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

5/26/2011 08:15:41 pm

Thanks for the update, Brad. It seems some things are taking shape.


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