Linnet Griffith-Jones writes about volunteering at Compassion CBO in Kenya
It is a great feeling to be even a very small part of what Compassion CBO does... Every couple of weeks, women from Bethsaida Women's Group come and dig up sweet potatoes for three hours a day, which are shared between the women's group and the orphanage.
Visiting the Shamba
Today I finally visited Compassion CBO's third shamba [cultivated plot], which is ridiculous as it just across the bypass from where I usually work but yup, it took me this long.
The shamba is on a section of the road reserve. Whenever a road is built in Kenya, it is required by law that land either side is kept clear in case it ever needs widening. However, until the government needs the land, people are allowed to use it, as long as they talk to the local authority first.
So after the bypass was built, Evanson went to the local government and got permission to use a portion of land to grow sweet potatoes, bananas, and papaya there - until the government claims the land, which will probably not happen for a good few years yet.
The purpose of my visit today was to see Mrs. Kamau, the wife of the Pastor who runs Bethsaida Orphanage - a partner organisation of Compassion. Every couple of weeks she, her husband, and women from Bethsaida Women's Group come and dig up sweet potatoes for three hours a day, which are shared between the women's group and the orphanage.
As with most charitable organisations here, funding is always an issue for Bethsaida and with 150 orphans to feed, it can be a massive struggle, which is where Compassion comes in. For no charge, the group from Bethsaida comes to dig up around 100kg of sweet potatoes every couple of weeks (although it can be up to 500kg every three weeks).
The produce is shared between them so that the women get some to sell and the orphanage gets enough to feed the children. Considering that 100kgs of sweet potatoes would usually cost 4,000 KES (around £30), it makes a massive difference to them.
Evanson, the founder of Compassion CBO, has also secured Bethsaida their own shamba next to our school in Githogoro where they are going to grow maize and arrowroot. He was offered it at a very low rental price and, with his usual generosity, he paid the first month's rent, dug it over and is going to hand it over to Bethsaida so they can cultivate it and grow some food for the orphans and to make some money.
Cooperation and Empowerment
Watching the group digging today really made me see how much difference cooperation can make; I've previously seen where groups can get a bit defensive about sharing - it is hard when everyone is competing for recognition, and funding, but that is the antithesis of Compassion's approach. With everything the organisation does, the point is to share information and resources with as many people as possible and it really does seem to be making a difference.
It is a great feeling to be even a very small part of what Compassion does. Another thing is that when he can, Evanson employs people from the slums to help out. For instance, even though Evanson could and has done the job himself, he pays someone to take the leaves from the shamba to the pig, because here, it really is true that every little bit helps; he's also hired a guy to look after the chickens that arrive tomorrow - and built a little house next to the chicken building/coop for the guy to stay in. It may sound more businesslike than charitable, but providing paid employment to people in the slums is definitely more empowering for them than just providing handouts.
Caring for the Environment
Oh and yet another thing that is very cool about Compassion is the utter lack of waste; Evanson is committed to recycling and the environment as well as everything else, so all the leaves from the sweet potatoes are used as pig feed and then the pig manure is used on the shambas in a happy little circle.
Cooler Weather at Last!
It's taken me a while but am feeling much more like I belong here. The rains are definitely on their way which means it is a bit cooler; my definition of cold and that of the Kenyan's I know are definitely miles apart, but I have actually had to put on a cardigan a couple of times - a development which makes me beyond happy. The cooler temperatures also allow me to do more walking around; there is a one mile short cut home from work across a coffee plantation which I have started taking.
Feeling at Home
Evanson's wife, Priscillah, also taught me to cook chapattis and green grams (as mung beans are called here) so I am less reliant on fast food. I even caught myself today thinking about getting some decorations for my flat. Obviously, as a dedicated cheese addict there are things I miss, but I feel less transient!
Tune in next time for more warmth, fuzziness, cooperation and hopefully, news about our amazing chicken project.