Kenya Part One: Schools and Sugar

After a week monitoring Salvation Army projects in the DRC, I headed to Kenya to learn from our implementing staff and monitor our projects. The first four days were spent around Kakamega in Western Kenya while the last three days were spent in Nairobi in Eastern Kenya. I was joined by my counter-parts from Australia and the United States for the week. I think this slightly confused a few people since they knew that one of us was supposed to be from the UK, but no one had a British accent.

This was my third trip to Western Kenya in the last twelve months, after visiting gender equality projects with my family and Daylight Centre and School with David. Although I was happily back in familiar territory, this trip felt different since elections loomed in the near future and tensions were a bit high. Kenya’s last elections were quite violent, so everywhere I went people speculated on what the March 4th vote would bring this time. Most thought it would be peaceful, but few were taking chances. People were making plans to get their families to safety in case of unrest, and many ex-patriots were leaving the country. In the last elections, many people took refuge in Salvation Army churches and compounds, so this time our Kenyan teams were training staff on emergency preparedness and stocking up on basic food and supplies.

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Election demonstrations in Kakamega

Fortunately none of these tensions impacted my time in Kenya, and here is a snapshot of some of the projects I monitored.

Shinoyi Nursery School

Very crowded classroom at Shinoyi.

Very crowded classroom at Shinoyi.

After all of my work with Daylight, it was particularly interesting to learn about the challenges facing schools and parents in Western Kenya. On Monday we headed to ShinoyiNursery school which currently serves 160 students in one classroom. The children are divided into three different classes, which all sit facing different directions while the three teachers all teach at the same time from different corners of the room. The Salvation Army is currently building more classrooms for the school, so at least this problem will be alleviated.

Mothers telling me about the sugarcane factories.

Mothers telling me about the sugarcane factories.

I met with a group of parents to ask them about some of the greatest needs facing their community, and their answers made me want to never eat sugar again. They explained that although their community had a lot of very good land, almost all of this land had been rented to factories for growing sugarcane rather than being used for food crops. Community members, even though they are land owners, are not making enough money from the rent to feed their children or pay the very small school fees. To make matters worse, sugarcane takes almost two years to mature, meaning that income from sugarcane sales is very infrequent. During those two years many families go further into debt to the middle-men who rent their land. The parents said that they are only able to provide around one meal per day for their children and this meal lacks variety and nutritional value.

Tractor taking sugarcane to the nearby factor where many work for less than $1 per day.

Tractor taking sugarcane to the nearby factor where many work for less than $1 per day.

Our plan for the school is to purchase additional land and some dairy cows so that the school can begin to grow its own food. After conversations with the parents, it was very clear that an agriculture intervention cannot simply stop at the school level but must involve the whole community. This is why we are hoping to host an agricultural extension officer who will train the community on nutritious crops as well as demonstrate how small plots of land around people’s homes can be used for small gardens. Of course the issues of injustice around the sugar trade are much larger, but at least our small agriculture project can start to bring some small change.

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