First, Get A Sack
“Idhi tich?” Nelson, my compound’s askari (guard), asked as I made my way to the gate. “Adhi tich!” I replied with complete enthusiasm, slightly mangling the Dholuo phrase, but hoping that maybe, just maybe, today I had said it well enough to be understood.
With an encouraging, patient smile, Nelson had me repeat the phrase that explained I was going to work until it was intelligible to him, if not anyone else who might have to suffer the misfortune of hearing my rather hopeless, though enthusiastic, attempts to speak Dholuo.
Masaeko, the K-MET askari, received a dose of it when I arrived at the office. At my bright “Oyawore! Ichiewo nadi?!” (Good morning! How have you woken up?!), complete with eager smile and the panting of a puppy just waiting to be petted, he exclaimed “ah!” and laughed with the friendliness that I have become accustom to each morning. He replied in Dholuo, and I positively skipped into the office, happy to be at work.
I work on the second floor of the K-MET office, in what is known as the library. I love this room. People wander in and out, using the photocopier and stopping to chat for a few moments. I can hear the roosters from the backyard chicken coop crowing (an activity they do not restrict to only morning, choosing to share their talents at any time they please), the call to prayer from a local mosque (which is in possession of some powerful loudspeakers), and the children at the Josanna Academy down the road.
Light breezes bring warm air in through the window, making the white net curtain wave lazily, brushing against the window’s sea-colored trim in a sleepy caress. From my desk, I can see the road out this window, which shows signs of having once been paved but is now dusty and rocky – when I get home from work I rinse my feet and my newly acquired tan slowly drips down the drain.
I usually share the library with my co-worker Debrah, who has long ceased to be just a co-worker and has become a good friend, as I consider everyone at K-MET to be. On this day, she is giving a demonstration on how to make a garden in a sack. Reason being, Debrah is a volunteer and works on the Food Security Project within K-MET. The Food Security Project is a division of K-MET’s Nutrition Program, both of which act as components of K-MET’s Home Based Care initiative.
K-MET’s Nutrition Program started in 2003 with the goal to improve the nutritional status of the patients that K-MET’s Community Health Workers provide home based care for. The program was initiated when the health workers (who are all K-MET trained volunteers) realized that many of their patients did not have enough food and that this fact drastically affected both the health of the patient and their ability to properly adhere to any medication course they may have been prescribed.
K-MET began training their network of Community Health Workers in the area of nutrition so that they may now counsel their patients on eating a healthy diet. In a region where lack of food and hunger are common, K-MET understands that knowledge of good nutrition may not be the primary problem, but rather lack of access to food. Many of the patients living with HIV do not have a steady income, thus getting enough food is often extremely difficult. K-MET works to address this issue by distributing Nutriflour – a corn flour blend mixed with various vitamins and supplements. Located in the room adjacent to the K-MET Health Clinic is the Nutrition Center, where K-MET owns a poshomill (a machine which grinds the maize into flour) and creates the Nutriflour. Packets of Nutriflour are sold here and also distributed to the Community Health Workers to give to their patients during their visits. Members of the community can also bring their own maize to be milled here.
Recently the Nutrition Program has swelled and is expanding to meet the community’s needs. Brought on board to assist Ken, the director of the Nutrition Program, Debrah focuses on addressing the need for food security in vulnerable families in the area. She holds training workshops for K-MET’s patients that cover a variety of food issues, with a focus made on growing your own food in order to assure food security. Using the demonstration garden in K-MET’s backyard, Debrah instructs local women on gardening techniques and teaches them tips to maximize their small garden space. Many families, however, do not have enough space to have a garden for personal food production, even a very small one. So Debrah recently held a seminar to instruct women on how to make a “garden in a sack.”
A group of about 12 women gathered in the K-MET compound to learn how to use a small amount of space to grow healthy vegetables like Kale by creating a miniature garden within a basic, large sack. The women come from the St. Rael Support Group, a K-MET organized support group for women living with HIV/AIDS. The group meets every Friday and takes part in a variety of activities. From KMET, the group receives education, information on nutrition, technical advice and items such as seeds in order to build up their families’ food security. St. Rael Support Group, with an enrollment of 28, is still a young group, but K-MET hopes that as the group becomes more cohesive and established, that the women will be able to be introduced into the microfinance program. With loans from K-MET, the group may be able to purchase farming implements and start large scale farming as an income generating activity.
Some of the women had walked quite far to get to the K-MET office, so they sat in the shade to rest and wait, while Debrah finished preparations for the demonstration.
As you may have guessed, the first step in creating a garden in a sack is to get a sack.
You then fill said sack with dirt until it is almost completely full.
The next step is to nestle an open-ended box (or tube, if you will), made of either metal or plastic or cardboard, in the dirt within the sack and fill it with stones. This is used as the watering system for the sack garden. Water is poured into the box and it slowly filters through the stones, gradually watering the vegetables without flooding them.
The demonstration was lively and the group was very active, laughing as they worked and arguing over the best methods. Well, at least that’s what they told me they were talking about. As I only know various Dholuo greetings, I’m not much use in understanding gardening conversations. The process moved along quickly, and I was eager to see what the final product looked like.
After the stone watering system is in place and the sack is completely filled with dirt, holes are poked into the sides of the sack and seedlings are planted within. With water and sunlight, they will grow out of the sides of the sack, providing a vulnerable family with needed healthy vegetables. Kale, the popular leafy green vegetable that is sautéed and called “kisuma wiki,” is one of the most appropriate vegetables for the garden in a sack.
After the garden in a sack demonstration, the group took a well-deserved lunch of stew, ugali (a cooked mix of flour and water that forms a kind of paste that is a staple carbohydrate in Kenya) and, of course, kisuma wiki.
Oh and those roosters I hear in the backyard each day? Well, they too are doing their part in K-MET’s Food Security Program.
Find out more about K-MET’s programs on their website :www.kmet.co.ke and keep an eye out for new K-MET loans on the Kiva website!/>