Tag Archives: Kenya

We Are Connected

“And the real name of our connection to this everywhere different and differently named earth is “work.” We are connected by work even to the places where we don’t work, for all places are connected…”        – Wendell Berry

If you happen to have read two or three of my blog posts and newsletters, you may have picked up on my frequent Wendell Berry name-drops. Basically, I think he’s the bee’s knees.   [While writing this post, I discovered that he and I share a birthday…all the more reason to like the man.]

An outspoken poet, author, and activist, Berry inspires and challenges humanity’s response to environmental and social justice issues. He is most infamous for his stances on environmental degradation and the importance of community.

In the polluted, expansive, and bustling city that is Nairobi, it is more often than not that I feel disconnected from nature and the land. Yet, removed from side-walks, exhaust fumes, and sky-scrapers, it is obvious that every surrounding detail is intertwined: Cows graze on freshly sprouted grass from recent rains; people collect water from deep wells and water-pans filled by these same rains, using it to hydrate themselves and boil their tea; trees are cut down in copious quantities and made into balls of charcoal, later used to boil the collected water for that same tea.

Navigating my way through Nairobi, I often wonder, “There must be a balance, some way for us to feel connected to the earth, no matter our surroundings.”

If, as stated by Berry, “all places are connected,” shouldn’t humanity be compelled to be good stewards of every inhabited place?

The following photo essay tells the story of land – it’s integral role and unmistakable connection to the people and places in which World Concern works.

The pictures and quotes serve as reminders that stewardship and care of land is not optional, for in giving to the land we humble ourselves to the one who created it all.

“Good work is always modestly scaled, for it cannot ignore either the nature of individual places or the differences between places, and it always involves a sort of religious humility, for not everything is known.” “…the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.” “Good work can be defined only in particularity, for it must be defined a little differently for every one of the places and every one of the workers on the earth.”IMG_8887

“…it is clear by now that we cannot exempt one place from our ruin of another. The name of our proper connection to the earth is “good work,” for good work involves much giving of honor. It honors the source of its materials; it honors the place where it is done; it honors the art by which it is done; it honors the thing that it makes and the user of the made thing.”

A Labor of Love // Education in Enchoro, Kenya.

Let me tell you something.

There’s this little theory I have. It’s a theory that has increasingly become molded into the foundation of my morals and convictions; an integrated part of my being.

No matter how vastly different two people may seem (look, talk, act), there is always a way to connect with one another.

Landon (my bro) talks with Kisea. // Maji Moto, Kenya.

Landon (my bro) talks with Kisea. // Maji Moto, Kenya.

While I spent hours engrossed in the process of familiarizing myself with the people and details of Enchoro Village (i.e. interviewing, touring property, sharing tea, taking hundreds of photos), Noosalash patiently sat waiting in a sliver of shade produced by a World Concern Land Rover.

Toying with a discarded plastic Krest bottle, she peered up at me with a shy grin as I approached her. It’s no surprise that most beneficiaries I meet react to me with slight intimidation; in the field I tend to look like a half-human/half-robot – one arm carrying my large tripod while the other balances my camera bag, microphones, and lenses. (Yes, my looks alone have been the cause of children’s tears.)

As Noosalash led me to her home, romping over fallen acacias and dried up river beds, the conversation between us seemed to flow. In fact, we talked for the entire 15 minute walk.

A little background…

Noosalash: 40-year-old mother of 8 from Enchoro, Kenya. Maasai. Speaks mainly Maasai and a bit of Kiswahili.

Kelly: a 26-year-old single woman from Seattle, Washington. American. Speaks mainly English and a bit of Kiswahili.

Arriving at Noosalash’s compound, giggling with each other, my colleagues looked at us puzzled, “What were you talking about that whole time?”

Noosalash creating beautifully intricate Maasai jewelry to be sold in town.

Noosalash creating beautifully intricate Maasai jewelry to be sold in town.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.

As we walked, I would say something in Kiswahili, then Noosalash would respond in Maasai. She would proceed to say something in Kiswahili, then I would respond in English.

Somehow, despite our tri-lingual exchange, meeting on a very peculiar level, Noosalash and I understood each other.

We connected.

By the time we’d reached her house, Noosalash no longer looked at me from the corner of her eye. Instead, she playfully batted my arms as I teased her about carrying such a huge stack of wood. Grabbing my hand, she led me to see inside her manyatta (traditional Maasai home) and then over to a patch of shade. We plopped down under the shelter of the compound’s largest tree, where Noosalash was creating intricate pieces of traditional Maasai jewelry.

Similar to 99.9% of the women in Enchoro , Noosalash never received a proper education. Like most, she was married by the age of ten and immediately proceeded to have children and care for the home. Though she does not harbor bitter feelings toward her upbringing, Noosalash believes in something more for her children.

“I plan to send all of my children to school through doing odd jobs – making beads, selling livestock, and other kinds of casual labor,” shared Noosalash.

Unfortunately, no matter the commitment of her labor of love, there is a strong chance that Noosalash’s children will have to cut their education short. Enchoro School Collage

Like Olemegili, Enchoro’s school only goes up to grade 4.

According to 28-year-old Rose Pesi, an Enchoro’s primary (elementary) school teacher, “It’s tough to be a teacher in this school because we don’t have enough classrooms for our children. We have 2 classrooms and there are 4 grades.”

Rose sits in one of Enchoro's classrooms.

Rose pensively sit at her desk in one of Enchoro’s classrooms.

After finishing grade 3, students either drop out of school, repeat a grade, or walk two hours (each way) to Olesere, the nearest town with a better equipped school.

“This school is far,” explains 11-year-old Francis. “When I go to visit, it takes me two hours by foot.”

Francis, who is number one in his class (quite possibly because he has had to repeat grade three due to the fact that he is still too young to walk all the way to Olesere), can attest to the community’s heartfelt desire to educate their children.

“Life in Enchoro is a bit difficult because we don’t have a good school with classes to graduate to,” he points out. “Some students are kept by their parents from going to Olesere because they are still very young. I don’t like it when children have to go to another school.”

Whenever diligently working Francis is given the opportunity to complete his education, he has big plans, “I want to be a teacher so that I can teach the children.”

Francis in the classroom where he is repeating grade 3.

Francis in the classroom where he is repeating grade 3.

Of the four individuals I had the privilege of spending time with in Enchoro, 100% voiced that their village’s greatest need is a larger school.

Emphasizing her point, Rose confidently reiterated, “The greatest need in this village is to get extra classrooms for our children.”

It’s clear that the desire to grow in knowledge is innate. Having never lived outside of Narok (and most likely never outside of her very rural homestead), Noosalash remains far from ignorant, “I want this village to develop. I want us to have a school.”

It seems that education should be viewed as more than rote-memorization and tedious coursework.

In fact, education could be the spark that ignited my connection with Noosalash. It is our shared passionate curiosity and inquisitive nature that drives us both to question the world and people around us. Like many, we both have the desire to learn; and this is stronger than any physical, cultural, or linguistic barrier that may superficially appear to hold us apart.

Within The Folds Of Rolling Green. // Elizabeth in Olemegili, Kenya.

Climbing in elevation up what should be considered more of a pile of corrugated rocks than a road, this is not the Maasai landscape I thought I knew.  Holding on to the door handle so as not to fly across the vacated backseat, I look out at the valley that seems to shrink with every tire rotation.

Narok County, located in the south-west region of Kenya, is home to over 800,000 people. Situated alongside the magnificent Great Rift Valley, Narok south alone is home to countless around 200 villages – the majority of whom are Maasai.

A significant portion of Narok’s landscape can be compared to what many know as ‘quintessential Kenya’. It’s common for those who have not visited Kenya  to envision it as a country filled with tall Maasai men draped in checkered blankets, balancing on one leg while holding a large stick, and peering out over a seemingly endless savannah (where a lion is inevitably crouching amid the tall blowing grass).

Though this is a fairly accurate image of Narok, the rolling green hills outside of my window convince me that this popular image cannot stand alone.

After three jostling hours, the car reaches what appears to be the top. Breathless, I gaze out at the rolling green hills. Everything about this area is different from the previous Narok villages I’ve visited. It’s chilly, lush, and even closer to the equatorial sun (something a person of very pale skin is quick to notice).

We’ve arrived in Olemegili.

1-Olemegili Chief,Mother,Girl (8 of 170)

Later, sipping fresh milk tea inside of the chief’s tin roof home, James Ntiyani explains in proper English that out of the village’s impressive 3,000 person population, a mere four adults are educated.

Albeit it’s crisp air and mountainous beauty, Olemegili is somewhat of an island on its own. To travel to school, the market, an adequate health center, or even a clean water source, the community fights a (literally) uphill battle.

Sipping tea with the chief.

Sipping tea with the chief.

Because the chief is adamant about educating the entire village he has assisted the community with building a small school, “I focus most on education because I realize that it’s the greatest avenue for change to come to the people. Since I found some education, let my village become like me.

This is great news and leaps and bounds beyond Olemegili’s recent education history. Unfortunately, the one-room school only goes up to grade three. This means that students are forced to repeat grades, travel ludicrous distances to attend grade four (around 16 kilometers round-trip per day), or, sadly, drop out of school entirely.

A belly full of sugary tea, we step out of the chief’s home meander down a grassy knoll to meet a community member named Elizabeth Noolmeyeki. Pausing to turn in circles and fully soak in the view, I wonder out loud where all of these supposed 3,000 people are. All I can see is six scattered homes.

The slopes of Olemegili appear to engulf individual homesteads, hiding significant sections of the village within their folds.

Far in the distance, if you squint hard, you can see the nearest health center to Olemegili.

Far in the distance, if you squint hard, is Olemegili’s nearest health center.

An air of inherent confidence to her stride, Elizabeth greets us with firm handshakes and smiles. She invites me into the doorway of her home (this is hands-down my most favorite location for talking and taking photos), where we proceed to sit on her carefully combed dirt floor.

Peering through my lens, this 28-year-old mother of five breaks down life in Olemegili through hers.

Elizabeth at home.

Elizabeth at home.

After marrying her husband Jeremiah about ten years ago, Elizabeth made a new home in Olemegili. Rearing five children between the ages of six months and 13 years of age, she continues to work her tail end off to make sure they are fed and in school.

[Evidence Of A Life Of Hard Work :: An Average Day in the Life of Elizabeth]

6am: Wake up and leave the home straightaway to fetch water.
“I have to make sure to draw water first because there is very little. I have to get there before the other ladies.”
(Definition of there: a dirty water hole that only fills when it rains.)

9 – 10am: Return from fetching water, milk the cows, and let sheep out of their pen.
We struggle here with a shortage of water. During dry season, we travel from 6am to 6pm, so all of our effort is toward gathering water. There is no time for work in the home. Where we get water is where every person and animal gets their water. This gives us stomach aches.”

Olemegili water pan.

Olemegili water pan.

11am: Head to the garden to begin digging.
“There is a lot of agricultural potential here. This land is beautiful.”
(Elizabeth plants potatoes, maize, beans, kale, and onions.)

12pm: Return home to cook lunch.

1pm: Pick up axe and venture out to collect firewood, then return to garden.

2pm: Finish gardening and bring animals back to their enclosure.

3pm – Dark: Cook dinner, feed children, bathe and put children to bed, close up gates and door, sleep.

Repeat  x365.

On the family property.

On the family property.

Yet, even after the aforementioned 24/7 work schedule, Elizabeth’s food and money is not always sufficient. “Sometimes it’s enough, sometimes it’s not enough, but this is all we have.”

Her days may be full due to the necessary measures required to survive, yet it’s clear that Elizabeth toils with conviction.

Using her red handkerchief to swat the incessant army of flies away from her face, she states with the steadfastness of a dream envisioned years past, “My greatest desire is for all my five children to be able to go to school. Once they are through with school, their lives can change. I am not educated but I will be happy if they are.”

Olemegili's one-room school. Hosting up to grade three.

Olemegili’s one-room school. Hosting up to grade three.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s eldest child has already fallen victim to the grade three cut-off. “My son Samuel was forced to travel to the neighboring school eight kilometers away after finishing grade three. Every day he faces cold and walks very long distances.”

Trying to disregard the flies as thick as a Georgia summer air creeping into the crevices of my eyes and nose, I contend to balance my camera. It’s in this moment that I am struck by Elizabeth’s words – she is the fourth person to mention the impact of the Olemegili cold.

Elizabeth and three of her children (L to R): Elina, Tunini, Ketemian.

Elizabeth and three of her children (L to R): Elina, Tunini, Ketemian.

According to the general community, people die every year from pneumonia. To blame is the nearest health care center, almost a full day’s walk away. Because the pneumonia has not been treated properly, the disease has continued to manifest itself into new, resistant varieties.

“I can count the people we have buried just because they weren’t able to get to a hospital on time,” Elizabeth whispers, staring me directly in the eyes.

“As much as I want other things for this village, I would push the need for a health facility as a priority.”

The paradoxical beauty of Olemegili’s landscape in contrast to all that it lacks leaves me dissatisfied. Yet the poignancy of Elizabeth’s passion and clarity of her conviction births within me an awareness of hope for the future of her family and her village.

Resting a weathered chin on the palm of her hand, Elizabeth states, “We are open to new ways of doing things.”

 

 

A Cliched Connection…Or Is It?

Living thousands of miles away from those who hold my heart the tightest – the friends and family whom I never have to worry about connecting with because it comes automatically – my soul finds itself searching for another source of human connection. It’s as if something in my core is innately aware that I can’t do this things called life alone. So, here in east Africa, I’ve been working on finding new ways of connecting – repeatedly assessing my definition of human connection.

Maybe human connection is a topic you’ve talked about so much that it’s become that banal book report theme you had to write about all four years of High School English.

Maybe it has always seemed vague and intangible; to try to wrap your mind around it is far too reminiscent of your childhood attempts to sell cups of homemade lemonade in order to buy that shiny red bicycle from the toy-shop window – you were always just $100 short.

Maybe it’s always been packaged in fluff: laughter and love and relationships, rather than the raw edge with which you can empathize: insecurities and dependency and unmet expectations.

Maybe you feel like every time it’s brought up, it’s as if someone is trying to shove all things appreciation down your throat. And maybe this is something you want to consume on your own.

Maybe you’ve heard it too much. And now it’s boring. But, maybe you can’t hear it enough…

Maybe, in order to deepen and broaden and strengthen your relationship with yourself, others, and that something beyond you, it needs to be talked about. Over. And over.

I believe you care about humanity. And I believe you are aware of life outside of your world.

So maybe this blog post is more for me. Because I know that in the midst of my so-called ‘daily grind’, I become so distracted that the only connection taking place is the zapping of my brain waves – firing off at one another thousands of millions of times per minute. And, embarrassingly, these brain waves are often concentrated on me: my work, my food, my nails that need to be cut, and my sweaty walk home.

When I allow my mind spiral into itself – I clearly lose focus on anything other than, well…myself. I’m not able to see that which I can learn from, find peace in, connect to, be challenged be, seek solace in, and experience profound beauty.

Even looking up from my LED screen right now, I am struck by the fact that I have been sitting in my swirly chair in a square room with three other individuals – all of whom I have not even glanced at in over two hours!

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” – MLK, Jr.

If I’m continually re-learning one thing, it’s this: Human connection is more than living in close proximity or appreciating one another’s commonalities. It requires looking up, speaking out, grasping a hand, sharing a taxi ride, eating together…acting as if I believe that what I do and think is connected to something, and someone, outside of me – because, dear people, it really is.

“The only difference between man and man all the world over is one of degree, and not of kind, even as there is between trees of the same species.” – Gandhi

Below are photos from the past 11 months that remind me of the incalculable beauty found only in human connection. My hope is that you can take the time to find ways to personally connect to each image and/or individual. (And I’d love if you shared your stories of connection in the comment section below!)

Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Nairobi Marathon, Kenya.

Nairobi Marathon, Kenya.

Olkinyei, Kenya.

Olkinyei, Kenya.

Lamu, Kenya.

Lamu, Kenya.

Mpiro, Kenya.

Mpiro, Kenya.

Nairobi Marathon, Kenya.

Nairobi Marathon, Kenya.

Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Naroomoru, Kenya.

Naroomoru, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Nairobi, Kenya.

Nairobi, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Kamelil, Kenya.

Kamelil, Kenya.

Olkinyei, Kenya.

Olkinyei, Kenya.

Kamelil, Kenya.

Kamelil, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Mpeketoni, Kenya.

Goz Beida, Chad.

Goz Beida, Chad.

Lietnhom, South Sudan.

Lietnhom, South Sudan.

Nairobi, Kenya.

Nairobi, Kenya.

Wau, South Sudan.

Wau, South Sudan.

Kiambu, Kenya.

Kiambu, Kenya.

Lietnhom, South Sudan.

Lietnhom, South Sudan.

Kiambu, Kenya.

Kiambu, Kenya.

 

 

Shida Of The Past.

It’s noon, the least ideal time of day for interviewing and taking pictures. Stomachs are rumbling, the brisk morning air has been swallowed up by the afternoon heat, and the sun is positioned directly over our heads.

Ilova Kokoto, a translator, and myself move into the shade of Ilova’s meager brick home. She lives here with her daughter and granddaughter. Natural light streams through the doorway and frames Ilova’s face – exposing her wisdom-induced wrinkles and deep brown eyes. “I’m not able to know my age,” Ilova shares, but it is apparent that she has lived to see a thing or two.

Ilova

Ilova

We are in Basuba, a rural village in Lamu county – a detour off of the journey up Kenya’s coast, the road toward Somalia.

“Life in Basuba is difficult. For many years, we have suffered from famine due to numerous droughts,” Ilova explains in perfect Kiswahili, an infamous attribute of Kenya’s coastal region.

Resting her chin on her weathered hands, the mother of four continues, “Until two years ago, we had no clean water. We traveled far to collect dirty water, and many people died from cholera.”

Though proud of Basuba’s recent clean water improvement, Ilova further informs me about the village’s ongoing challenges – many of which will soon be considered a shida (Kiswahili for trouble) of the past.

Take hygiene, for example. When World Concern first visited Basuba, the community was living naively in hygiene indifference. Having never been educated about the importance of drinking clean water, relieving oneself in a contained area, and washing one’s hands, preventable diseases were rampant among local residents.

Because of their partnership with World Concern, Basuba's residents are now able to collect clean water in this djabia.

Because of their partnership with World Concern, Basuba’s residents are now able to collect clean water in this djabia.

In the past three years, World Concern has partnered with the people of Basuba to install a large djabia (a clean water catchment pictured above) and 20 latrines.

Ilova laughs recalling her defecation memories of the past. “When we would relieve ourselves, we would have to go deep in the bush. Even at night. Sometimes I would encounter snakes and buffalo and have to run for my life. It was very hectic.”

It did not require much consideration for the Basuba community to insert latrine use into their daily routines. Ilova explains, “The toilets are nice, we are using them often. We now don’t have to go where there is a lot of danger.” 

Sitting on the dirt in Ilova’s doorway, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the glaring simplicity that is such an immense issue – an issue that is lessening both the quality and length of human life all over the world. Simply put, many survive without available, clean water and hygiene education. These should be a basic human rights, yes?

Though the people of Basuba still suffer from poor farming conditions, World Concern’s partnership has transformed a significant part of their daily life. According to Ilova, “Because of the toilets, we don’t feel the sicknesses we used to have. We used to complain of stomach issues but we no longer do because the conditions are clean.”

[Right to Left]: Ilova, her granddaughter Basho, and her daughter Ahaldo.

[Right to Left]: Ilova, her granddaughter Basho, and her daughter Ahaldo.

Peter Okongi, a Basuba primary school teacher who has been translating for me throughout the interview, proceeds to chime in (though I will toot my own horn a little here – I could understand about half of Ilova’s sentences. Mimi nimefahamu!), “When I first moved here, there was no clean water and no latrines. Clean water was very difficult to find. People could travel between 4 – 5 km to collect unhygienic water. My students would often complain of stomach ache. Even me, I was often sick.”

Peter stands proudly in front of the Basuba primary school.

Peter stands proudly in front of the Basuba primary school.

A Nairobi native, 36-year-old Peter was assigned to teach in Basuba three years prior – just before World Concern installed the djabia. Frustrated that his students frequently missed school as a result of their poor health and the distance of the remote water locations, Peter is particularly jovial about the community’s recent improvements, “Even school attendance has increased. Students used to travel so far that they sometimes had to stay a night away. But now that the water is available, more are able to attend school, where we are also teaching about hygiene.”

Ilova's daughter, Ahaldo.

Ilova’s daughter, Ahaldo.

Ilova’s gorgeous daughter and granddaughter step into the home, plopping themselves into plastic chairs. Looking at her loved ones, Ilova warmly expresses, “Now that the toilets are built, we are no longer afraid. We feel supported.”

Snakes, buffalo, and cholera be gone. “We feel supported.”

Support empowers people live with dignity – to live a quality of life that is deserved by all human beings. Empowered with clean water and education, in partnership with World Concern, the people of Basuba are jumping across stepping stones toward holistic transformation.

Here’s the most beautiful part: with education, training, and proper equipment, on their own, the people of Basuba are going to be able to maintain a lifestyle that includes clean water and hygiene for years to come.

#WeAreOne

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

#WeAreOne

#WeAreOne

This is Senseless. I am Speechless. We are all Shaken.

As many of you are acutely aware, for the past 48 hours the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya has been under siege in what appears to be a very organized and intentional terrorist attack. Though the true motives behind this horrendous act are not yet fully known, here are the facts:

Innocent lives were lost. And innocent lives should never be lost.

One’s race, religion, economic-status, age, gender, or political affiliation have never, will never, and should never be reason enough to rob an individual of his or her life.

Despite the obvious tension looming over Nairobi, Kenya’s largely diverse and culturally rich capital city, home to about 4 million people, life continues to move forward.

Kenyans are extremely resilient people.

Following Kenyan Twitter accounts over the last two days, this popular hashtag has been attached to every Westgate Mall status: #WeAreOne.

Carrying a complex history sewn together by the threads of colonization, suppression, tribal violence, political corruption, and economic difficulties, Kenyans have managed to continually strive toward unity: unity in the home, unity in the larger community, and unity as a nation.

Out of the dark events of the past 48 hours, a bright light that is the Kenyan people’s commitment to human unity has been a shining reminder that We Are One.

Amidst the weekend’s tragedies, numerous beautiful stories have surfaced – sweet reminders of God’s kingdom on earth. The following is a brief recap from a Nairobi resident’s Twitter account:

#WestGate

Little children pushed other children out of harms way. Children pulled children to safety.

Kenyan police run into harms way for us with no helmet, no bullet proof vests and regular shoes.

A Muslim man wrote a short prayer on a piece of paper for a Christian man he was hiding with and helped him to memorize it in case the terrorists asked him to say something from the Quran.

Secretary General of the Red Cross, put on a volunteers vest and went on site to work with his paramedics.

The Kenya Defense Forces went in there like superheroes.

No hospital turned a patient away.

Blood banks were full before they were empty again.

#KOT outrage on NY Times images made them pull those images off.

Heaven was filled with prayers and questions.

We will prevail.

“We are as brave and invincible as the lions on our coat of arms” – President Uhuru Kenyatta.

As this sickening event continues to plague the media – as debates and speculations make their way into many a conversation – I encourage you to use your words wisely. No matter who committed these atrocities, no matter what innocent victims have lost their lives, we are one. As difficult as it is to stomach, we are all God’s sons and daughters. Somali, Kenyan. Black, White. Rich, Poor. Male, Female. Old, Young. Al-Shabaab, Kenyan Military Troops.

In the aftermath of such events, it is common that previously existing stereotypes, labels, and divisions are only widened and strengthened.

I encourage you to pray for those who will fall into these stereotypes and categories. I urge you to remind them that they are loved and valued. I urge you to think and process before you speak.

I urge you to pray. Pray for the victims and the families of victims. Pray for Nairobi. Pray for Kenya’s government. Pray for the future of this beautiful nation.

Pray for the persecuted and, equally important, the persecutor.

#WeAreOne

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

————————————————————————————

In closing, here are some words from World Concern’s Kenya Country Director, Peter Macharia:

West Gate is a lovely place and Kenya is a very beautiful country. With 68 confirmed dead and many more people still inside the building with 10-15 gunmen, my heart really sinks….I sincerely congratulate our police and army for the rescue of the more than 1000 people from the building and my condolences to those who have been left by their loved ones. As the President said, we will not be cowed. Kenya will rise again!

World Concern has accounted for its entire staff in Kenya and we are glad no one was injured or killed by this despicable and devilish terrorist act. We continue to pray for those who lost their loved ones and hope that those still being hostage will survive. We also pray that this will never be witnessed again in our country. We also pray that Somalia will soon find peace. The West Gate attack gives a glimpse of what has become a norm in
Somalia.

 

The [Is]Land of Narrow Alleyways and Cashew Nuts. // Lamu, Kenya

You know you grew up in southern California when…for the first 15 years of your life, Disneyland was the most magical place you had ever been.

You are reminded that you grew up in southern California when…you still compare legitimately magical places to Disneyland.

Lamu, Kenya is one of those places.

As dusk pushed the sun down below the deep blue ocean’s horizon, I was transported into a whole new world. One ten minute boat ride became a journey to an entirely different land (so much so that I was confused when I didn’t see a line for immigration upon flying back into Nairobi).

On Lamu island, there is one car (an ambulance, fortunately). Composed of a majority Muslim population, eerily dilapidated mosques haunt the island with their historical beauty.

The island-dwellers are masters of the ocean – fresh seafood fills the markets, restaurants, and carts that nearly run you over when making their way through the two-person wide streets (if a donkey is coming, don’t even think about trying to pass). One-room shops display shelves stacked with local honey, coconut oil in old water bottles, and elaborate spices, Children ride rickety bikes freely along the coastal walkways and dive from docked boats into warm waters.

Women sit on crooked steps frying shrimp, next to them emptied coconut shells lay in piles on the ground. Girls walk by me smiling coyly, their perfectly painted on makeup outlining eyes that protrude from their hijabs.

Life on Lamu island is vibrant and lively. Take a single ten minute boat ride across choppy waters, back to Kenya’s coast, and you quickly forget such a place exists nearly within plain sight.

A long car ride up the coast on the main road toward Somalia, filled with views of the Indian Ocean and army trucks traveling to and fro, and you find yourself in Lamu East.

Though statistically considered to be one of the wealthiest counties in Kenya, these stated facts are a distraction from reality. Lamu county is clearly dichotomic. The disparity of wealth between the east and west is so vast that the east often goes overlooked – “Why are you working in Lamu? They are wealthy, right?”

Lamu East is home to numerous settlements of hunter-gatherers.  Facing recent hunting regulations by the Kenyan government, circumstances have forced most communities to turn to farming. This alternative source of livelihood has proved to be a generally unsuccessful venture, mainly due to environmental challenges (droughts/ water scarcity), animals, and a lack of experience.

Separated by forests, rough roads, and wild animals, the trade market is practically non-existent. Thus, for the few farmers who’s harvest proves plentiful, the nearest market is an inconvenient journey to Lamu West or Lamu island itself.

Even Lamu East’s usual honey market has seen a turn for the worst – late droughts have caused the bees to migrate to more amicable locations.

Here is where World Concern is at work. Here is where we are partnering with communities to empower farmers, educate locals, and uplift water and hygiene standards. Here is where lives are being transformed.

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“There has always been a problem with the market, mainly due to the brokers who come in and buy from the farmers at a very low price. We often have no option but to sell to them.”

We hop out of the Land Cruiser and step into a lush compound, tastefully landscaped so that pruned bushes and exotic flowers frame the house, kitchen, and storage room. An ocean-scented late afternoon breeze rustles through the thick forest of trees, chasing the heat away as it grazes the back of our necks.

After a successful day spent at the launch ceremony for World Concern’s newest Lamu project, empowering cashew nut farmers and potentially connecting them to the Fair Trade market, we were ready to move outside and visit with the locals.

Sporting an endearing gap-toothed grin, 70-year-old Elijah Wakafa shuffles across the compound to greet us, vigorously shaking each of our hands.

Since 1980, Elijah has been a cashew nut farmer in Mpeketoni, a settlement within Lamu East. He has grown over 130 cashew nut trees, all of which he prunes himself.

“Right from the beginning, farming has been very challenging – especially because this was once a jungle. There were very many trees and wild animals – buffalo, baboons, even elephants.”

Elijah, as well as other local settlers, has worked hard to clear and cultivate the land, “Slowly it became easier as many farmers cultivated and the animals began to leave.”

Due to his tenacity and experience, Elijah’s farm quickly expanded and produced a bounteous harvest. Each season, he harvests 3 sacks, or 500 kilograms, of nuts every three days. Unlike some farmers who are struggling to yield enough crops, Elijah faces other issues.

He informed me, “There has always been a problem with the market, mainly due to the brokers who come in and buy from the farmers at a very low price. We often have no option but to sell to them.”

Today the story is still the same. Every season Elijah brings in hundreds of kilograms of cashews, but has no profitable market in which to sell. The product is there, but the income return is not.

For many years, Elijah has been a member of the local farmer’s cooperative. Though the cooperative continues to struggle to reach its full potential, Elijah has remained a loyal member, believing that, “When the cooperative is empowered, any farmer will be able to get the fertilizer to take care of their plants. This and the unstable market are our main issues.”

Elijah looks forward to a day when the local farmers will have access to a stable market – one where the prices are both fair and consistent.

World Concern is partnering with farmers such as Elijah toward an empowered local cooperative, available quality fertilizer, further cashew nut training, and, most importantly, a connection to the Fair Trade market. Beginning this month (September), the Lamu farmers will begin their training to be certified as the first Fair Trade cashew nut farmers in Kenya 

World Concern will connect farmers to extensive cashew nut farming education and introduce them to new breeds of the nut that will mature faster, yield more crops and take up less land.

With this two and a half year project in the picture, the future for farmers like Elijah will inevitably progress.

Revealing that endearing, toothy smile, Elijah tells me,
“I am very excited about this new project. I am confident that this area can produce the best cashew nuts around!”

*** Be on the lookout for more Lamu stories as well as delicious Lamu Fair Trade cashews, coming soon to a market near you!

That Little Thing Called H20 // World Water Day

You guessed it, today is WORLD WATER DAY!

To be completely honest, when sitting down to write this blog (with a cup of coffee, made of water, of course)…I stared at my blank computer screen for a good 30 minutes. Despite the fact that water is important, I had nothing to say. I felt that anything I wrote would be redundant…I mean, there are so many water campaigns bombarding us on a daily basis. What else is left for me to say? What can I possibly write that will stand out from everything you’ve already heard?

But that’s exactly the point.

It doesn’t matter if it’s redundant. Water is important. In fact, it’s more than important. It’s a necessity. It’s crucial. It’s life-giving. It’s powerful. It can lead to beauty, healthy, growth and new life. It can also lead to destruction and death.

It is used for cooking, electricity, bathing, firefighting,………

People even write songs about it. Like this. And this.

It symbolizes peace, fluidity, and relaxation.

It covers 70% of our planet’s surface and makes up 70% of the adult body!

The United States uses about 346,000 million gallons of fresh water every day. (whoa)

It is a natural substance that I, without hesitation, consume gallons of on a daily basis.

Yet, there are humans, livestock, land, and crops that go without clean water, or any water at all, for months on end. Some go without clean water their entire lives.

Painting in Garissa, Kenya promoting drinking clean water.

Through my work with World Concern, I have been exposed to the painful effects that the lack of clean, accessible water can have on a community. I have heard countless stories of individuals who spend the majority of their waking hours traveling to water sources, only to find them contaminated. Their long journeys to and from a dirty water source often leave them without time to earn a living wage and properly care for their families. Kijoolu and Kiraposho are examples of such stories.

I have also heard countless stories of individuals who drink, wash, and cook from a Typhoid and Amoeba infested water source because it is the only option.

Dirty river in Garissa. Prior to World Concern's recent installation of water tanks, this was the community's only water source.

Dirty river in Garissa. Prior to World Concern’s recent installation of water tanks, this was the community’s only water source.

Washing in the dirty river.

Washing in the dirty river.

Contaminated water source in a village in Olkinyei, Kenya. Before the recent installation of a water pump, this was the option.

Contaminated water source in a village in Olkinyei, Kenya. Before the recent installation of a water pump, this was the only option.

Even living in Nairobi, a bustling city with plenty of water sources, I walk by individuals bathing in and drinking from the rancid, dark brown, murky river that runs through the city’s gutters and streets almost on a daily basis.

Garissa, Kenya

Garissa, Kenya

Okay – Yes I have to use a water filter and I don’t brush my teeth from the faucet, but I have no idea what it feels like to carry a 50 gallon jug of water on my back…daily. For miles on end. Sometimes multiple times a day.

Jerry can. Garissa, Kenya.

Empty Jerry can. Garissa, Kenya.

I also have no idea what it feels like to go a day without water (I am almost embarrassed to say this. I think I will do a water fast soon to experience a small sense of solidarity with our beneficiaries…). *

Here’s the good news. 

World Concern is doing our best to combat the lack of clean and accessible water for thousands of individuals around the world.

Currently, this is what we’re up to:

1. Partnering with communities to build their own water sources such as: deep wells, shallow wells, pumps, roof catchments, boreholes, berkads, water pans, and rainwater harvesting.

Water tank in Eastern Kenya

Water tank in Eastern Kenya

Water pan in Narok, Kenya.

Water pan in Narok, Kenya. Though it is not visible here, there is a large fence around the water pan to protect it from wild animals and contamination.

deep well in Chad

This picture was recently sent to me from Harako, Chad. These people are collecting clean water for the first time ever. I’m not kidding. Prior to a few weeks ago, the people of Harako had never had a reliable water source. They would gather water by digging into the sand with their hands. Because the majority of families have no pit latrines, the ground and water were unbelievably contaminated. World Concern sponsored the drilling of this deep well, which will produce 1,902 gallons of water per hour! This is also a great platform to teach hygiene and sanitation.

Another photo taken of the deep well in Harako, Chad. Photo cred: World Concern staff, Chad.

Another photo taken of the deep well in Harako, Chad. Photo cred: World Concern staff, Chad.

Berkad, Somalia

World Concern berkad in Somalia. Photo Cred: World Concern staff, Somalia.

pump, olkinyei

Pumping away in Olkinyei.

Large water tank. Garissa, Kenya.

Large water tank. Garissa, Kenya.

2. Educating communities about the importance of drinking, cleaning, and cooking with clean water. [Because many of the people we work with have never had access to clean water, they’ve never been aware of a life without consistent diarrhea and other uncomfortable waterborne diseases.] This includes the installation of latrines and hygiene education, also known as WASH (another acronym for ya!).

Fahad says, "We love clean drinking water!"

Fahad says, “We love clean drinking water!” Garissa, Kenya.

Gettin' after it. Thirsty, anyone?

Gettin’ after it. Thirsty, anyone?

Promoting hygiene. A hand washing tank outside of a World Concern pit latrine.

Promoting hygiene. A hand washing tank outside of a World Concern pit latrine.

VIP: Ventilated Imporved Pit Latrine.

VIP: Ventilated Improved Pit Latrine.

3. Partnering with communities to install water storage and rainwater catchments to be used for agricultural purposes.

Access to water means growing bananas!

Access to water means growing bananas!

If you’re reading this and feeling numb, don’t fret. In a sense, your numbness may be an affirmation that this news does not shock you – you are aware! Rather than feeling guilty about all of the clean water you can consume at any moment of the day, I encourage you to really consider how you can give clean water to just one other person. Start with one. One is huge. Progress from there.

Today, I also urge you to consider moving beyond awareness. Check out and donate to World Concern’s various water projects, pray, research, and spread the word. Maybe even go without a cup of water for a few hours.

Knowledge is power, but if it doesn’t move from our head to our hands, lives will not be changed.

 * Ironically enough, an hour after writing this post, I came down with a 12 hour flu. Needless to say, I had no more water in my system. I was super thankful to be near clean water sources during such an uncomfortable sickness.

Humanitarian Worker Initiation…The Language of Acronyms // So, What is an FSA?

Over the course of my last few blogs, you’ve probably heard me mention Financial Service Associations (FSAs) more than once.

FSAs are a significant piece of World Concern’s work. They embody and provide a clear example of our desire: to empower people to live a life of hope, opportunity, and dignity – with the goal that they will in turn empower those around them. To summarize: FSA’s ROCK.

If you haven’t heard of an FSA, you’ve most likely heard of a Village Bank. Let me break it down for you…

FSAs operate in un-banked rural communities who cannot afford the services provided by the mainstream financial institutions due to distance, infrastructure, economic capacity, and lack of knowledge. They run at the community level and are owned and managed by community members who buy shares.

FSAs are wholly owned by the shareholders who have voting rights and ultimate decision-making authority. [This is my favorite part.]

Meet Sogoo's FSA board.

Meet Sogoo’s FSA board members.

FSAs help alleviate poverty by providing individuals with a safe place to save their money (prior to joining an FSA, members often have no choice but to hide money in their thatch roofs – leaving them, and their savings, in an extremely vulnerable position).

FSAs offer cost effective and accessible financial services to the share owners (such as loans and a variety of micro-credit opportunities).

Inside the bank.

Inside the bank.

Rev. Jonathan, Chairman of FSA Sogoo, breaking down the organization.

Rev. Jonathan, Chairman of FSA Sogoo, breaking down the organization.

inside the bank

World Concern has over 9 FSAs in Kenya alone.

Rather than continuing to talk numbers (though very important, let’s be honest, they are not my forte), check out some of World Concern’s FSA beneficiaries in Sogoo, Kenya by viewing the video and photos below.

These are examples of the transforming impact of promoting community ownership and responsibility.

It’s an honor to introduce you to Alfred, his wife Lily, and their youngest son Gilbert. And their cows.

Alfred and Lily outside their home. They hope to take out another loan from FSA to build a permanent structure.

Alfred and Lily outside their tin-roof home. They plan to take out another loan from FSA to build a more permanent structure.

Gilbert, The youngest of the family. Nothing's stoppin this kid. Through FSA, he's been able to attend university. Once graduated, he plans to get a job and invest his money into FSA to ensure food security and a stable future for his family.

Gilbert, the last born in the family. Nothin’s stopping this kid. Because of FSA he’s been able to attend university in Nairobi. Once graduated, Gilbert plans to get a job and invest his money into his own FSA account. This way he will “ensure food security and a stable future” for his family.

Lily holding yogurt from one of the dairy cows she bought through an FSA loan. If you’ve never had Sogoo yogurt, you’re in for a sour & chunky surprise.

Alfred telling us about his cows (I may have stepped in multiple cow pies during this interview...).

Alfred telling us about his cows (I may have stepped in multiple cow pies during this interview…). He and Lily have also used an FSA loan to purchase a chicken coop.

Lily was so excited to share her milk and yogurt with the Sogoo FSA board members. I had the privilege of consuming one cup of each.

Lily was so excited to share her milk and yogurt with the Sogoo FSA board members. I had the privilege of consuming one cup of each.

Bottoms up!

Bottoms up!

Lily and Alfred's daughter-in-law, Helen, and her family. Helen is an active FSA board member. This lovely lady runs over three businesses and a family!

Lily and Alfred’s daughter-in-law, Helen, and her family. Helen is an active FSA board member. This lovely lady is a wife, mother of four, and runs over three businesses!

view from the home

Winnie, one of World Concern's project managers, leads an FSA meeting in the home.

Winnie, one of World Concern’s project managers, leads an FSA meeting in the family home.

This beautiful group of ladies is an FSA savings group. They pool their money together in order that each of them can start her own business. More to come later!

This beautiful group of ladies are members of a FSA savings group. They pool their money together and share with one another so that each woman has the opportunity to start her own business. More to come on them later!

Now a lil’ word from Alfred and Gilbert. And the cows…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jovia: Girl Meets Garden

It is 3 AM and somehow your body commands itself to waken. Groggily, you crawl off of your cot, stumble out of your hut, and walk into the darkness. You splash your face with water and brush your teeth in a nearby basin. Throwing on your school uniform, still dusty from yesterday as you had no time to wash it, you then slide your feet into your shoes, grab your unfinished school materials, and hopefully eat a piece of white bread or a banana before heading on your way...

Your feet hit the dirt path. The hour is so early that darkness covers the land, blanketing it in an eerily quiet state.  Besides the chirping of crickets, a slight breeze whipping through the tall grasses, and a random rustle from unknown creatures in nearby bushes, all you can hear is the sound of red dirt (you know it’s red from the many times you’ve walked it) crunching beneath your shoes. It feels like you were just here.

Half-awake, you silently walk the all-too-familiar 4.5 mile path. As if in a dream-like state, every pothole and tree stump memorized, you place one foot in front of the other. If only you were dreaming. Every day you must make this journey – 4.5 miles to school, 4.5 miles back home..

You muster enough energy to get through your lessons – even though by the time it is lunch, you have already been awake for almost half of a day. Eager to engage in your classes and excel among your schoolmates, you often find that your mind is foggy and overwhelmed by the work you know you will not have time to complete.

The school day ends and you head off down the same path from which you came – no time to stay and linger with friends, work on your studies, or play sports. You have 4.5 miles to walk and you must get home in time to assist your mother with the cleaning, cooking, and care-taking of your three younger siblings. Arriving home at 7 pm  you do your chores without complaint and collapse into bed. Exhausted from the day, you try to stay awake to catch up on school work, but you are tired, and you have to wake up and do it all again in less than six hours.

This is Jovia’s story.Jovia.

Like many other Maasai children, who live long distances from one another and from their schools, Jovia found she had little to no time to do her schoolwork, let alone get a full night’s rest. She was constantly falling behind – not because she was lazy, not because she didn’t try, not because she wasn’t smart enough, but because she literally didn’t have time.

By the age of 13, Jovia’s aunt noticed that she was clearly struggling. Her aunt recommended to Jovia’s mother that she attend a boarding school in Siyapei, Kenya. Siyapei Primary School offers scholarships to at-risk, vulnerable girls – Jovia’s aunt knew she would qualify.

Jovia was accepted to the school and in only one year her academics have significantly improved, “When I came here, I was not an average person, but nowadays I score highly because I get time to read and I have my own free time.” Because she no longer spends the hours she is not in school walking and taking care of her family, Jovia has been able to focus on her studies. She has also had the time and freedom to be a teenage girl – to play with her friends, read what she wants, explore new places, and learn skills of her choosing.

Siyapei Primary School's gorgeous facilities.

Siyapei Primary School’s gorgeous facilities.

One of these skills is gardening.

World Concern partners with Siyapei Primary School to run a kitchen garden (also known as a shamba) for the students. The garden serves to improve the student’s nutritional health as well as educate them about growing and cultivating a variety of fruits and vegetables.

gardengarden

Jovia is one of the 36 students who are members of Siyapei’s 4K Club – a popular club that is in charge of the care and keeping of the shamba. The members meet once a week to participate in the gardening of kale, cabbage, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, and melons.

According to Jovia, “We are the ones who have been taught how to maintain the garden.”

The patron of the school’s 4K Club, mentioned that “prior to the garden, the student’s diet was unbalanced – consisting of only maize and beans.” Many of the students were so accustomed to an unbalanced diet that the vegetables initially upset their stomachs. Now the students eat green vegetables every day; they are healthy and enjoy the variety. Speaking of the other students, Jovia said, “When they eat sokuma (kale) and cabbages, they are well.”

The Patron of Siyapei's 4K Club.

The Patron of Siyapei’s 4K Club.

In fact, the garden is proving to be so successful that the students are able grow more than enough produce to feed themselves. They sell the extra in the local market and use the money to retain the shamba and buy supplies for the girls (soap, towels, etc.). Siyapei’s teachers believe that the students will “know enough about gardening to create their own once they return home.”

Garden greenhouse.

Garden greenhouse.

Jovia seems to agree – “I like watering the plants…the vegetables…and digging…In the future I’d like to own a big farm. Then I’ll plant vegetables and wheat for my family members. I will sell them. And some I’ll take to the orphan children and children’s homes.”

Jovia showing off her gardening skills.

Jovia showing off her gardening skills.

Jovia still has one more year at Siyapei Primary. We hope and pray that she will have the support and drive to continue excelling in her education and spread her gardening skills along the way.

See Jovia’s story here!:

(I apologize if this video appears a bit wavy… minor technical difficulties in the uploading process…)