I’m Paige and it’s my second year working on this project. This spring I was actually the eyes and ears on the ground for the group. I studied abroad in Kenya this semester, and did the 6-week internship portion of my program at the CYEC, and I’ve stayed around since. It was really great being able to spend an extended amount of time here, and I hope that I was able to use that insight to help the group identify the areas and projects to focus on. I spent most of my time on the shamba, learning the “tricks of the trade,” and really getting to know Titus and the youth. I did my best to try and improve the organization, communication, and structure within the group, but found it to be a bigger and more complicated task than I expected. I’m excited to see how well the group is doing at tackling this critical component with their varying backgrounds, expertise, and points of view. If we can accomplish this I really think it will be invaluable to making these projects we’ve been working on, and that the youth are invested in, a success. It is certainly different at the center with so many “mzungus” around, but I am really looking forward to seeing all the great work that our group can accomplish while we are all here, and I know it will help the CYEC, and especially the youth, move forward!

On Saturday our group - minus Brad - took a day trip to see Mount Kenya and the Equator. We first went up to Mount Kenya, we went to the outside of the Mount Kenya National Park and didn't go in to save some money. But we were able to see some of it, although it was a little cloudy, and took pictures in front of the sign. Also, off to the side there were a bunch of monkey hanging out in a woman's back yard. We went back and took pictures of them and the woman was nice enough to through cabbage out so that the monkeys would come closer to us to get the food.

After Mount Kenya we went on our way to see the equator, which turned out to be a sign on the side of the road saying that it was in fact the equator. I think the locals were a little confused how we could take so many pictures with the same sign over and over again, but we got a bunch of good ones! The "teacher" then went on to show us how water spins in opposite directions on either side of the equator. We're not sure whether it was really true or not, but it seemed to make sense? After the demonstration we went into town, Nanyuki, to get lunch. We found a pretty good restaurant, that actually served Coke Light - apparently this is pretty rare in Kenya.

All in all it was a very good day, we had some car troubles with the shock absorbers but we managed to get back fine with the trunk door only flying open once. Needless to say the matatu had to go in for repairs...

That's all for now and everyone sends their love back home!

Written By: Danielle Robertson
Hello All!

I thought I would give a little update on the progress of our enterprise development team. Professor Ed, Dan, and I are working to help the CYEC’s Youth Cooperative become a sustainable and successful business. The youth at the center have created this cooperative to help financially support the CYEC and themselves. This business initiative will help them to learn valuable trades such as tailoring, carpentry, metal work, bee keeping, goat, chicken, and rabbit raising, and crop development. Each of these trades represents a separate initiative working under the umbrella title of the CYEC’s Youth Cooperative. It is our hope that this cooperative will also teach the youth valuable business skills such as record keeping, accounting, saving, and investing. It is our hope that the youth will be able to use these skills to start their own businesses once they leave the CYEC. Unemployment is very high in Kenya and self-employment is a good way to help the youth escape the cycle of poverty that plagues so many people here.

Our three-person business team is working closely with the older youth in charge of the cooperative. Our goal is to develop a sustainable business structure for this cooperative. We have been developing budgets, record-keeping spreadsheets, and employee time sheets for each of the separate initiatives.

Each Penn State student has been paired with the Kenyan in charge of each initiative. They are working with their Kenyan counterparts to create budgets for each of the initiatives. These include current assets and costs as well as a list of capital needed to expand each initiative. We plan to meet on Friday to compile the budgets.

After the budgets are compiled, we will create a “wish list” of sorts which will include the essential items that must be purchased in order for each initiative to be successful. Our business team will them work to develop a microfinance loan system which will allow the Zawadi Fund to provide small loans to offset the costs of buying these new items. Our small microfinance plan will act as a teaching tool to prepare the youth for taking out loans from real banks. The structure of the plan will be very similar to that of a real bank’s, but without the risks of borrowing money from such an institution.

So far, everything is running smoothly and we are making progress. Things move much more slowly here in Kenya than they do in the United States, so we are learning to be patient. Even so, everyone here at the CYEC is very enthusiastic about our work and has welcomed our help.

Unfortunately, the business team lost one of its members yesterday. Dan headed home to begin work at Johnson & Johnson. His presence is greatly missed, especially by our business team. We wish him lots of luck at his new “grown up job”… I know you will do great! But, we will be in touch, asking him for his accounting and business expertise. Everyone still here in Kenya sends their love and hopes you had a safe trip home (and we hope you got good chocolate in Brussels)!

P.S. Dan, the nuggets miss you too!

Love you mom, dad, kif & daisy!

Written by: Caroline Gimmillaro

If you are reading this, the first thing you might be asking yourself is, who is this guy??  An accounting guy on an Ag/Economic Development project in Kenya.  Sometimes I ask myself the same thing………..but what a blessing it has been to be here.  Today was one of those days. \

We had a field trip today to a place called Othaya.  This is a plot of land available to develop the eco-village concept  being planned here – essentially an extension of what is being done at the Center.  It is an ambition project which would require financing., resources and time.  But it is a great vision and has great potential over time.

The area was beautiful, but steep.  One of the notable aspects of our tour was at the bottom of this very large hill was astone quarry with four men sitting on rock piles smashing rocks into gravel.  It made my arm tired and sore just watching them for about 10 minutes.  They do this all day, every day.  In the US, we would not expectinmates in prison to work such hard labor.  They literally were sitting on the piles of gravel they had created.  But it is a way to make a living and they do it with smiles on their faces.  They were all very pleasant men. 

The river at the bottom of the valley, which flows year round was one beautiful and two a potential source of energy and water for the planned eco-village.  There will be work done down the road on how best to harness the potential energy source

On our way back, we got the matatu stuck trying to get it turned around in a narrow lane.  It was quite funny watching us goofy Americans pushing on it.  Though we knew what we needed to do, it wasn’t going to get done but for the assistance of four young Kenyan men who came to our aid (probably rock crushers themselves).  They pushed out with ease – with our help of course.  As we drove off, I commented to the students in the van, I wonder how many times around the world the phrase "Stupid Americans" is uttered.  I bet it is a lot. :).

Author – Ed Babcock, Instructor of Accounting, Smeal Business School – Penn State University

Monday morning brought with it overcast skies and a slight chill, remnants of the periodic showers that scattered across the Nyeri area during the previous night. The second full day at the Centre began much like the first, with two competing roosters providing a series of wake up calls throughout the dawn hours. These feuding fouls differ in their morning songs, one more raspy than the other, but both make your hair stand on edge as you lay peacefully in bed, cherishing those last, few hours of sleep.

And so the morning began, the start of our first full week here at the CYEC. First on the agenda was breakfast, which included the typical spread of some instant coffee or tea, with some mandazi (a golden, sweet bread which can range from bite size to that of your hand). As many of us have concluded since our time here in Kenya, mandazi can be best described as a cross between an old fashion donut and funnel cake. Bread, butter, and jam were also made available with one or two other main courses, which escape my recollection at the moment. Students filled up on breakfast based on whether or not they would opt for lunch. The cooking staff at the Centre buys specific amounts of food based on who has signed up for lunch or dinner. While abstaining from lunch can keep a few hundred more shillings in your pocket, you’re bound to find yourself craving a snack by the early afternoon.

Shortly after breakfast, the day began around 8:30 AM with Titus narrating a walking tour of the various agricultural enterprises occurring at the Centre.  Titus is in charge of the agricultural endeavors at the CYEC, and spends most his time in the shamba (Swahili for “garden”).  The tour included visits to the goat and rabbit pens, which are in desperate need of expansion. The existing rabbit hutches are severely limited in space, which results in 3-4 rabbits per 18” x 18” x 36” cage. A good rule of thumb is to have a hutch that provides a 24” x 24” x 24” space per one rabbit. Back in March of this year, plans had been drafted to expand both the goat and rabbit pens, however miscommunication over funds and materials has plagued the construction project’s start.

Chickens were also in the process of being reintroduced to the Centre after a recent setback due to poor feed quantity. Titus explained that layers (egg-layers that is) are more valuable in the long run because they can produce eggs for consumption or be left to become the next generation of chickens. Broilers on the other hand are for solely for consumption and can mature in roughly 3-4 months. Overall, as with all of the animal enterprises, the goal is to provide the youth with more animal-based protein in their diet. Such sources would be goat milk, goat meat, rabbit meat, chicken meat, and eggs.

The next stop on the tour was the shamba itself. The property of the CYEC extends from the front entrance along the road and gradually slopes down towards a small creek, which forms the opposing property line. As you move down from the main collection of buildings, you walk down onto the soccer field. Shortly past that, you find yourself entering the shamba. The shamba is currently planted with a variety of vegetables including a collection of leafy greens, potatoes, carrots, onions, peppers, and tomatoes, along with other forage materials for the animals. There is a small high tunnel (think an arched greenhouse), which houses 5-6’ tomato vines. Tomatoes are a higher value crop than some of the other plants and therefore Titus has been trying to maximize their growth through the use of the high tunnel. It also serves as a form of protection from hungry thieves, be they neighbors or from within.

A small patch of the garden is lined with drip irrigation that provides a steady source of water to the plants in times of minimal rains and drought. Titus and the agricultural youth have been working with drip irrigation for a few years now, which was one of the main reasons for the earlier visit to Amiran Kenya Ltd., the private company that sells the greenhouse/irrigation farm kits.

Another feature within the shamba is the apiary or beehives. The youth worked in the wood and metal shops at the Centre to create 5 beehive boxes, which as of March were inhabited by 2 colonies, and now the count has doubled. Honey production is one of the enterprises that the business team is currently focusing on developing a business model for. Standing a few yards away from the melodic buzzing, one is filled with a sense of anxiety but also one of anticipation as the thought of fresh honey fills your imagination. Hopefully, the group will get to try some of the honey before leaving the CYEC in June.

The tour concluded around late morning with a discussion over what steps need to be taken to achieve the vision for the shamba and the other agricultural enterprises. Meanwhile, the business team consisting of Dan, Caroline, and Ed, were hard at work developing business plan sheets for the individual enterprise youth leaders to begin filling out. The goal is to have the youth leaders (whether they be in charge of goats, or rabbits, or bees) understand the value and importance of keeping records and how basic accounting skills can help make their business dreams a reality. This crash course of worksheets is designed to prepare the youth leaders with the skills (record keeping) and the materials (business plans, record sheets) to eventually apply for micro-finance loans, which is another project being undertaken by the business team.

By the mid afternoon, the clouds had given way to sunny skies and warmer temps around 20 C (low 70’s F). Monday was an unusual day in that the children had off from school. Word around the Centre was that it had something to do with Teacher’s Day (perhaps something similar to an in-service day in the States). The youth were scattered throughout the Centre enjoying the company of the students. Hands were held, hair was styled, books were read and games were played. I had brought along a suitcase full of sports equipment and thought it was a good time to break out the Frisbees. The children immediately took to them. I even managed with the help of a Penn State engineering student to teach the kids how to play Ultimate Frisbee.  A soccer game progressed throughout the afternoon and into the evening as well.

In general it was a relaxing afternoon. After dinner, there was a brief update from the business team and everyone got the sense that the moment was ripe with opportunity. The youth leaders are eager to take charge of their respective enterprises and with the help of their Penn State counterparts, there was a sense that things were starting to come together. The next few days will consist of working in the Penn State-youth leader pairs, continuing research on the various agricultural enterprises, visiting a site location in Othaya, and meeting with faculty at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

The students are in good spirits, but not without a few stomach bugs, myself included. A night spent ferrying yourself from the bed to the bathroom, back and forth, will most certainly drain you, but it is all part of the experience. Trying to narrow it down to a specific source is a bit difficult given the facilities, food, and population that we’re working with. Students have already been confronted with several challenges, not the least of which is a spotty internet connection. It is certainly times like these that we gain a better appreciation for the often-expected luxuries back home.

Written by : Brad Olson

“Well only the curious have something to find.
 It’s foreign on this side…”

While descriptions of visits/meetings in Nairobi pertaining to our research will be documented more specifically in other posts, I’d like to focus on the bigger picture we have been experiencing here in Kenya. 

We all met up Wednesday night at the Nairobi airport, with various flying horror stories to share.  Our group met up with the Penn State Berks group outside of the airport, where our various sized luggage was being put into a large van, here so commonly referred to as a “matatu.”  This was the first of many, MANY, matatu rides in Nairobi.  After introductions between the Ag kids and the Berks Kids, we mutually looked around and giggled: every person’s stomach was grumbling… some with anticipation, while others were a simple sign of sheer hunger. 

Upon arrival to the downtown side street where our two hotels were (we were not able to all fit in one hotel), we took a quick walk to the ATM and to Tusky’s—a local grocery store chain. I was surprised to find that some things manufactured here are commonly found in United States grocery stores.  Not many…but some.  Others, however, seem to be branded to be similar to foods seen in the States. We learned quickly that the dollar is pretty strong here—about 80 to 1—and while saving money is great for us, to everyone else we were walking dollar signs.  We stick out like sore thumbs everywhere we go.

Thursday was filled up with our trips to KARI and Helen Keller International, followed by our first Kenyan dinner. Goat was on the menu, a first for the majority of us I would assume.  We also ate Ugali—a Kenyan staple similar to grits…really sticky; yet dry at the same time.  Let’s be honest, when it comes to food, ask Dan (he has been keeping track of every meal and has been trying everything)…my personal pallet is what some would call “immature.”

Friday, in between our visits to KEFRI and Amirain Kenya Ltd., we took an impromptu stop at the giraffe sanctuary. We were all pretty excited; it was the first tourist activity of the trip! Jetlag plagued us, giraffe’s were the antidote.  With unlimited supplies of giraffe feed, we were off to coax over the gargantuan forces.  Brad (grad student and certified camera man), as usual, was on camera duty, documenting the hilarity that was about to ensue.  He has been doing a great job documenting not only the business development aspect of the trip, but also the personal and tourist developments of our group as a whole as well.

 We first started off just feeding the giraffe by hand with nervous excitement—the giraffes were just huge! Each giraffe was named, and would respond to their name when called.  I thought they would have some complicated native name, but I was completely wrong.  We met four giraffes during our hour at the center: Jock, Laura, Mable, and Betty (Jock and Betty named for the founders of the center).  Being this close to such a large, live, mass would make any new person a bit nervous. Plus, the sign a top the gazebo structure we were feeding the giraffes from specifically said to watch out for head butts!  Slowly, we each became more comfortable with these massive creatures.  We had the option to put the giraffe feed in between our lips, as to ask the giraffe for a “kiss.” With feed in lips, the giraffes would stick out their foot-long tongues for a full facial, sweeping the feed right off our lips! I’m sure we each have great pictures of giraffe kisses to share upon our return.  There were also warthogs living in the same reserve as the giraffes, I thought they were kind of cute (real life pumba)! 

For more information on the sanctuary, click the link below.  http://www.africanmeccasafaris.com/kenya/nairobi/excursions/giraffecenter.asp

On Saturday, we the morning at a large tourist market in Nairobi buying scarves, jewelry, and other locally made crafts.  Afterwards, we walked over to the Nairobi National Museum.  The museum focused mostly on general human history at first (since it is here the origins of life are said to have begun), and then shifted onto recent history, tribal history, environmental history, and onto current conflict.  The museum was very empty; we were, perhaps, the only group there.  It was interesting to compare what would be seen in a museum, say in Washington D.C. to that of Nairobi. The exhibits were much simpler, the museum less manicured, and the human traffic within the museum non-existent. 

After the museum, we settled in for a long matatu ride up to Nyeri.  We stopped about an hour and a half into the rocky ride at Blue Post: a nice resort-like area and home to Thika Falls.  We took some magnificent photographs, and spent about an hour sitting outside for a short snack and drink, taking some time to enjoy the lush nature.  Even though Nairobi was busy and crowded and stuffy and filled with smog; and even though we were so excited to finally get settled into the CYEC, we would each miss Nairobi a little bit.  Our first mental images of Kenya are of Nairobi.  Our first experiences as a group, serious and not-so-serious, are in Nairobi.  Our relationships started to form and blossom in Nairobi.  Plus, we ALL would miss our daily Java (the BEST coffee shop) trips!

It is safe to say that every day, aside from curriculum material and research, we are learning something new. We spend hours, usually during meal time, talking about the things we are seeing, doing, and experiencing here in Kenya…especially now that we are at the CYEC.  For most of us, this is the first time taking on a project of such magnitude, and I can personally say all the unstructured debriefing is helping tremendously in the adjustment and comfort process.  Each day we are becoming more of a cohesive group, learning and growing…about ourselves, each other, the youth in the center, and what life must be like in a developing country.

Written By: Brett Promisloff

And, with each ending blog post, I propose a song to describe the current state of our group as a whole.  We are in constant learning and transition.  But, while we are nervous at times, we are not the type to back down in the face of a challenge…and this much we know:

On Friday we visited Amiran, a corporation which has a corporate social responsibility to help food production in Kenya.  They buy bulk material and put together high tunnels with drip irrigation.  They have successfully targeted small farmers who can’t afford to buy the material any other way.  Amiran rarely works with larger agriculture corporations.  The kits are a 48,000Ksh ($6,000) investment which Amiran claims the farmers are able to pay back in six months time if they follow the suggestions of the corporation.

 The kits include a variety of materials to help farmers grow successful crops.  These include the following; high tunnel materials, a gravity fed drip irrigation system, a collapsible water tank, a hand operated sprayer, a variety of high quality seeds, a set of flats for seedlings, high quality fertilizers, target pesticide chemicals, and a safety kit.  The kit provides farmers with suggested amounts of fertilizer and pesticide application rates. When farmers purchase the package they also get training on how to apply the chemicals properly and to be aware of environmental problems that may arise.  Training on record keeping of production and chemical application is also included.

 Many farmers have shown that buying this package has been beneficial to their farming business.  An advantage of buying the Amiran package is that the Agro-consulting services are available to do checkups if the farmer has problems with the equipment.  This is unlike the Kenyan extension services that don’t provide checkups as promised.  Some of the draw backs to buying a kit include the large investment which put the small farmers at risk.  Also, Amiran is incapable of reaching the smallest subsistence farmers who are not able to acquire adequate loans for the kit.  Overall Amiran looks like a promising supplier for the CYEC.

Hey Everyone!

A few days ago we visited a place called KFRI. KFRI stands for Kenya Forestry Research Institute. Our purpose for this visit was to expand our knowledge in forestry, especially in aloe and bamboo production. The Children and Youth Empowerment Centre has two areas of land, one of which has a large amount of aloe plants. During our time at KFRI, we learned about the policies about growing aloe, collecting aloe, and the production of aloe based products. The collection of aloe would help the CYEC to produce revenue based on the aloe sales or aloe based products. The Kenya Forestry Research Institute developed soaps, lotions, and shampoos which contained aloe. This was very helpful to learn that this indigenous plant was able to be collected and used to create a money making product.

We also learned about woodworking with bamboo. Bamboo is equivalent to a wooden weed, as it can grow large amounts in very short amounts of time. This product can be substituted for the typical lumber in many instances. For example, we walked through KFRI’s woodshop, where they were utilizing bamboo. They were making wooded stools, bed frames, couches, dressers, and rocking chairs. The wood work that these carpenters did was absolutely amazing. The quality of the wood work was unbelievable, and the best part was that everything was hand-made. We were able to go to KFRI’s showroom of previously made products, where you could purchase the items on display. I bought a large serving plate, which cost only 1,200 Kenya Shillings, which is equivalent to about $8. This plate could have easily have cost at least $75 in the United States. I was very surprised with the price of such great quality.

Overall this trip was a very educational and very exciting one. We are currently in the process of processing the information we learned and at some point we will develop some educational materials on how to grow and produce products containing aloe and bamboo. I love you MOM!!

Written by: Dan Connell

We met with a representative from the Helen Keller International (HKI) on May 22nd. HKI is a non-profit that works to combat blindness in developing countries by promoting the growth and consumption of sweet potatoes, a great source of vitamin A. Lack of vitamin A is the leading cause of blindness in developing countries. HKI works in conjunction with the Centro Internacional de Papas (CIP), which in English translates to the International Center for Potatoes.

The main objectives of this collaboration are:
1. Breeding potatoes high in vitamin A for different climates and soil zones
2. Creating weevil-resistant potatoes (weevils are the main pest of sweet potatoes)
3. Creating seed networks; spreading quality materials
4. Creating effective delivery mechanisms
5. Management and capactiy strengthening

One of the proposed initiatives of HKI/CIP include reaching out to women's clinics and giving pregnant women redeemable vouchers to receive sweet potatoe seed/vines to plant during the next growing season after their child is born. Sweet potatoe can be especially attractive to mothers to use a weaning food. Children only need consume 125g of sweet potatoe per day (a child-size handful) in order to meet their daily requirement.

Written By: Alayna Blalock

On our first day in Nairobi, May 19th, 2011, our group travelled to KARI look into different drip irrigation systems. The institute looks at different irrigation systems, especially for small scale farmers, which can increase the productivity of a farm. KARI has 5 main drip irrigation systems, 4 of which that sell. The kits are bucket kits, drum kits, one eighth acre kits, quarter acre family drip irrigation kits, and quarter and half acre family orchard drip irrigation kits. The main difference in the kits is the scale that can reach and the amount of parts that are included in the kit. The kits mainly come with a filter, sub main, drip lines and connectors and cost anywhere from $95.00 for the smallest kit to $630.00 for the largest kit.

The drip irrigation systems work so that there will be a tank of water 5 – 10 meters off the ground and uses gravity pressure to distribute the water through pipes and hoses. The hoses travel through the crop beds and there is a hole that water drips out of when the kit is turned on to water the crops. The hoses do have some issues in terms of clogging of the holes or salinization. In order to avoid clogging, the holes are places on the top of the hose so that it does not directly touch the soil.

KARI offers other technology for enhancing the productivity of crops like high tunnels. The high tunnels secure crops from outside damage and provide a productive growing environment. There are nets on the side that also prevent pests from coming into the tunnel. Some disadvantages are the need for more disease prevention and you need a large investment, so you need a large return to get your money back.

The main purpose of KARI is to provide technologies to enhance the productivity for high yielding and high value crops for small scale farmers. Many small scale farmers do not have access to drip irrigation systems because the manufacturers only make the kits for large scale production. However, with KARI small scale farmers will have access to irrigation systems that can help them increase their yields.

Written By: Danielle Robertson