HOW LENANA GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL IS CULTIVATING HOPE IN THE LOCAL COMMUNITY THROUGH GROW BIOINTENSIVE FARMING.
Farming has always been a part of Elizabeth Wekesa’s life. Like many people who grew up in Kenya, Elizabeth was born into a family that relied on working the land to grow enough food to keep them alive. Her home is in the rural community of Nakwangwa, located along a river of the same name in the easternmost part of her village.
When Elizabeth’s husband died 10 years ago, leaving her to provide for 9 children on her own, she did so through small scale farming . “My life would not be possible without the farm,” Elizabeth says.
That reality echoed in the lives of many of her neighbors, too.
In response, Lenana Girls High School that was started with funding from WHY Hunger started a community outreach programme in Elizabeth’s neighborhood. There, community members come together to plant gardens, water, weed, and harvest. And the harvests are providing hope.
LIFE IN NAKWANGWA
In Nakwangwa, a small community of about 1000 people, mostly occupied by victims of post election violence of 2007/08, opportunities for employment are few. During the dry season, some people find work making bricks, but most people farm, either for themselves or someone else. The plowing, seeding, watering, and harvesting are all done by women with the help from older children, both girls and boys.
The majority of harvests meet only the most basic nutritional needs. Most families in the village – many of which are also headed by single mothers like Elizabeth- are able to eat once a day, although this can decrease to once every other day during the rainy season from April to July, when crops are growing but there is no food to harvest as they wait for crops to grow.
Of course, hunger is just one of the challenges families in Nakwangwa face. The lack of clean water further complicates life. Although the village is next to a river, the water is not clean as the sewage from Kitale township drains into this river. During the rainy season, families capture rainy water in buckets, but in the dry season the entire village draws water from a single hole in the ground. By September, the closest place with any water left is a three-Kilometer walk.
Local health care is also limited. Malaria is a major risk in the area and with no clinics or pharmacies close by, community members must travel 30 kilometers over rough roads to Kitale to see a doctor or purchase medicine. If people get sick during the night, they must find someone with a bicycle or motorcycle who is willing to take them to town, or else they have to wait until morning to find a car taxi.
The pursuit of education requires even more walking. It’s more than 7 kilometers each way to the nearest school. And with tuition at the closest schools ranging from Kshs. 300 (US$3) to Kshs. 106, 000 (US$ 1, 060) per year per child, local families are rarely able to send all their children to school. Typically, when parents have to choose, they send the boys before the girls.
HOW DOES THE GARDENS GROW?
“The lack of food and basic provisions for families was our main motivation in starting a farm, “says Cynthia Khalayi, Principal of Lenana Girls High School. I wanted to help women and children (who are most vulnerable) have something to eat.” Most garden covers nearly a half an acre of land. They grow Kale, zucchini, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, and tomatoes grow alongside corn, cabbage, pigeon peas, millet, and a leafy green vegetable known locally as suja.
SHARING THE HARVEST
When the crops are ready, families take what they need and leave the rest. Anything left over is sold, and the income is used to provide for basics such as hygiene items, education, improved housing, and medical care.
“I use the income to purchase other things such as soap, clothes, corn flour, and rice,” says Elizabeth, whose personal farm has generated enough income to build a house for her family and sustain their basic needs. “My children have all been able to attend school because of the farming,” she adds. The school also runs a food program for children, offering three meals a day. The school feeds about 553 children each day.
THE FRUITS OF FAITH
The community outreach started with 3 community groups and it has grown reaching out to 45 community groups, welcoming 30 people on average per group each week.
Cynthia Khalayi says she is encouraged by “new community members coming to the community outreach programme, helping people learn gardening skills and deepen their relationship with the neighbors. It is also encouraging to see members of a given village teaching each other.” The villagers have begun to build a new church building and it hopes to build a local school soon- a step that would give every child in Nakwangwa the chance for an education.
“You must cultivate both the physical and mental needs of people,” Joshua Machinga says. “We are teaching them to take care of themselves through farming. And, our motto is to help one another.”
Helping one another is an established practice in Nakwangwa, where farming is a community endeavor. Those who do not have land to grow their own vegetables can help’ farm others’ land to earn food from the harvest in exchange for their work. At the school’s farm, every student in school participates in planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting, which means every one benefits from the harvest too. The dream the Principal has for the school is simple. “My desire for the school, for the people, is to serve to be served.”
As for Elizabeth, she is able to serve her family by putting nutritious food on the table. “God has provided all I have through students at Lenana Girls High School, and it makes me very happy,” she says. “My faith is the only thing that keeps me stable. Even as a widow, I must trust in the Lord. He has supplied all my needs. Thanks to WHY Hunger for supporting Lenana Girls High School”.