• What I Have Learned about Kenya

    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.

  • From Kenya with Love: Reflections from an Amazing Adventure 

    By Kasadee Allan, Andrea Messina, Karen Yetman

    As the final year veterinary students from the Atlantic Veterinary College selected to participate in the Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) and UPEI trip to Kenya, we had known since winter 2021 that we would be making this trip. When we were chosen, it often felt like forever away and that it would never arrive. We cannot believe we have now left Kenya and it is time to reflect on our experience. Putting into words what we have learned from this trip seems like an impossible task, but we will try our best. 

    We have been writing these blogs as a team, but for this post we thought we would do something different. Even though we were all a part of the same organization, we all experienced this trip uniquely. We will each take a turn discussing what we learned from this trip on a veterinary basis and from the people of Kenya, our favourite thing about Kenya, and any other insights from our trip. 



    This experience is offered to fourth year UPEI veterinary students with a focus on small holder dairy management. Although the farms in Kenya may be on a smaller scale compared to those in Canada, herd health is at the centre of the care. While in Kenya, we discussed cow comfort and nutrition over and over with farmers. The value of these two sections in dairy management cannot be overstated, both in Kenya and back home in Canada. It was amazing to see how the Kenyan farmers would listen intently to our suggestions and ask intelligent questions to ensure they fully understood the concepts to make their cows the most profitable that they can be. 

    My favourite veterinary experience had to be the walk-in clinics. They were dusty, sweaty, and non-stop, but they were also extremely gratifying. These clinics were an opportunity to have hands-on experience with Kenyan farmers and their cattle while feeling like we were making an immediate impact by offering deworming and veterinary medical advice. So much of the work FHF and UPEI is doing in Kenya focuses on small changes over time that will lead to improved quality of life. However, these intimate moments at the clinics, where we could discuss specific challenges their cows face, was one of my favourite parts of the trip. 

    I pride myself of being a fairly decent writer, but I know I have not even begun to scratch the surface of this experience. Kenya opened my eyes to a different way of living. The people were all so warm and inviting. It didn’t matter that we were a different skin colour, they welcomed us into their homes as if we were their own daughters. They sang to us, fed us (to our limits), and led us in dance. Stephen Chandi, FHF staff member, even said I was an excellent dancer, which from a Kenyan, I take as the highest of compliments. This experience is not one that will soon be forgotten and is sure to impact how I choose to live my life in the future. 


    As I sit and reflect on my time in Kenya, I struggle to find the words to describe the impact this experience has had on me. To say this was a life-changing experience would be an understatement. If I had to pick a single word to describe this journey, I would choose “humbling”. Everywhere we went, we were met with gratitude and appreciation for sharing our time and knowledge. The simple ability to have access to resources and veterinary care, something most of us take for granted, was life-changing for them. There were even a few times we had to give bad news regarding the health of a cow, but the farmers were still grateful to have answers they otherwise would not have had.

    My favorite thing to see in Kenya was the thirst for knowledge every farmer had to improve the lives of their cattle. Thoughtful questions were asked at every seminar we held, with some farmers walking a fair distance to get there. As we traveled to different groups of farmers from different areas, it became apparent which groups had been working with FHF and UPEI in previous years and which groups were just starting out. It was stunning to see the improvements made in cow comfort and management after they learned about small-holder dairy management from FHF and UPEI. 

    It was quite the change from working in Canada, where we have advanced diagnostics like bloodwork and ultrasounds available, to working in Kenya, where we had nothing but our stethoscopes and thermometers. I had to rely more on the findings of my physical exams and learned to ask thorough questions regarding the history of the cows to help come to a diagnosis. These are skills I will take with me and use in practice everyday no matter where I am. This experience has, without a doubt, made me a better veterinarian and I will forever treasure my time spent in Kenya. 


    My experience in Kenya was everything I thought it would be and more. I have always hoped I would have an opportunity to engage in international development and I couldn’t think of a better way to start this journey. I have returned to Canada with a new perspective on my own privilege and a deep appreciation for the-small holder dairy farmers in Kenya that are dedicated to bettering the lives of their families and animals. We were met with song, dance, many handshakes and pure gratitude on a daily basis. To have the opportunity to share my knowledge of dairy farming and veterinary medicine was an experience I won’t soon forget. 

    My favorite veterinary experience was when pregnancy checking a dairy cow in Nkando. This area has experienced the severe effects of climate change resulting in continual drought conditions seen as four failed rain seasons. This particular cow had not been successfully bred for 3 years. When I reached into the cow, I hoped with all I had that I could provide this kind family with great news. Luckily, I instantly felt the head of an approximately 7-month-old calf and gave the farmer the news! The male farmer fell to his knees, blessed me and thanked me over and over again, stating that he now has hope for a better year ahead. I did my best to tell the family this was a result of their dedication, resiliency and hard work and that I was glad to pass on this news. 

    There were many ‘wins’ such as this pregnant cow, throughout our time in Meru; however, they were accompanied by many difficult stories, failed crops, food and water insecurity, and lack of veterinary resources. While some stories were challenging to hear, we were also provided with stories of improvement, hope and resiliency due to the programs and resources provided by FHFand UPEI.  

    I will miss the excitement I felt waking up every day and jumping in the vehicle with an enthusiastic team ready to tackle the uncertainty of what we may see or experience each day. I will miss the gracious women’s groups, dairy farmers and incredible FHF staff. I am hopeful that this is just the beginning and I will return to the same dusty streets and smiling faces some day in the future. 

  • Finding hope and inspiration in a visit to Kenya

    By Shauna Mellish

    On January 20, 2023, my sixteen-year-old daughter Victoria and I departed for Kenya. We would be joining her aunt (Dr. Martha Mellish) and grandparents (Ken and Teresa Mellish) to work with the many projects funded by Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF).

    What an incredible opportunity for three generations to travel and work together. More importantly was the opportunity for Victoria to see the impacts of the work that her grandmother has dedicated her life to.

    In the first week, Victoria and I visited shambas (farms) with a focus on poultry, assisted with a donkey health and welfare clinic, as well as a cattle walk-in clinic. We helped with a bookkeeping training session, and spent a day at the Mitoone Primary School. Each took us to a different area of Meru County.

    Each experience gave us new opportunities to talk, share, and learn from our Kenyan partners. Every encounter opened me to deeper reflection on luck, fair/unfair, faith, strength, and privilege.

    As luck would have it, the first shamba we visited had a water tank my husband, Angus, and I had sponsored. Each year during the FHF Holiday Campaign, we make donations to fund items like water tanks – knowing, but not fully understanding the impacts.

    At the shamba, I was embraced by Susan, the woman to whom it belonged. She told me of the difference this donation had made in her life and livelihood, especially when the rains do not come; it was humbling. Over the course of the week, we experienced the same scenario at two other shambas where we happened upon water tanks sponsored by Victoria and her sister, Evelynn.

    FHF has just begun working in an area known as Nkando, partnering with women’s farm groups there. NKando has not received rain in 4 to 5 years.

    As we drove through the area to our destination, I saw crop failure after crop failure – burned by the heat and lack of rain. I have worked in agriculture for more than 20 years, and I have never experienced anything close to this.

    The reality here is no crop – no food, as well as no income in which to get food. I wrestled with the fairness (or lack thereof) of the situation – what keeps people going, not only physically but mentally? Is that why faith seems so apparent in these communities? Why am I so lucky to have easy access to food and water and this community does not? How do I use the privileges I’ve been lucky enough to receive to the benefit of the those who have such fierce strength, but limited opportunity?

    I am grateful for the opportunity to work directly with the projects in Kenya; these projects are possible in part because of the donations FHF receives. When we return home, the work will continue with the support of our Kenyan staff. My role then will be to help ensure that the work of FHF can continue.

    While I will take time to reflect on exactly what that might look like, I have no doubt that I will continue to use my good fortune to support the projects financially, and volunteer my time at events like the annual FHF BBQ, which are key to the continued success of FHF projects.

    As we left Nkando, I noticed a beautiful array of pink flowers growing on some vines. Even in a harsh and unforgiving climate, there is strength and beauty.

    Let us work together to help FHF assist these communities through projects that will allow them to reach their full potential.

  • 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:

  • Hot and Sweaty: Nkando Walk-In Clinic a Success!

    By Kasadee Allan, Andrea Messina, and Karen Yetman
    Veterinary Students, Atlantic Veterinary College

    Mambo vipi? (What’s up) Our Swahili words are coming along nicely thanks to the help of locals, farmers, and our amazing driver, Paul. Besides the Swahili, we are also learning so much about cow comfort, diagnosing pregnancy in cows without the aid of an ultrasound, and many diseases that we do not regularly see in Canada. During our second week we are beginning to recognize where we are, especially in relation to Mount Kenya, and we are also feeling more comfortable in Kenya as a whole as we continue to work with farmers throughout the Meru region.

    The week started with a question-and-answer seminar in Ex-Lewa with our biggest attendance yet — 71 farmers. The farmers found a bit of shade to sit in while we answered their very interesting questions. After the seminar many farmers brought their animals to us for a mini walk-in clinic where we helped identify reasons for poor heat detection and swollen lymph nodes. Also on Monday, we were presented with a case of traumatic reticulopericarditis (TRP), which is the first case of TRP that we had ever diagnosed. Another question-and answer seminar was held in Ngusishi on Wednesday. At the second seminar, we, the UPEI vet students, were able to step up and answer more of the farmers’ questions ourselves. The seminars have been a great opportunity for us to freshen up on topics and learn how to help the Kenyan farmers with their unique challenges.

    We all love working with the dairy farmers here in Kenya, but this trip has given us many opportunities to step outside of our comfort zone. On Tuesday, we were able to travel with a new asset to Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF), Dr. Victoria Bowes, who is an avian pathologist as well as a small poultry flock specialist from British Columbia.

    FHF has provided materials for chicken (kuku) coops and multiple incubators to help promote feeding eggs to children as a source of protein. While in Kenya, Dr. Bowes is examining these coops for possible improvements and assessing the outcome of the first hatches from the incubators.

    Shadowing Dr. Bowes was a great experience for all three of us! We have had limited poultry experience, and now we feel more comfortable assessing chicken coop structures. We were also able to develop some (kidogo) poultry pathology experience as we examined why certain eggs did not hatch so that improvements can be made to the incubators and their management in the future.

    The highlight of our week was the walk-in clinic held in Nkando. The relationship between FHF and UPEI with the Nkando dairy groups is fairly new and this was the first ever FHF/UPEI cattle walk-in clinic held in this area. Despite this area being less than an hour’s drive from the region we are normally working in, the landscape is vastly different. The farmers in this area face additional challenges, as seen by the failed crops in the field due to limited water availability. Lack of resources, including few veterinarians or vet techs in this region, have made farming there extremely difficult. However, we are that hopeful with the new Nkando partnership with FHF/UPEI, we can help the farmers improve their dairy management despite their daily challenges.

    We left the house at 6:30 in the morning, hoping to get ahead of the rush, but the Nkando farmers were already waiting with hundreds of cattle prepared to be dewormed, with many of them hanging around afterwards to be seen by our two veterinary teams (see below).

    The cattle crush immediately had cows and bulls moved into it until it was full, and the crush was not empty a single moment during the day. A special shout-out to Stephen Chandi a FHF employee, and Ben Vos, a former PEI dairy farmer, who led the team in deworming almost 700 cattle! Countless bottles of injectable and pour-on dewormers were used and many needles were utilized on the way to deworming all of these cattle, but it was well worth it.

    As the deworming team worked to move cattle through the crush, there were two teams of veterinary personnel, led by Dr. John VanLeeuwen, dairy cattle specialist, and Dr. Jill Wood, PEI chief veterinarian officer and dairy farmer, ready and waiting to treat those that needed veterinary assistance. They were supported by translators Leah and Brian (FHF Kenyan staff), George Kobia, a local animal health technician, as well as us, the UPEI vet students.

    Many of the diseases we treated were similar to those that we saw at the previous walk-in clinic, including many tick-borne diseases such as East Coast Fever and Anaplasmosis. We also spotted a new tick that we had not yet seen, which can also carry diseases that can be dangerous to cattle. We continued to improve our hands-on skills and one of the students (Kasadee) even had an opportunity to drain an abscess for the first time. We were busy throughout the day rushing between examining the cattle and running back to the truck for treatment. One goat (mbuzi) even snuck through and was treated for an abscess. It was a full and gratifying day where we were able to help a lot of sick cattle and help provide support to the local farmers.

    The day was long (returned home at 6:30pm) and hot (30 degrees Celsius) with many layers of sunscreen re-applied by all the FHF-UPEI members. We were all drenched in dirt and sweat by the end of the day, but we tried not to complain as we knew there were many farmers who had walked miles just to bring their cattle to us. Despite the harsh and dry conditions, we were pleasantly surprised by the relatively good body condition of the majority of the cattle, likely because they usually had some local breeding, such as Zebu, Brahma or Boran.

    It is amazing how the people in this region have learned to adapt to their specific conditions and raise healthy cattle despite their challenges. Seeing these farmers and what they have done for their cattle already, it gives the FHF/UPEI group confidence that the Nkando dairy groups will be willing to learn and improve with the training soon to be offered.

    Asante sana!

  • Improving the Nutrition of Kenyan Children, One Egg at a Time

    By Victoria Bowes

    Members of the Women’s Group meet for an interactive poultry training workshop.

    “We love kukus*” is the exuberant cheer rising from the women of the Gatima Women’s Group, Meru County, Kenya.

    *kuku = chicken

    The women, mothers, daughters, and grandmothers, have walked dusty, rutted roads from their farmsteads to attend one of the first Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) Poultry Training workshops. They are curious, inquisitive, and eager to learn more about how they can keep their laying hens healthy so they can continue to provide nutritious eggs for their families.

    They listen attentively as the spoken English is flawlessly translated into Swahili by Eric Munene, a talented livestock technician and one of the local Kenyan FHF staff gems. He can even make some of the lame jokes seem funny in translation.

    Eric Munene inspecting the nest boxes. Looking good!

    It seems that everywhere you look there are chickens, scratching in the ditches, outside the markets, in farmyards, and yes, even crossing the street, although we still don’t know why. This hardy breed of chicken is the indigenous Kenyan breed, with a small body frame and a tendency to “go broody” after just a few eggs are produced. Probably a survival adaptation to ensure she’s able to care for the few chicks she hatches out. Great mothering for sure but not a good choice if sustainable egg production is the goal.

    Eggs are a valuable source of protein for children in an area where protein sources are scarce and expensive. The goal of the FHF Poultry Project is to empower women farmers to produce enough quality eggs to feed their family and to possibly provide an additional source of income though egg sales.

    This is an example of a FHF-supported coop with a flock of 10 hens and 1 rooster of the improved breed.

    The FHF Poultry Project is currently working directly with eight Kenyan Women’s Groups. Within each group 10 women are selected to receive support from FHF in establishing a closed flock of the improved Kenyan breed of laying hen called the Improved Kienyeji Chicken. Who gets a coop is often decided by the Group Chair based on need. Coop #1 in each group is constructed to FHF specifications and the other 9 poultry keepers inspect the built coop and return home to build similar coops. FHF provides the poultry wire, a feeder, a drinker, a bag of mash and a ready-to-lay flock of 10 hens and 1 happy rooster. There are now 80 FHF supported coops in Meru County. Eric is on speed dial to all of them and will be providing ongoing support.

    A healthy flock of Kenyan chickens.

    The success of FHF efforts to provide self-sufficient agriculture solutions to Kenyan farmers struggling with unimaginable social, economic, and environmental challenges, can be attributed to the dedicated partnership of Canadian funding agencies, the FHF Board and project staff, the support of local government, and the enthusiastic Kenyan extension staff.

    A vision, decades in the making, is being realized and everywhere we travel FHF is recognised as a divine blessing. Sometimes the graciousness can be overwhelming, but always truly humbling.

    Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time.

    Q: How do you change the life of a Kenyan farmer? A: One FHF seminar, one clinic, one conversation at a time.

  • Big Family Picnic: Farmers Helping Farmers-style

    By Teresa Mellish

    Our Kenyan partners don’t know each other. The More Food, Better Food:Empowering Kenyan Farm Women project funded by Global Affairs Canada started late in 2019, and COVID started early in 2020, so there has been limited opportunity to know each other. So we decided to hold a family picnic on Sunday afternoon so they would meet each other.

    We invited the executive of each of the 16 womens groups, 4 dairies as well as head teachers and gardeners at the 22 schools FHF works with. We held it at the Kiirua Primary School grounds and rented a tent with 150 chairs.

    We hired the Destiny Womens Group to prepare the food which included mukimo, chapattis, watermelon and mangoes. We Canadians made Mac and Cheese. Ken and James also prepared sugar snap peas, which are grown primarily for export, and Kenyans say they do not know how to cook them.

    All of the Kenyan personnel and the Canadian volunteers helped: from Ben helping to set up the tent; France and Victoria B washing mangoes, Eric looking after the sound system, Stephen C, Claire and Victoria M running the registration desk, Salome rolling out chapattis, Jill and Ben snapping peas, to mention a few. Ken and Salome shared the job of Master of Ceremonies. Only Shauna missed the event because she was sick.

    We used a simple mixer to make sure that people met each other. Each person received a name tag at the registration desk with a number between 1 and 10 on it, and all enthusiastically set out to find 10 other people they did not know who had the same number. These names were written on an index card along with the person’s affiliation. Murori Munyua from the Ex Lewa dairy even collected telephone numbers and said he had found 10 new friends!

    Everyone who was invited attended!

    After we had eaten, Ken and Salome introduced each group, to cheers from all present! There were no speeches. Kenyan personnel along with their spouses were introduced and John introduced the Canadian volunteers. The Kenyan Directors of the new Kenyan company were introduced. The two Members of the County Assembly in attendance were introduced. Then we all danced Kenyan-style led by the Destiny Womens Group.

    I promised that this was the first annual picnic, and already suggestions are being made for next year’s event. Gikundi wants us to invite more people!

  • Kenyan resilience

    By France Routhier-Vos

    Resilience is the capacity to withstand, or to recover quickly from difficulty.

    Travelling to Africa has been a lifelong dream of mine. Hoping to observe beautiful landscape, impressive wildlife, and to meet new people from different background. Within two weeks, Kenya has offered me much more.

    Travelling with Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) has definitely played a big part in the warm welcome we received when we arrived. We met with the Kenyan staff of FHF on our first day in Meru County. They are a team of nine specialists that seem to be a gift to the organization. They thoroughly explained the goals and achievements related to their mission. Some examples consist of giving and installing solar lights, water tanks, grow bags, cook stoves, and biodigesters to womens’ groups and schools. FHF also offers clinics and trainings to different groups of farmers to help them improve their livelihood.

    I am grateful to be part of this team led by Teresa and Ken and working alongside such knowledgeable people. My small contribution has been to help teach basic bookkeeping to small groups. To my surprise, there was a real need for small farm business people to be able to manage their money. Classes were well-attended and the somewhat dry subject was very well-received.

    Kenyans have all gone through several tough years with the onset of COVID and a long drought. Even in the landscape, the plants try to strive in dry weather. A special plant that I’ve been introduced to is euphorbia. It is used for fencing and feeding the animals, mostly goats and sheep.

    What marked me the most so far is the resilience of these people. Having almost nothing but striving to continue growing crops, raising livestock and trying to feed their families. As one Kenyan told me, “People are happy when they have food and they can put their kids through school.”

    I also had the opportunity to travel with Teresa and a few staff to some of the most environmentally-challenged areas in the county to welcome two new groups to FHF.

    On our way to the very dry region of Nkando, I asked Salome Ntinyari (Teresa’s right hand) if her last name has a special meaning. She told me that it means the contented one. I thought to myself what a beautiful name and how representative of the Kenyans’ character…along with their resilience and contagious joy! Hakuna Matata!

  • View from a Prince Edward Island Farmer

    By Ben Vos

    Just a few words on my experience so far in Kenya. As I have been telling many farmers here, I  was a dairy farmer on P.E.I. About 20 years ago John VanLeeuwen, our vet at the time, sparked my interest in things he was doing for the farmers in Kenya. I thought about going at the time but leaving the farm at the coldest time of the year, and for that length of time, was just not possible. I also wondered if I would make any difference there because they have lived and farmed there for so long. What was I gonna say, or do, that would make any difference to them? 

    Landing here certainly changed how I felt.

    First thing you notice is how genuine the people are, who greet you with a handshake and a smile. People are dressed very sharp, and certainly care about how they go out in public. Driving through the communities, you see a lot of people herding their cattle, sheep, and goats. Others are selling goods on the side of the road. You also see many people doing hard physical labour. 

    The thoughts I had were about starving people, asking for food. It doesn’t seem to be like that, if you have access to water. The soil looks very fertile, even though some areas have not had rain for years. People make do with what they have, and try to provide food for their families, and make sure they can send their kids to school. 

    Being here with Farmers Helping Farmers has given us a great opportunity to see what effect they really have here. I was asked to help farmers with dairy training – giving workshops on topics in the manuals they were given as part of a dairy club. 

    The main thing I have noticed is their lack of knowledge of things that seem obvious to me. We are teaching them about getting the cows ready to calve, feeding them properly, and the housing facilities. Production on most farms is very low, and there is lots of room for improvement. Most farmers rely on less than a handful of cows to make their living. Teaching them the skills to help improve the production will directly help them with their bottom line. 

    Most people that we have talked to have never seen white people show up at their farms, and when first talking to them, they seem a bit puzzled. Within a short time you start to see a lot of heads nodding, or laughing at things that they should be doing. 

    I’m very glad to have been a part of this trip, and hopefully ignite a spark in some of these farmers. I’m sure that they’ve all learned something, and will improve things on their shambas, or farms.  I have certainly learned a lot about them, and even myself, while being here. So many things we take for granted are not so in Kenya.

  • The Proof is in the Pudding: Farmers Helping Farmers Handbook Helps Kenyan Farms Continue to Grow

    Jambo! After countless delays, the UPEI vet students, Kasadee, Karen, and Andrea, as well as our supervisor, Dr. John VanLeeuwen (UPEI dairy cattle specialist), have arrived in Kenya and have begun working with local dairy farmers. Here in Kenya, every day is different and comes with its own unique activities, experiences, and people that we meet along the way. 

    Throughout this week we have attended various question and answer seminars with local dairy groups, including Buuri, Naari, and Ngusishi. These seminars are a great opportunity for the farmers to ask questions directly to a veterinarian (daktari) and learn from each other. We are also learning a great deal, including a goal of five Swahili words a day. 

    The seminars have been a great opportunity to see how dairy cattle are managed here in Kenya. Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) leads training for cohorts of the dairy groups where the farmers work through the important steps outlined in the FHF-UPEI Handbook for Kenyan Dairy Farmers. Graduates from the program were awarded certificates for their hard work during these seminars. 

    The dairy cattle (ng’ombe) are the main focus of the FHF-UPEI vet group in this part of Kenya, but this year, Dr. Martha Mellish (UPEI equine professor), along with donkey owner and dressage trainer, Anne Aloi, have started the Working Donkey project.

    We were lucky enough to tag along with the donkey (punda) crew on Wednesday where we helped complete welfare assessments, perform physical exams, and provide deworming medication to the donkeys. A seminar for donkey owners was also widely attended in Nkando where many thoughtful questions were asked and answered. 

    The busy week continued into Saturday with the first walk-in clinic of our trip being hosted in Mbaaria. Each of us were able to pair up with a veterinarian and a translator to treat over 70 cows, heifers, bulls, and calves. More than 280 cattle were also dewormed. 

    It was organized chaos where we were able to help many farmers and it was a great chance for us to see diseases that we would not normally see in Canada. The walk-in clinic was a great opportunity for farmers to bring in their animals to us, where we saw variety of breeds, ages, and symptoms. The entire FHF-UPEI crew, including veterinarians, dairy farmers, and lots of Mellishes teamed up to host this amazing event! 

    The highlight of the week was seeing a farmer from the Naari dairy group, Mary, who has vastly improved the conditions on her farm leading to increased milk production. Mary hosted the seminar on her farm and had a clear thirst for knowledge as evidence by the thoughtful questions she asked. She has recently completed the FHF-UPEI Handbook training. The knowledge she gained from the training was clear in her improvements on her farm, including proper nutrition for all her cows and cow comfort.

    By implementing the teachings from the FHF-UPEI handbook, she now has three successfully bred cows, as confirmed by us by rectal palpation, two of which she plans to dry off within the next month following the recommendations of our team. While on her farm we toured her new barn, which she has built with the help of FHF staff member Stephen Chandi, which has led to more comfortable cows. 

    Mary continues to diversify her agri-business by expanding to potato seed as well as other vegetables in her large garden. She also has a new biogas unit where she can use the manure from her cows to help heat her gas stove in the kitchen and the excess can be used as fertilizer in her garden. This farm was a wonderful example of how hard-working Kenyans paired with the education from FHF and UPEI can lead to successful and prosperous farms.  

    We are looking forward to the next two weeks here in Kenya. Check back here next week for a new update. 

    Tuonane (see you)!