Sustainable Development in Sisit

by Eddy Ruble, CBF Kutana Kenya Participant

While participating in Kutana Kenya 2018, I had the opportunity to visit Sub-Saharan Africa for the first time and interact with the land and the people of Kenya.  Our group was exposed to the multiple dimensions of earth-care and sustainable development practices, while also observing the adverse effects of industrial agriculture, deforestation, and over grazing of grasslands.  Global warming affects rainfall, underground aquifers, drinking water, irrigation and the food supply – all necessities for life.  On the humanitarian side, education equips the next generation with knowledge and skills they need to better navigate the world and find solutions for the next generation.  Looking into the eyes of a young Kenyan school girl in a remote highland village where they collect and carry their drinking water from a natural stream, I got a glimpse into Kenya’s future.  I saw a quiet confidence and curiosity. I saw a healthy girl who has benefited from sustainable development work in her village over the course of many years – Africa Exchange’s partnership in building of a preschool and support to an elementary school, the installation of a suspension bridge over a rushing river, and the current installation of running water in the village and individual water filters for each household.  I was proud to be a part of an organization which reaches out to partner together with communities in the developing world to help them meet the challenges they face and find appropriate solutions for their context.

Eddy Ruble shares a moment with students of Sisit

Eddy Ruble shares a moment with students of Sisit

Kenya Health Partnership and Change for Children

by Dr. Tom Ginn, MD

Recognizing education as a critical factor in community development, stability, and identity, Africa Exchange envisioned and created Change for Children in 2005 with the goal of establishing early childhood education centers, known as Integrated Child Development Centers (ICDCs).  ICDCs have been established in close partnership with churches and community groups in marginalized areas in eight regions of Kenya.

In keeping with the 'quick wins' associated with UN Millennium Development Goal #4 of the time and in view of the intimate and interrelated nature of education and health issues, Africa Exchange sought to identify healthcare interventions that enhanced and complemented childhood education.  Four specific interventions were chosen as our initial focus: 1. Clean water/sanitation; 2. Parasite treatment; 3. Malaria prevention; 4. Nutritional/vitamin support.

Diarrhea and waterborne diseases contribute to significant morbidity and mortality in Kenya (and all of sub-Saharan Africa), especially in preschool children.  Interventions implemented at ICDC’s to address this include provision of safe drinking water from wells and rainwater collection systems, as well as providing basic sanitation via pit latrines.

Parasitic diseases, primarily intestinal worms (roundworms and hookworms), cause significant problems in children, particularly anemia and nutritional deficiencies.  The World Health Organization reports that periodic (twice yearly) treatment of children with parasite medications – referred to as “deworming”- results in significant improvements in both physical and cognitive development, particularly when combined with nutritional supplementation.  Deworming medications provided by Africa Exchange are inexpensive, well tolerated, and easily administered by teachers at all ICDC’s twice yearly.

Nutritional deficiencies are major challenges in children, especially when related to parasitic diseases.  To augment deworming, and in view of other nutritional deficiencies, all children at ICDC’s are provided with vitamin supplements and with a daily meal of nutritionally fortified porridge.

Malaria is another major health issue which causes one out of four child deaths in Kenya. Mosquitos which carry malaria in this area of Africa primarily feed during the night between midnight and five AM.  Sleeping under insecticide treated bednets reduces the incidence of acute malaria by about 70%.  For a number of years and assisted by ‘His Nets,’ Africa Exchange has provided children and families with bed nets through the ICDC’s.

It is our belief that in these vulnerable communities, early childhood education intimately complimented by appropriate healthcare interventions will result in stronger, healthier, more resilient and more productive communities.

Kutana Kenya 2nd Edition!

Following a very successful inaugural Kutana Kenya in 2017, dates for the next edition have been confirmed for May 20 - June 6, 2018.

Designed as an immersion experience for graduate and divinity students emphasizing the importance of earth care in mission and transformational development, the experience includes cross cultural encounter and service learning as key components of the curriculum.

Deadline for application is the end of February, 2018.  Contact for an application and additional information.


Self Help Groups Promote Resilience

                                                     SHG training session, Wamaganga

                                                     SHG training session, Wamaganga

Since the inauguration of Change for Children in 2005, Africa Exchange has recognized that community capacity building lies at the heart of any successful transformational development initiative.  The formation of community committees to initiate, monitor and evaluate progress at each of the established Integrated Child Development Centers has proven to be essential for their survival and proper functioning.

Recognizing our need to enhance and multiply this process in surrounding communities, David Harding of Water is Life introduced us to Tear Fund Kenya to facilitate training in the establishment of Self Help Groups (SHGs) at our project sites.  Organized by Mark Okello, Change for Children coordinator, trainings brought together facilitators and key project staff from each ICDC unit for comprehensive trainings in 2016 and 2017.  These trainings have to date resulted in the establishment of 15 SHGs associated with our 8 program locations.

A key component of SHGs are micro saving schemes controlled by group members to reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience.  Extensive research from Tear Fund in East Africa shows that SHG establishment impacts communities in the following important ways:  drought mitigation, food security, household economy, women’s empowerment, social development and community advocacy.

While we are still new at this, the SHG approach promises to be a foundational tool for decreasing the vulnerability of developing communities.

Development Challenges

Loita Hills forest, on the Southwestern boundary of the Maasai Mara Reserve

Loita Hills forest, on the Southwestern boundary of the Maasai Mara Reserve

Nathaniel Robinson has worked with Africa Exchange on many occasions over the past 12 years. From 2009 - 2010 he served as the Development Initiatives Coordinator for Africa Exchange. Since then, he has worked in the Maasai Mara, focusing his attention on the complex dynamics between conservation and development. Currently he is completing his PhD at the University of Montana in Forestry and Conservation Sciences. In January, Africa Exchange funded his trip to Kenya where he worked with a few of Africa Exchange’s partners.

Three years is a long time to be away from a place that was once home, especially a place like Kenya. Kenya is changing incredibly fast. An average economic growth rate of more than 5% over the past 10 years is reflected across the landscape. Roads and railways are being built and expanded. Towns across the country are bursting with new development. Agriculture is expanding into places we once thought couldn’t be farmed. The technology revolution is alive and well across Kenya. In the most remote places, you can find people checking Facebook on their smart phones. You can tweet from the middle of the Mara. By many metrics, Kenya is becoming a development success story. The middle class is growing. Life expectancy is increasing. Illiteracy is decreasing. Businesses are thriving. In just three years, some areas of Nairobi, a place I called home for over 20 years, are unrecognizable, filled in with swanky malls and high rise apartment complexes and new super highways. There is no doubt that for many people across Kenya life is improving.

Had I not left for three years, the changes may not have felt so dramatic, they may have felt more gradual, or may have even gone unnoticed. In this way, leaving for a time can be a gift. It brings a different perspective to places undergoing rapid change. The contrast between memories of the past and perceptions of the present illuminates what is being gained and what is being lost. This perspective is crucial as what is being lost is often overshadowed by the measurable metrics of progress. The losses are often harder to see, more nuanced, difficult to measure, and tend to affect vulnerable (human and non-human) populations the most.

Travelling from Nairobi to the Maasai, this pattern is clear. Expansion of towns, settlements, and agricultural is having tremendous consequences. Marginalized people lose access to key resources. Wildlife lose critical habitat, and migration routes are cut off. Like the American West, the landscape is rapidly filling up with fences, as individuals attempt to protect their small pieces of land. One recent study shows that the land area fenced across the Mara ecosystem has increased by 20% since 2010. Another recent study estimates that wildlife populations have declined on average by 68% since 1977.  History has shown us this before. The western United States was once home to some of the largest populations of animals. Up to 60 million Bison roamed across North America before European settlement. By 1900 there were little more than 10,000 of these creatures left. Luckily, through many conservation efforts and initiatives, Bison were not lost completely, and populations have recovered (slightly) over the past 100 years. But there may never again be large herds of free roaming Bison across the North America. This is a seemingly inevitable cost of development.

But this does not have to be the cost of development. And this is key to the vision of Africa Exchange, with many of their partners working across Kenya. It recognizes that the practices and ideas that can transform our paradigms of development, that integrate the well-being of people with the long-term well-being of the environment, not only exist today but are often rooted in the deep cultural heritage of people groups across Kenya. It recognizes that we from the West, may have substantial resources to offer, (e.g. capital & technology), but that we have as much, if not more to learn.

I hope that my trip to Kenya in January reflected this vision. Through a small workshop at the Maa Trust in the Maasai Mara, I shared my PhD work, focused on developing new tools for monitoring and managing ecosystem conservation across broad scales. At the same time, I came away with renewed insight as to how these tools can be put to better use, to support the work of organizations and people on the ground. I came away with renewed energy, believing that the negative consequences of development are not inevitable, but can be minimized, stopped and reversed. But it all starts with a mutual exchange of respect, ideas, skills, and understanding. This mutual exchange is the essence of Africa Exchange’s involvement in Kenya.