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An LWR project participant shows off his tomatoes. The field in the far background shows what his land would ordinarily look like during the dry season. (Photo for LWR by Jonathan Ernst)
An LWR project participant shows off his tomatoes. The field in the far background shows what his land would ordinarily look like during the dry season. (Photo for LWR by Jonathan Ernst)

Back from the Brink
in Kenya

By Jessica Katzenstein

Alfred Kilonzo, a Kenyan father of three, used to own a thriving farm on which he grew vegetables to eat and sell. But in 2005, the rains stopped, drying up the Makindu River, his main source of irrigation water.

Finding that he couldn’t support his young family through agriculture, Alfred stopped farming and traveled to Nairobi to find work. But being so far away took its toll. He could only come home once every three months, and his family was struggling to survive.

Kenyan farmers face many challenges to growing food and supporting their families. Unpredictable rains, crop failure, political instability and rising food prices have long plagued this region, leaving farmers like Alfred, and their families, at the brink of starvation.

To help, Lutheran World Relief is working with two local partners, the Neema and Makindu Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to improve community access to irrigation water and lessen people’s vulnerability to drought and food crises.

Through cash-for-work programs, more than 16,000 community members have built new reservoirs and pipelines to improve irrigation, planted trees and learned how to better conserve their water. Cash-for-work programs give families the vital income they needed right away while making improvements that will help them long into the future.

In addition to feeding families, this income ensures other important needs are met as well. “Thanks to the cash I earned through work on the irrigation systems, I will be able to buy books for my grandchildren,” says Kavete Nduto, a project participant.

After hearing about the project, Alfred decided to reopen his farm, where he now earns twice as much growing vegetables as he made in Nairobi. He stands to make even more once his community’s new marketing cooperative is up and running. Perhaps most importantly, Alfred can afford to live with his family again.

In this community, where households were once divided by drought, families are now supporting themselves, children are attending school, lives are moving forward.

In other parts of East Africa, however, the situation is even more desperate. Thirteen million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti are suffering the worst drought to hit the region in 60 years, causing widespread hunger and displacement.

LWR, with its partner, the Lutheran World Federation, are working to meet the needs of families affected by the drought. But a longer term response is also under way.

“LWR will take the lessons we learned in the Makindu River region and use them to help people affected by the prolonged drought,” says Evariste Karangwa, LWR’s Program Director for Africa.

Cash-for-work programs, like those employed with communities along the Makindu River, will help rural families cope with drought conditions and better prepare them to grow crops again after the rains come.

You can support this long-term response with a gift to LWR’s East Africa Drought fund. Your gifts help LWR not only deliver desperately needed relief now, but also walk with communities as they work to recover and build better futures.

Jessica Katzenstein is LWR’s Program Assistant for Engagement.

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