While it’s only been two weeks since my partner Alena and I arrived in Kenya, we have learned so much. It’s amazing how quickly you adapt to a new environment after you find your bearings and get settled into the community. These first weeks have consisted mostly of orientation and introductions but I will give you a bit of background on the work I’ll be doing.
I am here in Kenya to work with the eRoots Program run locally by Crown the Child Africa (CCA). CCA is a Kenyan based non-governmental organization that is focused on community based, holistic development in the areas of economic and gender empowerment, child education, nutrition and health, water and sanitation, agriculture and environment. CCA works throughout Kenya as well as in Tanzania, Zambia, Cameroon and Ghana.
You may be asking, as I did when I was first introduced to it, why eRoots? Just as roots offer to uphold, to nurture and to strengthen, to provide stability, support and nourishment to what is flourishing above, this is what the eRoots program aims to offer the community which it serves. The “e” of eRoots is a reference to the Garden of Eden and great abundance. The eRoots program is focused on sustainability, on looking beyond the surface, to what is lying deep at the heart of the matter. Starting with the most fundamental need we all share, food. Agricultural activities are central to the eRoots program, promoting food security in all its efforts. These activities are in support of families directly and at schools in the community where the program is run.
While there are public schools that are technically “free”, they face many financial constraints and often place the onus on the parents to fill in the gaps where the government fails to provide. This includes paying for school uniforms, textbooks and school supplies and often times even the salary for some of the teachers. The families themselves are already economically disadvantaged and many children come to school without food to eat. The school days are long, and in some of the rural areas children travel very long distances to get to school. This presents a whole host of challenges, but especially when it comes to lunch time, if the children are released to go home for lunch, they often do not return, losing valuable lesson time. Through the school feeding program, eRoots aims to address these challenges so that the children won’t be left hungry and ensure they remain at the school for the full day. Being properly nourished at school also benefits the quality of the learning experience for the children helping them to focus and in turn, providing an opportunity for improved academic performance. At the Kiambogo site, Njeru Primary School is working towards a sustainable model whereby all the food for the feeding program is grown on site. Any surplus that is produced is sold and the income is then fed back into maintaining the program. The children are directly engaged with the food production through their agriculture classes and demonstration plots are used as practical, hands-on experimental learning grounds to teach the children effective farming techniques. These plots are fruitful spaces serving to connect the children to the land, not only to grow food, but promote environmental stewardship and the idea of farming as a viable career. The techniques and ideas generated in these plots are also encouraged to be brought home and shared with the parents to support income generation at the household level.
Learning about the student plots in the shamba (field). There is a bit of friendly competition between the students to see who can grow the heartiest vegetables. This green leafy vegetable, known as sukuma wiki (literally translated to “pushing the week”, as it can be used to stretch meals out to last the week) is much like collard greens or kale. (Photo credit: Alena Rankin)Common Interest Groups
eRoots also supports its beneficiaries through the promotion of agricultural activities to ensure their families are fed but also, as a means of generating income. Community members are organized into micro-finance groups to encourage saving and provide them with access to credit. It is the members of these groups who determine what type of project they want to engage in and work together to collect the capital to start their own small businesses. eRoots helps to provide the resources and training required to initiate the project, helping with many types of projects from basic crop production to poultry and goat rearing. It is the hope that through the collective effort of the groups, these small businesses will improve the livelihoods of the families, ultimately promoting their independence and self-reliance.
The journey has just begun and there is so much more to learn, but I can’t wait to see how it unfolds! As I reflect on the power and potential eRoots has to offer to feed families, to create businesses, to improve quality of life, to nourish young minds and foster environmental conservation, I am so grateful to have the opportunity be a part of this initiative and learn from the community. More than 12,000 km from Canada, nestled in the hills of the Rift Valley in Kenya, there is a great transformation taking place, and it all started with a seed.
Photo credit: Alena Rankin
Patricia Butt is working as an eRoots Coordinator with Crown the Child Africa in Kenya.