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Nourish International

Week 5

August 8, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Ghana, Summer Projects, UMN | By

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Ericka’s Batik

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Crushing glass bottles to make beads

Global Mamas offers an awesome experience to both its volunteers as well as anyone who is interested to learn about traditional Ghanaian arts. The Cape Coast location manages the batikers and seamstresses around the area, so Abbey and Ericka were able to meet up with one of the batikers and take a workshop with her. Seeing the women do their work first-hand was fascinating. We had a lot of fun and were able to create the fabric that we used. We also got the chance to travel to and do some smaller projects at the Global Mamas Krobo location. The Krobo area is known for beads, hosting an enormous bead market every Wednesday. There, we were able to take another workshop with Grace and Moses, two bead makers who have worked with Global Mamas for 5 years. We learned the whole process of creating beads – from glass bottle to bracelet. It was great to see firsthand the work that is done within the Global Mamas family each day.

But our project nears its end. Over the past month, we have formed amazing friendships and successfully adapted to the Ghanaian groove—traveling in taxis to the office each morning and afternoon, in “tro-tros” to our favorite beach spots and weekly cricket matches, and to the farthest reaches of Ghana to experience the enormity of the largest waterfall in West Africa. Our database project is almost complete. When it is, Global Mamas will be able to use this tool to analyze how their organization has impacted their producers since the very beginning. We meet with management next week to illustrate our ideas to reorganize their offices in order to add an inventory Room and account for three new positions at the Cape Coast location- Inventory Manager, Design Assistant, and Production Assistant.

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Some of the Krobo Staff

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On our way to Wli Waterfalls


July 21, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Ghana, Summer Projects, UMN | By

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Today marks our third week in Ghana! What an experience so far!

We continue to labor through data and enter it into the database, but we have also been asked to complete a few side projects. Ericka already finished updating an Infographic for the Global Mamas (GM) Annual Report. They have been really pressing her for her Graphic Design skills and she has really stepped up! Ash began a project last week called “Meet the Mamas,” in which he will interview and get to know many of the Mamas. GM will post some of his favorite quotes on Facebook so that customers can get to know their producers. Abbey and Nick will be introduced to their side project today related to Inventory Management.

According to the Rural Poverty Portal, around 6 million people in Ghana live in poverty. Global Mamas works not only to bring people out of poverty but also gives them the chance to prosper. GM producers earn on average 35% more than workers in the same industry in Ghana. That is 75% above minimum wage! By sorting through our data, we have been able to realize firsthand the difference that GM has in so many lives. On AVERAGE, each Mama supports 2 people outside of their immediate family and often times pays school fees for up to 6 children who are not their own.

Last week, we were able to help out in Quality Control where about ten employees examine the quality of the orders that the Mamas have sent in to the office. Our task was to remove any loose threads and make sure all zippers functioned correctly. We have a lot of fun there with the staff.

On the weekends when the office is closed, we are able to travel around Ghana. So far, we have traveled to Kakum National Park, Elmina Castle, the city of Kumasi, and Lake Bosomtwe.

Kakum National Park is located 45 minutes away from Cape Coast. We went on a canopy tour, which is like a ropes course 30 meters above ground in the canopy of the rainforest. Even though it was a little frightening at times to be supported by just ropes and wooden boards, the views were so worth it.

The Portugese, under the supervision of St. George of the Mine, built Elmina Castle in 1482 as a trade settlement, but it later became an important stop on the route of the Atlantic slave trade. Evidence of the type of treatment that was inflicted upon these people can still be seen and felt today. One of the most emotional parts of the tour was our stop at the “Point of No Return.” Slaves were marshalled through a small crevice in the wall where they could briefly glance back at their homeland one last time before being shipped off to the Americas, never to return.

Many name Kumasi as home to the largest market in West Africa. Once we made our way into the chaos, it was difficult to find our way out. Vast and overwhelming, one look there was enough for a lifetime. After maneuvering our way out of the market, we traveled to Lake Bosomtwe, which was created by a crater over one million years ago and is now a peaceful and secluded getaway. We enjoyed our time swimming and relaxing by the lake before journeying back to Cape Coast to get ready for the week.


Kumasi Market


Lake Bosomtwe

A day in Ghana

July 10, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Ghana, Summer Projects, UMN | By


Outside of our house in Elmina

1:30 AM Ash is awake due to extreme jetlag, Ghana edition
5:30 AM Ash finally falls back asleep
5:31 AM The sun rises
6:56 AM Abbey and Ericka wake up
7:00 AM Abbey and Ericka’s alarm goes off
7:00 AM Nick cannot believe it is morning
7:05 AM Nick takes his first bucket shower
7:06 AM He loves it
7:35 AM Ash wakes up
7:40 AM We leave and walk to the junction
7:45 AM We arrive at the junction and hop into a taxi
8:00 AM The taxi drops us off near the Global Mamas office
8:05 AM We’re early thanks to GMT – Ghana Maybe Time
8:30 AM The project is upon us
8:31 AM We are already drowning in data

We should probably explain what we are doing here in the first place. Over the past 10 years, Global Mamas has used a variety of models to track the impact of their work. Because different amounts and types of data were collected, none of the information is organized in a meaningful way. Our task is to populate the database for the three locations in Cape Coast, Odumase-Krobo, and Ashaiman. We will also work with the management team to identify and create relevant reports, analyze our findings to guide programs for the next few years, and possibly develop and implement a communications plan to highlight the company’s achievements to donors, volunteers, customers, and potential partners.

Global Mamas is a non-profit clothing company whose stated goal is to achieve prosperity for women. They strive to do this by using a micro-enterprise model to create fair-trade jobs for women. The ultimate outcome is to prepare women to manage their own independent, self-sufficient small businesses.

We worked on inputting the data for the rest of the day, stopping once to go across the road to the chop stand where we all got rice, beans, plantain, and red sauce. At 5 PM, we took a taxi back to our house and then walked down the road to Elli’s. Elli has a restaurant where she makes food to order, so our meal of palava, rice, and eggs was hot a ready soon after we arrived.

After dinner, we went back to the house and played some cards before simultaneously agreeing that 9:30 PM was way too late to be awake, so we scurried off to bed.

We’re goin’ to Ghana!

July 5, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Ghana, Summer Projects, UMN | By

Hello friends and family!

This post begins a series of blog posts that chronicles UMN Nourish’s project with Global Mamas in Cape Coast, Ghana. First, allow us to introduce ourselves.

Nick Cotta just finished his second year at the U. He plans to create his own major with concentrations in Global Studies, Psychology, and Social Justice. He is most looking forward to meeting the Mamas and learning about Ghanaian culture.

Ashwat Giri also just finished his second year at the U. He is entering his third and final year as an English major and plans to attend law school. He is thrilled with all that UMN Nourish has accomplished this year and is most looking forward to seeing, and being a part of, the culmination of the chapter’s efforts.

Abbey Kroll is entering her third year at the U. She is majoring in International Business and Supply Chain and Operations Management. She is most looking forward to meeting the Mamas and seeing how the organization has impacted their lives.

Ericka Wallis is entering her third year at the U as a graphic design major. She is most looking forward to implementing the project with Global Mamas and experiencing a culture very different from what she is used to.

UMN Nourish raised over $7000 this year, and has been eagerly anticipating putting that money to use. We chose Global Mamas as our partner because we believe the organization demonstrates the attitudes and ethics that Nourish stands for. We believe Global Mamas has an appreciation for the complexity of the issues surrounding extreme poverty, and we are impressed with how they have focused their efforts on designing highly contextualized, sustainable, community-based solutions.

Today, the team celebrated Fourth of July with Ericka’s family and neighbors in Madison, Wisconsin.

Celebrating the 4th in Wisconsin!

Celebrating the 4th in Wisconsin!

Tomorrow, we are driving to Chicago to catch a 3pm flight to Boston, our first of many flights as we make our way to Cape Coast, Ghana.

We invite you to connect with us throughout our project. You can follow us at this blog, or any of the personal blogs that our team members have created:

Nick Cotta: Wilhelm Commune
Ashwat Giri: antipasto
Abbey Kroll: Ghana with the Mamas
Ericka Wallis: Gnomad

Thank you for your support and interest, and look out for more posts from UMN Nourish!

UMN: A Month Later

August 6, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Kenya, Summer Projects, UMN | By

Hi everyone,

It’s been a little over one month since we’ve returned from Mfangano Island to our homes and lives (well at least for Mae and I). “Re-adjustment” should be over by now, but in many ways it’s still not. I still think of Kenya on a daily basis and talk with my host family every few days. It’s odd to be so distant from the people and place that I grew so familiar and comfortable with. To say that I miss Kenya is an understatement. There is a Theo that continues to live in Kenya, with different friends, a different lifestyle, and different values,  that I am unable to be. This reality causes a strange dissonance with the Theo that lives here and an odd “going through the motions” experience. While shampooing my hair I find myself thinking “Do I even need a special soap for my hair? Why don’t I just use soap?” Or as I put on my clothes I think “Did I ever need this many shirts? Where did I get all these shirts?”.

BMakin' a nursery in Uginaut being back to familiar faces and a wonderfully familiar American diet is certainly appreciated. While not even the most genuinely interested listener has 5 spare hours for me to fully recount my feelings and experiences, it is fun and rewarding to share the experience with friends and family. I’ve had a great time producing our recap video (see below)!

In the end, Mae, Kathryn, and I have experienced something that we cannot even share with each other. Each of our experiences in Kenya was incredible and instructive in ways unique to each of us. Personally, one month of planting trees has taught me that I’m only scratching the surface of what it is like to work abroad on “development” and “aid” projects. I’m beginning to distinguish between solidarity and charity; and I’m empowered to continue to stand alongside communities like Mfangano for the rest of my life. I have to continue to work towards greater equity for my friends across the globe and I have to continue to study how to do that in the best way possible. I cannot wait to share the relationships we’ve made and lessons we’ve learned with the students on my campus! The stories that we’re bringing back to campus will (in the words of Nicholas Olambo) “automatically” inspire our peers to take the same stand.

In conclusion, thanks. Thanks to our chapter for all the work they’ve done to make this project a reality, thanks to Organic Health Response for their incredible work on Mfangano, thanks to our host families for your loving care, thanks to our friends and families at home for your support, and thanks to NINO for all the guidance.

Oriti (goodbye) and all the best!

Theo and the Nourish UMN team


UMN: Branching Out

June 22, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Kenya, Summer Projects, UMN | By

Hey everyone! Sorry about the bad tree pun… Here’s what’s happened with the Nourish team (or as the rest of the volunteers at EK call us, the tree people) in Mfangano this week:

On Monday, team tree people were reforestation radio stars.  We were back in the studio with Eric and Olambo, with Nancy sitting by the door for moral support.  This week’s theme was the environmental impact of trees. Since this is what we were most knowledgeable about, we were really enthused about discussion soil fertility through the nitrogen cycle, the causes and impact of soil erosion, and the role of trees in the water cycle.  We said our parts in English, and Eric helped translate what we said into Dhluo.  A few people called in with tree questions, but we were only given 30 minutes for the entire program, so not all the questions were answered.

On Tuesday, we found ourselves teaching at Sena Secondary once again, this time about the economic benefits of trees. Fun fact that we learned: if you plant 1 tree here when your child is born, by the time s/he is old enough for secondary school, you can chop down the tree you planted and have lumber that will cover the cost of the secondary school fees. Besides that, the trees provide lumber, charcoal, and firewood, all of which are integral parts to living here on Mfangano. Many of the students couldn’t believe how much money could be made from growing trees.

Wednesday, we split up in the morning. Mae and Emma, our WWOOFer friend managed to successfully harvest honey from Joel’s farm. (Ask Mae about the unsuccessful attempt…) while I went up to my host father’s school. Daniel is the head teacher of Kagungu Primary School, so I got to hike up the hill to Soklo once again and meet with all the classes, which had anywhere from 6 to 15ish students, depending on the class. A few of the classes burst out into song for me, and I got to teach a baby class, about, you guessed it, TREES! In the afternoon, we all met up and worked at the nursery in Ramba, where we filled 500 bags of soil. Also, it was Theo’s birthday, and we had a nice little celebration, complete with a homemade cake!

Thursday, we spent all day in Ugina at the nursery for the women’s group. We started off by being impromptu architects and building a raised shelter for the nursery beds we made last week. Meanwhile, Olambo and Robinson got to work making a fence. We were each carrying 2 posts for the fence, through huge mud puddles and over raised gates. Mae took a little tumble while going over one of the gates, and has a good sized bruise on her right leg. She’s a tough cookie though. In the afternoon, while the men were still fencing, the ladies filled another 500 bags of soil.

Anyways, the reason this post is entitled branching out is because besides reforestation, each of the members of the Nourish team is working on their own little project. Theo wants to visit the FACES clinic, which is where the people with HIV are being treated; Mae is working on a few murals for the walls of the EK center, and I’m going into primary schools and teaching music classes. Mae’s first mural is going quite well, and Theo is slated to visit the clinic next week. On Friday, I went to Sena Primary and taught some basic children’s songs, like “I’m a Little Tea Pot” and “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider.” The teacher asked about reforestation, and it turns out there had been a discussion about planting some trees at the primary school, but it hadn’t happened yet. So with all 25 members of class 7 in tow, we went to EK farm and picked up some seedlings. I’m proud to say that Sena Primary is home to 40 new baby trees! Huzzah!

This week has flown by, and it’s hard to believe that there’s only one full week left before we head out.  Mae and Theo are currently in Ruma National Park, on a safari, where hopefully they’ll see some cool animals. I elected to stay home, as I’m heading out a little early and it’s my last weekend here. Hopefully I’ll learn how to make mandazi, which are like doughnuts tomorrow with my host mother. Berlin is nearly in tears thinking about our leaving, and we are too. It’s the last week, and we’re going to make the best of it! (:

Love from Mfangano,


UMN: 10,000 Seedlings

June 17, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Kenya, Summer Projects, UMN | By

Hello Everyone! Sorry for the delay, our internet was down for most of the weekend!

Things have gone on well here this week as our project coordinator, Robinson, has returned to the island along with Richard the director of the Ekialo Kiona Center. With their vision we’ve been able to accomplish a lot towards our project goals and have gotten to meet more friends around the island that are partnered with us on the reforestation effort!

Mae and Kathryn left last Sunday to visit Berlin’s (their host mom) mother’s home in Homa Bay. They had a safe trip and a fun time meeting the family. They report that both Berlin and her mother are determined to marry them both to Kenyan men. They returned on Monday without any wedding plans.

While they were gone to Homa Bay I remained at EK on Monday and performed a radio broadcast with Nancy and Eric on the radio team and Nick Olambo, a farm specialist here at the center. We discussed the cultural value of forests with callers who offered their comments and questions. The radio team and Nick did a lot of translating to Dhluo to make sure that everything that we had to communicate was well understood. We’re about to do our next broadcast and I’m excited to do it with our whole team!

On Tuesday we met with the nearby Sena Mixed Secondary School to teach some of the theory behind the reforestation effort. This week the emphasis was the environmental importance of maintaining forests. Afterwards the teacher was excited to tell us that some of the topics we covered, like the water cycle and nitrogen cycle, also come up in the students’ coursework. They were so excited about this and the way we presented the material that they want to host us again for an extra lesson.

Wed, Thursday, and Friday were all spent setting up nurseries. On Wed we worked at Ramba with a wise old tree farmer there named Oguta, on Thursday at Ugina with the women’s group there, and on Friday at both the EK center and at Sena Secondary. A nursery essentially consists of a 8 x 5 ft bed of well tilled earth on which seeds are scattered, watered, and covered in some topsoil and mulch. These beds, in 2 weeks, will yield small seedlings that we can transfer to plastic tubing filled with dirt where they can grow protected for about 9 more months until they are planted in the wild. By this time next year, the center is on track to plant 10,000 seedlings around the island!

Robinson working on the nursery in Ugina

Robinson working on the nursery in Ugina

On Saturday our team and one of the other volunteers at the center made pancakes (with a really tasty banana sauce) for Mae and Kat’s host family. Afterwards we all attended church together (it was long) and then split up for the afternoon washing clothes and helping EK members set up their own facebooks! Sunday we took the first part of the day at a nearby beach with Adam and two students here from Penn, relaxing and chatting an unwinding from the busy week.

That’s all from this week, we’re excited for what’s ahead and stressing over how little time we have left! Only two weeks remain before we leave all our friends and this beautiful island, we avoid thinking about it!

UMN: The First Tree

June 8, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Kenya, Summer Projects, UMN | By

University of Minnesota Nourish team checking in from Mfangano, so y’all don’t think we’ve been eaten alive by ants or scorpions or something, though in the past week, that has happened. The good news is, we’re still kicking.

Sunday, we took a hike up to the top of the island, which is called Soclo. We visited a few of the sacred forests, Wakinga and Kwitutu where we learned that some of the older people on the island believed that their ancestors resided within the forest. So if it didn’t rain, they would go into the sacred forests and sacrifice a goat or a chicken, in hopes of appeasing the ancestors.  We saw a monkey on our hike up, as well as the entire south side of the island. This island is beautiful, it’s hard to believe we’re in the middle of a lake because the lake is so vast, it looks like an ocean.

Monday, we spent the day WWOOFing, (World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers) which is basically exchanging labor for room and board.  One of our mizungu (white) friends is WWOOFing full-time on Joel’s farm. Right now, it’s bean season so we all shelled beans while listening to the radio under the shade of a large tree.

Tuesday, we visited Sena Secondary School and taught the Agriculture Forestry Green Club about the cultural importance of trees. After we all introduced ourselves, one of the students raised his hand and said, “Excuse me, but normally when people introduce themselves, they tell us their marital status.” Everyone laughed, and when Theo said that we were all single, we received a standing ovation.

Wednesday, we worked on the farm, moving seedlings  around. Mae started going stir crazy because time passes differently here. We wake up at 7, help out with chores and eat breakfast, before taking what I call “the mid-morning nap” at 8. We get to the EK center around 8:30 and then hang around checking e-mail and greeting all the people that walk by until about noon. On Thursday, Mae told Ana that she couldn’t take any more sitting around, so Ana suggested that Mae plant a few trees around EK.  It’s hard work. Mae used a sharp stick to dig a fairly deep hole in the ground, planted the little seedling, and now waters it twice a day.  In the afternoon, we also traveled to Ugina to speak to a women’s group who will establish their own tree nursery as well.

Friday, we worked on the farm again, transplanting some more seedlings into bags.  In the afternoon, Mae wasn’t feeling so well, and decided to skip out on the soccer tournament. Theo and I traveled by piki-piki to Rumba where all the high school teams were playing a 3 sport tournament, soccer, volleyball, and netball, which is kind of like basketball, minus the dribbling and jumping.

Mae is doing fine, after sleeping for a solid 20 hours, and we’re excited to see what next week brings!

Love from Mfangano,


UMN: Much Love from Mfangano

June 2, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Kenya, Summer Projects, UMN | By

We are finally here on Mfangano Island!! Even though we arrived two days, it seems like we have been here for forever. Speaking of the idea of time, time is a very loose term here on the island. My host father Daniel, who is a teacher at primary school tells me that if he wants a meeting with parents to start at 10 he must ask them to arrive at 8. Kenyan time means that being late means being on time. Odd, I don’t think that would ever work in the hustle and bustle of the states.


We have been placed with some absolutely wonderful families here on Mfangano. Kathryn and myself have our own personal mud hut, a luxury indeed. Our family contains some of the nicest humans you will meet in this island, and maybe in the world. Our family is led by two wonderful parents Berlin and Daniel. Berlin is the receptionist here at the Ekialo Kiona center, the hub of Organic Health Response. She is the best cook on the island and a caring individual indeed. She even refers to us as “her daughters.” Daniel, like I mentioned before, is a teacher and very modern man for the island. Like his beautiful wife he is very, very kind and can facilitate great conversation. There are six children in the family: Sara-Paulette (5), Glender (7), Eckter (8), John (12), Salamon (15), Lorine (16). All beautiful and very smart, John especially excels at mathematics.


Theo is also with a very nice family. George is the father of the family, a very traditional Luo man and super happy individual. He has a very nice family compound with multiple huts. Theo shares his hut with his Luo brother Edwin (21). They get along very well, always by each other’s side. Esther, the mother, is a strong and serious Kenyan woman. She is also a church leader which is perfect for Theo. In addition to Edwin there are four other children: Innocent (4), Violet (12), Stella (20), Whyton (26).


As you would imagine there are lots of differences when it comes to new culture. We are obviously adjusting to the new food and new living conditions, however everyone absolutely loves it. Myself included, I adore Mfangano and Kenya. I am so lucky to be living here on this beautiful island with beautiful people. I could not have ever asked for better.


Today we embarked on a five hour hike to the very top Mfangano, called Soklo. We were able to see Kinga and Tutu (Sacred Forests) and the tower that provides internet and radio broadcast for the EK center. What beautiful views of Kenya and Lake Victoria. While we loved the hike and playing with our siblings, we are very excited to get down to business tomorrow. The plan is that our weeks will be filled with teaching secondary school classes, facilitating conversation in women’s groups, planting trees in the new tree nursery, and broadcasting our “tree talk shows” on Friday. We love the flexibility we are given here and can’t wait to update you again with our progress!


Much love from Mfangano,


UMN: Breath before the plunge

May 26, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Kenya, Summer Projects, UMN | By

Where is Mfangano?

Our team is 5 days and 6 flights away from Mfangano Island, Kenya, and we’re more excited, antsy, and nervous than any of us can explain to our curious and interested relatives and friends. Having not traveled abroad beyond a week’s trip to Mexico, I spend most of my waking hours thinking about the trip: what to bring, the travel plans, team meetings, last minute emails and calls with Organic Health Response in Kenya, reading articles, and writing blog posts!

For anyone who hasn’t heard about our project, three U of MN students – Mae, Kathryn, and myself (Theo) – are heading to Mfangano Island on the behalf of the UMN student group Nourish. The HIV/AIDS prevalence on the island is estimated at over 30%. We’re working on the ground with an organization called Organic Health Response that has been on the island for several years working with the community to address this issue as well as ecological and communication projects. Nourish is sending $5000 and the three of us to help launch a reforestation project. We’ll meet with secondary school students, women’s groups and host radio broadcasts to discuss the issues of deforestation that the island currently faces. We’ll also help in the construction of new tree nurseries. The trees of the island are important ecologically, economically, and culturally for the island’s residents. Our goal is to re-awaken a recognition of that importance, and offer alternatives to current slash and burn practices.

Beauty of Lake Victoria

None of us can really be ready for what we’ll experience and learn. We plan to make a lot of friends, begin to understand the people and culture of the island, witness poverty unlike any that we’ve ever seen, and be inspired by the steps that are taken every day by people just like us to live in their situation. We have many questions heading in, and we may have even more when we head home! But regardless we can’t wait to soak in as much as we can from the islanders, OHR, and each other as we grow in more ways than we can imagine now.

– Theo