shade structure for the beehives, improve their foundation, and plant sunflowers and other foliage for them.

Help us guarantee a food secure Kisumu by giving at https://stayclassy.org.ritarose

Photo featuring nutritionists from Kisumu District Hospital and a very willing baby model. 

“Making simple miracles possible”

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Often when people here in the U.S. consider HIV/AIDS, hunger, or poverty in Africa, a cloudy image of hopelessness arises. Or they think the problem is too complicated to undertake.  Yes, there are difficulties that some Africans face. However, Africa is a big place,a continent with many countries, and many stories. People lead dynamic lives no matter what circumstances they face–they wake up each morning to try their hands, heart, and soul at this thing called life. And it’s not all that crazy, or difficult, to think that such lives are not so different from ours, or that the problem at hand is an impossible one to tackle.

Why Rita Rose Garden and Farm? We’re working with an organization in Kisumu on access to food for vulnerable families. We’re working on a sustainable solution. We have a great piece of land. It’s already very productive. Through the efforts of OLPS, Mama Hope, and the First Fifth Fellowship it has an abundant water source. This water has been extended to serve two villages in the area beyond the farm, effectively providing a clean water source accessible to 39,000 people.

We also have a greenhouse, 3 fishponds, beehives and a drip irrigation garden. This drip garden is one way we have approached a problem. By installing pipes that feed a small amount of water directly at the roots of a plant, we conserve water and improve crop yields throughout dry seasons. All of these are assets that will make the farm sustainable. I’ll be working with the community on a strategic plan to ensure that this farm reaches it’s full potential and is a source of food and income for generations of healthy families.

Please share this post and consider giving to support our efforts at:

http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=249512

The title of today’s post is from Our Lady of Perpetual Support, or OLPS. OLPS is behind the Rita Rose garden, an organization that supports people in Kisumu who have been impacted by HIV/AIDS in a myriad of ways. One of the things they do is support 700 orphans and vulnerable children by placing them with extended family, or others willing to take them into their own families. They also run an HIV/AIDS health clinic and offer outreach, counseling and testing services, as well as nutrition classes for new mothers, among other things. My fellow advocate, Camila, is working on their rescue center, providing a safe and stable home to women and children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. You can read about her project here: <http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=249422>.  

Beyond Good Intentions

 

            At the heart of most ventures in international development lay a sense of good intent. I believe that this is generally a good thing.  However, responding “but they meant well”, as some projects have gone awry, is far too common for my comfort. Good intentions aren’t enough for me. After spending a year in Ghana, and a few years in university reproducing criticism of development work, I found it difficult to figure out where I stood within this field, where I wanted to go and most importantly if I should.

As I ventured further into the field I found that there were many likeminded well-intentioned white women such as myself, but thought how often in this space do we examine whether we should be the ones doing this work? I have also found that jaded criticism of development work is just as prevalent as well-intentioned idealism, if not even more rampant.  Whether one falls on either side of this spectrum, there is still work to be done, and with or without us others are doing it. 

            The single most important quality to have in this line of work is humility.  Us people– we’re proud creatures. I’ve watched others, and myself, claim a small patch of a distant place, a whole country, a piece of work, or a group of people. I’ve wondered why is it so easy to stake a claim on something that is not ours, but much larger than ourselves? To go forth into a community as a guest, we should offer our hands, our head, our heart up in supplication, asking “help me and let me help you, and how shall I do it?”.  And in our enthusiasm, to remember to always stop and listen for the response.  We must apply lessons learned before and after venturing into something new, and to be ever aware of the implications of our part in this work.  Someone shared with me an attractive phrase recently. Heart + Head = Hustle. In the case of international development, perhaps heart + head + humility = responsible hustle is appropriate. Not quite as catchy, but I’m working on it.Image