Hatching our Way out of Hunger
Chip! Chip! Chip! This is the way we communicate with chickens in my community of West Pokot Kenya. Broadcasting a bunch of corn from our hands to the bare ground, we yell Chip! Chip! Chip! Calling out our chickens and their chicks to come and eat the corn we have for them. In the summer of 2011, while millions of Kenyans living in communities like mine were suffering the impact of a severe drought, I was in Pennsylvania living in the Newtown Square suburbs with my friends Aaron and Christine. I had decided to spend this year in the US in order to raise awareness and support for the programs of Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika, a Kenyan organization that I had founded to build capacity of women adversely impacted by droughts and conflict induced by climate change. This was a season of great distress for me. Living in the land of plenty I was able to eat more than 3 meals a day and drink as much water as I wanted. However I was sad and discontent knowing that many people I knew in my own community could not afford food and water due to causes beyond their control. Such great conflict went on inside my head and in my heart as I battled with the injustice of hunger and with the fact that I had founded an organization to deal with hunger in my community and yet I was still living abroad among my adopted community to whom hunger was not a reality and so many thousands of miles away from the people of West Pokot whom I was called to serve.
Failing to be present with my people in Kenya, I felt so distressed by the news of their suffering yet so separated from their actual suffering. I knew I needed to be home, I needed to be with the women I was called to serve, living and walking on the same land and experiencing the same dust pile up on my feet as it does on the feet of women who toil on the parched land, under the hot sun in search of food and water for their loved ones. This conflict was made worse by the fact that I had decided not to come home and instead spend the year in the US raising awareness about the impacts of climate change on my people as well as build a strong network of partners to journey with me in the vision and mission of Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika.
Chebet and I visiting with Mama Karen
During this time great friends journeyed with me, these friends who have been very instrumental in the founding of Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika and Friends of Jitokeze were very understanding of my struggle and provided encouragement and support for me as well as for Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika. Thus in the process of sharing this conflict, a few of my friends, joined me in pooling some money, which we sent to Chebet, a volunteer in West Pokot who had worked with me in 2010 to assess the needs and capacities of women in West Pokot that are vulnerable to hunger. Chebet went back to the women who in 2010 had identified chicken rearing as the most affordable enterprise they could do to generate food and income, she then picked four women from this group and facilitated them to each buy 6 female indigenous hens and one cock that would fertilize the hens so that the eggs could be hatched into chicks. At the time we estimated that the direct cost for buying one of these chickens would be approximately $8 per chicken however by the time the women went to buy the chickens the price had shot up to $10 and so they each ended up buying one chicken less than what we’d hoped to support them with. Chebet then connected them with a veterinarian, who checked each of these chickens for diseases and vaccinated them, and they were also connected to the local cereals depot where they could access corn that was considered unfit for human consumption, this is what they fed their chickens with. This loan was given to the women with the condition that they would give us back the chickens we gave them and we would in turn give these chickens to another woman who needed support in starting a chicken enterprise for food and income security.
Mama Karen, Domitila and Mama Sharon are among the first group of women we supported in 2011 to start raising indigenous Chickens
Upon my return to West Pokot 8 months later I was able to visit with three of these women, Mama Sharon, Mama Karen and Domitila, they told me their stories of the challenges they had faced in keeping these chickens alive and the success they had in increasing their flock, for instance when Mama Karen’s hens got to lay eggs and hatch them, she had 60 chicks; sadly she lost 58 of these chicks to a wild cat that roamed around her homestead and to chicken diseases. This experience led her to research more about how to better care for young chicks, she now has 30 chickens that she hopes to grow to 100 or more. Next weekend I will be heading out to her home with the new group of women who want to keep chickens so that she can share with us her story and teach us some tricks she learnt while raising the chickens. They also told me stories of how these chickens had provided them with food and some little income that they needed to address emergency needs of their children. I was so encouraged by the stamina that these women had to overcome the challenge of hunger, I was touched by their generosity when they shared with us the eggs from their chickens, the millet porridge they had made for their family and the unripe avocados that they picked from the tree in their homestead. I was encouraged by the fact that they were ready to give us back the chickens they had received from us so that we could support other needy women and that they wanted to increase their network in order to have other needy women benefit in the same way they had benefited.
Sharing and Growing our Food Security
This project, which we called Hatching our Way Out of Hunger is now an integral part of the program of Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika, this year we will be working with a group of 16 women from the Kilimanjaro area in Makutano (my hometown) who in 2010 had requested us to facilitate them in starting and running their own indigenous Chickens microenterprises. Besides providing them with a microloans to purchase hens, cocks and equipment needed to build chicken coops, we will facilitate them to be trained on how to raise organic chickens for maximum production, as well as on how to mobilize and sustain a Self-Help women group that engages in group saving, loaning and microenterprise development. We will also continue journeying with Mama Karen, Mama Sharon and Domitila on this path towards food and income security. Currently they are all housing their chickens in their small kitchens, this is also the same space that their children sleep in, hence they all are planning on building chicken coops for their chickens as well as on increasing the number of chickens in their flock. They also would like to mobilize more marginalized women in their neighborhood to join their group so they can pool resources and improve their capacity to increase their chicken enterprise, they prefer to not join the Kilimanjaro group because they are too far away from each other and have not had the opportunity to do life together and build trust with each other.