I’m feeling mightily uninspired lately, so I’m going to cheat a little and post a story I wrote for our newsletter at work. In the past year, I have had the pleasure of meeting several incredible African woman whose wisdom, boldness, and passion have inspired me. Fidelis is one of them.

Fidelis Wainana wishes that people from rich and powerful nations would stop trying to fix Africa. “What we’re asking for,” she says, “is for people to listen to us, not try to fix us.”

Wainana, a native-born Kenyan, was recently awarded the African Green Revolution Yara Prize for her work with Maseno Inter-Christian Child Self Help Group. She visited Canada as a guest of Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the Micah Challenge.

“North Americans shouldn’t assume that their solutions will work for African farmers,” she said while in Winnipeg, attending a deliberative dialogue where people had gathered to talk about the Green Revolution for Africa. “People are talking about the need to increase soil fertility, but in many parts of Africa, fertility is not the issue.”

Wainana works with families led by widows or orphans to help enable them to grow their own food in a sustainable way. She insists that development work must be rooted in relationships and community. Without relying on high-cost inputs such as chemical fertilizers, her organization has helped families harvest 10 bags of maize from the same land that previously produced only one bag. Sometimes, she says, it’s just a matter of teaching them how to use the resources they already have, like manure from their livestock.

By building relationships with people, helping them to recognize their own abilities, and encouraging the sharing of knowledge among the community, Wainana’s organization has been instrumental in eradicating malnutrition and increasing the average income in over 20 villages in Kenya’s Kisumu-Maseno region. “It’s important to see the link between spirituality, community, and farming practices,” says Wainana. “My faith has a significant impact on my work and in the work of our organization. We encourage people to see their own strengths and recognize the gifts God has given them and their community. Many times, they already have all the resources they need.”

At the end of her visit to Canada, Wainana had the opportunity to address the Federal Government’s Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. In her address, she urged the Canadian government to ensure that any increase to aid for agriculture should get into the hands of the grassroots communities. “Too much money has been wasted in activities that don’t reach the grassroots,” she said. “We appreciate the support of Canadians, but we want you to walk alongside us and not try to do it for us. Please remember to listen to the voices at the grassroots.”

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