Monday, July 26, 2010

Mbembe Maize 2, Muthikore Maize 0

After another jammed packed week of school visits, we finally witnessed our first few victories. We celebrated by going to Nairobi for the weekend to be tourists.

Monday, we started our day at Kiirua Boys Secondary School for their 7:45am Monday Morning Assembly. We had met with the headmaster and deputy the previous week to give them our recommendations based on our analysis of their menu. One of the points we are really trying to drive home with all schools, is that all the maize used in every recipe should be Mbembe (unpolished) and not Muthikore (polished). When the maize is polished, it looses the majority of it's nutrients, which are very important for growth and development. The problem we've been facing with this recommendation is that it is the cultural norm is to eat polished maize. Students, teachers and the general population do not feel that unpolished maize is acceptable in terms of taste and texture. Like a lot of "norms' withing any society, there is no actual reason behind their hatred of unpolished maize. It is simply what they have always eaten, so they assume that they don't like unpolished maize with out actually trying it. We have made it our personal mission to change this preconceived notion.

The headmaster and deputy at Kiirua Boys laughed at us when we recommended that they stop polishing their maize. They told us that despite the obvious nutritional benefits, there was no way that the boys would ever agree to even try it. Unless....we came to speak to the students directly. So at 7:45 am, we spoke to the entire student population about the benefits of eating unpolished maize and why it was healthier and more nutritious than polished maize. I think they spent most of our little 20 minute speech laughing at us but in the end our message got through.

The next day, we went back to Kiirua Boys to eat lunch with them. Tuesday was the first day that the cook had prepared the githeri with unpolished maize that had been soaked with the beans overnight before being cooking the morning. We were a little bit nervous because the headmaster was convinced that there would be no way that the boys would find the soaked, unpolished maize even close to acceptable. We lined up with plates and spoons in hand, just like the rest of the boys, and waited for our serving of githeri. Of course we were given the same portion as the boys, which meant a overflowing heap of githeri in each of our bowls. We sat with a large group of the guys in the yard and watched nervously while they took their first few bites of their new and improved githeri. It couldn't have been that bad because they all started piling into their mouths without any looks of disgust or discontentment. We sat down and talked with the guys for the rest of lunch break while we all chowed down on delicious lunch. The boys told us they liked the Mbembe maize and asked the headmaster if it could be prepared that way from now on. They asked us lots of really smart questions about nutrition and Canada and maize and seemed genuinely shocked that they never even knew that mbembe maize was that much better for them.

We were super pumped about our small victory at Kiirua Boys and were really excited to give feedback to the other schools and to give the rest of the remaining parent sessions in hopes of inspiring even more people to at least switch from Muthikore to Mbembe maize. Our next parent session was at Kinyenjere Primary School on Wednesday afternoon. We weren't exactly thrilled going into this presentation because it was the third time we had had to reschedule at the last minute because the headmaster kept calling us with conflicts. The first time we tried to give the presentation, there was burial in the community and no one showed up. We waited at the school for about an hour before we gave up and went banana planting instead. The second time, the headmaster simply called us and asked us to come a different day than was scheduled. If our schedule wasn't already so packed it would have been fine, but we ended up having to reschedule a couple of other things and tweak times of other appointments in order to fit in the family session at Kinyenjere when they wanted it. The school was having another meeting for the parents that same day, so our presentation was simply the beginning of another meeting. It went well, and we had about 100 people attend. There were around 25 men and hte rest were women. We were really happy about the number of smart questions the women had for us at the end of our presentation, and once again the feedback we got from the group was really gratifying. As we give the presentation, you can see the light bulb light up over their heads as something we have said, that they never even considered before, makes complete sense to them. It's really rewarding to see them so enthusiastically embrace our advice and to see the determined looks on their faces as they head home with the intentions of putting some our our tips to use.

During the presentation, the headmaster left for a few minutes to check on the children eating their lunch. He came back and announced that the children were all eating, and greatly enjoying soaked, Mbembe maize in their githeri instead of the usual Muthikore maize. Another small victory!

The next day, we went to Kamuketha Primary School to give our final Family Nutritional Seminar to the parents. When we first arrived, not even one parent had showed up yet. We were pretty disappointed thinking that no one would show, knowing that we didn't have time in our schedule to reschedule. The headmaster was sure that they would show up eventually, so we played with some kids and jad tea while we waited. Even though we've been here now for 5 weeks, adjusting to "Kenyan time" never gets easier. We're still impatient and get flustered when our plans start or run a few hours late. In the end we ended up having about 28 parents show up, a mixture of men and women. Although this was our smallest group yet, we still felt as though we were able to teach them some new tips that we genuinely feel like they will try to use at home. After the presentation, we were asked to stay for lunch, and once again got to enjoy a giant bowl of githeri. Kamuketha was already using Mbembe maize, but they were not soaking the maize or the beans overnight which is another of our recommendations. Soaking hte maize overnight makes it much easier for the kids to chew and digest. Since our feedback session, they had been soaking the maize and beans everynight, so the githeri we had for lunch was once again made with soaked Mbembe maize!

Although the switch from Muthikore to Mbembe maize isn't exactly earth shattering, it's incredibly exciting and rewarding to know that our recommendations are being valued and that both current and future students are being directly impacted by our research.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Banana Planting

Yesterday, we were lucky enough to get to join the women at the Muchui Business Center for the annual planting of banana tree seedlings.
We spent the morning at Kinyenjere Primary School talking to some students about the food groups and playing with them during their lunch break. Around 1:30, Martin picked us up on his way to the center from Nairobi in the gypsy. We were expecting to barely fit into the truck because we were told that he was bringing with him 2000 banana tree plants. We told him we could walk if there wasn't enough room but he just laughed at us and said he's try his hardest to squeeze us in. When he pulled up outside the school, we were shocked that the gypsy wasn't packed to the roof with banana trees. Obviously we were way off in what we expected because Martin opened up the back of the truck for us to climb in and sitting on the seat was a small cardboard box all nicely sealed with packing tape. I guess we knew that the banana tree seedlings would be tiny, but we still weren't expecting how tiny!
When we got to the business center, there were a large group of women waiting for us to start planting. We made our way into the greenhouse where martin quickly separated each variety of banana into it's designated spot, and gave a quick demonstration of proper planting procedures. This demonstration was in kimaru, so Christina and I just kinda of chilled in the background waiting for an english lesson once the women were experts. We were a little worried that we would be banana planting failures, and that all the seedlings we planted would wither away and die, but Martin reassured us that our planting skills were quite fine.
We were expecting to spend hours in the greenhouse planting, but with all the women that showed up, it only ended up taking about 30 minutes. I took almost as long to coordinate a group photo afterward but the group was in good spirits and we think everyone had fun. We did at least! Somehow, all of the other women planting had this magical ability to stay clean. They had a little bit of mud on their hands, but other than that their clothes and feet and legs and arms were spotless. We couldn't say the same for ourselves. We had mud all over our legs up to our knees, mud up to our elbows, and we had clearly sat in something because we had giant mud spots on our pants. Not to mention our faces must have gotten itchy half way through planting because there were some mud spots on our cheeks too. The women quickly ushered us to the water tap to shower off as soon as the planting was done, and weren't exactly satisfied with the job we had done as we were heading into the gyspy to go home still pretty much covered in mud, it was simply no longer layered on so thick.

We decided that if the whole nutritionist/ dietitian plan falls through, we might have to move to Kenya to become professional banana planters.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vet students reporting: Round two, beginning in Nakuru…

So Laura and I are back in Nakuru for a week to begin our second sampling and hopefully, get to more farms that we didn’t get a chance to sample the first time around. We have discovered that the term ‘resort’ is used very loosely around here, as our ‘resort’ only consists of simple hotel rooms, a modest courtyard, and a regular dining room (where Laura and I are gawked at since we appear to be the only “muzungos” staying here). Most of them are also owned by Christian groups. However, I am more than satisfied as we have warm showers, spring mattresses, and most importantly, don’t have to pee in a hole. After having to do that twice in one weekend, I hope to never have to use a latrine again!

It’s great to be in the field again with the cows after the week-long break we have had. I was running out of books to read and words to play in Scrabble, as we finished our work early in Ichamara. The company there was wonderful though, as some of the nursing team from Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF)/UPEI joined us for the week to help with Carolyn and Dr. Van Leeuwen’s biogas project. Their visit also presented the perfect opportunity to go to Meru to check out what the nursing and nutrition students were working on.

Meru is located in the northeastern region of Kenya, the closest city to the Somalian border (about 400 km away). Being east and relatively further away from Mount Kenya, the climate and landscape is very different from Ichamara. It is much drier and hotter, with a lot less hills. There are also elephants that live in the forest just outside of the city, of which we were lucky enough to encounter, as one was just crossing the road! The nurses work at the St. Theresa Missionary Hospital in Kiirua (a town just outside of Meru) and regularly visit their children’s home/school. Laura and I joined them at the children’s home, where we assisted in feeding the children. The work that the mission and its sisters do for these children is simply amazing. They raise abandoned or orphaned children between the ages of infancy and three, and operate a feeding program and school for kids aged five and under. By providing the basic necessities for these children during such a critical life stage, the sisters are attempting to build a solid foundation for a healthy future. It’s unbelievable how two women can care for more than ten babies while I can barely feed one! That’s probably why I am only handling cows in Kenya and not little children.

The nursing and nutrition teams will also be working with some women’s groups, running blood pressure clinics and helping to build a more well-balanced diet. We were lucky enough to join in on the first meeting of two women’s groups, who have been long-term pen pals. Though I couldn’t understand a word of their local language, Kimeru, the excitement of these women was evident through their facial expressions, gestures, and apparel. The language barrier also prevented any of us from enjoying a speech intended to empower women, but at least food is universal, and we were treated to fresh, locally grown fruits, and traditional Kenyan cuisine.

While in Meru, Laura and I almost caught President Kibaki in action! We saw his personal helicopter (compliments of the taxpayers) take off for Nairobi just as we were returning home! He and other government officials were campaigning for the new Kenyan constitution, which will be put to vote in a national referendum on August 4th. The streets were flooded with people wearing green shirts and hats, which represent the ‘Yes’ campaign. And of course, what’s a national referendum in a developing country without the vested interests of foreign countries? The ‘Yes’ campaign is fully supported by the US and the UK, while the opposition is backed by various Christian groups. I have been learning a lot about the upcoming referendum from our fellow Kenyans and the newspaper, so I’m excited for the outcome of the vote (hopefully a peaceful one!). Controversial issues include abortion, the kadhi Muslim courts, and the status of Somali refugees. Could it be a new beginning for the Kenyan people? Not that my opinions really matters, but I’ll let you know as I learn more about the constitution! Stay tuned!


Missed July 4th blog

Sorry guys, I forgot to post this one here:

We have seven more farms to go to and then we are finished the first sampling for the Ichamara area. I can hardly believe things have gone so smoothly. Once we got a good system down with specific jobs assigned to each person rather than everyone trying to do the same job and no one being especially certain what had been done and what hadn’t been, we became much more efficient as a team. It also took awhile for us to get past the language barrier. Everyone here speaks such fluent English that sometimes I forget that there is a language barrier and that I have to slow down my talking and allow the people I’m speaking to time to process what I am saying. At first I found myself getting frustrated because I was having to repeat myself a lot just to get a simple point across. Usually its fine and we get to the point eventually but sometimes I’m just not clear enough and things go wrong. Like when I asked one of the grad students if he could put the milk samples in the freezer overnight. He certainly put the samples in the freezer, but he didn’t understand that the ice the samples are stored on during the day must also be placed in the freezer. In the morning we had no ice to collect new samples with as we went around to the farms. It was fine in the end as we were lucky to discover that lab at the Dairy we work out of had some ice blocks we could use. Otherwise we might have lost an entire days worth of sampling which could have left us five to ten farms behind schedule. All because I just assumed and didn’t properly explain myself. So my lesson for the past few weeks has been to speak slowly and to verbalise my thoughts because in fact people can’t read my mind.

We have been pretty much working non stop since we got here. The work is pretty labour intensive. Our day begins around 6:00 am and usually with a run. Our running route is along the tarmac heading roughly south west with Mount Kenya and the rising sun to our right and a little behind us. Usually the mountain is shrouded in mist but every now and then it can be seen peeking through the clouds. It is roughly 5500 ft and is the remnant of a once active volcano, now long dormant. It is the home of the Kikuyu god Ngai, which is one of the traditional deities of Kenya, although now it seems most everyone is Christian with a smattering of Muslim. Whichever spirit lives there, it must be laughing at us as we pant and wheeze along the foothills of its home. At home in Atlantic Canada, most of the landscape is barely above sea level in some places. In Kenya the average altitude is1500 to 1600 feet above sea level and boy can we feel the oxygen depravation while running. I now understand why Kenyans are able to run so fast. Although running for the sake of running isn’t at all common here. In the mornings we are the only ones out for exercise. Everyone else is sauntering along at a leisurely pace, on their way to work or dropping off their daily milk quota. The locals greet us cordially as we pass, but usually with a grin and a chuckle at how odd we look jogging down the road. However do not be deceived. These people are some of the most in shape people I have ever come across. In the rural areas of Ichamara and Murkurwe-ini where we are staying, the terrain is excessively hilly and all of the farms are nestled on the slopes which in some cases are nearly vertical. The farmers and their families walk these slopes multiple times a day, every day of their lives, to bring water and food to their family. All part of the daily routine for them. One lady took pity on us and decided to help us (typical Kenyan generosity) back to the combi with our crate of medical supplies. She took the crate (which is between 20-30 lbs and very awkward), placed it on her head and proceeded to walk the entire way back to the combi. It was easily a 20 minute walk and mostly uphill. I was in awe to say the least.

The rest of our day consist of as many farm visits as we can fit in before the sun goes down which I at 6:30 sharp. Dawn and dusk are not drawn out here like they are at home. They happen very quickly so that sometimes you are working away in the daylight and all of a sudden you are working in the dark and are not certain what happened. The farms are becoming increasingly far apart and so a good portion of our day is spent bumping along the Kenyan dirt roads. Some of the potholes are quite impressive and it seems sometimes like we drive into one and come out the next. The scenery is lush and green and everywhere you look is bananas. However the bananas are smaller than they are at home and much tangier and tastier I think. When we leave a farm, the owners will often send us away with a large bunch of bananas. We eat bananas with absolutely everything. Bananas in our cereal, bananas with our lunch, banana smoothies, bananas for a snack, banana sandwiches. I think I may turn into a banana before the summer is through. When we arrive on the farm, we have to ask permission of the people that we can carry out our research before we begin. We’ve only had one person turn us down thus far. It’s really in their best interest because they get free dewormer, free preg checks, free consultation, as well as any information we get concerning parasite load and mastitis in their herd. Everyone is very nice and very welcoming. This weekend we went to the Sweetwaters park and went on a safari. We just got back today. It was a wonderful and much needed break. The plains of Africa are just as beautiful as I’d imagined and just as full of animals. I find it incredible that all of these bizarre and exotic creatures can exist all in one place. We saw zebras, baboons, elephants, giraffes, gazelles, impalas, Elans, water buffalo, rhinos, and lots of different species of birds. My favorite was the maribu stork. He lives around the watering hole next to the tented village where we stayed. He is very social and will come right up to you to watch you eat your food. I suspect that he is used to getting for from people. He is about four feet tall and looks like he has a wing span of about five feet. The other girls thought he was incredibly ugly. His crop is red and wrinkly and hangs down over his keel like a deflated balloon. And he is bald like a vulture with a very large and impressive beak. I decided his name was George.

Now we are back at Ichamara to finish up our sampling. The end of the week will see us on the road again. This time we will be heading to Meru to stay with the UPEI nursing students who are also here in Kenya for the summer. Until we meet again!

Laura B.

Handwashing and Menstruation

UPEI Nursing Students- Amy Somers, Allison MacDonald, Stephanie Barlow and Jillian Grady

Today was our first school visit. We went to the Ruuju Primary School, which goes from nursery to standard 8 (which is similar to preschool up to grade 8). Allison and Jillian did the hand washing presentations and Amy and Stephanie did the menstruation presentations. Both were a huge success. We had positive feedback from the school staff and students.

Farmers Helping Farmers generously supplied each adolescent girl with reusable menstrual pads. Disposable sanitary napkins are available but are very expensive. When girls are on their periods, they may use rags or pieces of mattress as a pad. Many girls stay home from school when they are menstruating because they do not have sanitary napkins available. The reusable pads are pieces of cotton sewn together. They can be washed, dried, and reused. If cared for properly, they can last for over a year. Stephanie and Amy demonstrated how to use and clean the pads and presented each girl with a package containing 8 pads. The girls were very appreciative because this product allows them attend school continuously and be more active. The girls had many questions that Steph and Amy were able to answer for them. Information about menstruation, hygiene during menstruation, and HIV was also discussed. The girls were very interactive and were happy to have this information presented to them. There were many giggles when Steph and Amy demonstrated how to apply the pads to the underwear! One of the teachers said that the pads would make a very big difference in the girls’ lives.

While Stephanie and Amy were meeting with the girls, Jillian and Allison began the hand washing demonstrations. Again, Farmers Helping Farmers generously donated a huge box of soap to the school. The students came to the hand washing station and Allison and Jillian explained why frequent and thorough hand washing is important. The kids knew to wash their hands before they eat, after they visit the washroom, and after they cough or sneeze. The proper hand washing technique was demonstrated and the kids followed along. Then they got a turn to wash with the soap that was provided. Part way through the demonstration, we ran out of water, but the kids continued to practice the technique. The staff at Ruuju Primary were very accommodating and helped to translate our presentation to the younger children that have not yet learned much English.

Overall, we had a really great day and were happy to have the opportunity to positively influence the health of the students at Ruuju Primary School. We will be doing similar presentations to three more schools over the next two months, and look forward to meeting all of the children. Thank you to Farmers Helping Farmers. Without their generosity, these projects would not be possible.

The Fruits of Our Labour

At long last an update from the nutrition team.

We cannot believe that it has almost already been a whole month since we landed in Nairobi. The last four weeks have been a blur of data collection, excel spread sheets, and emails from Jennifer Taylor. This past week, we have finally been able to see our hard work pay off. We conducted our first lunch program feedback session with Kamuketha Primary School and our first family healthy eating seminar with the mothers of Ruuju’s nursery class.
The feedback session went really well. The staff at Kamuketha were very eager to learn and were very receptive of our recommendations. We were able to come up with several concrete goals to help improve the nutritional quality of both the uji and githeri they are serving their students. The children in nursery to standard 4 are really enjoying their uji with milk thanks to Farmers Helping Farmers. We talked to a couple of standard 2 students who were going to be very sad when they have to graduate to standard 5 and no longer have milk in their uji. Although this is one of the newest Farmers Helping Farmers schools, their garden is looking great and is providing vegetables for the githeri and is looking better and better each visit. The staff is very excited and enthused to be using crops from their garden to directly impact the health of their students. They are starting to grow pumpkins for the githeri and since our feedback session will now try to grow sorghum and cow peas to add to the uji flour. Although we got a lot done during our visit we took time to hang out with the children. They tried their very hardest to teach us Swahili but all we were able to mumble (with wrong pronunciation) was “jina langu ni Kaylynne or Christina” (My name is). Once they figured out we were hopeless Swahili speakers, they tried to teach as how to play marbles which was also unsuccessful. Needless to say they spent the whole morning laughing at us. Hopefully they still think our nutrition advice is credible.
We started the day with butterflies in our stomachs about our family healthy eating seminar. We were worried that the group of 30 women would not actively participate and care about what we were telling them. In the end our butterflies were all for nothing as the 100 plus women that ended up attending the session were wonderful. We could not have asked for a better first session. The group was really great at asking many smart questions and really loved to talk (even though we couldn’t understand it). They really listened to what we had to say and seemed to really value our expertise and knowledge. Although we believe they really enjoyed our seminar they seemed to be extremely appreciative and excited about any opportunity to learn how to better their families. It was really great to know that all of our hard work preparing for our session did not go to waste. We really had great time teaching so many women who were eager to learn about nutrition. Although it all ended really well, it was frustrating at times because this was our first Kenyan presentation through a translator. This meant we were not used to saying two short sentences and having a translator take 5 minutes to relay the message to the women. It also took some time to not get flustered by more and more women joining the group every few minutes with crying babies. Slowly, as more and more women trickled in every few minutes, our group of what was supposed to be around 30 women grew to over 100 women plus many many babies and small children. Any frustrations that we may have had went away when we got a standing ovation and a song sung along to us. You also know that you are greatly appreciated when you get a hand written card that says

"Ruuju Primary School Appreciation
Kelynne Parkers
No words can explain the kind of love you have shown to us. You are the people who have enlighted our community at large in many ways. May god bless you and give you long life to see the fruits of your labour. Thank you"

This alone really justifies all the long hours of work we have already put into our projects here and the hours that we will continue to put in over the next few months.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From Kirua to Cornwall

Hello again- Jen here (nutrition team),

I have now been home for just over 48 hours and the jet lag is subsiding. I have been wanting to write something about my experience in Kenya and how it feels to come home. I am finding it hard to know what to write. My two weeks in Kenya seem the equivalent of a month of experience. Or more! I find images flashing through my mind like a slide show- gardens, children’s smiles, donkees and cattles bracing against the weight of the carts and men they pull, boiling pots of githeris, bouncing in the combi, dust, laughing with Colleen, Jennifer M (mama Jen) and the students about fermented uji. And somehow those images don’t capture what my experience was. Not even my over 2000 pictures can capture the sights sounds and smells of my two weeks in Nairobi, Meru and Kirua.
It was so hard to leave last Friday morning and leave my students behind for the summer. Travelling, living together, working together and learning together for 2 weeks and then having to leave was difficult. Tears started to come while I hugged them one last time- managed to keep from crying until I was in the combi. The last thing they needed was a howling professor! I stopped sniffling after Colleen told Steve to put on Kenyan music to cheer me up.
Soon we were rolling along looking at the beautiful scenery for the last time. After driving for 2 hours, we stopped at Karatina Central Farmers Market, the largest produce market in Eastern Africa. Colleen recommended it, and she was right: what an amazing place. (I tell myself that next time I want to spend at least ½ day there!). There is an amazing array of fresh produce- cored pineapples, paw-paws, pumpkins, greens- you name it. All are hawking their wares. I want dried maize and beans to make githeri when I return home and Colleen guides me through the organized chaos. We go to a woman’s display and pick out what we need- she seems a bit surprised to see me asking for these staple Kenyan ingredients. (Colleen told me that she always tries to buy from a woman, and one that seems to need the business the most- I plan to do the same). I gave the woman a tip and get a great picture of us together. We then spy some arrowroot at another booth and I ask permission for a picture. The woman is cranky and roars “you pay”! I am more than willing to, but she is definitely the pushiest and grouchiest person I have seen in Kenya. I found that the vast majority of Kenyans I met to be gentle, soft spoken and very hard working. We smile at each other, and move on with a woman who is telling us to “come to my shop where photos are free”. Truly amazing displays of baskets, purses, jewellery and wooden carved animals. Colleen tries to weave a part of a basket which takes the woman a week to make. I spent most of my remaining shillings and Colleen and I realize we don’t have much cash left and had promised Steve our driver we would treat him to lunch! No Interac here! Thankfully samosas and sausages are very cheap and we all get our bellies full.
We approach Nairobi and soon see cars and graduates coming out of Kenyatta University. Proud families, graduates in their regalia with tinsel around their neck- and, suddenly, the most chaotic huge traffic jam I have ever seen. Combine a graduation where the President of Kenya is speaking and massive highway construction of 9 lanes of traffic, crazy matatus (taxis) and you have an indescribable mess! There are at least 3 (sort of) lines of traffic on our side, a wide ditch area, and 2 or 3 lines of traffic going in the opposite direction. Even our driver looks very concerned. We had lots of time to get our flight (note- always add an extra 2-4 hours!), but Steve is concerned that we could sit for hours in the dust and heat. Hawkers walk between the rows of cars buses and matatus- candy, pop, toys, etc. Crazy matatu drivers cut out and drive sideways along the ditch trying to get ahead. Colleen and I hold our breath when we see a large bus (greyhound size) matatu turn and head down the side of the ditch in an effort to go in the opposite direction and get out of the traffic jam. That it didn’t roll is some sort of miracle. I did see a bunch of men pushing a large red bus back upright that obviously did start to roll. Suddenly the traffic breaks and we start to sail along. We are giddy with relief. I snap a few photos of the hundreds of people walking from graduation. We run into several other slow downs but eventually get to Henry’s office (head of Safari tours). He takes us to his Safari club where Colleen and I have a HOT shower with a WARM towel and a cold beer by the pool. Ahhhhhhh. Colleen teases me that I questioned the need to shower before going to the airport. Boy, was I wrong- we are hot and dusty. We have a great dinner at the Java restaurant (full of hip young Kenyans- what a contrast!) and head to the airport. Several traffic jams later and we are hugging Henry goodbye. I am so thankful that Farmers Helping Farmers has a partnership with this man- seeing his tall frame in the suit and shiny shoes and wide smile just makes you feel safe and well looked after. He even has a gift for us- coffee, tea and macadamia nuts. I am remembering the first night when he shepherded us through the bustling Nairobi airport and took us to our hotel. Seems like forever ago. I was sad to leave him and told him I would be back. And I will.
Everything was at least an hour late leaving on the way home, but we make it. We hug our families and head home. I am driving my little van again but feeling like I have a bad hangover.
Now that I am home with my family I have a strange mix of emotions. I can’t get over the hot water running from my kitchen tap, the many plugs and fast-er internet. We ate very well there, and I got to cook the final week at the sisters, so the only big difference is a larger oven and my dear red Kitchen Aid mixer. My cats are incredibly soft, clean and fluffy... and overfed. Pets were virtually non-existent where I was: most animals were working and working hard. I even saw a few skinny camels. But I am growing impatient with my boys. I made my “Who hash” ( from Dr Seuss of course) with new potatoes, carrots and Farmer’s market sausages. When one son whines a bit that it isn’t their favourite, I start ranting about kids with only one meal a day and gobbling up porridge without complaint. I catch my older (teen) son imitating me to his friend later on, and I chew his ear off. It is hard to go from seeing Kenyan women who work tirelessly without complaint growing food, carrying wood, water and babies, children smiling at me in spite of swollen bellies from protein deficiency, children in school uniforms walking on dusty roads to school at 645 a.m. some of whom get only one meal a day, and then see my children with IPODS, cell phones, fancy clothes and soft beds. But I have luxuries too. And I enjoyed my luxuries while in Kenya- Sweetwater game park, Henry’s Safari club and more. I am realizing that the best thing I can do is try and educate and sensitize my kids, and support my nutrition students Kaylynne and Christina who are still there. They are still over there, working hard. And they will be able to do nutrient analysis of school meals and make recommendations to make the porridge healthier (whole grain rather than polished maize, adding milk and drought resistant crops like finger millet) and make the githeri more nutritious (soaking maize and beans, adding pumpkin and other drought resistant crops). They will be working directly with leaders in the Muchui and Ruuju women’s groups to improve family nutrition and infant feeding. They will work with the children’s orphanage to improve the nutritional quality of the uji and ugali fed to the tiny infants. If anyone can do it, those girls can. I told my Department Chair Kathy Gottschall Pass and our Dietetic Internship Coordinator Linda Smith yesterday how proud I am of our students. By the end of the summer, they will have already made a difference and will have so much to share with us when they return. And I have promised them a celebration!
I already feel very attached to Kenya and see so much opportunity to improve the health of mothers and their children. It is all about women, water and food....I want to raise funds to support more cookhouses and feeding programs for schools, since so many children are affected. Head masters told us that children are more likely to attend school and do well when they have a healthy meal there. The story about the Village Feast fundraiser in the Guardian this week has so much meaning for me now- I have seen the cookhouses and dining halls supported by this initiative and I wonder if the people who organize and attend that event know how profound and lasting their impact is. Wish I had been here to attend- maybe next year. I am also wondering how I can get Colleen Walton to come with me every time (a wealth of knowledge and support for me this trip). Thanks for convincing me to come (“oh persuasive one”) and putting up with me as a roomie and chatterbox, Colleen. And thanks to you, Theresa Ken Winston and all the Farmers Helping Farmers members for all the groundwork they have laid which made it possible for us to do nutrition work. It is quite amazing to be in a developing country and see that PEI is such a major player in improving the lives of Kenyans. And thanks to Kim and Kevin for the support and laughs...shall we meet again in Kenya?

This has been a long blog- I guess I did have something I needed to write! For now, kwaheri ya kuonana, Kenya (good-bye, we will see each other again).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Nutrition and Nursing visit the womens groups

Today both the nutrition and nursing teams met with the Muchui and Ruuju Womens Groups executives. Dr. Kim presented at the continuing education session to St. Teresas staff at 7:45 and afterwards we all headed to Ruuju after a brief stint at the Nakumatt; printing program plans and checking emails on amazingly fast internet!

Ruuju Women were waiting for us and after introducing the members of the partnership network, consisting of Farmers Helping Farmers, Ruuju Women and the University of Prince Edward Island, we settled into discussing the details of dates and times for the work with the women, schools and communities. Everyone had a tour of the amazing Ruuju school garden, and in the final stages of the meeting in the dining hall, had the pleasure of the noisy din of many little voices enjoying their morning uji (porridge).

A similar meeting at the Muchui Business centre was held in the afternoon, with support from Salome and Martin and everyone also enjoying a tour of the bustling green houses. For me, it was the culmination of many hours of investigating, dreaming and planning. Seeing it all come together and everyone feeling great and is just fabulous!

The new Muchui members, all forty of them, were invited to greet us guests. The appear to be a bright and energetic group which can be anticipated to really enhance the group.

Muchui women are expecting TC (tissue culture) banana plants in early August, which they will grow-up for sale in the rains beginning in October. The students have arranged with Salome to join with the women in the labour of transplanting to gain a better understanding of what is involved with growing plants at the nursery and how hard these women work to support the business centre endeavour.

Colleen Walton
June 30,2010