Building partnerships between Africa and Atlantic Canada
By Cindy Chant
After 32 years in operation, a small Island based, non-government organization, Farmers Helping Farmers, is not showing any sign of slowing down. Recently at the Georgetown Conference, a rural community Builders’ Circle was held, where rural community success stories were shared during one session by invited organization Farmers Helping Farmers. A dozen delegates from Atlantic Canada; along with a few local Island residents shared in the hour long presentation.
Farmers Helping Farmers is an organization operated by as many a 100 members, who raise funds to support farm groups in Kenya; to grow food so they are food secure for themselves and their families.
“The projects are small, but they are aimed to improve the lives of farm families, in particular help the women who do the majority of the farm work,” said Teresa Mellish, volunteer coordinator, Farmers Helping Farmers and one of the founding members of the organization.
The organization works with several African women’s groups, local schools, and farming groups. Keeping true to the organization’s mission statement, “to make global partnerships for sustainable community and agricultural development by creating Canadian and African rural communities”, members are organizing another trip to Kenya in January 2014.
Recently the organization learned funding from Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) will not be available after 2014. The current contract with CIDA expires April 2014.
“Canadian government will have to have some money available to non-government organizations to continue to do work in developing countries because Canadians will demand it of them,” said Ms Mellish.
With the recent announcement, members will be forced to put more time and energy into fundraising to allow these projects to continue, said Ms Mellish.
For the last six years, Souris has been the site of a popular Village Feast, held the first week in July. According to Ms Mellish, the event yields $30,000 a year net and has given the Farmers Helping Farmers organization funds to build cookhouses in Kenya schools. To date, seven cookhouses have been created in seven Kenya schools.
“We work with schools to establish lunch feeding programs once the cookhouses are built,” said Ms Mellish, explained “Since the programs have been established, there have been a better attendance rate, kids are healthier and exam scores have increased dramatically.”
Farmers Helping Farmers are always looking for other projects. “We listen to our partners, they help us identify other needs in their communities…We don’t ever work in a benefactor donor kind of attitude…we work as partners.”
There are currently seven staff working in Kenya: two with the local dairies, four with local farm groups on crop management and one rural coordinator.
“They are wonderful farmers when they have the resources,” said Ms Mellish.
The organization held a strategic planning session this past spring. Increase in fundraising was one of the main topics of the discussions. The 12 person board of directors meet on a monthly basis; several members are original founding members of the organization.
“I have been born a Canadian, well fed, educated and I have a responsibility to share the wealth we have,” said Ms Mellish.
Throughout the presentation, Ms Mellish explained how 16 Island schools and one Newfoundland school have been twinned with schools in Kenya to write letters to form a bridge between Canada and a developing country.
“We want to expose our Canadian and Kenyan children to global issues and to give them a sense of culture from another place through writing letters,” said Ms Mellish, went on to say, seventeen twinned school exchange as many as 850 letters twice a year.
Any schools interested in applying for the letter program can visit the Farmers Helping Farmers website www.farmershelpingfarmers.ca
Cindy Chant is editor of The West Prince Graphic newspaper in Alberton, PEI. She was one of a half-dozen community journalists who attended the Georgetown Conference. She can be reached at email@example.com