Since 2012, Mastercard Foundation has fully supported the educational ambitions of more than 150 aspiring agribusiness leaders from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean to study at EARTH University. The young people who receive this transformative opportunity are often at a loss for words, not knowing how to express the depth of their gratitude. However, the vast majority embrace the notion that actions speak louder than words – that giving back is greater than any thank you they could speak. And they act on it.
Three of EARTH’s fourth-year Mastercard Foundation scholars – Phenny Omondi (‘17, Kenya), Purity Kendy (‘17, Kenya) and Perseverança Mungofa (‘17, Mozambique) – are gearing up to do just that through their project “Kilimo Jijini”.
“We want to empower women and young people by teaching them how to produce and process nutritious food and, eventually, give them access to leadership training and microcredits to start their own projects,” Phenny said. “Apart from generating more economic prosperity, it has aspects that promote environmental conservation, social reform and hunger reduction.”
Kilimo Jijini (“Urban Agriculture” in Swahili) aims to implement integrated urban horticultural systems, expand the production of clean energy and offer personal development trainings. The desire to enhance food security within the marginalized communities of Kibera, the largest informal settlement in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, drives their work.
In late summer, the trio applied to the Fund for Rural Prosperity, a Foundation-led initiative that lends its extensive resources to innovative projects in underprivileged areas. Their purpose-first idea and development plan won them a U.S. $10,000 challenge grant.
“We went to South Africa in June to participate in The Resolution Project’s Social Venture Challenge, but we did not earn the prize because we had not yet defined the land on which we would implement the project. The organizers told us that they could not sponsor our project at such an early stage. We had more details to define,” Phenny added. “After that, we three sat down to discuss the issue and soon realized the judges were right. We had more to determine and organize.”
At that event, however, a Mastercard Foundation representative expressed interested in the project. Upon returning to Costa Rica, the trio rewrote the proposal, deliberated over details, incorporated evaluator feedback and decided to participate in the Fund for Rural Prosperity.
“Even though plan A fell through, we knew we must continue fighting – until we reach plan Z, if necessary,” Phenny said. “(Kilimo Jijini) is an idea we truly believe in, so even after facing rejection, we did not give up.”
Rural-to-urban migration in Kenya will soon reach never-before-seen highs. As the country’s cities are already bursting at the seams from poor urban planning, few social services and vast overcrowding, solutions are desperately needed.
Current status and next steps
Phenny, Purity and Perseverança are currently working hand-in-hand with Human Needs Project, a nonprofit whose objective is to provide basic services (drinking water, sanitation, electricity) and empowerment (training in commercial skills, microcredits, Wi-Fi access, healthy market availability) to marginalized neighborhoods around the world. The EARTH trio is preparing to carry out part of Kilimo Jijini on one of the Human Needs Project’s properties.
The team is presently preparing detailed budgets, outlining how every penny of the $10,000 will be utilized for optimal effect. “Most of the money is earmarked for the construction of greenhouses and biodigesters. It’s a collaboration with Biogas International Limited Kenya, the company where Phenny did her internship,” Perseverança said. “We also invested a portion of the prize in a building for Human Needs Project that’ll be focused on the food processing part of our plan.”
Finally, the young women must successfully register Kilimo Jijini as a CBO (community-based organization) and then get the papers from the land.
“The division between Nairobi’s center and the urban area’s outer regions is stark,” Perseverança said. “I lived in the city center where resources are more accessible, but on Saturdays I would go to Kibera to do community work. I have seen and experienced very hard things in my life, but the shocking situation of those people deeply affected me.”
“Something that touches me is that you see trash and squalor everywhere in Kibera,” Purity said. “Children die from the lack of utilities and services we consider basic here. As a mom, that breaks my heart.”
The trio’s steepest uphill battle will be to gain the trust of the Kiberan people, who have grown accustomed to well-meaning nonprofits descending upon the area with messages of hope and change but little in the way of tactical plans.
“Many have come to Kibera, taken videos and asked for money, using it as a magnet for donations, and, in the end, they only earn the distrust of the people. Several such organizations have 20 years in the area, and they have not achieved anything,” Phenny said. “That’s why we decided to collaborate with Human Needs Project, for the results they’ve had and the trust they’ve fostered. Our mission is not to leave the Kilimo Jijini project as just an idea on paper. We will bring it to life and improve the quality of life in Kibera.”
Aside from teaching at-risk youth and women how to produce food and make a modest profit, the trio believes Kilimo Jijini will improve desperately needed leadership skills and self-esteem, while also continuing to emanate the ripple effect that has touched their lives.
“I’m not very special,” Purity said. “I know there are many people who can become much better than me, much smarter, but they can’t thrive under the conditions in which they are growing up. In gratitude to the many people who believed in my ability to overcome hard circumstances, my need to help others as much as I can has become deeply personal.”
“I am here (at EARTH) because someone believed in me and gave me a chance. Why can’t I do the same for someone else?” Perseverança said. “I’m not going to tell Mastercard Foundation simply ‘thank you for giving me the education’ and that’s it. Replicating love, sharing knowledge and growing opportunities for others is the best form of gratitude I can show to the people who have believed in me and helped me.”