Monday, July 24, 2006


i guess i tend to delay writing new posts because i never feel like there's much to write about. maybe i am in kenya, but to me kenya today is pretty much the same as kenya yesterday.

i try to let a good month go by so that i have time to accumulate experiences worth mentioning, so i don't bore you with the monotonies of my life like how many avocados i ate yesterday (1) or the smell of the burning trash pile outside my office door. so instead i can tell you about the farmers workshop we held last week, and you can sit and read in rapt attention about how Simon Chege said morning prayer (in kikuyu)! and how I spent three hours staring at Alice Wambui's mop-top hair weave!

the workshop was what i would call a 'success,' and not just for alice's nice braid job. i had done a lot of the planning for the trainings, which was like pulling teeth most of the time, but it came off without more than a dozen hitches (hence 'success'). we were using outside facilitators to lead the farmers in sessions on financial management, marketing, group management, conflict resolution, project planning, and goal setting. it is the first phase in our reconstruction of SFMAP (small farmers marketing assistance program), the second phase being more in-depth training, covering the same subjects on a group level. we suspended the loan program for an indefinite period, in order to give us time to train the farmers on how to manage the money that we give them. since the program's intention is to build the capacity of the farmers and help them to increase their incomes through improved farm production and management, allowing the farmers to fritter away money on projects doomed from the outset isn't really what i would call productive.

so we called in outside facilitators for the initial workshop, to bring in a fresh perspective and new ideas into the program. great in theory, but dodgy in practice. some of the trainers were great, and totally on point, but others thought way too highly of themselves and could have been replaced with fifth graders. fifth graders do have fresh perspective, though, so i guess i can't complain. my limited knowledge of kikuyu didn't negatively affect my general understanding of the topic coverage, as you may have been wondering, since everything they wrote down was in english. their simultaneous verbal-written bilingual translations never cease to amaze me. we went through approximately 1 million pieces of newsprint paper, which is approximately 1 million more than we really needed since the classroom had a chalkboard. jackson seemed offended when i suggested that we give the facilitators chalk. "that would be dirty." so instead we used the newsprint and markers and taped them all around the room when they were filled (another pointless endeavor, in spite of jackson's assertion that 'we may need to take notes on them later. we threw them all away at the end of the workshop.)

tony, the savings&credit officer, did a great job as unofficial emcee of the 3-day event, jumping in after sessions to sum things up and get the farmers' thoughts on the topics. he also was good at coming up with impromptu energizers, like having us run around the inside of the classroom, singing a song about a boat sinking, then yelling out a number for us to group into as fast as we could. you would think that 60 year old farmers would be a bit loathe to participate in such childness, but they ate it up like fresh pumpkin soup.

the only part of the workshop that i led was the project planning activity on the final day. i wanted to give them a practical exercise in the subjects we had been covering, and i don't want to say that i didn't trust anyone else to do it, but... i did some simple preliminary research on three separate projects and compiled the data into what can really only be described as a word problem. i felt bad, knowing how much i'm sure i complained about every stupid word problem i ever had to work through, but they are effective in getting people to apply theory to reality. one group of farmers got a beekeeping project, another a dairy cow project, and a third got an avocado-exporting project. there were several choices to make in each of them, based on the cost-benefit analysis that i wanted them to do.

now, before you think me cruel to put ancient, poorly educated farmers through such mental torture when all they want to do is grow tomatoes, i have to point out that they all rose awesomely to the task. while some of them may have omitted crucial information that i was hoping to be included, my primary goal was merely to get them thinking in a new way. everything they do has a cost associated with it - and rarely, if ever, do they consider that cost. putting them through this exercise, and going through the results with them afterwards, i was able to get a feel for their level of comfort with the economics of project planning, which will enable us to tailor our further trainings with them to their needs.

all of the farmers thanked us profusely at the conclusion of the workshop, requesting that we continue to hold such trainings on a regular basis.

next weekend i'll be going to a camel derby. i'll try in the future to mix up my schedule for your reading enjoyment.


  1. Anonymous1:46 AM

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  2. Anonymous12:47 PM

    keep up the good work, nothing better than teaching people stuff. teach a man to fish and hell eat or something like that.

    as for the camel derby- please PLEASE name your camel barbaro . . . we cannot let his name leave our hearts or minds.

    ps. i hate barbaro and hope he becomes glue.

    pps. if you dont know who barbaro is, consider yourself lucky.



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