Makuu is 13 and lives in Eastern Kenya with his family. It is an area that has been struck by drought for many years. Since 1979, people there have been relying on food handouts from the government to make ends meet.
For over 30 years many people have grown up not knowing that they can produce their own food to eat. They rely on the food bought in shops which can be very expensive when prices rise because of drought.
In June-September 2011, the worst drought in 60 years hit countries in East Africa, including Kenya. Like many others, Makuu’s family was severely affected by the drought – their livestock died and they didn’t have enough food to eat.
CAFOD has worked throughout the area where Makuu lives to break this cycle. In Makuu’s school a school garden project has been started. This is a small plot of land in the school grounds where children look after vegetables that they grow there. The children learn growing skills, farming skills, nutrition skills and the use of vegetables.
The garden will feed the children who grow there providing them with valuable nutrients. The intention is to increase the size of the garden so that one day, the entire school will be able to enjoy fresh vegetables. Now Makuu helps to run a school vegetable garden.
“The garden will help me and my family because when I finish school, if I’m jobless, I can raise money and help myself by selling vegetables.”
Makuu lives with his mum, dad and sister Josephine in a small village. He is an obedient, shy boy. He’s small for his age, compared with boys his age in England. He lives in Ikanga in Kenya with his mum Zipporah, his dad Peter and his sister Josephine. Makuu’s father drives a large motorbike and speeds off to work early each morning as Makuu is leaving for school. His dad is quick with a joke or a fact about the world. He loves learning and takes great pride in the fact that his son, Makuu, studies hard. “Children in Kenya work hard” he says in very good English. “School is important, it is a way to get a good job and to make a good life for yourself.” His mum works around the house.
One of Makuu’s teachers, Mr John Matua says, “When it’s dry here, the government provides food, but we know that in taking that food, we have to share with each other.”
Life at home
Makuu’s home is in Ikanga in the east of Kenya – a little over three hours from the capital Nairobi. Go there in the morning and the air is full of noise from cockerels waking, dogs barking, cows lowing and the smell of woodsmoke. Even at 6am most of Makuu’s family are awake and bustling around the homestead – his mum making tea for the family, his father getting ready for work and Makuu and Josephine packing books for the day ahead.
Makuu gets up very early to get ready for school – at daybreak (before six am). He washes, gets dressed, has a cup of tea and brushes his teeth. His sister Josephine does the same.
Breakfast and lunch for many people in the poorest parts of Kenya is a cuppa. They drink it with hot milk and lots of sugar.
Makuu loves his parents: “My mum and dad take care of me. When they have something, they will share it with me – like if they have money to pay for me to go to school. If they don’t have enough and can’t give me something, they tell me.
“I want to grow up to be like my dad. He was a teacher and now he is an artist. He takes photographs and paints pictures. If you tell him what you want, he paints it. He hasn’t painted a picture of me yet.”
Makuu’s family and many like them in Kenya believe in sharing and being part of a community. It is part of life to know that if you face a drought or a famine, a neighbour will help in any way they can.
My favourite food
“At home, mum cooks ugali” he says. Ugali is a bit like mash, although thicker and fills you up more. It’s made from water and flour made from sweetcorn. “She also cooks rice, corn, beans and vegetables. My favourite food is ugali and sukuma wiki.” Sukuma wiki is a vegetable dish made from greens that are a bit like hard spinach, tomatoes, onion, oil, salt and pepper. Alongside Ugali, it’s a staple throughout Kenya. It is a heavy starch and while low on nutrients, fills you up although you might eat very little.
If you have more money you might eat your ugali and sukuma wiki with meat – perhaps chicken or goat. Where Makuu lives, livestock is precious. Killing an animal is not a decision to be taken lightly as if you kill a chicken, you might not have many eggs tomorrow. If you kill a goat, you won’t have as much milk or the chance to breed more goats.
“I’d advise that if you came to Kenya and you have enough money to buy meat, eat goat or beef. I prefer goat because it’s better for you and it costs less.
Makuu is football crazy
One of Makuu’s favourite games is football. At school, he likes to play football, when he comes home and has finished his homework, he plays with his friend Marumbo. They kick a ball made from plastic bags tied with rubber bands. He seems happiest when he’s playing with Marumbo, his face breaks into a smile when they pass the improvised ball back and forth.
He has quite good English, although not conversational. He draws eleven dots in the dusty earth. He takes a stick and names the entire Real Madrid football team. He goes back to the dot representing the goalkeeper and names the entire Barcelona squad. “My favourite player in Europe is Arjen Robben from the Netherlands. The best player to play in England is Didier Drogba.”
Why I like the school vegetable garden
In Makuu’s primary school, a small club of children have got together to learn how to grow vegetables, care for the vegetables and about the nutrition surrounding the veg. The children hope that the garden will eventually be able to feed the entire school.
The school vegetable garden projects have been set up by CAFOD all across the region to not only give young people vital vitamins and nutrients from their food, but also to teach them that food isn’t only bought from shops, it can be grown.
He is very diligent with the garden as are all Makuu’s friends who work there.
“In the morning, I come from class to check whether the garden needs water. If it does, I water the vegetables and do some weeding. I like caring for the plants and learning about them. I know that planting vegetables can help if you don’t have enough food. If my mum only has maize flour, I might be able to take vegetables home to eat.
Sometimes the maize flour is all we have for dinner and it is enough, but of course I’m looking forward to eating the vegetables we’ve grown.
We harvested a plot over there” Makuu points to a plot of earth twenty feet away “It had corn and sukuma wiki”. Sukuma wiki is a strong spinach-like green.
“It was tasty and filled me up.”
Makuu smiles when he thinks about his dreams. He sits on a stool in a hot, rural area of Kenya, “I would like to have a good life. I want to get a good job so that I can earn money. When I have my ideal job, I want to help my family. My dream job is to be a computer engineer in America. If I did this job, I could earn money and support my family.
I would hope that my mum and dad and Josephine could come and live with me in my home in America.
I also want to be a good dad when I’m older so that my children grow up to be good people.
If I had three wishes, my first wish would be to play football, my second would be to become a teacher and my third would be to get a job as a computer engineer.”