This may not come as any great surprise, but I've seen that if you live in central Kenya, you lead a hard life. Papers and cable news networks have shown us the hardest of the hard in the drought-ravaged Horn of Africa. Isiolo, Kenya is not in the Horn of Africa, but it is in the same ZIP code. And life there and in the surrounding villages of Ola Nagele, Gambella, Shambani and Bulesa Dima is, by any standard, difficult.
As a sponsor of Ola Nagele, I had the chance to see some of these places firsthand during Global Hope Network International's 2011 summer visit to Kenya. It is a hard place. Below-average rainfall in an area that is already classified as semi-arid has rendered the ground a hard baked shell.
Save for the scattered acacia trees, plants are low and mean, bristling with spines meant to discourage anyone or anything looking for moisture. Everything, it seems, is toughened by the harshness of central Kenya.
That goes for the people, too. Bodies and spirits toughened in the dry heat. Battered, perhaps, but not beaten. And in these hard times, in need of a helping hand. These are the people who GHNI seeks out, offering to work with them on projects that will provide long term benefits to their villages; projects that mostly address the need for water, food, wellness, education and income.
It is important to note that what GHNI offers is "a helping hand up, not a hand out." The goal is for a village to achieve sustainability - continuing benefit without outside support - in each of these areas.
It is a great concept. It is not easy to pull off. It IS working.
Active support from the villages is a critical factor for success. It would be easy, I think, for the people there to be beaten down by the difficulties of life and just muddle along. But there is strength there. And joy and kindnesses shown to guests. Dancing and singing welcome us into each village. Meals are shared. Then we discuss the work, what has happened, what comes next. And when we leave, the villages set to work to make things just a little better.
As Priscila so poetically observed about central Kenya, "Life's not all daisies and hot dogs." It certainly isn't. But there are daisies coming up. And, if not ball park hot dogs, you will find a meal of goat or chicken, warmly offered in a village home.
It was a privilege to meet the people in "my" village of Ola Nagele (it's just me; and 99 other sponsors) as well as those in the other villages around Isiolo. The GHNI plan is a good one. And, even though there is the occasional bump in the road, it is working to provide meaningful, sustainable improvements in places where they are much needed.
Perhaps you'd like to help plant some daisies. If so, GHNI has plenty of seeds. Check out their Adopt a Village page for information on how you too can become a sponsor of a village in East Africa or elsewhere in the world and give your own personal hand up to someone.
In the coming days - or weeks, we'll have to see about the pace - I'll put up some more posts about the visit to Isiolo and the villages that are part of GHNI's Isiolo cluster.
Special thanks to Priscila who introduced me to the daisies and hot dogs description of life. Here she is with one of her many Kenyan friends.