Rachel and Jon left for Kenya in January, accompanied by Rosa Trelfa, CAFOD Lancaster Diocesan Manager, for the overseas part of their Step into the Gap Year. Over the course of the next four weeks, they will be visiting various CAFOD programmes and if you’d like to keep track of their progress, you can follow it all here.
My top 10 moments from Kitui
My turn to blog….
Having reached the quiet, peaceful haven of the Sacred Heart Convent in Karen after a busy week in Kitui, I’m sitting in the garden, able to think a little, away from the melodious tones of Dolly Parton – one of Francis’ (our driver for the week) favourites.
My top 10 moments from last week, counting down to number 1:
In at number 10: the healthy diet we’re eating. No sweets, cake, crisps or chocolate (yes, no choc) for a whole week. Instead, we’ve eaten fresh veg, meat (chicken and goat) and plenty of fruit.
Mangos are plentiful here, with vendors lining the street selling their mangos and bananas. Food’s an issue though in many areas we visited last week. We saw a Food Distribution taking place in Kanyango, organised by our partner, the Catholic Diocese of Kitui in conjunction with the local government. Thomas, from the Diocese of Kitui overlooks this – this man has such energy! The government supplies the food, and the local Church distributes it. It was an orderly affair – none of the mad dashes you sometimes see on the TV. The food comes monthly, and is enough to provide for a family of 6 for 2 weeks. It provides for 100 households in this area.
They are encouraged to source the other 2 weeks’ food themselves so they are not entirely dependent on food aid. When I asked Thomas where he’d like the programme to be in 3 years’, he said: “My dream by the end of 3 years is that we have improved food security, and that is our goal. We are together in strengthening each other.”
Two things struck me here: I was shocked that so many need food aid. Times are hard. The crops are failing because of the lack of rain, and food aid is a necessity right now. It’s a normal part of living. And secondly, the good relationship the Diocese has with the local government is fruitful. The Church is seen as an effective way to deliver the programme. It gave me confidence in the local Church – here was the Diocese actually supporting this essential service, not removed from the people but standing alongside them in a very practical way.
At number 9: The 2-hour Kenyan Mass we participated in. My oh my, what a celebration!! Those of you reading who are in the One Voice Community Choir whom I sing with at home, imagine all of the hymns as one of our inspirational songs where we’re swaying and clapping – that’s what it was like. There were 4 part harmonies, everyone joining in – just loved it. And the sermon was the most animated one I’ve ever heard. All in Swahili, with the occasional English phrase thrown in, it was more like a conversation between the young energetic priest and the packed church than the one-way sermons we’re used to hearing in England. There was laughter, and congregation participation as a fisherman was called up to tell us how he fished (the gospel was Jesus calling the disciples to follow him). The fisherman broke into song at one point. The children dancing, the fathers processing up the aisle (it was a fathers’ mass) – I’ll never forget it.
Number 8 – The stunning wildlife I’m seeing. Lots of brightly coloured birds – oranges, bright blues, yellows, all in the garden here in Karen. Then along the way from the car, I‘ve seen heron-like birds (bluey coloured) and something that looks like a flying lizard. Numerous big raptors (is that right Rob?) too. Need that bird book from my living room…..
Number 7 – The traffic is just mad. Luckily we had a superb driver last week who negotiated the dancing traffic and had eyes at the back of his head. We grew to love Francis our driver. We even loved the cheesy music he played in the car. We had a wonderful ‘hairbrush’ moment when we grabbed the nearest mobile phone or bottle of water and sang along to the Osmonds’ “Don’t love me for fun, girl, let me be the one girl…” what a giggle. It made Francis laugh. I think we were a bit delirious with the heat. Then there are the bigger buses stacked high with mattresses, furniture. The smaller matutu (mini buses) weaving in and out of the cars. The consistent peeping of horns. It’s crazy. Thank God for Francis!
Number 6 – Rachel the goat herder. One of the funniest moments of the week! When we visited the goat programme, Rachel really got stuck in. She was offered a stick and invited to herd the goats. They quickly dispersed and Rachel was left chasing them with her stick. How the locals laughed! I still giggle at the memory of Rachel pointing her stick at the goats following them and the goats moving further and further away. We love Rachel’s openness and willingness to try her hand at anything!! We have this on film too….wait ‘til you see it!
Number 5 – greenhouses. We saw some greenhouse in a programme in Kyatune village, made from local materials. Not a steel frame in sight – wooden frames made from locally sourced trees. Tomatoes were watered with a drip irrigation system and they were yielding plentiful supplies for the local community to consume and sell. Sustainable and effective. Jon gave out some Blackpool rock to the community. We had to explain the picture of the snowman on the sweets – I’m not sure how much they understood the idea of a snowman!
Number 4 – the impressive way that the communities organised themselves to support the programmes. Every programme had a committee to organise the running of the programme, whether it was a water and sanitation programme, or a goats restocking programme. Without exception the committee was made up of men and women in equal numbers, or more often with slightly more women. They were elected by the community to serve on the committee and they meet regularly, every 2 weeks to discuss issues and ongoing concerns. They organised rotas of ‘duties’ eg maintaining the dam, erecting and repairing fencing around the dam, or in the case of farming programmes – rotas of watering duties. The sense of working together is strong. Helping each other, and ownership came across loud and clear too. We have much to learn from them.
Number 3 – Climate change. It’s real and it’s here. There are no rains, and the poorest communities are feeling it. Every community we spoke to said the same thing. The elders in the community told us that when they were young there were rainy seasons, now they are no more. In one community women walk for 2 days to collect water. We were shocked at the severity of the problem. It was hard to take in. I mentioned that in England we have too much rain and I wished we could send some here. One gentleman quickly responded: “If you have too much rain, you also have too much food.” It was a piercing and poignant comment which highlighted that without rain there is no food here. And yes, perhaps we have too much food back home.
Number 2 – The partners that CAFOD works with here in Kenya, in Kitui, are awesome. The programme officers are committed and hard-working. They deliver the programmes we donate to. They travel stupid distances to meet regularly with the communities. They listen to the communities. They encourage them, guide them. They face challenges from the communities, and they handle them well because they have a good working relationship with them. The model of partnership I have witnessed fills me with confidence and hope. These are the ones on the ground delivering. They make my job look easy. And the passion with which the diocesan staff spoke with about real development (as opposed to aid) was energising. This partnership is CAFOD’s strength, at all levels. And it works. So proud, and humbled, to be part of this.
And at number 1 – the overwhelming warmth of the people we have met. I met Anna, my ‘second daughter’. Benjamin, so diginified, clear and articulate, as he showed us around the farm programme. Josephine’s generosity of spirit – she is poor, but gives 10% of her income to the church. Justice’s calm pride when he told us about his goats.
And the welcomes we have received: we’ve been greeted with song, dancing and clapping. We prayed together in community. We were blessed by many. The enthusiastic handshakes. The smiles. The laughs. Amazing. They asked us not to forget them – no chance of that. And they asked us to pray for them, saying that they would pray for us. We promised to tell their stories. There’ll be no holding us back when we return. They’ve inspired and touched us beyond our expectations. How can we not respond?