Diane Priestley shares her inspiring journey of empowering the people of Chogoria in rural Kenya
|Millicent and me at the Tostan training in Senegal 2016|
The story starts with an unlikely friendship. I met beautiful Millicent in July 2016. We instantly recognised each other as ‘soul sisters’.
Millicent from Kenya, a former nurse, midwife, hospital matron and courageous field health worker and me, an Australian living in the UK, a seasoned journalist and counsellor and aspiring community worker, shared common ground and core values.
The intersection of our dreams happened in Senegal at a dynamic training in grassroots community development run by the legendary Molly Melching, founder of Tostan, a charity leading a movement of social change to empower women and communities across West Africa.
Millicent and I planted the seeds of an ambitious dream: to take the empowerment movement to Kenya and East Africa.
As we brainstormed over several days, Millicent told me she ran a community centre for feeding and caring for vulnerable children in her hometown, Chogoria, set in the lush tropical farmlands on the slopes of magnificent Mount Kenya.
In 2003 Millicent personally funded the centre called Faraja – a Swahili word meaning ‘comfort’ – out of a deep sense of gratitude for being sponsored by the Chogoria Hospital to study her Masters Degree in Public Health in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Since then she has worked tirelessly caring for children and their families in the humble centre as well as travelling far and wide on rough terrain to reach remote villages with vital health education throughout the Tharaka Nithi county.
Later that year, I kept my promise to visit Millicent and her devoted husband, Pastor Garama, travelling by matatu – a crowded public mini-van - four hours north of Nairobi to the a vibrant market town in the heart of Kenya.
|Millicent and Garama and children at the Faraja Community Centre in Chogoria, Kenya|
|Loving couple Millicent and Garama are devoted to their community|
|Millicent providing lunch to the needy children|
An exciting vision
When I set eyes on the Faraja centre - a sturdy brick building with a huge open room, with several small rooms for offices at the back - the exciting vision for adding a kitchen, electricity and clean drinking water came into focus.
A Leap of Faith
After two more planning trips to Chogoria in 2017 and 2018, in January 2019, with a massive leap of faith, I invested £7000 of my own money to install a modern galley kitchen in the empty corner of the Faraja main hall.
The Project Gets Underway
I hired the Streamline Designs kitchen company in Nairobi to make all the cabinetry, a local plumber to install a chlorinator, filter system and new water tank to provide clean, safe water and local electrician to bring power and lights. Local painters did a beautiful makeover, painting the walls and floor, and a sewing lady made stunning new curtains.
Supervising the installation of the modern kitchen in the rustic building was the biggest challenge of my life! I was propelled out of my comfort zone into hard physical work, tricky problem solving and daily decision-making over two solid months until finally, miraculously, we launched the kitchen with a joyful celebration party.
|The empty corner where the kitchen would be installed|
|Elias, the electrician, prepares the wall for the electricity|
|James the plumber and his sons install a clean water system for the centre|
|The painters, Collins and Kevin transform the walls|
|Streamline kitchen expert, Fred with assistant Silas install the kitchen units|
|The kitchen is starting to take shape|
|Diane in the half finished Faraja kitchen|
|The tilers add their beautiful work over the benches and the appliances are added|
|Making muffins in the new kitchen|
|Local personality Kuka entertains the children at the Opening Day|
The dazzling new kitchen will be the catalyst for expanding the food choices for the children and teaching kids nutrition and cooking, a Mums and Babies Group, a Women’s Health Group, a Men’s Health Group and a Youth Social Group serving up pizza and music.
We plan to run a daily café, creating a vibrant meeting place for the whole community and international medical workers and visitors who come to climb Mount Kenya.
The Faraja Kitchen will be self-sustaining, making money from the sale of food to cover running costs, pay workers and fund further improvements to centre.
|Robert, Peter and brothers, Peter and Eliud cooking together in the new kitchen|
|Making Mexican food|
|Peter learning the art of pizza making for youth nights|
And we have many exciting ideas for income-generating small businesses including a Sewing Group making African fabric bags; the Malaria-prevention Soap-making Group and a Coconut initiative to transport coconuts from coastal Mombasa to Chogoria to produce nutritious coconut oil, milk, cream and cheese.
Garama, an agricultural expert, is in charge of the flourishing Faraja Vegetable Garden growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, spinach, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and herbs to supply the kitchen.
And in the future the Faraja Community Centre will provide training for local facilitators in health, human rights and stopping harmful practices such as female genital cutting and child marriage in villages all over Kenya.
All this transformation is flowing from the everyday miracle of a kitchen.
My soul sister, Millicent and I have realised our beautiful dream in the heartland of Kenya that started three years ago in Senegal!
Anything is possible when caring people join together to make a difference.
|'Ubuntu' means I am human because I belong|