B1G1 Goat Tour 2011 — Part 2

It Really Does Take a Village

By Paul Petruccelli

How do I explain Odede to you?

A village in western Kenya which locals have for years described with disdain. A place so beaten down by time and circumstance that its name had virtually come to mean “nothing will happen here.”

Well, no more. Odede now seems nearly bursting with hope. But there is more than hope at work here. There is promise and determination, generosity and collaboration. There seems to be almost a collective awakening, as though the entire community suddenly tumbled to the realization not only that change is possible, but that the power to create that change lies mostly with them.

B1G1’s visit to Odede with a group of World Youth International supporters was sadly familiar to those who have traveled in the developing world. Here is a village with abundant rainfall (1100mm/year), but no practice of harvesting its explosive downpours to cultivate a second crop during the dry season. A village with abundant land, but low farm yields due to poor agricultural practices. A village with a large component of young people, but poor educational attainment due to the huge dropout rate – especially among girls.

Both WYI and WYI-Kenya are determined to change these facts. But much more importantly, so are the people of Odede. The physical evidence of that determination was all around us. The Child Development Center, funded by World Youth and built by a small army of volunteers this year, is a wonderful facility. Already it is home to 15 of the happiest, most well-behaved children you could ever hope to meet. The “Furaha” (Happy) Goat Farm, the largest goat farm in the entire country, was completed by local workers and a team of WYI young women volunteers just in time (quite literally) for the opening celebration we attended. Two new fish ponds are up and running, with more planned; a chicken shed and a small vegetable farm are producing income that helps fund the CDC; and more such projects are being planned. 

To focus on these physical structures, though, is to miss the most significant changes taking place in Odede. The village is blessed with the thoughtful leadership of Fred Mito, who grew up in Odede and now leads WYI-Kenya, the brilliant facilitation skills of Alex Omino, and the infectious enthusiasm of Marilyn Chambers. With their support, the villagers have organized themselves into a Men’s Group, a Women’s Group and a Youth Group. Each group has a leadership structure, committees to work on specific projects, and a set of goals and timetables to which it is committed.

Consider the Women’s Group. Some members are busy becoming experts in how to care for and breed goats, as well as how to produce the higher-value products – such as cheese and soap – that will help to increase local incomes. After supporting the Goat Farm project for two years, each of those women will take ownership of her own goats, and will teach other villagers then supporting the Goat Farm all that she knows. As Alex is fond of saying, B1G1’s support of the goat farm will have served as “a hand up, not a hand-out.”

At the same time, the Youth Group has been busily developing a series of projects, from community toilets, to rubbish collection, to a community library. It would be hard to find a more enthusiastic and serious group. The men are also busy in new endeavours, whether it’s work on a project to grow tissue culture bananas or build a community greenhouse, or attendance at their first-ever family planning seminar. 

What is most striking about Odede, then, is the renewed spirit of the villagers – the collective realization that, with just a bit of help from groups like B1G1, WYI and others, they can improve their own lives, and the lives of their children and grandchildren. And the collaboration that is taking place between the men, the women and the youth represents a remarkable contrast to historical practices in the village. Already the community groups are working on a health clinic for the village, improvements in agriculture, and a host of other initiatives – all developed applying a collective commitment that each project must be self-sustaining, not donor-dependent.

In Odede, we saw a community nearly blushing at the first signs of its own transformation. To be sure, they know there is much hard work ahead of them. But it seems they also know that if it really does take a village, then they’ve got it made.