10 years ago OVAAT was born of a dream and 1 generous donor who wanted to help me make a difference. I was so naïve back then. I was like so many Americans with big hearts who think that by just caring and donating to a project things will happen.
This has been a very difficult journey, which only now I can tell you about. How do you tell the world about your doubts? How do you write about your heartbreak or fears of failure? Will that make people not want to invest in OVAAT? What would my board think? I wasn’t really sure if anything we had done over the last 10 years was self-sustainable. And that’s the whole point of OVAAT. We want to go out of business. We want to not be needed!
My minister preached a powerful sermon about the “Turning Point” and how we face those moments, which are turning points. I confessed my fears to him about being hurt again. I explained how hard it was to have to write my children and grandchildren a “goodbye letter” in case I didn’t come back. Really to get ready to die on a yearly basis without any terminal disease haunting the halls of my body.
And then there were the questions I had about the program. I have been having a wretched time getting reports form our partners. And the reports I have gotten detail the same difficulties with the feeding program we have had for 10 years. Parents dropping out, not giving the tithe to the program, finding ways to just not support the most vulnerable children. I don’t want any child to go hungry, but frankly if a community cannot sustain what is started then they are really no better off for having been there. They will revert to their old life.
So yesterday, as we left the bucolic and surreal atmosphere of The Naivasha Country Club and drove the bone jarring roads to Kisumu I was trying to take it all in thinking that this was probably my last trip. Driving the Rift with it’s magnificent skies, and rich green earth, the outcropping of rocks left from prehistoric times, I thought remember this Susan. You may not see this again. And then came Kericho and the tea plantations so verdant and full. I tried to imagine walking the rows of tea as the pickers do, and wondered how they ever fit between the bushes. . The skies clouded over and the rains set in. Storms in Africa are a wondrous affair and I love the huge splashes on the windshield or if I’m lucky enough to be inside a place with a tin roof and hear it pound a salute to mother nature.
We got to Kisumu at dark. I’m not afraid really of the dark city and all the bustling people so much as I feel my whiteness. And given the events of the last few weeks, being white is not necessarily a blessing. But there is also the thrum of activity and the riot of vendors on the streets and the business of life.
Last night as I struggled to stay awake and prepare for today, to pray for guidance, to channel my pastor, to read and be still, I truly wondered how I would handle today. And then God laughed.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but indeed the feeding program is not sustainable. Not the way we have done it in the past. However, the PICD part is a miracle.(Participatory Integrative Community Development). I listened to 4 soft-spoken women explain how they got a community to feel empowered. How they helped them see their “Bag of Resources” (which might include, farming, a river, someone who can build things, whatever might be a resource). And then from there how to develop a plan to use those resources to change things. It looked great when they presented it in power point.
Then in the afternoon they delivered the coup d’état. They brought me to the poorest school with the most reluctant people. They have been working with these people for a year now. And guess what? The members of the community decided to help the most vulnerable children, they decided to form a cooperative, and they set up a weekly meeting and began donating a few ksh per week. As one woman said, “We were sleeping and we woke up. We couldn’t wait for everyone to wake up at the same time so we just started without them. They’ll wake up when they smell the food cooking!”.
THEY had decided to care for the orphans, THEY decided how to mobilize, THEY started a cooperative, THEY built a cooking shed, THEY pooled their money, and THEY started the feeding program. And all they needed was training from PICD. I had waited 10 years to meet these villagers. THEY were what I had hoped for, despaired about, and finally met.
I stood with tears in my eyes and my voice shaking. I thanked them for giving me hope and helping me see how things can work. And once they planted the seed I could see the whole garden. I can’t wait to start planting tomorrow with Monica.
Keep the faith y’all; it’s so worth it.