With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, this is a time of year where people often talk about the things that they are thankful for. Everyone knows the experience well, you might say to a friend, “man, I’m really thankful that” and you can fill in the blank. Maybe you sit around a table on Thanksgiving eating with your family and take turns telling everyone what you are thankful for this year. Also, familiar to most of us, is the experience of an event that causes us to realize just how thankful we are, or should be for the comforts of home and America. Nothing, in my opinion, will bring about such thoughts than a trip to a developing nation, a trip that I have had the opportunity to make on many occasions.
Travelling in the developing world is often the antithesis of everything we know here in America. Things rarely run smoothly or efficiently, as we would describe things in the United States, little consideration is given to time, and the material needs of large amounts of the population in developing countries go unmet everyday. Many people who experience this will come back “changed”. They may not waste food, they will give more, and they won’t care so much that they drive a Ford Explorer, not a Range Rover. However, I believe if you travel to a developing country and really engage with the people you meet, you will be radically changed, even beyond the things we have come to expect. Last summer, I sat in the middle of a field beside the pick-up truck I rode to a displacement camp in the middle of the Rift Valley in Kenya. There I spoke with two men who by all of our American and Western standards had literally nothing. My friend Haran sat in the same pair of pants he wears every day, a red Nike windbreaker he picked up somewhere along the way, and a Wake Forest hat that my friend Joe lent him to work on the farm. Haran lives on little more than two dollars a day, lives in a mud-hut, and has to provide for three children on his and his wife’s meager salaries. Haran doesn’t have a TV, no deep fryer to make a Turkey for Thanksgiving, and by all accounts is one of the poorest of the poor in the world. But in all that poverty and hardship (Haran’s house was burned to the ground in post-election violence in 2008), Haran sat there with me that day in the grass full of joy, full of life, and full of dignity, even while in absolute poverty.
For Haran it is the simple things. He has a job while over 40% of Kenya does not. He has a roof over his head and a loving family. For Haran, that is all he needs to have the joy that those chasing the American dream often lack. Would Haran love to have financial wealth? An easier life? Absolutely. But Haran understood that the lack of those things couldn’t take his joy and dignity.
As I drove away from Haran’s village that evening I remember thinking to myself, I am thankful for Haran, and his joy. My next interaction with Haran would take place through my friends in Kenya who were able to be by his side in the hospital where he lay recovering from a traffic accident that claimed the lives of several of his co-passengers. Haran lay there broken, yet the joy never left.
So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for Haran. For people like him who have taught me that there is more to life than any material possession I own. I am thankful for the opportunity to know and serve individuals like him in developing countries, and thankful that I get to come to work tomorrow and continue to work towards a world where people like Haran can have joy without the poverty.
-Will Curtis, Nourish International National Office
Recent Attack in Kenya poses the question to the Nourish Network: Is terrorism is a form of poverty?
Acts of terrorism continue to wreak havoc around the world and the recent international terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya hits close to home for Nourish International as we mourn for our partners and communities abroad that have suffered from the evil of others.
Africa remains the world’s poorest continent, with over 40% of sub-Saharan Africans living in extreme poverty. In the past 10 years, however, Kenya has become one of Africa’s most developed nations, an entrepreneurial hub for east Africa. Nourish has worked there for two years partnering with organizations on the ground working in sustainable agriculture, HIV/ AIDS prevention, tree reforestation, and educational outreach. We have built greenhouses and hospitals, planted tree forests, and run outreach workshops alongside communities in Kenya.
The Nourish International Movement, founded in 2003, is built upon the tenets of empowerment, social and economic justice, community- led partnership, and systemic and sustainable solutions for communities living in extreme poverty. We engage students to participate in creating a more just world.
Theo Klimek, a Nourish Chapter Leader at the University of Minnesota Chapter spent five weeks this summer working alongside Organic Health Response in Kenya. Theo reflects on the attack this week in frustration and concern with the following: “Our Nourish team was in Kenya for five weeks and in that short window I fell in love with the heart of the Kenyan people and their goodwill. Being from Minneapolis, I’ve had a chance to sit in on some community discussions concerning Somalia, its emerging government, its relationship with Kenya, and its troubles with Al-Shabab. Putting the two together, it has been deeply frustrating watching this week’s events unfold. Kenya’s role as a friend to the young Somali government and its military investment in peace and humanitarian aid in southern Somalia are both great examples of the good heart of its people. The tragedy within the tragedy is that their goodwill is being combated with death and terror. It’s quite possible that members of the Minnesota-Somali community were involved in this attack (Somali leaders here have publicly condemned this act of terror). And although this fact is making national news, I’m glad to know that there were many more Minnesotans in Kenya this year working alongside the Kenyan people, whose names won’t make headlines, but whose actions were for good, rather than destruction.”
Poverty manifests itself in many forms, and the most common understanding is economic or absolute poverty. This would include the statistic we all know too well… that one in six people (roughly one billion!) in the world live on less than a $1.25 per day.
Economic poverty is just one representation of poverty. In fact, extreme poverty is more than the lack of material resources necessary to meet an individual’s basic needs. One critical component of the extreme poverty is when an individual lacks the opportunity to make meaningful choices that will sustainably improve his or her life. Like poverty, terrorism is a global threat that kills, prevents growth, starves, and frightens all people striving for a meaningful life and improved living conditions.
Nourish International’s network fights the disempowerment of all people and trains leaders in their efforts to alleviate and end poverty in whatever form it takes.
Acts of terrorism remind us at Nourish International why our mission to engage students and empower communities is vital to creating lasting change and developing a more economically and socially just world. Our resolve to impact those in poverty, whether it’s through hunger alleviation, disease prevention, access to education or economic opportunity has only increased this week while watching our partners in Kenya and communities in need, face the terror associated with the recent attacks.
In light of the recent events, we pose the following question to the Nourish Network in reflecting on this week’s event, Is poverty a form of terrorism?
This past summer, Nourish International had a tremendous impact on poverty, implementing 19 different Projects in 12 countries around the globe. We could not be more excited about the success these Projects had over the past three months!
For the month of September, we will be highlighting the amazing people behind the Projects. It was a difficult task to select these outstanding individuals and groups. All of the student interns, Chapter leaders, and community partners have completed amazing work!
To start off the month, we would like to dedicate this blog post to Organic Health Response, an incredible organization that supports an ecosystem of diverse community health and environmental initiatives on Mfangano Island in Kenya. Many challenges exist on the island that prevent healthy and environmentally sustainable living practices, such as high HIV prevalence in remote communities, high deforestation rates, and decreased biodiversity due to overfishing.
However, despite these challenges, the Mfangano Island is rich in fresh water, fertile soil, remarkable wildlife, and a tremendous group of motivated and inspiring community activists. These activists believe that the unique community can thrive in the future, and dream of pulling the island out from the depths of poverty and disease to create an area of equal prosperity for all. These activists are the people behind Organic Health Response. And they are the people behind the Nourish International Project on the island.
This past summer, the University of Minnesota Nourish Chapter sent a group of students to the island to provide resources that aid this group in creating a lasting change through community rooted partnerships and initiatives. They developed long-term nutrition and reforestation initiatives in the community that benefited and will continue to positively impact the health, social and economic well-being of the community. The programs were initiated and designed by the Mfangano Island residents and then aided in the implementation and resource provision process by the Minnesota student interns.
These people are motivated, inspiring individuals who look towards a better tomorrow and actively work to eradicate poverty in the region. The Organic Health Response activists provide HIV testing and counseling, lessons on sustainable farming practices, and technology initiatives. Over 500 community members have graduated from the informative health program, 2000 members have joined the computer and internet literacy initiative, and 2,434 members have been tested and treated for HIV thus far. Organic Health Response believes in the fundamental values of human strength and harmonious relationships with others and the environment, and strives to create a world where these values continue to reign in future generations.
The vision of Organic Health Response is huge, and their love, enthusiasm, and community driven motivation and dedication to create a better future for the island continues to grow with every seed planted, health lesson taught, and infant death prevented. They have completed incredible things and the future looks bright for this organization and their impact on poverty on the Mfangano Island.
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?”.
But 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[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tO2pZbSgjzA]
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,
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!
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!
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,
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,
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.
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.
After two long days of traveling and layovers, our team finally arrived in Kisumu, Kenya. David and his brother John met us after our flight where we loaded into the “Beast,” and the, “Baby Beast,” (their large SUVs). We made a stop in Kisumu at the Nakumat which is “Kenya’s Wal-mart.” We were shocked at how large it is. The Nakumat is the closest supermarket to David’s house, about 45 minutes away. After our grocery run, we headed to House of Hope, a ministry David started. So far, they have built a very nice clinic. His assistant, Elaine, showed us around. They are still in the process of setting it up, but everything they are doing is really great. They have started working on a children center where they will have 20 kids to fill the rooms in June.
Next, we headed to Kandaria where Justine (his wife) was ready with dinner. She is quite the chef! Our first meal consisted of ugali, avocado, mini bananas, beef, sekuma wiki (equivalent to kale), and passionfruit juice. We will be eating a lot of ugali here. It’s almost like a huge ball of sticky, thick grits. You cut your slice like cake and mix it with the other foods. Everything was delicious.
Kandaria is a beautiful place. We love it here and cannot wait to continue exploring. All of the people are so good to us, very welcoming and full of smiles. Everyone speaks D’luo which is the language of the Luo tribe. We didn’t waste any time in trying to learn their language and began our lessons last night. Justine gave us our Kandarian names which is how we will introduce ourselves. These names are decided based on the time of day that the person was born, and all of the people here share these names. Men’s names start with an O and female’s with an A. We find the culture very intriguing… quite different from America. For instance, goats and cows walking on the highway. Here, they drive on the right side of the car, left side of the road. Out of time for now, catch yah on the next posting!
Aheri ahinya (much love),