First thing is first, I hate mounds of insects. Thousands of the same insect in the same area just makes my skin crawl. One bee, fine; three thousand bees, and I freak out. I never thought I would have any interest in beekeeping…in fact, I thought it would be my nightmare. This all stems from a sleep away camp experience with a red ant hill at age ten…which is another situation in it of itself. It is quite possible this phobia could also stem from the infamous termite infestation of 2002 in the Promisloff household…who knows. Both of these would most definitely make for an interesting blog post (I hear all those in the States are quite fond of my colorful writing), but completely irrelevant and inappropriate to the PennStateInKenya2011 blog…
…or any blog for that matter.
ANYWAYS, to get to the point—prior to the trip, I really thought I would steer clear of the beekeeping enterprise. However, I have become fascinated with the beekeeping process and enterprise development. From the get go, we were told that the development and organization of the beekeeping enterprise would be more of a challenge than some of the other enterprises…I was up for this challenge immediately. I would be working with Alex (23 years old), a youth now living outside the center, but involved in the co-operative development and youth leader of the bee keeping enterprise.
The beekeeping enterprise began last summer as a viable production option along the Lamuria eco-village site. Because the land was so dry and soil samples had not yet been done, the group had shifted focus onto above ground production, which would be marketable in the area. Apparently, the demand for honey in Kenya is extremely high. After doing some searching in Kenya, the group found out that there was a beekeeping expert living in Lamuria, and we set up a few of the youth, Alex amongst this group, to be trained by this expert after our departure. After months of training, Alex and a few other youth decided to bring the hives back to the center in Nyeri, and continue beekeeping production here post training. Timing happened to just line up perfectly! By the time we would arrive back at the center this year, honey would be ready to cultivate for the first time since training! Needless to say, this presented a prime opportunity to develop the beekeeping enterprise from the initial stages of beekeeping training, onto becoming an integral part of the co-operative development. Business and budget training would be the next key step in developing the beekeeping enterprise. Organization was key-- and this was the largest challenge ahead of me. Creating a step-by-step model would be difficult—beekeeping production constantly varied, making it different than any other type of crop or animal production within the co-operative.
Another large challenge was helping Alex to organize his thoughts on beekeeping and business development. I think quite honestly, part of my inclination to take on beekeeping stemmed from challenges faced with Alex…it was a little more personal for me. As a child, teenager, and now young adult, I have struggled to manage and conquer my ADHD. With tons of help, organizational tutoring, and literal maturity, I have constantly worked to gain the personal tools to manage my scattered brain and be successful. While most people’s brain inherently work like the back room of an office—organizing and chunking concepts into congruent filing cabinets, with each idea separated into drawers and separate files to be easily accessed…my brain’s “back office” is not so organized. I have to try extra hard to constantly clean up and file the mess of ideas that lay like sheets of paper scattered all over the floor—it’s just not as natural. I have worked my whole life to force the little people in my brain (so to speak) to clean up—searching and retrieving concepts from my brain’s back office is also not as natural as others…sometimes this process can take a little longer. I have forced organization into my life with a lot of outside help from extremely patient mentors, tons of personal drive and, at times, a lot of medicine—has been the key to all my success in high school and now in college. Without these tools, I would not be the successful young woman I am today.
I instantly noticed Alex—his brain is a mess of an office, and I thought that if anyone, I could be able to force a little organization into his life. His idea’s jump around, and oftentimes, creating a step-by-step structure for any process simply does not occur to him. This wouldn’t be easy for me either, this whole trip and its inherent complexity take time for every person on our team to digest…for me, perhaps even a bit longer. While his ideas jumped around, my do as well—I just have the ability to reel them in.
And, you know that saying, “patience is a virtue?” …yeah, I don’t have that virtue…
…or much patience at all. I’m working on it.
In my work with Alex, I force myself to verbalize everything to create structure for the both of us. I am working to create organization within the beekeeping enterprise. I sat with Alex for hours, going over every step of the beekeeping process from building a hive, to jarring honey. We make organized lists of tools and materials needed, so I can go away and work to create a budget.
Alongside with my excel spreadsheets, I am working to put together an organized binder for the beekeeping enterprise. I have divided it into conceptual sections…first the activity sheets each youth will have to fill out to be paid properly (comparative to time sheets, but tailored to fit the Kenyan lifestyle/culture), second a budget outline for Alex to work with and fill out, next organized research on beekeeping, and lastly his papers from training—which were previously disheveled in an old paper bag.
We are facing a vital step in beekeeping production—the actual honey cultivation is upon us, and organization and record keeping is key at this stage, and this is the first time that the youth will be given this type of structure. It is also imperative to explain the importance of book keeping to the youth, especially in the honey refining stage. In order for any product to go to market (honey to be sold to the CYEC first), keeping records to track progress is key.
Alex went to Nairobi this past weekend, using saved up co-op funds to purchase the necessary materials (a bee suit, catcher books, bee smoker, etc) to begin the honey cultivation process. In the next few days, I hope to introduce Alex to the binder of organized materials I have created. Keeping up with bookkeeping while cultivating and refining honey is of the utmost importance, and I will need to stress this. While I can never be sure of follow through, I can work to provide the tools that were once provided to me by others, and I can hope.
I am unsure if what worked for me will ever work for him, but I can try. While working on this project, much of what I have learned from others around me constantly comes into play in every aspect of this experience—whether it be in meetings, walking down busy streets in Nyeri Town, and especially when working with Alex.
With days remaining on our journey, I think of what will happen when I return home. This is not a community service trip, this co-op is to be Alex’s career for the rest of his life—my work does not end when I leave Kenya in a mere five days (WOW! TIME FLIES!). Communication and development will have to continue cross-continents. Stability and longevity is key—and I believe that in every step in the future of this process/project I will continue to think of the others who have helped me, and only hope to disseminate this knowledge to help others.
I don’t think that the youth even realize how much they are teaching us, well me personally at least, every second of every day as well. I am learning and gaining skills from the youth—whether it is technical shamba work, or personal actualization relevant to my career development and future. While I am here to help them, I really think by the end of this process, it will be the youth of the co-operative who have taught me more (and helped me personally realize more) than I could ever teach them.