A critical part of SANGO-Kenya’s success is our on-going contact with the farmers. During the nearly three months I was in Kenya,
I visited the field at least twice per week with Dominick, Benter, and/or Fred, our agriculture and nutrition advisors. As we were doing everything for the first time, there were so many details and new things always coming up. We have a great team, and when I left, we knew we needed someone who could step in and coordinate between the farmers, lead farmers and trainers, organize trainings and other events, and serve as a liaison between the farmers, the trainers, and Constance and me in the U.S.
Importantly, we also needed someone who is committed to our goals of improving food and nutrition security through community-based programs that are sustainable and focus on environmentally sustainable farming methods. Finally, we had to have someone who knew SANGO-Kenya, the farmers, and was energetic and detail-oriented.
We were very lucky to have a perfect candidate, a Community Health Worker (CHW) named Helma. Helma has been working as a CHW for many years and she worked with Constance on her research in 2017. When I was there last year, she took me around to visit some of the farmers who had participated in that research so I could know more about their lives, their needs, and how they felt about the research project. I was so impressed with her and her relationships with all of the members of the community, how open they are with her, sharing not just health issues, but also what is going on with them personally and their families. They trust her and know she will help them as much as she can – getting their prescriptions, reminding them to take medication, following up on sick children. She knows which families have the greatest needs and she does everything she can to provide them support. The pay is minimal; she does it out of commitment to the people and the community.
We had planned to spend my last ten days there training her, going over details, refining her role. Due to COVID-19, though, I had to leave early and we had less than two days to go over everything.
In order to facilitate communication, we provided Helma a new smartphone. Although she has limited education, her English – both spoken and written – is remarkably good and she uses it to keep me up-to-date via texts and photographs of crops, trainings, etc. She learned how to use Google Sheets so she can provide me weekly reports on the farmers and their crops – also on her smartphone, in English. These reports have been essential in making sure the farmers get the support they need.
Through our almost daily contact since I have been back in the US, I have gotten to know Helma well, as a colleague and a friend. I have seen her potential, her strong work ethic, her eagerness to learn, and her ability to learn quickly. She has grown so much. She not only exceeded our expectations; she exceeded her job description. She helped the women whenever they had problems with their farms. She absorbed everything Dominick, our agricultural consultant, said and shared it with the farmers. She learned professional skills – how to make weekly reports, how to file expense reports, how to adapt to an ever-changing situation. When we added responsibilities, she accepted them eagerly
Helma shared with me how much she likes this work, how interesting it is, and how much she is learning. She gave me valuable feedback – what she felt worked with the farmers and what she thought we could do better next year – doing some of the trainings earlier, for example.
She also said that she would like to finish high school. Helma is a single mom. She had to leave school after eighth grade because her parents could no longer afford to support her. She soon married, had a child and, not long after, separated from her husband. Returning to school would be a huge step for her. It isn’t possible now – schools are closed for the rest of the year because of COVID-19. But we really hope she will be able to when they reopen.
Helma is a great addition to SANGO-Kenya. Her success is evidence of the benefits of empowering women. As we move forward, Helma and other women who are gaining skills through our programs will help ensure sustainability of SANGO-Kenya’s programs and will be key to growing and expanding our impact.