I've been working on a book about U.S. foreign policy vis a vis world hunger, and that means I've had to travel around the world and meet a lot of desperately poor people living in abject poverty. When I sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and think about what I'm grateful for, I've got a perspective that few in the U.S. have. And out of everywhere I've been, everyone I've met, and everything I've seen, one place stands out. One particular school I visited in Kenya. Nearly 1500 kids, grades 1-8.
Last week, a group of Girl Scouts and I raised $513 to bring water to this school. That's the good news. The bad news? It costs $1205 for one water tank, and we need two. But let's start with one. We need just under $700 to buy it.
Here's my latest scheme to get the rest of that money. Or some of it, anyway. It's cold and flu season, it's the holiday season, and it's thanksgiving. It's also the end of the year, when people think about giving tax deductible donations - and every damn charity in the country begs you for cash. Well, I'm not going to beg for cash - although donations are tax deductible if you wish to make one. Instead, I'm making and selling organic herbal teas for less than you'd pay for them at the store. And 40% of each purchase goes to help the kids at this school. Read on...
I visited the school, Peter Kariuki Primary school, with an organization called SARDI - Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development Initiative. SARDI trains farmers in a style of organic farming called Grow Biointensive. In the U.S. many use this method in their gardens, but in Thika, an entire farm might be just 1/4 acre, so methods we use for gardening are quite feasible for their farming.
Thika is known for its industrial sector, and it draws men from around Kenya to go there and work and send money home to their families. There's an enormous Del Monte pineapple plantation that pays workers $2.40 per day, a few other large farms that pay even less, and a big cigarette factory, among the area's employers.
The city and its surrounding area is packed with tiny, tiny farms. The average farm size is 1 acre. A 5 acre farm is huge. I met one man with just 1/5 of an acre. Most farmers grow food for subsistence, but they might sell a little bit too. The most common model I saw were farmers growing crops to eat and raising animals to sell for income. But with such tiny farms, many families cannot earn enough just by farming alone. And since the city is full of men away from their families who earn cash, a popular way to earn money is prostitution.
As a result, a decade ago there was a 37% HIV/AIDS rate in the area. Now the rate is lower - maybe 20%? - but I looked for an accurate statistic and could not find one. Needless to say, the number is high.
So back to the school. With so much HIV/AIDS and poverty in the area, many kids are orphans, and even those with parents are poor. The deputy headteacher of the school told me that some live with elderly grandparents and some live in child-headed households. Many kids need to work just to scrape by, earning money by carrying water for people, working in a nearby quarry, or even stealing pineapples from Del Monte and selling them. (About a decade ago, Del Monte became nationally infamous when it dealt with the theft using guard dogs, who killed some people.)
A nearby health clinic told me that 70% of children they see are malnourished. The deputy headteacher told me the kids typically eat no breakfast and bring no lunch. They are lucky to have dinner. The school wishes they could provide lunches for the kids, but they don't have the funds. When I visited in February, they had just enough corn left from a donation to feed the special needs children, and the corn was going to run out. The beans they'd had already ran out.
How kids can learn on an empty stomach, I don't know. Nor do I know how a child can survive going to school for a whole day only to work in a quarry after the bell rings. What I do know is that AIDS breeds poverty, and poverty breeds AIDS. A mother becomes a prostitute because she has no other way to support her child, and ultimately she succumbs to HIV/AIDS, leaving the child worse off than before. And that child, without the resources to make ends meet as an adult, will also have nothing but their body to sell.
SARDI is taking a major step to help. They are training the kids in organic farming. In the U.S., organic farming is expensive because labor is expensive and inputs are cheap, and because farms are large enough to sell what they produce and use their revenues to cover the costs of inputs. In Kenya, that is not the case. If you spend $100 on fertilizer to grow the food your family will eat, you are $100 poorer. If you can grow the same amount of food with no fertilizer at all, you still have that $100 to spend on something else.
Again and again and again, I interviewed farmers who had recently transitioned to organics with the help of SARDI or another local organization, and they told me that they'd never made so much money before! One man used his extra cash to have a well drilled, another paid her kids school tuition, and a third bought a water pump. One man told me that after he switched to organic and did so well financially as a result, his neighbors came to him to find out how they could do the same. It's not about ideology, or even about toxic pesticides (because nobody can afford those anyway). It's about simply producing enough food to eat and having enough money to get by.
But in this semi-arid region in Kenya, before there is food, there must be water. There are 2 rainy seasons and 2 long, dry seasons each year. Those with the most money have piped water. Those with a bit less money have wells. Those with less money still rely on rainwater harvesting, which is quite possible if you have a large roof to collect water from and a large cistern to store it in. Peter Kariuki school - and its students - have none of the above.
Of course, when it comes to water, no one would use scarce water supplies for irrigation. If you are carrying your water in 20 liter "jerrycans" on your head as so many do, you are going to drink it and use it for washing. Currently, the kids of Peter Kariuki must walk 5 km (3 mi) to fetch the water used at the school.
Since June, I've now worked with several fifth grade girl scouts to teach them about children's lives in Kenya. A week ago, we held a fundraiser in which we served local, organic food prepared in several Kenyan dishes. Diners gave donations to attend and eat, and we raised an additional $200 or so from a Silent Auction. Most of the items in the Silent Auction were handmade crafts from Kenya. After all was said and done, we raised $513.
We had hoped to raise $3000 to get the school absolutely everything they need so the kids never have to walk to fetch water again. We made a good start, but we didn't get there. What I'd like to do is to quickly raise another $700 so that they can get at least one of the two big water tanks they need. We can worry about the rest of the money later.
If you'd like to help, I've prepared several herbal teas from organic herbs. The four blends are designed for: Immune Support, Calming/Destress/Helping You Sleep, Cold/Flu, and Sore Throat/Cough. I'm taste-testing them all to make sure they all taste OK, since there's nothing worse than gagging down a disgusting medicinal tea. And I'd be glad to make custom mixes.
The teas are $10 per one cup of loose tea, about 37 2g servings. If you were to purchase the Traditional Medicinals brand, it would cost about $13 for the same amount of tea. Out of your $10 purchase, $4 will go to the school in Kenya. I'm hanging onto the rest to cover the cost of ingredients.
Immune Support - tastes very gingery - contains Lemon Balm, Echinacea root, Ginger, Astragalus, and little bits of St Johns Wort, Oat Straw, and Yarrow. Drink this to bolster your immune system when you're healthy (to avoid getting sick) but don't drink it once you're already sick.
Calming/Destress Tea - Contains chamomile, lemon balm, peppermint, lavender, catnip, kava kava, oat straw, hops, valerian, St. Johns Wort, and ginger.
Cold/Flu Tea - Contains peppermint, yarrow, catnip, lemon balm, marshmallow root, licorice root, wild cherry bark, anise seed, mullein leaf, chamomile, and thyme.
Sore Throat/Cough - You can drink this as a tea or make it into a cough syrup (I'll send you instructions with the tea) - Contains equal parts mullein leaves, marshmallow root, licorice root, thyme, anise seed, wild cherry bark, and slippery elm bark. I got this recipe from herbalist & MD Aviva Romm.
If you're interested, hit me up at OrangeClouds115 at gmail dot com. These teas oughta make nice holiday gifts, especially if you pack them in mason jars and label them nicely. But that's up to you because I'm not fussing with putting mason jars in the mail.