Matsakha Community Engagement
By Will Forester. 11/02/2020
On October 8th, 2020, Friendly Water for the World Africa Programs Manager Eric Lijodi left his home in Kakamega County, Kenya for Matsakha sub location. It was going to be an exciting day – the first day we would formally meet the people of Matsakha, and the first opportunity during this challenging year of Covid-19 that we would begin our new Community Engagement process. We are encouraged by just how rewarding it would turn out to be. The first day of Community Engagement is designed to lift the spirit and encourage participation. It is the longest day and includes the largest population of the community. In attendance on the first day were representatives from all 10 villages of Matsakha sub location, the area chief, opinion leaders, representative of the six local schools, and retired teachers who form part of the community.
At much of the event is about discovery and dreaming a better future, we seek to have everyone in a positive mood and mindset. We start that by giving every single person an opportunity to introduce themselves and share one thing they valued most about the Matsakha community. Answers included:
In his opening remarks the area chief thanked everyone for making time for this very important forum. And as others had introduced themselves he also said that what makes him happy is being in leadership for the last 17 years, being a Christian who gives a sense of belonging, and the hospitality of his community. The chief also shared how rare it was for an organization to actually introduce themselves to the community and ask questions. Others who have done work in or near Matsakha usually did their work and passed through with barely a hello (or habari).
“All community members should have a voice and be involved, children, young people, people with disability and elders.”
– Chief Juma Inzai, Matsakha
The group proceeded to discuss and share what they felt were attributes of an ideal community. These included friendliness, cooperation, respect, and some form of employment for all community members. That sounds like the kind of community we all strive to create. There are breaks throughout the day and following lunch the conversation turned to what kind of improvements the community most desired.
Not only did we learn about the community and acquire information that helped expand the knowledge we captured in the community survey, but we also were on a journey of our own self-discovery, identifying strengths and weaknesses in the process that could help improve the next day and the next Community Engagement.
We discovered and in some cases were validated that involving locals in preparing meals for the day increases community confidence in the project. That engaging the local leadership enhances ownership and positivity towards the relationship and potential projects. And that people often lack the forums or access to express their issues and desires, so we should allow the initial discussion to be broad and inviting.
On the second day of the community engagement process the group was narrowed to 56 people. In Matsakha, that group included representatives from all the ten villages that form the Matsakha sub-location along with village elders and other opinion leaders. We even had two visitors from another sub-location who were doing work in the area and decided to join and provide their own perspective. The entire group spent the day sharing and deliberating values, aspirations, strengths and assets. They helped us understand who they were, and how they can make a positive impact both personally and as a community.
The first activity of the day involved grouping participants into their villages and have them answer these questions. They then presented their answers to the entire group. The questions and some of the community answers included:
1. Who am I?
2. What strengths can I bring to the community?
- As a retired teacher I will share knowledge and information
- Farming skills
- Spiritual nourishment to the community
- Use my leadership skills to guide people into achieving their aspiration
- Organize formal groups in the community
- Advocate for peace
- Advice to my fellow youths
- Educate on finance management and financial literacy
- Conflict resolution skills
- Strictness, honesty, transparency, and accountable
- Agribusiness technology
- Train people on hygiene and sanitation
3. What do we want to achieve?
People to attend leadership meetings
People to educate their children
Conserving the environment
Being role models
Widows and orphans
The question and answer activity took almost two hours. Following the presentations, the group realized they had answered the core question: how do we make a better community. After a break the participants sat together in their village groups to discuss and identify one person whom they felt had the virtues to represent the village on the Working Committee. That person was described as someone who is available, committed, and always ready to serve the community. The Working Committee team members will join other teams, like a Development or Marketing Committee, who will develop and chart the path forward for the community.
As in Day 1, we took note of what elements were more successful than others. Working in small groups to encourage conversation and elicit more information was especially useful. And it was encouraging to find the varied assets and strengths that are available in such a small community.
The final day is focused more on deployment and planning, how to bring to life what has been shared and learned. The morning began with a review of the past two days and a team building exercise. The group is smaller now, with a representative for each part of the community.
Each individual talked about their role in the village, and how they could contribute to the shared objectives.
I AM A FARMER
I can provide food, generate income, and be a source of livelihood and employment
I AM A VILLAGE ELDER
I can provide security, help build shelter, and resolve conflict
I AM A CLAN CHAIRMAN
I can mobilize the clan for a common agenda, help community development planning, and promote cohesiveness
I AM A TAILOR
I can provide sewing and design services, and make school uniforms
I AM A LEADER OF WIDOWS
I can teach table banking and link widows with other stakeholders
I AM A MUSLIM
I can provide the sanctification process for beef meat to make it HALAL
I AM A BRICK-MAKER
I can make bricks and provide employment to young men
This conversation illustrated the diverse strengths and skills of the community, both to us and to the participants. The next step was for Friendly Water for the World to share information about our platform and technologies. This presentation generated much enthusiasm and many questions. The participants then worked together to identify which technologies may be most useful and in what order they could be implemented. After almost two hours of deliberation, the group decided on the following order:
- BioSand Water Filters
- Rainwater catchment tanks
- Interlocking soil stabilized bricks
- Rocket stove
- Microflush toilet
The team then created a Management Committee to plan next steps and a path forward. The committee agreed to work together and with partners for the successful implementation of these projects in Matsakha. Finally, the meeting and Community Engagement event ended with a closing prayer.
During this process we learned that schools are re-opening and the Ministry of Health has issued guidelines for covid -19 mitigation. The Management Committee noted that the school adjacent to where we were doing the community engagement process had recalled students, but had no face masks and the school could not provide adequate hand washing stations. The school has no soap or running water (tap). Soap is expensive and hard to find nearby. And children have haul jerry cans to a neighbor who has a bore-hole well to acquire a supply of water.
The committee identified soap and hand washing points in Matsakha schools as a priority. This will help comply with government directives on hand washing, and improve sanitation and hygiene amongst the students. We also note that those students also return home at the end of the day. The students better health is the communities better health. We are working with the committee on a project to quickly make soap for the community.
The meeting was a great success and an important opportunity for Friendly Water for the World to not only build relationships with the people of Matsakha, but also with our Kenya-based partner, Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC), led by Getry Agizah. The Community Engagement committees led to the creation of the Matsakha Community Development Group who in partnership with TCSC will help facilitate Friendly Water for the World work in Matsakha.