By Kiundu Waweru
Major towns in Kenya harbour informal settlements on their fringes that house their workforce. Kaptembwa is such a residence just outside Nakuru town.
Along Kaptembwa’s main street are shops lining both sides. Among these is the Moneke Posho Mill where a lean, dark and jolly man in a white dustcoat is serving clients who trickle in with plastic bags carrying maize.
Others buy the maize at the mill. The man, Nicodemus Juma, has a scar running down his face. Working with him is his “beautiful and loving wife”, and three-year-old child who follows the mother everywhere.
There is a lull of customers during which time Juma relaxes, smiles and says, “Six years ago, I lay on my bed, dying. I was jobless and my wife here too was jobless.”
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Juma was ailing from a “mysterious” disease. He fingers the scar for a moment and says when it appeared, he knew something was seriously wrong with him and headed to hospital.
“I was tested for HIV and turned out positive.” Juma thought he had been handed a life sentence and he shut himself from the world. His wife, Maureen Moraa, would later gather courage to go for the test.
She was negative.
In bed, sick and hopeless, Juma thought the end was nigh. Then he heard about a project where people like him nurtured a vegetable garden to give them that so desired nutrition.
Juma decided to join the group and his determination took him to the other side of Nakuru town, and through the gates of the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital.
For a long time, the hospital had an expansive dumping site tucked behind its healing walls.
In 2006, it donated the five-acre dumpsite to a group of peasant women. Under the aegis of APHIAplus with funding from the USAID, the women started working on the dumpsite, and in its stead today is a healthy vegetable garden whose story reads like a fairytale.
Ray of hope
They named it Nuru ya Jamii, meaning community’s ray of hope. The garden sits in two-and-half acres of green goodness. The rest of the acreage is used as the reception area which has manicured grass, sheds for drying the vegetables and another shed for making composite manure.
At the shamba where Juma and many others got a lifeline are vegetables of all types — cabbages, kales, spinach, amaranth and traditional vegetables.
At the farthest part of the shamba, there is an orchard boasting of healthy fruit trees.
Along the fence are two 10,000-litre water tanks sitting on raised platforms.
“USAID helped us sink a borehole and since then, we have no water issues,” says Fridah Kambaji, one of the ten women working at the farm.
Kenneth Alumasa of Family Aids Initiative Response says when the project began in 2006, the HIV prevalence in Nakuru District was quite high. The numbers, according to national statistics are now much lower.
“When people living with HIV are put on Antiretroviral treatment, they are advised to eat healthy,” says Kenneth. “However, most of the patients could not and cannot afford a nutritious diet. The idea of the farm, where we also rear poultry came up as a result of meeting this need.”
Nancy Mideva, an assistant director at the St Nicholas Orphans and Vulnerabe Children Centre, also a beneficiary of the farm, says the vegetables have significantly contributed to the reduction of the disease burden.
She adds that kales have vitamin B12 which helps in the absorption of other minerals in the blood system. Also, the calcium and iron found in vegetables help to keep opportunistic infections at bay.
Juma was excited to find out that he was not only provided with the vegetables from the farm but he was also show how to nurture his own garden - to become self-reliant. The farm workers taught him, alongside other beneficiaries how to make kitchen gardens out of sacks. He was shared the skills with his wife who in turn selling water treatment chemical.
They survived through selling the vegetables and the water treatment chemical. Moraa later got a job and took a loan, money which they added onto their savings to put up the posho mill.
From the dumpsite, this family has sprouted from hopelessness to enjoy great hope — and respect from their neighbours.
“We now have got respect in the community,” says Moraa, a smile playing on her lips.
She knows, when they were jobless and her husband hopeless after learning about his HIV status, friends abandoned them. Some laughed at them.
“We are planning to buy a pick-up in December,” adds Juma. For this couple, the future can only get brighter.
Back at the farm, the supervisor, Eunice Ojale, says there are 200 people currently attached to the farm. Majority of them own vegetable gardens and the rest join groups where they are allocated land.
To them it’s double benefit; apart from feeding, they sell the produce which gives them a reason to live positively and plan for the future.
The farm is organic and self -sustainable and nothing goes to waste as the by-products make compost manure.
It produces about 90 tonnes of vegetables annually. Ten per cent of these feed inpatients at the hospital while the rest is for the farmers, explains Zacharia Keya of Aphia Plus.
While garbage is an eyesore around the country, this hospital’s dumpsite has metamorphosed to a health saviour.