Stories

In Kenya: a green oasis in the midst of the drought

This trip to Kenya has been emotional for me in many ways. Seeing children suffering from hunger and disease is something that remains with a person for a long time. Kenya also holds a special place in my heart. I was married here 30 years ago and my son was born here a few years later. Kenya is part of my family’s story; and when a member of your family hurts, you hurt.

This morning we hit the road to Kalemunyang. On the way, we drive through barren landscapes. All around are dirt fields and no signs of water. We cross large river beds that are totally dry. Herds of goats and camels, tired and emaciated, walk through parched lands in search of food and water.

Hearing that the president of ChildFund is coming, the women of Kalemunyang have gathered to welcome our arrival. As we pull in, they are surprised to see a woman president. They had been expecting a man. They are excited, and to my surprise, they pick me up and carry me on their shoulders around the community!

After things settle down, community members fill me in on ChildFund’s Food for Assets program, funded by the United Nations’ World Food Program. I’m shown to the irrigation system on the bank of the Turkwel River.

Through the Food for Assets program, ChildFund initially provides families with food and goods in exchange for their work to build irrigation systems and community gardens. Because of climate change, ChildFund is teaching pastoralist communities techniques for irrigation and how to grow gardens. We’re providing improved access to water for both humans and livestock, thereby increasing crop production, reducing environmental degradation and improving pasture for livestock. More than 20,000 people benefit from this program.

I speak to Anna, a cheery 38-year-old woman and mother of three (pictured below). She is tilling the soil and watering her crops in the “shamba”. She tells me that her situation was desperate before ChildFund offered assistance, providing gardening tools, seeds and training in crop cultivation.

 

Anna meets with children and families in the community.

I’m told a child wants to meet me. As I turn, a teenager confidently walks up to me and shakes my hand with a firm grip. Lomoru, 14, is the area children’s representative with the local government. As we talk, I learn that he wants to be a judge. Mature beyond his years, this is a confident child if ever I saw one! His colourful t-shirt reads in Swahili: “Activist for Truth.” I have no doubt that he will be a leader of tomorrow.

I end the afternoon by visiting Iria’s home. Iria is a 12-year-old boy benefiting from ChildFund sponsorship. His family lives simply, though I notice their house is in better shape than others around it. The house has permanent mud walls, a mosquito net to help prevent malaria, running water and an outside toilet.

As I talk with Iria and his family, I am struck by the complexity of poverty. Iria and his family are doing relatively well, but times are tough. The elder brother is educated but there are no jobs. Education can only get you so far. You then need opportunity.

As we depart the village on yet another stifling hot day, I reflect on my trip to northern Kenya. Seeing the impact of drought firsthand has been a humbling experience. So many people in Kenya and across the Horn are in urgent and desperate need of food and water.

In many ways, Turkana life has changed little since I served in the Peace Corps here more than 30 years ago. It remains traditional, remote and susceptible to severe hardship. But then I think of the vegetable gardens in Kalemunyang, the community school with improved sanitation facilities for girls, Lomoru’s dream to be a judge and Iria’s neat home.

Today has been a day of hope. We must keep working with hope in mind. Your support for children in the Horn of Africa is making a difference.

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