CWS programs sprout new initiatives

As recently as four years ago, people living in the village of Kotulpogh, in the arid rural North Pokot district of Kenya, couldn't access water without walking for up to seven hours each way. They couldn't grow crops, couldn't bathe their children properly, and couldn't send their girls the traditional fetchers of water to school. In fact, they could barely eke out a living from the dry soil of a region where rainfall is both meager and unpredictable.

Vegetable farm
Vegetables are abundant since the water came to semi-arid Kotulpogh, in Kenya. And, women's status is on the rise there, too. Photo: Yang'at

by Lesley Crosson/CWS

"We work with a community, we empower that community.  We try and help them understand what their assets are. Those assets are like seedlings. If you plant the seed in the ground, water it properly and give that seed a sufficient amount of light, the seed begins to grow and develops into a beautiful tree, and that's what we want to see in all communities: beautiful, self sufficient trees in the form of initiatives planted by CWS and by the communities themselves."
     Dan Tyler, CWS Regional Coordinator for Africa and the Indian Ocean

As recently as four years ago, people living in the village of Kotulpogh, in the arid rural North Pokot district of Kenya, couldn’t access water without walking for up to seven hours each way.  They couldn’t grow crops, couldn’t bathe their children properly, and couldn’t send their girls  the traditional fetchers of water – to school. In fact, they could barely eke out a living from the dry soil of a region where rainfall is both meager and unpredictable.

But the arrival of a sand dam to trap and store water from the area’s stingy rainfall has changed the community in ways the villagers could hardly have dreamed back when they were scrounging for water, often so contaminated it brought disease to their children.

"When they say water is life, it truly is," said Dan Tyler, CWS Africa regional coordinator. "This simple water program continues to nourish the community and to bring about all kinds of new growth."

Mary Obiero, who coordinates the water program from the CWS East Africa office in Nairobi, recently visited Kotulpogh and talked with women about what has happened since CWS partner Yang’at, a grassroots community organization, helped bring water to the village. Here she recounts how the vegetables, made possible by the new water source, helped the community weather a crisis  and how they have brought new status to the women gardeners:

“The vegetable gardens were the only thing that saved the women and their families during the harsh drought that started late last year and extended into this year.  That drought left more than ten million Kenyans without food and having to depend entirely on relief food.

"Because the North Pokot district is in the arid region, the situation there was even worse than in other places  so bad that a number of families from Kotulpogh moved with their animals to Uganda in search of pasture. Much to the surprise of the community, families in which the women had engaged in vegetable farming had the highest number of household members who were able to remain behind in Kotulpogh.

"There were two reasons for this: The families of vegetable gardeners could eat the food they grew and earn income selling some of the vegetables.  With so many hungry people looking for food, the vegetable gardeners' sales and daily income grew to an average of 500 Kenyan shillings (about $6.50 U.S.), as people traveled far distances to buy vegetables from them. This is a lot of money for people in this part of the world.

"Most of the money went into the hands of women, and with that has come a lot of empowerment. Now that women have money, they are getting a lot of respect from men. Money is power.  During my last visit to Kotulpogh  I learned that women vegetable farmers are saving 200 Kenyan shillings (more than $2.50) per person each week and now they have plans to buy a posh mill (for grinding maize into flour) as their income generating activity.

"They are determined to say goodbye to poverty.”

Obiero also reports that the women's success with the gardens has encouraged more people –including men – to engage in vegetable planting.

A continent away, in eastern Europe, rural villagers in Moldova are seeing the growth of a new child protection program aimed at providing abandoned children with an alternative to institutionalization in government-run shelters.

According to Vitali Vorona, CWS Regional Coordinator for the Balkans and Europe, at least one child aged 6 or under is abandoned or turned over to friends or relatives every day, as parents leave economically fragile Moldova in search of work or, for a variety of reasons, become unable to care for them.

"The vulnerability of children is growing and growing each year," says Vorona, as more and more of these youngsters end up in state-run institutions.  "You can imagine so many children, all with their own tragic stories, put together in a home. It creates its own negative environment."

Moldova foster family
Foster families are providing nurturing homes in communities, rather than state institutions for abandoned children in Moldova.
Photo: Save Children Moldova

In an attempt to create a more nurturing place for children, CWS, working with local NGO Salvati Copiii Moldova (Save the Children Moldova, not a part of the international NGO by the same name) is supporting an alternative system of placing children with extended family or in foster homes. The goal is to provide children with "a safe and friendly family environment" as they move away from the isolation of institutions.  

"Church World Service efforts in Moldova to empower children to be reintegrated back into communities from state facilities are critical as we look at our mandate to protect the most vulnerable populations, in particular children in their efforts to be important and contributing members of their community and society," said Donna Derr, CWS director of development and humanitarian response.

Other CWS work in Moldova includes a multi-year integrated rural development initiative, which focuses on improving food security by helping small farmers adapt sustainable agricultural techniques that increase crop yields, and on improving incomes for people who make a living from agriculture, livestock and forestry.  

The child protection program, which responds to another vital need in the region, is a significant expansion of the agency's work there.  

It also is a sign that the work continues to grow to meet new challenges there, in Kenya and around the world.


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