Friday, October 8, 2010

Fostering Dignity & Hope for Women in Kenya: The story of my friend, Jared Akoma Ondieki

When women activists and advocates gather to create their battle plans for winning gender parity, they often forget to engage one of their greatest weapons: the men who advocate on their behalf. In a world that continues to be dominated by male voices at the table, it is essential for us to acknowledge and further support the work of male advocates and leaders that share our belief that all human beings are created equal and that by empowering women, you are also igniting increased growth of larger systems and influencing global economics. It is with this thought in mind that I share with you the work of one young Kenyan father and community organizer, Jared Akoma Oniedki, who is walking right beside his sisters as they march forward.
Although he is remarkably humble and small in stature, Jared Akoma Oniedki's sage wisdom and inspiring voice of courage leaves a room of activists, artists, scientists, and some of brightest individuals in politics, business and academia attending Interdependence Day 2010 in sheer awe and breathlessness. As a 29 year-old citizen leader and the founder of CEPACET (Center For Partnership And Civic Engagement), Jared serves as a perfect representative of a global movement to foster connection and cooperation between diverse people and cultures.  He is shaping a better future for the Kenyan people, and doing amazing work that deserves to be recognized.  I am particularly excited to share with you the Kilimo Bora Kwa Kina Mama Project, an inspiring project that is economically empowering widowed women in Kenya through crop cultivation.

Setting the Stage…..
There exists much gender inequality in the Kenyan society, particularly for widowed women who are unable to inherit the land owned by their deceased husbands.  Even with a new Constitution in Kenya that establishes social rights and land ownership rights for women, implementing and funding such initiatives will take time and is embraced with skepticism by many who are most affected by the existing inequities (

Widowed women are often confronted with significant challenges in providing economic support to their families.  When their husbands pass away, property owned by widowed women is often immediately “grabbed” by male in-laws, leaving women landless.  Without being able to support herself off the land, she must resort to alternate means for economic support, including fish mongering---or the selling of fish at markets and on the street. Although this livelihood may seem fine, unfortunately women do not normally fish in the Kenyan society and must rely on male fisherman to acquire fish to sell.  With little money, women are often sexually exploited by male fisherman.  Not only is this exchange demoralizing to the women who are forced to resort to "sex for fish", but it is also one of the root causes for the 24% prevalence of HIV/AIDS infection in the Homa-bay region (

To address some of the challenges that widowed women face, as well as restore dignity to thise women Jared and CEPECET created the Kilimo Bora Kwa kina Mama Project to help the districts large number of widowed women gain self-sufficiency through food cultivation.  To better describe the project and how it works, I have included a recent project report below. As you will see, the demand for project participation far exceeds the projects current capacity.  If you are able to, please consider making a donation to this critical women’s empowerment project at  I also encourage you to contact Jared Akoma Oniedki at with your words of support, ideas for funding, and any potential opportunities for collaboration.
REPORT by CEPACET on the Kilimo Bora Kwa kina Mama Project

The farming project dubbed Kilimo Bora Kwa kina Mama Project (Food crop cultivation for Women) was designed to provide an alternative source of income for the widows in Homa-bay district far from the fish mongering business that is rampant in the area due to its proximity to the lake Victoria, which is largely responsible for the high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates amongst the women, most of whom are widows in the district.

The Kilimo Bora Kwa Kina Mama Project is to provide the women with technical know-how on and to popularize extensive food crop cultivation as a means for income generation. It seeks to provide 100 widows, who initially were fish mongers, with an alternative means of income generation away from the preying eyes of the fishermen who have taken advantage of their dependency syndrome. The women are trained in the following topical areas:

* General understanding of Agriculture(Small scale and large scale)
* Agricultural trends around the country
* Food security and causes of food insecurity in Kenya narrowed down to insecurity in   Homa-bay District.
* Types of soils and viable crops
* Food crop production as a means to income generation
* Climate change and environment conservation.
* Women economic empowerment (MDG3)
* Marketing
* Savings and access to agricultural loans.

On the registration day after mobilization, a total of 1,308 widows from one turned out for the exercise. A method agreed upon by the women, provincial administration and CEPACET was employed to come up with the 100 widows who were to be beneficiaries of the project.

During the training, with advice from the facilitator from KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research institute) and after examining carefully the type of soil in the project area, it was decided that bulb onions, tomatoes and cabbages would be cultivated in the demonstration plot for trials. However, other crops like carrots, green paper, potatoes were also mentioned amongst the viable crops.

The project was well received and owned by the widows and the entire community. This is evidenced by the turn out during the registration and other project activities. The activities were well attended by an average of 80 women per activity, provincial administration with a representative of the area chief anytime the area chief missed, and other members of the community including community opinion leaders. CEPACET would like to mention in this report that the kind of community involvement witnessed in this project is not a common occurrence in this project area, not even in projects that provide money in terms of allowances and other provisions.

The women’s participation in the project activities has been a clear indication of the way they have owned the project and their determination to improve their lives socio-economically. 
To get a turn-out of 1,308 widows for registration and an attendance rate of 80% in the activities is an indication that perceptions are changing and slowly the society is waking up to the realization that it is better to learn how to catch your own fish than wait to be given one at the owner’s time and will.
The project which was supposed to start in October 2009, due to unavoidable circumstances was begun on the 25th November 2010. As a result, activities had to be pushed forward giving space for proper learning and maturation of crops. It is because of this that the field day has been pushed to 8th May 2010, when all the crops shall have been harvested. The field day shall provide the platform for the women to showcase the harvest and also to sensitize the community to prioritize the needs of women and children in the society.

The Kilimo Bora Kwa Kina Mama Project started with little optimism from us at CEPACET since such agriculture projects are rarely received and owned by the communities living along the shores of Lake Victoria. This was the first time such a venture was being made by the non-governmental organization and expectations were relatively low. However, the response thus impact has been overwhelming. 
To have an average of 80 out of 100 widows consistent in their attendance of project activities and showing passion is just incredible. This show how much there is need for an alternative for fish mongering and CEPACET has provided these women with an opportunity to turn their lives over.
It is our desire that this project receives funding for expansion in order to ensure sustainability and create a major impact by moving empowering women and changing their predicament. In this way more children will be able to go to school, get good nutrition through feeding, and have clothing and proper shelter. As a result, we shall have contributed significantly in reducing the high rates of infant mortality, HIV prevalence and poverty and also end the circle of violence in the community.

There are other vulnerable groups including older widows who cannot practice farming any more and young teenage mother who do not have land to farm but are in dire need of income generating activities in order to provide for their dependents. CEPACET hopes that in future we will be able to train women on alternative methods such as poultry farming and dress making to provide them with the much needed opportunity to earn a decent living away from the eyes of the mean fishermen who use them to satisfy their sexual desires.
We are now moving on to Phase 2 of the Project where we want each of the 100 widows who have undergone this training to be helped to work on their individual gardens and farms.

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