It’s been 4 years since we broke ground on our first projects in Kenya: a series of chicken coops in 4 partner homes, targeted at elevating the quality of nutrition within each home by providing nutritious eggs to the children, which would otherwise be too expensive for the home to purchase in the market. Out of those 4 coops, only one exists today, and it has barely a handful of chickens.
Back then, Kitechild was just two girls trying to elevate the cause of vulnerable children, and we didn’t really know how. We just knew that we wanted to do something to help, but in a sustainable, innovative way. So we began researching, testing out different types of projects (such as the chicken coops), and were fortunate to find an amazing employee on the ground, Martha, with years of experience in development, particularly with respect to vulnerable children.
In these four years, we’ve learned everything from the lifespan of a chicken, why Dairy Cows are an expensive and delicate commitment, the way to plant vegetables in a greenhouse, and the challenges of accessing clean water at a fair price. (Not so fun fact: currently in Kenya, a liter of clean water costs the same or more as a liter of milk!). We’ve had projects fail because we did not provide enough support, or because our partners were not committed enough to the projects, or because the elements of the projects themselves were not good quality (I.e. poor flow rate in water filters, chickens that were already pre-disposed to illness when purchased, etc.). But as anyone who’s ever started an organization, or even a business, knows, if you don’t fail, you don’t learn. And if you don’t learn, you’ll never create real change.
As I went back to Kenya last week, I was so proud and in awe of the way that Kitechild has and continues to evolve, no less thanks to our incredibly committed team on the ground. Our greenhouse and farm projects are flourishing, literally, full of color and life and fruits and vegetables. Even those greenhouses had their challenges, including bad seasons and pest control, but we never gave up. We persisted, and we provided high quality training with partners such as Amiran Kenya and the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture.
And all this, for what? Well, as I mentioned before, we didn’t know how we could help vulnerable children thrive. Our project based model ultimately provides either income, goods, or saves funding for a children’s center in a way that is re-directed to benefit the children living there. So children are now receiving fresh vegetables, they are drinking clean water, they are getting milk in their porridge. Those are direct outcomes of the projects. Indirect but equally important outcomes include the ability to attend school beyond the primary level, as a home can now pay for school fees through income from our projects. Or the ability to be re-united with their family and community, as social work and re-integration become important aspects of our partnerships. Older children are even participating directly in the projects, learning horticultural skills that can be used in their career, and even gaining a small income for their work.
Like Duncan here: he helps the farm manager at the Fiwagoh home. He tracks the vegetables that are harvested, how much is sold to local partners including a nearby 5 star hotel, and supermarkets. He then fills out the weekly and monthly reports that Kitechild receives, updating us on the progress and income generated, and what that income is used for.
So, what’s ahead in the future? We are learning so much about the realities of vulnerable and orphaned children, the issues that they face, and why they end up living in these homes. In Kenya, extreme poverty is the number one cause why a child will either run away or be removed from their homes. Village leaders will notify a government Children’s Officer that a child is in need, an assessment will be made, and the child will be referred to a home that has the capacity to take them in and provide the tools they need to thrive: shelter, safety, education, nutrition, and healthcare. Those children that are able to, visit their families every quarter for two weeks, to maintain a bond. But there are other children who have nowhere to go. The government in fact uses these private orphanages and institutions, which are referred to as ‘Charitable Children’s Institutions’ as a way to deal with the crisis of vulnerable children. Adoption, foster care, and family stability programs are weak and unsupported.
That’s why moving forward, we are partnering with private and government initiatives on keeping families together, such as a greenhouse project providing 2 meals a day in local schools, to both:
a.) keep children healthy, able to focus, and provide a high incentive to attend school each day.
b.) prevent these children from running away from home or being removed from home because they are not receiving enough food.
We even hope that our projects could provide local jobs and income to families that are struggling to make ends meet and provide for their children.
The overall situation is extremely nuanced, complex, and delicate. At Kitechild, we will continue to evolve to best meet the needs of the community, and listen to what the real challenges are. We believe that children’s centers have their place in society when they offer protection, shelter, and care to children who would otherwise end up on the street, continued to be abused in all forms, or outcast from their communities. These are necessary, albeit temporary, solutions. However, more effort needs to be made by local governments and other organizations to help address the underlying challenges for vulnerable children: extreme poverty, lack of education in rural areas, harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage, sexual abuse, etc. Collaboration is key.
But up to this point, the progress that we have made is truly inspiring and our projects are ways which we can move towards a greater goal, in a sustainable, transparent, and innovative way. Thank you for supporting our efforts as we continue to learn and create change. We could not be here without the financial and emotional support our followers provide. We believe every child has the right to the tools they need to grow healthy and happy, including education, nutrition, and love. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and you have been part of this ‘Kitechild’ village, giving vulnerable children the chance to thrive.
Asante-sana! (thank you very much!)
Co-founder and Director