In Esabalu, Kenya, we work with farmers to improve their maize harvest. In February, we supplied certified seeds and fertilizer on credit to 140 farmers. Participants received training on planting techniques to improve their crop yield. The project, which hopes to expand to 500 farmers in 2015, runs for nine months and helps farmers to budget for the cost of fertilizer through the season.
Local farmers were skeptical at first about implementing new techniques they learned in classes. Most farmers in Esabalu live on very narrow margins, which makes them naturally risk-averse. Farmers would rather grow crops "as usual" and be able to reliably feed their families than risk an entire crop on a new technique with a potentially higher yield.
To convince farmers, Vibrant Village developed a test plot of maize harvested with the new techniques. Farmers could then compare this example with traditional methods. Additionally, any farmer testing the new technique was invited to hang a Vibrant Village Foundation sign on their field to demonstrate their crop's success.
Happily, many of our farmers took up the challenge and their maize is performing well. Many plants are "double cobbing," an indication of a higher yield which bodes well for harvest time. Farmers are hoping for more rain to come, but are already seeing promising results. They are excited and proud of their maize, and are preparing for a bumper crop come September.
At an age when most people contemplate retirement and taking it easy, 62-year-old Joyce Otemba is gearing up for success. With recently acquired literacy and math skills, she hopes to boost both her baked goods business and agricultural production on her small farm.
“I can now see a future,” Joyce says, proud that she can finally calculate profits from her business making and selling mandazi (doughnut-like fried pastries) to shops in her Western Kenya village of Elufuyo.
Joyce was among the first students to take advantage of Vibrant Village Foundation’s Adult Education Project that began in November 2013 in Esabalu, a village in Western Kenya with a population of about 6,000 members of the Luhyia Tribe.
Now that she has completed the first two levels of Adult Basic Education and Training, Joyce plans to begin level three. She also hopes to acquire advanced business and agricultural skills to improve her family’s quality of life.
“She is one of our stars of our adult education class and made a very moving speech last week at our general meeting about how it has changed her life. She also encouraged the rest of the community to join,” says Nick Kempson, Vibrant Village Foundation’s Program Director for Kenya. Since starting the class and improving her literacy in both English and Kiswahili — Kenya’s two official languages — Joyce can now read letters from friends and family, official announcements from Vibrant Village Foundation’s community meetings and the Bible, he adds.
“My grandchildren are so happy to see that their Grandma is also in school,” Joyce explains. “They see me carrying my books to school, even as they are carrying their books to school too!”
While Joyce can now read her grandchildren’s schoolbooks and keep up with their progress at school, she laments that the Vibrant Village Adult Education Project was not around when her seven children, who range in age from 29 to 45, were still at home. Only one of her children finished primary school.
A motivated and hard worker, Joyce also learned best agricultural practices, including the use of organic fertilizer, this year through her participation in the Foundation’s Farm Input Credit Program. By using an alternative planting technique, she hopes to double the yield of maize that she grows on her own one-acre farm. Last year she produced three bags — equivalent to about 270 kilograms or about 600 pounds — of maize, but this year she is targeting at least six bags.
In this rural region where most families live in small mud and wood homes with corrugated iron roofs, electricity and running water is uncommon. For safe drinking water, she and other villagers walk up to 3 kilometers each day to stand in line with jerry cans at community wells.
Like most women, Joyce cooks over an open wood fire. Three days a week, she rises at 3 a.m. to start making enough dough to produce 200 mandazi. She then packs up the pastries to distribute to local shops, which sell them to customers for breakfast.
“I would like to make scones and other baked items, but I haven’t been trained and I don’t have the oven that’s required,” Joyce explains.
At the rate Joyce is learning new skills and putting them into practice, an expanded product line could be just a matter of time.
by Susan Goracke
(A profile story from our partner, Africa Bridge)
With big smiles on their faces, Orida Mwakaja and Gilbert Agray celebrated along with their classmates earlier this year when a pickup truck loaded with boxes of new uniforms — crisp white shirts, apple-red sweaters and navy blue skirts for girls and shorts for boys — arrived at their Kalalo Village primary school in Lufingo Ward, southwestern Tanzania.
The uniforms and other school supplies arrived thanks to a grant to the school’s Most Vulnerable Children from Africa Bridge, a nonprofit organization based near Portland and one of Vibrant Village Foundation’s partners.
Orida and Gilbert are proud — not just of their new uniforms, but of the education they are receiving. To realize their dreams, they study hard at school. Twelve-year-old Orida is in Standard 7, her last year of primary school. Although she is an orphan, Orida has big plans for her future. After completing primary school, she wants to attend secondary school for six years. Her hope is to continue her education at a university and become both a doctor and a businesswoman.
“My favorite subject is math because it will help me to make a lot of money as a businesswoman,” Orida explains. When not studying or helping with home and farm chores, Orida enjoys running.
At 11, Gilbert is a Standard 6 year student whose favorite subject is Swahili, Tanzania’s national language. Gilbert loves playing soccer — known as football in Tanzania — and one day hopes to become an airline pilot.
Despite the new uniforms, Orida knows her school lacks some basic necessities.
“My primary school’s seven classrooms need more desks, more windows to help keep out the cold in the winter, a toilet and — most importantly — more teachers,” Orida points out. Eight teachers are responsible for 427 students, with class sizes ranging from 53 to 80. Orida hopes her village will improve its schools because she believes education is important in bettering the lives of villagers.
Africa Bridge’s staff listens to children in the Tanzanian villages it serves. Last year, Orida participated in an Africa Bridge Future Search session. She shared her concerns, identified needs she saw in the community and learned how she could help.
Africa Bridge teaches and promotes self-sufficient agriculture to villagers so they can improve their standard of living and provide a future for vulnerable children, including orphaned children like Orida. The organization helps villagers establish crop and livestock co-operatives by providing start-up loans to co-op members and by offering intensive training.
Already, Gilbert and Orida are proud of Kalalo Village’s increased emphasis on agriculture. The village grows maize, bananas, avocados, coffee and tea, in addition to raising cows.
“I want Kalalo to be known for its agriculture,” Gilberts says.
In a country that has seen its adult population significantly reduced by the spread of HIV/AIDS, resulting in large numbers of orphans and fewer resources, children such as Orida and Gilbert understand they must overcome many challenges if they are to succeed in school and obtain the education they desire.
But they also see the positive changes already happening in their own village as organizations such as Africa Bridge empower villagers to create economically sustainable businesses, grow more food and improve schools so that even the vulnerable children and families will thrive.