Obviously we want to ensure our funds are used appropriately; they get to where they are intended, serve a real need, ideally in a sustainable context (rather than creating a dependency). With a range of volunteers in Kenya this summer we were optimistic we would get direction from one of the volunteers, to address a need they could identify and support personally.
And so we were delighted when Josh, volunteering as a teacher in a small primary school, found another way he could drive benefits to the staff and children he was working. It is a story about tomatoes………so read on, (or to read Josh’s review of his time working at the school read his review here.)
However due to the poverty that is in Kenya and all around the world, a lot of the other children who go to the school the parents are not able to pay the full school fees and often only pay some. But Madame Mwanahamis, being the kind hearted wonderful women she is, cannot do what most schools in the area do and tell them they can’t come to school anymore. Instead she keeps them. However this has meant that the amount of money coming in from school fees is not enough to pay the teachers wages and the upkeep of the school.
Madame Mwanahamis has set up a small area of land where she grows some tomatoes and then sells them and the money goes into the school. But this still isn’t enough, and it is becoming harder and harder.
So when I found all this out I spoke to Madame Mwanahamis and asked her if she had any ideas how she could bring more money into the school other then trying to get more fee paying children. Madame Mwanahamis had a think over the weekend and then told me that her idea would be to expand her tomato farm from 5m by 15m to 75m by 60m and that if she could introduce drip irrigation it would mean that she could grow and sell tomatoes all year round.
The money that would be made from selling the tomatoes would be enough to pay the teachers wages and make the school self sufficient and that way they could continue to expand the school and with the help from Jax and Ann (Ed. – 2 wonderful long term supporters of the school) create a wonderful school in the future.
However the cost to set up this tomato farm was about £1,000 due to the costs to clear the land, buy the drip irrigation equipment, buy the seeds and all the upkeep that would be required. So once Madame Mwanahamis told me her idea I said I would have a think of ways I could try and raise this money or at least part of it.
My first idea was to talk to Outreach International and to ask them if they had any ideas how I could go about raising this amount of money. Amazingly Steve from Outreach International said that they had about £1000 they wanted to put back into the Watamu area but were waiting to try and find the best way to invest this money. So when Steve heard about this idea to make the school self sustainable he said he would love to invest the money into this, which was amazing news.
However, there were certain things that needed to be set up before the money could be sent. 1) A bank account for the school needed to be set up, 2) a trustworthy person who lived in Watamu needed to found who would visit the school once a month and check up on the school to make sure the money that had been sent was being spent well and could feedback to outreach international how the school is developing. 3) Finally, it needed to be determined that with once the tomatoes were being sold that this would actually make the school self-sufficient and all the calculations were correct.
I helped Madame Mwanahamis set up a bank account for the school and I also set it up so I could see online the bank statements to check that the correct money was going in and out. This was not due to a matter of not trusting Madame Mwanahamis but more to reassure us all that everything was being done correctly and it is a good way to keep a track of money.
The bank account also needed to have a second signature attached to it when anything more than £500 wanted to be taken out of the account each month. This is again to be safe and to be secure. This person is Sammy who is the main tailor for Bushbells clothing (a supporting NGO) and is such a lovely kind man who can be fully trusted.
The governor type person needed to be found and Jax advised the best person for this role.
To determine if the calculations were all correct, we used another Outreach volunteer in Watamu, Lynn who is a retired accountant who has been doing amazing work in the community helping local businesses to improve their book-keeping. So I asked Lynn and she very kindly offered to come and sit down with Madame Mwanahamis and go through her books and do the calculations. An excel spreadsheet was created and it showed that with the money coming from the tomato farm the school would be self-sufficient. This was brilliant news.
1) I along with Madame Mwanahamis and 3 others started to clear the land. This was no easy task due to there being trees and big bushes that needed to be cleared. This took about a week due to the amount of land and all the trees and bushes.
2) The equipment was then bought and set up. This required setting up the drip irrigation lines, making a big stand for the large water tank to be placed on top of, making the nursery for the tomato seedlings to grow until they are big enough to plant into the ground.
3) Once the tomato seedlings are big enough, which takes 2 weeks, they are planted into the ground and they grow.
4) Fertiliser and in-pesticide is sprayed onto the plants every 3 days.
5) After 3 months the first lot of tomatoes will have grown fully and will be ready to be harvested. Then over the next 3 months they will grow a second wave of tomatoes. Each plant produces around 150-200 tomatoes per 6 month period.
6) Due to the number of tomatoes that are produced, Madame Mwanahamis would not be able to sell them all at market, so instead local owners of vegetable markets and whoever else wants them, comes and harvests the tomatoes that they want and pay 3 shillings per tomato and they then sell the tomatoes for about 5 shillings per tomato.
7) Then after the 6 months the process starts again. The plan is to split the land into 4 sections and have 4 different vegetables growing.
It has been the best experience of my life, and I have had the most amazing time, met so many amazing people, made lovely friends for life and have managed to make a difference to the children and the teachers of bluebells school, which is something I didn’t think I would be able to do. I am now going to continue my involvement in bluebells school while back in England and plan to go back in September 2018.
I just want to say a massive thank you to Steve and outreach international for making this experience of a lifetime possible and their amazing donation to Bluebells school. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
It is one of the most rewarding parts of our role to see volunteers get fully engaged in their role, and partnering with them to make a difference. We would like to thank Josh for his relentless support and creativity in helping the community of Watamu. Thank you also Madam Mwanahamsie for the very touching letter that reached us here in the UK, thanking us for the donation.
We look forward to seeing the progress of the tomato plantings through the eyes of future volunteers.
If you would like to donate funds to these sorts of micro-projects, where you can witness where your money goes, then get in touch with Outreach to talk about how we can work together, firstname.lastname@example.org