By LIZETTE GILDAY, Founder and Administrator
OUR MOTHER’S SUPPORT PROGRAMME HAS BEEN AWARDED TWO GRANTS!!!
Thanks to David Zarembka, who kindly sent out our last newsletter to his extensive mailing list (see http://davidzarembka.com/2017/10/01/467-visionary-womens-centre-newsletter-october-1-2017/), we have received two modest but very meaningful grants. Both are targeted to our Mother’s Support Programme. The first is to enhance our Kitchen Garden Project and the second to fund a Poultry Project.
Mother’s Support Groups visit Manor House Agricultural Centre.
First grant: The Organic Gardening Project
Mardell Gunn and Mark Kistler, Quakers from Alaska, have generously donated a grant so that we can move our Kitchen Garden project forward in a significant manner. There is mounting concern in East Africa that climate change will continue to pose major challenges to crop production. Of special concern are the subsistence farmers who rely on their small plots to sustain their families. This comprises approximately 85 % of those living in rural area of East Africa and 100% of the mothers in our support groups. There are some excellent resources available in the local community that can train our women in drought resistant organic farming techniques. One of these is Manor House Agricultural Centre in nearby Kitale, Kenya.
On Saturday, March 10, we rose at 5:00 a.m. and set off with 28 women and seven Management Committee members all packed into a bus for a day trip to Manor House Agricultural Centre. There was some confusion regarding the size of the bus we needed and we were 10 seats short. So as many as possible squished into the available seats while the rest of us stood for the two and a half hour journey. When we arrived at Manor House, we were fed tea and donuts following which we were given an outstanding tour of the teaching gardens which are designed to provide valuable lessons in composting, soil management and organic pest control. If the composting and ‘’double digging’’ methods we were shown are applied they can increase the production of a given plot by 2 to 6 times. We visited the chicken, rabbit, sheep, goats and cattle raising facilities.
The women returned after dark and were singing as they made their way home along the road. Neighbours came out and asked what they were doing. They replied that they had been on an important outing and were very happy with what they had learned. The women said that their husbands never took them anywhere but now they had been ‘out and about’. As is always the case, the women were all dressed up in their best clothes. Even the poorer Africans have a few sets of “good clothes’’ to wear to church and to funerals, of which there are many (too many).
Below is a photo of our visit to Manor House. The young students kindly followed the ‘’senior members’’ around with chairs from one place to another.
The following week when we had our follow up meeting with the women and asked them for their feedback about the visit to Manor House. Their words were touching and heart-warming. They expressed much gratitude for the opportunity to learn about such simple and yet effective methods to increase their crop production and control pests. One of the grannies said that they had believed that they were poor but now realize that they are richer than they realized and that even a small plot of land can produce two to six times what it had up until now. They also were excited to have had their eyes opened to the larger range of crops that they can plant in their kitchen gardens.
Pictures of the mothers hard at work in their demonstration kitchen gardens.
Second Grant: Mothers with their new chicken houses.
The one chicken give-away last year.
Members inspecting the chickens of MaMa GoGo (front left).
Our first group to be formed were engaged in our One Chicken Giveaway project. In recognition of their one-year anniversary we gave each member one hen and instructed them to use it as a starting point to produce as many chickens as possible.
As we went around the circle each woman shared her story. Some had a 100% survival rate of the eggs their hen laid. One member with this rate had taken the chicks away from the mother hen and kept them in a box all cozy and warm. She had fed them traditional herbs as well as give vaccinations. Others were not so successful. One chick got run over on the road, another was eaten by a hawk, while others died of disease. Never the less from the nine hens that were given out there are now fifty chickens all told.
SPIRIT IN ACTION is a small NGO based in the U.S. It funds small grass roots projects like ours with modest but extremely well targeted and effective goals. As a follow-up to our One Chicken Give Away project last spring they agreed to fund a larger Poultry Project. We are well into the implementation process. We have completed our five half-day training programme for our twenty-eight members. When the chicken houses were completed we provided each member with 5 mature hens. Our trainer, Elizabeth, monitors the progress on a regular basis until December at which point we will receive back the five original hens as well as two hens to give away to needy members in the community. This is called PAY BACK/PAY FORWARD and is a policy of Spirit in Action which we willingly embrace.
We thank Spirit in Action and their leader Tanya Cothran for this splendid opportunity!
The Poultry Project is now successfully launched. The chicken houses have been built and all 28 mothers have received their five chickens. The women unloading the building materials for their chicken houses.
Benter instructing the workmen on the finer details of building a chicken house.
Gladys shows us how to tell if a chicken is ill. Turn it upside down and gently move it up and down. If it is sick drops of water will start falling from its mouth.
A mother ‘’mudding’’ her chicken house.
Gladys the chairwoman (mother of 12, grandmother of 4 orphans) wins the prize for completing the “mudding’’ of her house first!
SOME BRIEF UPDATES
Mothers’ support programme.
One of our young mothers says she only plans to have three children. She would like to have the last one soon so that all of her children can grow up together.
We now have two groups that are well established with a total of 28 members.
Each group has a Chairwoman, Secretary and Treasurer. Our members are typical African small plot landowners who farm just enough maize and vegetables to feed their families for the year. If they are fortunate they may own a cow, a few sheep and goats as well as chickens. As they live at a subsistence level with no buffer whatsoever, they are often forced to sell their livestock to cover unexpected health costs or the ever-pernicious school fees which hang over the entire African continent as an on-going, seemingly never-ending stress.
The groups meet every two weeks to give in their fees and to share ideas and offer morale support. VWC offers information sessions on family planning, birth control methods, family dynamics, and so on. During the planting season in March we distributed seeds for their kitchen gardens. We are training the women to harvest their own seeds so that over time we will have community seed banks to draw on.
I sat in on the Saturday meeting of each of our groups. The topic for discussion was birth control and family planning. These rural farm women are keen to share what they know and learn more about issues of birth control. Many of the women in the area are using birth control pills but there can be shortages in the supply and, as a result, women can become pregnant without wanting to. There are also one month and five-year birth control options. The problem with the one-month option is that if the woman is late for her shot she can easily fall pregnant. We talked about tubal ligation and there was much interest in this option. We agreed that it would be useful to bring in a nurse from the local hospital for a session.
The Chairwoman shared that she had twelve children and warned the younger women against large families. She told of how difficult it was to feed them all and how her older boys were always stealing the food she prepared because they were so hungry. Just as she was finishing a large pot of posho (similar to mashed potatoes) the bigger boys would turn out the light and by the time she turned it on again most of the posho would be gone!
Life skills in schools.
We began our programme in January at the start of the school year in Kenya. We are aiming to go to six schools this year. With six sessions per school this amounts to 36 sessions over the school year.
Maggie Silverston Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Lizette with Janet, one of “Maggie’s Girls”, with her teacher at her school.
The first year of the ‘Maggie Fund’ has been very successful. Of the eight girls who participated in the programme seven have passed onto the next grade. We have just looked carefully at the reports cards from last year and while most of the girls are doing very well although there are a few who are struggling. We intend to visit their schools and talk to their teachers to get a better idea of what their learning issues are and how we can better support them.
Unfortunately, one of the older girls was, how shall we say, less than an enthusiastic student. She missed more school days than she attended. When Benter tried to talk to her and see what her problem might be, she did not show any interest in trying to work with us to solve her problem. Unfortunately we have had to discontinue her from the programme.
Emergency fund for health care.
Ann (right) and Ebby (left), a VWC Management Committee member, waiting at the medical clinic for a meeting with the doctor.
Visionary Women’s Centre has a modest Emergency Fund to assist women in the community who are in the midst of a medical crisis. We do not advertise it as we can only afford to help a few women a year. When someone in need shows up at our office we are able to step in and help.
Testimony: Ann’s story as told by Benter and Angela.
Ann is 40 years old. She had been married previously and lived a struggling life characterized with an abusive husband. Ann is a mother of three children; the eldest son is now married whereas the other two are still in school. She endured suffering for quite a long time hoping that her abusive husband would improve but all was in vain. Finally when she realized that she could not hold any more suffering she opted out of her marriage and came to stay with her mother who is terminally ill.
Ann’s mother is wrestling with cancer that has taken a toll on her health. When we visited her, she was in a pathetic condition – her head covered with red wounds oozing blood. Yet according to her she says that she has greatly improved. All the other relatives have deserted Ann’s mother due to her condition hence when Ann came she had no choice but to take over the responsibility of nursing her sick mother.
On the other hand Ann’s health is also wanting. She complained of continued periods and when she visited a physician her hemoglobin concentration was a low 3.5 hl. Further investigations revealed that Ann has developed ovarian cysts coupled with fibroids. This was double tragedy for the poor lady.
After interacting with this family we observed that they were really a deserving case owing to the fact that they were experiencing numerous challenges. It was true beyond reasonable doubt that they were in a state of hopelessness, feeling neglected, and stigmatized with both physical and psychological pain.
VWC facilitated Ann’s medical consultation and diagnosis. She was booked for an appointment with a doctor on 16/1/2018. The first consultation with the doctor resulted in a prescription for medication to treat her cysts and fibroids.
We hope that her issue will be addressed once and for all so that she can revive her health and continue assisting her mother who is terminally ill. We will be supporting Ann and her mother in the National Health Insurance Fund for the next six months so that they can receive the health care they need for free. Note: There is a national health care insurance plan for Kenyans. It only costs the equivalent of $7.00 a month, but this amount is way beyond the reach of the majority of low income Kenyans.
Ann in the hospital after her operation.
Update from Lizette: While I was in Kenya Ann’s health took a turn for the worse. Her fibroids were bleeding actively and causing a serious loss of blood. When we sent her for tests the doctor was very alarmed as her iron level was so low that he feared she might have a heart attack. After careful consideration and given the life-threatening nature of her condition Visionary Women’s Centre offered to pay for her operation to remove the fibroids. The procedure was successful and Ann is now able to move on with her life and take care of her children and her ailing mother. The reality in Africa is that if a person cannot afford to pay for medical services and/or for the national health insurance he/she is literally left to die. As Ann and her mother had not been paying any health insurance they were not eligible for medical treatment as one has to pay for three months before receiving care. Thus the poor are caught in a catch twenty two which keeps them out of reach of live saving medical treatment.
As a rule, Visionary Women’s Centre is not able to afford to pay for costly medical treatments. Our emergency Medical Fund allows for minor support only. We felt we had no choice but to make an exception in Anna’s case but need to be cautions not to create expectations within the community that this is a service we provide. It is heartbreaking to have to say “no” but the need is endless and our resources are small.
Once again we thank for reading our newsletter and to our donors we thank you for supporting our much beloved Visionary Women’s Centre.
Should you wish to support the Visionary Women’s Centre please go to our website at www.visionarywomenscentre.org and click on the DONATE buttons at the top of the first page. Monthly or one-time donations are both welcome! Should you experience any difficulties please contact Lizette at firstname.lastname@example.org
With appreciation from,
Lizette, Benter, Angela and our Management Committee
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