The arid climate of Kenya’s northern lowlands exposes them to frequent and recurrent droughts forcing the men far from home in search of grazing.
Story Thorkild Jørgensen, photos Tanya Martineau and Thorkild Jørgensen
In this hostile environment Christian relief and development organisation, Food for The Hungry Kenya (FHK), are tackling intractable problems with great faith and fortitude.
Their ambitious goal in Kenya? To end severe poverty in the arid places, like Marsabit, where it bites the hardest.
‘When the men in the Marsabit lowlands move during the dry seasons, the women, children and the elderly are left at home with very scarce supplies of food, and many go hungry for days.’ Leon Odhambio, Lowlands Cluster Supervisor, shares.
In response FHK are using intensive community engagement and integrated programmes in health and nutrition, education, livelihoods and disaster risk reduction to equip people with the tools and services they need for a better future.
Back to school to fight poverty
Part of their integrated approach to tackling poverty has taken FHK back into the classroom as well out into the wide open spaces of the community where they promote access to education among the marginalized people of Marsabit and Buuri.
Through a child sponsorship programme, the organisation provides school fees, uniforms, exam materials and sanitary towels for girls. FHK also addresses infrastructure challenges through construction and renovation of classrooms, boarding facilities and latrines, as well as provision of school desks and teaching materials.
Water is scarce
Water is a scarce commodity in Marsabit.To improve community health, FHK has provided water for both humans and livestock.
The majority of the population use open water sources and have no access to toilets, making sanitation and hygiene a big challenge. To combat this, FHK educates the community on the importance of toilets and helps them to treat water to minimize the spread of water communicable disease.
They ensure access to water in hard to reach areas, health centres and schools through construction of water infrastructure e.g. boreholes, storage tanks and pipeline extensions.
To promote accountability in the management of water at community water points, FHK and other partners installed the first prepaid water meter in all of Marsabit county.
Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) are trained to educate and promote behavior change in their communities.
Beyond creating awareness on sanitation and hygiene, CHVs, under the supervision of professional health workers, play an important role in health & nutrition, administering immunizations, and providing nutritional supplements to the sick and malnourished.
‘FHK has used MAF for years and years.
Before the road from Marsabit to Nairobi was tarmacked it would take 2-3 days. It still takes nine hours - so it makes a big difference for us to be able to use MAF'
Saving, Loaning and Investing
FHK have been working with pastoralist communities, giving them strategies to help them be more resilient when a drought hits.
‘We also aspire and hope to explore other approaches to livelihoods,’ Leon Odhambio, Lowlands Cluster Supervisor, explains.
‘We have been working with them to form Self-Help groups and taught them how to plan with their finances in order for them to be able to make savings and offer loans to each other.’
‘Typically, there are 15-20 members in a group and each member contributes as little as 20 KES a week,’ Abudo adds.
‘After taking care of basic needs first, they have been taught to save for a later investment. In a couple of years some groups have been able to save up to KES 500,000 (USD 5,000) by investing their savings in small businesses and earning more through profits. It is all about changing the attitude around the prestige of having a big herd of livestock, but no money for food or school fees.’
Prepared for drought
Ultimately, building community resilience is core to FHK’s work. Resilient communities will bounce back from a shock and avert disaster (e.g. a drought).
‘It is mostly about training and mentoring,’ Leon explains. ‘We meet with the communities and share ideas like how to conserve areas during the rainy season to be grazed during periods of drought.’
80% of the population are pastoralists, moving from place to place with their livestock in search of water and pasture.
‘FHK has used MAF for years and years,’ Leon and Abudo say in agreement. ‘Before the road from Marsabit to Nairobi was tarmacked it would take 2-3 days to get here, but it still takes nine hours so it makes a big difference for us to be able to use MAF to facilitate staff movements, donor visits and move light cargo. We are also dependent on MAF’s service in case of emergencies when somebody needs to go to Nairobi for emergency specialized treatment.’
‘When the men in the Marsabit lowlands move during the dry seasons, the women, children and the elderly are left at home with very scarce supplies of food, and many go hungry for days.’ Leon Odhambio