Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fighting Hunger in Kenya

This article came from the BYU campus newspaper, published 11/20/11.  Dr. Paul Johnston, a professor at BYU and affiliated with the organization Self Reliant Agriculture, has been working with Koins for several months now, and the results are developing into an education based program to help villagers learn to grow year-round, nutritious gardens that can feed their families.

The daily ration for a 10-year-old child in Kenya might include getting a fist-sized portion of ugali, ground-up corn with water; a tortilla-sized piece of mandazi, a kind of fried bread; and a serving of dried fish, equivalent to five guppy fish. That’s only 30 percent of the total daily calories a child that age should eat.

Professor of nutritional science Paul Johnston is working with BYU students to help fix this problem affecting children across Kenya.

SRA Garden at the Koins Community Center in Mnyenzeni, Kenya

Photo by Paul Johnston

Johnston was invited to collaborate with Koins for Kenya, an Alpine-based nonprofit organization, to fight child hunger and starvation in Kenya by planting gardens which will provide the locals with food year-round.

Currently, locals and Koins for Kenya are working together to plant 100 gardens for families, which will begin producing food in January. The gardens are planted with a variety of foods indigenous to Africa as well as others Americans might consume. Locals will harvest the vegetables every two weeks to provide a variety of fresh food throughout the year.

“Our idea is to take the [food] we are raising and use it as a way to teach the children about nutrition,” Johnston said.

Children will be able to pick a sweet potato from the garden and know its nutritional qualities, Johnston said.  Ideally, the children will be able to teach their parents about nutrition to prevent future nutrient deficiencies.

Koins for Kenya founder Bret Van Leeuwen said the program is also meant to help people be self-sufficient.

“We don’t want to create dependency,” Van Leeuwen said. “So we focused on education because that’s the way out.”

In order to get a garden, the locals volunteer to participate and learn farming techniques and practices from agricultural specialists. The gardens will work similar to a co-op, where they give up 10 percent of their crops to sell at the market. The money will go toward buying more seeds and farming equipment for future harvests.

In preparation for the gardens, Todd Gardner, a nutritional science major, analyzed the diets of the children. Koins for Kenya collected the heights, weights and diets of more than 300 children from villages across Kenya.

He compared their diets to world health standards and found the childrens’ nutrient intake was extremely deficient. Compared to world health standards, they get only 13 percent of the normal calcium intake, 8 percent of the normal vitamin C intake and 1.8 percent of the standard B12 intake.
“I took their diets to see what they were eating to see how we can implement nutrients to catch them up, in a sense, with other people,” Gardner said.

According to Johnston, Vitamin A and C deficiencies are major problems in the region. A lack of vitamin A is the leading cause of blindness in children in Sub-Saharan Africa, and other deficiencies lead to health problems like stunted growth, which about 50 percent of the children suffer from. Johnston said their heights are significantly below the norm, indicating severe malnutrition.

Luiz Belo Neto, a senior nutritional science major, is working on a booklet to be distributed to the people; it will include charts outlining the daily nutrient requirements for people of different ages, weights and genders.

Gardner said working on the project has helped him understand hunger.

“As a nutritional major … you hear about nutrition and fats and carbs,” he said. “The only experience I’ve had is with my own diet, an American diet. Their diets are so unbalanced compared to ours. We take so many things for granted. … There is food all around us.”

The gardens will ideally be a successful, lasting system.
“There is a greater chance that people are going to accept it and use it over time,” he said. “The goal is that this will be adopted as part of the society.”

Johnston hopes the idea will spread, reaching to help more people.

“Over the period of the next few years,” Johnston said, “we’d like to see as many as 1,000 gardens being planted within individual families’ homes.”

They’re off to a good start with spreading the program; Johnston also worked on a similar project that provided the same opportunity to orphans in Ecuador.
“They’d never eaten broccoli before,” Johnston said. “They’d never even heard of it.”
But working in any country with limited infrastructure and trying to implement lifestyle changes isn’t easy.

Van Leeuwen said the limited water supply is the main issue threatening the success of the gardens. There is enough water available during the rainy season, but they need a way to capture it so they have a supply for the gardens when the rainy season ends.
They have found one solution, however.

Koins for Kenya just finished a dam that will be the water supply for the gardens. Van Leeuwen helped engineer the project that will now bring water a mile closer to the people.
“It started raining literally the day that it was finished,” he said. “In a matter of a couple of hours we filled our dam to the brim … and captured millions of gallons of water that, up until that day, would run into the next river. … All the water we captured would have been wasted.”
Johnston has confidence the people will succeed in their endeavors with the gardens.
“They are ingenious … and they’ll figure out better ways to do it than we will,” he said.

Watch for a blog post with follow-up photos and descriptions of the dam project.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rachel Fitzgerald's Kenyan Experience

A recent group of expeditioners to Kenya has returned, and this blog post is from Rachel Fitzgerald, a recent high school graduate.  It is always good to get a young person's perspective on their experience. 

Rachel and a new Kenyan friend

Going to Kenya was a life changing experience, and it was only possible through the Koins for Kenya foundation.  There is something about seeing the world that helps you to realize what life is really about.  I no longer looked at my small scale problems as the end of the world, instead I viewed what it was really like to have to fight to survive every day.  I was no longer worried whether or not I had the latest clothes or technology, I was gratefull to have anything at all.  I came to the realization that maybe road construction and speed limits in Utah were not such a bad thing, that I'd much rather take that than unsafe roads.  I found that maybe, just maybe, going to a full day of school was a blessing, not a curse. I was able to see that I would much rather spend a day at work, than spend a day walking under the hot sun to fetch muddy water.  

Rachel in Kenya

I still cannot explain to people exactly what it was that I learned and saw in Kenya.  They are all in the same position I was six weeks ago.  Its one thing to read about or listen to the stories, and its another thing to live them.  To most people they are just stories, to me the stories are real experiences continually happening every day around the world. Going to Kenya has changed me because I will never be able to forget whats really happening beyond our comfortable borders.  Before it was so easy to see just my life in Utah county through a funnel.  After seeing what I saw and doing what I did  I will never be able to forget the world. I will never be able to forget that it is a much better use of my time changing THE world, rather than changing MY world. 

I am so gratefull for Koins and everything they do.  I have seen first hand the hundreds of organizations that pull at the heart strings of people not to make change, but to get personal gain.  Koins is absolutely not one of these!  Koins for Kenya is changing the world, and doing it because their motivation is love not greed.  Not only is Koins assisting in education, nutrition, and health, they are spreading hope.  I would encourage anyone to help with the Koins cause because they truly are making a difference, and doing it the right way.

Rachel Fitzgerald

Thanks to Rachel for her comments and photos.  My experience has been that the best way to develop a young humanitarian is for them to experience life in different circumstances than how they have been raised.  It is impossible not to leave a changed person.  



Monday, November 14, 2011

Run For Your Life

A blog entry by Karen Timothy, a participant in the July 2011 Koins Expedition. 

            The phrase “Run For Your Life” took on a whole new meaning this past July as we held the Koins second annual Half Marathon; this time from Myenzeni to Gona.  As Monica Woodland was pondering what to do for her project in Kenya, she heard about last year’s race and knew without a doubt that this was what she wanted to put her energies into…and what a lot of energy that was.

American and Kenyan women ready to start their race

            The race is quickly becoming the opening ceremony for the dedication of a new school.  Last year about 100 Kenyan men showed up for the race but the only women to participate were a few girls from the expedition.  The race went from the KCC (Koins Community Center) to the new school and not all starters finished the race.  Speculation has it that when it became apparent to the slower runners that they were not going to be able win the $100 prize money, many of them lost interest and dropped out. 

            Monica had a different vision for the race this year.  Knowing that Kenyan women are not treated with the same deference American women are, she wanted to provide an incentive for women to enter the race and be able to win some money of their own.  Word soon spread around the village that there would be cash prizes for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners for both men and women and we American women were quite excited about the idea of a Kenyan woman being treated equal to the men.  The night before the race, Monica and I sat at one of the school lunch tables that were our only furniture in the KCC, playing out scenarios of how much money to award and when to award it.  As we were tossing around our ideas, Bret (Koins founder, Baba [father] Bret to the Africans and bigger-than-life-shaved-headed-America) joined us and threw a wrench into our brainstorming.  He was quite firm in his feelings that the women should not receive as much prize money as the men.  Monica and I both felt the hackles on our necks raise a little at this.  He explained that they would not expect it and that their husbands would just take it anyway –“ it’s just the African way.”  He also said it wouldn’t be wise to award the women’s prize money along with the men’s at the Gona school celebration. “But,” he said in parting, “it’s your race.”

            After Bret left, Monica and I talked a little more.  She got opinions from a few of the other women in the group and finally made a decision.  We proceeded with our girl-power pride intact to prepare the awards, placing the money into envelopes.

Monica on the road from Mnyenzeni to Gona

Water stop on race route

            The next morning, Tara and I were stationed at the second water stop with an African college student named Charles.  We were dropped off on a dirt road with our water and cups and went about setting up our things on a school desk that had been placed there for our use.  Immediately a group of children started waving and shouting their now familiar greeting, “Jambo,” drawing closer each moment as their curiosity piqued. Shortly, three teens on a motorcycle drove up and demanded water in what to Tara and I, were rather challenging, if not angry, voices.  Charles barked back at them to leave…the water was for runners that would soon race by here.  Without further argument they sped off and Tara and I were grateful that someone had the sense to see that we were accompanied by an African.  No sooner had we settled back down when out of nowhere we were confronted by two tall, thin African men with huge dangling earlobes, dressed in the red robes of the Maasai tribe.  They carried their trademark walking sticks and barked out an order to Tara…”Sista, give me drink!”  When she gave them one of her “I don’t even see you standing there you scary stranger” looks, they shouted their demand again….”Sista, give me water!”  There was no way she was going to engage with these men so Charles stepped in and told them they could have water but to take the cups themselves.  They  did so, then threw their cups on the ground (another Kenyan behavior we Americans just can't understand) and left as quietly as they had come.

             -(The Maasai tribe is a group of nomads that live out their lives wandering the land with their cattle herds, often not coming near villages for a month or more at a time.  They are “Googleable” for those interested in learning more about them.)

KweKwe in the lead

      Again we were grateful for Charles’ presence but soon forgot about our thirsty visitors as we saw in the distance what appeared to be an African woman running towards us with a big white number pinned to her chest.  (The fact that she was running should have been  all the clue we needed to identify her as a one of the contestants.  We never once saw a woman hurrying there.  They always just trudged along with their babies on their backs and their loads on their heads.)  Sure enough, in another minute a beautiful, tall African woman came flying by us in her flowing chiffon dress and bare feet, refusing the proffered water.  Tara and I jumped up and down and cheered like fools.  Not far behind, a second woman was tearing up the dirt path.  She, too, was barefooted and only paused long enough for a quick drink before making the turn.  The only other women that passed our station were those from our expedition.  They did not qualify for prize money so they were in no hurry!  We later learned that only 2 women and about 31 African men had entered the race this time.  Again, we wondered if the fact that so few could win anything prevented more from entering.  It was suggested that next year they offer some sort of prize like a t-shirt or water bottle for all those who finish the race.  It’s my guess that this would generate far greater interest and motivation.

Race winners honored at Gona celebration

            Later that day, at the celebration of the Tingey School of Gona, all of the marathon winners were introduced and the men were given their prize money in front of a duly impressed crowd.  There was just a brief mention that the women had already received a prize earlier in the day.  I think there were more than a few Americans who were disappointed that they hadn’t let the people know that the women had also received their prize money.  However, this is not our culture and change is a slow, tedious process.  It was a frank reminder that we cannot just go over there and change their world in a day – nor should we.  They are a beautiful people with a long history and while we ache for them to have the comforts and advantages we do, there are many obstacles to overcome and change will take time.  The fact that Koins now has the first female university student from the village studying in Nairobi is huge.  Hopefully more progress is on the way but to have used this marathon to take a hard stand about the need for Kenyan women to be treated like American women would have proved disastrous.  Thank you Baba Bret.

            The whole thing was quite a learning experience for us all.  The fact that this Kenyan mother, Kwe Kwe,  could earn money by simply running 13 miles proves that sometimes you really can “run for your life.” She will likely buy food, maybe clothing for her children but whatever she does, she now has an American sister she will never forget.  Monica, who always looks like she just stepped out of a fashion magazine, chose to spend the following night with Kwe Kwe at her home, learning what it feels like to sleep in a mud hut with no water to drink and no hand blowers in the restrooms.  She came home humbled and teary-eyed and it was clear to us that Monica will never be the same.  The second-place winner, also named Kwe Kwe, undoubtedly marveled at her good fortune at the hands of an unknown American woman who wanted to make a difference.  It was an honor to witness this bit of compassion and sisterly love.  Well done, Monica.

Karen Timothy

I had the opportunity to ride backwards on a motorbike driven by Bret, to film and photograph the race from that perspective.  It was a bit of a challenge, but a fun way to see the faces and effort being put forth by the runners.  It was also a kick to see the faces of the villagers as they watched me from my awkward vantage point, wondering what the crazy white woman was doing.

The KweKwe's before the race started

I saw the women at the beginning of the race, the Kenyan women with their shy, quiet approach to the starting point (running is simply not something that Kenyan women do publicly).  I saw the determination in KweKwe's pace, she wanted to be the first over the finish line.  She kept looking over her shoulder to ensure she was in first place.

KweKwe #1 crossing the finish line

Monica and the KweKwe's post race feet

I saw the dusty and bleeding feet of the two KweKwe's as they finished the race, having run barefoot the entire way. 

Monica proudly poses with the two female race winners

I saw the faces of the KweKwe's as they were given their prize money in a quiet, post race gathering.  The incredulity of the prize they were receiving was obvious.  It was almost as if they expected it to be taken back from them.  They both quickly tucked the money into their clothing.

KweKwe #2 with her prize money

Several of us gathered around the Kenyan women after the race, and asked them about their lives. KweKwe #1 was a 30 year old widow with 6 children. We all knew the impact the prize money would have on her family.   KweKwe #2 had 4 children, and again, the impact of the prize money would be immense.

Happy racers

Monica congratulating the women at the Gona celebration

Sunday evening, KweKwe #1 walked to the KCC to visit with Monica. She brought a gift and wanted to personally thank Monica.  Bret and Monica spent some time with her, and the end result was that Monica packed up a bag and headed off to KweKwe's home to spend the night with her family.

I was speechless. In all the years of Koins working in Kenya, I had never seen a woman spend the night in a villager's home. It is a common practice for the expeditioners to shadow a village woman during the day, and experience the day to day work of a Kenyan woman. However, spending the night in a mud hut is a totally different story.

We all worried about Monica and how her village experience was going. The next day we arrived at KweKwe's village area promptly at the designated time, expecting Monica to be there waiting for us. She arrived about 30 minutes later, regretful that she would not see KweKwe's children arrive home from school that afternoon. She had great stories to share of her experience, and fond memories that she will reflect on her entire life.

Monica receiving adulation of fellow expeditioners upon her return to the KCC

Monica left Kenya with a new sister of her heart.  I left with a renewed desire to help the women of Kenya, who live such difficult, hardworking lives.

Asante, Monica, for your example.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Heavy Rains and Dam Building

A quick update from Bret, regarding the dam project.  There have been heavy rains, which can cause havoc on the dirt roads getting in to the Koins Village area.  However, with the building of the dam in the riverbed, the rains have created new difficulty.

This place is GREEN, with a capital "G".  Rains continue to fall, especially last night!  For two hours we had thunder cracking overhead and buckets being poured down upon us.  In all my rainstorms I've never seen (or heard) anything as massive as this.

Upon inspection of the dam (which is at a critical point) we discovered that the water had brought our worst fear to reality.  We lost one of the walls, which will need complete reconstruction.  We remain determined to complete the task and have two days to do it, so we're back at it with a crew of help. Wish us luck!

The goat house is being built, schedule to be finished today.  The goats won't make it to the grand opening, due to the conditions of the roads.  But the goat house is looking good.

The dairy goats are part of the SRA project, and have the potential to change the nutritional landscape of the Koins Village area.  It will be exciting to see this get off the ground.

Here is hoping the rain will stop for a few days, allowing the projects to be finished.

Asante sana,


Monday, November 7, 2011

Bret's Kenyan Journal, October 2011, Part II

This is an update to Bret's Kenyan journal.  I have taken this information from a recent email, some of this has been written in complete thoughts, and some are just bullet points of information.  There is so much happening, it is hard to keep up!  I am glad he is keeping his activities journaled, because trying to recreate all of this after the fact would be very difficult.  The following is a week's worth of activity.  More photos will follow.  Internet connectivity is limited, and sending photos is very time consuming if even possible.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Yama and Riley went to Mariakani to look at some stoves while the rest of the whites headed towards Mombasa.  Dropped us off at Akamba carvers, and Johnson continued to the airport to pick up Kevin, Shad and Grace who had to spend the night in Nairobi due to a delayed connection.  We walked the huts at Akamba for 45 minutes, observing the wood carvers in action, and were joined by the three stragglers.  We then walked to church along the narrow road from Akamba.

We arrived at church to see a TV up front.   Kevin was to play the piano, but the dusty keyboard was broken.   We giggled like teenagers at the comedy of errors, sitting at the back of the chapel as we sang hymns in our best mimic of the Kenyan accent.  The TV was there to show a recorded session of General Conference.  Part of the lesson is to teach the appropriate conducting of meetings. 

We then went to the Blue Room so some emails could be sent back home.  Several grabbed a bite to eat.  We drove to the Tusky's to pick up some needed items, then headed back to the village.
We all went for a walk and came across naked boys in the river, bathing in a pool of water left from recent rains.  I offered 20 shillings to the first one to scramble to the top of the riverbed edge, and we observed them in their desperate race to be the first to reach the top of the slippery clay bank.  The winner happily collected his prize.

We scouted out possible dam sites with Kevin and Shad.  They feel things look very good for what we are trying to accomplish.

Emily is utilizing the new oven well, and prepared pizza for our dinner.

Monday, October 31, 2011

We were all up early, scrambling to our various activities.  Kevin and Shad spearheaded the initial work on the dam project.  Mark, Lonny and I the took SRA boys to go look at a goat and chicken facility past Mariakani, to give Lonny a good look at our vision.  We bought three chickens and a guinea fowl.  I wouldn't budge on the rooster.  The only reason for the guinea fowl is to eat it and see what he tastes like.  If I thought the local rooster was noisy......

Checking out a local goat and chicken business
We stopped at a vet store to see what drugs they have available to insure the ongoing health of our stock.  Looked promising.  Lonny's expertise really comes into play here.  We bought some wheelbarrows, shovels, and what everyone wants from this small town - pants.

We picked up a lady in Mazeras who is part of the Ministry of Energy helping us look at clay stove manufacturing where smoke is reduced greatly, and less wood is used to cook.  So many village children have respiratory problems because they are currently inhaling the smoke created by cooking over open flames within the huts. If Koins can learn how to manufacture these stoves, then produce and sell them at an affordable price to the villagers, we can help improve the health of families, reduce the need for as much charcoal or wood to burn, and create a more energy efficient way of cooking for the locals.  Riley has taken this on as his project.

The dam project is going well.  Lots of dirt has been moved, lots to go.  Kevin calls us a "Protocol Operation". 

There was an instantaneous bug infestation in the girls dorm room.  After a battle with DOOM, a pile of dead bugs was swept up by Emily.  TIA

We held our first peaches and pits tonight, led by Grace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Everyone is pretty much hitting their groove.  They know what they are doing and get right to it, be it in the dispensary, over at Kevin's Creek building a dam, or working with our agricultural guys ramping up for our activities there.

The dam is coming along really well, and villagers are now starting to take notice.  We've seen quite a number of people walking from other villages just to see what is going on, so hopefully we'll stay on schedule and give these people a great demonstration in engineering craftsmanship.

Kevin, Mark and I took a trip around the outskirts of our area giving out some baby blankets to some of the newborn babies that weren't able to take a blanket home with them.  Kevin's stake, along with some family friends, made dozens of blankets, with some special ones coming from his own daughters and personal friends.  He was able to hold several babies, wrapping them in their soft, new, protective blankets before handing them back to their mothers.  It was a lot of fun.

Lonny continues to orchestrate the animal activities with the SRA boyz.  They are starting the goat pen tomorrow, preparing for the arrival of Tom Rasmussen in a few days.  To me, this has the makings of being something great if we get all the details ironed out.

Bloody nose boy, Riley, taking him to Mariakani.  Laughing so hard Kevin and I can't breathe. 

First time I ever saw fog drifting gently across the green hilltops of our valley.  Since it was 90 days ago that this lush countryside was a barren landscape, it is quite the contrast.  The power of water...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

John and Verlyn, with, arrived late last night from the U.S.  They were up with the rest of the group and ready to attack the day.  These two are here to assess our workshop and make decisions regarding the steel components they will need for their deep water drill.  If we can get the appropriate supplies, and our people can step up to the plate with their skills, Koins Village will have an actual industry that will create jobs and lots of residual commerce.

As everyone divided to their own tasks, I took our new arrivals to visit SteelMakers and Doshi, the two big steel manufacturing giants in southern Kenya. It appears we'll have what we need, at a cost within budget, so things are looking up.

I had to return to Gona for a dowry negotiation for Raziki, my adopted daughter and Chakaya's older sister.  There were 20 of us in the circle from both sides of the family, Chief Joseph of Bofu, and other dignitaries.  I made it a lot of fun for everyone, and we came to a 14-cow agreement for Raziki's hand.  Omar, her boyfriend who was not invited to this end of the ceremony, is a very lucky guy.  When it came to drinking the traditional coconut beer at the end of the ceremony, I settled for a warm soda.  When it came to eating some mystery items from a large plate, Anthony came to my rescue and told everyone I had guests back at the KCC.  Yama, my wing man!!

We actually did return to dozens of smartly-dressed students from Miguneni.  They had come to assist with gathering stones from the river bed for the construction of the dam.  They worked diligently, carrying tons of the needed rock, placing it in a growing pile in our project area.  After thanking the kids from Miguneni, dozens of students from Gona showed up from the dam site where they, too, had been hauling rock for us.  I was able to address both groups, pointing out that, individually, carrying one stone would not make any difference in the world.  But, carrying one stone with their classmates, working together, that we could change the world......and indeed, that is what this project is all about.

We needed some supplies for our goat pen and other small construction needs, along with a few needs in the kitchen, so off to Mariakani I went.  While there I also passed by the vet store I visited the other day with our agricultural folks.  Joseph, my new Kenyan tailor was waiting for me (I called to make sure he would wait there) and gave me the pants I had ordered two days ago.  Two pair of slacks, pressed neatly and placed in a plastic bag, were waiting for me.  I pulled them out, inspected them, and found them to be truly attractive.  They were ten bucks each, so my expectations were not high.  After trying them on, I could not be more satisfied, and the rest of the guys when I got back are planning on expanding Joseph's workload over the next week.

Pasta for dinner, sugar cookies for dessert.  All things are pretty groovy.

With the arrival of all the new people we had to switch the sleeping quarters yesterday, so now the guys are sleeping in the large room next to my bedroom.  My oh my, what sounds men make in their slumber, all of which are not conducive to my light sleeping habits.

All of our projects have really picked up steam with the pace quickening for everyone.  We needed to buy 5 more shovels and 3 additional wheelbarrows to maintain our timetables for the dam.  We had to cut lumber for the goat pen that must be prepared for their arrival, and our drill guys are scrambling for the correct steel and machinery.  In between all of that we needed more water and food, as well as a fattened bull for the wedding on Saturday, and a random selection of a thousand other things.

Thurday, November 3, 2011

The workers at the dam decided they wanted to try their hand at negotiating for an increase in pay since they were now entrenched in digging in solid rock.  This isn't my first rodeo, so their representative was dispatched back to the working herd with a stern message from Baba Bret.  They continued their work, even picking up steam when I went down there to check up on things.  I delivered a soda for everyone as a token of my appreciation and an olive branch, and the signal was well received.

I walked with Kevin to the secondary school.  Things appear to be going well and growing.  Discovering new signs from another organization attached to buildings we constructed several years ago was a little upsetting, but that will clear itself out over the next few days as we meet with local and county officials. We've never glorified our work too much, but taking credit for someone else's work is a difficult thing to comprehend.  From the uproar it sounds as though the other organization was trying to validate their expenses, placing their names on our buildings and parading their supporters around the campus.  Very strange.

On my way back we saw a couple of boys playing with a bird.  It turned out to be an owl.  I bought it for 60 shillings just to keep him from being injured any further.  Folklore around this area has owls being a bad omen, connected to death and other bad incidents.  I had to force feed the bird as he was pretty listless, so hopefully he'll make it.

Bret and Screech, a baby owl he saved

Friday, November 4, 2011

Taking back roads to places we go is fast becoming a favorite thing to do.  Not only does it provide us a possible alternative to going through Mombasa, a horrible experience almost every time, but we are able to see a larger variety of how other villages live and what beautiful countrysides there are in Kenya. has arranged for their steel needs, but equipment for their shop is now the top priority.  During a recent visit to a Mombasa's Technical College in the Nyali Beach area of town I saw a lot of equipment and thought this might be a nice place to start.  It was.  We are well on our way to having a shop here in Mnyenzeni, providing well drills to the entire east coast of Africa.  The possibilities cause me to grin a little.

While at the Technical College we stopped in at Camara, the group that is scheduled to help us with our computer center.  There has been a change of heart up at the Secondary School, thanks to the parents, and we are back on schedule for having the facility housed there.

We ate lunch at the new restaurant located at the Nakumat-Nyali.  The food was quite good, and we had a chance to visit in depth with the Camara people.  Afterwards we departed for Biashara Street, the narrow street where textiles of every kind are offered.  Our target was to obtain a few attractive kanga cloths and kikoi's, the men's version of a kanga, for Kevin.  While in the store the lights went out, so by flashlight we made our choices and departed.

Darkness is thick here in Kenya, and entering heavy traffic with no street lights is a bit daunting.  We darted in and out of traffic, finally getting close to the edge of the city before coming to a log jam where traffic was literally stopped.  We turned the car off and sat unmoving for almost an hour as whatever was causing the jam got sorted out.  The roads truly are atrocious, with no signs of improving.  The government should be ashamed, and quite frankly, I'd like a personal apology to my kidneys for the condition of the roads.  We arrived well after dinner, but because of our healthy lunch it really didn't matter.  I enjoyed showering under the stars and then off to bed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It seemed like we all struggled to get things pulled together this morning.  I fed Screech and he pooped on me.  I like this little bird.  He has learned our feeding techniques, so it is easier on both of us.  He loves to be on a perch, so I placed him atop a door so he could see the entire room.  As I was standing there talking to my people, he flew and landed on my shoulder.  We tried it several more times, once using other members of our group lined up with me.  He still landed on me, so naturally I'm liking this little hooter.  No, I've not yet heard him hoot.

Riley, Rachel, and Grace rallied to paint all the classroom chalkboards in Mnyenzeni Secondary and Primary.  Tom assisted Lonny and the SRA boys to move forward with the goat pen, while the dam project finally went vertical today.  The speed at which our laborers are working down at Kevin's Creek hastened today as they could finally understand the project and are excited about it.  They showed great pride as the blocks were laid and mortar set.  The parallel walls are 32" high and should be finished tomorrow.

Dam building in progress

Most of us took the trip to Gona today to participate in Riziki and Omar's wedding.  Riziki is Chakaya's sister, and my eldest "African Daughter."  She was dressed in stark white and stunning to the eye.  It's amazing that in such a place of dirt and dust, a sparkling bride can emerge.  It was fun being part of the ceremony, and a sign, to me, that our entrenchment here in this area exceeds the boundaries of culture, race, and socio-economics.  We are family, and welcomed by all to be a part of their every-day lives.

During some of the dancing that was taking place, Kevin was particularly taken aback by the rhythm and movements these young kids were able to make to the music.  One girl, who appeared to be the maid of honor, was a lot of fun for Kevin, dancing with him and playing while he filmed her. We've not had any hard core "cultural" interaction, so this was a lot of fun.

Back at the KCC, we took showers, sang aloud to 70's music in a group out on the porch, and watched Screech observe us with what looked to be disdain. We discovered that he is a Southern White-Faced Scop Owl.

Rachel has been very sick, although she is the only one, so it probably isn't food related.  We treated her with Cipro, and after 24 hours or so or misery, she is starting to feel better.


I have daily phone conversations with Bret.  It is difficult to keep up with all the activity going on.  This is truly the most activity we have had in one group at one time.  And with everything else going on, a school building is being constructed at Dzendereni,  schedule to be opened in early December. 

I am anxious to get photos of the work being done in Kenya, to document the progress of each project.  This is a very exciting time for Koins.  There is a time for planning and there is a time for progress.  What is happening is the result of much planning, and the pieces fitting together so well are a sign of progress.  Anyone who has traveled with us knows that each step of the way we are met with the reality of the words "This is Africa", and that often the best laid plans fall apart with that reality.  It is encouraging to see solid progress on so many projects in such a short time frame.

More to come.



Friday, November 4, 2011

The Ethiopian Cowboy in Kenya

Today is my first day in Kenya. Travel was very good except for a two hour delay as we sat on the tarmac of the Addis airport. Patricia and others of the Spanish contingent were about to mutiny and leave the plane. The pilot said five minutes then half an hour later said ten minutes then an hour later said 15 minutes which ended up being almost another hour. I just sat back and enjoyed my time. I knew that stressing about it wouldn’t help. If I would have only had that attitude while I was packing.

We were the only people in the airport when we arrived so we were able to go through easily. I filled out the two forms and paid my $50 for the visa and I was in.  At customs there were two people arguing with the customs lady about having to open their suitcases and how much they had to pay. We told her that we didn’t have anything to declare so she just sent us through without even looking at our luggage.

Johnson picked me up at the airport. He is a driver that is used by Koins and other similar groups to drive people around. He told me a lot about Kenya as we drove the one hour to the compound. Kenya has 42 different languages but the principle language is Swahili. Most of the younger generation also learns English.  On the flight over I watched the movie The First Grader which told the story of an 84 year old man that went back to a rural primary school to learn to read. It was a good movie that helped me understand a little of the Kenyan history.

Discussing chicken and goat raising with a Kenyan farmer

At the Koins Community Center I met with Anthony who is in charge. He introduced me to most of the staff: Emily and Ester who run the kitchen and laundry, Mwanzara who runs the wood shop, Samuel who runs the welding shop, Patrick and Edison who work on the animals and plants respectively, Buffalo who is the projects manager and several others. Anthony showed me the outside showers and toilets, the bedrooms, the research plot area, and the work shop. They have quite a project going here.

Bret came by and took me out to the river area to show me where he is planning on putting in dams. The land is much more rolling than I had imagined and the river gorge deeper.  I think that the dams will work very well.  Now that I have a better idea about how the land is I can start thinking about how we should approach the challenges and opportunities that we have.

Kenya reminds me very much of Ethiopia as far as the climate, the people, and the cultural advancement. The roads are poor at best. The main road to Nairobi isn’t too bad once you get out of Mombasa but the road that turns off and heads to Mienzeni is very rough.  The children are wonderful. They are so happy and welcoming. We watched several of them dance in the public church house close to the KCC (Koins Conference Center). They were very good and were having an excellent time.

I am just about to the 36 hour mark from when I boarded the plane in Salt Lake City. I was able to sleep on several of the flights but I am totally wiped out now. I hope that I can sleep well tonight and get my biological clock reset and going right away.

~ Lonny, AKA "The Kenyan Katalyst"


Lonny Ward is in Kenya with Bret, lending his expertise to our dairy goat project.  I am very excited about the possibilities of this project, and the good it will do for the farmers and village families we serve. 

I look forward to more posts from Lonny.



Thursday, November 3, 2011

SRA in Kenya

In July, members of the organization Self Reliant Agriculture (SRA) visited Mnyenzeni, Kenya to continue work on the partnership between SRA and Koins.  The following is an excerpt from the SRA blog detailing that visit.

SRA Farm in Malawi
Seeing elephants and giraffes in a zoo will never be the same for Dr. Paul Johnston and Tom Rasmussen.  After witnessing large numbers of them stride across the African bush, the two men felt dwarfed in their presence, and outsmarted as baboons jumped through Dr. Johnston’s window, quickly snatched his candy, and were out again before he had time to react.  Such are the happenings at Tsavo Game Reserve in Kenya where Mr. Rasmussen and Dr. Johnston were privileged to observe over twenty-five different wild species on their overnight adventure.

Except for the two day safari, the rest of their three week journey was spent in Ghana, Malawi, and Kenya developing new relationships and rekindling old ones so that SRA could be effective in applying its small-scale agriculture model among the rural families.  In all three countries, doors opened as interested and eager universities sought to partner with SRA.  Various universities want to take on the SRA approach that combines proper nutritional diets with appropriate crop plantation.  Due to the severe economic stress in which these people live, all of the problems cannot be solved at once; however, some steps can be taken immediately to suffice some of their most critical needs while others are soon to follow.

In Kenya, one of SRA’s partnering NGO’s, Koins for Kenya, has helped build schools for over six thousand elementary age children.  Many of these children walk barefoot a mile or more each day to receive instruction in classrooms without electricity and alongside more than one hundred other children.  These children  do this on a diet that consists almost entirely of corn, which is usually only enough to satisfy about thirty percent of their daily nutritional requirements.  Without adequate calcium, iron, or essential vitamin supplements, malnutrition is widespread.  Consistent iron deprivation in young children can adversely affect their cognitive development, which is irreversible.  Additional similar and serious problems occur with other deficiencies.

SRA will be partnering with Koins for Kenya, receiving educational resources from Pwani University in Kenya, and aided financially from another humanitarian NGO.  Thousands of families in this area of Kenya will be assisted in the development of family gardens and additional projects that will address their most critical nutritional needs.  Water collection and retention, more efficient and healthy stoves for cooking, and numerous other improvements will be initiated in these villages.  Small animals, including dairy goats, will be introduced as soon as possible to round out the nutritional needs of the families.

Similar interest and enthusiasm among governmental and educational leaders was also found in Ghana and Malawi.  Projects will be organized in those countries as funding becomes available.  In the meantime, the universities have expressed a desire to teach the SRA nutrition course and small-scale farming course as part of their curriculum.  These universities have installed a demonstration farm on their respective campuses for research, and as a model for others to emulate.

Representatives from SRA have again come to Mnyenzeni, this time to oversee the progress of the Koins farm and the acquiring of milk goats.  I had a brief phone conversation with Bret today regarding the various projects that are being worked on, and Mnyenzeni is a beehive of activity, with people going in many directions as several big projects are coming to fruition.  I look forward to sharing his journal with details of these activities, as well as photos.  Big things are happening in Kenya!

Asante sana!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Baby Blankets and Dams

One of the expeditioners currently in Kenya is Kevin Nielsen.  Kevin was a missionary in Italy with Bret 30+ years ago, and is an expert in earthen dams in third world countries.  He and Bret connected a while back, and got talking about the work we do in Kenya, and Kevin's expertise just happened to be something we could utilize.  Land has been purchased and a Koins farm is being established.  It will be both an example of what can be done with a small plot of land, and a hands on experience for local farmers who will be allowed to farm a piece of the Koins farm.  With help from Self Reliant Agriculture, we will be training local farmers to farm better, to use the land to raise better and healthier crops, as well as fish and animals.  Part of the requirement of such a farm is having available water.  There is a riverbed adjacent to the Koins farm, but it only has running water for a few weeks of the year, during the rainy season.  With the help of Kevin Nielsen, a dam is being built in this riverbed that will allow that seasonal water to be contained, and it will provide year round access to water for crops on the Koins farm.  Once we can prove that this dam project is feasible and affordable, we can consider building additional dams within the Koins service area.  The rivers flow hard and fast during the few weeks of the rainy season, but the water ends up in the Indian Ocean, then the rivers dry up.  By providing a source for irrigation water, we could make a huge difference to the lives of local farmers.

Kevin called a few weeks before the trip and asked what his local church community could do for Koins.  I suggested they make baby blankets that could be brought and distributed to the clinics within the Koins service area.  The response was great, and this was Kevin's communication with Bret prior to departing for Kenya:

Kevin Nielsen with baby blankets for Kenya

Just a heads up, as you know, I asked for blankets to fill my suitcases.  Well, the Relief Society sisters in our stake put out the attached notice and we got more than a suitcase full.  A portion of them are shown in the attached picture.  There were many expressions of this being the most rewarding humanitarian project they had ever done. They are anxious to have me return with pictures and report about the end result.   As I mentioned to Jami, I actually cannot get them all in mine and Shad’s suitcases so I’ll be storing some at my house until my “next” trip to Mnyenzeni!

 I am looking forward to seeing the results of the dam building in Kenya, and to hear of Kevin's experiences, both in dam building and in distributing baby blankets.  Within the last 2 days, there have been 5 new babies born in the Koins service area.  Each new baby will return home from the clinic wrapped in a new, clean, warm blanket donated by caring Americans.

Asante sana!