Return to Kakamega, Kenya

With new adventures come new updates! I’m writing to you from Kakamega, Kenya (yes, the place that I left only a mere 3 months ago). Amidst a flurry of washing, and packing, a friend and local business owner asked me if I would consider coming back to help with a social project the company had been struggling to get going. Eco2librium is in the business of reducing carbon emissions through reforestation and low emission stove installation around Kakamega Forest. A couple years ago, an American visited Eco2librium and was inspired by the company’s idea—an ecological change supported through involving the social sector. The stoves that are installed are produced by women’s groups made up of individuals with very low income, education, and options. Almost all of these women have children, but many have lost their husbands due to HIV or other illness, or have absentee husbands who spend a lot of time being drunk on local brew and sleeping with other women. The welfare, nutrition, and education of the children therefore falls to the mothers, who generally don’t have many ways of making money—hence why they join local women’s groups what are aimed at income generating projects.


One incoming generating project is producing low-emission, clay stoves. The women’s groups produce the stoves from local materials, fire them, and then sell the stoves to Eco2librium and other companies doing similar work. Eco2librium sells the stoves (at a very subsidized cost) to local families around the Kakamega Forest area. Before buying these stoves, most families use a 3-stone cooking model—literally 3 large stones placed closely together, with a pot balanced on top. This means that when the families burn wood to cook their food, a lot of heat is lost in the gaps between the stones. The low-emission stoves direct the heat upwards, making cooking faster, and cutting the amount of firewood needed by almost 70%. This allows families to spend less time cooking, and less money or time gathering firewood, and can use that time for other things, like tending the farm, or looking after children.


When Eco2librium first started this project, they bought these liners from one women’s group, called the Volanji Group. As time passed and word spread about this business venture, other women’s groups have come forward wanting to become involved. One big challenge: to have the funds to buy stove molds and build a kiln to fire the stoves. This is what the American who visited found when she visited in 2011, the need for funds. Going back to the US, she managed to raise $10,000 USD to start an initiative of supplying loans to women’s groups so that they can invest in income generating activities. The concept behind the loans is that the women’s groups can borrow the first loan (of ksh100,000- to cover molds and the kiln construction) with no interest, and upon paying back this loan, can borrow again, at a higher amount. The first two loans given are intended to be interest free, with any following loans having some interest attached. The first loan is to be used for stove construction purposes, with future loans having more flexibility in use.


My job is to get this project (which has been dragging along for a year and a half) up and running- to conceptualize, finish drafting and finalize procedure and application forms, work with several groups to get them through the process, and leave a clear procedure behind for Eco2librium staff to follow for groups that are interested in the future. Yes, a big project, but one that is engaging and interesting, and that will hopefully be highly rewarding.


For those of you wondering about the children’s home… no, I haven’t forgotten about the girls! It is currently a school holiday, and I have been able to visit several of them visiting aunties or uncles, and will head to the home tomorrow to see the rest! Since coming back I’ve heard that the John Deere Project I worked on last time I was here (bringing several officials and other staff from South Africa to the children’s home farm to do a project) has actualized, and as of next week, the JD group will be here building two large green houses, where the children’s home staff can grow vegetables, such as tomatoes, for eating and selling! A huge success for Vumilia!


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