Having witnessed ghastly scenes of malnourished and hungry children and mothers in Turkana, Kenya, in 2011, I returned a year later and witnessed a total transformation.
World Vision is busy working on recovery and resilience-building programs that are rapidly changing the picture of this region of East Africa.
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The Chinese proverb, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” reminds me that it is possible to make a lasting and life-changing impact. This change is slowly being realized in Turkana, drip by drip.
In 2011, I experienced a firsthand encounter with ghastly scenes of hungry, malnourished children and mothers at health clinics and food distribution centers in Turkana.
But when I recently visited the drought-prone region, I witnessed such a dramatic change. This is due in part to rains, which enabled regeneration of pasture and filled the once-dry water sources.
However, a huge chunk of transformation has occurred due to concerted efforts by the government and development agencies.
During the response, World Vision came up with a concept called "Secure the Future," which is principally focused on resilience-building and recovery programs. It is based on this framework that the organization has been assisting the Turkana community, which has long suffered from cyclical droughts.
I visited the Elelea irrigation project, where World Vision recently supported the rehabilitation of the main intake structure that directs water from a local river to the farms. Before the rehabilitation, the operation had nearly ground to a halt.
The scheme currently has 400 acres of land under irrigation, benefiting 1,200 families. Plans are underway to grow the list of beneficiaries to 2,000.
I met one such happy beneficiary, Margaret Ngasike, a mother of eight children. “It is such a huge relief that the scheme is now working,” she said.
The parched ground -- along every lift of the hoe, every bead of sweat, and calloused hands -- once signified the elusive search for food.
“I used to own livestock a long time ago; then, one day, the raiders struck, and all the livestock was gone just in a twinkle of an eye,” Margaret recalled.
“They nearly killed my husband when he tried to protect the livestock from the raiders,” she added.
Margaret’s chilling story resonates with nearly all the residents of Turkana. With livestock gone and farmers unable to cope with cyclical droughts and severe hunger, planting crops is the next best thing.
Some even swear that they will never again go back to being pastoralists, fearing further attacks from brutal cattle-raiders from the neighboring community.
Margaret’s piece of land, at just an eighth of an acre, is not big. She plants sorghum, usually alternating with maize, green grams, and vegetables after every harvest.
“I harvest 10 to 15 bags of maize (about 200 pounds), enough to sustain my family, and this has fed my family for over 10 years now,” Margaret said. “If one day I get a chance to expand my farm, I would wish to produce lots of food and supply the whole region.”
At Lokubae, another irrigation project, lush green fields of tall maize stunned me. I spotted 13-year-old Jane Ajore, who was shy to talk but very comfortable with the camera.
Jane roasted the maize as her little sister, 7-year-old Natowom, waited patiently beside her. When it was ready, the maize was served, fresh and hot. Little Natowom was the first to partake.
It was such a delight to see the children eating the maize adjacent to their farms and chatting away while others played.
An interview with Oyangole, a beneficiary of the Lokubae project, further prompted me to appreciate the potential of Turkana.
“When people hear of Turkana, they think it is a region with desperate, hungry, and emaciated people who sit around waiting for relief aid. Still others perceive Turkana as a dry place where no crops can grow," Oyangole said.
“But today I want the world to know that Turkana is endowed with resources and that the people of Turkana are hardworking and grow crops,” she added.
She had definitely driven the message home. Someone else said to me that one day Turkana will become the Kenya’s breadbasket. I believe that this is possible without a shadow of doubt.
With the success of the Elelea and Lokubae irrigation projects, and many others to come, I echo the words of World Vision's country director in Kenya: "Secure the future of Turkana."
Leaving the region knowing that Jane, Margaret, and scores of other families in the finally have easy access to food is such a comforting feeling.
Read additional blog posts about last year's historic drought and food crisis that affected countless lives across East Africa, including communities across Kenya.
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