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Our Blog: Agriculture
March 11, 2013
Managing Expectations in Western Kenya
By Vibrant Village field team    
My first two weeks in Kenya have involved a lot of work in one of our target communities, Esabalu, to get to know the people in the area, their day-to-day lives and the challenges they face. 
This has involved talking and listening to people from every facet of the community, from head teachers to village elders, boda-boda drivers to small-scale shop owners, widows to the young men idling about the village. 
My commute to work has been an hour-long journey via matatu, the ubiquitous local minibus service in Kenya. Matatus are battered, overloaded 15-seater minibuses where passengers are squeezed in 2 or 3 to each seat that race along all the roads in Kenya. Forget any idea of giving up your seat to the old Mama who climbs aboard with her three sacks of maize, she too must fight past the jumble of arms and legs to take any available space inside. The drivers rip along the potholed roads at an alarming speed but with remarkable dexterity, weaving in and out of traffic on the one-lane highway (and often off the highway too). One journey in the front seat of these vehicles and you can see why Kenyan roads are among the most dangerous in the world.  
While this commute in the morning is an uncomfortable, bumpy, sweaty journey, using local transportation has actually been a good thing for meeting the communities and managing expectations as we get to understand one another and build community relationships. If the community sees me driving through their area in a Vibrant Village jeep, particularly in the first few months, it could raise unrealistic expectations. Instead, I have been criss-crossing the area on foot with my translator and guide, Phanice (even in the midday sun), moving at village pace and being visible and accessible to all the community members who want to introduce themselves.
Managing the expectations of the community has been the hardest part of Vibrant Village’s initial activities in Esabalu. Secondary school recommences next week, and, with subsistence agriculture and high unemployment the norm in the community, most families struggle to raise school fees for their children’s secondary education and rely on scholarships, NGOs and wealthy family members for funding. Phanice, my translator and guide, told me that only 2 to 3 households in the community of approximately 2,000 households are able to fund education from their own income. Unsurprising then that only 12.7% of the population in Kenya has completed secondary education. In this context, with the arrival of a muzungu (white man) talking about community development, I have been asked in almost every meeting to sponsor someone’s child to go to school. 
While short-term sponsorship can be important for this generation of school-goers, I try to explain to them that our vision for Vibrant Village in Kenya is to support parents and guardians so that in a few years’ time, they can provide for their own families’ education and wellbeing, rather than relying on the support of well-wishers and charity. It will be a long process, but only through community empowerment rather than hand-outs can Vibrant Village support sustainable development in the area.
January 14, 2013
Haiti, first impressions of northern villages
by Matt van Geest
Driving into Phaeton for the first time, I had the sense that this place was different.
I’ve been all over Haiti over the past eight years, to small seaside towns and big urban centers, crowded slums and mountain villages – but this isolated place was different. A beautiful, towering row of neem trees dominates the wide entrance to the village with a row of houses on one side, a school, child care center, clinic and Catholic church on the other.
At one time, the thousands of hectares of scrub land that surround Phaeton and its sister village, Paulette, were the site of a sisal plantation, one of the biggest in the world. At the height of WWII, when sisal production peaked, the sisal company in Phaeton was Haiti’s largest employer and biggest source of tax revenue. Today, however, the story is much different. The company is long gone with a lonely smoke stack as the only visible reminder of what this place once was. The 3000 people that live here get by, barely, by raising some cattle, fishing, on charcoal production and small-scale commerce.  
The Vibrant Village Foundation has been funding a feeding program, run by our partner, Mercy and Sharing, for the last few years. We’re looking at ways of improving this program but we’re also thinking long-term. We’ve started a process of community meetings, in both Phaeton and Paulette, to listen and learn, to understand the hopes and dreams of this community to see how we can walk alongside them into the future.
Water is the biggest challenge here. A deep well provides some water to the community but all the hand pumps scattered throughout the area are too salty to drink. There is not enough water to do anything but the basics. We’re hoping that we can find ways to improve water supply to reduce health problems but also spur some economic activity, especially through small-scale gardening.  Beyond that, we’ll wait for the community assessment process to be completed before we make any decisions for the future. Our commitment here is for the long-term and I’m excited about the possibilities.
December 10, 2012
Gender equality in Guatemalan co-op
by Laura Koch
On my recent trip to visit the IMARE project (Inclusive Market Alliances for Rural Entrepeneurs) in the highlands of Guatemala, I had a chance to meet members of the farming co-op in Buena Vista.
Natividad, the groups' treasurer, had been participating with her husband in IMARE’s gender workshops for several months learning about gender equity and the rights of women. In September, she was invited to attend the 4th Annual Potato Conference, which brings together over 1,000 producers, NGO’s and international corporations. When she first suggested leaving her husband alone with her two children for several days while she attended the conference, her husband was reluctant. She assured him the one year old would only cry when she was hungry or tired. After some negotiation, they agreed and she packed her bags for the trip.
When she returned home several days later, her husband greeted her quickly and immediately ran for the door. “I’ve got to get out,” he explained hastily. When she asked him why, he said “I’ve been going crazy with these kids at my heels for days! I need a break!”
At the story’s punch line, the group burst into laughter.  It is rare for men in Guatemala to outwardly appreciate the hard work of motherhood, and this comment in passing, albeit small, was significant. The treasurer pointed to her husband, who happened to be the young man facilitating our meeting. He smiled shyly and nodded in acknowledgement that this had, in fact, been both a challenge and a success for their family. Through this experience, he gained greater awareness and respect for his wife’s contributions and improved his own skills and confidence to take on more of the parental responsibilities.