In Kenya: A Garden of Eden in the Midst of Dust and Despair

by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO

ChildFund CEO with Kenya childrenThis trip to Kenya  has been emotional for me in many ways. Seeing children suffering from hunger and disease is something that remains with a person for a long time. Kenya also holds a special place in my heart. I was married here 30 years ago and my son was born here a few years later. Kenya is part of my family’s story; and when a member of your family hurts, you hurt.

This morning we hit the road to Kalemunyang. On the way, we drive through barren landscapes. All around are dirt fields and no signs of water. We cross large river beds that are totally dry. Herds of goats and camels, tired and emaciated, walk through parched lands in search of food and water.

Hearing that the president of ChildFund is coming, the women of Kalemunyang have gathered to welcome our arrival. As we pull in, they are surprised to see a woman president. They had been expecting a man. They are excited, and to my surprise, they pick me up and carry me on their shoulders around the community!

ChildFund CEO and Kenyan boys and girl

An irrigation program has transformed this community.

After things settle down, community members fill me in on ChildFund’s Food for Assets program, funded by the United Nations’ World Food Program. I’m shown to the irrigation system on the bank of the Turkwel River.

After spending all of yesterday seeing barren earth and tasting dust, it’s amazing to see how smart farming practices have transformed this community. You wouldn’t realize you were in an arid area with all the plants that are growing. It’s green everywhere!

In the “shambas,” or vegetable gardens, women tend spinach, tomatoes, green peppers, okra, watermelons, kale, maize and cowpeas. In the midst of drought, we’ve discovered the Garden of Eden!

Three Kenyan women sit in garden

Community women tend the vegetable gardens that are part of ChildFund's Food for Assets program in Kalemunyang.

Through the Food for Assets program, ChildFund initially provides families with food and goods in exchange for their work to build irrigation systems and community gardens. Because of climate change, ChildFund is teaching pastoralist communities techniques for irrigation and how to grow gardens. We’re providing improved access to water for both humans and livestock, thereby increasing crop production, reducing environmental degradation and improving pasture for livestock. More than 20,000 people benefit from this program.

Woman tends garden

We find a "Garden of Eden" in the midst of drought in Kalemunyang.

I speak to Anna, a cheery 38-year-old woman and mother of three. She is tilling the soil and watering her crops in the “shamba.” She tells me that her situation was desperate before ChildFund offered assistance, providing gardening tools, seeds and training in crop cultivation.

“My family can eat nutritious food. Malnourishment in children is not an issue here, despite the drought in Turkana. I’m happy, very happy,” she says. She smiles and wishes me well as I depart.

Food for Assets is not an emergency relief effort. It is a long-term development intervention that strengthens local communities, helping reduce their vulnerability to future droughts. In other areas of Turkana, which lack access to permanent rivers, we teach people to use special pans to catch water that is used to grow crops like maize and sorghum.

In the afternoon, we visit Kalemunyang’s local school. ChildFund helped pipe water from the community borehole to the school and has built new latrines. When students, especially girls, have adequate toilet facilities, school attendance goes up. Many of these students also have sponsors through ChildFund. But there are still challenges ahead, given that there only five teachers for 350 students.

I’m told a child wants to meet me. As I turn, a teenager confidently walks up to me and shakes my hand with a firm grip. Lomoru, 14, is the area children’s representative with the local government. As we talk, I learn that he wants to be a judge. Mature beyond his years, this is a confident child if ever I saw one! His colorful t-shirt reads in Swahili: “Activist for Truth.” I have no doubt that he will be a leader of tomorrow.

A family welcomes ChildFund CEO

A visit with sponsored child Iria and family.

I end the afternoon by visiting Iria’s home. Iria is a 12-year-old boy benefiting from ChildFund sponsorship. His family lives simply, though I notice their house is in better shape than others around it. The house has permanent mud walls, a mosquito net to help prevent malaria, running water and an outside toilet. As I talk with Iria and his family, I am struck by the complexity of poverty. Iria and his family are doing relatively well, but times are tough. The elder brother is educated but there are no jobs. Education can only get you so far. You then need opportunity.

As we depart the village on yet another stifling hot day, I reflect on my trip to northern Kenya. Seeing the impact of drought firsthand has been a humbling experience. So many people in Kenya and across the Horn are in urgent and desperate need of food and water.

In many ways, Turkana life has changed little since I served in the Peace Corps here more than 30 years ago. It remains traditional, remote and susceptible to severe hardship. But then I think of the vegetable gardens in Kalemunyang, the community school with improved sanitation facilities for girls, Lomoru’s dream to be a judge and Iria’s neat home.

Today has been a day of hope. We must keep working with hope in mind. Your support for children in the Horn of Africa is making a difference.

In Times of Severe Drought, Children Suffer Most

by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO

Anne is in Kenya this week, where more than 3.5 million people need food aid as the worst drought in 60 years spreads across the Horn of Africa. One of the most affected areas is the Turkana region, where ChildFund is responding.

Dry riverbed and dead trees

Dry riverbeds in Turkana

It’s a dusty and bumpy drive to Lokitaung in northern Kenya. You can taste the dust in the air. It’s early in the morning and already the heat is unbearable. Without water, nothing grows in this hostile environment.

Mother with frail child

In Lokitaung, ChildFund is monitoring children for signs of malnutrition.

We stop at a health tent. “Thirty-seven percent of children under 5 are malnourished here,” a local nurse tells me as she weighs a young girl. “Eight percent are severely malnourished. That’s a sharp increase compared to last year.”

In times of food shortage, children under 5 are the most vulnerable to malnutrition. Inadequate food intake in young children has lifelong growth and development implications. That’s why ChildFund is focusing its relief efforts on providing food to those 5 and younger, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers. We are using existing structures we have in place on the ground, including health facilities and Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) centers, to deliver food and water.

Children sit on floor waiting for food

Children await a meal at the Lokiyah ECCD center in Lokitaung.

At the ECCD in Lokitaung, it’s just past 11 a.m., and the children are crying and hungry. They line up to receive a bowl of unimix – a nutrient-rich porridge. This is their first meal of the day. Since ChildFund started providing supplementary food, the number of children coming to the ECCD has soared. Mothers tell me they have carried their children for more than 5 kilometers, walking in the blistering heat to reach the ECCD center this morning.

Child with nurse

A local nurse measures a child's arm to see if he is malnourished.

Back at the health tent, Emuria, a 5-year-old boy, is having his mid-upper arm circumference measured. He looks frail. ChildFund’s health interventions include monitoring child growth to spot malnutrition at the early stages, providing vitamin A and iron supplements, deworming, vaccinating against measles and polio and also treating minor illnesses.

Anne Goddard with mother and child

In Lokitaung, Anne talks with a mother about her child's health.

Mothers I speak to complain about eye irritations because of the dry and dusty conditions. Children are coughing. Today, we’re also testing mothers for HIV/AIDS. Luckily, all have tested negative.

In the afternoon, we visit the remote village of Kariburi. The road is even bumpier and dustier than the one we traveled this morning. Everywhere you look is the same landscape — dust fields. We drive through one dry riverbed after another. Turkana really is the epicenter of the drought in Kenya.

The situation in Kariburi is dire. Malnutrition levels far exceed emergency thresholds. In the local ECCD center, the young children are calm and quiet. They lack the energy to play. A combination of food insecurity, falling nutrition levels and poor access to health and water facilities has left children in need of urgent support. Immunization coverage is extremely low, which puts the under-five population at risk.

Women carying sacks of maize

At the Kariburi food distribution center, families receive maize and legumes.

ChildFund is distributing relief food (maize, legumes and beans) to families today. Women line up and carry bags away on their heads. They have come far distances.

I’m happy to see that local women are involved in the relief distribution. The more you can involve the community, the better. ChildFund has also trucked in drinking water. A large crowd has gathered around the tap. Women have brought their containers to carry water back to their homes. ChildFund is also providing training on hygiene and sanitation practices. It’s in times of food shortage that people become weak and more vulnerable to disease outbreak.

Our help is needed most desperately. Thank you for your support.

A Close-up Look at the East Africa Drought

Based in Ethiopia, Isam Ghanim, ChildFund’s executive vice president for Global Programs, answers questions about the cause and impact of the drought in East Africa. Read the full interview with Isam on ChildFund’s website.

Photo of Isam Ghanim

Isam Ghanim, ChildFund's executive vice president for Global Programs

What has led to this food crisis?
It’s a situation that we refer to as a slow-onset emergency. This was caused by two consecutive rainy seasons failing, and the short rainy seasons in Kenya and Ethiopia also failed. This has led to an increase in food prices. There is also high inflation in all of these countries. And there is violence in Somalia. A significant number of Somalians have moved to established camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Families entered this crisis with depleted assets and very poor physical conditions. For almost two years now, they have been affected by food shortages. They are suffering from nutritional stress. There is only so long you can cope before you fall into acute malnutrition. The environmental conditions and the health conditions take their toll.

What is the current situation?
More than 11.5 million people are affected. In the areas where ChildFund works, we estimate 660,000 people are affected, with 7,000 children facing life-threatening conditions. This is a very serious situation. Stress indicators are reaching the levels that you see in the middle of a famine. Without immediate intervention, children will die.

What impacts of the drought are we seeing?
Children and their parents are malnourished and at increased risk of disease due to poor hygiene because of the shortage of water. They are suffering from physical and emotional stress. People are moving from their homes.

The most grievously affected are women and children. They have less capability to move. For young children, there is a permanent impact on their health — stunting, wasting, mental development. If the mother is breastfeeding, she won’t have enough milk. When parents are under significant stress, the normal care and support for children will be minimized.

What is ChildFund doing to help?
ChildFund is addressing the immediate life-threatening conditions affecting children — providing food, water and basic health services, as well as supplemental feeding through early childhood care and development centers to ensure babies and young children will not fall into acute malnutrition.

In addition, ChildFund is working to help families stay in their own communities so that when the rains come in September they are there to plant crops and cultivate their farms. If they don’t plant, they will lose another harvest and experience another year without food.

There is also a need to address child protection issues. Parents are too weak to care for their children. They have no roof over their head. Providing support is critical so that families don’t deplete their resources as part of their coping mechanism.

Read the complete interview and learn more about ChildFund’s response in the Horn of Africa.

Citizens of the World: Respond to the Horn of Africa’s Call

by Victor Koyi, National Director, ChildFund Kenya

As our team in Kenya grapples with the worsening drought affecting more than 550,000 people in ChildFund program areas and more than 2.5 million across the population, our constant concern is the well-being of children, especially those five and younger. They are at the highest risk of death and life-long development issues due to inadequate food intake at a young age.

Photo of Kenya children with cups awaiting food

Children in Kenya's Turkana region await supplemental food. (Jake Lyell Photography)

Our analysis also shows a gap in the outreach to this vulnerable age category. Most drought-response efforts are targeting children in general, seeking to provide support through primary schools. But children in the 0 to 5 age range are not found in the basic schools. To assume that they are being reached through the general food distribution to their parents is taking a huge risk of excluding this developmentally critical age group.

To close this gap, ChildFund Kenya is targeting young children through existing structures we have in place on the ground, including health facilities and ECCD (early childhood care and development) centers, which are both home- and community-based. We’re also mobilizing our network of trained community health workers to deliver services and monitor child health. It is an efficient way to reach and serve this most vulnerable population. We’re also directing our services to expectant and lactating mothers as another means of ensuring we reach infants.

A number of interventions are under way. We are providing supplementary feeding in all ECCD centers in ChildFund’s seven operational areas: the North Rift region, the Lake region, Mt. Kenya region, Emali, Turkana, Mukuru and the Nairobi Integrated Project.

ChildFund staff check children's weight

ChildFund is monitoring the weight of children to spot undernutrition early. (Jake Lyell Photography)

In addition, we are trucking in potable water and setting up point-of-use water treatment stations, as well as providing training on hygiene and sanitation practices. Health interventions include monitoring child growth to spot malnutrition at the early stages, providing vitamin A and iron supplements, deworming and treating minor illnesses. We also are providing psychosocial support, which is essential to help children recover from the trauma as well as cope with the situation.

In all of our drought responses, we are linking up with any partners also working in the area, including the government and the World Food Program. We’re also positioning ChildFund to respond to an increase in drought severity anticipated in the next few months.

Already the malnutrition rates in Turkana stand at 37 percent — way above the 15 percent threshold established by WHO for emergency conditions. Interventions to improve the health status of children in these hard-hit areas, especially pastoralist populations, present a huge challenge. This population’s near-constant migration in search of food and water limits their children’s access to primary and emergency health services.

A different but equal challenge exists in Kenya’s urban areas. Due to hunger, children remain in the house instead of going to school. This limits their access to education and basic health care as well as nutrition support.

In Kenya’s worst-hit areas, we do not have the luxury of time. We must act now or consign huge numbers of our population to fate, and that is contrary to the spirit of our joint humanity and resolve.

Our commitment as front-line development workers is to save lives. Our appeal to citizens of the world is to respond to this call to save young children facing the ultimate risk.

A Brighter Future for Kenya’s Young Women

In Kenya, ChildFund is helping change the lives of young girls through two unique schools. One “books” girls for an education instead of early marriage. Another features solar-powered lighting so courses can be held in the evenings after the days chores are done.

Hear the Plea of African Children

Guest post by Dr. Gilchrist Lokoel , ChildFund alumni

Gilchrist Lokoel is a physician in the Turkana district of Kenya.

They say that if you want to know how a society is doing, look at the way it treats its mothers and children.

Photo of Dr. Gilchrist

Dr.Gilchrist Lokoel

My experience in giving back to society began in university, where I was the chairman of the Medical Students Association of Moi University Medical School. We took free medical camps to disadvantaged communities in Mt. Elgon, Turkana (my home area) and Pokot. We also visited and had medical camps for inmates at prisons on a yearly basis.

Later as an intern in Mombasa, my colleagues and I managed to put in a lot of hours day and night trying to save the lives of mothers and children, especially during the post-election violence that rocked Kenya in 2007-2008.

Now, upon qualification, I deliberately chose a transfer to Turkana (my home area), which my superiors found very odd as it was considered a hardship area. Upon arriving, I discovered all the doctors had resigned as there were no prospects for a young doctor to prosper in this difficult and remote area. So, I worked alone as the only medical officer for three months before the government sent three more doctors. It was during this time that I was attending to all patients — maternity and general surgery, accident victims and gunshot victims arising out of the inter-ethnic conflicts.

I worked day and night with minimal motivation and resources. It’s the spirit of helping others that has kept the fire burning.

Two months later, I was promoted to District Medical Officer of Health. During my two-year tenure, immunization coverage rose from 47.3 percent to 58.3 percent. Malnutrition dropped from 22 percent to 16 percent. We increased outreach to hard-to-reach areas, offering medical services to the nomads. Medical camps were introduced on a quarterly basis to save the lives of the poor. We renovated a pediatric ward with modern equipment. And we increased disaster preparedness and response, especially for preventable illnesses like polio and measles

The Day of the African child is a day to challenge all of us to hear the plea of African children to live and be who they want to be in future. It’s a day to give children a second chance to reach their full potential and contribute to their nation.

After all, ChildFund gave me the opportunity to be who I am today.

Vision-Impaired Children Discover Their Potential

In the late 1980s, ChildFund Kenya and its affiliate in the Marigat area of the Rift Valley, the Marigat Family Helper project, partnered with Sight Savers International so that vision-impaired children would have the same chance to reach their potential as sighted children do. The result would be an integrated school where both blind and sighted would share a mainstream learning environment.

ChildFund Partners Lend Helping Hand after Fires

by Joan Ng’ang’a, Communications Officer, ChildFund Kenya

ChildFund receives food donations

ChildFund Kenya's national director (r) thanks Standard Chartered Bank for its donation.

As ChildFund Kenya continues to respond to children and families who lost their homes in the fire outbreaks in early March, we have received immense support from our service partners.

As we were gathering donations to commemorate International Women’s Day a few weeks ago, we also thought to reach out to those organizations and vendors that help ChildFund provide services in Kenya. We shared the list of identified needs (e.g., food, clothing, bedding, scholastic materials and psychosocial counseling) and received initial support. Yet, weeks after the tragedy, we are gratified to still be receiving response.

Food distribution to ChildFund program areas

Standard Chartered Bank employees distribute food to ChildFund program families who lost homes in the fire outbreaks near Nairobi.

Yesterday, Standard Chartered Bank helped distribute its contributions of clothing, maize flour, beans, rice, cooking fat and bar soap. These donations reached 187 families enrolled in ChildFund’s Mukuru Integrated Program.

What are we learning from this emergency situation?

No matter the role we each play in the service chain, we are all partners in ensuring that the children are at the center of our work.

ChildFund Kenya Women Lead Donation Effort to Help Fire Victims

by Joan Ng’ang’a, Communications Officer, ChildFund Kenya

ChildFund Kenya Mukuru fire

ChildFund Kenya National Director Victor Koyi and members of the Kenya office staff present their donations to the enrolled families.

To mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 8, the women of ChildFund Kenya led the office in responding to the fire tragedy that occurred last week in the Fuata Nyayo area of our Mukuru Integrated Program.

We coordinated collections of food, clothing, bedding and household utensils. We then delivered the items to ChildFund-enrolled children and families at St. Catherine’s primary school.

ChildFund Kenya

Victor Koyi addresses the group.

ChildFund Kenya National Director Victor Koyi joined us to deliver the donations to St. Catherine’s. Victor spoke to the group and particularly encouraged the women present to take leadership not only on the home front but also in matters of their livelihoods and the health and education of their children.

The ChildFund Kenya team talked with and listened to children and caregivers (the majority of whom were women) who had suffered losses. Children played and socialized and they also received a snack donated by one of ChildFund Kenya’s service providers.

Additionally, ChildFund Kenya through the Mukuru Integrated Program redirected about US$10,000 to address the priority needs of children and parents recovering from the fires.

A team from the Kenya national office conducted a rapid needs assessment March 2 immediately following the fire outbreak. The following needs were identified:

  • food
  • clothing
  • shelter
  • bedding
  • scholastic support
  • household utensils
  • trauma counseling.
ChildFund Kenya

A parent, whose home was lost in the fire, receives a donation of clothing for the family.

The redirected funds are purchasing blankets, cooking pots and mattresses for families enrolled in ChildFund programs. We’ve also set up Child Centered Spaces at the distribution site, with ongoing activities to address psychosocial needs. These activities focus on play therapy with drawing, games, poetry and singing.

Other ChildFund service providers, including Techno Relief, donated 500 plates and spoons to the affected families. The response to this emergency has been tremendous — both locally from our service providers and from ChildFund’s regional and international offices. We thank each one for their support and well wishes.

If you wish to make a contribution, the ChildAlert Emergency Fund is designed to assist with these types of emergencies in our program areas.

Sponsoring a Child Is a Great Learning Experience

Guest post by Jack Siegel

Last spring 10-year-old Jack Siegel traveled to Kenya on a ChildFund study tour, accompanied by his father John and grandmother Alice. For Jack, the highlight of the trip was meeting 10-year-old Willis, whom Alice began sponsoring right after her grandson’s birth so that the two boys, though worlds apart, could write and become long-distance friends throughout their childhoods. Jack, who has since turned 11, shares his memories of the trip.

Willis and Jack in Kenya.

The trip to Africa was great. We planted trees that will help the environment and we saw how a well helped a community. But, definitely, the best part of the trip was meeting my sponsored child Willis. That was amazing!

Willis is really nice, and he’s really smart. We took him a shirt and a soccer ball. I noticed that he was very thankful for the things we gave him. I think many Americans, especially if they’re wealthy, might not be that excited about a shirt, but he was happy and excited about it.

We took pictures of our family and we found out more about Willis’s family. His brother had died, and his family has had a lot of hardships.

But Willis is a kid like me. He enjoys playing soccer. I enjoy playing basketball. He enjoys playing with his goat. I like playing with my dog.

We had almost a full day together, and I got to find out what he likes to do — play soccer — and who is favorite soccer team is — Chelsea.

The match is on.

I got to play soccer with him. And I found out he was much better at soccer than most Americans.

Now that I’ve met Willis, it’s going to be easier to write. We can talk about what we did that afternoon for a long while.

It’s very crazy how it is that Willis and other children in Africa have so little. We have so much in this country and we spend money so shamelessly. I think my grandmother began sponsoring a child in Africa for each of her grandchildren because it’s a great learning experience for us. It’s amazing what less then $400 a year can do for a child living in Africa and other places in the world.

Sponsorship is fun. You get a friend. I have learned so much from writing letters to Willis. I plan to be his pen pal for at least 20 more years!

Right now, I just want to graduate high school and see what my options are. I might be an athlete and play basketball or football or baseball. I might not. I don’t know yet.

I just want Willis to be able to stay in school so that he can have options like I have when he grows up.

Definitely, I think more people should sponsor children. I mean, it can change a life! Without this support, children may not be able to stay in school. What if one of these children turns out to be a president of a country? Maybe a child will grow up to invent a new kind of gas or energy source — there are endless possibilities.

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