Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On the trail of the OSP! (Orange flesh sweet potato) In late 2010 potato breeders within a large international project released news of OSP varieties for east Africa. Consumption of these high beta-carotene tubers can help alleviate vitamin A deficiency. In these countries white fleshed sweet potatoes are common, but do not have the benefits of vitamin A for fighting diseases and good eye sight. Fast on the heels of this news, Susan MacKinnon and Shaad Olingo received cuttings of varieties and introduced them to Ruuju and Muchui womens groups in Kenya. Women agreed to first multiply the vines and then to distribute vines to women farmers and local schools so they could grow tubers. Today we saw the fruit of their labour at KK Ndege Primary School. Together with Mwenda, the Muchui horticulturist, a small portion of the schools crop was harvested. The UPEI nutrition student interns oversaw the harvest and dashed to the kitchen to wash and chop the tubers. The cook was a willing participant and OSP were added to the githeri right then and there! KK students found the githeri ‘sweet’ and our feeling was pretty sweet as well. Colleen Walton, May 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

Crossing Borders: 2012 Business Team Completes First Week

Jambo! Janell
here from the Business Team. On Monday (May 21) we all left Nairobi in the morning (9ish) and travelled 225 km to reach Meru....7 hours later! Huge culture shock day – EVERYTHING was soooo much different than PEI! We made a few stops along the way, at a little market on the side of the road for fruit, for rice at a small town, for special bean seeds to give the farmers (they are supposed to grow taller, so they produce 2x the amount of beans), and for lunch (samosas) at the Isaak Walton. On the drive we were on “speed bump” road – the government put a lot of speed bumps along the road, as 4-5 people were getting hit by speeding vehicles each day. The landscape was incredible - I have never seen anything like it before! Banana trees, coffee trees, tea bushes, and surprisingly everything is so green (they were having issues with a lack of rain, but then they had too much rain so they experienced some flooding and washout issues). People live and walk everywhere, and in the afternoon all of the children walk home from school. I saw so many kids that were so little walking home alone or with 1-2 other kids. It was so overwhelming, and hard to believe what people live in. Animals (goats/cows/donkeys) are tied to the side of the road (usually by their feet) because many people don’t have land to feed them...the people then cut down grass with machetes and carry it to the animals on their backs. The animals are much smaller, and all animals serve a purpose. Dogs are there to catch rats, cats to catch mice, etc. We finally drove into Meru – the main road is paved but all of the other roads are dirt/gravel (by the way, men chip rock to make gravel here). It is pretty crazy, not many people have cars – it’s walking, biking, donkeys, matatus (bus like vans), and a few tractors. At all of the ATMs there are 2 men/women with machine guns (to protect you if you take money out). Almost all of the buildings would be classified as shacks on PEI and are painted in advertisements. We got to our place (we are staying in Meru for a week), a home of a wealthy Kenyan – Jenn. She is super nice. Her place has 4 bedrooms, and the walls are decorated really crazy (coca cola posters, rock animals on the wall, UPEI posters, pictures, etc) Jenn (she likes to be called Mama Jenn) has a nice little yard and a rock wall with glass shards on the top of the wall to keep people out. At night she hires 2 guards (because a lot of people in the community know that we are here) – they have machine guns and they let us get a picture with them and their guns when we take them out supper. Cultural Differences A few things that I saw that were pretty crazy: • We saw 2 guards with their guns walking 2 prisoners down the street. The prisoners didn’t seem to have any handcuffs, and they were carrying machetes (I assume to do work) • They don’t have a garbage system, so all garbage is either burned or left on the street • At our place there is no hot water, but we do have electricity! You have to boil water to wash dishes and the shower has a small heater in the shower head...in the shower there is no drain, just a hole in the tile that lets the water run outside! • Our names are hard to pronounce...Edward is “headward gambo” and people are very confused when I say my name! • Little boys going to/from school carrying machetes Muchui & Ruuju On Tuesday we drove out to Kiirua (where we will be living after next week), it is more rural, and I like it a lot better. The people are extremely kind. We met our first Muchui women at her shop, and she took us to our home and gave us all juice. We then went to Margaret’s to see her greenhouse (the greenhouses are shared by 4 women). They were soo nice, we got pictures with 3 of the ladies and they would rub my cheeks/chin and hair. They loved getting their picture taken! There were a few little kids around, but one of them appeared to have malaria. After stopping at another farm, we went to the Muchui Business Centre (where we will be working a few days a week). We are going to be working with horticulturists and the manager – Festus, Gikundi, Mwenda, Wilson, Emanuel, and Shaad. They are all really nice, helpful, and extremely smart. They know so much about the crops, Kenya, weather, etc., so I think I’m going to learn a lot. They are all really curious about Canada crops and animals, especially the university students. The road to the Centre is completely washed out...no way a vehicle could ever get up there! On Wednesday we went to Ruuju, the other women group we will be working with. We went to the school – 521 children - who came out to see us and sang us some songs. They are all so beautiful and curious, and love to shake your hand and get a photo with you! We went to the school garden (which is grown to give the children lunch), and then we had lunch at the school – they made us Mookamoo (no idea how to spell it) – a potato/banana mash that is very tasty! We then went to a few farms around Ruuju and drove home in the afternoon! We had another Kenyan dish for supper – Ugali – it also tasted really good! We also did yoga in the evening when we got back home! Elephant Crossing On Thursday (May 24) we went for a walk around Meru to see a really neat waterfall just outside the town. We met with Salome, a university student who we will be working with regarding the Muchui Business Centre – she is extremely nice! After that we walked down to the Nakumat for lunch! We then were on the way to Kiirua when we spotted 3 elephants on the side of the road!!! They were sooo beautiful, just grazing on the side of the road. They generally cross the road between Meru and Kiirua every evening to head up to Mount Kenya, it was crazy! One of the elephants was extremely large with long tusks, while the other ones were a bit smaller! We got to watch them for a while, and then they started to head up to the mountain. We picked up Festus (the business centre manager) and went to Lucy’s Farm – a beautiful 20 acre farm and dairy. Lucy, the owner sells to Marks and Spencer (a high end grocery store in the UK), so it was interesting to see a more wealthy farm. For supper we had mokimo (a traditional Kenyan dish of potato, banana, beans..), meatballs and kale! We have been working hard with Colleen and Dr Ed and will have more to report later!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

2012 Nutrition Team Completes First Week!

Jambo! Dr Jenny and Fergie here from the 2012 Nutrition team! It has been a very busy and exciting week for the 2012 Nutrition and Business UPEI AUCC/CIDA Students for Development teams. We had hoped to post this sooner but had very limited access to email this week. And then we posted this blog under a new name by mistake and it didn't show up here! Sorry about that! We had a very good rest at Fairview Hotel in Nairobi on Sat and Sun nights. Wonderful food, hot showers and a few even jumped in the pool (it was a little chilly). Everyone agreed how useful it was to rest after a very long and rather bumpy trip but were eager to head to Meru for our work. When we left Nairobi, Colleen and I noticed a huge improvement in the highway since last year- the expansion is almost complete. We got out of Nairobi very quickly, but then a rather long ride to Meru. We stopped for lunch near Embu and it took a very long time to get served. Jennifer Murogocho, our wonderful host in Meru, was ready with a delicious hot meal when we arrived about 430 p.m. on Monday. Delicious beef stew, cabbage and kales and rice. She has a beautiful Kenyan house and was so welcoming towards us Canadians! Started Tuesday with a bang: Haley (one of the business students) was sick to her stomach. Worse yet, it was her birthday! She slept for awhile, got up and got dressed- a real trooper. We suspected that it was something she had eaten as I had some grumbles too… but not sure what it was. We had a very hot day today for our first visits to farms. We were baking in the sun walking up a hill from Margaret to Joyce’s farm. I ended up going back to Meru with Haley who was not feeling well while the others remained and went to visit Muchui women’s farms. I worked with Jennifer to prepare some Thai chicken, mango salad and guacamole with the wonderful produce we had purchased as we left Nairobi. When the rest of the team returned, Sam was sick to her stomach- likely from too much sun. This was in spite of dressing properly, using sun screen and drinking water. I had bought a fan for Haley at the Nakumatt-which I then put in Sam’s room. Well worth the $43 it since it really improves the air circulation in the back bedrooms at Jennifer’s. Since Tues, Haley is fully recovered, but several of us have ‘the runs’ which we have nicknamed ‘Terry’ as in ‘dysentery’ J But nothing too serious and we are all eating and drinking lots. Dr John warned Jen T. that it would happen, but I was seriously spoiled with no one having any sickness in 2010 and 2011. Being in Meru was a real culture shock for us. On Tuesday we saw a lot. We visited a few farms and went to the Muchui Business Centre. I expected it to be really different here but I think its hard to believe how different it really is until you are here. On Wednesday we went to Ruuju which is about a 45min drive from where we will be staying this summer. The first thing we did was go to Ruuju school which was amazing!! All the kids came running from their classes as soon as they saw us arriving in the Combi! They all sang for us and then all wanted to shake our hand and get their pictures taken. It was such a great feeling to be there. I can’t wait to go back. We met the head master Julius, who is studying for his degree in education, but made a special trip to greet us and understand what our work would be for the summer. We then walked to and saw another few farms that day. All the women love showing you their farms as they are very proud of them. Thursday was the first day with the Champs! In 2010 and 2011, Kaylynne Parkes, Christina Tucker, Amy Rawlinson and Harrison Blizzard worked with ‘champs’, who were women who were good cooks and good farmers, and therefore ideal educators and role models for other women in the community. We met with the Muchui champs in the morning: 5 original champs from 2010 and also 5 new champs for 2012. It was the first time using a translator, but Sam did just fine. The women all seemed just as happy to be there. We went over a few of the things we were going to try and work on with them this summer, including using orange sweet potatoes, which have been growing successfully this winter through the support of Farmers Helping Farmers. We were also hoping that we would be able to convince them to drink their tea after their meals as when they drink it with the meals the oxalates in the tea prevent some nutrients from being absorbed. They all laughed at us when we told them about this. It just goes to show how different it is here and the customs that they have. We will meet with the Ruuju champs next week. In the afternoon the nutrition students worked on transferring files from previous years work and doing short schedules for the women’s groups and the schools. It was nice just to sit at Mama Jen’s and work. We had quite a few laughs, some at Jen’s expense! One thing that was really funny was there was a gecko and Sam went to pick it up and its tail fell off but the tail kept moving. We all had a good laugh!! I got to take dinner to the guards that night and got a picture with them. It was pretty cool and really makes us feel very safe. Friday morning we were up early to pack up the Combi and we're on our way to Sweet Water Game Park! We make a quick stop at the hospital residence where we will be staying for the rest of the summer to drop off our stuff. It’s a really beautiful place and much nicer than we expected. We got to meet Sister Naomi and Sister Mary and they said they will have a dinner for us on Sunday night when we get back. We also went to KK Ndgege school on the way. The purpose of this was to check out the cookhouse and the school feeding programs as they are new this year. They have a wonderful garden where they get the vegetables to make the food for the children each day (each child gets two meals each day at school, ugi and githeri. Jen says the garden is amazing compared to the tiny plot last year. They started growing OSP (orange sweet potatoes) and they picked a few today, they were HUGE! All of us nutrition students were amazed by them and I think the Kenyans thought we were a little crazy! We asked if they would add them into the githeri today as they are sooo nutritious and would be very good for the students. They agreed so we worked with Dorcas, a wonderful teacher at KK, and the cook to wash them, cut them and added them to the githeri for the first time! It was really cool. I guess you may have to be in nutrition to see the awesomeness of that!
We are relaxing at Sweet Water right now which is a game park. The animals here are crazy! The roof in the Combi pops up so we can stand up and see out. Saw lots of elephants, giraffes, monkeys, zebras, impala, attabeast, ostrich, water buffalos and many more animals! We were able to get so close to the elephants which was just so amazing. It’s a really nice resort that we are staying at and the rooms are like tents but really fancy! It sure feels like Africa being here. This year we have the privilege of joining with the Business team which includes Haley Beer, Janell MacDonald and Dr Edward Gamble. They have been learning a lot and have been just great to get to know them. It has also been great to meet up with the vet team: Jeff and Maureen, Morgan and Jennifer. They have been working very hard, and it is great to see familiar faces and hear about their work so far. They will have a separate blog here. Next week we start our work preparing for interviews with the Muchui and Ruuju women, and do our first nutritional assessment of the uji (breakfast porridge) and githeri (lunch maize and bean stew) at KK. We also hope to go to Meru General Hospital on Friday. Hello to all our friends and family, and especially to Farmers Helping Farmers members. We see your presence everywhere.