Last week, I visited Kericho County in Kenya for the first time since the pandemic and was able to see how our various projects are progressing.
We now work across the entire county – a largely rural area of 1,000 square miles with a population of one million. Everything we do is in partnership with the local community and projects are often initiated by them.
Locally led development
At a remote place called Mamayet, I met with a local group who had decided to protect a spring of clean water and pump the water to their nearby village. They decided that the spring needed be protected, so set up a committee and bought a pump. Our role was to provide technical plumbing and engineering support to this locally led project. “Thank you for chipping in!” the group’s chairman told me.
The key to our strategy is frequent consultation with local people, listening to their needs and wishes. Our local partners, Kenyan NGO Brighter Communities Worldwide, hold a series of regular Partnership Seminars in each of the six sub-counties, bringing together health workers, chiefs and other community leaders to identify their top priorities. They share the findings from these seminars with us regularly. Access to clean water and sanitation is nearly always top of the list, followed by the urgent need to support children and young people who suffered from the disruption caused by Covid.
How the pandemic has affected children
At Kiptugumo Primary School in a particularly deprived area of Kericho County, I caught up with a project which involves building a new latrine block for girls and menstrual hygiene training. As with all our projects, the local community contributed 50% of the project cost. In this case, the parents of the school pupils volunteered to dig out the latrine pit by hand and raised enough cash to pay the wages of local labourers. Our role was to provide building and plumbing materials and the services of an experienced builder and plumber.
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The School Principal, Mr Kiptoo, told me that the number of girls attending the school had fallen sharply since the pandemic – schools were closed for 9 months during Kenya’s lockdown and many children simply never returned. Mr Kiptoo said that boy pupils now outnumber girl pupils by two to one. Large numbers of teenage girls, including primary school pupils aged 13 and 14, became pregnant during the lockdown. Many of these girls have never returned to school, while others who are trying to resume their studies are understandably distracted by the needs of their babies, and their academic performance is faltering. Meanwhile, many of the boys are under pressure from parents to abandon school and earn money. I asked Mr Kiptoo what might motivate the children to attend school regularly – his response was “food and shoes”.
Working with local officials at grassroots level
We work closely with Kenya’s Ministry of Health Officials to help them execute their health strategy across Kericho County. Last week I was honoured to meet the Kericho County Health Chief, Ms Brenda Bii, and members of her team, to celebrate the arrival of several medical fridges and cool boxes we have provided, with support from our donors in the UK. These items form a vital part of the “cold chain” enabling vaccines to be distributed safely to remote villages. The fridges are installed in local clinics across the county; the vaccines are stored in them and then transferred to cool boxes which are taken by nurses, riding pillion on motorbikes, to vaccinate children in the remotest areas. The children receive the BCG, polio, measles and rubella vaccines and vitamin A shots; from age 10 the girls are given HPV vaccination. Ms Bii told me that currently about 80% of children across the county were receiving their vaccinations: she is aiming to make this 100%.
What will this year bring?
It’s a precarious business running a small NGO. Being volunteer-run, Friends of Kipkelion is lucky in that we have few overheads and can flex our project work to match the fluctuations in the donations we receive. Balancing the requirements of donors and the priorities of our beneficiaries is always a challenge. I returned from Kenya to the UK to find that one funder had rejected our application for funds for a school latrine on the grounds that we had not named the beneficiary school in advance. But there was good news too – another foundation confirmed that they would send generous support to our continuing programme to eradicate Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in Kericho County, a project first supported by DFID eight years ago. The struggle continues!