Amesbury for Africa and Esabalu Self Help Group: Sister Villages Ending Hunger Through Local Partnerships
In the words of Tip O'Neil, former Speaker of the House, "All politics is local." In the experience of the ordinary person, most of government is local too. Certainly we feel the impact of our local governmental authorities much more directly than we feel the impact of what happens in Washington or the statehouse.
However in the past the proposed solutions to undernutrition and malnutrition in the developing world have bypassed the local authorities in favor of national and regional initiatives. Often these macro-intitiatives fail to reach the local farmers and housewives they are designed to help. The problem of poor nutrition continues.
Sister villages is a completely unique approach that links local authorities in the developed and the developing world in partnerships to fight hunger and undernutrition. This model involves the following precepts:
- Progress is achieved by direct citizen exchange between twinned communities in rural Massachusetts and rural Kenya.
- There is an open-ended commitment by both partners to fight hunger and underdevelopment.
- Long term assistance and training rather than short term results are stressed.
- Self-sufficiency and leadership in the partner village are promoted rather than promoting dependence on outside aid.
- The focus of the citizen volunteers is on developing direct experience of the problems facing rural African villagers. Direct involvement personalizes the fight against hunger and gives people the feeling that what they do to help truly does make a difference.
The first sister villages program began in 1988 under the auspices of the Technical Assistance Program of Sister Cities International. A registered dietitian Bernadette Lucas, a nurse and a doctor from Amesbury, Massachusetts visited the village of Esabalu in Ebusakami Sublocation of Western Province, Kenya. They completed a nutrition and health survey of the community and brought their findings back to Amesbury, a town of about 14,000 in Northeastern Massachusetts. The results of the survey were presented to local authorities at town hall, to church groups, school groups and service clubs in Amesbury by means of slide shows with lectures. By this means the Amesbury community was educated to the problems of Esabalu and a support group was established. The name of the group was Amesbury for Africa and it was formed as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Amesbury for Africa joined Sister Cities International as a member. The activities of the group were approved by the Amesbury Board of Selectmen who invited the newly formed Esabalu Self Help Group to become a sister village organization with Amesbury.
From the beginning, the purpose of the new organization has been to support citizen exchange. There have been 11 exchange visits from Amesbury to Esabalu. The visits have focused on health, nutrition, water, beekeeping, composting, teacher exchange and youth exchange. There have been 3 visits by Esabalu citizens to Amesbury .These have involved agriculture, health worker training, teacher exchange and youth exchange. The purpose of the outgoing exchanges has been technical assistance. The purpose of the incoming exchanges has been training and education of our Amesbury community regarding the problems of underdevelopment.
In our nearly ten years of exchanges we have found that the problem of undernutrition is really multifactorial. We have needed to do work in several areas in order to improve nutrition. These include:
- improving the food supply,
- improving community health
- nutrition and health education and
Better Food Supply
Loans of seed and fertilizer for growing hybrid maize was the first approach to increasing food yields on subsistence farms. The second project was a grant application to Heifer Project International for zero grazed cattle. This was eventually approved and now there are 54 zero-grazed animals providing milk. The milk has improved local nutrition, brought a cash crop to the farmers and generated high quality animal wastes for manuring the gardens. Beekeeping was the next innovation and this was initiated by having local farmers attend beekeeper training at Baraka Ag Institute in Molo, Kenya. The honey is a cash crop and the bees improve pollination and yield of local crops such as beans and squash. The most recent project is market vegetable gardening using sustainable agriculture. This will involve a practical trainee exchange with a farmer in Amesbury.
Improving Community Health
A farmer who is ill cannot farm. To improve community health the Esabalu Self Help Group formed a subcommittee for health. Ten women and one man became the Esabalu Health Group. This group sought and obtained training to be community based health workers through the Christian Health Association of Kenya (CHAK). CHAK helped them perform a door-to-door community health survey. In 1992 a CHAK nurse and the secretary of the health group came to Amesbury to inform healthworkers here of their findings. They attended a world conference on micronutrient malnutrition presented by INMED in Washington, DC. They returned to Kenya and initiated a series of appropriate technology initiatives including reducing high grass and standing water to control malaria, treated bed nets to protect small children from mosquitoes, handwashing outside latrines and dishracks to reduce helminths, and shoes to prevent hookworm anemia. They have initiated a system of home visits to dispense contraception, oral rehydration and health education. They also triage illness, teach health in primary schools, provide prenatal and child clinics, deliver babies and run a community pharmacy (Bamako initiative). For more information see website www.amesburyforafrica.org.
Nutrition Education and Health Education
The Esabalu Health group provides training to new mothers to encourage breast feeding and instructs mothers of older infants in how to prepare high protein weaning foods (rather than maize meal porridge). They also train in oral rehydration and hygiene to reduce the malnutrition of parasites and disease. In addition a teacher from Amesbury has brought a program called Child-to-Child to all 5 of the village primary schools in Esabalu. This is a British NGO sponsored program which uses children as primary health educators. This is a vital service since the child who is in primary school may be the most educated member of his or her family. He or she can teach the kids at home and the parents in the importance of good nutrition through innovative games, skits and songs.
Water has turned out to be a major problem in improving the nutrition of the community. There is a limited supply, it is often contaminated. Grade cows and kitchen gardens increase the water requirement for each family. Without it the food supply can't increase. During the dry season women and girls may spend half of a working day in obtaining drinking water. During the rainy season contaminated springs spread diarrhea and death.
Amesbury Rotary Club in cooperation with Kisumu, Kenya Rotary Club applied for and won a $300,000 Health, Hunger and Humanity grant from Rotary Foundation to drill deep boreholes and equip them with electric submersible pumps and onsite storage and distribution. The water project is in its first of three years and should supply water not only to Esabalu but to 11,000 people in the surrounding area.
The initial Amesbury/Esabalu relationship is now 10 years old and still going strong. But is this model of decentralized, friendship-based development between local authorities something unique or is it able to be replicated on a larger scale? Three years ago a second partnership was formed between Newburyport, Massachusetts and a village in Bura, Coast Province, Kenya. The Newburyport/Bura Alliance has had three exchanges from Newburyport to Bura and one exchange from Bura to Newburyport. They will be participating in the agricultural internship trainee exchange program along with Amesbury.
Sister villages has worked once and is working a second time. The major restrictions to replication are the lack of interest in small towns in doing this kind of exchange and the lack of funding or support from any large organization or government agency. For example Peace Corps volunteers might very well be an ideal source to promote local twinning relationships between their hometown and their village posting. However we find little interest in pursuing this idea from the country director in Kenya.
The village committees in Kenya are not waiting around for more partners in the U.S. In 1994 they formed their own organization, Sister Villages of Kenya. This is a Kenyan based NGO and consists of 13 village self-help groups in three provinces (Coast, Lake and Western). There is even one sister village in Uganda. They correspond with each other and send exchange visitors from one village to another to teach each other needed skills. Esabalu may teach beekeeping to Mwengere and Musabwali may teach poultry raising to Foresto Faith Group. Every year they have an annual meeting. The last was held in Bura and involved 47 participants from all three provinces. Workshops on nutrition, on small scale savings/loan schemes and on small business accounting were well received.
Direct involvement, development education, bilateral citizen exchange, friendship, health education, agricultural training, and technical assistance. These are the elements of a successful decentralized program aimed at fighting hunger and undernutrition through local partnerships. We now know that local initiatives to combat world hunger can make a difference. Our involvement in Esabalu has helped achieve some progress in feeding the hungry. But living and working in Esabalu has also changed us. It is hard to put in words but each volunteer who has gone to Africa has returned with something special. Although materially Esabalu has less than we have, many of us feel that spiritually and socially we have less. As one Kenyan visitor expressed the paradox, "At home our stomachs may be empty but our hearts are full. Here in the States it may be the reverse."
Do they pray for us to have full hearts while we pray for them to have full stomachs? I wonder.
For further information see website www.amesburyforafrica.org.