Friday, February 16, 2007
Beginning the journey back to Canada.
Our last farm visit was on Wednesday. We visited a small farm in the Embu countryside of a farmer who was just getting into dairy. He had 2 crossbred cows and one healthy looking bull calf. We dewormed his animals, and then along with Faith, we (Anna, Olivia and Andrea) walked to another 2 farms to deworm their animals while John and Simon waited for the other farmers to arrive. On our journey through rural Kenya, we passed a school with both primary and secondary students. They were on recess and when they saw us coming, about 200 students rushed the fenceline screaming “Hello” and “How are you?”. We shook a few hands and moved on so as not to get them in too much trouble with their teachers. The deworming at the other farms was uneventful, but at the second farm we walked to, we met a woman who is 120 years old, according to her daughter in law. It was phenomenal to see someone who has been alive more than four times as long as we have. We couldn’t help but think how much change in the world she must’ve seen. She was sitting under a tree in the shade outside, and shook all of our hands. She could not speak, but communicated with us well. She had apparently had 13 children, 3 of whom are still alive today.
After leaving the farm the departure started, but not before Daniel got stuck in the country in Charles’ broken down car (apparently due to a fuel pump problem), putting us a few hours behind schedule. We took our last walk through Embu to the Embu Dairy and said our goodbyes. We all received gifts from them for our work while we were there. We expressed our sincere gratitude and also left gifts, and loaded up in the van to head to The Chairmans House in Mukurweni for our farewell to the Wakulima group.
On arrival to Mukurweni, we were greeted by many smiling faces. We met up again with Ken, Teresa, Heather and Shaad. Many of the members of the WSHDG arrived, including our billet families, and we had a fantastic dinner with them. After dinner, we were all given kikuyu names and presented with gifts.
This experience was quite something for the three of us. We were called up to a chair in the middle of the crowd and offered 2 Kikuyu names, and were asked to choose one. Andrea chose Gathigia, Olivia chose Wanjiku and Anna chose Muringo. After having chosen our names (and usually with a cheer from someone in the crowd -because most of the time someone had a daughter or son with one of the names we had chosen), we were each given ‘kiondos’ (which are purse type baskets made of woven sisal or cloth). These kiondos are traditionally carried by Kenyan women when they hunt for jobs, are shopping or for special events. We were then wrapped in a ‘chuka’ which is a woven piece of fabric which Kenyan women wear around their shoulders for warmth. These beautiful pieces of fabric and bags were the perfect touch of Kenya to bring back home with us and exactly what we had been searching for as mementos.
We were also given WSHDG t shirts. Teresa was given a similar gift but with a bigger kiondo and chose between two Kikuyu names, one which came from a great leader and another which came from a hardworking woman, which must have been difficult for her to chose, since she has both of these qualities in abundance. John, Ken and Daniel were made elders, and were given hats made of sheepskin, WSHDG t-shirts and hats and also chose Kikuyu names.
We gave gifts for the group members, although we all feel that they deserve much more and hope that we can continue to contribute something to these wonderful peoples’ lives for a long time. We each gave our personal thank yous to the group and to those with whom we made special friendships. We told them we would remember Wakulima forever.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Monday, February 12, 2007
Yesterday Heather, Ken and I worked at the Ruuju Primary School. This was our last day at this school of 455 students located in Marega.
Heather worked with Irene Muga, our facilitator, to hold a focus group with 10 women who are parents of some of the children at the school. She wanted to evaluate the project so far and find out what challenges there were. She found out that the parents are very happy with the project. Although we have provided the capital for the vegetable garden, the cookhouse and the water tanks, the parents provide the maize and beans for the “githeri” for daily lunch for the children as well as the sorghum and finger millet for the porridge for the primary aged children. These parents own very small shambas (1/4 acre) so they have to rent land sometimes as far away as 10 km. Since the children are being fed at school , they now can go and work at the rented shamba for the full day instead of having to stay home to prepare a mid-day meal for their children. Or perhaps there was no mid-day meal for some children. We were told that the students had to carry water to school each day; now the parents are very happy there is clean water at school.
Ken replaced all of the water taps at the water tanks. All of the taps were leaking and wasting precious water in addition to creating a muddy area around each tap. Shaad and Clement, our driver, assisted with this wet job- they were all soaked at the end of it! He also met with Damaris, the horticulturist,
Teresa handed out the books provided by a Christmas donor. The $100 donation at Christmas time paid for 40 English language story books for the children. The children were also very excited to get 5 volley balls from Heather.
When we drove away we reviewed the changes at this school. Since children are being fed at noon each day, the mean score for the national exams taken by the standard 8 students went up by 18 points last year. There is a vegetable garden demonstrating how to produce new-to-the-area vegetables - Damaris talked to two farmers in the morning explaining which pesticides to use to produce blight-free tomatoes. There is a cook house with energy efficient stoves built with funds provided by Jack Kelly where meals are cooked each day. There is clean water for the students use each day. But most important of all there is a project management committee with whom we have a working relationship- something we did not have a year ago (Colleen will be so pleased!). And there is a plan for next year.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
Submitted by: Ken Mellish
I think it is fair to say that some of us in the developed world think that if “those people would just work harder” development aid would not be necessary. Let me tell you about some Kenyans we have met since we came here.
Yesterday, we were returning from giving a seminar on feeding dairy cows and Heather was planning to visit some farms to do an impact survey to help measure the impact of our project here in Embu district. I recognized the farm of Lillian and Newton Waweru, where we had visited last year, and I thought we should stop again. Both of the Wawerus are retired school teachers and have a dairy farm with five milking cows. Mrs Waweru told me last year that she had been a long distance runner in her youth and was responsible for leading the Kenyan long distance running team to Gold and Silver medals at the Seoul Olympics! However, what really intrigued us about their farm was their flower enterprise. They are growing a lily that after it flowers forms a stalk of berries. These stalks are used in
Every day we meet hard working Kenyans. We are staying at the KARI guest house. KARI does agricultural research and this house is here to provide accommodation for visiting agricultural researchers. The house is managed by Nellie who also manages the catering at the KARI cafeteria. She lives in an apartment at the end of this house. She makes us breakfast before going out to work in the morning and dinner after we return. Meals are well prepared, the kitchen is clean and the house hold is well organized. She helps organize us also. Yesterday she asked me why I would go out with a wrinkled shirt when there was a pressing iron in the house.
Sportsmens Safaris and
These are only examples of the people we meet every day who work hard. The men and women on the farms work hard to support their families. The old women who we see bent double carrying wood by the side of the road have destroyed their bodies working hard. The women who carry milk to the pick-up point where men on bicycles take it to the coolers work hard.
Sure, we see groups of men sitting idle in the towns discussing politics and wasting the day. The level of industriousness make me think that in spite of the challenges of lack of infrastructure, governance, AIDS and weather extremes, this country has a future. As Henry told me on the weekend when we were discussing race relations: “God made us all the same”.
By Teresa Mellish
Feb 2, 2007
The 4600 litre water storage tank was purchased with the combined donation of the
This school has 166 children in classes from Primary (Kindergarten) to Standard (Grade) 8. Each of the 9 classrooms has an earthen floor and a hole in the wall for windows. Each class has wooden benches for the students to sit at- they need more benches in the lower grades because they have more students than benches.
We talked to some of the students to find out more about them. The photo with this blog is four students in Class 3 and the classroom photo is their classroom. The children are holding a coloured marker we gave to each of them. Kenyan school children wear uniforms to school.
When we asked them what they did with their free time, they told us that they all work at home on their farms. This includes carrying water from the kiosk which is piped from the top of
They find it difficult to study at home, where there is no electricity for light. One boy told me that there was only one lamp which was kept in the kitchen. Another told me there was no paraffin for the lamp the previous evening. Instead they do their homework right after school when it is still light ( it gets dark here at 6:30 pm) or they come to school early to do their homework before school.
Many of them brush their teeth with a branch as they walk to school in the morning. They break a branch off a certain tree and it makes a good tooth brush.
When we asked about their health they all said they sometimes miss school because of malaria. Two girls had headaches and needed eye glasses- but their families could not afford them One child was HIV+ and looked healthy because she was taking drugs for it every day. Another child is an orphan and lives with her aunt w ho is bed-ridden so she does the laundry and the dishes every day. Quite a few children were coughing.
Several of the children we talked to live with a single parent. Most children had between 4 -6 brothers and sisters.
They walk everywhere.
We found out that some students have only black tea for breakfast; others have tea with milk and a few have bread with the tea. They carry their lunches when they walk to school each day; they live between one and 5 kilometres from the school. Lunch may include ugali (corn porridge) or potatoes and vegetables. Supper is often githeri ( a mixture of beans, maize and potatoes). Their food is all grown on their shambas (farms).
The school is providing porridge (made with finger millet and sorghum with some maize and beans added) at 10 am to the students in primary classes and up to class 3. They would like to be able to feed all of the students at lunch time and they have asked the parents to provide 50 kg of maize each for the program. There is an excellent maize crop here and it will be harvested in late February, so the school hopes to start a lunch feeding program in March. However they need better cooking facilities to cook the food. Now they have an open fire between two stones in an out building.
We talked to three groups (total of 10 students) – each with three or four students. Boys and girls were included and the students were from Standards 3, 7 and 8.
All wore school uniforms- which usually needed to be washed and mended- except for one older boy whose uniform was clean and in good repair. The students in Standards 7 and 8 all had shoes . Only one student in Standards 3 had shoes; the other three were barefoot and their feet looked worn and dirty.
All seemed to have good teeth which they told us they brushed one/day usuallywith a tree branch; except for two students. One girl had several teeth growing in on top of others and a boy was missing several teeth. The girl said she had been to the dentist but her family could not afford the work required. The boy was small, he did not look well and he complained of watery eyes, headaches and a cough.
The children told us that they all had missed school because of malaria- which they described included headaches and abdominal pains. They do not have mosquito bed nets in their homes. One student complained of a skin rash that was itchy.
Most of the children had bright eyes; a couple did not.
They were mostly shy but answered our questions. The Standard 7 and 8 students answered our questions in English; the Standard 3 students were not fluent in English so most of their answers were spoken in Kimeru and were translated into English for my notes.
Submitted by Heather Angell
February 6, 2007
When greeting friends after a long separation the question that often arises is, what have you been up to? A response often received is, well not too much. This was not the case when arriving at the Muchui Women’s
This being my second trip to
The entrance boasts a shiny bright stone sign that welcomes customers to the Muchui Women’s
Like any farmer anywhere in the world you are always at the mercy of the weather. The plentiful rains must be given some credit to this outstanding progress but what is always constant with these women is their vision for the future and hope.
While conducting on shamba surveys evidence of the training was everywhere. The tree nurseries are thriving the women are diversifying into other areas such as dairy, goats, and rabbits, and growing many new crops such as pumpkins, eggplant, and carrots. The business center has been transformed, the shambas have been transformed, and the earth renewed.
All of this in one year!
Last evening all of us had the good fortune to be hosted by a community member. We had dinner with them and spent the evening at their homes exchanging ideas and learning about cultural differences and similarities. Anna woke at 2:30 a.m. and helped Esther milk her cows by hand ( a lot harder than Esther makes it look.) and under an almost full moon. She, then walked to the milk pick-up site and awaited the arrival of the Wakulima truck at 4:00 a.m. It was a terrific experience.
Olivia stayed with the secretary of the Wakalima Dairy Group. The farm had a beautiful crop of coffee and maize, as well as passion fruit trees. There were five cows, which is a large number by Kenyan standards, and these Holstein cows were the largest Olivia had seen since coming to Kenya.
We spent the morning walking from farm to farm taking surveys. We split into three groups and each group went to four farms. The countryside was truly breathtaking, with fields of hand seeded corn in perfectly spaced rows mixed with sunflowers, and fields of wheat. We saw for the first time oxen and donkeys pulling carts and packed with supplies. Due to the efforts of FHF and the fact that there has been a lot of rain this year, the women, their families and farms are in better shape than they were last year. Most of them said that they have enough to eat, their crops are doing well and the Group has made a real difference in their lives. We had lunch at Jennifer’s farm and spent the afternoon walking around Meru.
This day will stay with us the rest of our lives. We arrived a hundred meters from Jennifer’s farm and were greeted on the road by the entire Muchui women’s group singing and dancing. We got out of the van and danced with them to the farm. They continued to sing to us songs about how FHF has changed their lives for the better (which we didn’t know at the time because we couldn’t make out a word of the songs they sang in swahili). They taught us how to dance to their songs, laughed with us as we tried to learn their words and steps. We then sat and talked with them for several hours. It was a fascinating exchange of cultural ideals and traditions. They welcomed us with open arms and I left today feeling a part of their circle. After lunch we all had a chance to thank one another and we exchanged some gifts. Seeds that we had brought from PEI (donated by Vessey’s seeds) I had been explaining to one of the women the kind of foods that we eat and was describing the vegetables that make up a salad. I was so happy to see that one of her packages of seeds was for cucumbers a vegetable she had never heard of but that we had just spoken about. It was truly a remarkable afternoon one that I will never forget.
Today, Teresa was interviewing some of the women in the Muchui group regarding their health, as well as that of the families. A retired nurse translated questions for us, as we sat away from the group under a tree. The questions were about the number of children in the family, how many went to school, and whether there was enough food. One woman who was interviewed really caught my attention. She had four children, all of whom were in school. She had no husband, whether he left her or died, I wasn’t sure. She was not feeling healthy, although she had enough food this year, and enough money to send her kids to school. She was grateful for the FHF work that had been done in her community, and she had ideas of how to improve her financial situation. In spite of her not feeling well, she had welcomed us in her colorful dress, singing and dancing at our arrival. Her face was bright, and she had a big smile, and shook our hands strongly as most of the other women did. She shocked me when Teresa got to the question regarding whether anyone in her family have HIV/AIDS. The woman, suddenly took a very serious face, and looked at us all individually, and after a moment of contemplation, she said "Yes". When asked for further clarification on who in her family was affected, she said "I do". I think that is a moment in my life that I will never forget. I think that moment of contemplation was her wondering what we would think of her, I don’t know that for sure, it was just the feeling I got. I was amazed as I sat there, next to a woman, who made enough money to put all of her children through school, who had enough food until the next harvest, and who seemed outwardly happy and energetic, yet she was a single mother in Kenya with HIV/AIDS.
On January 31st, we arrived at Mukurwe-ini at 11 a.m. very eager to meet the students from the Atlantic Veterinary College. None of us had been to the village before, but it was pretty easy for us to locate the Wakulima Self Help Group. The project Self Help Group has been partnering for ten years with Farmers Helping Farmers from Canada, and it showed. It was quite impressive to see how the milk plant was well equipped as compared to the other farmer’s co-operatives in the country. There was a well equipped laboratory to run milk quality control tests such as California Mastitis Tests and Alcohol Tests. The management of the self help group is commendable.
We went to a bunch of farms near Mukurwe-ini where we examined and treated cattle with problems such as lungworm pneumonia, mastitis, and surgical removal of extra teats. We also gave farmers an opportunity to ask questions regarding dairy health management and disease prevention. The frequent questions were about retained afterbirth, mastitis, infertility, nutrition related conditions such as copper deficiency, and low milk production. We were able to answer most of the questions from the farmers with guidance from the professor, Dr. John VanLeeuwen. A frequently tackled subject was pharmacology since we used the drugs that were donated by Canadian pharmaceutical companies. We were introduced to a new dewormer, Cydectin, that’s an easier pour-on product, one that could easily be done by the farmers. To us students, these were very interactive sessions as they were similiar to an oral exam scenario without the exam stress. These were very informative sessions.
Socially this has been quite a wonderful experience with us tasting candy made out of maple syrup (A.K.A tree sap) which is a delicacy in Canada, and the Canadians getting a taste of sugar cane (A.K.A tree bark). We have talked a lot about our respective vet schools and discovered that there are some differences but the basics are pretty much the same. Our ways of life are also a bit different. For instance we walk to a lot of places, not as exercise but just as part of our lives but the Canadians were a little surprised as this is not common there and most people use cars.
This has been a really good experience for us as we get to interact with farmers and the local practicing vets and get real first hand experience on what goes on at the field level, making us better equipped to handle these issues when we graduate. Getting to know some Canadians and their customs, and describing some of our customs and activities has been a great additional benefit. Just the other day we gave Andrea a lesson "How to hand wash your clothes 101". As for how it went, we will leave it at that. Ask her.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
(Feb 5) We started working with the vet here in Embu, Dr. Francis Kathuri. He graduated in 1993 from the Nairobi vet school. He has lots of practical experience, which was obvious right from the start, having lots of confidence. He has also had students with him before, and taken a facilitator course before, so he was familiar with the teaching and learning process to guide the students toward the right diagnosis and treatment and prevention. He gave me a chance to relax a bit because I was no longer on the "hot seat" all the time to "direct" the students. We pooled out knowledge and experience to try to come up with the best answers to the following problems (sorry for the technical jargon!). We had a cow that had blind teat cisterns in 2 quarters, and so Francis opened them up with a sterilized wire (not medical grade, just a wire, but it seemed to worked, at least temporarily, getting milk into the teat cistern). Then, he put in a long sterile teat cannula into where the hole where the wire was made in order to prevent it from healing shut again. I haven’t seen anyone do this before, but he says that he has done this successfully before. I look forward to seeing how well this actually works. This is a genetic trait though, so the cow should not get bred again. In Canada, that problem would usually require a costly surgery and implant. In Kenya, necessity is the mother of invention. We also saw a couple of cases of anaplasmosis (a blood parasite spread by ticks that we don’t get in Canada) that was very interesting to the students.
Today (Feb 6), we were joined by three more vet students in their final year at the Nairobi vet school (Sam, Mac and Evelyn). They were very happy to join us because they get limited hands-on practical experience in their curriculum. And what a day we had for them. We had another two cases of anaplasmosis today, so they didn’t miss out on the cases yesterday. We saw a 7-8 year old down cow, which went down prior to calving last week. She was likely low in calcium and glucose. She was induced to calf successfully and treated for her low calcium and glucose. However, she was still down today. She had pressure sores, but was still eating, and had no mastitis. In Canada, a cow like this would be lifted by a tractor in a sling, or put into a "cow swimming pool" to assist her to rise, and then give her legs some exercise. However, this is Kenya and so we improvised again. What is ample here is labour. So 8 young men came to the farm, and with ropes and empty feed bags, they literally lifted this cow up, and " walked" her to a new softer grassy area in the shade. Now that is a novel way to "walk your cow". And it did seem to help her because she started using her legs a bit. And when we set her down, she sat up straight (with some sand bags supporting her side) and started eating grass. We shall see if she gets up on her own. She was very sore from being down for a few days.
The final case of the day was a "great learning case" for everyone, including Francis, a heifer with a uterine torsion. This is something that every cow vet student should see before graduating, and so the students were ecstatic. She started appearing to calf on Saturday, but stopped and didn’t do anything since then, and today was Tuesday. I wondered if it was a torsion. We rolled the cow, while I held onto the calf and uterus, so that the rest of the cow would "catch up" to the rest of the twisted calf in the uterus. Again, with lots of muscle help, we needed to roll her twice, each time untwisting it a bit. That was not the end of the problem though, as I had to use an improvised calf snare (a piece of clean rope – improvisation is a useful skill here) to pull up the "turned back head" through the cervix so that the calf could come out. It was a tight fit getting this 80 lb calf out of this 700 lb heifer but we made it, and the heifer was fine afterwards. We tried to convince Simon (our driver) that we deserved some ice cream for our hard work, but we’re still waiting. Maybe tomorrow! (PS. We got the ice cream!)