Friday, May 27, 2011
This week we visited four women’s homes as training for our food security interviews that will take place in July. The homes were located in two communities, Ruuju and Muchui, which are approximately one hour apart. We asked the women questions pertaining to their gardens, crops, and food. The first day we started at Muchui which has suffered from two consecutive droughts. These first two visits at Muchui were unique in that they were our first interactions with the women of this area and also it was our first time asking these women to recall upon their hardships. We started by listing the foods and beverages that the women consumed the previous day. While we had experience doing these interviews through our university course work it was difficult because we were unfamiliar with some of the foods (for example the food Changa, which is a dish composed of pounded maize and beans), beverages (a soy drink, where they use crushed soy beans and hot water instead of tea), and meals that the women ate and drank but also we were collecting this information through a translator. As we transitioned into asking the women our questions on their food security it was apparent that the women have been experiencing tough times with their food sources, however it was uplifting to see the resilience and positive attitudes that the women had towards any future successes. The opportunity to measure heights and weights of children under 5 years of age was new to us and proved to be a challenge as they chose not to cooperate but with time, patience, and persistence we were able to collect the data.
Two days later we travelled to Ruuju to complete the same training. The area of Ruuju is much more lush and has received more rain than Muchui; knowing this we assumed that the questions asked would reflect a much more positive feedback on the women’s food security, however, this was not the case. The Women of Ruuju are in fact experiencing similar problems with their food sources as the women of Muchui. They are equally, however, as hard working and hopeful of good crop yields and a better season to come. Our experience preforming the questions were better this time as we had more practice with asking the questions. Also, our communication through the translator was much more free flowing. The young children were still uncooperative with us, but with help from the mothers and other children they allowed us to take their measurements.
At the end of each interview we presented a bottle of (fortified) Golden Fry Oil to the women as a token of our appreciation of their time, this was a gift which they were very pleased to receive and helped to lift the somber atmosphere that generally followed our food security questions.
These four interviews allowed us to be able to reflect on our performances at these, which will help us to successfully attain the needed information for the 40 more interviews that we will be completing in the near future. We are looking forward to revisiting these communities and women throughout our stay in Kenya. We are hopeful that the information we gather will help to improve the quality of life for these families.
After a long flight to Kenya we arrived in Nairobi. The first day we went to purchase some African fabric for Kaylynne and Christina’s Apron project. Harrison was a little overwhelmed with the amount of colors to choose from, later that day we visited a bead factory and again Harrison was overwhelmed by the selection and girlyness of the day. The next day we travelled to Meru, where we will be staying for the duration of our project and met Jennifer Murogocho, our fill in Kenyan mother for the summer. It was a great week to spend with her and we learnt a lot about the Kenyan culture, such as making chapatis and how not to burn your fingers on the chapatti skillet. We also got to look at the agriculture practices in Kenya and we were very excited to see the amount of maize and beans grown together to help fix the soil with nitrogen. The maize is nothing like the sweetcorn that we eat in Canada, it tastes like nothing, it is very starchy. Kaylynne and Christina were ecstatic when they saw some coffee trees and unsuccessfully attempted to dry and roast the beans they picked, but they made a good effort:)
We travelled to Sweetwaters lodge, located in Ol Pejeta Conservatory, the following weekend. This was a nice break before we started our community work. We saw many new animals including four of the “Big Five”. Our closest encounter with wildlife was when our guide was swarmed with African wasps, resulting in four stings, consequently we came out unscathed but had to walk back through a black rhinoceroses latrine. Overall the Sweetwaters experience was a great one as we got to witness amazing Kenyan sceneries and many majestic animals.
On our return from Sweetwaters we arrived at St. Tereas, our home to be for the next few months. The sisters warmly welcomed us with a traditional Kenyan dinner, song, and dance, which included an accompaniment by the Great Canadian Soda Flutist, Harrison. The highlight of the evening was the “cutting of the cake” ceremony. We are now settled into our new home and are looking forward to meeting the staff of St. Teresa’s and working in the communities of Muchui and Ruuju.
The best part about returning to Kenya for 3 weeks this year is that we get to follow up on all of our projects. One of our major projects last year was developing tips and recommendations to give the women in the womens groups related to family nutrition. All of our recommendations were based on tweaking traditional Kenyan foods to make them more nutritious. Since we are clearly not Kenyan, and could never be experts in preparing Kenyan cuisine, we developed a model that we called “the Champs.” We had each of the two womens groups chose 6 women that were great cooks and great farmers and we dubbed them the champs. We met with the champs of each group and taught them our recommendations and had them teach us about local foods. Working together, we collaborated and developed a menu plan for the sessions. We wanted to bring samples of several different common foods that had been modified based on our recommendations for the groups members to try. We enlisted the champs to prepare these foods and we asked them to discuss with the women during the session how they prepared each dish and what challenges and/or successes they may have faced. We felt this model worked really well, kept the women engaged and provided some practical advice. In the past two weeks we have been able to meet with both the champs and the participants of each group to get some concrete feedback about how they felt about this approach. This was particularly of interest because Amy and Harrisson plan on using this same model with the nursery school parents at 5 different elementary schools in the community.
When meeting with the champs, we realized that the success of this program has continued to benefit the women’s groups and the community far beyond the family nutrition seminars themselves. The champs were delighted to have been chosen by their peers and felt proud to be part of our presentations. They felt that they gained the knowledge to not only teach members of their groups but also members of the community at large by not only learning the theory but by applying it to physical cook the dishes and use the recommendations. Although we expected positive feedback, there were comments made by the champs that we didn’t expect to hear. For example, the champs of the Ruuju Women’s Group commented that one of the best parts about being chosen as a champ was that they all got together as a group to cook the dishes and consequently became better friends. The champs of the Muchui Women’s Group said that they have gained public speaking skills after taking to the participants at the sessions and that they are now asked to cook foods for community events since they have become known as champs throughout the entire community. In both groups, group members approach the champs in particular with any nutrition related questions and to clarify aspects of our presentation if needed.
Meeting with the participants was a bit more sensitive. We were seeking feedback about the champ model and the use of their peers as experts and not feedback about the actual content of the sessions. We were afraid that we might not get honest feedback if there was any jealously or if they felt there had been favoritism shown throughout the champ model. The participants were very happy with the content of the session and are continuing to follow many of the recommendations such as soaking the maize and beans and following a balanced meal. They associate the ease at which they were able to incorporate our recommendations into their everyday cooking with the practical experience of tasting the foods prepared this way and hearing first hand how to prepare these dishes from their peers who they respected. Tasting the foods gave them the ability to compare their first attempts at following the recommendations with the proper execution of the recommendations. When asked if the participants would have chosen the same 6 champs again, both groups identified that they would, and that they are comfortable approaching the champs to ask questions. Although the participants were not considered champs, they still felt as though they had gained enough knowledge from the sessions to share what they had learned with siblings, in-laws, neighbors and other members of the community. The only criticism from the participants was that they felt as though the champs had learned more because they gained more practical experience through preparing the food for each session.
We were really happy to be able to come back to Kenya to get this feedback, not only for our own knowledge, but also because we can now share this knowledge with Amy and Harrisson. They accompanied us on these feedback sessions and gained a greater understanding of the model we used. We are hoping that they can use this feedback to take our model and turn it into a new and improved version of their own.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
After spending such an amazing summer in Kenya last year, we never thought we’d be back, especially not so soon. Although it’s only a comparatively short three-week visit, we could be happier that we were given an opportunity to return to Kiirua. We’re honored to have been asked to come back as mentors for the new nutrition students and are thrilled to be able to evaluate our projects from last year and receive feedback first hand from the participants of our nutrition seminars and school lunch research. Even though it’s been 8 months since we last set foot on Kenyan soil, after only a few days we felt at home and like part of the community.
Last summer, one of our main projects was to assess the school feed
ing programs of 5 schools and to work with the staff at each school to improve the nutritional quality of the meals being served. This year, we were able to visit each of the schools to talk with the staff to determine what changes have been made based on our recommendations. Each of the schools has begun to soak their maize and beans overnight and they are all adding more vegetables to their githeri now than they were before. We were worried about doing these follow-up sessions with the schools because we were concerned that the draught would have prevented the schools from being able to implement any changes. Despite the failing crops in the school gardens and within the community, each school is taking the initiative to make school nutrition a priority. Each school has it’s own barriers and challenges, but they are all doing everything they can with what they have. It was really neat to learn that the reports we developed for each school have been passed on to all staff at each school and have been shared with new staff as well. Some of our handouts were even still hanging on the walls as a constant reminder of our nutrition messages.
Going into the feedback sessions, we had no idea what to expect, and were almost
expecting to hear the worst given the draught. Our first feedback session was at Ruuju Primary School, and we were blown away by how hard the school has been working to achieve the goals we set with them last year. Not only have they achieved the goals they set with us, they went above and beyond and have made even more changes than we had originally discussed with them. They took the initiative to read our recommendations and set and achieved even more goals once they accomplished the goals set while we were in Kenya. They emphasized the impact the improved school-feeding program has had on the children, especially during the draught when food is less secure at home. Academic performance has improved, and the school has even won the prize of being the top academic school in their district for the first time ever. The headmaster has even noticed a significant decrease in the number of students who are ill.
When working with the schools last summer, we were proud of the work we had done and were hopeful that it would initiate change, but we were unable to actually do any follow up to determine if the goals were being accomplished or if changes were being made. Being back in Kenya and being able to do the follow-up sessions ourselves has been incredible. While sitting in the headmaster’s office, learning about all the improvements that have been made, our faces hurt from smiling so huge. We felt like kids in a candy store, and got more and more excited every time we learned of a new change that has been made related to the school lunch program. We used Ruuju as an example because it was the first school we assessed, but each school we visited had it’s own share of success stories, every one of which made us proud.
As awesome as it was to get to conduct the feedback sessions our selves and to be back in Kenya, our job here is as mentors to the new nutrition students from UPEI. Through the feedback sessions, we were able to introduce the new students to many of the key contacts we made last year at the schools and we were able to teach them all of our school and family nutrition recommendations and tips. We made many good friends last year, and at Kamuketha we were even greeted as fellow staff members. We wanted to facilitate that kind of working relationship between the community and the new students. Last summer, we had to learn how to communicate with people who had a different first language then ourselves by trial and error any by experiencing several miscommunications. This year, we were able to model effective communication skills for the new students. The new students, Amy and Harrison, have been awesome. They are learning quickly and are already filling our shoes as the nutrition team from Canada. We’re excited about the new projects and will be contacting them on a regular basis for detailed updates.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
It was a week Tuesday since we left, and in some ways it seems short, but in others it seems like I am in another world, a parallel universe!
Tuesday we went to Ruuju again to talk to the women from the Ruuju women’s group. Christina and Kaylynne were following up from last year, asking them how they found the nutrition seminars from a participant perspective. Yesterday they had spoken to the leaders of the groups, the ‘champs’: women who were good cooks and good farmers who actually prepared food for the seminars and explained how the women could make their traditional food healthier.
This was the first time that I experienced using a translator. It was quite an experience. The students (or Colleen) pose a question, the interpreter translates it to Kimeru the local dialect and then we sit and listen to them jabbering away in Kimeru. Then the poor translater tries and boils down the laughing, the speaking to each other, etc and tell us what was said. It went really well, although it was difficult at times. We are asking sensitive questions about food security and hunger and how people cope. The women talked about stress, and worrying, praying and being unable to sleep because they didn’t have enough food for their families. Heartwrenching. Yet they could turn around and make a joke and laugh. Amazing women. I videotaped a lot of this since it will be so valuable in my teaching in my nutrition courses.
We are amazed at the difference in the shambas (gardens) between Muchui and Ruuju. Muchui is so dry, and the maize is yellow and dead-some has been replanted but is still short. Ruuju School garden is amazing and lush: Freda who is in charge of the garden is doing a very good job here. As I learned last year, water means everything. And the drought this year underscores that point.
We have been walking almost every morning, which is fun when I have a gang to talk to. And the scenery here is beautiful- tall trees, lots of flowers, people walking to work, children going to school (at 730). On Tuesday, we walked for an hour this morning, sort of by accident. Motua the dear house man that Jennifer Murogocho employs takes us for walks. His English is sketchy, and he didn’t understand that we needed to be back in about 30 min. He took us on this very long route and we ended out by the main road in Meru- a very long way from Jennifer’s. I got a huge blister on my foot (stupidly wore Crocs and no socks) and had to wear Christina’s flip flops and she took my Crocs. We both ended up with blistered feet by the time we got home, but I got 10,000 steps that day (wearing the pedometer).
We have cooked every night since we got here with Mama Jen and lots of helpers! She and I are becoming quite close and last night she sat on my bed looking sad. She finds the house lonely when we go. I can only imagine. These 4 students are jabbering, laughing, exercising and just bringing life to everything in the house. We introduce ourselves to the women as ‘sisters’: Kenyan Jennifer and Canadian Jennifer. And I always say, “Don’t we look exactly alike?” The women find this very funny as we stand arm in arm laughing.
We have had a Canadian night (we chose recipes from the Canadian Living cookbook we brought Jen) which included sweet and sour chicken (with an entire fresh pineapple), spaghetti and meatballs and ice cream. Everyone loved it, and even the neighbour David came and ate with us. Shaad, who is a lovely man who does the horticulture work with Farmers Helping Farmers, said he is coming every May to Jennifer’s for Canadian night! We have tried to cook something Kenyan every night so that Harrison and Amy get familiar with the food. They need to give seminars on how to make recipes healthy so it is important that they see how they are made and how to add extra greens, pumpkin etc to the dishes to make them more nutritious. There are problems with micronutrient deficiencies here (iron, vitamin A etc) so it is good strategy to use with the women. Last night we made chapatis which was a lot of fun- captured all on video so I could see how Jen makes them. She pulled out a can of fat we had fried the chicken in and used that to fry the chapattis on a big cast iron chapatti pan. There were a few wrinkled noses among the students at using ‘chicken oil’ but they were very tasty. And we made a huge pot of githeri, or stew with garlic, onions, tomatoes, dried maize and beans (soaked), 3 kinds of greens, including kale, sweet potato, green peppers, curry, Royco seasoning (like beef boullion)and I don’t know what all. She uses a huge round bellied pot and there was lots of stirring and tasting. Delicious vegetarian meal, and a githeri that many would not be able to afford here.
Today is the final ‘work day’ for the week as we head to the final two schools: Kinyenjeri and Kamuketha. We have been there before but need to introduce the new project to the head masters and Kaylynne and Christina want to review their work from last year. Tomorrow we move to the Sisters in Kirrua (about 20 min drive) and then head to the Sweetwater game park. Everyone is excited since it has been a busy week. And the lack of internet has been frustrating for me- others are able to get on but not me.
I get a bit lonesome at night for my family and the kitties..but I am kept so busy in the day that I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. And I keep reminding myself what a privilege it is to be here. Few get the opportunity to go to Africa with students and try and make a difference…and have my costs covered.
Next post will be from the students!
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Our stay at Fairview Hotel was epic, as my son says. Staff so welcoming, comfortable beds, wonderful food and ice cold beer! The girls even dragged me to the gym..short lived but at least I tried. Harrison is battling a virus he caught from his brother in Canada and has not been 100%- sore throat and low fever. He is getting lots of rest and lots of fresh fruit and has not missed a thing!
We had the absolutely best day yesterday (Thurs). We went to the kikoi shop Biashara St. The shop keeped rememberd Kaylynne and Christina from their large purchases of kikoi last year for the Muchui Apron Project. I got some t-shirts for the kids and some beautiful kikoi myself. So hard to resist the hundreds and hundreds of patterns and colours. We picked up a delicious lunch at Java House and off to Kazuri beads we went! We had gone last year but this year was even better since we were able to tour the factory where the women make the beads. What an amazing place- from the clay from Mt Kenya through to painting and glazing these beautiful multi-coloured beads- these single mother’s painstaking work is truly amazing. After taking hours to mull over colours and have earrings made from the jars of loose beads, we trekked to the combi with our treasures. Seeing the tour made them all the more precious knowing that this business provides a dignified livelihood for the women, as well as medical care and transportation.
Today we are bouncing along the road to Meru. The gas fumes from the many combis trucks and matatus (taxis) combined with the dust from the construction had us grabbing for cloth to cover our noses. We have bought pineapples at the Dole outlet, and HUGE avocados, 12 mangoes, oranges, melon etc to from a small market take to Jennifer’s in Meru. Again, women running their stalls and gently encouraging us to buy more. One older woman has an enormous heavy bag on her back with a strap holding it around her head. Surprising to see some mud puddles and mud on the side of the road outside Nairobi; last time it was dry in June. Coming a month earlier is interesting in terms of observing different weather and seasons. But the most interesting thing to me is that the second time around is a much more relaxed experience for me. Knowing what to expect (within reason!) and seeing friends we made last year makes it so much easier to manage jet lag, etc. Harrison and Amy, our new nutrition interns are doing amazingly well. Harrison is pretty laid back and Amy has been to Tibet, so they are adjusting better than their old teacher Jen did last year.
I am reminded of what a privilege it is to be able to come to this beautiful country and be welcomed with wide smiles and warm hugs. And again feeling grateful for the network that has been established by Farmers Helping Farmers. Tomorrow we go to the Muchui Business Centre and Farms!