Izzy, Eva and Juliet

R & A: A UK and Kenyan Address By Izzy Robertson: Literacy Trustee Eva Jefwa: Head of Kenya Operations and Juliet Anyanzwa: Eva’s Assistant

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Welcome to episode 5 in the serialisation of our Report and Accounts 2022-23. If you’ve missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can read them, or listen to them, by visiting WordForest.org/news.

This week, Izzy Robertson delivers a heartfelt thank you message before passing the baton over to Eva Jefwa and her assistant, Juliet Anyanzwa.

Hear Eva and Juliet’s personal insights into the impact Word Forest is having on the ground in Kenya. Find out how your support is enabling our charity to improve the lives of the Mothers of the Forest through environmental education, which is ultimately improving their financial situation and boosting food and water security too.

Izzy Robertson: Literacy Trustee

This is just a big thank you!

Looking back over the past year, I am, in equal measure, astounded by and grateful for the generosity of all those that support the work of Word Forest in their many different ways – with money, with time, with expertise and with sheer hard graft. 

In a year which has been challenging on many fronts, every one of you that has followed us, read our blog, told your friends about us, donated to us or given us your time, has been instrumental in helping us develop and expand our work in Kenya. As Eva’s report below shows, this is making a real difference, and a lasting one at that. Not only are there more trees in the ground but the community is flourishing too.

It’s an honour to be a Trustee for Word Forest – we have a small but dedicated team of employees and volunteers and an extraordinary band of corporate partners, supporters and donors. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all. We simply couldn’t do it without you!

Eva Jefwa: Head of Kenya Operations
and Juliet Anyanzwa: Eva’s Assistant

2022 was a year to be grateful for. After the pandemic and post-pandemic struggles, it was nice to have a much calmer year than the previous one.

I can confidently say that we started our financial year on the right foot. In April last year, we purchased 4 acres of land. Something that we here in Kenya had been looking forward to for a long time. Having a space of our own was very important because with rented space, one can only do so much. We now have an office, a toilet, and a gatehouse for our security guard. We have grown from 2 to 5 permanent employees, which is amazing because jobs are hard to come by. Erick is the Plantsman, and Juliet is my assistant.

We named our space the PTC, which stands for Permaculture Training Centre. Permaculture is a form of agriculture that draws inspiration from nature to develop synergistic farming systems based on crop diversity, resilience, natural productivity, and sustainability. We named it PTC because we want to share the knowledge with the community, and we would like the PTC to be a place where people can come to see how to establish sustainable ecosystems.

Kenya as a whole experienced, and is continuing to experience, land degradation due to poor land practices and deforestation. Irregular and unpredictable rainfall, increasing temperatures, and rising fuel costs have taken a devastating toll on livelihoods, increasing people’s vulnerability and seriously impacting their ability to recover, which in turn affects their ability to cope with future shocks and stresses. However, the Mothers of the Forest forged on. Thanks to Word Forest, the mothers continued to learn skills that are aiding them in their journey to resilience. Beadwork, crocheting, moringa and neem powder processing, growing of herbs, upcycling, and soap making are some of the skills that have kept the Mothers afloat.

We also established a six-thousand mini-tree nursery that consists of fruit, medicinal, indigenous, and exotic trees. Diversity is key to balancing the ecosystem.

The twice-monthly meetings for the Mothers continue to be an exercise they look forward to. The meetings are the only space they have where they do not need to be anything other than who they are. Nourishment, as is tradition, is always provided.

The mothers meet to learn and share best practices of tree growing, forest conservation, and how to care for the environment, and, best of all, how to share this knowledge with our neighbours, friends, and relatives. We learned the hard way that talking about it wouldn’t get us to where we wanted as fast as we wanted. So we reassembled and came up with a new tactic. We decided we would make being a Mother of the Forest a lifestyle. 

We started at home, making sure the people we lived with understood the meaning of taking care of our environment. Simple things like no littering in the homestead, and if you cannot repurpose it, put it in a sack, and when the sack is full, I will collect it and take it to Malindi to a recycling farm. The Mothers can put something in the sack today, and after a few days, they find something useful to do with it.

Another very important thing is water. A lot of water is wasted daily in the homesteads. For example, in the morning while washing one’s face, that can be done in a basin, or directly over a sapling. This felt like a struggle in the beginning, but once the people we lived with were in sync, it was worth it.

Zosi, whose husband is a wine tapper, told his wife one day, “The coconut tree that I planted last year is now about 3 ft tall, and I don’t struggle with fetching water for the tree. Thanks to you, Zosi, I just rinse my tapping containers at the bottom of the tree, and that’s it. Two birds with one stone.”

We also had a brick-making workshop, and now the Mothers are making a minimum of 40 bricks a day, depending on the turnout. These bricks are going to be used in the building of different structures at the PTC. Word has spread about the Mothers making bricks, and this is attracting lots of people, mostly those who would like to join the Mothers of the Forest group.

When the UK team came for the annual Monitoring and Evaluation, the Mothers were given a gift: a solar kit that contained a small panel, three bulbs, and an in-built radio on the battery, which also had a torch on one side and a floodlight on the other. 

Their partners were also given watches. On top of that, the Mothers got an even better gift: we call them Hedhi (menstrual) cups. These are life-changers for all of us. There was a time when the Mothers made reusable sanitary towels, and that was good, but this is simply AMAZING. There is no maintenance cost whatsoever. All one needs is just a handful of water to clean it after draining.

It broke our hearts when we learned that the UK team would not make it to the PTC, but it was better to be safe than sorry. So, since the team couldn’t come to Garashi, the Mothers went to Malindi to meet them.

We had a wonderful two-day training about propagating through cuttings and plant management by Phil Gamble, our Horticulture Trustee, at a place known as LMagiro in Malindi.

Mitigating climate chaos while creating resilience is our goal, and now that we have a space of our own and a proper office, we look forward to being able to plant lots of trees, especially fruit trees, so that we can create food security as we combat climate chaos.

Getting together and working towards a common goal is amazing. But what is truly and utterly awesome is what is being achieved on the way. There are things that cannot be quantified yet they play the biggest role. The Mothers are not what they were some years back. They are stronger mentally, emotionally, and socially too. All this is thanks to the Mothers getting together to find solutions to matters affecting them as an individual and as a whole. 

Most of the married Mothers speak about how their marriages have changed for the better. They can better communicate with their husbands. Before, it used to be a yes or no answer, but now they can reason with them through respect and love.

Unlike many organisations that go to a place and just give relief food and leave, Word Forest is actually creating resilience by establishing sustainable systems that will be in place for generations to come. 

I speak for the Mothers, my community, and myself when I say no word in the Oxford dictionary can truly describe how grateful we all are for having come this far. It would never have been possible if it were not for this remarkable organisation.

Personally, I am extremely blessed and proud to be part of the team that is making a difference.

Izzy Robertson, Eva Jefwa, Juliet Anyanzwa and The Team

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