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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Hundreds of people from marginalized communities in East Africa benefit from free ICT training by ALIN

By David Kiarie

When he retired as an education officer in the year 2002, Joseph Mwati never thought he would go back to class after retirement, whether as a teacher or a student.

Mwati retreated to his Karungubii village home in Sipili of Laikipia West district in Kenya to concentrate on farming, which he had been practicing alongside his teaching career.

Joseph Mwati, in spectacles, follows keenly during
a computer lesson at Ng'arua Maarifa centre.
But ten years down the line, the 68-year-old man is taking computer lessons in order to advance his farming and business skills.

Having taught for more than three decades, the former teacher who retired as a teachers’ advisory tutor understands the importance of education and has always seized learning opportunities whenever they emerge.

“As an educationist, I know the importance of being computer literate and when I learnt that there was a place where I could be trained in ICT, and without paying a single penny, I had to grab the opportunity,” said the grand father of seven.

Mwati is among over 100 residents of Ng’arua area in Laikipia West district who have benefitted from free information communication technology (ICT) training, thanks to Arid Lands Information Network.

The international non governmental organization which operates in the East African region targets to train over 1,500 members of arid land communities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania as a way of increasing computer literacy among the marginalized communities.

A big number of these beneficiaries would probably not take computer lessons in their lifetime either due to the high fees charged by commercial colleges or the long distances from such colleges and the remote villages where these communities live.

Mwati is glad that he is now able to hold a mouse and click his way into the world outside his remote Karungubii village.

“I want to know the daily occurrences in the country and abroad through the internet,” he said. 
Besides this, the renown farmer intends to use the internet to dig as much information as possible relating to different crops and animal production, disease and pest control as well as marketing. Mwati rears cattle and sheep, and grows fruits on his farm among other assorted crops.

He further says his computer knowledge will enable him communicate with his relatives, friends and colleagues through email without having to ask for assistance.

“I am a leader of several groups in my village and I often use internet services to send mails. But each time I go to an internet cafe, I have to ask for assistance to type and send documents some of which are private therefore compromising the confidentiality of the message,” Mwati said as he served members of Sipili cereals bank at their store where he is the chairman.

Joseph Mwati, right, chats with farmers outside
Sipili cereal bank where they had gone to pick fertilizer.
Mwati is the chairman of the community development group.
He is glad that the illiteracy problem is no more thanks to the free computer training.

Mwati is now appealing to his peers and the general Ng’arua community to take advantage of the training in order to sharpen their skills.

“Learning is not just for the young people. It is meant for all. I am presently taking the classes with students the age of my grand children and I am sure I will beat them in the exams,” the retired teacher said with a broad smile.

 He is grateful to ALIN for facilitating the training saying the organization has opened the villagers to the outside world.

“We shall continue to mobilize as many members of our community to take advantage of the free training since this will push us several steps ahead in relation to local development,” Mwati said.

Another beneficiary Duncan Ndegwa, 40, is taking the computer lessons together with his teenage son who just cleared high school last year.

Duncan Ndegwa operates a computer at
Ng'arua maarifa centre.
Ndegwa who runs a clothes shop and a private school within Sipili division says he had not touched a computer before and is glad that he has so far learnt two packages.

“I and my son revise and do assignments together in the evening. We compete to outdo one another and coincidentally we both got 88 percent in our last exam,” said the father of three.

He intends to use his computer knowledge to digitize his school work including the syllabus, class attendance and staff duties and salaries.

“We are now in the computer era and everyone regardless of their profession should have basic computer training,” Ndegwa said as he urged those who are not yet exposed to the computer world to take advantage of the free training right at their village.

“It feels good to walk into a cyber cafe and send or check mails without bothering anyone for assistance. I want to be able to browse on my own and look forward to the time I will be fully IT literate,” Ndegwa says.

Martha Wanjiku on her part had always wanted to take computer lessons since she graduated from high school in 2005.

Martha Wanjiku doing a computer practical lesson.
Her quest for computer knowledge saw her seek employment first as a house help where she was earning Ksh 2,000 per month.

And although she was saving some of the money, it was difficult to raise the full sum of the required fees.

At times, needs would arise and she would use her savings to attend to the pressing issues.

Later on, Wanjiku got herself a job as an MPESA, mobile cash transfer, shop attendant where she was taking home Ksh 3,000 monthly.

And although she could squeeze her budget and raise college fees, she could not find time for classes since the business was running from 8.00 am to 6.00pm including on weekends.

After five years as an employee, Wanjiku who is now 24 left her job and used her savings to open a milk bar cum hotel at Sipili market.

So when word went round at the market that ALIN was recruiting students to take free computer classes, she knew that her long time prayer had been answered.

“I was among the first students to register for training,” the elated youthful business lady told us.
She is comfortable with the schedules of the lessons as she can close her business or leave someone to attend to it as she takes her two-hour lessons.

“I intend to use the skills to keep my business records and even to advertise the work online,” Wanjiku says.

The training has benefitted farmers, pastoralists, traders, school leavers and employees from the private sector, community organizations, NGOs and public servants.

Grace Njoroge, a nurse at Sipili health centre says the training was timely, coming at a time when she plans to further her medical studies.

Grace Njoroge, right, and Esther Kamuri do their
computer practicals assignment at Ng'arua maarifa centre. 
“I plan to go back to class in the near future and I will be able to type my notes, research, write reports and do my exam project using computer,” she said adding that she will not have to spend money to pay for the typing of her school work.

Njoroge who also plans to purchase a computer to use in the house says she will be able to keep in touch with her friends through social networks.

“I needed the training badly and I am glad I was offered a chance. I am grateful to ALIN for coming up with the program because it has put a small market like Sipili on the global map where we are in touch with the world and therefore at par with the technologically advanced people in the developed world," she said.

Njoroge too is at home with the flexibility of the lessons as she is able to attend to patients at the health facility and go to class in the evening after working hour.

“The lessons are quite enjoyable and besides that they are helping to keep the youths preoccupied,” she said.

ICT trainer Brian Bundi, in the background, lectures
students during a computer class.
Ng’arua Maarifa centre ICT trainer Brian Bundi says he is shocked with the high level of interest by the local community to learn computer studies.

“Their quest for computer knowledge is amazing and my desire is to quench that thirst,” he said.
Bundi says besides being punctual, their performance in class is well above average with most of the students doing well in both theory and practical exams.

Last year, ALIN won the prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Access to Learning Award (ATLA) taking with them US $ 1 million.

The funds are being utilized to increase computer literacy among arid land communities within the East Africa region through the free computer training.

The training comes at a time when the Kenyan government is digitizing most of its systems including the judiciary, primary and secondary schools curriculum, radio and television frequencies, school bursaries application, national examination registration and results publishing among others.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Youths take the lead in environment conservation

By David Kiarie

When a group of residents from Ririchua village of Sipili location in Laikipia West district came together one year ago, they had a sole intention of conserving a local dam.

The community wanted some of its own people to take care of the dam and therefore entrusted the youths with that responsibility.

 But after assuming their duty to man the water mass, Ririchua youth group realized that as members of the community, they could benefit more from the dam and decided to start horticultural farming within the expansive dam compound. 

The group secretary who also doubles up as the village elder Jonah Mbuthi said they started tree nurseries where they sowed vegetables and fruits and used the dam water to irrigate the nurseries.

“Besides watering our animals and fetching water for domestic use, we realized that we could use the dam to irrigate crops and so we planted vegetables that included cabbages, spinach and kales,” Mbuthi said during a ceremony to mark one year since the group was registered with the department of social services.

The group with a membership of close to 100 people also propagates tree seedlings and managed to produce over 7,000 tree of different species last year, which they distributed to eight local schools, the community, the Green belt movement and the group members. The trees included Cyprus, Eucalyptus, Gravellier, Bottlebrush and passion fruits.

The group is a member of Sipili community forest association {CFA} and advocates for tree planting and environmental conservation.

The members are undergoing training on climate change mitigation and adaptation by a local non-governmental organization, Tree is Life Trust.

Besides that, the fisheries department donated 1,000 fingerings of tilapia to the group. They however have not been able to harvest since the dam is about 15 feet deep and the group lacks fishing equipment like nets and a boat.

Lariak community forest association chairman Paul Nyutu said he would provide a boat and lifesaver jackets to the group whenever they want to harvest the already mature fish.

 This year, Mbuthi said the group plans to restock the dam with 1,000 fingerings of mudfish to check the population of tilapia fish at the dam.

Fisheries officer Muriithi Macharia also promised to provide the group with boats, lifesaver jackets and nets as well as equip them with fish farming skills.

They too intend to plant 50,000 trees including avocado, mangoes, red cinder and olive trees by the beginning of long rains in March and April this year.

“ We want to ensure that our village is well forested and we are glad the community is embracing the tree planting culture,” the group secretary said.

Other plans include buying a water pump, buying own piece of land, establishing a demonstration garden and getting training on grafting of fruit trees.

Individual members of the group are also encouraged to start poultry and goat rearing.

The group which enjoys the backing of different government departments like that of agriculture, livestock and the provincial administration has benefitted from technical skills and farm inputs like wheelbarrow, spades and watering cans from government organs.

A member of the Green Belt Movement from Sipili David Karanja who is also a member of ALIN’s Ng’arua Maarifa Centre focal group called on the community to conserve the environment saying climate change had negatively affected crop yields in the area.

“Last year we planted towards the month of June because the long rains which normally fall in March and April failed to come in time,” Karanja said.

A visiting stakeholder from Italy Fausto Gardumi who was accompanied by her schooling daughter Catelina Gardumi called on the residents to mitigate climate change saying the future of environment was in their own hands.

Another stakeholder from Somalia Saleeda Cali called for women participation in environment conservation saying their input in development matters in Africa cannot be under estimated.

On his part, Tree is life trust vice director Martin Mwangi said his organization is implementing climate change mitigation and adaptation project with 25 groups in both Laikipia and Nyandarua counties. 8 of the groups are from Laikipia.

Mwangi who recently visited Italy for an international training on development cooperation at the community, government and partners level said it was unfortunate that Kenya’s forest cover stands at 1.7 per cent against the internationally recommended standards of 10 per cent.

He said Italy has a forest cover of 48 per cent adding that Kenyans have a lot to borrow from the European country.

“If we use the available resources and opportunities, we have a chance to reverse the environment situation in Kenya,” said the TILT head.

He said while Laikipia county was arid and semi arid, there are plenty of resources and called on the residents to change their attitude and approach to environment and development issues.

“You should start by ensuring election of visionary leaders who have development issues at heart during the next general elections,” Mwangi advised.

Lariak community forest association chairman Paul Nyutu urged the community to conserve the neighbouring Lariak forest and avoid cutting down trees, use of power saws, burning charcoal and lighting fire especially during this dry period to avoid burning the forest.

Nyutu instead urged the locals to use alternative fuel like biogas and energy saving jikos, which have proved to be environment friendly.

Sipili livestock officer Peter Mukono said his ministry would teach fodder production to the group members. Mukono further cautioned them against Newcastle disease especially during this dry and dusty spell promising to teach the locals on immunization against the poultry disease.

The sipili divisional agricultural officer James Kamau advised the group to plant mango seedlings revealing that local farmers buy them all the way from Embu, in Eastern province with each seedling going for Ksh. 100.

“By the time the seedlings arrive here, some of them are wounded and as a result  do not survive after being planted,” he said advising the group to take advantage of the dam and the land around it to propagate mangoes for supply to the local farmers.

Kamau further advised the Ririchua youth group members to have their tree nursery registered with the government in order to ensure their products are certified and to enhance the market of the seedlings.

He also called on the locals to harvest rain water to use for irrigation during dry seasons.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Society urged to embrace persons with disabilities

By Ann Kinyanjui

In the world, we have different types of people with diverse abilities. Some are able bodied while others have different challenges. While some have hearing impairment, others are visually impaired and many others physically or mentally challenged.

I want us to focus on these challenges since many people have the notion that being challenged in one way or the other is synonymous to inability. Everyone in the world, the challenges not withstanding has an ability that God has given them.

I recently met a boy whom despite being on a wheel chair could write just like his fellow pupils. Joseph Kamau who joined class one at Sipili primary school in January this year uses his legs to write since his hands are impaired. 

When a book and a pen were placed on a table in front of him, Kamau picked the book with his toes and drew it closer to him. He flipped the cover and several pages to look for some empty space to write on before taking the pen and writing what was dictated to him effortlessly. He then returned the book on the table amidst both applause and shock from fellow pupils, teachers and parents who were present during the school’s class one intake exercise at the beginning of the term.

The staff and the pupils alike, some of whom knew the boy were amazed at his prowess in writing. What surprised them was the fact that his notes were neater than those of his able bodied colleagues.

We congratulate his mother for letting him interact with the society since majority of parents who have children with disabilities lock them up in their houses denying them not only their right to freedom, but also to education, good health and association. 

I also happened to meet Mr. Paul Hiuhu who has been teaching in Lariak Primary school for the deaf. He says his pupils have different talents with several of them possessing dressmaking, carpentry and other artisan talents.

What I came to learn is that disability is not inability and I would urge the society, the government and the development partners to embrace and support persons with disabilities who live among us by ensuring they have equal access and opportunities to resources, education, health and participation in public forums to enable them realize their full potential.

A stormy meeting on human wildlife conflict expected today at Wangwachi in sipili Ng’arua

By Wa Joe

A heated debate is expected today during a crisis meeting to discuss human-wildlife conflict in Laikipia West district.

The meeting which will be held at Wangwachi dam in Sipili, Ng’arua will bring together hundreds of residents from Sipili division and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers who will be trying to seek a solution to a series of human-wildlife conflict cases that have occurred for the last several years. 

The meeting follows a spate of attacks on residents by wild animals including elephants and lions. Last year, a woman aged about 40 years was devoured by a lion which attacked her as she was fetching water at the dam. Residents claimed the man eater lion was hungry since it was lactating.

Another elderly woman was trampled on by an elephant at Mwenje village a few kilometers from Wangwachi during last year’s Christmas season.

And as if that was not enough, and just before the dust had settled, a herd of elephants broke out of a nearby private conservancy and flocked into the residents’ farms near Nyakinyua primary school in Kiriko area where they spent the better part of the day destroying many acres of maize fields.

Game rangers from Nyahururu KWS station killed two of them giving the residents a chance to feast on them.
Today’s meeting will also be attended by the provincial administrators, heads of relevant government departments like agriculture, forest and livestock.

The meeting seeks to among others resolve the issue of re-erecting an electric fence round the neighbouring forest which was destroyed by wild animals. 

The fence which is powered by solar had been erected along the Laikipia Ranch forest line several years ago to keep off wild animals from the residential area. 

However, the lines were cut off by wild animals and the ranch management failed to repair the damaged areas in time exposing the residents to the beasts which include cats and elephants.

Just like human beings, wild animals keep off the electric line for fear of electrocution or electric shock but this does not deter them from attempting to cross over the fence.  So whenever the conservancy managers fail or forget to witch on the power in case they had switched it off for whatever reason, the wild animals break out of the ranch towards the villages where they eat livestock, destroy crops and worse still attack people leaving them dead or seriously injured if they are lucky.

The residents had earlier called for another meeting sometimes at the end of October last year where they discussed the issues at length with the District Game Wardens and other senior KWS officers. 

The problem however seem to recur and a permanent solution is what the residents are yearning for.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Carrying liquid or solid money? The security query technology seeks to answer

By Ann Kinyanjui

Money is a necessity through out the world. That is why people move up and down doing or searching for jobs while others try out different businesses in order to earn some cash.

Although money is used in our day to day life, people try to save as much as they can for the future. There are several ways of keeping and carrying money. They include depositing in financial institutions, individual mobile phone accounts, and credit and debit cards or even carrying it in ones pockets or keeping it under a mattress.

The issue of security both for the money and the owner then arises and this is where technology comes in. 

I was following a discussion between two of my colleague teachers Thairu and Songoi of Sipili primary school. The two had a heated debate on how money should be kept and carried.

After the lengthy discussion over several cups of tea, save for the cold evenings in Laikipia, the two concurred that soon people will no longer be carrying notes or coins with them. 

Instead, they will be carrying credit and debit cards, automated teller machine (ATM) cards or at least have the money deposited in their mobile phone money transfer accounts.

This will enhance peoples’ security and the safety of their money as they will only need to carry with them a card or a mobile phone as they go for shopping, travelling, office or any other place, thanks to the ever advancing technology. 

This will be a wonderful move and I can’t wait to see it fully operational with the total population especially in the developing countries like ours having embraced the much needed technology.  

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The role of education and skill building in the community

By Mbuthi Jeremiah

Education for the youths especially in rural areas has its role in preparing them for basic academic and perhaps trade skills.

Mentorship clearly builds needed trade skills. If modest amount of cash and land can be combined with a bit of agricultural skills in a temperate climate, it can give way to modest societal wealth.

As has been mentioned, education for women will allow for reduced family size, an important poverty reduction method in its own right.

While all components mentioned above are necessary, the portion of education pertaining to the variety of skills is needed to build and maintain the infrastructure of a developing society.

Building, plumbing, electrician, sinking wells, farming, transport and mechanical skills among others courses are clear needs among many people especially the youth, if the society is to move out of its state of poverty or survival.

Yet, many developed western economies are moving strongly away from the essential apprenticeships and training on skills, which offer a clear vocational path out of modern rural poverty.

Let the community inhabit job creation and self empowerment rather than just rush for scarce employment opportunities. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentines; Lovers’ day

By Ann Kinyanjui

Valentines is considered a very important day especially for those in love or for people who are close to each other. Many people refer to it as ‘Siku ya Wapendanao’ Swahili for lovers day.

Take a walk in your neighbourhood today and you will realize a good number of people in red. When you ask them why, their reaction will be like “today is Valentines Day don’t you know?” But if you probe them to tell you how the famous day came to be, very few of them will be in a position to explain.

Today I know many especially the young people, otherwise referred to, as the ‘dot coms’ will be buying presents for their lovers and friends. Those who happen to be single are possibly searching for friends through social networks on the internet.

Supposing I was a man, this is how I would make my lover happy and joyous on a big day like today. Since she would be expecting something from me in form of a gift or at least a card during Valentines, I would organize for a meal that she likes most, buy her a present, and then I welcome her to share the meal a day or two prior to the D day.

As we enjoy ourselves, I would then surprise her with the present. She would obviously be shocked since her expectations were that she would not receive a gift anytime before Valentine’s day, but still feel happy because the present has come her way. I would then use the Valentine day to take her for an outing and I know she would really enjoy.

Many people have been waiting for the day. Just look for ways that will make your partner happy. If you do not have one, put more effort, you might get one. If you will not be lucky enough to get one by the end of the day, take heart, there is always another time and who knows you might be lucky during next year’s Valentines day.

I wish you all a happy and joyous Valentine’s day.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Farmers tipped on market access and linkages

By David Kiarie
As a way of doing away with brokers who have for a long time been exploiting farmers, Arid Lands Information Network, a non governmental organization working towards improving access to knowledge for arid land communities in East Africa, has embarked on a training geared to liberate farmers from middle men and link them with major markets.
The ongoing training has so far seen over 100 farmers from across Ng’arua area enlightened on availability of markets for their produce.
In several instances during the market access trainings, farmers were shocked to learn that they could earn higher proceeds from the various crops they produce.
Recently over 30 farmers who met at Sipili catholic hall were tipped on ensuring good quality for their produce right from the planting through to harvesting.
During the training, farmers shared the challenges they face in production and marketing of their produce including availability and cost of farm inputs, pests and disease control and access to sustainable markets.
A marketing consultant Mr. Fanuell Lubanga advised farmers to ensure good quality of their produce in order to have guarantee of fetching high proceeds and to win the confidence of the market.
“Quality and price have to go hand in hand and the only way you can get good value for your crops is by ensuring good quality,” Lubanga advised.
The farmers were also sensitized on post harvest practices including storage, packaging and transportation.
Lily Lang’at of Horticultural Crop Development Authority (HCDA), a state corporation established to facilitate development, promotion, coordination and regulation of the horticulture industry in Kenya, gave the farmers detailed information on horticulture production.
Lang’at told the farmers that her corporation had formed Producer Marketing Organizations (P.M.O) in various parts of the country, where farmers were being trained and enabled to access market for their produce.
The groups she said would help in encouraging increase in crop production and enhance bargaining power for their produce.
She said they encourage contract farming where buyers and farmers enter formal agreement before production of crops to ensure market guarantee especially for specialized or export crops.
Farmers in Ng’arua grow avocado, citrus, oranges, passion, pineapples, watermelons, tomatoes, pumpkins among other horticultural crops.
The farmers were also trained on marketing of passion fruits and maize whose supply is currently high in the area.
They appealed for extensive training on production and marketing including field visits for demonstrations to ensure good quality of their crops from the time of planting through to harvesting.
Also in attendance were an officer with a farm produce export company, East African Growers, Stanley Njuguna and agricultural officers Elcy Kigano, Noah Koinet and Samuel Muriithi.
ALIN’s Deputy Director Anthony Mugo advised farmers to take advantage of the information found at Ng’arua Maarifa Centre packaged in literature and audio visual materials in order to gain knowledge on the various issues including agriculture for the purpose of improving their livelihood.
“We have a lot of information on books, magazines, video and the internet at the maarifa centre but if you do not access it, it will be of no benefit to you,” Mugo said.