Posted by: hilarycole | October 10, 2009

Planting Seeds

boat on Lake VictoriaI’ve spent the past four days on beautiful Rusinga Island on Lake Victoria in the southwest of Kenya. My connection to this place was formed long before travelling here  (see 2007 post – Erick Odhiambo Odongo.)

As good fortune would have it, a young woman I met here two years ago was again on Rusinga, as director of Kageno Worldwide. Kageno means “a place of hope.” It’s an American organization which seeks to turn impoverished villages into just that. Their first project, now thriving after a six-year presence, has created a cluster of innovative ecological, health, employment and empowerment programs in Kolunga Beach at the far end of Rusinga Island. I offered to teach an HIV/AIDS course for the community if they’d have uJohn teaching at Kagenos, which they gladly did.  By us, I mean me and my friend John, also just-so-happening to be in Kenya now.  We met two years ago while teaching these courses for ICODEI  in western Kenya. He was free for a week and willing to come explore a new place, so we have just finished a two-day training with 20 community members at the Kageno site. John is a fantastic, experienced educator on the subject; I pretty much rode his coattails.

But before any of this, I connected with Erick Odhiambo again. We were invited to a celebration lunch at his homestead – a neatly maintained hillside property with small, stepped farming plots and five houses, one for each of his father’s three wives and two grown sons.

We first sat in Erick’s house, where I finally met his lovely wife, who has an infectious smile (I wouldn’t have guessed this from the photos ErickErick's family has e-mailed to me – Kenyans don’t smile in photos unless some crazy foreigner goads them.) We drank sodas and chatted, sometimes smoothly, sometimes awkwardly. John is great at keeping the conversation going; he’s spent a lot of time getting to know the people of this country and what makes them laugh.

After a while, we moved “upside” to the father’s main house where the women unveiled what had kept them out of sight for the past few hours: an amazing array of Kenyan dishes – greens, fish, cabbage, eggs, lentils, ugali, chapatis – that would leave us rolling out the door an hour later.

Then the serious, ceremonial part of the visit began. We were introduced to each member of the Sienga Youth Woodwork Co-operative Porject, the organization Erick and his friends and family started as a result of some miniscule amount of help I was able to send last year. They elected his father Chairman. Their idea starts with Erick starting a carpentry business, and follows with proceeds that will provide basic health care for orphans and vulnerable children, agricultural seeds for grandmothers, and youth training programs, to name just a few of their idealistic objectives.

planting treeThen we were ushered back to Erick’s house where they presented me with some wood-carving gifts, and John and I were each given a mango-tree seedling to plant in remembrance of our visit. It was a beautiful, touching gesture (and magoes are my favourite!). It seemed symbolic of starting something that will, with care, bear some fruit.

This is where I must pass on a message of great thanks to some generous friends in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Several people there graciously listened to my story of finding Erick 15 years after I’d sponsored him, and his ambitious plans to carve out a livlihood that would spin off to improve his community; many of them contributed what will provide a substantial start to his project. Erick says, “Thank you so much.”

We met today to talk business over tea at the idyllic lakeside place where John and I are staying (I move to cheaper accommodations tomorrow). On Monday, Erick will negotiate prices for building materials (without the white person present), on Tuesday we buy, and Wednesday, we start to build his first real carpentry shop, right on his homestead. Soon, his wife Millicent will get her living room back.



  1. Hi Hilary,
    As always your wonderful energy and beautiful smile is dearly missed. Jacques and I continue to work at his recovery and showing improvements all the time. His speech is still a issue for him but we are working on that as well. Anyhow was nice to hear about your blog…we will continue to visit and check for updates…..
    take care hope to see you soon

    Jacques and Don

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