Food and nutrition security in Kenya 2017

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Natalia and Pricilla during an on-farm family nutrition interview

by Colleen Walton

Our nutrition mission in Murkerwe-ini, within the area of the Wakulima Dairy, is to interview women, community leaders and health professionals to better understand nutrition issues in the area and to assess whether earlier nutrition education messages had long term impact on family diets. The biggest issue however is the recent drought.

Maize has not been harvested for almost a year as the October 2016 rains failed. There are shortages of maize at a household level and also at a national level. At times we have not found maize flour in the stores.  Maize is the centre point of most Kenyan meals and we are finding that people are eating foods that they do not like to eat, such as mashed green bananas. In many cases they are eating smaller meals and skipping meals as their resources are limited to buy the available foods. Admittedly, many of the interviews of women in their homes have been very difficult. They are grateful for the wheat or maize flour and Vesey`s Flash Collard seeds that we provide as a token of appreciation for their time. However, these gifts seem so trivial given the precarious situations we have encountered.

Fortunately, there have been rains and the maize and bean plants are looking healthy and the cows are being fed better so milk production should be going up soon.

Another bit of good news is that the Kenyan government recently made fortification of maize and wheat flour mandatory. This practice will replace many vitamins and minerals lost in refining the flours and will to help reduce iron and vitamin A deficiencies that are not uncommon in Kenya. The government also made a move to import maize to help address the maize shortage and, for a short time, provided fortified maize flour at almost 50% off the regular price. Not surprisingly, the newspapers were critical of this move in light of the upcoming elections and unfortunately the maize flour bounty was short lived.

To complete our program we have conducted a `training of trainers` in nutrition. Volunteers from women`s groups were trained on seven key messages to provide a balanced diet for their families. They have been challenged to train their groups, and others. If implemented, the messages provide people with a practical ways to improve their diets, even in small ways with their limited resources.

 

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Pricilla and Natalia climbing from interviewing a woman at her farm

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My Kenyan work station with the handsome rooster

I was excited to see that maize flour is now fortified with vitamins and minerals although we continue to promote the use of whole grain flour made from farmers own crop as “the best”.

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Lush green in the Murkerwe-ini area – hoping for a good maize crop in August

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Pricilla and Natalia finishing up an interview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy, Love and Grace: Working with women’s groups in Kenya

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Interactions with Joy and Upendo Women’s self-help groups

I am Grace Wanjohi, a Masters of Education student who is part of the 2017 nutrition team. It has been a great pleasure visiting women from both Joy and Upendo (‘love’) women’s self-help groups. Just as the names of the groups suggest, I have experienced amazing joy and love radiating from each woman I have visited. I have also seen the determination, hard work, self-sacrifice and resilience of an African woman through these women. Despite differences in age, socio-economic statuses, and education levels, just to mention but a few, the women in the two self-help groups are closely knit and admirably harmonious. Since my experiences with the women are so many to compress in one blog post, I highlight just a few of these encounters here.

The bumpy Naari roads led us to the homes of each woman from Upendo self-help group that we visited during the first week of fieldwork where we were assessing food security, diet quality, and nutrition knowledge, attitudes, and practices. These interviews are important to determine whether our nutrition and agricultural programming is working. I enjoyed Jen’s company during this week; I learnt a lot from her through her constant input during and after the interviews, as well as listened and laughed at her never-ending yet interesting stories. All women whom we visited welcomed us so warmly such that there was no problem building rapport with them. The warm welcome made the interview sessions run smoothly. One woman in particular (see photo below) would roll with laughter as we asked certain questions – her laughter seemed to be contagious.

FHF grace 1Photo: From right Mary (Upendo translator), Judith (a hilarious Upendo Women’s Group member), Michaela and I.

The home visits culminated in the peer-led nutrition education and cooking or ‘champs’ session. The food preparation team was enormous. It comprised of the thirty (30) women from the group, the nutrition team, Kenyatta University faculty as well as the Veterinarians without Borders. The morning session was characterized by a buzz of activities that yielded delicious and mouth-watering super uji (porridge enriched with milk and orange fleshed sweet potatoes), super githeri (maize and beans enriched with greens and carrots), and super mukimo (maize and beans mashed with irish potatoes, butternut, and stinging nettle)! The cooking session was a perfect way to practically demonstrating some nutrition messages such as increasing vegetable consumption by adding and green leafy vegetables and orange vegetables to local meals. Then came the dancing session that was irresistible to both young and old.

FHF grace 2Photo: super githeri

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Photo: super mukimo

FHF grace 3Photo: The great team comprising of Kenyatta University faculty members, QES Scholars, and Vets without Borders during the Upendo nutrition education and cooking session. Jennifer Taylor took the picture!

 

Like women from Upendo, women from Joy were equally so warm and welcoming. After every interview, each woman had something to offer us that we had to take home, despite our attempts to refuse to do so in some instances. The presents ranged from fruits, vegetables, eggs, tea, sugarcane, and live chickens, among many others.


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From left, Charity (translator from Joy), and Mireyne posing with sugarcane

Other than the presents, we ate quite a number of delicious meals prepared by the women, mainly githeri and mukimo.

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Photo: Salome (member of Joy women’s group) besides her specially prepared githeri, which has more beans to increase protein and carrots and green leafy vegetables to increase β-carotene or vitamin A, folate and iron.

After the home-visits, we had a similar Champs nutrition session with the Joy Women’s group. We decided to ask the six Champs from the group to choose the meals to prepare for the peer-led session. Surprisingly, they choose the exact same meals that women from Upendo women had earlier prepared. They harmoniously shared out the various cooking tasks, which they performed swiftly and perfectly. We began by enjoying super uji prepared from two grains (mpempe and millet) with added milk and grated carrots. After an hour or so, the super githeri and mukimo was ready for serving. The meals was so delicious (In Kimeru they would say, ‘bithongi muno’) and nutritious.  After the meals, we had the peer-led education session and then, song and dance followed.

fhf-grace-7.jpgPhoto: Women from Joy Women’s group enjoying super githeri and super mukimo that they prepared.

FHF grace 8Photo: Michaela, Mireyne, and I posing for a photo with champs from Joy women’s group after presenting them with certificates of appreciation and lessos, a fabric used as a skirt or apron.

It has been great meeting and working with these two incredible women’s groups!

 

Mireyne MacMillan Week 3 highlights!

FHF miryene 3Hi- this is Mireyne MacMillan again from the nutrition team in Naari, Kenya. It is mind boggling to think that it has almost been one month since arriving to Kenya! My experiences so far have been nothing but positive as our nutrition team continues to work with the incredible Naari community. Last week, we completed our first assessment of the school meal at Muruguma Primary School, which is very close to the house that we live in. This school recently received a water tank and drip irrigation from Farmers Helping Farmers to support a garden to grow healthy vegetables for the children! We assessed their preparation of uji, which is similar to a porridge/cream of wheat, and githeri, which is a corn and bean based dish, to determine if there are any recommendations we can make to improve these dishes. In between our assessments of the breakfast and lunch meals, we had the opportunity to visit classes ranging from nursery class to standard 8 (grade 8).

When we first entered the classes, the students were timid and unsure of what to think of the ‘Mzungu’ (white/traveller) visitors. We broke the ice by attempting to use the little Kimeru we have learned for our introductions. The students then showed us some of the English activities they had been working on, which was incredibly impressive. We also gave the students the chance to ask us anything about Canada. The topics ranged from Canadian agriculture, seasons, to our federal voting system.

Curious students checking out my ponytail.

 Although the students were shy upon our first meeting, they quickly warmed up to us when we were able to join them outside on their break. We were soon surrounded by these curious students who wanted to get to know us better. The students taught us how to play traditional Kenyan games, showed off some dance moves and sang us some favourite songs as well. We were told our laughter and singing was clearly heard by distant neighbours. The afternoon spent with these energetic, joyful and bright young individuals was one of the best times I’ve ever had, which made it so difficult to leave. It was great to have the UPEI veterinary students  Ren Chamberlain and Julia Kenny along for our school visit so they can see what the nutrition team does.

The nutrition team (front row right to left: myself, Grace, Michaela; back row right: Sarah)  and vet students Ren and Julia (back row, left) sitting in on some English classes.

 Last week we also held our peer led teaching session with the Upendo women’s group. The purpose was to teach nutrition messages and cook traditional dishes to show the how they can be made to increase their nutritional value and still taste delicious!  We reviewed some messages from 2016, including using mpempe (whole grain) maize and soaking it to improve digestibility and nutrition) and adding dark green vegetables near the end of cooking time (“on the top”). This year, we added new messages: use equal amounts of maize and beans in the githeri to increase protein; add one orange and one green vegetable to githeri to increase β-carotene (or pre-vitamin A). With these teachings, we are aiming for a ‘healthy pot’: a githeri that has less starch, more protein and lots of vitamins. Also new this year was a message about the importance of deworming their children to ensure children can fully benefit from their meals.

The teaching was led by six members, who are called ‘champs’. These women were selected in 2016 because they demonstrated genuine interest in learning about the nutrition messages and teaching them to the 25 other members. We started the day early (8:30) in order to ensure the dishes would be prepared on time. We selected three dishes: super-uji, super-githeri and super-mukimo. These dishes were labeled ‘super’ because the recipe modifications would benefit the women and their families. The added ingredients were selected based on what the women were most likely to grow in their kitchen gardens and to be consistent with our nutrition messages. The women agreed to use whole grain mpempe maize in the githeri (and whole grain maize flour in the uji), add lots of carrots, orange fleshed sweet potatoes and leafy green pumpkin leaves, kale and even thaa, or stinging nettle.  Since thaa can cause a painful rash, the women carefully washed it with wooden spoons and then transferred it with the spoons to the pot of mukimo for cooking. It was fascinating to see how they have learned to use this prickly plant which grows wild but is very nutritious. The talented women went on to lead the cooking process, and we tried our best to keep up!

Anne showing us how to cut kale without cutting boards (and cutting fingers!).

 While the food cooked, the champs began the teaching sessions. They did such an amazing job teaching these messages in the Kimeru language and answering any questions the ladies had. There were great discussions created after the teaching session for further clarification. Afterwards, we were able to try the super meals! Based on the smiles on everyone’s face and the lack of leftovers, the dishes were a big hit!

 And of course, the teaching session was not finished until we were all dancing and singing afterwards!

Nutrition work begins

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Dr. Colleen Walton and I at the School of Applied Human Science (Department of Foods and Nutrition) of Kenyatta University

Welcome to my little bit of Kenya.

My Name is Natalia Agon and I am 4th year Foods and Nutrition student at the University of Prince Edward Island. Like the other nutrition students, and alongside with my supervisor Dr. Colleen Walton, we are doing data collection of nutrition knowledge, food intake an food insecurity in the Murkerwe-ini area (about 2 ½ hours from Naari where the other UPEI students are located). Alongside this data, we are doing formative research about the Nutrition Transition in this area of rural Kenya. Our goal is to have clear understanding of the current food and nutrition knowledge as well as social barriers and prevalence of non-communicable chronic disease to create a proper subsequent nutrition intervention in to form of education.

In the past week, we have had very informative focus group meeting with various stakeholders that have shaped and guided our plans going forward. The primary data that we have collected has been crucial to determine our target population and the specific needs of the community.

I spent the month of May working with a Registered Dietitian in PEI who, among other roles, educates newly diagnosed diabetics on medication and lifestyle changes to manage their disease. And here I am, 13,600 kilometres away from home, amazed by the prevalence of Diabetes in a country that has suffered and continues to suffer so much poverty.

After long days of work, we try to get some exercise in by exploring the beautiful valleys and different crops in the shambas (farms) of Central Kenya.

FHF natalia 1Handsome Kenyan goat gracing away.

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Endless arrowroot plantations

 

 

 

“Keeping many balls in the air”

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 Managing a multi-disciplinary veterinary and nutrition program in Kenya – an overview for May 2017

Blog by John VanLeeuwen and Jennifer Taylor (AKA Papa John and Mama Jen to the students!)

Our recent trip to Kenya in May was our busiest QES trip to Kenya ever, with many moving parts (many people going in different directions) and many projects on the go.  One morning, we had 6 vehicles leaving from the Naari house with people involved in different parts of the overall Queen Elizabeth Scholar (QES) program.  Most of our students are funded through the QES program, which provides support for six Kenyan students to attend UPEI to complete their Master’s (4 students) or PhD degrees (2 students).  After completing required course work in Canada over the past two years, the Kenyan graduate students, along with two veterinary and two nutrition undergraduate UPEI students, travelled to Kenya in May 2017 to provide training and resources and to collect information necessary to complete their theses. It is important to note that their work complements the efforts of Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) to improve milk production, food security and nutrition, and overall livelihoods of Kenyan farm families in Naari.   We sometimes found it hard to keep the different projects straight while we were in Naari, so in this blog, we figured it would be good to describe the various projects and roles of people involved, to help the blog-readers with the big picture, and give a brief update on each.

  1. Dennis Makau and Joan Muraya, Kenyan PhD students, continue monthly visits to train and conduct research on cow nutrition and cow reproduction on 100 dairy farms, respectively. With the drought that occurred last year and continued until March (good rains for the last 2 months), even farmers following recommended practices have run out of good quality stored feeds for their cows. However, the high-protein shrub seedlings that were distributed to farmers in early 2016 are doing well on most farms receiving them, helping to keep cattle protein intakes at a reasonable level. Milk collections at the Naari Dairy have remained at the 4000 L per day, despite the drought, and should go up substantially with the recent rains. Unfortunately, reproduction is the first thing to get hit with droughts, and it has suffered during the last year, with fewer cows showing heat, being bred, and conceiving, despite efforts to enhance uterine health and ovarian cycling. Again, breeding success should improve with the recent rains as body condition scores improve with better feeding. Monthly data collection and advice on improving nutrition and reproduction should quantify on-going costs and benefits of the training and resources provided.

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Photo: Joan Muraya and a high protein calliandra shrub

  1. Emily Kathambi, a Kenyan MSc student, initiated her training and research project on cow comfort on 100 dairy farms. Emily will be going to each farm 4 times. On the first visit, Emily gets baseline information on cow comfort, including stall design features and management, and attaching accelerometers to the cows’ legs for 3-5 days to get lying down times. On the second visit, she removes the accelerometers and gives specific oral and written advice on how to improve cow comfort with low cost changes in design and management. A month later, on the third visit, she will reassess stall design features and management and re-attach accelerometers. A few days later, on the final visit, she will remove the accelerometers and address stall changes left undone. One farmer started hammering some boards while we were washing our boots which was very gratifying and demonstrates the desire these farmers have to improve their farms.

FHF jj2 aPhoto: Emily Kathambi with Joan Muray, Ren Chamberlain and Julia Kenny

  1. Also a Kenyan MSc student, Sarah Muthee’s training and research project will be assessing the impact of a combined nutrition education and agriculture intervention on food security and diet diversity. The nutrition intervention involves  teaching the women key nutrition messages regarding using whole grain maize for more nutrients, more beans to increase protein, and incorporating dark green and orange vegetables into their githeri,  a staple food (vegetable stew), among other messages. The agricultural interventions include water tanks and drip irrigation for home gardens, as well as horticulture support.  Sarah is interviewing 29 women in the Upendo Women’s Group and will compare findings with those collected from the same women in 2016, which was within one month of the first teaching sessions.  She will also assess differences between the Upendo Women’s group who received the combined intervention and a comparison group (n=20) which received no intervention. In both 2016 and 2017, the “Champs” programming (training the trainers) has been implemented to much fanfare and music  – the women continue to amaze us with their welcoming nature and interest in improving nutrition for themselves and their families.

FHF women's groupPhoto: Mary, the Upendo chairwoman, helps the group plan what they will prepare for the Upendo Women’s Group training session

  1. Grace Wanjohi (a Kenyan MEd student) has initiated  a research project which builds on Sarah’s project: she will assess whether sending ‘booster’ nutrition messages via cell phone to the women will increase their nutrition knowledge and make it more likely that they adopt recommended practices.  The Upendo Women’s Group will receive the usual face-to-face intervention led by the women “champs” while the Joy Women’s Group (n=24) will be sent two ‘reminder’ messages a week for 5 weeks .  Grace will have completed her pre-intervention assessments by the end of May and will start sending booster text messages in June. Her post-intervention assessments will take place in July. If this intervention is successful, cell phone messaging could spread the training to large populations rather than just the small populations reached through in-person training.

FHF grace birthdayPhoto: Grace Wanjohi and Ren Chamberlain on their birthday

  1. Anne Shileche (a Kenyan MSc student) has a program evaluation project which aims to investigate the impact of this multi-disciplinary project on empowerment and civic engagement among 3 groups of women within Naari: 1) from 20 dairy farms getting cow nutrition and reproduction training and resources (Dennis and Joan’s project); 2) from 20 farms belonging to members of the Upendo Women’s Group who are receiving both a human nutrition and agricultural intervention (Sarah and Grace’s project); and 3) from 20 farms not involved in any part of the project, as a control group.  Anne has begun collecting information on the farms and will complete her data collection by the end of August. This research is important since it will document the non-veterinary/non-nutritional impacts of the project activities for women and whether  they feel more empowered and confident to improve their homes, farms and communities. Anne is also interested in whether women extend this confidence and become more involved in civic engagement in their neighbourhoods and communities.

FHF jj1 aPhoto: Anne Shileche and Lucy Kathuri conducting a survey

  1. Julia Kenny and Ren Chamberlain, the 2017 veterinary interns, are helping with the veterinary projects above and they are also involved in a training and research project around silage. They are collecting information on farmers’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices around making and feeding silage. FHF has been promoting and facilitating silage-making so farmers have good quality feed even during the dry season, and in this part of Kenya, it is primarily corn silage. Very few farmers were actually feeding silage currently because of the light rains during the last year prior to March 2017 (having exhausted their silage stores), and because of the good rains now (so they have lots of fresh feed to give now). However, many farms now have some silage or are making silage for the up-coming dry season. Therefore, as the summer unfolds, the interns will be able to assess silage quality and on-going feeding practices. These interns will also be providing advice to these farmers on silage making and feeding, along with other health management recommendations appropriate for the farm.

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Photo: A silage pit with Stephen Mutua on his farm

  1. Mireyne MacMillan and Michaela Rowan, the 2017 nutrition interns, are working closely with Sarah and Grace on the nutrition projects above, as well as a number of other initiatives. They will tabulate information collected from all schools and will document the learnings from the “Champs” in terms of their experience, and how we can make things even more effective. They will also tabulate what the women do in terms of excess vegetables that are produced in the kitchen gardens (do they give it away or sell it to neighbours/a local market?). They will also assess whether women are growing the orange fleshy sweet potatoes which are being promoted by FHF for their good nutritional value (rich in vitamin A). The “M&Ms”, as we call them, will also be involved in assessing the quality of school meals for 9 Kenyan schools that are twinned with PEI schools. They will provide detailed feedback reports to schools in an effort to improve the nutritional quality of the morning porridge (uji) and the lunch time vegetable stew (githeri) for students, such as incorporating more vegetables from the new school gardens into these student meals so that they will have more vitamins and minerals to improve growth, reduce sickness and increase academic performance. For the first time this year, students will work with graduate students to deliver educational seminars to parents and teachers – often 100-200 at a time!  These activities will keep them busy for their summer internships. The extended drought until March 2017 had an effect on the farm gardens and school gardens as well, but again, with the recent rains, there is optimism again that these gardens are improving. Regardless, Naari women are eager to learn and will apply this knowledge when the nutritious crops are available.

FHF survey 2Photo: Frida (Upendo woman) and Mireyne MacMillan share a smile!

 

Just to make things a little more complicated, since clearly things are not complicated enough yet (sic), there were 7 more groups of people involved in the above projects in the past 3 weeks, either directly or indirectly.

  1. A group of 3 student interns, sponsored by Vets without Borders-Canada (Alina Gardiner, Kelly Hammond and Megan White), worked with our project for the final week of the three weeks so that John could help with their in-country orientation. The three students, from Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, learned about all aspects of our program and were introduced to Kenyan farming, culture, and life in Naari. They fit in very well with our Naari family, and some nights we had a baker’s dozen for dinner!  John also traveled with them to Mukurwe-ini during his last couple of days in Kenya to introduce them to people at the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd. where they would be volunteering for the rest of the summer. John also introduced them to the Kenyan people who would be providing them with daily security, supervision and taxi services, and laundry and cooking services when needed. Dr. Shauna Richards has also provided them with orientation and will also be providing supervision during the summer.

FHF students cowPhoto: Kelly Hammond, Alina Gardiner and Megan White sampling a cow’s udder

  1. A group of two professors, Drs. Lucy Kathuri and Joan Muriithi from Kenyatta University (KU), came to Naari for a 3 day trip to provide some direct supervision and input for their respective supervisory committee roles on their projects with Anne and Grace. Dr. Irene Ogada, working with Sarah, could not join them because she recently had a new baby. The timing of the trip was excellent because Lucy was able to help trouble-shoot Anne’s questionnaire one last time, and join Anne for her first two interviews, leading to some last minute wording changes that enhanced the understanding of the questions.

FHF jj4Photo: Kenyatta University professors with VWB gals and the nutrition team

  1. Drs. George Gitau and Victor Tsuma, professors from Nairobi University and supervisory committee members, were unable to join us in Naari initially, but George will join the team in Naari in June when he has time. Fortunately, we met in Nairobi the day after landing in Kenya to discuss some logistics for the respective veterinary projects, which was helpful for fine-tuning plans for the upcoming weeks in Naari.
  2. FHF is one of the five official partners involved in the QES program, and they play an integral role in many of the program activities in the Naari area. Teresa and Ken Mellish (and other FHF people) were not in Kenya with us in the past 3 weeks but their input and suggestions from years of experience in Kenya were frequently utilized by the team.  Stephen Mwenda and Salome Ntinyari, Kenyan employees of FHF, were able to join the team in Naari for some farm and school visits, in addition to providing other valuable logistical support for local needs. Jennifer Murogocho, a dear friend of FHF, also provided immense logistical support to the team regarding security, housing, and transportation.

FHF mwenda guitarPhoto: Stephen Mwenda (FHF staff) on guitar

  1. UPEI Supervisory committee members for the Kenyan graduate students also provided invaluable input in Canada in preparation for the Naari activities. Some of them have already been mentioned above;  others include: Drs. Colleen Walton, Charlene VanLeeuwen, Carolyn Peach Brown, Shawn McKenna, Jeff Wichtel, Crawford Revie, Bronwyn Crane, Collins Kamunde, and Tim Goddard.
  2. Support personnel are sometimes forgotten, but we would like to acknowledge them here as well. The cooks, drivers and security guards make it possible for us to be well fed, productive, safe and secure while in Naari and Mukurwe-ini. And Henry Macharia, Susan and the excellent drivers at Sportsmens’ Safaris ensured that we had safe long distance transportation while in Kenya.

Last, but certainly not least, the farmers, womens’ groups, and schools in the Naari area, along with the Naari Dairy Cooperative Society, have been nothing short of phenomenal in their partnership for the program activities. They have always been welcoming, helpful, and very hospitable. Special mention should go out to Geoffrey Imathiu (Chair of the Naari Dairy), Bernard Ndegwa (vet tech at Naari Dairy), and Mary Karimi Ndubi (Chair of the Upendo Women’s Group).

FHF jj 1Photo: Geoffrey Imathiu with Leah Karioki (FHF staff)

We would like to thank all of these people (and anyone we may have forgotten) for making the first 3 weeks of the summer 2017 activities in Kenya very successful, and we hope that the momentum created by these three weeks continues throughout the summer.

Of warmth and generosity on a farm visit

by Julia KennyFHF julia cow

I think I am becoming accustomed to life here in Kenya.  This is the first full week we have spent here in Naari without our professors and with our full complement of students.  We have settled into a dynamic domestic bliss here in our house and have already begun to create some wonderful memories together.

Today was another typical day for the vet team.  We left the house early and visited ten farms in the Naari area throughout the day.  One farm visit today was particularly special because of the people we spent time with there.  It was a relatively small farm set at the foot of a green hill with a large field of corn stretching below it.  The house was made of dark wooden boards with small windows lined by lace curtains.  There was a pen behind the house for the two cows that was also made of unfinished wood as are most pens.  The cows were chewing contently as we approached.  The first cow was amenable but the second cow seemed quite annoyed at having her peace disturbed and expressed her indignation with several swift kicks.  The farmer thankfully offered to help us milk her.  He promptly soothed the cow’s wounded feelings and coaxed several liters of fresh milk from her.  He gave the milk to his young wife who had just appeared in the doorway with her four month old daughter wrapped in a bright red blanket that was much too big for her.  She smiled at us and asked us to come inside for a glass of fresh warm milk and cream.  We thanked her and gladly accepted.

We finished examining the cows, washed up and proceeded into the house.  We were shown into the living room and seated on two faded green couches that were carefully covered with lovely white lace tapestry.  The wife came in with a large tray of white bread and a thermos of milk and cream.  She filled each of our glasses and encouraged us to help ourselves to as much bread as we would like.  The milk was warm, sweet and creamy and almost seemed to thicken in the mouth.  It filled one’s stomach as well as a full meal.  The bread was also delicious and complemented the richness of the milk.  The wife smiled at our obvious satisfaction with the fare she had served and then hastened into the other room.  She returned shortly with her husband and their child.

The baby girl looked about the room until her large brown eyes rested upon the strangers in her home.  She stared curiously at us and seemed unable to decide whether our presence was a good thing or not.  She was a very quiet child and seemed to take in her surroundings with an openness that was beautiful to behold.  She captured our hearts immediately.  For the next half an hour or so, the vet team took turns holding and playing with the little girl.  Despite the language barrier between us and this Kenyan family, we all laughed together and it did not seem to matter if one did not understand exactly what the other was saying.  We were all enjoying our simple meal of bread and milk and were unanimous in our admiration for the little girl we held that gazed silently at the strange creatures that had descended upon her living room.

We would have liked to remain in that cozy little room for the rest of the afternoon but still had a few more farms to visit.  We said goodbye and climbed back into our jeep.  As we drove away, I could not help but reflect on the joy and generosity of the family that we had just left.  We carried the warmth of their kindness with us for the rest of the day and I do not think that I shall ever forget this particular farm visit.

Get Set and Go: The mood in Naari, Meru

 

By Anne Shileche

My first visit to Naari was in summer of 2016. It didn’t surprise me that as a Kenyan, I had not been to this part of the country. Coming from the West of Kenya, I had not had a chance to visit the Meru region in Central Kenya. Fortunately, being part of the Queen Elizabeth Scholars (QES) project presented the opportunity to be in the locality. The thought of working and doing research in a new community was exciting. I am the kind of person who loves adventure, and I considered this as one. Though my last visit was short, it helped me familiarize with the community and the research project. This summer is now on a “get set and go” mode; a three month research work has begun.

FHF anne 2New selfies, friendships & experiences

The QES project is having Kenyan and Canadian students deliver educational sessions in human nutrition and cattle management to small scale farmers in Naari community. My research is looking at the impact of these trainings on empowerment and civic engagement of participating group members. I will be going to visit selected participants in their homes to gather data.

All the participants are women because a majority of small scale farmers in Naari area are women. My interests with empowerment and civic engagement are motivated by being a community development practitioner.

From experience, I have seen people in Kenya organize themselves in social groups and use them as platforms for action within their communities. I am eager to find out whether this is the case in Naari community.

FHF anne 3Part of the QES project team – students and professors

Planning dominated my first week; from pretesting of questionnaires, to training of a research assistant (translator) and selection of participants. I am scheduled to administer 60 survey questionnaires, 15 face-to-face interviews, and 3 focus group discussions. Two home visits are done. The study participants were kind enough to give me an hour of their time.

From our side, we showed gratitude to the women by deworming their cows. My professor, who is a doctor of cows gave me a quick lesson on the process and left a fact sheet. There are 36 more cows to deworm.

I am learning something new and beyond my profession. Only time will reveal whether there are more fascinating outcomes than deworming cows.

FHF anne 1A quick lesson on deworming cows from Dr. John

Home visits begin

My name is Michaela Rowan and I am a nutrition student from the University of Prince Edward Island. I have been in Kenya for two weeks now working with the university partnered with Framers Helping Farmers in Naari, Meru County. I will be spending three months here for a summer internship under the QE II scholars. The work I am helping with involves projects aimed at improving nutrition for families and school children.

 

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The nutrition team heading out on our first day.

This past week, the nutrition team began visiting the homes of women from the Upendo women’s group. During these home visits, we ask a series of questions that assess diet diversity (how varied the diet is), food security (having enough money to buy sufficient food). We are also trying to find out if the Farmers Helping Farmers projects and nutrition training  in 2016 is making a difference.  Being invited and going into the homes of these women has been an eye-opening experience. In some of the houses, there are not enough places for everyone to sit and, in several situations, we have sat on tables or even tires in the yard. When compared to most homes in Canada, I think about just how much we have in excess- from the furniture and possessions in our homes  to our access to food.

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This is me asking questions about one of the women’s shambas (kitchen garden).

The women we have visited have also shown us so much hospitality and generosity. Many of the times when we finish the questionnaires, we are offered Kenyan tea (Chai) and food. We have been given bananas, avocados, eggs, chapatis and more!

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Mireyne , a nutrition intern, interviewing one of the women with Grace, a Masters of Education student at UPEI.

In Kenya, much of the outcome of the crops and harvest comes from having adequate water or rain to nourish the growing plants. If there if not enough rain, unfortunately the crops will not provide as much food. One if the projects Farmers Helping Farmers has done has been to install water tanks and drip irrigation into the kitchen gardens of these women. This way, when it rains heavily, water can be saved and then used specifically for the growing gardens. During one particular home visit, one of the women thanked me for all Farmers Helping Farmers had done. Although she could not speak directly to me in English, it was translated that the tanks and drip irrigation had helped improve her garden and the growth of her food by a significant amount. Hearing this woman thank me and other Canadians was very touching and inspiring. I can’t wait to continue working with the women’s groups of Naari and finding out what else is in store during my stay in Kenya!

From guacamole to “Duck, Duck, Goose”: a summer in Kenya begins

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Kenya Blog 1

By Julia Kenny

May 8, 2017

 

Hello!  My name is Julia and I am a third year veterinary student at the Atlantic Veterinary College.  This summer I am participating in an internship with the Queen Elizabeth Scholars that is focused on working with Kenyan dairy farmers in order to help improve animal welfare and production.  It is hoped these improvements will translate into better food and economic security in these communities.  In the upcoming weeks, I will be blogging about my experiences here in Kenya.  This reflection is the first of many recounting my adventures this summer.

We arrived in Kenya a few days ago. We have been at the house in Naari for two full days now.  I do not know where to begin.  We have seen so many things in the past week that have opened my eyes to an entirely new world.  It took almost six hours to drive from Nairobi to the house in Naari.  The countryside is breathtaking.  The trees and the grass are a vivid green and the flowers are abundant. The sky is a rich blue draped in majestic white and grey clouds which carry brief but heavy bursts of rain after which the sun emerges from the mist. The mountains are always looming in the background, often shrouded in the warm haze.  The roads are red-black and bumpy due the volcanic rocks, and driving on them is like riding a rickety old roller-coaster.  The countryside is hilly and serene but it is alive with the chattering of wild birds and the soft swaying of the gentle breeze.  As we turned off of the highway onto a red dirt road, some trick of the mind reminded me of Prince Edward Island.  I smiled and knew I was heading home.

On our first day in Naari, we spent a great deal of time with the members and administrators of the Naari dairy cooperation.  I was immediately impressed by their love for their families and community and their passion for trying to do whatever they could to create a better future for themselves and their children.  We discussed our summer projects with them for a few hours and then shared a delicious cup of tea with chapati (a delicious Kenyan flatbread).  After our meeting at the dairy, we went for a walk around the town of Naari.  The town is quite small and filled with brightly colored shops centered around the town square.  The townspeople seemed very relaxed and unhurried.  People were lounging on chairs and on the grass.  Most were dressed quite nicely.  Women were wearing colorful skirts and dresses while some of the men were wearing suits.  They were all very kind and curious about us.  We were asked where we were from, how long we would be staying and where we were going.  Naari is also different from home in that animals wander freely wherever they chose in the village, with their care-takers somewhere nearby.  Goats, sheep, cows, and donkeys grazing around the shops and the town center is a common sight.  Like the people, the animals seemed in tune with the unhurried pace of life.  We wandered around the town for about a half an hour before we left to go home.

The second day of our stay in Naari began with some delicious Kenyan pancakes and fresh fruit.  We planned on visiting the Naari Dairy in order to pick up our guide early that morning.  I am learning quickly that planning schedules in Kenya is tricky business as things can come up.  Our guide had to make an emergency milk pick-up run. A while later, we were rattling along the rocky dirt roads up the mountain to visit our first Kenyan dairy farm.  Kenyan dairy farms are, of course, quite different than Canadian farms but there are still many similarities.  The farmers were warm and kind and welcomed us with the most beautiful smiles.  They were eager to help with our project and quick to offer us a chair and a cup of Kenyan chai tea.  Their farms were situated on a hillside overlooking lush farmland that was keeping the encroaching jungle at bay.  The houses were modest but neat and well-kept and they possessed a quiet serenity that seemed to emanate from the land but also from the people themselves.  I admired the quiet courage and warmth of these people and it is this that I think impressed me most.  

Overall, it has been a very exciting first few days in Kenya.  I am looking forward to many new adventures in the days to come, and I cannot wait to see what Kenya has yet to teach me.

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“One our first farm visits – a typical Naari farm”

 

Kenya Blog 2

By Julia Kenny

May 12, 2017

 

The days have passed swiftly and already almost another week has gone by.  This week was our first full week here in Naari working with the dairy farmers.  We have been to many farms and have met many new people.  Our days begin early in the cool freshness of the morning when the world is beginning to wake.  Eggs, chapati, and fresh fruit are often on the menu for breakfast.  One of my favorite things to do is to sit on our front step with my breakfast and a cup of tea and listen to the sounds of the morning.  The trees and sky are filled with birds, some of which are singing, others are chattering, and still others are making some indescribably strange sounds.  Roosters are crowing at regular intervals, dogs are barking and sheep are calling to each other.  Our neighbors are also beginning their day.  There is often a chatter of people from behind the hedges or the sound of a radio or two rattling off the morning news.  The soft breeze gently rustles the trees as the hot African sun climbs quickly higher in the sky and beckons us to begin our day’s work.

Our days consist of visiting various dairy farms in the Naari region.  Our goals at each farm are similar, namely, to explain to the farmer the projects we will be doing and then to do an assessment of the cows, their management, and their environment.  In doing this, I have learned a great deal over the past few days.  I have been able to apply some of the many things that I had studied in school that I had never had the opportunity to practice.  I have also begun to build my Kimeru vocabulary.  Kimeru is the local dialect that is spoken in this region.  It consists of combinations of vowels and consonants that do not exist in the English language.  Consequently, I often struggle with the pronunciations.  We have started greeting the dairy farmers and the people we meet in the Kimeru language which never fails to bring a smile and a laugh to their faces.  I’m not sure if they are smiling because they are pleased that we know a little bit of their language or if they are amused by our (probably) horrible pronunciation of the words.  I somehow have a feeling that the latter is the case.

I am continuously amazed by the generosity of the people here, as they want to thank us for what we are doing to help them.  The other day, we were given about fifty avocadoes, a large bag of carrots, several ears of corn, a large stalk of sugar cane, a bag of oranges and a bag of tree tomatoes.  We were wondering what on earth we could do with so many avocadoes but the predicament was soon solved with a guacamole making contest.  The results were quite delicious and made an excellent dinner.  

With our first week of work completed, I am beginning to better understand our work here for the summer and really look forward to the weeks to come.

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“Julia doing a California Mastitis Test on a cow.”

 
Kenya Blog 3

By Julia Kenny

May 14, 2017

Today, I joined the nutrition students in their visit to a primary school here in Naari in order to assess the nutritive value of the school lunches.  We were greeted by the principal and were given a tour of the cookhouse.  The cookhouse is a small wooden shed with the cookware at one end and a large fire covered in large metal pots at the other.  It smelled strongly of smoke and uji (a Kenyan dish that is similar to cream of wheat) which was being prepared as a mid-morning snack for the younger school children.  The nutrition students gathered their data by measuring and noting the ingredients and through conversing with the cook.  It was interesting to observe firsthand the work that they are doing here in Naari.  I think that I now have a little better insight into the effort and, to a certain extent, complexity that is involved in feeding hundreds of students every day.

After the data collection was done, we had the opportunity to visit the students in their classrooms.  We visited the youngest class first which consisted of seven children of about five years of age.  Each wore a maroon uniform and was sitting attentively on dark wooden benches with a table in front of them.  They seemed rather shy when we first came in and were hesitant to say hello until their teacher said something to them in Kimeru.  They smiled and then one of the students suddenly stood up and strutted to the front of the classroom.  She picked up a long stick that had been lying on the floor.  On the blackboard were written the numbers one through ten.  She pointed at the number one with the stick and shouted in a surprisingly loud voice, “One!”  “One!” her classmates shouted back.  “Two!” she shouted and once again her classmates responded “Two!” and so on until they reached ten.  We could not stop smiling and laughing for the little girl had led the class in reciting their numbers with such gusto and confidence which seemed rather at odds with her tiny stature.  We gave her and her classmates a resounding applause when they finished.

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“A child teaching math at Muruguma Primary School”

We visited each of the classes in turn.  We introduced ourselves and told them about what we were studying and about our work here in Kenya.  We then offered to answer any questions about the students had about Canada.  I was very impressed with the questions the students asked.  We were asked about Canada’s system of government, cash crops, agriculture and climate.  All of the students seemed very bright and as eager to learn about our country as we were of theirs.

The highlight of our visit to this school was playing with the students during their recess.  We played a Kenyan version of “Duck, Duck, Goose,” a very exciting game called “Kill the Rats” and ran a race around the playground.  Needless to say, we did not win the race.  After this, we were shown how to do some traditional Kenyan dances and songs.  Kenyan music and dancing is very lively and seems to capture the joyful spirit of the country.  The children seemed very excited to have us participating in their dances and asked us to come back again soon.  I sincerely hope that we will have the chance to do so because they were so kind and so much fun to be with.  

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“School kids after their lunch program at Muruguma Primary School”

 

 

A day in Nairobi – Ren Chamberlain

Ren Chamberlain
AVC Class of 2019

 

We made it across the pond, and then, hop skip and a jump further, to land in Nairobi, Kenya. With our eager Muzungu (traveller) smiles, off we went. First stop, the Elephant Sanctuary: 13 babies and 16 adult Tempos (elephants) that had been rescued from their various demons (poachers/falling into wells).  They remain there for 3-5 years while they heal and are treated by the Veterinary staff, with the intention for reintroduction into the Kenyan wild.

We made some other friends too – we saw a family of Pumbas (warthogs) and we even saw a dung beetle….. rolling dung! I danced with a Masai tribe member (tourist trap) and even took the term “necking” to the next level with some lovely Twigas (giraffes).

Next stop, Kazuri beads. Kazuri actually means small and beautiful, which perfectly described both the beads and the business concept. The delicate nature of creating the beads provides jobs for 340 locals, as the process takes several steps and numerous hours.

As the daylight fell and the mosquitoes started buzzing, it was time to head back to the ACK Guesthouse. And in the words of cow wisdom, you just go home.