Wednesday, March 21, 2007


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.”


BarnGoddess said...

smart lady. She is right. Education is the answer,

Knowledge is power in just about very situation.

andrea said...

Simple, powerful words. It's why I love the philosophy behind Ten Thousand Villages so much: empowerment has a much farther-reaching, deep-rooted effect.

Anvilcloud said...

I used to show a little video about an agricultural project in a village in Malawi. Without miracle crops, but by sensible practices, they were able to increase their production phenomenally.

wordgirl said...

I think my country is plagued with folks who don't listen to the plight of others but simply try to get in there and fix it THEIR OWN WAY BECAUSE THEY THINK AMERICANS IN THE U.S. KNOW BETTER. And we don't.

Vicki said...

It is important that we listen to the people we are trying to help. I think sometimes OUR need to help outcries the people who need our help.

Judy said...

I'm reading "Remembering" by Wendell Berry.

Fits so well with this post.

Nobody listened to the US farmers either.

That's how we got into the mess we are in.

I'm not sure that education and knowledge is the final answer, unless the educated people love the community and serve it.

Thanks for sharing the article. Much to ponder.

Lucia said...

A wonderful article. I am always baffled that people in development don't start by listening, listening, listening. I try to. It seems that this is the place to start.