Food for Thought
According to the teachers and through general observation at Morokoshi, we believe roughly 10% of the nearly seventy preschool children arrive in the morning without having eaten since the prior day. In addition to the obvious issues surrounding malnutrition in the early, foundation years of physical growth, these children are less capable of learning and do daily show signs of listlessness and disconnection from the activities in the classroom.
The mothers of these children are very poor, too often without food nor income to sustain even the basics of daily needs for themselves or their children. Many are single, for all practical purposes, their husbands not living at home or not contributing to the family in a meaningful way.
A school lunch program is a means of addressing this issue, granting at least one meal a day to each child. In the U.S. the National School Lunch Program was initiated during the 1930s and then formalized in the ’40s as a means of making certain every child received at least one meal a day.
A quick Google search for “school lunch program” +kenya demonstrates how many external organizations are now providing food to the children in Kenyan school systems as the Kenyan government does not now (to the best of my knowledge) nor will likely carry such a program in the near future.
Therefore Span volunteer Grace Proctor and Steve Muriithi, owner of Morokoshi, initiated the Learning Lishe Program, a school lunch program. The Lishe Program begins with the “shamba” (Swahili for “farm”), rented land adjacent to Morokoshi which was planted with corn and beans early this spring as a means to long-term, renewable food source for immediate consumption, seeds for replanting, and sales of excess (if any) to the local market.
The women who work with the Lishe Program last week harvested the first crop of beans. I have been informed by Steve that due to poor rainfall, the crop is ample only to be used to reseed the field for the next season. We hope the corn (planted in the same field with alternating rows) will harvest with better results, but it too needs substantially more rainfall than what has arrived to date.
For now, Grace, Steve, and the teachers (who prepare the fire and food) have dedicated themselves to providing one cup of porridge for each child each day at the cost of $50 USD per month, or $600 per year to feed seventy children once each day.
The Transformation of Goals
Chris and I came to Morokoshi with intent to upgrade the solar PV array which Rie, Cameron, and I installed in May of 2008, and to build a composting toilet.
What could have been a two to three day project required ten, but ultimately we completed the upgrade of the PV array (I will share more about this project in a later blog entry; yes, the solar panel frame really is pink) which now boasts 8 panels for a total of 260 watts, a BlueSky solar charge controller, and Magnum Energy inverter resulting in the rejuvenation of the batteries to some degree, and vastly improved power delivery and duration.
At Steve’s request, it was our second goal to build a toilet for the growing student population. While unlined pit toilets are the norm in Kenya, Chris and I desired to provide a toilet which eliminated contamination of the ground water, improved sanitation, and provided safe, organic fertilizer. Our research shows that waste from a single human can support roughly 250Kg of food-crop per year. We conducted extensive research prior to our departure, brought printed documents and educational material, and shared these with Steve.
Yet the maintenance of a composting toilet is far greater than that of a pit toilet, if it is to be safe as it resides in close proximity to food preparation and the classrooms. While a pit toilet is certainly not the ultimate answer, the potential of massive disease outbreak of a poorly maintained composting toilet seems a higher risk.
Steve, Chris, and I spoke extensively on the subject, pacing the area behind Steve’s house, between the new slab for water tanks and the clothes line and the outdoor shower. Ultimately, after many evenings of conversation, Steve decided to build a test composting toilet on a small, family scale to determine if it was applicable to the school as a whole. Chris and I agreed to this approach and are eager to support his effort, with additional research and designs.
This level of conversation set in motion the process of reconsidering our goals at Morokoshi. It was a complex array of adjustments and refocusing, even debate as to what is in fact the best use of our limited time as volunteers.
For me, personally, in the first few days at Morokoshi, I came to realize how easy it is (and has been in the past) for any volunteer to arrive in a cloud of dust–hammers pounding, saws cutting, and drills whirring with unbridled passion to complete projects confined by impossible deadlines in challenging situations. But in the end, it is far too possible to spend little time with the very people we as volunteers come to support. Volunteers go home with photos of finished projects and smiling faces on the day of completion, but if the hard question is asked, Did we truly solicit change?
In many places (Morokoshi is an exception) volunteers return the following year to find a project exactly as it was left, or in a state of decay, or disassembled altogether. To provide opportunity for sustained change, there must be a complete buy-in, involvement, and support by the same people who are the recipients of the well intended project.
To use the ancient phrase, Did we provide a fish for a day or teach how to fish for a lifetime?
The Unfolding of a Systemic Solution
Our conversations began with the core concern for the children to receive one good meal a day. From there, the domino effect took hold, for the best means of feeding the children is through local production of food. To raise vegetables in any quantity requires a dedicated, dependable source of water. In Kenya, this is becoming more difficult to obtain for deforestation and changes in weather patterns are quickly leading to unreliable rainfall.
However, even chaotic weather patterns may produce ample water if captured and stored for when it is later needed most, delivered as a managed commodity.
This process lead to a discussion of reuse of gray water, water used for washing clothes, dishes, and floors, which lead to a discussion of how to move water from a catchment source the place where food is being grown using the natural force of gravity.
Now, this is where it got fun.
Chris, who has professional experience as a surveyor in Colorado, and I built a home-made surveyor’s level using 2 boards, duct tape, 2 screws, a 6″ metal pipe, 24″ rebar, a rock for counter-balance, iPod with a level app, camera, and bright orange lid to a plastic container.
Chris, Grace, and I surveyed Steve’s property and the adjacent ‘shamba’ to determine the potential flow of water in an improved, planned water shed. I then built a spreadsheet which calculates the quantity of water which may be captured with each centimeter of rainfall given a particular number of centimeters of rainfall.
With this, we calculated that we need 12,000 liters (4 x 3,000 liter tanks) to support the basic needs of 80 students, teachers, and Steve’s family during three months drought. We also determined that to capture and store ample water to support one acre of crops was cost prohibitive, even physically impossible. Therefore, any water for raising crops in an open field must come from natural rain fall supplemented by irrigation from a bore hole, which is on average a $30,000 USD proposition.
We realized that if we were to control the growing environment, the light, humidity, and water (from source to recapture), we could solve the greatest issue we faced–the ratio of liters of water to kilograms of crops. That is how the greenhouse was born, the need for a controlled ecosystem in which we recycle, reuse, and rejuvenate.
In my next entry, I will showcase how we built the greenhouse with the assistance of more than thirty women from the Nina Agricultural Initiative. It was amazing …