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

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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.

 

 

 

Mireyne MacMillan’s FHF journal #1

image1.jpgHi there! My name is Mireyne MacMillan and I am from Mount Stewart, Prince Edward Island. I am a third-year Foods and Nutrition student at UPEI and am currently in Naari, Kenya completing a 3-month internship from the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program. If you wish, you can follow my journey here!

It’s incredible to think that it has been a full week since our plane from Prince Edward Island took off. It is the furthest I have ever travelled, and I was very excited! 26 hours and 8000 miles later, we safely made it to the International Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi. However, our luggage was not so lucky and was lost somewhere within the air travel universe. This is when we quickly applied the Kenyan ‘sawa sawa’ way of living that we had heard of, and decided that it would work itself out and not to worry. The important part was that we had all made it safely. Our Kenyan contacts who met us the night of our arrival made us feel welcome and that we were in good hands. Stepping outside into the sweet, warm Kenyan air was like a dream: we had finally made it! After resting and having our first taste of an authentic Kenyan breakfast, we set out to see what Nairobi had to offer. We initially saw how incredibly lively and busy this Kenyan city is. The amount of traffic is incredible, yet there are so many people walking in each and every direction.

We started our day at the elephant orphanage, where we had the opportunity to see about 30 young elephants and listen to their stories. Many were rescued from wells, traps, or had lost their mothers to poachers, even though that it is illegal. I was extremely moved just from seeing how beautiful, playful and curious these young elephants are and how attached they are to their passionate care takers. It’s uplifting to visit a site like this, where their main objective is to rescue and care for these vulnerable elephants while educating the public on poaching. Next, we stopped in at the Kazuri Beads and Pottery Shop-Kazuri means small and beautiful in Kiswahili. They employ about 140 local Kenyans, most of which are women. The majority of the employees are from or currently live in surrounding slums. The clay is taken directly from Mount Kenya where it is transported to this factory where it undergoes days of processing to turn into the beautiful beads and pottery. The final products are sold as jewellery and pottery within their local shop, but also shipped across the world, to destinations such as the Netherlands, Canada and the U.S. This is an admirable organization for many reasons including the large percentage of women employed, the respect the employees are treated with, and the benefits offered, which even includes daycare services. Other spots we were able to visit include the Giraffe manor and a beautiful fabric store located in the downtown area of Nairobi.

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Kazuri beads

On Thursday, we began our 6 hour venture Northeast to Naari, in Meru district. Our first stop brought us to a roadside produce market, where we found incredibly beautiful and fresh fruit from local farmers. We had a great samosa lunch at Karatina, where we were called ‘Mizungus’ or travelers, for the first time. We also stopped in Nanyuki and got a chance to see where the equator line is! The drive did not seem long with the surrounding landscapes and the jetlag that many of us were still feeling. We arrived in Naari in the early evening, and our luggage shortly followed. I was taken aback by how beautiful the surrounding area is. There are beautiful hills, fields, trees, singing birds and entertaining sheep. The only thing that outdid the beautiful landscape that is Naari, was the kindness of the Kimeru people. We met three young children who live next door, as they were swift to come by and make us feel welcomed with extremely infectious and beautiful smiles.

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Michaela visiting a market off the highway

Friday, we woke up to ‘no steama’, or no power. Sawa sawa though, we had a full day ahead of us. We met with the Naari Dairy Cooperative, where we could physically see how much Farmers Helping Farmers has contributed to this community. The chairman expressed his appreciation for the organization, as without their help and resources there would be no Naari Dairy. It was eye opening to learn the amount of work that goes into collecting the milk, testing the milk’s quality and then transporting it.  And it is amazing that they are starting a sacco- a bank that can help farmers get micro-credit that they need, particularly in the dry season.

Over the weekend, we continued to get settled and meet the great people of Naari and the surrounding areas. On Saturday, we had lunch with Salome, who has been working with Farmers Helping Farmers for many years. She’s an incredible partner and has been influential in facilitating essential communication between our nutrition team and the local women groups. Mary, a member of the Upendo women’s group, also joined us. She has been an invaluable in translating our home visits. During our meeting, we reviewed and translated the questionnaires for our home visits, to ensure they are relevant and correctly translated in Kimeru. During these home visits, we will be assessing the quality of the women’s food intake, household food security (food poverty) and the knowledge and attitudes and practices concerning family nutrition.

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Meeting Salome and Mary

Today (Monday), we began our home visits with the Upendo women’s group. The women were very patient and willing to help us with our research. We were able to see first hand water tanks and drip irrigation systems provided through Farmers Helping Farmers that really help these rural women. It has been such a huge learning experience just within the first week and I am so grateful to be a part of it!