In the six months since our last newsletter, our world has changed profoundly.
Our hope that COVID-19 would pass fairly soon is changing to a realization that this pandemic will be with us for some time to come.
Here at home, even though PEI has done well and been fortunate so far, we have seen impacts and new stresses in all facets of our lives. In Meru County, Kenya, the coronavirus has also touched fairly lightly to date – but health protection measures and events elsewhere have heavily affected the lives of the Kenyan families with whom we work. Their words, as set out later in this newsletter, tell of impacts, pressures and fears that are often harsher than those we face.
But although much has changed, many important things stay the same.
Our commitment to working with Kenyan farm families has continued, with your support and the work of our Kenyan staff. That commitment has helped those families to stay safer, be more resilient, and live healthier lives. Every one of the supports provided to date – tanks, grow bags, cookstoves, lucerne plots, and solar lamps – has reduced the need for families to leave their farms for water, food, fuel, livestock fodder, and phone charging. These supports have also reduced the need to spend scarce income on those basic needs – critically important at a time when many of the family income earners have lost their paid employment. Cookhouses have been built and school gardens established at the five new project schools, as children return to school during this month.
Our Kenyan staff’s dedication to their work has continued strong, as they shifted their approach from training groups, to working with individual families. As they demonstrated compost-making, helped plant grow bags, delivered cookstoves, seeded demonstration plots of lucerne, and carried out participatory cooking demonstrations and nutrition training, they also provided face masks and health messages to keep those families safer. Recently, as Kenyan restrictions on group meetings eased, our staff have returned to the group training approach.
Our partners in PEI and beyond are also continuing strong, as they find new and creative ways to support and take part in our work. Thanks go to the Souris Village Feast for their online campaign in July in lieu of their annual steak and lobster feast, which raised money towards the wages of school gardeners at the thirteen cookhouses they have built thus far.
Thanks also go to Chef Emily Wells, who transformed her Harvest Luncheons into an equally delicious and acclaimed two-night Harvest Dinner event at the Mill.
In June, we received support from the Charlottetown Rotary Club to begin buying cookstoves for project families, and in July, we were surprised and heartened to receive an unexpected and significant donation from the Pindoff Family Foundation of Toronto in support of our More Food, Better Food project.
In our schools, in the midst of all the new challenges they face, twinning teachers are searching for new ways to maintain letter exchanges and contact with our twinned schools. The recently launched book Broken Crayons by long-time FHF member Patsy Dingwell tells a heartwarming story of generosity and sharing by the Kenyan students, reminding us why we do what we do. And our appreciation also goes to Global Affairs Canada for their responsiveness and flexibility as we worked to adapt our project plan and funding to the new environment we face.
Lastly, we are deeply grateful to our community of friends. Last year, our Holiday Campaign raised record funds, and this year, despite the difficult times, I hope for your continued support for our annual Holiday Campaign, which begins shortly.
With the need to cancel our annual Barbecue, the Holiday Campaign is more critical to our work than ever. New items eligible for matching include reusable sealed bags for safe storage of maize and beans, and fuel-efficient vented cookstoves.
Your donations are essential for us to meet our commitment to match our Global Affairs Canada funding of $1 million with FHF funds of $240,000; every dollar you give levers four more. But the impact goes beyond that. Your donations have always helped Kenyan farm families have a better life. Now, we are hearing that they reach beyond those families to help grandchildren sent from cities, other extended family, and neighbours, and they are helping all of them to not only do better but also stay safer. In short, your donation this year will make a bigger difference than ever to more people than before.
Meanwhile, FHF is also seeing some changes. In July, we held our Annual General Meeting, which included board renewal and awards. We thanked departing board members Reg MacDonald and Gerry McQuaid for their six years of board service, and their work including, respectively, Chair of the Finance Committee and Chair of the Fundraising Committee. Their contributions are more fully recognized in the awards article later in this newsletter. Our thanks go also to board member Janet Bysterveldt who stepped down in January. We welcomed new board members Charlene VanLeeuwen and Kendra Thurston, and Ron Herbert who had joined us in March. On the operations front, we adapted to virtual work over the spring and summer, and we have functioned for most of the year without paid administrative help, further focusing our resources on Kenya. Thanks go to coordinator Teresa Mellish and many other volunteers for taking on this additional work.
Looking forward, FHF will track and adapt to the changing situation in Kenya. We are exploring the possibility of a one-year project extension. We will also continue to recognize our 40th Anniversary, extended to 2021 due to Covid. This year, we began to celebrate the initial origins of FHF; next year, we will celebrate the trip by FHF’s founders to Kenya that energized the group and created the relationships that moved things forward. Over the winter, we will work as a Board to consider the longer-term implications of the pandemic for how we do our work, and how FHF should evolve to stay strong and effective.
We are needed more than ever and I am optimistic that together we will continue to make a difference.
FHF Annual General Meeting, July 23, 2020
Forty years after we began our work, it’s been an extraordinary year for Farmers Helping Farmers – a year of growth, of change, and most recently, of uncertainty.
Following our AGM of June 2019, we had a great summer – including another successful Village Feast held by our friends in Souris, our 38th annual barbecue that set records for both attendance and volunteer turnout, and a great reaction to our ‘shamba’ float by the tens of
thousands of people watching the Gold Cup and Saucer parade.
In September, we signed a Contribution Agreement with Global Affairs Canada for funding of one million dollars for our new four-year project, More Food, Better Food: Empowering Kenyan Farm Women. We were among the first of the 21 small and medium charities funded by GAC
to reach this milestone, building on almost two years of work by the Project Committee since late 2017.
Following a financial workshop with GAC in October, we were given permission to begin work immediately. Teresa Mellish and John VanLeeuwen spent most of November in Kenya, establishing partnership agreements with seven new women’s groups, three new dairies, five new schools, and the Meru County Governor, and developing plans and approaches for project implementation. During their visit, they provided solar lights/chargers to the more than 300 members of the seven new women’s groups.
Also in November, we launched what became our best Holiday Campaign yet. Through the generosity of our community of support, over $70,000 was raised. These funds are critically important, because they enable us to provide our share of funding for the More Food, Better Food project –$240,000 over the life of the project. The support of our donors also enables us to continue our other important work not part of the federal project, including support for previously partnered schools, women’s groups and dairies. Thanks go to the Fundraising Committee and the Membership and Communications Committee for these achievements.
In December, our Kenyan staff began work to install water tanks at the homes of the women’s group members. The scale of work and an effective procurement process resulted in a very good price for the tanks; the women provided the concrete bases for the tanks; and Holiday Campaign donors generously contributed additional funds – making it possible for each and
every member of the new women’s groups to get a tank – 324 in total, far more than was originally thought possible. Delivery and installation continued throughout the winter and early spring of 2020, with the final few tanks installed and all signage completed in April.
Thanks go to our hard-working and dedicated Kenyan staff, to our team at home, and to our donors who made this remarkable achievement possible.
The New Year began on a high note. Work stepped up on recognition and celebrations of our 40th anniversary year, with a flow of content on our social media channels harking back to our early years, outreach to our members, and planning for a variety of events in the spring and summer.
Also in early 2020, FHF had another successful volunteer trip to Kenya. A group of 11 travelled to Kenya from January 25 to February 14, and carried out a wide range of work. Lynn Townshend, Teresa Mellish, and staff delivered bookkeeping training or refreshers to all 400 members of the eight women’s groups.
Peter Townshend, Kendra Thurston, Ken Mellish and staff built, tested, and refined a prototype potato sprayer to help farmers spray pesticides more safely – an initiative for which FHF is seeking further federal funding. John VanLeeuwen and his team of students delivered training to the dairy clubs – groups of 15-20 farmer members of the new dairy co-ops – and cared for hundreds of cows at clinics and farms.
Colleen Walton and new staff member, nutritionist James Mureithi, designed and delivered nutrition training to Nutrition Champs, parent groups, women’s groups, and dairy clubs. Partnerships were
extended with the Meru County Government’s extension and health staff.
Later in February, two pre-service teachers began their placement at Kiirua Primary, and volunteers Heather and Paulette Jones visited twinned schools to update information on needs and priorities. This built on the work of the Education Committee throughout the year to support twinning relationships and letter exchanges, and to welcome five new schools and
match them with twinning partners here at home.
In more good news on the education front, congratulations go to Patsy Dingwell on the upcoming publication of her children’s book, Broken Crayons, telling a heartwarming story of sharing by Kenyan students.
When these trips began in January, the coronavirus seemed like a distant threat. A month later, the threat had gotten bigger, and moved closer. Our education volunteers were able to return home from Kenya in late February – disappointed to have to come home earlier than planned, but safe.
Work continued at home while watching COVID developments. In March 2020, the Project Implementation Plan for the More Food, Better Food project was signed, another important milestone. This plan sets out the five-year schedule of activities, the detailed budget, the goals and indicators, and the reporting requirements. In April, the first round of financial and
performance reports for 2019-20 was compiled and submitted to GAC, indicating that almost one-third of project funding had been successfully expended over the first six months of the project, to the great benefit of the families helped. The reports were well received by GAC.
Thanks go to the project Co-Managers Janell MacDonald and Teresa Mellish for their foundational work on these complex and extensive new processes and requirements.
In mid-March, as we all know, everything changed. In PEI, we entered a new world of stay-athome orders, social distancing, and cancelled gatherings. While we rapidly adjusted to doing our work via Zoom meetings, our plans for 40th anniversary celebrations and fundraising events went by the board, as did school twinning activities, planned missions by nutrition and vet students in May, and our longer-range plans for project travel to Kenya in early 2021.
Our focus shifted to adapting to the current situation. During the spring, the Finance Committee overhauled the budget format and proposed significant reductions in 2020-21 spending in light of expected lower revenues and deferred travel. The Membership and Communications Committee developed the Spring Newsletter, updated and organized our database on our community of support, and developed a new approach to membership for consideration at the Annual General Meeting.
As President, I have taken part in a number of training activities provided by federal funders, including a conference on inclusive governance (November), a workshop on community-led data collection (March), and online training in risk management (May) and fundraising in a time of COVID (June).
In Kenya, meanwhile, the first case of COVID-19 was identified in mid-March. The national government immediately imposed restrictions on gatherings, and closed schools shortly after.
We grappled with the question of how to adapt our activities in a way that best balanced the benefits that our work brings to Kenyan families, with the need to keep them and our staff safe from infection. Given that there were no known cases in Meru County, we directed staff to shift their work from the group training that was no longer permitted, to one-on-one work with
individual farmers. Measures were taken to ensure that staff travel safely rather than using public transit, take health protection measures, and use a consent protocol to interact with farm families.
Since that time, our staff have continued to work diligently to the benefit of farm families, including:
Procuring and installing fuel-efficient, health-promoting cookstoves with chimneys to the 70 members of the Mwende Women’s Group (an existing partner who did not receive water tanks under the GAC project). Thanks go to the Rotary Club of Charlottetown for their contribution to this initiative;
Planting demonstration plots of lucerne at the farms of members of each of the 22 dairy clubs, to promote a shift to this high-protein dairy forage that increases milk production;
Planting vegetable seedling nurseries for women’s groups and helping women farmers to plant vegetable grow bags for their families;
Gathering information and delivering training on infant and young child nutrition to the farm families in the project; and
Distributing health promotion information and masks.
Taken together, the work to date has been of enormous benefit to these hundreds of families, making them more food secure, more water secure, and more fuel secure. Thank you to our staff – Salome Ntinyari, Stephen Mwenda, Douglas Gikundi, Stephen Chandi, Leah Kariuki, and James Mureithi.
While COVID levels continue to be low in Meru County – 30 known cases at this time of this report – levels have been rising in recent days. Longer-term, some forecasts suggest that a period of economic hardship and possible social unrest lies ahead for many countries. In an increasingly uncertain time, FHF’s work is making these families more resilient and selfsufficient, increasing their capacity to stay at home if need be, and to keep themselves safe and well.
Looking ahead, we must continue to pursue these goals, and to adapt our approaches to do so as effectively as possible. I am confident that FHF will be able to do so, because the past year has demonstrated our strength and capacity in our people – our board, our volunteers, our staff, our donors and friends, and our partners. I thank you all for your ideas, your work, your support, and your commitment to a better future for Kenyan farm families.
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.