Vetiver: Non-Invasive Erosion Control in Kenya!

Vetiver: Non-Invasive Erosion Control in Kenya!

Spirit in Action partner Samuel Teimuge has been conducting some fascinating research on how Vetiver grass can help reduce soil erosion along the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. Steep walls and unstable soil in the Kerio Valley mean there is a high risk of landslides. Deforestation has made the problem even worse. I asked Samuel for an update on what he is learning: 

Vetiver grass originates from India. It has been in Kenya for over 50 years and I learnt about this grass six years ago. I (Samuel) brought it to the Ukweli Training Center [in sustainable agriculture] and then I invited people I knew would be interested. I and 30 farmers of the grass have formed a Community-Based Organization (CBO) called Konyasoy Vetiver Network. Konyasoy means ‘the healer of soil erosion.’

Vetiver terraced along a roadside cliff.

Vetiver terraced along a roadside cliff.

Non-Invasive Erosion Control

We did a test and found that Vetiver is indeed very effective at controlling erosion. We filled wire cages soil and planted Vetiver on top. The passage of soil and debris built up a soil terrace of two feet. Some of the Vetiver has grown to the height of 6ft. We have seen that it forms narrow dense hedges when planted along the contours of sloping land. This helps the water soak into the soil rather than washing off the slope.

Vetiver grass is naturally sterile and it is propagated by planting slips (shoots), rather than sending seeds. So there is no danger of the grass spreading from where it is planted. It is non-invasive, does not appear to have any significant pests or diseases.


Harvesting the grasses

The many uses of Vetiver

There are different ways to weave the Vetiver fiber. It can be used to make fans, dolls, napkin holders, baskets, and hats. This can be a huge source of income from those who can weave and also the farmers who can sell the fiber.

Vetiver leaves are very good for thatching shelter and so farmers would benefit when vetiver matures. It takes only about 18-24 months to mature. This can also be good income earner.

When the grass is less than three months it is a good fodder for animals. This is what I (Samuel Teimuge) use to feed my cow. I am still finding out how I can make pellets for animals.

This grass controls pests when other crops are planted in between the rows. It worked very well when I planted green grams (mung beans) in between the vetiver rows. The birds didn’t notice the beans until we harvested! 

It is my dream for the poor people of Kerio Valley to stop their soil erosion and earn income from this great Vetiver grass. It is my desire also to do more research to prove that this grass is of great value. I hope to have up to three staff for three years to multiply this grass.

Celebrating International Day of the Girl

Celebrating International Day of the Girl

Today is the UN’s International Day of the Girl and at Spirit in Action we are honored to partner with many wonderful women who are working to improve the lives of girls and women in their community. We are part of a large network of positive change! Today I highlight three inspiring SIA female leaders:

Margaret Ikiara, Director of CIFORD, Kenya

Empowering girls and fighting the practice of female genital mutilation. (Read about her SIA connection.)

Today is International Day of the Girl Child!

We’re proud to work with CIFORD, who fight against the harmful practice…

Posted by on Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Naomi Ayot, Small Business Fund Coordinator, Uganda

For her day job, Naomi is the Program Manager of Gender & Human Rights at Action for Community Development – Uganda (Read about her SIA connection.)

#WEaretheLEADERS: If we want to change the status quo in development, recognize grassroots leadership. BIG YES! Thank…

Posted by One World Children’s Fund on Monday, October 10, 2016

Wambui Nguyo, Small Business Fund Coordinator, Kenya

A peace-builder and trainer with Initiatives of Change, Kenya. (Read about her SIA connection.)

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-3-00-01-pmFrom the article: “We are often too afraid to take the lead because of fear of the unknown,’ Susan commented. Before the end of the three days training, she had already taken the initiative to reconcile with one of her long time rivals. She even bought an item from her rival’s shop- something she had avoided for a long time. She was amazed at how well her enemy responded to reconciliation after such a long time. ‘Today I have learnt to let every good thing begin where I am before I can pass it on to others. Even my dad, who caused our family so much pain – after selling our family land and misusing all the money drinking. Today I forgive him and will make peace with him.” (Read the full article.)

Factory jobs in Nairobi: It’s complicated….

Factory jobs in Nairobi: It’s complicated….

The mission of the Mathare Dressmaking and Tailoring Training Centre in Nairobi is to train women and men to use the industrial sewing machines to enable them to get jobs. And, as I reported in June, 124 of the 181 trainees have managed to secure employment with Ruaraka Clothing Industries, a large employer in the area. In most cases the trainees are only able to get the skilled machine operator jobs because of the training centre.

Studying factory jobs

I consider this employment a great success! And so I was interested to read this study that looked at the effect of low-wage manufacturing jobs on workers in Ethiopia. Now, this is in Ethiopia, not Kenya, and I do not know if the workers are taking the same sort of skilled jobs that the Mathare trainees are able to secure.

What did the study find? “It turned out that for most people, working in a factory didn’t significantly improve their income relative to the people in the control group. But getting cash to help start your own business did.”

The researchers, Chris Blattman and Stephan Dercon, summed it up like this:

  • Most people who applied for these factory jobs didn’t like them or intend to stay, rather the jobs were low paid and unpleasant and used as a safety net of sorts, while people looked for other entrepreneurial activities or less difficult wage work
  • But the health risks of industrial work were high and there’s evidence that serious health problems doubled if you took the factory job
  • When you gave them $300 cash [instead of the factory job], they started a small business and earnings went up by a third.
Students in the Samro Poly tailoring classroom in Eldoret, Kenya. Many are wearing clothes that they have made in the class.

Students in the Samro Poly tailoring classroom in Eldoret, Kenya. Many are wearing clothes that they have made in the class.

What does this mean for SIA?

I wasn’t sure what this all meant for SIA partners. So I emailed Jeremiah Mzee, who is director of the training centre project. He wrote:

“I completely agree with the writer of this article.

“It is true that when a factory establishes in Kenya, it creates new jobs for both the skilled and unskilled laborers. A majority get low wages and there is nothing they can do. Most of them try to work in these factories for low pay with a hope of getting something better. In Ruaraka these factory jobs are considered to be for women simply because they pay low wages, though to the women they believe these factories provide valuable employment opportunities for them. I AGREE.

“Most people working in these factories get wages enough only to meet basic needs and it is true that entrepreneurial women running small businesses in Ruaraka have better income and financial independency.”

It is always useful to get this kind of feedback. It is the great benefit of our long-term partnership with grassroots leaders who know the reality of the situation on the ground. Luckily, Jeremiah Mzee is one of our newest Small Business Fund coordinators. He is already working with these women to help them become entrepreneurs. Another five business groups received their $150 grants last month. And the Mathare Dressmaking and Tailoring Training Centre will continue to train people to be able to apply for the higher paying jobs at the factories, until they can find something better.

Living my values through SIA

I apologize that the music videos didn’t show up in the email last week. If you want to watch them, click here!

“I believe that the whole world about me is full of beauty, joy and power, even as it is full of God, and that I can share it and enjoy it if I attune myself to my Divine Plan and am inwardly open toward God and outwardly helpful toward [others].”   ~ Glenn Clark, The Divine Plan

I have a tendency to get caught up in the details of work. I’m an organizer and I like to plan next steps, moving from task to task. And sometimes I lose sight of the bigger picture. When I read the quote above by Glenn Clark, I was jolted back into considering how all the work I do for Spirit in Action is part of my fuller life. It’s inseparable from all other parts of my life.

The quote captures it perfectly. I have been blessed to see a world of hope, beauty, goodness, and possibility around me. And when I stop to be grateful I am reminded to thank God (“inwardly open toward God”) and share this vision and hope with others (“outwardly helpful toward others”).

I love this movie poster like photo! Can you tell we mean business? Slyvestor, Canaan Gondwe, Winkly Mahowe, walking with me down the dusty road in Manyamula on the way to our site visits.

I love this movie poster like photo! Can you tell we mean business? Slyvestor, Canaan Gondwe, Winkly Mahowe, walking with me down the dusty road in Manyamula on the way to our site visits.

Values at work

“How did you get into this work?” a student at Illinois College asked me after I presented about SIA. As in, how does one come to want to work for a non-profit?

When I started working for SIA six years ago (2016 update: now 9 years ago!) I had just left my job at an insurance company. It was after the switch that I realized the importance (for me) of working for an organization that has emotions, learning, and faith built into its very fabric. At SIA, those things I value most – including the desire to spread goodness – won’t be pushed aside.

This alignment of values and work doesn’t only happen in nonproft organizations. I can trace my desire for passionate work to my artist parents and my professor husband. When the sole focus isn’t on profit organizations, universities, and businesses can afford to spend more time focused on people and relationships.

Giving Nellie, who started a school in Manyamula with a Small Business Fund grant, some puzzles from my nieces.

Giving Nellie, who started a school in Manyamula with a Small Business Fund grant, some puzzles from my nieces.

Job+ throughout SIA

I’m not the only one at SIA who feels and knows this job+ concept. Our inward/outward vision is also built into the Small Business Fund program.

The families that receive our $150 grants also receive emotional and practical support from the local SBF coordinators. In line with Glenn Clark’s vision for a good life, each is encouraged on their individual spiritual journey (“inwardly open toward God”) and asked to pay-it-forward through Sharing the Gift (“outwardly helpful toward others”).

Working together with so many people to improve ourselves and serve those around us is a blessing that is more than just work. Thank you for joining me in this good, full life.

This was previously published on the SIA blog on February 11, 2014.

See what a Kenyan viral video looks like!

See what a Kenyan viral video looks like!

You never know what video or meme might go viral. Sometimes it’s dumping a bucket of ice water on your head. Sometimes it’s an adorable baby sea otter. And in Kenya, sometimes it’s a street boy singing a popular gospel song!

Tredy Bradly was filmed singing a song by the famous Kenyan gospel singer, Mercy Masika. It was uploaded to Facebook and people loved it! “What talent!” they gushed. Soon there was a campaign to get Mercy to recognize the boy. Then he was adopted by a Kenyan guardian and has earned a full scholarship to a private school in Nairobi!

See what all the fuss is about:

Now enjoy the original song, watched over 3 million times (including 3 times by me…)!

This “urban gospel” song is a song of love and praise to God. The chorus says,

“And I cant’ keep myself from speaking of your goodness.
And it is not bragging, you have done me well.”


South Sudanese Refugees

In more sober news from East Africa the number of of refugees fleeing the violence in South Sudan has reached 1 million this week, according to the UN. After a ceasefire in South Sudan in 2015, there was a renewed round of fighting in the capital this July. The refugees, mostly women and children, are seeking asylum in Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic. Uganda is now generously hosting more refugees than in any time in their history, including about 370,000 South Sudanese.

Here is a short news story with more details.

Let us be prayerful for the refugees, those welcoming them, and those still fighting for power. May there be peace in South Sudan. May we find more space for compassion in this world. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

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