Learning Together: From North West Haiti to the Rift Valley in Kenya
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Learning Together: From North West Haiti to the Rift Valley in Kenya


Margot with CWS Africa colleagues at Yang’at office. Photo: CWS

29/8/16 · By Fionuala Cregan · CWS works with partners in some of the most marginalized parts of the world from the North West of Haiti to the South American Chaco to West Pokot in Kenya.  Here communities, isolated from the main administrative centres, find ways to produce food and improve their livelihoods in the face of harsh environmental conditions and structural poverty.


For three weeks from 2-24 July, Haiti Country Manager Margot de Greef in partnership with Foods Resource Bank (FRB) participated in a learning exchange visit to Kenya travelling to some of the most marginalized parts of the country to learn about the work both CWS and FRB supports.


“There are a lot of similarities between the work that CWS supports in North West Haiti and in Kenya but up until now we did not have a lot of contact.  I went on this trip to share with CWS colleagues what we do in Haiti knowing that they face similar challenges, hoped to learn from them the ways they overcome them,” says De Greef who after a week with CWS in West Pokot travelled with a delegation of 10 FRB supporters most of whom were farmers and eager to learn about agricultural practices in Africa.


“Kenya is a diverse country, with many tribes and languages. The trip started with a visit to communities near Meru applying conservation agriculture techniques and increasing soil fertility through the use of mulch. Next, milk factories in the Eldoret area shared about how they started to bulk milk from smallholder farmers and have grown into profitable factories offering financial services, artificial insemination, Agrovet shops selling agricultural tools, fodder and medicines. Mobile training units teach farmers new techniques. In Maasai communities surrounding Ngong, nomadic families have switched from cattle to crops and organised themselves into what are called self-help groups to apply the training they receive and provide microcredit, improve access to water, produce soap, honey and beads for jewellery making.”


Margot de Greef learns how to get water from a sand dam in Chitkagh community. Photo: CWS

In addition to the warm welcome that the group received from colleagues, De Greef enjoyed learning about some new techniques implemented by CWS partners in Kenya which might just be applicable in North West Haiti also.  This includes the building of sand dams as to access water during dry season but also as a natural water filter providing much needed drinking water.


“A sand dam is a concrete wall constructed across a seasonal river, which matures over time. Contrary to a borehole, a sand dame increases the water level and even when the river bed is apparently dry, it stores water below ground” she explains “Community members merely dig a hole, scoop out the first layer of water and sand and then clean water filters through the sand, good to be used for drinking, laundry, animals or any other purpose.”


De Greef also learned a lot from the farmer to farmer exchanges between Kenyans and North Americans, who shared how they plant, catch water, apply (or not) tilling and mulching, cover crops and natural fertiliser from the excrements of cows. The North American farmers were impressed by a biogas system used by one of the Kenyan farmers as well as of the pride with which people farm and take care of their homes and families, receiving the visitors with hospitality and openness, and always a cup of tea with milk.


Another important aspect of the visit for De Greef was the striking differences between the role that the Government plays in Kenya compared to Haiti.


‘’We met with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Water in West-Pokot. I left those meetings feeling both encouraged and discouraged.  While Kenya gained its independence much later than Haiti (1963 and 1804 respectively) progress in Kenya has been faster –  the Government took responsibility for education away from churches 1967 and today it is the government who employs and trains teachers in public schools. In Haiti 85% of education is still private run. This makes a significant difference. It doesn’t matter how many organizations there are in a country or how long they stay; the government needs to fulfil its responsibilities on everything from education to water, health care to infrastructure. Another change the Government of Kenya recently started to make, is to decentralize power. This has encouraged more local investment in roads and other infrastructure.”


Now that she is back in Haiti, De Greef is preparing a visit to the North West where she will deliver warm Kenyan greetings and hugs as well as the many things she learnt.