Overlooking the tranquil waters of Kenya’s Lake Victoria and nestling under the comforting bulk of Mount Homa, the town of Homa Bay appears at first glance an untroubled and peaceful community. The men drag their wooden boats down to the water, the once-bright paintwork now chipped and faded by the relentless sun, and bring back Nile perch and tilapia to be sold to the local processing plant or exported out of the country.
Some of the gleaming fish are taken by local women who sell some on at the ramshackle market, often only using the leftovers – head, backbone and tail - to eat themselves. These remnants are deep-fried to make mgongo wazi, a dish which means 'bare back' in Swahili and which is often all they keep for themselves of this – their cherished primary local resource. This can be seen as a symbolic of the region and of large parts of Kenya. Because, look a little deeper and the true story of Homa Bay comes into focus - one of life stripped bare.
The once-clean waters of the lake are become more polluted and the menace of water hyacinth has choked large areas of the shoreline, rendering some boating lanes inaccessible. Fish stocks are now dwindling and poverty is working hand-in-hand with AIDs, a disease which is crippling families all over this region and scattering in its wake problems which will be felt for generations to come.
Travel 20km south along the dusty red sand road and you reach the Tang’neduk youth group and community project. Established in 2010 by Debora and Paul Odiwuor, this multi-dimensional yet resolutely practical project seeks to reduce the impacts of poverty on marginalised families and people in Homa Bay. They work in health: seeking to improve access to clean drinking water and nutritious food and are building a clinic and raising money to buy an ambulance for the community – one suffering from some of the worst health conditions in the country. Tang’neduk also raise funds for medical supplies and to help those who are in need but have no means of being able to afford hospital fees.
In education: the team are building a new school with dormitory accommodation for children in the area. Due to its high Aids prevalence (Homa Bay is a market town and meeting point and therefore a breeding ground for the virus) Homa Bay has some of the highest numbers of orphaned children in the country. Thousands of these Aids orphans are suffering, in countless ways, but one of these ways is that the disease has stolen from them the very people who could have taught them the valuable farming skills needed to make their way in life. Tang’neduk is trying to step in and assist these crippled families to try and break the cycle of disease and poverty.
Tang’neduk use permaculture principles in their farming projects to try to produce food which will sustain their community in the long term. Drawing from other disciplines such as organic farming, agroforestry and applied ecology, they are trying to help local people become more self-reliant through the design and development of productive and sustainable gardens and farms. Current projects include rain water harvesting schemes and the boring of a well – they currently have to trek 10km to their nearest water supply.
And in community development: Tang’neduk promote best practice community development models and work with other communities, organisations and individuals toward common goals. Despite working with minimal donations and sponsorship, Debora and Paul and the team plan to build a community centre with accommodation for guests and volunteers.
None of these projects come cheap and Tang’neduk are always on the look-out for much-needed supplies. From netting to be used to protect seedlings, seeds, gardening equipment such as watering cans, polytunnel material, wire mesh and even a van for transportation –all of these feature on the humble Tang’neduk wish list.
But perhaps their most essential need is for help. I asked Debora what difference the project made to children’s lives and she told me, "Education will help them forever. Orphans and children from poor families now have access to education and their lives change from the virtual slavery of being child soldiers, sweatshop workers, and menial labourers."
Tang’neduk is registered on WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms – and the team would like to hear from anyone interested in coming to Kenya to help with their projects. They are looking for volunteers to help with the building of the school, medical clinic and accommodation and particularly skilled volunteers who have specific relevant skills to offer this worthy project.
Anyone who feels they have something to offer Debora, Paul and the team, and who would like to help this region stand up to the many and complex problems it is facing, should contact Deborah on email@example.com
Lucy Purdy is a freelance journalist, cook, obsessive composter and former country-dweller turned urban gardener.