Note: Please read all the way to the bottom to find out how you can participate in a special anniversary project and be entered to win a prize.
Ten years ago, I started my first blog. It was called Fumbling for Words, because I am a passionate gatherer of words and am always fumbling for the right ones to articulate the complicated things that show up in my brain. And I really, really wanted to find the right words that would connect me with people because, even more than words, I love people. And I love meaningful conversations that connect me to those people.
In the beginning, there was a very particular reason for my blog. I was preparing for my first trip to Africa, a trip I’d been dreaming of since I was a child. I was traveling there in my role as Director of Communications for the non-profit organization I worked for at the time. Though I was delighted with the opportunity, the reason for going complicated the trip for me. I didn’t want to arrive on African soil as a “donor” meeting up with people who were “recipients“. That created too much power differential for me. I wanted to arrive as an equal, a story-catcher, and a listener.
I thought a lot about that, and when I think about things a lot I write about them. Writing is like breathing for me – it helps me exhale what doesn’t serve me and inhale what I need. Here’s an excerpt from my very first blog post.
Will African soil welcome me? Will the colours be as rich as those in my dreams? Will the zebras and lions gaze at me knowingly with eyes that say “we knew you’d come some day”? Will it make me feel hopeful or sad? Or both? Hopeful that this world is a vast and intricate thing of beauty and there is so much more space for me to grow and learn. Or sad that somehow I have hurt these beautiful people by my western greed and western appetite.
I won’t preach from my white-washed Bible. I won’t expect that my English words are somehow endued with greater wisdom than theirs. I will listen and let them teach me. I will open my heart to the hope and the hurt. I will tread lightly on their soil and let the colours wash over me. I will allow the journey to stretch me and I will come back larger than before.
You can read the rest of the post here.
That trip changed me, as did subsequent trips to other parts of Africa and to India and Bangladesh. Each trip cracked me open in both hard and beautiful ways. They fueled my love of stories and ignited my passion for meaningful conversations that connect people across the barriers of race, gender, language, and class.
When you travel with an open heart, you have an opportunity to look deeply into your own heart to examine your privilege, your prejudice, your preconceptions, and your understanding of power. Traveling to Africa caused me to question how the seeds of colonialism had grown, unbeknownst to me, in my own heart. What subtle things do I do in relationships because I assume I have a right to this privilege? What ways do I take for granted that I am entitled to power? And in what ways am I uncomfortable when people assume I have power that I don’t feel I have?
I did my best to walk on African soil with a posture of humility. It’s not always easy though, when they receive you as “rich donor who brought us food”. When I found myself in uncomfortable situations, such as the day we visited a food distribution site and the villagers had been sitting in the hot sun for hours waiting for us to arrive so that we could speak with them and help distribute their food, I dug through my history for stories that might offer some sense of reciprocity and connection.
When I came home from Africa with the responsibility of sharing stories with Canadian donors about where their money was going, I did my best to offer dignity and respect to each person whose stories I shared. I was determined not to use images that branded people as helpless victims, and the stories I told were always about their resourcefulness and ability to thrive even in difficult circumstances. But still… there was always a restlessness in that work, because I was always telling stories for the purpose of raising money rather than sharing stories as a way to build bridges, change paradigms, and find mutual healing.
That work served as a catalyst for me to dig deeper and deeper into what it might mean to build healthy relationships and host meaningful conversations across power imbalances and racial divides. My ongoing inquiry brought me to The Circle Way and The Art of Hosting. The circle, I am convinced, is the best place to start. The circle invites each person in each chair to bring themselves fully into the conversation, to serve as leader and listener, change-maker and healer.
As I reflect back over my ten years of blogging, it’s clear that I keep circling back to the same inquiry that ignited my first blog post and that brought me to the circle. In the 1521 posts I’ve written, and in the work I now do, this question comes back again and again.
How do I create safe space for meaningful conversation where barriers are removed and real growth and change can happen for all of us?
This question took me deeper and deeper into this work, inviting me into more and more challenging conversations and situations. It led me away from that non-profit job into self-employment, it helped me build relationships with people all over the world who are hosting conversations like this, and it led me again and again back to the circle. This blog became a kind of virtual circle, inviting people into the conversation. Collectively, those of us who have gathered here (and on connected social media) have been having meaningful conversations, removing barriers, and encouraging each other to change and grow.
Together we have been learning to live more authentically, more courageously, and more compassionately. We’ve stretched ourselves, we’ve shared grief stories, we’ve celebrated together, and we’ve grown our relationships.
As I look back over 10 years of blogging, I look back to where it all began – back to that place where my tender, open heart, was ready to be stretched and changed, and ready to be in relationship with people who would change me. You, my dear reader, have stretched and changed me, just like those people I met in Africa. For that I am deeply grateful.
Though I haven’t been back to Africa since I left that job, it continues to hold a place in my heart. It’s beautiful, yes, and I’ve met amazing people there, but I think the piece that keeps calling me back is the opportunity to peer into my own privilege and to dive in to relationships that help me grow.
These things are also possible here at home, and I’m finding more and more ways to engage with this inquiry right here where I live, where the most challenging issue is the way that we as descendents of the European settlers have separated ourselves from the First Nations people through colonization and margnalization. I am seeking to understand more about the intersection between power and love and how we can build bridges by understanding both.
When my business (and blog reach) was growing earlier this year (thanks to you), I knew that I needed to use whatever influence I have for good, beyond my own income. I wanted an opportunity to support people with access to less privilege than I enjoy without allowing my support of them to contribute to the power imbalance. The best way that I knew to do this was to let someone from within that community take the lead, someone who was stepping into her own power and was already working to serve a more beautiful world. I didn’t need to look far. My friend (who’d been a youth intern on my team for a year while I worked in non-profit) Nestar Lakot Okella had started a school in the village where she grew up in Uganda.
Because I already have a high level of trust in Nestar’s ability to lead and be a change-maker, it didn’t take much for me step alongside as an ally in support of Uganda Kitgum Education Foundation. I hosted my first fundraiser in celebration of my birthday in May, and with your help, my dear readers, we were able to send more than $2000 to the school. Since then I’ve been sending a portion of the proceeds from programs such as Mandala Discovery and The Spiral Path.
This past week, I received a set of photos from Nestar and they brought tears to my eyes. They were very simple photos of men making chairs, but they meant so much.
Nestar’s note said: “I wanted to share pictures we got from Kitgum. We are able to order 125 chairs and 125 tables and 1 bookshelf for every classroom. All the items are being made locally in Kitgum, so the local community can also benefit from our school project through the jobs created.
“Thank you for your contribution which has partially made this possible. No more learning on the floor for our students next year, YES! :)”
It delights me to no end to imagine the children returning to their classrooms after their winter break ends in January to find out they now have chairs, tables, and bookshelves in their classrooms!
Today, as I celebrate 10 years of blogging, it seems beautifully appropriate that what started as a way to capture my stories of Africa has brought me full circle to this place where I can use my blog as a platform to support the learning and empowerment of young people in Africa whose school was started by a leader from their own community. Some day I would love to be in relationship with the students of that school, not as a benefactor to beneficiaries, but as co-learners and co-creators, working to make the work a little bit better.
And that brings me to my special anniversary campaign.
I want to continue to support the education of children in Uganda AND I want to support my own dream of taking my writing to a broader audience.
I love the idea of us learning and growing together in separate parts of the world. I imagine myself sitting in one of those blue chairs in a circle with them, each of us stretching and growing into our capacity, reading books and writing books and learning to be loving, powerful change-makers and leaders.
This is where you come in. I want to invite you to support my 10th Anniversary Book + Books Project:
- The students at UKEF need textbooks. Nestar tells me that there are only one or two textbooks for each classroom and they want to buy more. A textbook costs approximately $12.50, so it wouldn’t take much for us to buy enough for every one of the 300 children at the school.
- I intend to publish a book in 2015. As many of you know, this has been a long held dream of mine. I completed what I thought would be my first published book two years ago, but I set it aside when my mom died and then it never really felt like it had evolved into what it was meant to be. The book is now evolving into one called “Circling around to this” and it will be the story of how I’ve been growing into the question above and how it has led me to circle, labyrinth, mandala, and spiral. (Who knows… I might even visit Africa on a future book tour!)
If we are able to raise $7500, there will be enough to buy textbooks for all of the students AND I’ll have most of what I need to publish a book.
If this blog (or my newsletters or any of my writing) has touched you in any way in the last ten years AND you believe all children should have access to education, there are two ways that you can support this dual fundraising goal:
- Make a donation using the form below. Half of all money donated will be sent to UKEF for textbooks (or for whatever else Nestar decides the money is best used for – I am determined to let her and the school leadership make the best decisions they need to make without this becoming donor-controlled). The other half will be set aside for the publishing costs associated with getting my book into print.
- Make a purchase of anything from my portfolio before December 19th and half of the proceeds will be donated to UKEF and half will go to my publishing fund. You can register for Mandala Discovery in January or for The Spiral Path in February, you can buy A Soulful Year or Lead with Your Wild Heart, you can sign up for coaching, or you can buy something from my Etsy shop.
To make this a little more interesting, I’ve put together a prize package. At 5 p.m. central on Friday, December 19th, I’ll pick a name from all of those who have contributed, and one lucky winner will receive the following (total value $204 + shipping):
Thank you in advance for making a contribution to the 10th Anniversary Book + Books Project!
Note: if you wish to dedicate your donation to only one of the two causes I’m fundraising for, indicate that in the comment box and I will honour your request.
I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. – Oliver Wendell Holmes
I have watched the buzz around Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 campaign with interest. It was my teenage daughter who first alerted me to it. Like many teenagers all over the world, she was pumped up about it and wanted to wear the bracelet, hang the posters, and know that she was part of a movement that was stopping an evil man and fixing problems for the children he’d brutalized.
I validated her passion, and then I suggested that, if she really wanted to know how to help people in Uganda, she should speak to people who’ve grown up there – like my friend Nestar – and find out more about what the issues are and how a teenager in Canada can support them.
The last thing I want to do is pour cold water on my daughter’s passion… but… there are many complexities that KONY 2012 ignores. Complexities like… What are the root causes of war? What have people in Uganda already done to try to resolve the situation? How might a campaign like this feed into the dangerous colonialism that North Americans too frequently fall prone to when it comes to the way we want to “fix” problems in other countries? What if the world isn’t really as black and white as the film would have us believe and we can’t simply resolve problems by doing away with bad guys?
The problem is, complexity doesn’t trend on Twitter. You can’t fit it onto a bracelet and sell it to millions of teenagers.
Complexity involves time and effort and frustration and commitment and chaos and depth and… a whole lot of things that make it tough to fit into a marketing plan.
This is an issue I’ve struggled with for a long time, starting with my work as a communicator for a non-profit organization working with partners all over the world to respond to hunger. It’s not easy to explain the complexities around why people are hungry. There is no simple cause and effect that can be fixed by throwing a few dollars at it or sending a letter to the government or wearing a t-shirt. Hunger is about conflict and HIV/AIDS and gender and politics and corruption and… the list goes on and on. To make any long term difference so that people are able to access food on a regular basis instead of becoming reliant on aid agencies, you have to dive into the complexity and dare to get your hands dirty.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t boil those complex messages down to a simple catch phrase. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though – I made several videos when I was working there, and none of them went viral. They didn’t have cute, cherubic children in them, and I didn’t promise an African child I would stop the bad guys who killed his brother.
As anyone in n0n-profit will tell you, though, it’s the simple “give money and you can fix a problem” messages that get the donations and support. “Sponsor a child” or “buy a goat” or “stop a bad guy” paint simple problems with simple solutions and they bring in money. People want to know that their $30 donation will mean that a child can sit down to a meal every day, or that evil will be arrested. Send out a photo of that child whose life has been “fixed”, and it’s an easy sell.
But none of this is simple. You can’t fix all of the complex problems that children face – marginalization, conflict, lack of education, etc. – with your $30 donation (and I’m not suggesting that those organizations who use this type of marketing would ever make such a claim). I wish it were so, but it’s not.
It’s not much different in the work I now do in personal development, facilitation, and teaching. On a regular basis, students ask me for simple answers – templates to ensure they’ll get top grades, rules for writing, etc.. “It’s not that simple,” I say. “This is not a black and white world.”
If I could sell simple, my business probably would have taken off like wildfire. But I can’t sell simple any more than I could create simple videos about how hunger can be resolved. I live in a complex world, and I can’t authentically tell you that anything I offer will fix your life or your community or workplace. I live in a world where babies die, where loved ones attempt suicide, where people loose their jobs, where fathers get killed by tractors, where people who love each other sometimes hurt each other, and where dreams don’t always come true.
I don’t sell magic. I sell hard work and deep dives and surrender and journeys through chaos – nothing that fits into a 140 character tweet. My work is to invite you on the journey through complexity.
Fortunately, though, I believe, as Oliver Wendell Holmes says in the quote at the top of this article, that there is a deeper kind of simplicity on the other side of complexity.
That simplicity is the place where God resides.
It’s about Love – the simplest (and yet most complex) concept in the world.
It’s about the kind of love that “passes understanding”. It’s love that’s been through the battlefield of complexity and lived to tell the tale. It’s love that knows that there is no black or white, but just a lot of shades of grey. It’s love that recognizes that to really help people who are hurting we have to sit in the hurt with them and not try to fix it. It’s love that dares to get messy and dares to forgive.
It’s also about surrender. And trust. And forgiveness. And community. All of those are simple words, but none of them are simplistic. They don’t exist without the complexity.
I have had the honour of doing mandala sessions with several people who, after working their way through the mandala discovery process, have found a path through complexity to a new place of simplicity. I get to witness the a-ha moments as something new arrives that brings them closer to their centre, closer to Spirit, closer to truth, closer to simplicity. It might not make me millions, but I wouldn’t trade this kind of work for anything that fits cleanly on a marketing plan or is easy to sell in 140 characters or less.
This is the hero’s journey we’re talking about – Theseus’ path through the labyrinth, hanging onto a thread. It’s not simple. And yet it takes us to the deeper simplicity on the other side of complexity.
Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Angelina Atyam, an amazing woman whose daughter was abducted, along with her schoolmates, several years ago by Joseph Kony’s army in Uganda. Atyam joined together with other mothers to form Concerned Parents Association and began lobbying for the return of their children. They challenged the government to reconsider its strategy against the LRA. At one point, she even had the opportunity to meet with the President of Uganda.
Clearly feeling threatened by the work of CPA, the LRA sent a message to Atyam that they would return her daughter if she would stop her public relations campaign against them. Atyam countered with an offer to do so if all the girls from St. Mary’s were freed, but the LRA refused it. Her family was appalled that she had turned down the offer, but as she wrote in Marie Claire, “getting my child back would be absolutely wonderful, but if I accepted the offer, I would be turning my back on all the other families. I’d destroy the new community spirit we had created–the hope of getting all the boys and girls back.”
Eventually, her daughter was found and returned to Atyam. By then, the daughter had given birth to two children fathered by the commander of the army. One son went missing in the raid that rescued Atyam’s daughter, but a few weeks later, after he’d wandered in the bush alone with no food for weeks, he was found. Atyam began raising her grandchildren so that her daughter could go to school.
The part of the story that sticks with me the most is what Atyam shared about forgiveness. At one point she realized that she was full of bitterness and that she could not work effectively for peace if she didn’t first experience forgiveness. Working hard to forgive her daughter’s captors, she went to the village where the mother of the commander of the army lived. She told the other women that she did not hold her personally responsible for what had happened to her daughter. She said she forgave the woman and her son for the horrible things that had been done to her family.
That, my friends, is complexity. It’s messy and uncomfortable and courageous.
That’s the kind of complexity that is missing from the KONY 2012 video. Uganda’s challenges will not be resolved by a lot of well-meaning white people wearing wristbands. Uganda’s challenges will be resolved by mothers standing up to evil and then digging deep into their hearts for forgiveness and love.
That love that Angelina Atyam extended to the mother of her daughter’s abductor and that helped her raise the grandchildren who’d been fathered by a murderer? That’s the simplicity on the other side of complexity.
The word “warrior” keeps popping up in my life lately. It started last month when I referred to myself as a warrior when I served as Marcel’s advocate as we navigated the dysfunctional health care system. A few weeks later, when I registered for ALIA (where I’ll be next week!), I signed up for the workshop “Leader as Shambala Warrior”. Intrigued with the concept of the Shambala warrior (and somewhat amused by how this was following my own self-definition as warrior), I started doing some advance reading for the workshop. The reading only increased the intrigue.
To be a warrior in Shambala tradition, you must be strong, peace-loving, bold, gentle, compassionate, and forgiving. It’s not about going to war, the way we in the West would tend to think about warriorship. It’s about striving for goodness in the world in which we live. Thankfully, It doesn’t require of me that I give up my pacifist roots and go to war.
I’ve been thinking about which leaders I have witnessed that I would say embody the concept of the Shambala warrior. Many of them, it turns out, are women who work tirelessly (and usually very quietly and humbly) for peace, justice, and equality in the developing countries they call home. They may be quiet, but they are also bold and know when to call a spade a spade. I have heard many of them make rather scathing comments about what they have witnessed in our North American culture. Here are a few of my inspirations:
Elizabeth was just 23 when I met her in Ethiopia, but she has wisdom and strength beyond her years. She has committed her life to serving the cause of justice for those who are poor. She gave up her home in Addis Ababa to move to a remote village in the Afar desert to help a nomadic community build a water diversion project so that they can move beyond the hunger that has plagued them for a number of years (since the climate has changed and drought comes more frequently). Arriving in a Muslim community, Elizabeth was told “this project will never work if it’s lead by a woman”, but she persevered and a few years later, dramatic changes have occured. Not only do they have abundant crops where nothing once grew, but there are more children going to school because families do not have to uproot themselves in search of water. The most exciting change is that gradually, women are being allowed to hold leadership positions in local governance, because the community witnessed what Elizabeth was capable of.
When I met Fidelis, I couldn’t help but notice the fierce energy burning in her eyes, despite the quiet calm of her face. It didn’t take long to find out that my first impressions were dead on. This was a women who would stand up to almost anyone without flinching (she had the nerve to tell Jeffrey Sachs he might be wrong on some of his thoughts on the Green Revolution for Africa and encouraged him to listen to more Africans), but still had the grace and compassion to make everyone in her presence feel valued. One of the most striking things she said in her visit to Canada was “Why do you people in the West always think you need to FIX everything?” She was working tirelessly in her native Kenya to help farmers learn more sustainable agriculture practices. I remember a story she told about how they’d learned to give goats and chickens in some villages because then they were more assured that the women and children would eat (men were too proud to eat that lowly meat and preferred beef). Sadly, Fidelis passed away last year. A bright light too soon gone.
Mary Beth left a career in teaching to work in agricultural development because she witnessed marginalized tribes during times of conflict not having enough food to eat and it awakened a driving passion in her to do something about it. She was quickly promoted to leadership and now serves as Chief Functionary/Secretary for the Rural Women’s Upliftment Society (RWUS) in a remote area of India. When she visited Canada, she could not believe how much waste was accepted in our culture. “I visited a potato farm,” she said, “and saw so many potatoes that were left on the field to rot after the machines had finished the harvest. I couldn’t help but think of all the people those potatoes might feed.”
Victoria is the first woman to serve as General Secretary of the Association of Evangelicals of Liberia (AEL). AEL is active in resettling refugees from the many years of civil war, including helping many farmers to successfully return to their land. As a single parent who provides a home for not only her own children, but her nieces and nephews (who she is supporting through school), she was struck by the self-centredness of Western culture. “When we have a surplus, we give it to someone around who does not have enough food. There are always people around who need food.”
Shama carries herself with poise and strength. There is little doubt when you meet her that you are meeting a leader. She works in program management for Church World Service in her native Pakistan. As a woman in a leadership position in a male-dominated world, she often has to assert herself or choose to ignore the prejudice she’s subjected to. Some of the projects Shama manages help families who’ve been displaced because of conflict gain access to food. It is clear she loves her country and she longs for a day when more of the young girls she meets in rural areas have access to education. Sadly, though, even where there are schools, she fears that young people are not being taught to think creatively. “They are taught by rote,” she says. “Questions are frowned upon. I’d like to see that changed.”
I wish I’d had more time to spend with Kabita on the tiny island in the Sundarbans in India where she lives. My first impression of this young schoolteacher was that she had great respect (and expected the same) for the children under her guidance who danced for us when we first arrived on the island. She took my hand and gently guided me around her village, helping me aboard the bicycle transport, protecting me from tree branches along the path, and making sure I was comfortable. With pride, she introduced me to the place she calls home where she works tirelessly to bring education to children from marginalized tribes. I have never felt so comfortable holding another woman’s hand, but there was a special bond between Kabita and I right from the start. There were tears in both of our eyes when we parted.
As I prepare to go to ALIA, I will carry the legacy of these women with me. They are the lights along my path toward my own authentic leadership and warriorship.
Today, as my heart aches for the people of Zimbabwe who are left with so little to hope for in an election that is not really an election, I wrote this note to my friend Pugeni…
Pugeni – my prayers are with you and all of the people of Zimbabwe today. I pray that God will see you through this time, and that your hopeful hearts and loving spirits will continue to shine through the shadows. I pray that peace and justice will come to your country in the months to come.
Every time I hear of Zimbabwe in the news, I think of you and your ready smile and teasing wit. I think of the fun we had when you first walked on snow and learned what a Slurpee is. I think of the way you challenged me to continue to seek justice and equality for people who live with hunger. I think of the way you marvelled at my big North American house and how you made me realize just how much I have to give away.
Peace be with you. I hope to see you again some day.
I think hearing Ato G.’s story of dying girls left me feeling a bit of survivor guilt.
There’s something about the nature of the type of travel I do in developing countries that makes me feel a little voyeuristic. I wander from village to village, get access to their homes, their schools, and their farms, they let me take pictures of their lives, I take a few notes for some stories and for my journal, but then I return home to my comfortable North American life, and they are left with the pain that I cannot share.
A lot of times – like the case of the young girls in the Afar region – I don’t even get a chance to ask many of their names. It all happens so quickly and many of them don’t speak English, so I leave feeling like I haven’t really learned who they are. I am an observer. A watcher. I take back their stories, and I try to honour them the best way I know how, but I can never really be part of their pain.
While I was sitting with that thought yesterday, a little gift fell in my lap – just the kind of moment I needed to remind myself that I am doing the best I can, and that sometimes real connections do happen.
Daniel has recently arrived from Kenya. He’s working in our office as an international intern this year. He’ll be traveling across Canada, connecting with youth in schools and churches and sharing his story of growing up with hunger. You only need to look at his grin to know that it is not hard to fall in love with Daniel. He’s got a bright light shining in him and I’m lucky to be close enough to be touched by it.
Daniel sat in my office yesterday, and I showed him my pictures of Kenya. In earlier conversation, I’d found out that he’d grown up in one of the regions I’d traveled in a few years ago. As I flipped through the pictures, his eyes lit up when he spotted familiar landmarks and even some faces that he recognized.
Then we got to this picture, and he burst out laughing.
“THAT’S MY SISTER!” he nearly shouted. Sure enough – this is his younger sister Agnes.
I remember Agnes. We were sitting at the table under the acacia tree on the farm where we’d tented the night before. It was the afternoon, between outings, and I’d found a shady spot to rest. I remember how she approached me and, in a bold yet quiet way, sat down close enough to brush her shoulder up against mine. It was clear that she wanted to be my friend.
The older women were busy cooking food for us on the open fire pit, but Agnes and one or two other young women clearly had other ideas in mind. They wanted to befriend these Canadian visitors. She sat down and we talked. For nearly an hour. She told me about her life. She was a school teacher, teaching in a village some distance from her family. She boarded with another family in the village. She talked about her family, and I’m sure she even told me about Daniel, though I had no inkling at the time that I’d meet him some day.
I am so glad that I remember Agnes, and that I can learn of her life two and a half years later. I cannot name the other girls in my last post, but somehow, remembering Agnes makes me feel a little less sad.
And I am even more glad that I get to spend the upcoming year getting to know Daniel.
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.”