February 7th by Alyssa Brosha
My classmates and I are now wrapping up our second week in Kenya with a stay at Lake Nakuru Lodge. Here I feel like a tourist, which is a first since we've arrived, and it's not quite the same feeling I've had while being a tourist in other countries. All too frequently we tend to tour exotic locations as though it is a spectator sport, visiting only the famous parks, cities and tourist trap landmarks...
Now I see Kenya through the eyes of the people, the farmers, the backbone of this beautiful country. Having spent every day of the last 2 weeks traveling the dirt roads from farm to farm and eating in the homes of the happy and hard working Kenyans, to now sit poolside at a resort is a sharp contrast and frankly quite unnerving.
Coming from Canada it's hard to get the perspective of how fortunate we truly are to have grown up in a developed and financially thriving nation. We take for granted the endless opportunities handed to us and still complain of the little things.
Growing up I have always heard of the challenges faced in developing countries and learn of the foreign aid that large organizations and countries help provide for them. A common North American mentality about African poverty is that one individual's efforts would only be a drop in the bucket in improving such poverty. So why bother? Leave it to the large volunteer group efforts and let them worry about it.
Then there is the question of the poverty trap, a spiralling mechanism that forces people to remain poor. If poverty is a trap, then some believe that a one time infusion of aid could make a huge difference for a person's life and set them on a whole new trajectory in life. This is philosophical matter with of course many factors that must be considered, but what about the quote we have heard endless times, "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will always have a meal." What if education was the infusion of aid necessary to break the spiral?
One man here opened my eyes to the reality of the situation and his name is Isaac Kaiyongi. Isaac is a dairy farmer near Meru, Kenya with 3 milking cows and he had attended a seminar we conducted this past week near his home. At these seminars we have attendance ranging from 30-100 farmers, men and women who come to ask questions about their cattle and learn from us on nutrition, breeding and milk production. Isaac attended a seminar the year prior and was back this year thirsty for more knowledge. He shared his success story with me and it is one that will stick with me forever.
One year ago, Isaac was getting 17kg of milk per day from his three cows combined and was grazing them over the dry countryside to find forage. At the seminar last year he learned the importance of proper nutrition and the benefits of zero-grazing housing for the cattle. Isaac started feeding his 3 cows an adequate amount of dairy meal, he grew Napier grass and sweet potato vines on his farm to feed higher quality forages, and built them a zero grazing unit. Within this year his 3 cows went from producing a cumulative 17kg of milk to a dramatic 17-20kg of milk each.
In Isaacs case, prosperity was achieved from the combined efforts of Farmers Helping Farmers, John VanLeeuwen, and the 2014 veterinary students. His success extended well beyond the increase in milk production, within the past year Isaac has now been able to afford to pay for his three children to go to private secondary schools and university! All it took for him was a short seminar and advice on growing forages on his own farm.
After my three weeks here in Kenya my classmates and I will have assisted with eight seminars for hundreds of farmers just like Isaac. I am confident that the veterinary students of 2016 will hear more success stories from farmers that attended one of our seminars this year. The work we have done here made a tremendous difference for the farmers, cows and families and this is only three weeks of work out of many years that Farmers Helping Farmers been accomplishing.
It appears that with education that we can break this poverty trap. But theory is one thing and reality is another. If one person like Isaac can make that much change in their own lives, then just imagine what could happen to an impoverished nation if many more farmers received that key bit of knowledge that was missing. The farmers here in Kenya have the skills and they have the willpower, they just need the information. Whether the poverty trap truly exists or not, there is no denying that education is fundamental for any nation. In Isaac's case, education was the one-time infusion of aid that provided means for his family's prosperity and a new spiral of investing in education for other generations to come.