By Wendy MacDonald
Dear friends of Farmers Helping Farmers,
Since our last newsletter, our lives have changed profoundly, and with the discovery of two cases of COVID-19 in Meru County in late May, the lives of our Kenyan staff and farm families are beginning to see major changes as well. The future is unclear – but we can say, with certainty, that FHF’s work of the past six months has put our Kenyan partners in a far stronger situation to cope with whatever lies ahead. And we are optimistic that this vital work will continue.
Two elements have been critical to our progress since last fall – our new federally funded project, More Food, Better Food: Empowering Kenyan Women Farmers, and your record-breaking support for FHF’s Holiday Campaign, needed to match federal funds.
In November, Teresa Mellish and John VanLeeuwen visited Kenya and signed agreements with seven new women’s groups, three new dairies, four new schools, and the Meru County government. They also distributed solar lamps to every member of the seven new groups. During November, our Kenyan staff began the work of placing water tanks at the home of every member of the new women’s groups, as described more fully later in this newsletter by Teresa. Because of this work, 400 families are more self-sufficient and more food secure – increasing their ability to shelter safely at home while they must.
Our work continued with the annual tour by FHF volunteers in January and February. Three busy weeks later, much had been accomplished, as described in several of the articles below. All 400 members of the new women’s groups had received bookkeeping training or a refresher from Lynn Townshend and Teresa.
John and the three vet students – Ashley, Angelina, and Krystina – had worked to boost milk production and cow health through both training seminars, and direct care and treatment of cows. Ken Mellish also delivered dairy nutrition training, and oversaw the launch of new forage choppers at several dairies.
We welcomed a new staff member, human nutritionist James Mutahi, who worked with Colleen to train nutrition Champs in our new women’s groups, and to design and deliver nutrition training to women’s groups, dairy clubs, and school parents.
Team members Peter Townshend, Kendra Thurston, and Ken Mellish designed and constructed a prototype potato sprayer with help from our staff and local tradespersons, essential to a current FHF proposal for innovation funding. As President, I had the pleasure of getting to know many of the new partners, better understanding their aims and needs, and building our relationships with them.
We returned to Canada in mid-February. Shortly afterwards, as concern about the pandemic mounted, our pre-service teachers and our two education volunteers cut their stay short and returned safely to PEI. Our Kenyan staff continued their work, focusing on completing water tank installation, and delivering dairy and nutrition training. In mid-March, the first shoe fell, with the identification of Kenya’s first known COVID-19 case. We immediately directed our staff to stop any work involving gatherings, and to place priority on the water tanks and on work that increased food security for families, such as seedling nurseries, vegetable grow bags, and planting of lucerne plots at dairy farms.
In late May, the second shoe fell with the identification of two cases of COVID-19 in Meru County. Our staff had put in long hours and showed tremendous dedication in getting project work underway, significantly protecting our project families against COVID-19. As we are committed to their safety as well as the safety of the families with whom they work, we have directed our staff to work from home until further notice. During this period, their work will include advice and messaging to farmers via cellphone. We are hopeful that on-farm work can resume in the medium term, and that gatherings and group training will become possible again in the longer term.
Here at home, FHF is also adapting to our changing circumstances. Board and committee work has shifted online, and we plan to take this approach to our AGM in July as well.
Unfortunately, Zoom won’t work for the annual barbecue, or the Gold Cup parade! With regret, we are deferring those events as well as our planned 40th anniversary celebrations to 2021. As we won’t be able to gather in person, we will work harder to keep in touch with you in other ways. We plan to send you short monthly updates, each highlighting a particular area of our work. We will seek your input to help us put together the story of our first 40 years, and to share photos and information about your involvement in FHF. Later this year, we will also be reaching out to you for your support of our annual Holiday Campaign, which becomes more important than ever with the cancellation of our other fundraisers this year.
In the longer term, we remain optimistic. We have laid a solid foundation, and now we have some time to reflect, rethink, adapt, and renew. As the pandemic evolves, we hope to be back in Kenya, stronger than ever.
By Wendy MacDonald
Dear friends of Farmers Helping Farmers,
Next year, 2020, will mark our 40th anniversary– and we are looking forward to celebrations at home, and at stepping up to an even broader scope and scale of work in Kenya to help farm families change their lives for the better. It’s your support and involvement that makes this possible.
You’ve helped make it a great summer for Farmers Helping Farmers – as the stories in this newsletter demonstrate. At our AGM, in June, our annual awards recognized some of our many wonderful volunteers and supporters. In July, the Souris Village Feast was a rousing success, raising funds for more cookhouses and school gardens at Kenyan schools.
In August, our Annual Beef Barbecue had such great take-up that we ran out of tickets – but thanks to our volunteers and supporters, we didn’t run out of food! A week later, at the Gold Cup Parade, we had a warm response from the crowd for our float showing a shamba and water tank setup. In September, we gratefully received donations
from a range of supporter events including Hamilton Heritage Days and the Three Oaks Run. We thank you for your involvement in these events and your contributions in many other ways.
(L to R) Colleen Walton, outgoing FHF President, and Wendy MacDonald, FHF President
Our summer and fall also saw much hard work by FHF board and committee members to move our organization forward on multiple fronts. Earlier this fall, after a two-year proposal process, FHF signed an agreement with Global Affairs Canada for a four-year project with $1 million in federal funding. The project, More Food, Better Food: Empowering Kenyan Women Farmers, will combine the full range of our proven approaches to improve food security and nutrition of hundreds more farm families. We expect that the details of the project will be formally announced in the coming months. Meantime, work is already underway to develop a plan, establish agreements with a range of partners, hire additional staff in Kenya, purchase water tanks and solar lamps, and gather baseline data.
More Food, Better Food will require us to attain a new level of volunteer involvement and donor support. Over the four years, 49 volunteers will be needed for three week placements in Kenya, and over $250,000 will need to be raised to contribute FHF’s share of the project’s cash needs. Please take a look at the volunteer ad on the following page, and/or consider donating to the Holiday Campaign. For eligible items, your donation will be multiplied five-fold with matching federal funds.
Education is at the heart of long-term progress, and our important work continues to foster school twinning arrangements, build global awareness among Island students, and make Kenyan schools more safe and inclusive. A number of new twinning arrangements are being put in place, and new online and video approaches are being explored to complement traditional letter exchanges and more fully engage today’s generation of students.
Lots will be happening before our next newsletter! Please stay abreast of events by visiting our Facebook page, following us on Twitter, and reading blogs by our students and volunteers- see page 6 for contact details. Again, thanks for your interest in our work. You make it possible.
Wendy MacDonald, President, Farmers Helping Farmers
by Colleen Walton
As we roll slowly into the spring, I reflect on the incredible community of supporters of our work with Kenyan Farm families. The annual January trip found 13 volunteers and students in Kenya working as trainers in agriculture, book keeping and dairy herd management. Their efforts enhance the year-round work of our Kenyan staff in building skills and knowledge for rural Kenyan farmers in order that they may enhance their agricultural production, reduce their level of poverty and improve their overall quality of life. In addition to training, FHF prides ourselves in the ability to provide critical items that allow farmers to make the most of their new knowledge and for schools to become better places for children’s learning. Much of the fundraising for these critical items comes from our annual Christmas campaign.
We are grateful for the long-term support of people in PEI and beyond and I would like to share the impact that these contributions have on Kenyan farm families. With almost $50,000 raised in our Christmas campaign, Farmers Helping Farmers will positively impact the lives of roughly 1500 individuals in their farm households and a further 4500 children in schools in Kenya. Water tanks will be installed on the home of 20 families which will save the girls and women countless hours of carrying water from distant sources. This increases the chance that the girls will continue in school and enables the women farmers to spend more time and energy on productive farm work and caring for their family. As well, almost 100 households will have the materials to grow vegetables in small spaces with vegetable grow bags, good quality seeds and a pitchfork to make compost for good soil. Vegetables are just as important for healthy children in Kenya as in Canada, but in Kenya most rural household must grow their own vegetables or do without.
As part of our work with schools in Kenya, FHF provides the opportunity for PEI schools to twin with Kenyan schools. From the Christmas campaign, 15 Kenyan schools will receive funds for books. This means that roughly 4500 school children will have access to new books to enhance their learning. The donation of funds for solar lights will help an additional 46 students study at night and provide light in their homes without using costly and dangerous kerosene. As well, these solar lights can be used to charge a cell phone which otherwise would cost the farmer both time and money to charge it at a local phone kiosk.
One school, in a particularly dry and rocky area, will receive milk for their roughly 50 younger students for the year. These children will be served their morning uji (porridge) made with milk as opposed to the usual water. This makes the uji incredibly more nutritious for these young minds and bodies. This nutritious uji sets these students up for a good learning day at school and, fast forward, for a greater chance of success and ability to help break the cycle of poverty in Kenya.
I assure you that 100% of your donations are going straight to Kenya. In fact, items are being purchased, distributed and installed by our Kenyan staff as you read this newsletter.
Thank you once again to all our volunteers and donors for your support and confidence that FHF is working hard to make sustainable change in the lives of Kenyan farm families.
by Colleen Walton
It has been another exciting and eventful year with Farmers Helping Farmers. Volunteers and students travelled to Kenya to work with farmers, women’s groups and schools in many ways, but with one goal - to sustainably improve the lives of Kenyan communities, families and children.
This summer it was particularly exciting to share in the 10th anniversary celebration of Souris Village Feast. FHF recognized their contribution to building cookhouses and, as consequences, improving the health and education of the students at Kenyan twinned school. FHF has the support of many many individuals and organizations and I would like to thank you all for your continued support for the important work in Kenya.
The year-round work of countless volunteers in PEI is central to FHF’s important impacts in Kenya. Without your work at the BBQ, selling crafts, participating in a committee, leading a committee or sitting on the Board, FHF would not be the strong organization that it is, nor, most importantly, be able to support the development of our Kenyan partner communities. It is an honour to be president of Farmers Helping Farmers and I want to thank you all for your time, expertise and commitment.
As we move toward Christmas please remember the FHF Holiday Campaign in your gift giving and the needs in Kenya to build stronger and more resilient communities.
I encourage you to read more about FHF’s work and celebrations in our Fall Newsletter and be proud to be part of this organization.