There are twenty five of us in the earth floored corrugated iron church. We arranged the rough timber pews into a kind of semi-circle. Leah one of the economic empowerment group members from Mbogoini leads the group in a couple of welcoming songs, we sing loud, we clap loud in unison and I am trying to imitate the graceful swaying of the men. We have gathered for two days to continue to work on a community lead economic development strategy. The members have made great progress since I was last here 6 weeks ago. This is my fourth visit over the last 12 months, we are like old friends now and I can almost remember everyone’s names.
Wema ADP* is about four hours from Nairobi by car, first to Nakuru then a hour and a half to two hours on a track that is often more like a dry rocky river bed than a road. Real bush Africa,; passing small settlements of round walled mud huts with grass thatched rooves. Lots of life on the road, big horned African cattle, herds of goats and children goat herders, people walking with loads, with walking sticks, kids going to school in tattered uniforms, bicycles laden with bags of corn or firewood,, the occasional Matatu (local passenger mini bus).
Wema ADP is really in two parts, split down the centre by a rough rocky ridge, joined by one almost impassable track. There is no regular public motorised transport between the two halves of the ADP and there has been little contact between the two groups. They are from different tribal groups and there was trouble between them during the violent post election clashes earlier in the year.
Before the clashes I was facilitating each group separately but since then, I decided to do joint facilitation with the two groups meeting together.
That is why this is now such a big group. But together they decided on which priorities to tackle; Microfinance, access to markets, and what we are loosely calling infrastructure, in the form of roads water and forestry. The groups now have three very active subcommittees of six people each , three from each side and they have been meeting regularly. At one point we talked about the challenges faced by the committee. The two biggest, were getting to a meeting because some members have to walk for over two hours………….each way. The second was hunger, if they miss their late morning millet porridge then they may go hungry for the day and that they said made it hard to concentrate during their meetings.
I was very humbled when I learned the group members rejected an offer from World Vision to provide lunch and instead, today had contributed their own money to provide a lunch of Ugali (thick corn flour porridge) bitter green vegetables and meat ,as a demonstration of the self determination that we have been focusing on in our strategy discussions and workshops.
So the singing is over, the pastor of the church has decided to sit in on our workshop for today and he leads us in a prayer, and I being my asking for reports on what is new and whether being part of this group changed anything for them.
I heard that one of the committee members who had joined since I was there last had died. Jack reported that he had gone to visit the government officials responsible for providing water and wells in the area and had learned of the government’s plans and what the area was entitled to. Jack said it was only being the leader of the water committee that had given him the courage to go and ask questions and voice the community’s needs.
Then Peter, who has no front teeth, told how being part of the subcommittee to work with reforestation had made a difference to him.
He said that people from his side of the ADP ask him, “is there peace over there? Are you safe? “ And Peter said he answers, “there is peace, and I am safe and I am working with my brothers on the other side, so that we all have more water and more trees.”
And he went on to say “ when our group was travelling together on our way here this morning, we passed a school where there were no trees for shade, and we all said, we must plant trees around that school and we didn’t think this is their land or it is not. We said this is OUR land that school needs trees. And we will do it.”
* Area Development Project
Jock Noble, Kenya April 2008