Journey to Kenya: Dust, Despair and Hope

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By Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO
Posted on 9/6/2011

This trip to Kenya has been emotional for me in many ways. Seeing children suffering from hunger and disease is something that remains with a person for a long time. Kenya also holds a special place in my heart. I was married here 30 years ago, and my son was born here a few years later. Kenya is part of my family’s story, and when a member of your family hurts, you hurt.

 

This morning, we hit the road to Kalemunyang. On the way, we drive through barren landscapes. All around are dirt fields and no signs of water. We cross large river beds that are totally dry. Herds of goats and camels, tired and emaciated, walk through parched lands in search of food and water.

Hearing that the president of ChildFund is coming, the women of Kalemunyang have gathered to welcome us. As we pull in, they are astonished to see a woman president. They had been expecting a man. They are excited, and to my surprise, they pick me up and carry me on their shoulders around the community!

Once things settle down, community members fill me in on ChildFund’s Food for Assets program, funded by the United Nations’ World Food Program. I’m shown to the irrigation system on the bank of the Turkwel River.

After spending all of yesterday seeing barren earth and tasting dust, it’s amazing to see how smart farming practices have transformed this community. You wouldn’t realize you were in an arid area with all the plants that are growing. It’s green everywhere.

My family can eat nutritious food. Malnourishment in children is not an issue here, despite the drought in Turkana. I’m happy, very happy.

— Anna

In the “shambas,” or vegetable gardens, women tend spinach, tomatoes, green peppers, okra, watermelons, kale, maize and cowpeas. In the midst of drought, we’ve discovered the Garden of Eden!

Through the Food for Assets program, ChildFund initially provides families with food and goods in exchange for their work to build irrigation systems and community gardens. Because of climate change, ChildFund is teaching pastoralist communities techniques for irrigation and how to grow gardens. We’re providing improved access to water for both humans and livestock, thereby increasing crop production, reducing environmental degradation and improving pasture for livestock. More than 20,000 people benefit from this program.

I speak to Anna, a cheery 38-year-old woman and mother of three. She is tilling the soil and watering her crops in the “shamba.” She tells me that her situation was desperate before ChildFund offered assistance, providing gardening tools, seeds and training in crop cultivation.

“My family can eat nutritious food. Malnourishment in children is not an issue here, despite the drought in Turkana. I’m happy, very happy,” she says. She smiles and wishes me well as I depart.

Food for Assets is not an emergency relief effort. It is a long-term development intervention that strengthens local communities, helping reduce their vulnerability to future droughts. In other areas of Turkana that lack access to permanent rivers, we teach people to use water pans — broad, pan-shaped recesses in the land about two feet deep — to catch water that is used to grow crops like maize and sorghum.

A “Garden of Eden” in the midst of drought in Kalemunyang, where an irrigation program is supporting a school vegetable garden.

In the afternoon, we visit Kalemunyang’s local school. ChildFund helped pipe water from the community borehole to the school and built new latrines. When students, especially girls, have adequate toilet facilities, school attendance goes up. Many of these students also have sponsors through ChildFund. But there are still challenges ahead, given that there only five teachers for 350 students.

I’m told a child wants to meet me. As I turn, a boy confidently walks up to me and shakes my hand with a firm grip. Lomoru, 14, is the area children’s representative to the local government. As we talk, I learn that he wants to be a judge. Mature beyond his years, this is a confident child if ever I saw one! His colorful t-shirt reads in Swahili, “Activist for Truth.” I have no doubt that he will be one of tomorrow’s leaders.

I end the afternoon by visiting Iria’s home. Iria is a 12-year-old boy benefiting from ChildFund sponsorship. His family lives simply, though I notice their house is in better shape than others around it. The house has permanent mud walls, a mosquito net to help prevent malaria, running water and an outside toilet. As I talk with Iria and his family, I am struck by the complexity of poverty. Iria and his family are doing relatively well, but times are tough. The older brother is educated, but there are no jobs. Education can only get you so far. You then need opportunity.

As we leave the village on that stifling hot day, I reflect on my trip to northern Kenya. Seeing the impact of drought firsthand has been a humbling experience. So many people in Kenya and across the Horn are in urgent and desperate need of food and water.

In many ways, Turkana life has changed little since I served in the Peace Corps here more than 30 years ago. It remains traditional, remote and susceptible to severe hardship. But then I think of the vegetable gardens in Kalemunyang, the community school with improved sanitation facilities for girls, Lomoru’s dream to be a judge and Iria’s neat home.

Today has been a day of hope. We must keep working with hope in mind. Your support for children in the Horn of Africa is making a difference.