Teaching and Learning: A Two-Way Street

By Dr. Jill Wood

Deciding to volunteer with Farmers Helping Farmers in Kenya was not difficult. I was eager to travel to Africa for the first time with experienced, hard-working people and a group with whom I felt I had much in common. More difficult was envisioning how I might be most useful to the FHF mission of empowering Kenyan women, feeding nutritious school meals and increasing small holder farmers’ incomes. I was sensitive to how these small holders might perceive strangers from a foreign country coming to give them advice, when I knew little about how their shambas (farms) operate and what resources they have available to them. However, I also knew that in the 40 plus years Farmers Helping Farmers has had a presence in Meru County, Kenya they have made great strides in introducing new farming ideas, concepts and methodologies to local people with successful uptake and good results.

I have attempted to approach all our tasks with an open mind and an appreciation for everyone’s input, whether it be from my teammates, the FHF Kenyan staff, from the small holder farmers or the energetic, and engaged women’s groups. Though I came here to try to teach some improved practices, I have learned SO much. I feel lucky to have come as a brand new project is beginning, one designed to help small scale poultry owners get more consistent egg production.

As a poultry enthusiast and veterinarian, this has been a wonderful opportunity to both impart some knowledge and to gain a great deal by tagging along with poultry pathologist Dr. Victoria Bowes and FHF poultry project staff member, Eric Munene.

The women attending both the poultry and dairy seminars have taught us a lot about raising poultry and milking cows in a tropical environment and in an area where both information and supplies can be scarce.

This is perhaps the most important thing I have learned as we have visited multiple farms, done walk-in clinics and spoken to dairy, poultry and vegetable producers: there is no lack of enthusiasm for learning here, no lack of energy, drive or will; rather there has simply been a dearth of reliable, applicable best practices shared with these participants, or circumstances beyond their control have, at times, prevented them from being fully implemented.

When given the knowledge and the tools to improve their situations, and when done in a way that is sustainable for them over the long term, people willingly engage, participate and take away important information from the sessions FHF provide.

In return, we as Canadian volunteers take away a new appreciation for another culture, for different ways of farming, and improved respect for water, resourcefulness and survival in difficult circumstances.

Oh, and we’ve picked up quite a number of Swahili words and phrases too. Kwaheri means “goodbye” and tutaonana baadaye means “see you later”. As our teaching and learning adventure wraps up, I most definitely prefer the latter.

A few bonus photos from Dr. Jill Wood:


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