In the outskirts of Narok town, lies a safe haven for teenage girls running away from backward cultural practices.
This quiet solace — House of Hope Rescue Centre — not only shelters desperate girls who have escaped from early marriage and female genital mutilation, but also has an admirable farm run and managed by the same girls.
The centre houses 65 girls between ages 11 and 22 years who are from the neigbouring community.
At the five-acre shamba christened — Enkishon Farm — the girls are doing amazing farm work which includes growing horticultural crops, keeping livestock and rearing fish.
So what’s the story behind this farm?
“My wife and I started this centre in 1997 to offer a safe haven and solace to girls in the community who were running away from early marriage and the cut. To run the home, we got funds from donors and well wishers,” Patrick Ngigi, the director of the centre starts off the interview.
Source of hope
Along the way, more girls sought refuge at the centre and the director realised they had to do something, otherwise the project would collapse.
“When we started, we only had three girls and the numbers rose to 12 and from then on they kept increasing. By 2007, the number of girls who fled the retrogressive culture grew to 30 and the numbers grew later to 60 and the budget for food went up. We realised depending on donors for everything was not sustainable. That is why my wife and I decided to start the farm which provides food for the girls,” says Ngigi.
Together with project partners, the rescue centre bought a piece of land at Nairasirasa, Narok North where they developed the Enkishon Farm.
They started with easy crops like vegetables and fruits and slowly they embraced livestock keeping. Years down the line, the farm is now a centre of excellence in mixed farming.
Apart from producing food for the rescued girls, the farm offers first-hand learning experience on agriculture.
“We started with kales which we supplied to our girls but now we have expanded to mixed farming and our vision is that in five years’ time we will produce surplus and be food self-sufficient,” the director shares their vision.
They also grow maize, kales, millet, sorghum, passion fruits and keep dairy cows. They grow lucern and nappier grass for feeding livestock. The farm has a greenhouse where they grow tomatoes for domestic use.
The centre is lucky because they have a river, where they draw water from to irrigate the crops.
Additionally, they keep 300 layers, 200 improved kienyeji chicken, 30 rabbits, 10 pigs, two dairy cows and fish.
“We collect five to six trays of eggs daily. We no longer buy vegetables as we have meat and other vegetables that we get fresh from our farm. We no longer buy fresh produce and that has reduced our monthly budget tremendously,” says Ngigi.
In a month, he says, they collect over 25 trays of eggs from the layers and slaughter at least 40 kienyeji chicken to feed the girls.
Lack of funds
The cows also produce 15 litres of milk daily which is used for making tea.
Recently, they started the fish ponds with 1,500 fingerlings of tilapia, a project popular with the girls.
The fish project, he says, is the best owing to its easy maintenance and better returns within a short time.
So how do the girls balance school work and farming?
Given that the farm is a kilometre from the rescue centre, the girls mostly do farm work during the holidays with the rest of the days, the founding couple and a few farm hands taking over. When they are on recess like this April holidays, they start farm work at 8am.
Their farm activities which are supervised by the couple end at around 3pm afterwards they go back to the rescue centre.
Ngigi explains that farm duties are shared according to the girls’ ages with the eldest doing the more engaging duties while the young ones are tasked with lighter jobs.
For instance, he says, the youngest one do duties like collecting eggs from the chicken coop, feeding the rabbits while the older ones feed the pigs, cows and chicken as well as cleaning the pig sty and the chicken house.
Those in high schools also harvest maize and dry them before storage.
“The girls alternate the days they go to the farm. They go to the farm at least three to four days a week as they also have to spare time for their studies,” says Ngigi.
Like all farming projects, they also face hurdles. Their biggest challenge is lack of sufficient funds for expansion.
“We have many plans for this farm for example we need to increase the number of dairy cows from the current two to about 10, we want to add more fishponds and we still owe the seller of the land some money. We are hoping some funds will come through so that we can fund the projects,” says Ngigi.
Another challenge is unavailability of feeds for the rabbits and pigs but of the cows, the center grows fodder such as nappier, lucern.
“The feeds for piglets and pellets for the rabbits are not available as many farmers and not used to such kind of animals. We get our feeds from Nakuru as they cannot be found in Narok town,” says Ngigi.
Lucky for them, their animals rarely get sick because they deal with a volunteer vet who tours the farm every after two weeks and responds to any emergencies.
“We learnt from the start that to run a farm successfully, one must deal with experts. So we have a vet and for the crops like tomatoes which can be problematic, we deal with the county extension officers,” he says.
Though challenges abound, they have vowed to soldier on.
“Our goal is once we are stable, we will go commercial. There is a market for all our produce and we are doing our best so that we can produce surplus and sell some of it.
They also want to tap into agroprocessing. The couple plans to start processing cooking oil. To achieve that goal, they plan to buy a grinding machine that will see them process their own cooking oil in a bid to cut food costs to zero in the coming five years.
“We are in the process of small factory for making cooking oil. For us it is a major project and we are doing our research to get everything right. We are consulting with the experts on how much the project will cost and the machinery needed. We hope in the next five years when you come back you will find everything up and running,” Mr Ngigi says.