Hello All!


It is hard to believe that is has been two weeks since we left Kenya. Before we left, I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting to discuss a new permaculture design for the center. I wanted to update everyone on the meeting!


So if you are not sure what permaculture is (I had no clue either before the meeting- I thought it was some type of special cell tissues) – Permaculture is a design theory that analyzes all elements in an area and ecosystem. It works with the natural environment, not against. It aims to establish a closed loop system, where waste products can be recycled and used again as an input in the system. It finds ways to turn problems into solutions.


One of the areas we focused on in the meeting was rainwater and water run off management. What the planning committee at the center hopes to do is find ways that we can efficiently use the water to recycle it and use it again at the center.


Elin Darby conducted the meeting. She is an expert on permaculture design, and has worked on various projects. She will continue to work with the CYEC to establish systems that can economically benefit the center and environmentally benefit the surrounding areas.

Hello everyone!

I must first apologize for the delay in posting this blog. Electricity and internet here at the CYEC have been scarce. Over the past week, a few blackouts knocked out the power in Thunguma and other areas surrounding Nyeri. And the internet in all of Kenya was out for two days. These are the obstacles we face in development work. These obstacles have certainly brought me closer to the people here and made me less reliant on the PSU team at home. Granted, I still need my team’s assistance and support, but this forced lack of communication has made me focus more on using all of my resources here in Kenya.

Even without electricity, the Equity financial literacy training went on as scheduled. This 3-day workshop is designed to teach the youth about budgeting, saving, bank services, and debt management. The youth seemed very receptive and ready to learn. They asked a lot of questions and took diligent notes. To my knowledge, everyone has passed and is now awaiting their certificates!

In addition to this training, Fatuma and I have set up an export training workshop through the government’s Women’s Enterprise Fund. Fatuma and I will attend the training in the coming days, along with the two most talented tailoring students at the center. This will give the girls the knowledge to legally export their bags, which will bring in more profit.

In other news, the CYEC is now working to develop permiculture on their land. Permiculture aims to use every resource possible in an attempt to use fewer inputs and be more ecologically friendly. The women working to create this permiculture design visited over the weekend and, along with the help of myself and the youth, measured the dimensions of the CYEC and began creating the plans for a grey water system. This system will capture all water used by the center, aside from toilet water, filter it, and release it into the Shamba. This will help the CYEC better use their resources and cut down on water consumption.

Yesterday, I visited Jeffery the social worker’s church in the slums. We had a 4-hour brainstorming session for ideas to improve the center. We came up with a lot of things he hopes to present to the CYEC’s director, Paul Maina. These ideas included the need for counseling and conflict resolution skills. Thinking back to a program my high school had, I suggested peer mediation. My high school had a training program where upperclassmen learned how to resolve conflits between peers. This program benefited the mediator and the students in conflict. These would be great skills to learn at the center and would help resolve peer conflicts without the need to hire more staff. This is a program held in many high schools, so if any of you reading this may have access to a curriculum or training information, please pass it along (cbg5037@psu.edu).

As far as the CBO, they continue to use our record books and are starting to use the timesheets. Edward, the accountant, and I have been working through tweaking my loan policies and I believe we have a solid foundation. We will soon meet with Maggie to go over how to account for the CBO’s money and loan repayments. This will enable us to get Lydiah’s loan out very soon. The implementation of the policies I have created will mean that the CBO members will begin to fund their own allowances and will receive bonuses for their extra effort. They will truly be working for themselves and their organization.

On a lighter, non-work related note: I got to visit Julie’s coffee farm! I saw where Julie’s coffee is grown and got to meet Julie, her mother, and her adorable 1-year old daughter. I saw the entire coffee process from planting to roasting and brewing. I even got to pick coffee beans!


Hello everyone!

On Tuesday, the Penn State group left Kenya to fly home. I had been asked to stay behind to continue our efforts here at the CYEC. I hope to continue this blog to keep everyone updated on further progress at the CYEC.

Late Tuesday morning was bittersweet as another year of Penn State at the CYEC came to a tangible close. The kids were sad to see their new American friends leave for home as the Penn Staters were sad to hug the kids goodbye. Our short three weeks here have taught us invaluable lessons about the differences between cultures as well as the many similarities that we share with people half a world away. We will be sure to keep in touch with our Kenyan counterparts so that we may learn from and teach each other how to make the world a better place. While most of the Penn Staters are no longer here physically, they remain here in the work that they have done and the hearts of the kids whose lives they have forever touched. Penn Staters, the kids all still ask about you and miss you all very much. Be sure to keep in touch with them through email and Facebook as this means the world to them.

After the Penn State group left, only Brad and I remained. We left for the small town of Chogoria only hours after the others had departed. After a few very crowded matatu rides and the cheapest taxi ride either of us had ever had, we arrived at the Chogoria Guest House at almost 11pm. The next morning, after a breakfast of fresh papaya, we walked to the offices of Village Hopecore International (VHI). This NGO was founded by a native Kenyan who lived in California for 40 years. VHI provides micro loans to groups of villagers living in the Chogoria area. We spoke with the officers of the NGO and gained valuable information about how to structure microfinance loans and policies. We even got go venture into the field with them and meet loan recipients. They taught us a lot about loans and the benefits and obstacles of the work we are trying to do.

We had quite the adventure coming back to the CYEC. It involved taking five different public matatus home. Each matatu was designed to hold 12 people. In reality, the drivers squished 23-25 people on each matatu. Many of the other passengers stared at us and we heard the word “muzungu” (white person) said many times. We even came upon a few passengers who were angered by our presence. At one point, a matatu driver had us leave his matatu and to get on an express vehicle. I supposed this gesture was meant to be helpful, but it was quite the experience to be singled out. We were indeed the minority and there was not a matatu that we took where it didn’t feel like we were aliens invading the vehicle. It was a jarring taste of reality.

While we were gone, the Ag Extension Education ladies had arrived at the CYEC. They have spent their time touring town and holding a health fair for the kids. They even brought nail polish and painted both the girls and boys nails! Some of the ladies taught some kids how to crochet. They picked up on it right away and now many of them have almost completed their first scarves!

Yesterday, the J-Kwat baby banana trees arrived! They brought us 20 trees comprised of 3 different varieties. I helped Titus plant the banana trees along the fence of the Shamba. He said that the trees would be producing fruit in one year! So hopefully by the time Penn State returns next year, the kids will be eating bananas!

After the planting, we had another staff meeting with the ag-side of the CBO. They once again stressed the importance of bookkeeping. And to my delight, everyone had started using the binders that we had all spent so long compiling. There is always the chance when doing this kind of work, that our efforts will be left in some forgotten corner to collect dust. But in our case, the youth are using and appreciating all of our hard work. I hope everyone on the Penn State team can share the sense of accomplishment that I felt when seeing the binders put to use. All of our hard work is really starting to make a difference!

I hope everyone had a safe journey home. I look forward to keeping you all updated about further progress here at the CYEC. Until next time!

In other random news:

There was a fire at the Samrat grocery store today!

The Ag-Extension ladies brought nail polish and some of the boys put it on their teeth! Yikes!

“Kwanza” (like the holiday) means “first”.

I learned how to make Chapatti today so in the fall we can have a Chapatti night! :)

The blue shower is now warmer than the dungeon shower. :(

The K-Staters wanted me to let you know that: “we have much love for our Penn State peeps and hope they are having a great summer! Don’t forget about us!”.

The internet is becoming progressively worse so I apologize for the delay of this blog post.

I am working with John Thumbi on goat production. Thumbi currently has
7 diary goats, 4 females that are ready to be mated, 2 males, and 2
kids. Our main project right now is to build a new pen for the goats
that is more suitable to the cleaning and feeding activities. The
current house was broken down today, Friday, and the replacement will
hopefully be built within the next couple of days. The goats will
mostly provide milk, rather than meat. On Tuesday and Wednesday a goat
trainer came to the centre and taught a class on proper goat
production techniques. This class was really beneficial to the kids,
although not so much for me considering it was in Swahili. With the
help of Caroline, I have created sheets that will be used for record
keeping and the goats are on their way to being a great enterprise!

Written By: Danielle Robertson

Just wanted to give all our friends and family at home a brief update on the goings on here at the CYEC this weekend ! –

We have been doing lots of manual labor around the center the past few days . . . In the shamba (garden in kiswahili) students have been weeding and preparing for the planting of banana trees. New compost bins are being built close to the shamba as well. Lumber has arrived for the new rabbit hutches to be built, and the carpentry students are hard at work and beginning to build the hutches with the help of Alayna and Brad. Other CYEC students are reconstructing the goat pens so that they have a raised and slated floor. The Penn State students haven’t been afraid to pitch in and get their hands dirty!

On the business side of things- we are working out the details for our first proposed microfinance loan for the poultry production. The other Ag enterprises including bees, rabbits, goats, and gardening have been working with their counterparts to implement new record keeping methods.

In exciting news- honey was harvested for the first time last night from the bees! We tried some for breakfast- it was delicious.

It’s hard to believe we only have three more days here at the Center ! By this time on Tuesday most of us will be on our way to Nairobi to catch our flights. Lots to finish up here in the last few days. We will try to keep you updated. As always, thanks for reading! 

Written By:  Kelcey Grogan

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.


Hello Everyone!

For my portion of the agricultural enterprise development with the youth I have been working on enhancing the chicken production here at the center. A wonderful woman by the name of Lydiah is responsible for the chickens at the CYEC. She is the mother of Maggie, who is one of the youth at the center who has a major role in the Youth Cooperative.

I did not know much (ok- I’ll admit it- I didn’t know anything ) about raising chickens before my arrival here at the center. While I have been researching chicken production here in Kenya on the computer and in various books, I have learned the most from Lydiah. She is extremely patient with me as she explains the basics of raising chickens :) !

She has a fairly well established business here at the center already. She uses one of the buildings on site to raise 50 chickens, which she then sells to various places downtown for meat. Each cycle of raising the chicks and then selling them to the market takes about six weeks. Lydiah, with help from her math-savy daughter, has run a successful operation. She makes enough to cover her costs and has worked at various chicken production centers before, and knows the ins and outs of her job.

What I along, with help from my classmates hope to do, is prepare her to receive a microfinance loan from the Zawadi Fund. My role for the next week here at the center will be to work with Lydiah to make sure that we both have an understanding of the financial matters that are associated with increasing production here at the center. What our class hopes to do is provide her with a loan to increase her production from 50 chickens every six weeks to 100 chickens every 3 weeks. This will make her business more sustainable and provide her with a steadier income.

Because this is the first Ag enterprise at the CYEC that we have decided is ready to receive a loan, this process with the chickens will be a definite learning process for us all as we navigate how to implement some Western business standards (record keeping, input/output records, savings, loan repayments)  while making sure that our way of doing things is applicable, achievable, and understandable in Kenya!

I will be sure to keep you updated on our progress!

Written by: Kelcey Grogan

  Since work has begun at the CYEC last week, we have been focusing our time on the shamba and its needs. The CYEC relies on the shamba to supply the kitchen with vegetables such as sakuma wiki (kale), spinach (swiss chard) , piripiri hoho (sweet pepper), zucchini, nyanya ( tomatoes), carrots, and onions. A few other crops grown in the shamba include pumpkins, snow peas, eggplant, dry beans, coriander, potatoes, cassava, and maize. These do not yet supply enough for the CYEC, therefore they still by from local markets.

Nicholas, along with four other youth from the CYEC primarily tend to the shamba under the supervision of Titus, one of the staff members.  Each of the young men is assigned one or a few crops which they tend to. They are also assisted in their tasks by younger children from the center. We have been meeting and working with Nicholas to develop budget sheets for the shamba that will help the CYEC document input and output costs. This has proven to be a bit of a challenge due to the difficulty in quantifying labor. In the US, we are used to getting paid by the hour, but many people in Kenya are paid by the amount of work completed, such as one plot of onions weeded.  This document will continue to be modified to meet the needs of the CYEC.

In addition to the budget sheets, we are helping Titus identify pest and disease problems within the shamba. After inspecting each crop and noting the symptoms of any pests or diseases present, we began researching and identifying each one. The greenhouse presents additional troubles as it is more difficult to get rid of a pest or disease once it is present.  The tomatoes planted in the greenhouse were infested with white flies and spider mites. They also have powdery mildew and an unidentified foliar disease.  The most common pest problems throughout the rest of the shamba are black and white aphids. Another main issue in the shamba is lack of water. Although the CYEC possesses a pump to bring water from the creek at the base of the hill to the large holding tank at the top, the pump often fails to operate properly. The best option would be to purchase a new pump, but the CYEC does not have the means to purchase such a pump, at 90,000 Kenya shillings (about $1,125.00).

While we are here, our main goals are to finalize the budget sheets and help them to keep better records, as well as identify and present ways to best control pests and diseases. A few other ways in which we hope to improve production in the shamba include developing a crop rotation sequence and building a compost bin.  We are excited with the potential of the shamba.


Alayna is working on the rabbit breeding initiative and is now
partnered with one of the youth, Joseph, to expand the project within
the youth co-op and get it ready for higher production and sales.
There are currently 17 young and fully grown rabbits in the hutches,
along with one bunch of newborn kits (6 or 7). Currently these rabbits
are not being sold or consumed since many restaurants/hotels want to
buy in larger quantity. So today we are in the process of building 20
new hutches and creating an organized binder with spreadsheets for
Joseph to keep records of feedings, breeding, input/output expenses,
etc. so he can track his business expenses efficiently. Joseph is
harworking and dedicated and, with any luck, he'll be ready to sell
rabbits to Hotel Outspan within a few months time. The CYEC will also
be purchasing rabbits from Joseph as a way to supplement the
children's diet with more lean meat.