What started as an activity that involved young people to help women plant sweet potato vines, has led to tremendous development changes in their community. From ensuring that estates of children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS are not grabbed by greedy relatives, to using the best farming techniques in the rocky soils of maragoli land in Western Kenya that has ensured food security, just to mention a few.

AYODEF – Awareness Youth Development Foundation – is a community based rural youth organization involved in community based initiatives and integrated rural development in Western province, Kenya. Situated 100 metres from Gambogi stage in Hamisi district, it borders Nandi South district along the Kakamega Kisumu highway.

AYODEF has been in existence since 1999 and it’s remarkable to note how the group has impacted the lives of the people in Gambogi are. From promoting participatory development, enhancing access to ICT skills & Information, HIV/AIDS Interventions, environmental education & awareness, agro-forestry & agri-business development, advocacy, peace building & conflict transformation as well as community based micro financing.

A group of young people, straight from high school, no employment opportunities available to them were just lazing around as many other youths their age would do on a daily basis. What struck them though is that they always saw groups of women always in action doing various activities and meeting from time to time. Their curiosity led them to ask the women what they were always involved with.

“One day we just decided to join in and listen to the discussions going on in a women’s group. We met women who were eager to learn from the various extension officers who had come to teach them about agriculture and how they could improve their yields. We decided that we were not going to just sit and wait to work on people’s farms. We thought it would be better if we came together and think of ways of improving our livelihoods as we waited to join college and thus AYODEF came to being. It was initially known as Umoja Youth group,” stated Jotham Odari, the group’s operations manager.

Jotham stated that they went ahead to consult the women on some of the lessons they had learnt from the various extension officers and requested if they could join them in their various activities. They started by helping the women plant mirave –  sweet potato vines – and that’s how they started the learning process.

“After helping them in their farms, we would be paid Shillings 50. We would carry some and replicate the technology in our own farms and also created awareness amongst our peers and that’s how the group continued to gain recognition. We later registered it with the social services,” he added.

Elizabeth Kageha in the resource centre

They maintained the healthy relationship with the women and they would always be the first ones to be considered when the women required any help. Capacity building workshops and conferences were organised and they would be engaged. The group members stated that they learnt a lot of life-skills from such conferences ranging from entrepreneurship, small business skills and others. To date, they consider the skills functional as fruits can clearly be seen.

They then decided to start a merry-go-round (a revolving fund) where they would contribute some money weekly. Each member would be given their share after a certain period. Some started small businesses, others capitalised on farming and agri-business. Many more young people who were on holidays would gladly use their free time to join in the activities of the group and this empowered the young people tremendously.

Dr. John Padwick from OAIC, who was in charge of many programmes in the Western region, heard what the group was doing and decided that he wanted to partner with them. After paying them a visit he was so impressed that he decided to involve them in a programme known as Participatory Programme and Development (PPD).

Together with other small groups in Gambogi, they were trained on PPD, and a lot of capacity building was done. Their livelihoods, Jotham says have never been the same again.

They have been able to collaborate with the various government ministries from Agriculture, – Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), health, Youth and Sports and various other Non-Governmental Organisations.

Some of the skills they acquired included; mapping, resource mobilisation, Training of Trainers –TOT’s. John Amisi the group’s programmes co-ordinator was in charge of the TOT’s. Gladys Kedogo was then in charge of the integration of HIV development programmes. In 2000, the group was picked to become the regional coordinators of HIV in Africa.

They have been able to train hundreds of other groups on the skills they have acquired on their various programmes. They have partnered with OAIC on many occasions which they say opened their eyes to various possibilities within their reach which they have maximised.

They have a resource centre which has enabled them to share their gains with various other groups.  “For a long time Amisi’s house was used as our office but we were able to move to our new offices in Gambogi in 2007/2008. We have thus been able to read and share some of the material that we have collected over the years. Neighbouring schools, teachers as well as students visit the centre from time to time to gain insights on various issues,” stated Jotham.

The Programmes Coordinator, John Amisi says that OAIC mentors them in many ways and as their partners in capacity building it has enabled them become what they are today.

Currently AYODEF has set up a Grassroots Information Support Network (G.I.S.N.) within the district which is supported by AYODEF’S  Centre for Integrated Rural Development situated in Gambogi. They have also developed a strategic plan that has transformed their ideas and objectives into tangible outputs.

The AYODEF has six interrelated programmes;Small farm resource development, Community Health and HIV/AIDS, Local capacity development, Grassroots information support and Youth Information Programme System (Y.I.P.S) and resource centre as well as Agri- Business Development.

Small farm resource development focuses on integration of improved Agro-forestry and other technologies into traditional farming systems that includes promoting high value trees like the Moringa and other medicinal and fruit trees.

Community Health and HIV/AIDS focuses on the establishment of nutrition gardens; planting of nutritional crops and fruits as well as strengthening community units to integrate HIV/AIDS under the government’s community strategy.

Catherine Boge who is in charge of the programme now has been able to gain insights on the various ways of improving the lives of the People Living With HIV/AIDS. (PILOHAS).

“ I have worked with various other Community Based Organizations  – CBO’s, – women’s groups that support the infected and affected families, Orphans and Vulnerable Children – OVC’s . I have also been part of the team that has empowered these groups of people in Gambogi,” she stated.

She is currently working for CARE Kenya in the same capacity as in AYODEF. She is also the coordinator of National Aids Control Council – NACC- in the region. She has taken and still cares for the infected persons as she is a trained home based care giver as well as a trainer.

The computers in the resource centre

“We have ensured that we empower the orphans to prevent their families from disintegrating once their parents succumb to HIV. We ensure that relatives do not take over the estates of the orphans and leave them in abject poverty. Programme are there to ensure that they are put up in the various homesteads and if they stay with relatives we ensure that we check up on them from time to time to ensure that all is well,” stated Catherine.

“We have empowered PILOHAS tremendously and every time we meet and their CD4 count is down, they know that I will be hard on them and thus they strive to lead very healthy lifestyles. I counsel them and walk with them in Western union money transfer their everyday lives. I am still saddened thought that people in this area are still in denial about the HIV pandemic. Some children have refused to go back to school because of stigma, some parents do not see the need of educating an infected child whose future is not certain, but we shall get there,” she added.

Local capacity developmenpromotes capacity building among the youths and community at large as well as churches in entrepreneurship, group dynamics, participatory, monitoring and evaluation as well as community based micro financing.

Grassroots information support and Youth Information Programme System (Y.I.P.S) and resource centre.

By setting up a community information and rural knowledge centre, AYODEF has enabled the community have access to the internet services. This has also enabled them to link up the young people and the community at large with information necessary for development.

This has led to the establishment in schools of Young Achievers Clubs as well as Environmental/Agriculture clubs.

Elizabeth Kageha who is in charge of training in the ICT department states that their information centre started with 3 computers and currently has 8 computers. They charge Shillings 1/50 per minute which only helps to maintain their services and not yet profitable.

Jotham stated that their resource centre has a DVD with information on AYODEF and the various activities that they have done. They have also compiled books and done some binding which he says have a lot of resourceful  information. They also act sometimes as manuals for the various trainings they have.

The internet access is one of the main reasons that attracts the students to their resource centre as it helps them a lot in their research, he informs me.

They pay Shillings 4,500 rent per month for the business/office premises and electricity charges could go up to shillings 6,000 per month which they say is an expensive venture as the cyber cafe as well as the ICT centre does not bring in desired returns.

“We have been able to train people on computer skills and we only charge them a paltry Shillings 2 thousand for three months. The students attend classes everyday and this has become a challenge because some are not able to clear the Shillings 2,000 and many have left without paying. Some fail to pick up their certificates and very many have not honoured their promise to clear their debts. Currently, we have 300 students and especially those in their final year of high school,” stated Elizabeth.

On a good day they get about 10 visitors.

Inadequate finances to expand their programmes as well as improving their facilities is one of the challenges that they are currently facing. They are in need of a photocopying machine that would enable their services be effective.

They got Shillings 150,000 from OAIC in 2003; they also got some Shillings 50,000 from the Youth Enterprise Development Fund some 6 years ago.

Agri- Business Development

This is one of the key programmes that AYODEF has embarked on. It promotes value-addition, processing and marketing activities. The group has been able to train the community on diverse issues with regards to agribusiness development.

Some of the other organisations that AYODEF has worked with include; The International Centre for Research in Agroforesty (ICRAF) Maseno, Action Aid Kenya, Care Kenya, Konrad Adeneur Stiftung  among others that have enabled them to gain maximally on capacity building skills.

The current community-based programmes and networks they have include:

Community savings and loan (Cosalo project); Currently working with 403 groups with total membership of 12,300 people.

Cemdef project – working with 8 ward centres – 1 centre in each location (total of 320 members).

District network of 9 ( CBOs’), over 25 churches, over 10 schools, 4 community based trainers, and 15 community mobilizers.

AYODEF has focused more on integrated rural development as seen in its various action research approaches and methodology.

Mr. Amisi says that most rural development policies tend to fail because the system, imposes a top-down approach which may not be the best option as it fails to sufficiently promote the reconfiguration of local resources which are better achieved through bottom- up process.

The Youth Village Bunge’s – which are simply the youth parliament- in the rural areas has also been critical in raising some of the fundamental issues affecting the youths in the rural areas. From peace building, to issues of land, economic empowerment based on environmental conservation are some of the key areas that have and still continue to be discussed and AYODEF works hand in hand with them. Currently there are 87 of them in Hamisi district.

“The era of young people waiting to be fed with lies from the political elites is over. We are working hand in hand with the young people to set up leadership structures. The young people have been assigned various duties and they have realised that leadership starts with whatever small resources one has in their hands. The time for the young people is nigh,” stated Catherine.

The young people have realised that if they don’t empower themselves, no one will. The times when grown ups would still depend on their parents for everything while others would get pregnant and still depend on their parents to take care of their children is over. Talks are ongoing and the youths in the rural areas are pro-active this time around,” she added.

AYODEF which consists of 12 members hopes to increase its membership to 20 with each member being an expert in a particular field to ensure that the programmes are run effectively.

In line with the Millennium Development Goal 1 that seeks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, AYODEF should be used as an example for the rest to learn from; A world without hunger.

 

By: Fiona Imbali, OAIC Communications

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