Friday, August 2, 2013

Helping Others to Help Ourselves: A Summer of #agedu Impact in Nyeri, Kenya

[Editor's Note: Jenna Moser is a Penn State Agricultural and Extension Education Major and a 2015 Teacher Candidate who recently spent the summer in Nyeri, Kenya with the Children Youth Empowerment Centre. This is her story]

The ability to change one’s life is not something to be taken lightly.  It is something that we all have and each and every one of us should conduct ourselves with dignity and compassion.

Jenna on her journey to Mount Kenya
(directly behind her)
I am entering my junior year of college majoring in Agriculture Education with a minor in International Agriculture.  My goal is to complete my degree in 2015 and then become involved with a global oriented company and help to teach sustainable agriculture practices to rural farmers (the people who I believe to have the ultimate power in ridding our world’s hunger crisis).  After many years abroad, I hope to return to the United States and serve as a high school agriculture educator.  I want to instill the notion in my students that there is a need for them in this world, and they can make a difference - especially in the agriculture sector.  As a result of my ambitions it made perfect sense for me to enroll in the class that enabled me to study abroad in Kenya.

 Showing a rabbit how to use
the newly replicated rabbit watere
On May 9th I boarded a plane in Philadelphia and flew well over fifteen hours to arrive in Kenya to participate in a three week Community Environment Development class offered by Penn State University.  My foresight told me that three weeks would not be enough time, so I was granted permission to stay three months until August 6th.  During the past few months, I stayed at the Children Youth Empowerment Centre (CYEC) in Nyeri.  Essentially, it is a place for children whose parents are either not in the picture or have insufficient funds to provide for basic needs.  These children are brought to the centre with the little if any belongings they have and for the most part have their needs met.  For instance they have food, they all have a toothbrush, they have at least one school uniform, they have space to play with their toy balls cleverly made of grocery bags rolled into one another, they have a strip of foam for their mattress where they can peacefully lay down their heads every night.  These children have literally the most basic things they need, and they are the happiest people I have ever met.

Having fun at a field day at the centre. 
The group that I led named themselves “Team Power”

While I enjoy playing games with the youth and telling them what my sweet mother tells me every night “I love you.  Have sweet happy dreams.  Have a good day at school tomorrow.  I will see you kesho (tomorrow in Swahili).”  I acknowledge that I came to the CYEC to help work with the agriculture component of the centre.  The centre is called “Empowerment Centre” because like a career and technical school in the states, it has several technical components that the youth are encouraged to engage in.  These components are working in a metal shop, wood shop, tailoring room, doing arts such as painting and making jewelry, making charcoal briquettes, and doing agriculture work with the livestock (goats, one cow and one calf, rabbits, and chickens) and working in the shamba (garden) where they grow sukuma wiki (kale), maize, carrots, tomatoes, onions, and much much more. 
Learning how to use a scythe to cut grass for hay; One of the youth enterprises offered at the CYEC and several youth have traveled to many places to make hay and teach others how to. 

As soon as I was exposed to the programs at the centre, I tried to think of how I could be the most beneficial to the agriculture program.  While I did want to be engaged with the “hands on” work of rolling up my sleeves and tilling the soil with a hoe and carrying buckets of water to the animals, I had to constantly remind myself of what is the most sustainable thing for the centre.  I had the realization several times that me doing the work now, could easily translate into no one doing the work when I leave.  So my approach became to work with people one on one and over the course of several days or several weeks teach them different practices, watch them do the work, and then offer my advice.  With this tactic, I was able to successfully implement composting (where there are collection buckets in several parts of the centre), have youth work with the adult in the metal shop to replicate rabbit waterers to ensure the availability of water at all times to the rabbits, I explained the importance of castrating the Holstein calf (especially since the livestock pens are not always shut and there are small children always running around) and performed the operation explaining each part along the way, occasionally I would worked with a jembe (machete) to cut grass for fodder for the livestock, and the most important thing that I did was Teach Ag

Cleaning out the space for composting with youth from the CYEC
Working with the head person in the agriculture department we discussed that it would be really beneficial if there was an “Ag Day” at the centre. Simply because the youth see that there are animals and crops, but they do not know how to properly treat them and there is a misconception in developing countries that agriculture is only farming and that it is a “poor man’s job.” That conception is only true for the uneducated and my goal is to change it. I facilitated the first workshop with the older youth where I began asking them to all write down their definition of agriculture. For the most part their responses seemed to be all carbon copied as they dictated the definition ingrained in them during school of “Agriculture is the growing of crops and rearing of livestock.” While this is certainly a component of agriculture, it does not sum up the vastness of this industry.

After that we played games and did puzzles that visually showed: 1) The definition of agriculture, 2) The careers and opportunities offered through the industry, 3) Why they should care about agriculture (I related this to the hunger crisis and shared how critical it is for them to be aware), and 4) Agriculture at the CYEC.
Composting buckets and signs were ready to be implemented

At the conclusion of the workshop, I asked everyone to answer the following questions: 1) Did your view change on agriculture? And 2) Are you interested in agriculture? Why or Why Not? Nearly every student said that they were interested in agriculture and one 14 year old girl said “I’m interested in agriculture. Yes because agriculture help the farmer to raise living standards by providing enough food for me family and nation.” Another response from an 11 year old boy was “I am happy because your advice have made me to love agriculture. I love your lesson.” Reading through the responses of the over forty youth was rewarding in the fact that they were able to start the process of comprehending why agriculture is so essential. Following the lesson, I was able to choose a few older youth and worked with them over the course of a week to guide them in creating and presenting their own lesson to the younger youth. They came up with their own materials and explanations about why agriculture is important and their lesson was a success. There is something very gratifying about teaching agriculture and there is something even more fulfilling about teaching others to teach ag.

The ripple effect is monumental. 

Jenna after reaching the top of Mount Kenya (4985 meters above sea level)
after several days of hiking
My short three months in Kenya has flown by and I am leaving with painfully realistic questions of “Did I do enough?”  “Who will tell the precious children sweet dreams?”  “Will I ever see the youth again who have called me their “dada” (sister)?”  “Why is there even a need for a children’s home – shouldn’t parents or family want and be prepared to take care of their children?” 

It is my hopes that these children never lose their sense of compassion and will one day realize that they changed my life.

To learn more about starting on the path to having a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of students across the globe by becoming an agricultural educator, please contact the agricultural teacher education program at Follow us on Twitter at TeachAgPSU, on Facebook, or on our blog!

Jenna Moser
Guest Student Blogger
2015 Teacher Candidate
Twitter: @JennaLeeMoser 

1 comment:

  1. Not at all a surprise coming from Jenna Moser - she has been destined to do great things. What a great testimony, Jenna - keep it up!!