Empowering the Youth through Agriculture

berta
— by Hellen from Kenya

There is so much negativity in communities, particularly involving the youth. Perhaps it is because we chose to focus on the negative elements that we miss out on the positivity and the things that make a difference. My community, just like most communities in developing countries, is characterized by a large population of young people, both employed and unemployed. Despite their levels of education, or even their employment status, the zeal to dream and succeed is a common factor shared by every young person in my community. The young person who wakes up to go to work in a government office does so because he/she has a dream that he/she wants to achieve. The same case applies to the young person who wakes up to take care of his small farm, or sell his supplies in the village market. Apart from the dreamers, there is also a group of young people who may have given up on their dream or on the zeal to dream again. I am a strong believer in trying so many times, dreaming over and over until the dream placed in the heart is achieved. Perhaps that is one of the things that ignite my passion for youth empowerment.

Whenever I think of youth empowerment, I remember an agricultural club that was started by a group of young people in Nyamninia primary school, in my community, Sauri Village (Western Kenya). I was a journalism student and would therefore spend most of my long holidays at home in Sauri. I know that journalists have an eye and nose for news, and maybe it is that curiosity that prompted me to have an interest in the club at Nyamninia Primary school. The head teacher of the school started an agricultural club after noticing that the school population was largely made up of vulnerable children, who were mostly orphaned at early ages and being taken care of by neighbors and relatives. She noticed that, as much as most of the students loved school, they would miss class often.

They were mostly absent from school because of hunger.

13246178_10207953377965687_4902748585856367755_oWith agriculture being a common mean of livelihood in the area, the head teacher, who also doubled up as the patron of the club, decided to train the older students on how to farm, with the aim of introducing a school feeding program for the rest of the school population. The club started with about 20 young people aged between 10 and 13 years old. They began by growing vegetables, mostly for school lunches, to ensure that the students would get at least one meal per day.

After three months, the club membership had more than doubled, and this prompted the club patron to lease a bigger piece of land around the school in order to increase the farming activities of the club. The hardworking youths produced more than enough, and began selling some of their produce to the villagers. At the beginning of the project, the proceeds from the sale of their harvest were used in purchasing books, school uniforms, and even shoes for some of the club members, who had never owned any pairs of shoes before. From vegetable farming, the youths decided to venture into poultry farming, and later into dairy farming after receiving a number of dairy goats from a well-wisher.

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As the club grew, the members gained administrative and record keeping skills, in addition to the farming skills that they received during their faming activities. A year later, the club benefited from the Millennium Villages Project, which decided to use their club as a model for educating the farmers in the village. The project donated a green-house structure and the young club members were trained on how to improve their produce using the green-house technology. As time went by, the club became a hub of agricultural activities, and the members’ efforts further attracted other agricultural enthusiasts, prompting visits and support from organizations such as the National 4H Council, which steers similar agricultural clubs all over the United States. The 4H council even sponsored two club members and their patron to an all paid trip to the US, where the club members were introduced to various agriculture techniques.

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One of the notable leaders of the club is 18 year old Duncan. Duncan has been a member of the club ever since he was 7 years old. He was orphaned at an early age, and he sought refuge at the school after his relatives could no longer provide for him. Being the youngest members of the club, Duncan grew, gained skills and developed the confidence to later take on the leadership of the club. Thanks to the proceeds from the club, Duncan went to primary and high school, and in a few months’ time, he will join a group of young students for a pre-university course at the University of Delaware in the United States.

His story is just one of the inspiring stories that keep on reminding me that it is never too late to dream. To date, the Nyamninia Agricultural club has been able to sponsor close to 30 club members through their high school education. What started as humble club with the aim of feeding vulnerable young orphans at school, has now grown to give hope and bright futures to young people. To me, the club is a perfect model and definition of what it means to equip young people with skills that enable them to grow and sustain themselves.

 

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The Death of Democracy

mark
— by Mark from Zimbabwe

As I lay in my bed, staring at the blank ceiling, I reminisced about the good times we had shared together. We had come a long way together, me and her. I met her when I was born, but only when I was old enough  I was able to understand her. She was strong and free spirited and she had given me hope for a brighter future. With her by my side, I knew I could conquer the world.

Everyone loved and adored her, especially the politicians. They spoke highly of her, and made the masses chant her name day and night. They gave her too much attention, especially during elections and this made me a bit jealous. I was afraid that their sweet-talking tongues would persuade her to go with them, but then again she was a foreigner in my land. Ships had brought her here for the sole purpose of adding colour to our grey and desolate land.

Her beauty was unparalleled, her power was wide reaching and her voice resonated throughout my motherland. I had never met her and this was also the case for everyone else around here, yet her influence was strong. It was like we were in a trance…a trance we didn’t want to break free. Everything in the motherland was done to match her standards; from the laws to the systems of governance. Her standards were the best and there was nothing better, after all those who came with her highly recommended her work in the foreign lands.

We were told that this was the land of ‘milk and honey’. Gallant sons and daughters had fought tooth and nail, they even put their lives on the line to ensure that everyone had a fair share of this milk and honey. Elections had been held and a new epoch had begun, as a nation new to the world of independence. We had been promised a lot and we had expected a lot as well. Constitutions were drafted by the politicians and a government was formed by the politicians. She made her grand appearance alongside of our former colonial masters who helped create this new phenomena. We had embraced her wholeheartedly from the onset and indeed, the future looked bright.

Everything was serene during the first few years but little did we know that the future looked grim and grey. It was eighteen years of self rule and devoted association to her, when things started taking a negative turn. The land was unsettled and a storm was brewing on the horizon. She remained steadfast and resolute, playing her part in ensuring that the masses smiled at all times. However, the politicians were slowly draining her power by enacting laws which went against her principles. The politicians were doing a good job of keeping her quiet. Slowly but surely, they were turning her into that, which the gallant sons and daughters had fought for in the past.

Like a permanent scar, I still remember the day they came to take her away. Men with guns had come in the middle of the night. They had been sent by the politicians, the same politicians who had worshipped her at her feet. They chained and gagged her. Her screams went unheard as no one noticed what was happening. By the time the sun rose, she was nowhere to be found and the void she had left was filled with an eerie air of silence and sullen faces dripping with tears. Anyone who protested against the prevailing situation was taken away. Any form of resistance from the masses was stifled. We all secretly hoped to see her again, but something deep inside of us told us that we had seen the last of her.

So, here I am, a few years later, as I lay in my bed staring at the blank ceiling. Everyone is mourning…we are mourning the death of democracy. Oh, How I miss her so.