By Victoria Mellish
This January, I was given the incredible opportunity to travel to Kenya with my grandparents and mom through Farmers Helping Farmers. My grandparents have been active members of Farmers Helping Farmers for more than 40 years, improving, creating, and leading projects to help Kenyan children, women, and farmers.
Both my parents have visited Kenya before, my dad four times and my mom once. My sister and I have split the cost on two water tanks for Kenyan farmers, and we make annual donations for the Holiday Campaign. Despite all this, I had no clue what to expect of my time here. Although I had heard the stories, have seen the pictures and attended the orientation and was given a rough idea of my itinerary, I had a very vague idea of what to expect and what to be excited for.
What we are taught in school about Africa puts the idea of a desperate place full of unhappy people in our head. I knew that wasn’t representative of everyone, but what was? I knew it would be hot, there’d be mangos, and we’d get to see elephants. All this held to be very true, but I quickly learned so much more about Kenya, the Kenyans who live here, and so much more about Farmers Helping Farmers.
Before we left, everyone was assigned a main project. France mostly did book keeping training, Ben and Jill mostly did dairy training, the vet students and Dr. John did cow work, Victoria Bowes did poultry work, Martha and Anne did donkey welfare work, and I worked mostly in schools. Although we were all assigned our projects, we were given the opportunity to try some of the others.
On chicken day Vic, Jill, Eric, Mom and I held a seminar at the Destiny women’s group about poultry. Not only did the women learn but so did I. We then visited 5 of the women’s homes to see their chicken coops and their progress. One woman told us that because of her chickens through FHF she can now send her daughter to a boarding school.
On donkey day, the three vet students, my mom and I assisted Dr. Martha Mellish, Anne and Leah on their new project, improving donkey welfare. This project has just begun, and is in the early stages. We assessed the donkey’s body condition; ask the owner a series of questions, deworm the donkey then move to the next one.
Most of the people who own these donkeys are dependent on them to carry water, usually 80L per load. The data that was collected will help us plan the next steps for this project.
On dairy seminar day, I traveled with Dr. John and Stephen Chandi to help where I was needed throughout the day. We taught a group who has just begun the FHF dairy handbook, and this was their first seminar.
We then did some home visits for people who have already completed the handbook to see improvements and check their cows. One woman completed the handbook, implemented the plans, and now has two pregnant dairy cows. The small improvements made leads to more milk, which turns into more milk to sell, which brings in greater income.
On bookkeeping training day, mom and I went with France, Teresa, Claire, and Salome. France taught at the front of the room while Claire translated, and mom and I walked around to help those in need of assistance. At the end of the session, one of the women led the group in giving thanks to us for the time we took to teach them.
In my school visits with Claire, I learned so much about the education system here and the lives of the children who attend them.
I learned about the national exam all grade 8 students must write to determine what level of high school they can attend. Most Canadian grade 8 students don’t even have to think about their grades.
I learned about the school food program where students receive uji (water mixed with millet flour to make porridge) and githeri for lunch (kale, beans, and maize boiled in water). During a Q&A session with the grade 8s, I was asked what we ate for lunch in PEI. When I told them Friday is pizza day at my school, after a lot of shock and chatter, the next question was: “Can I come visit Canada??”
I quickly learned how valued marks are not only to the students but as well as to the schools. The mean average of the grade 8’s national exam mark, dated back to 2006, is posted on the wall in each school. The better the performance, the better your school, the more likely your school is to succeed. And here I was worried about my physics exam when it wouldn’t even affect my courses I take next year, or anyone’s reputation.
This just scratches the surface of the many things I have come to learn about Kenyans, their culture, the farming, the education system, and their lives. The people here do struggle, more than any of us probably ever will. However, kids still go to school, have fun with their friends, and learn about all the same things as us. Parents work really hard to keep their heads above water for their families by farming and hustling. They really want to learn and improve. The appreciation for the knowledge we share with them is so profound and celebrated. The little things we help them with lead to big differences in their lives.
The things I have learned on this trip have given me a much larger understanding of the life here, something that’s hard to understand from statistics for a school project, or even pictures from previous trips. Before I came, I didn’t know what to expect but with the wonderful people I’m traveling with, working with and meeting I most definitely can’t say I’m disappointed.