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Bill Gates’ surprise visit turns farmer into a celebrity

By | December 6th 2009 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

By Vitalis Kimutai

A couple in a remote village in Nandi North District is basking in glory after a visit by one of the world’s richest men and philanthropist, Bill Gates.

Laban Kipkemoi Talam and his wife Miriam Chepkemei are enjoying celebrity status of sorts after playing host to Gates and officials of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who spent more than two hours in their home.

The chairman and founder of world’s leading computer software firm, Microsoft Corporation, chatted up the family, witnessed artificial insemination of their dairy cow, drew water from a bore hole using a manual pulley and was fascinated by the design of the fireplace inside their grass-thatched kitchen.

Signs Visitors’ book

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Mr Laban Talam and his wife Miriam Chepkemei (left) receive Bill Gates at their home in Nandi North.

Gates signs the visitors’ book. He was Mr Talam’s unexpected guest.

[PHOTOS: PETER OCHIENG/STANDARD]

"For the two hours we played host, we did not know who the visitor was until the last minute," Talam and his wife told The Standard on Sunday, on Friday.

He went on: "I was shocked when I handed him the visitors’ book and he wrote down his name with a green pen."

Gates’ was the only entry in Talam’s visitors book that day (December 3).

Talam says the man scribbled ‘A very impressive farm. Great work. Thank you’ and signed it as Bill Gates, Gates Foundation, Seattle, Washington, US.

The usually sleepy Kipchomber village in Kabiyet, Mosop constituency, has suddenly been thrust to international limelight following the Gates’ discreet tour.

Security agents were in a spin on Thursday night after learning that the philanthropist had sneaked in and out.

Almost everywhere he went, villagers did not know that the bespectacled man dressed in brown pullovers, a pair of white khaki trouser and a white-stripped long sleeved shirt was one of the most influential men in the world.

The only thing villagers found intriguing and intimidating was the state-of-the-art four-wheel-drive vehicle he used, in the company of officials from the East African Dairies Development (EADD).

Not informed

Talam, a primary school dropout, said some five foreigners had visited his home on Monday, with EADD officials but had no prior information about the philanthropist’s tour.

"I delivered milk to the cooling plant in the morning in readiness to travel for a graduation in Nairobi, but I was informed some visitors might be coming to my home and that I should hang around," Talam said.

Talam did not notice Gates being driven into the homestead as other visitors had arrived.

"I was in the farm with other foreigners and locals who had arrived an hour earlier when I was called in to welcome a visitor whom I did not recognise," Talam said.

The farmer conducted Gates around his farm as he asked about the farmer’s family and their dairy farming.

"He also wanted to know my future plans, whether the project was profitable, and if the proceeds could comfortably sustain my family," said the farmer.

He spent about 10 minutes at the grass-thatched kitchen as he admired the mud-walled house, the fireplace, and firewood rag. He also entered the bedroom and the hatchery.

"We are so elated that such a powerful and rich man came visiting us despite our poverty," said Mrs Talam.

The mother of three, who is a Form Two dropout, said, "Gates’ visit has emboldened our resolve to work hard and be role models in the society and be able to help others."

The rare visit was a shocker to the whole of Kabiyet village.

Ms Beatrice Jerotich, an attendant at Muguri Farmers Stores at the shopping centre said she did not also know it was Gates. He had spent also spent some time at her shop asking about veterinary drugs, animal feeds, and farm inputs.

A good listener

"He was keen to know which of our stock was fast moving," said Jerotich, 24.

She adds, "He was cool, inquisitive, patient and a good listener. But his identity was kept secret until he had walked out of the shop."

Gates also met Kabiyet Milk Plant manager, Belinda Chepkiyen, and the project’s manager Abraham Rugut. He also met the management committee and asked about their challenges.

Talam is a farmer, a registered shareholder and a milk supplier of Kabiyet Dairies Company Limited in Nandi North.

He said his involvement with EADD since August, last year, has changed his life and exposed him to rare opportunities such as meeting Gates.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds EADD, and seeks to transform dairy farming families in rural areas.

The project officials told The Standard on Sunday it targets a million farmers in East Africa.

In Kenya, the EADD’s four-year pilot programme is being implemented in Bomet, Bureti, Keiyo, Kipkelion, Marakwet, Molo, Nandi North, Uasin Gishu and West Pokot districts. Other areas include Nyandarua and Nyeri in Central Province.

Talam is an accredited EADD farm trainer on feeds and feed conservation.


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