Portrait of one of our successful chicken farmers in Tanzania. (photo: Micah Albert)
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A nice photo from Micah Albert taken in South Sudan, in honor of National Handwriting Day.
There was an air of excitement Sunday morning as I walked over to the Ukweli Chapel for service. Men were occupied on their cell phones, children were running here and there and I even saw some boys wearing red sashes. I heard joyful singing as I proceeded to the front door where I was greeted by a young man named Apollo, wearing the same red sash embroidered with the word “Usher”. He motioned for me to sit in the front row, which was considered a place of honor. When I looked to where he pointed I saw only three people sitting in the entire front half of the sanctuary. I immediately looked to the back of the church and found the regular congregation squeezed in the back of the room. I graciously declined the offer to sit in front and took a seat in the back with the others. It was still unclear to me what was happening, so I sat quietly and waited for the answer to reveal itself. Almost twenty minutes passed by before the answer showed up in a big white bus. Through the windows of the chapel I could see those doors open and within seconds, children were pouring out one by one over 80 children and adults walked single file into the front of the sanctuary. We soon learned that these children had come from the Kapkenda Primary school to spend the day with the children of Ilula. I have never seen a church so full, children were sharing seats and some were even sitting on the floor. Yet, it made no difference to those who congregated in that room, for all those voices rose as one and the Lord was worshiped in a beautiful and memorable way. This set into motion a day of fellowship between the children of Ilula and Kapkenda. Immediately following the service, our guests were invited to take lunch with the Ilula children before spending the afternoon playing a variety of sports. This leisurely time gave the children the opportunity to get to know one another and to make many new friends. Before our visitors departed, they presented the Ilula Children’s Home with some very special gifts. Potatoes, cabbages and wheat flour were given in appreciation for the time together, as it was a day thoroughly enjoyed by all. The children were sad to say good-bye, but know they will see each other again.
I joined the ELI team in the summer of 2001, only two months after returning from my honeymoon. I was introduced to ELI by my husband, who traveled to Tanzania on the first APU/ELI team in 1996. He had kept in touch with Don Rogers (founder of ELI) and the ministry and mentioned in a brief conversation with him that if an opportunity to work with ELI ever came up, I would be interested. In July 2001, I received a phone call from Don (who was living in Kenya), and my life path was instantly changed.
At the time, there was only one other person serving with ELI stateside. Kathy Gaulton, now Director of Heavenly Treasures, worked from her home in Temple City, developing the handicraft-based empowering projects. Being that there was no office, my husband and I moved the entire organization into our home until Don returned from Kenya in the fall. (more…)
ELI has been training farmers on how to increase their milk production, and we have engaged with micro-loans for those who don’t have the capital to get going, but there was another piece missing. How do we help farmers, especially poor farmers, with smaller quantities get a better price for their product?
Onesimus is a milk collection and cooling plant that was created to buy milk from the farmers in the Kipkaren, Kenya area and sell it to processors. It is run as a for-profit enterprise with the goals of generating income to help fund the ministries of ELI as well as stimulate the economy by developing the farmers in our community. In 2007, we began with an idea and did the necessary feasibility studies and business plans. By October 2008, we raised two-thirds of the capital necessary to get up and running and began construction. We began collecting milk on April 1, 2009, collecting 45 gallons that day. After six months, the business reached an operational break-even point. By the end of 2010, Onesimus had employed 12 people and collected approximately 2,500 gallons daily from over 4,000 farmers. We have been able to reinvest $20,000 of profits into initial capital needs, and we have begun contributing monthly from the profits to the orphanage. (more…)
Onesimus is the kind of project that would grab the attention of any entrepreneur. As our group toured the facility, the team was enraptured. The company taps into one of the largest markets in Kenya’s Rift Valley: milk.
Onesimus, a project begun by ELI, is empowering the people of rural Kipkeran, Kenya by giving them a place to sell their surplus milk. It may not sound like anything groundbreaking to a Westerner, but in a region where a normal income is around $1.00-2.00/day, cows are in abundance and refrigeration is rare, the fact that small-scale local farmers now have a place to sell their milk (rather than watch it spoil) is making a significant impact.
David Tarus, the Director of Onesimus, fielded a barrage of questions from our intrigued team. How does it work? How do you select from whom to buy? Where do you sell all of this milk? As we spoke, dozens of farmers trickled in on bicycle, on foot and on motorcycle, lugging one and two-gallon milk containers. It was apparent that word had spread quickly about this new program, and that it was having a widespread effect.
The company has only been in operation for less than a year, but it already buys from more than 3,400 farmers. Although it has a refrigerated storage capacity of about 2000 gallons/day, David explained that the facility was designed to empower the impoverished, and it does not matter how much milk a farmer brings, whether a few cups or 100 liters, it will be purchased for distribution as long as it passes the quality check.
This is a source of hope for this community of small-scale farmers, who initially produced milk only for consumption by their families but are beginning to see the potential to turn farming into a small business. Aside from milk purchasing, Onesimus also provides a variety of other services, including health checkups for farmers’ cows, educational seminars for improving milk yield and at-cost artificial insemination from purebred bulls to increase the farmers’ milk production in future generations.
I could see pride in David’s eyes as he told the story of a woman who has become a regular there. Every day, rain or shine, she makes the bicycle trip to Onesimus on the rough and often muddy dirt roads and sells them a mere half liter of milk (making the equivalent of about 30 cents a day). One morning two weeks before our visit, he was startled to hear shouts of excitement coming from the milk collection area. Upon investigation, he found that for the first time, the woman had arrived with a full liter of milk to sell, and the staff had gathered around to congratulate her.
Go nearly anywhere in this community and you will see these farmers making their daily voyage to town along the muddy dirt roads, dozens of bright colored milk containers dangling from their bicycles. Already, the company’s business is funneling an average of $76,000 a month into this impoverished rural community – an astounding number when one considers the value of the U.S. dollar here.
Onesimus was designed to benefit ELI’s Children’s Home in Kipkaren, where 96 orphans are fed and educated, but it is also helping to build up the community as a whole. It is a business, and just like any other, the topics of market value, competition and the bottom line are central to its operations. However, when you sit down to a cup of hot chai tea with David, it won’t take you long to realize that there is much more to it for them than simply turning a profit. It is a company designed to teach and empower this community, and its effects can already be seen rippling through this place. The same cows that used to produce five liters a day are now producing 15 and 20. Farmers are now able to pay their children’s school fees. They are opening savings accounts. They are even raising more cows.
As I pour the milk for my morning cereal, I have to admit that milk is tasting a bit different to me now.