Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Three Takes on Community Gardens


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, Mai Mahiu, The Rift Valley

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.

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

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.

We had planned to help organize for a youth drip irrigation program similar to CTC, but food insecurity lead the youth 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

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."

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.


Jordan said...

Great work, guys! Wonderful to hear about the progress of Mama Hope. Please send everyone in Isiolo my love!

Anonymous said...

Keep on posting such stories. I like to read blogs like this. BTW add more pics :)