Photos by Esther Havens.
It all starts with food. SERV International first started distributing food in Lodwar in 2006. The nomadic people in the area in and around Lodwar are of the Turkana ethnic group. Turkana people are pastoralists who live off the land, moving every year or so with their livestock in search of food and water. The deserts of northwest Kenya where they live suffer extended periods of drought and famine that make existing food insecurity worse. Turkana people experience food poverty – defined as the inability to afford or have access to enough food to make up a healthy diet – at a staggering rate of 81%.
Through local staff and partners, SERV is always looking to help people in need. When Pastor Jackson told SERV staff about the village of Tiya, they decided to go and see for themselves. Tiya is isolated from services; there are no schools or healthcare nearby for the 3,500 villagers. People must walk 13 kilometers to receive healthcare and the closest well is a long walk away.
Isaiah Ewoi is the elected elder of Tiya. He functions like a mayor and judge, representing the village and settling disputes between community members. He explains the challenges facing Tiya’s population. Most people here eat only one meal a day. Villagers frequently suffer from diseases related to malnutrition and waterborne illnesses like cholera and typhoid. “The main vision is to get school for kids, clean water to drink and food,” he explains. “I hope that one day in time, people will be changed and life will get better.” While there are government and NGO organizations in the area, the aid doesn’t spread wide or deep enough.
Alice Edung, an elderly woman, has come to witness SERV’s first food distribution and water filter demonstration. It’s taking place under a tree along a dry riverbed that currently serves as the meeting place for church services and community meetings. Alice, like many older Turkana people, doesn’t know her age. She also doesn’t know how long ago it was that her husband died, only remembering that it was before the time that planes started coming to Lodwar. Her husband died of starvation, she says matter-of-factly, her face resigned. Alice’s life hasn’t been easy. She gave birth to six children at home, but four died from illnesses like cholera and some of unexplainable diarrhea. Her remaining daughter, Ekadeli, accompanied her mother today and sits stoically at her side. Her son sits with the men nearby.
Turkana people prize livestock over money. They prefer to keep their savings accounts in the form of goats, and whenever they need food, they kill, sell or trade their animals. For a widow like Alice, who has no livestock left and no way to acquire animals, she has run out of options. “I have been hungry since I was little,” she admits. The last time she ate was some plain maize yesterday. She didn’t know where her next meal was coming from until SERV arrived with a distribution of bags of a vitamin-enriched blend of lentils and dried vegetables.
Alice isn’t just being dramatic. People still die of starvation in Lodwar. “Two years ago, I buried two people in Lolupe because of hunger,” recalls Thomas Ekai, the SERV Kenya and House of Hope Director. “SERV has helped people to have more life. It is nutritious food.” SERV has committed to providing food, water, shelter and life to the people of Lodwar, area Turkana villages and, now, to the people of Tiya.
We arrived at their house thinking we knew the story already. Their kid was sick, their garden helped their kid get healthy again. When I got there and did the math, I realized in the interview that our assumptions had been wrong. I asked how many kids she and her husband had and she responded, truthfully, one. Their daughter was too young to eat vegetables, so I was confused for awhile. Finally, I asked more questions and realized that they care for a child that is like their son and that he had the health problems. So many times, I think I know something or I assume someone else has made a mistake, but really, I just ask lousy, incomplete questions. This was for Vita Gardens/Africa New Life partnership. Photo by Esther Havens.
Since they were married in 2013, Kampire and Feliciane have weathered many challenges together. Though their firstborn died in childbirth, they now have two children in their care, one daughter and one nephew. They raise Kampire’s sister’s son since she couldn’t care for him. They also provide a home for her mother, Vivian. Kampire and Feliciane take turns finding work where and when they can, both committed to providing the best life for their family.
Theo trained them and helped plant their keyhole garden of kale and spinach in October of 2014. Now, family life revolves around the garden. Dorcas, their one year-old daughter, is the same height as many of the vegetables. She pulls kale straight from the stalks and gnaws on it, but her mother snatches it away, trying to get her daughter used to the idea of letting the garden grow. Feliciane is a day laborer for other people’s farms and finds work occasionally. When he is working, Kampire tends the gardens. If Kampire finds work, Feliciane will stay home with the children and take care of the garden. Vivian, Kampire’s mother, is a strong and determined woman who has lived over 70 years (she doesn’t know her exact age) in Rwanda. She works around the yard determinedly, hoeing weeds and pulling underbrush. Everyone in the family contributes and benefits in their own way.
Their family exemplifies how gardens are affecting the health and well-being of people in Kageyo. Feliciane said that since having the garden, “There are so many changes in my wife and the children.” Years ago, their nephew Eric was sick and had a fever. When they took him to the hospital, the doctor explained that there was no medicine to prescribe. The family simply needed access to good food. Now, the garden provides Eric with regular nutrients and has kept him healthy. Dorcas was born prematurely and suffered a lot of health problems. Kampire’s breast milk has been more plentiful since she started eating vegetables, which has strengthened Dorcas’ immune system.
Kampire gained a lot from Theo’s class, and is eager to pass it on. “I learned how good vegetables are in our body, how they help us be strong and how to share and teach others,” she explained. “If you are my neighbor, I have a responsibility to teach you so you can have it too.” When friends ask about her garden, she explains that it is great for families with babies. She highlights the nutritional benefits — better breast milk and more energy for children. Her husband Feliciane agreed that greens “give me energy and appetite.” It was common to hear that once a family started eating vegetables, they had an appetite for more food. Talking about the future, Kampire said hopefully, “I wish my family would be a good family that lacks nothing.” She and her husband are working hard together to ensure that their garden and their family continue to flourish and stay healthy.
Jean Baptiste getting a job at the end of this story was just the best. He worked so so hard just to make his community better, and now he is paid for it. I asked him and his wife to dance for us, and it truly brought tears to my eyes watching him and his wife transform from parents, from gardeners, into just beautiful smiles. Interview conducted through an amazing Kinyarwanda translator, Pastor Sam, at Jean Baptiste’s home. It is so much easier to do my job when I have a translator to help me convey what I want to say. This was for Vita Gardens/Africa New Life partnership. Photo by Esther Havens.
One of the main foundations of the Kageyo Garden Project is to train people to train other people, and Jean Baptiste is proof that the model is working. Just a few years ago, he didn’t have any experience in gardening or farming, but Jean Baptiste went through the Kageyo Garden Project classes and built his own keyhole garden at his home. Since then, he trained others like Frida and built gardens with them. “If you awake me at night, I can tell you how to mix fertilizer and soils,” he joked. “I now have a lot of experience.” He prefers the keyhole gardens because “they are better and easy to water,” but he also has a large double-dug bed (a garden bed in the ground) in which he grows spinach, cabbage, beets and kale.
Jean Baptiste met his wife Adriene at cultural dancing classes, and they fell in love and got married. They dance beautifully, and their faces immediately light up with smiles as they sway and lift their arms. You can tell it makes them happy. Now, they have four children and make a life together in Kageyo. Jean Baptiste has had various jobs, but it’s obvious that nothing gets him as excited as gardening. He is an enthusiastic disciple for the program. “As for me, I wish every home would have a garden for vegetables,” he said. “If I was the leader, I would command everyone to have one. If I had money, I would sponsor more people to have gardens.” Even without the funds, he is doing his part to see that his neighbors are digging garden plots and growing in their yards, too. He believes the vegetables themselves have the power to transform his community. “Vegetables are medicine,” he said insistently. “They can treat a variety of illnesses. Ever since we started eating them, the kids haven’t fallen sick.”
Still, Jean Baptiste is realistic about the challenges facing his family and his community. “Life here is very hard,” he said seriously. “Here in Kageyo, you need to work hard in order to eat. We don’t have time to rest, we don’t save. We have to work every day to earn a living.” He hopes for a better future through agriculture. “I am dreaming of having more of these gardens so I can sell vegetables like beets. I think it would change my family and my life.” Even though he has learned so much, there is still a lot he wants to experiment with and try. He sees vegetables in Theo’s garden he doesn’t recognize and asks him for seeds.
Jean Baptiste’s wife Adriene is his partner in the garden as well. “It helped my family, especially my children,” she explained. “I love it because it brought a change in my family. I no longer have to shop for vegetables and it’s easier for me.” The family buys less beans now because the vegetables stretch their supply; one kilogram of beans now takes four days to eat instead of three with the added vegetables. Like his wife, Jean Baptiste is most grateful for the way the program has affected his children. “My children are energetic and strong now,” he said proudly. Jean Baptiste’s dedication has paid off; he was recently brought on as a full-time employee of the Kageyo Garden Project. His dream of spreading gardens to every household in Kageyo is fast becoming a reality.
Photos by Esther Havens.
When James Emuria first saw Esther Abei, he knew he wanted to court her. They took their family’s animals to the river together and they danced at traditional ceremonies – dating, Turkana style. James’ family then paid a dowry to Esther’s family and they were married. He put a metal necklace around her neck to signify that she was his. In the fifteen years since, James and Esther have built new homes and moved frequently in the Lolupe area where they were both born. Turkana people are pastoralists who move regularly so that their goats can graze. They built each hut together out of woven dried leaves. The homes are beautiful and simple; they don’t need to be waterproof since it rains so infrequently in the desert. Last year, it didn’t rain at all. Many nights, they sleep outside under the stars. Esther gave birth to seven children in their hut on her own. Basically, she’s amazing. If she needed support, she would call on her husband’s mother to come. James and Esther delight in their children and the kids all enjoy each other, the elder ones taking care of the younger ones when needed. The youngest entertain themselves with toys they make themselves.
Esther’s daily routine profoundly changed when SERV drilled the well in Lolupe three years ago. Before, she would walk three hours a day to the river to collect water. The journey was not only long, but dangerous. One day when she was walking to get water, she was attacked by a man. She was able to fend him off by throwing stones until she reached some people, and the man ran away. But the next day, she had to make the same trek back to the water, because, dangerous or not, her family can’t survive without water.
Having the well close to home gave their family more time and peace of mind. Some of the children are now big enough to fetch water and they take turns, going two and sometimes three times a day. Esther still goes to the well, too. If they are out of water or need it even at night, she can make the short trip. When she has time, she stays at the well and the women gathered tell stories and talk about life. “There is peace at the well,” Esther explains. Since the community has to come together to share and protect the resource, disputes in the village are not common. The family uses the water for cooking, bathing, washing clothes and drinking water. “Now we have water near,” James says; his “biggest joy is when no one is sick.”
Since their water source is no longer a problem, food security persists as the family’s major concern. James says that every morning as soon as he wakes up, “I have to think what my kids will have for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” It’s agonizing for them as parents to not be able to provide for their children. Esther agrees, “Our biggest worry is about food, starvation.” Typically for breakfast, the family takes black tea. For lunch, they share small quantities of flour to make a sort of porridge. They often don’t eat dinner. When available, the family relies on dates from nearby palm trees for nutrition. Sometimes they cook and drink blood from their goats, a tradition amongst pastoral people. When Esther receives SERV food, she prepares it and feeds it to her kids. It’s the most food they ever get at once.
Besides their goats, their biggest asset, the family works making brooms and sometimes charcoal to sell in Lodwar. Everyone pitches in. Their son Peter takes the goats out and brings them in each day. Though neither James nor Esther went to school, two of their children attend the local school. The eldest even speaks a little English. Esther hopes that her children will have a better life than her own.
SERV has held 40 food distributions in Lolupe and will return to do more. The food is given first to elderly women and then to the younger ones, since the women will prepare it. Esther eagerly queues near the church SERV built that serves as a distribution point for the bags of nutritionally fortified lentils and dehydrated vegetables. There are also sacks of beans and maize. There is a flurry of activity as women with elegantly beaded necks pump water into jerrycans at the well, collect firewood and pack their SERV food bags into their colorful wraps. Most everything will get carried on their heads. “When we get food, we get happy,” said Ana Salim, a Lolupe woman preparing her food for transport as her children played nearby. For the next few hours, you can see lines of women walking out into the desert in the direction of their homes, babies wrapped tightly to their backs, cans of water and bags of food piled high on their heads while their colorful scarves billow in the wind. Esther, too, collects water to carry on her head as her children take the bags of SERV food so they can make the short walk from the well back home together.
Robert is one of the most impressive people I have ever met. He is also the best example I have come across of how child sponsorship can be so much more than a financial transaction. His sponsor's support emboldened him to defy all expectations and he became a successful entrepreneur by anyone's standards. The image of a man perched on a luxury car has an indulgent, MTV-Cribs vibe, but this is really a triumphant image of a smart businessman who lives his life to give his customers what they want and asks very little for himself. It was fun to turn that image on its head. We interviewed him on the balcony of his soon-to-open guesthouse that overlooks all of Kigali. Photos by Esther Havens. The Food Is Campaign we did for ANL raised over $1mm.
Once a sponsored child and now a sponsor, Robert Mugabe is an incredibly driven and natural entrepreneur. Robert was born in a Ugandan refugee camp to a Rwandan family that migrated after violence started against Tutsis in Rwanda in 1959. His family moved back to Rwanda in 1994. By the time he was eight, both of his parents died of an illness and he was left living with his uncle. There was no money for him to go to school, so he simply stopped going. Years later, he met Pastor Charles in Kayonza and was selected as one of the first nine children to be sponsored through Africa New Life. Robert was finally able to go to school for the first time in two years, and he was motivated by the confidence Pastor Charles and his sponsor had in him.
Robert was sponsored for ten years, which allowed him to graduate high school and university. When he was in school, his sponsors realized he was investing tuition money in land, making a profit and still paying for school. They left him with $10,000 USD in faith and said that he could give it back when they returned in a year. He found a partner and they started a car import business. When his sponsors came back, Robert had made $8000 with their money. When he had enough money, he bought his first car -- the beginning of an empire. With that, he started a transport business to drive tourists and businessmen around. He now has four cars and two full time employees.
Robert knows that food comes first; it is foundational to life. “I know how it feels to do things without food in your stomach,” he recalls. “It’s painful. You have things to do but you don’t have the energy to do it. The first thing you do before school, before you think of doing any business, you have to first eat. If you are going to change someone, trying to teach someone something, food should be the first thing. I compare this with the story of Jesus. Most people came to Jesus to get food. Jesus was able to pass his message of life to people while passing out food. Food is very important, mostly for the kids who are hopeless.”
Robert is now helping two students through Africa New Life just as a family once supported him. Of his transformation from sponsored kid to sponsor, he says:
In addition to his growing business, Robert just got married. He prayed for a wife because, in his words, he wanted to bring his family back to life. His wife Claire is a missions facilitator at Africa New Life. Robert's dream is to expand Special Hire Travel Agency. He's opening a guesthouse to host travelers and buying safari vehicles. For Robert, food was an investment in him, in his future. Africa New Life helped him become the man he is today – husband, businessman, sponsor.
Photos by Esther Havens.
If you’ve ever visited House of Hope – SERV’s children’s home and school in Lodwar – you remember Rebecca Akiru. Rebecca was one of the first children who came to live at House of Hope eight years ago. Her quick smile, English fluency and generous spirit are not easily forgotten. Now a young woman of 18, Rebecca lives in her own room on the SERV campus, a time and place of transition from the children’s dormitory into adult life. “I feel so much responsibility. I need to take care of this place and keep it clean,” she explains as she smooths a sheet over her bed. Soon, Rebecca will finish high school and be the first student from House of Hope, and the first person in her family, to graduate high school.
Rebecca says that House of Hope is “a place of happiness and security. When I am home, I know there is nothing that will happen to me.” It’s a confident statement for any young woman, but particularly remarkable for her. Rebecca’s father killed her mother the week after she was born and he fled, leaving Rebecca totally alone. A neighbor, Anna, who wasn’t related to her, brought baby Rebecca to live with her. Anna is a good woman but had very few resources. She had already lost three of her six biological children to illnesses. Anna tried her best to do everything she could for Rebecca — they shared food when they had it and slept in the same dilapidated hut — but it was easier to get alcohol than food in their village, and Ana fell into alcoholism. Effectively on her own, Rebecca performed chores for neighbors and fetched water in exchange for food. People would see her wandering alone in search of something to eat. Word eventually got to SERV founder Steve Kasha, who invited Rebecca to live at House of Hope.
Rebecca felt safe when she arrived at House of Hope because her physical needs were met. She started eating three meals a day for the first time in her life, an answer to her prayers. She used to be preoccupied with where her next meal would come from; she would skip school to find food or work in exchange for small amounts of maize. With regular meals at House of Hope, she had the physical and mental energy to stay in school. She quickly found herself ranked in the top ten of her classmates.
Anna, the woman Rebecca calls grandmother, stopped drinking when she resolved that she wanted to see Rebecca grow up and succeed. Rebecca visits her on weekends and holidays. Anna sleeps in a hut right next to where the collapsed hut she used to sleep in with Rebecca years ago. Rebecca treasures memories of falling asleep when she was a child to stories Anna would tell. Anna is so proud of Rebecca and how far she has already gotten in life.
Rebecca has a singular vision and purpose. “To be successful in life, you have to work for it and be determined,” she says wisely. She was inspired reading Dr. Ben Carson’s memoir of coming from little but studying hard to become a respected surgeon. When she graduates next year, she wants to become a lawyer because, as she explains it, “lawyers fight for people, [they] stand up for them.” Rebecca is already advocating for others. When new children come to live at House of Hope, she lets them know everything will be okay. She acts as a surrogate big sister and friend for all of the younger children at House of Hope. Thomas Ekai, the SERV Kenya and House of Hope Director, sees great potential in Rebecca. “I know she is a visionary lady,” he says. “She can aim high. I believe she will be marvelous. She can do many things to help other children.”
Rebecca has been out with SERV staff on food distributions, eagerly helping pass out food and translating when necessary. She wants to give back to the students at House of Hope and to her larger Turkana community. In addition to her studies, Rebecca works shifts in the SERV store that serves the local population with “cereal” staples of maize, flour, oil and a small refrigerator of sodas. She enjoys cooking food for all the students in the kitchen and even finds time to dance and listen to music. Rebecca is taking every challenge thrown her way during this period of transition. She says she will soon be ready to go out on her own, well fed and well loved.
Rebecca’s story started with food. She worried about food – searched for it and worked for it an age that most children are completely dependent on their parents and even oblivious to their needs. When SERV staff found Rebecca, they responded with daily regular meals and then went on to provide shelter, education and a loving environment. If she hadn’t come to live at House of Hope, Rebecca believes she would probably be a mom right now. “I wouldn’t have continued with school or I would have dropped out,” she guesses. Many of her friends are married with one or even two children by now. She is the first one in her family to attend to school past grade eight. A bright young student with a promising future, Rebecca is an example of how the pillars of SERV – food, water, shelter, life – all work together to keep children safe and help them thrive.
This interview was conducted in English in Kuala Lumpur and edited very little. Munirah is an eloquent advocate for herself as an artist and her organization. When she said, “every stitch counts,” I died a little from happiness. She is an instructor and seamstress for Raven + Lily products. Photo by Melinda DiMauro.
I was born in peninsular Malaysia and moved to Kuala Lumpur for university. I got married recently and I’m pregnant with my first child. After I graduated high school, my father bought me a 700 Singer portable sewing machine. He passed away shortly after that. I taught myself to sew using Internet tutorials. At first, I didn’t think I would do this full time. I sewed during breaks from university to earn extra money. My first product was a pencil case that I sold to my sister’s friends; that was the first thing I sold.
I have gained more knowledge and experience since sewing bulk orders. Sewing can be your main source of income. I never thought I could sew bulk orders, but I decided to try and I managed to take orders from other businesses too. I learned design in university and I have made my own designs, but I have been exposed through this job to make products for customers to buy instead of just for personal use.
I am proud of my work being sold in America. It’s a good opportunity for independent designers to work. If we want to go far, we need to cooperate. We need our products to be sold outside of Malaysia. The money I have earned allowed me to buy a second sewing machine and start my own business. I’m also running a small handmade business on my own. I like sewing because it gives me a sense of calmness and satisfaction. I love designing. I want my designs to come to life and not just remain sketches.
Working alongside the other Raven + Lily women artisans around the world is very cool. We are united in the same passion. Not many people love sewing, but it is a passion. I am now teaching other people, and I love seeing them learn from me.
It is priceless to stay at home and work with my child. I can raise my own child, and I like to be my own boss. I think Raven + Lily provides paths for women. Many people know they can do it, but they don’t have the right channel to express or channel their passion and gift. Skills are a gift. If you have a skill and don’t use it, it’s a waste. This program is the best thing you could do to help these women express their gifts. You have to have faith in yourself to do what you love. When you buy from Raven +Lily, you are buying a piece from an artisan, not a mass produced factory. Every stitch counts.
–Munirah, 26, instructor, seamstress
Photo by Esther Havens.
Circuit riders were pastors in the early 1800s in America who rode on horseback through the wilderness to reach their far-flung churches and congregations. Pastor Jackson Ewoi of the village of Kaakiring is a modern day circuit rider. More accurately, he’s a circuit walker. A very tall man, Pastor Jackson would be imposing if it wasn’t for his permanent smile and his habit of clapping his hands before him whenever anything delights him, which is often. When you arrive at his home, there are children playing and women breastfeeding their sleeping babies under a nearby tree. Pastor Jackson emerges, smiling and clapping, to greet you. He eagerly pulls up a chair and proudly invites you to his home and his community.
His compound consists of a sleeping hut for himself, his wife, and their seven children, huts for cooking and storage and a miniature hut for their chickens. People collect in the shade of trees and some women work, cooking and hanging laundry on the line. You can see the greenhouse and the church SERV built just down the slightly sloping hill. Roosters and baby chicks roam around. Goats meander through, bleating to their babies. Pastor Jackson’s home is a place of life. All are welcome.
Pastor Jackson walks purposely in long strides to his neighbor’s house where he finds a group of women sitting under a tree, caring for their babies and weaving dried plants into brooms that they will sell in town. He sits down on his stool he carried with him and begins talking to the women, catching up. The women expertly twist the long, starchy leaves and braid them together while making small talk about their daily lives, their children and their work. Since SERV built the well and established the greenhouse, 26 additional families moved closer together for access to the water. One of the women sitting under the tree, Alice, says that her family was literally starving until they moved five kilometers towards the well to be near Pastor Jackson’s community. Now her family has easy access to the well water and food grown in the greenhouse and given at distributions. The community works in the greenhouse together to grow vegetables like tomatoes and sukuma (kale) that is shared between the villagers. Food is bringing the people of Kaakiring together.
As a young man, Jackson was preoccupied with fighting and drinking. After becoming a Christian in 1978, his life changed. He no longer cared about appeasing ancestral spirits, for which there are elaborate rituals and demands in Turkana culture. He dedicated his life to full-time service of his community as a pastor in 1983. Now, in his village of Kaakiring, he performs weddings, settles disputes, helps the sick to find comfort and care and prays at burials. Just last year, his community lost someone to tuberculosis and he presided over the funeral. Pastor Jackson has taken on the additional responsibility of going to far flung communities all over Lodwar. He regularly walks (walks!) 15, 30, even 60 kilometers to visit communities and preach at their churches or under trees that serve as a gathering place. He once walked for four straight days to reach a community, preaching along the way. He takes with him his acacia wood stool (a must for all Turkana men), a staff, a jug of water and a backpack with his Bible. As dedicated as he is to his neighbors in his village, he feels called to reach more people. He has opened five churches in villages near and far and he returns to them regularly, walking every step of the way.
The most important thing to Pastor Jackson besides preaching the gospel is helping to ease the suffering of people he meets in the course of his ministry. He has been working with SERV since 2011, letting SERV leadership know of needs of the communities and people he encounters. As a partner, Jackson has proven invaluable in connecting SERV food distributions to the most vulnerable. Just recently, he connected SERV with the village of Tiya, which will soon begin benefitting from regular SERV visits. “If we get food, we appreciate it and we share it,” he says. Even though Pastor Jackson has a large family and it is difficult to provide enough regular food for everyone, he is always advocating for the lives and empty bellies of others. Food has brought life to his community, and he is eager to see it spread to others.
As he has begun to age, Pastor Jackson has increasingly prayed for transportation. The walks are becoming more challenging and there are ever more communities to reach. Besides, he would like to get home and be with his wife and children. Pastor Jackson meets weekly with other pastors that work with SERV to encourage each other and discuss the needs of their communities. He recently learned at one of the regular meetings that SERV will be loaning him use of a motorbike so that he can reach even more communities and save himself time with his family. As could be expected, his face split into a huge smile, he clapped his hands and exclaimed, “Hallelujah!” raising his hands overhead. Because of Pastor Jackson, more people will be reached. Because of SERV food, there will be more community and more life for the people of Turkana.
Theo is one of those rare people you come across who just hums with purpose. You could tell he’s at an exciting crossroads personally and professionally, finding an organization to partner with and carry out the changes he’s been dreaming of. I interviewed him over several days in English, usually trailing behind him, writing and recording, as he walked to the next garden. This guy is gonna go places. This was for Vita Gardens/Africa New Life partnership. Photo by Esther Havens.
They call him “organic man.” Theo is known around Kageyo as a man on a mission. At just 28 years old, Theo already left a previous life behind. He got a degree in finance and worked as a banker for a few years, but he gave that up to learn more about organic gardening. He always felt it was his calling to work with the poor, and he believes organic gardening is a useful tool for transforming lives. “Many communities don’t have food security,” he explained. “Many communities eat food but overcook it, and the nutrients get lost. There are other ways of preventing diseases when you teach about sanitation, water purification and hygiene. Gardens help communities to transform their lives and their health.”
His parents were surprised; working in agriculture wasn’t what they had planned for their son. But they are glad that he and his brother, who both work in gardening for community development, are making a difference. Born in Congo to a Rwandan family, Theo first came to Rwanda in 2004. After quitting banking, he enrolled in a year of intensive training in organic gardening in Kenya and came back to Rwanda to partner with Africa New Life to start the Kageyo Garden Project. Kageyo was the most logical place to start because hunger daily affects the population, which is mostly made up of resettled refugees. “We had the problem of malnutrition,” explained Pastor Sam Gahigana of New Life Church. “I remember in 2010, one child in Kageyo died because of hunger.”
Theo started by planting several demonstration keyhole gardens at the New Life School that multiplied into a half-hectare (1.2 acre) organic farm where he hosts community trainings. The gravity-fed drip irrigation and all organic implements have made a beautiful, productive garden that is pretty unique. All the produce from this farm goes into the school lunches and feeds 659 students. “It’s a big beginning,” said Pastor Sam. “If you could see how much these vegetables have helped the children; there’s a big change in their lives. We have seen with one year of using vegetables the change in the children.” After participants attend classes at the large garden, Theo helps them install keyhole gardens and in-ground beds at home. “I like keyhole gardens because they are easy to maintain,” said Theo of the African-designed round beds. “They also help to hold water because the soil is not compact.” The classes ensure that every gardener has a fundamental understanding of how and why organic gardening is important. The curriculum includes the basics of bio-intensive farming, construction of keyhole gardens and how to prevent and treat diseases through proper nutrition and medicinal plants. Much of this is completely new information to community members, so with just a little education and start-up costs for home gardens, the program is making a big impact. Families are able to plant roots, both literal and metaphorical, for their futures.
Theo has big dreams for gardens. As he walked the red dirt streets of Kageyo with a palmful of seeds, he pointed out houses that he knows need gardens and gardens he is proud to have built. He has trained fifty people so far, but his goal is a garden for every house in Kageyo. “If I train more people,” he explained, “they can be experts and be in charge of expanding. We have only been here for one year, and we have a big garden and fifty homes. If we have other people trained in organics here, we can move.” His energy is contagious in this small community. He rarely sits still, and when he does, it’s to pour over garden books that were given to him. “We thank God for Theo,” said Pastor Sam. “He’s a man who loves his work. He’s a young man and he’s not married. He doesn’t go out with friends for fun, he goes to the garden. What he does is flow; it’s not mechanical. It’s something he does out of his life.” Theo has found his calling, and, thankfully, it is changing the lives of many through the Kageyo Garden Project. “Organic man” won’t stop until there is a garden in every house in Kageyo. And even then, Theo said he has plans to expand to nearby villages. “I am planting the seeds for healthy communities,” he said in his way of delivering profound truths casually, walking hurriedly ahead towards the next garden he promised to build.
I interviewed Dalphin through a translator under a tree just outside her school. She was so shy it was difficult to connect at first, but she spoke easily and eloquently about hunger. The highlight was the visit to her home, which really opened her up. Betty and I had to distract what felt like the entire village so that Esther could get shots of just the family. We played head and shoulders knees and toes with the kids, which it turns out gets old after ten renditions. Photos by Esther Havens.
With wide-set eyes and a shy smile identical to those of her mother and sisters, Dalphin is one of six children. She lives in the rural community of Kageyo in a simple red mud compound of two rooms connected by an open courtyard for cooking. Her parents farm beans, sorghum and maize and keep chickens and goats. Even though they grow food, hunger is a familiar feeling to Dalphin.
Hunger makes her feel like her body isn’t functioning well, and she can’t perform tasks at the same rate. She does not eat breakfast before school and dinner at home is manioc porridge.
It’s difficult to understand how people who farm land can be hungry. Rwandan earth is beautiful and green, seemingly rich with possibility. While almost 75% of Rwandans are employed by agriculture, most farm at a subsistence level.
Dalphin’s family’s yield is dependent on weather cycles and their income dependent on prices. She works with her parents in the field a few times a week and also helps sell surplus at the local market, but, still, they don’t always have enough food for three meals a day for everyone in the house. The family joined a farming co-op in hopes of pooling resources and guarding against hunger.
At her school, students get a meal of nutritionally fortified porridge a day, enhanced with vitamins and minerals. The child sponsorship coordinator at her school, Grace Murerwa, has noticed a change in the students since they started feeding them meals at school.
Students line up under the jacaranda trees every day for a cup of steaming hot cereal, swirling it around to get the last drops. The school also has gleaming water faucets dripping with clean water pulled up from under the ground by solar power. School is a place of nourishment, both mental and physical, for children.
For Dalphin and other students at Kageyo, food at school is essential to learning because there is probably not enough food at home. Food makes the education experience complete; kids can’t learn without it. Dalphin’s sponsorship includes the tools she needs for learning: shoes, uniform, pencils. To Dalphin, food is courage, perhaps the most important tool of all.
There was something really special about sitting on the floor of Sperancia’s home surrounded by her and her friends talking about her idea for a juice business. Too often I want to quit my job and move and help someone get a business off the ground, but I have to trust that it will happen if it’s supposed to. Sperancia truly did something special creating that juice. I hope she keeps at it. This was for Vita Gardens/Africa New Life partnership. Photo by Esther Havens.
Sperancia took her children’s health into her own hands. Her five children would come home from school thirsty but didn’t want to drink water (water pulled from local wells can have a sulfuric taste and odor), so she started making juice infusions to keep them hydrated and healthy. She boiled passion fruit, pineapple and orange leaves she bought from the local market with her home-grown beets and spinach to make her special blend. “I love juice because I’ve learned it has nutrients,” she said. “It makes me feel good.” Like many people who are part of the Kageyo Garden Project, Sperancia innovated her garden and made it work for her family. She has consistently made decisions to improve her family’s life. Born in Uganda, she came to Rwanda in 2010 because the government was offering land and her children could receive scholarships for school. She has eight children, three of whom have grown up and moved out. Her husband works in Uganda looking after a store and they see each other only three or four times a year. Though they miss each other, this arrangement allows them to provide for their children and their future.
Sperancia farms sorghum, beans, maize, but had never tried and didn’t know about the benefits of a household garden. “I love gardening, and I appreciate being introduced to organic gardening. We benefitted a lot from the classes,” she said of the Kageyo Gardens Project. “I learned that greens and vegetables increase your health, filter your blood and lower the risk of heart disease.” She’s had her garden for almost a year, and it has already changed her family’s health. If the family spends a week eating greens in her household and then a week without, she can notice the difference. Her children wake up with more energy, too.
Sperancia does all of this to see her children’s lives improve. “When I am not able to provide for their needs, I feel sad,” she admitted. Household gardens allow parents to directly contribute to their children’s lives and health. The lack of a local economy means most people aren’t compensated for hard work. Most farm at subsistence level and have to watch children go without and even go hungry. A home kitchen garden gives parents the opportunity to see immediate results for their families. As an added benefit, Sperancia no longer spends 2000 Rwandan francs a week on vegetables from the market. She has more cabbage, spinach and carrots from her own garden than she could afford to buy.
Her friends who have tried her juice love it, so Sperancia would like to start a business in the future. Her neighbor Goreti said, “I would buy it by the liter because it is rich in nutrients.” Yvonne, another neighbor, provided a future-client testimonial about her daughter who was sick and had yellowed eyes until she started drinking Sperancia’s juice. Sperancia is proud to contribute to her family and community in such a meaningful way. Theo is working on adding a fourth class to the gardening curriculum that he will call community development – a kind of Business 101 – and Sperancia’s juice would be a great pilot project.
This story came to me after I saw the pictures of William and Scovia looking so in love. Usually, story informs photo points, but this was the opposite. Interview conducted in Kinyarwanda through a translator at their home. This was for Vita Gardens/Africa New Life partnership. Photo by Esther Havens.
Scovia was born in Tanzania and her husband William was born in Rwanda. Through twists of fate and politics, they met when their families moved near each other in Tanzania. William went to Scovia’s parents and asked to marry her, offering three cows as her dowry, which is a custom in their culture. Together, they had nine children, two of whom are now married and starting families of their own. Their love has led to new generations, but their story is more complicated than that. The family kept cows and livestock in Tanzania until they were forced to leave it all behind and come to Rwanda. Settling in Kageyo meant big changes for their family. William started farming beans, maize and sorghum and sells the harvest leftover after his family has enough to eat, but sometimes it’s not enough. The kids received sponsorships and enrolled in school. The family was also introduced to the Kageyo Garden Project. They have been gardening for only a few months, but it has made an impact in their large family. They grow spinach, carrots and kale and eat out of the garden as often as they can. “I can see a big change,” said William. “The vegetables are very good. I didn’t know much about them before. Ever since we started using vegetables, we stopped suffering from stomach problems.”
Their seven children in school also benefit from Theo’s garden at the New Life School. Winnie, their teenaged daughter, explained, “Before we didn’t eat vegetables at school, now we do.” Students are getting vegetables at school and at home, which makes a big dietary impact. Winnie used to constantly rub her eyes and strain to see, but now her eyes are healthy. Her sister, Kellen, loves carrots straight from the garden, which provide vitamin A and contribute to good eyesight. The family used to spend 3000 Rwandan francs a week on vegetables. Now, they use their savings to buy things like soap. They also pay people to deliver water to their house, which shows that the money households are saving as a result of the gardening program goes straight back into the community.
Scovia is the main gardener of the family. “I love working in the garden because I love vegetables,” she said. She’s also glad that her garden is in her backyard, as opposed to their small plot they farm that is a good distance away. “It’s easy to grow because it’s near, you can see any changes and deal with them immediately.” Farming crops is seen as easy and necessary in Kageyo; most have to do it to survive. But there is still a lot of education to be done about backyard gardening. The family learned about composting, and started doing that for the first time ever. They also learned to water their garden every morning and night, which is different from the crops they plant and rarely have to water. It’s a big time commitment, but Scovia is determined to do it. “Since I love vegetables,” she explained, “I do all my work I used to do, but I can’t fail to spend time on these vegetables. If you love something, you can always have time for it.”
This story was part of the Africa New Life Food Is Campaign, which rasied over $1mm. Apophia is the cool girl in school. She just exudes confidence. She is very aware of her background and how much it means that she's the first to go to school in her family. Even with that, she holds her accomplishments very lightly. She is motivated so much more by faith in her God. Like I said, she's a cool, cool girl. I interviewed her in the school's office. She and a couple of her girlfriends knocked their video clip OUT OF THE PARK. When I asked to say what food is to them, they each had like five examples. It's so nice when people get excited about the photos or video you're shooting along with you. Photos by Esther Havens.
Apophia is beautiful — light brown eyes, close cropped hair and a wide, gap-toothed smile. She looks very sharp in her school sweater and pleated skirt as she hugs her book to her chest on her way to class.
She was born a Rwandan refugee in Tanzania. Her parents migrated there after the genocide that Rwandans refer to simply as “the war.” Life was hard there; Tanzanians abused them and called them pigs. Neither her parents nor her older siblings graduated from high school. The happiest day of her life was when she came back to Rwanda in 2007. The Tanzanian government expelled them, and even though her family had no land or food, they had freedom when they arrived in Kageyo, a rural community near the border.
Four years ago, she got a sponsor through Africa New Life and moved to Kayonza to go to school. “I am special,” she says proudly. “First of all, I am the only one in my family to go to school.” Last year, national standard tests placed her at number two in her class. Her best friend Ninah is number one.
Now 18 years old, Apophia lives in the Simple Grace dorm on campus. Her love of science makes her dream of becoming a doctor someday. She and Ninah study together, encourage each other and play soccer when there is time for fun. They are proud of being so smart and they say other students are supportive of their accomplishments. But she always remembers the feeling of hunger.
The World Food Programme believes “educating girls is one of the most effective ways to promote food security… They are more likely to be able to meet the nutritional needs of their children and to head households that are food secure.” By feeding and educating children, Africa New Life is contributing to the future of families. When girls like Apophia succeed, there are more opportunities for more girls. Parents see the benefit, the abilities, of girls in school. Those girls will grow up to become moms who can provide for their kids.
Apophia prays to God about what’s next and she feels hopeful about God’s plans for her.
In the past, girls didn’t have access to as much food or education as boys did. Apophia is the first one in her family that will graduate from high school, and she will not only graduate, but also be at the top of her class. She has a future and her children will have better outcomes because she was fed and nurtured. For Apophia, and for many girls like her educated through Africa New Life, food is justice.
I interviewed Emmanuel on two separate occasions in the school cafeteria and in the office. He speaks great English. The thing I remember most is that he was just EAGER. He was eager for life, eager to advocate for his family, eager to tell his story so that it might encourage others to give. He wanted to help, to please and, most desperately, you could tell he was ready to take his education and turn it into a career so that he could help others.
On a we-are-idiot-foreigners note, we were mortified to learn during the food shoot (“Put the food in your mouth!” “Eat your lunch please!”) that he was fasting. Sometimes you should ask questions or not make assumptions. Thanks, Emma, for putting up with our idiocy. And the Food Is Campaign raised over $1mm! Photos by Esther Havens.
You can easily imagine Emmanuel as a high school quarterback and a leader on his team. He is someone you want to root for. He’s right at the intersection of adulthood – muscles and a slight mustache -- but he still has an easy smile and childlike curiosity. His energy and enthusiasm is all the more remarkable for a 16 year-old whose life has seen such hardship.
“God is transforming me. Many years ago, I used to live in a family that was not saved. These days, God is working through my family. Then I moved here and I found pastors, teachers – all of them are like my parents. Many years ago I used to take drugs because life was too hard for me. I started when I was 12 years old, three years after the death of my mom. Then I lived here and they told me how God is good, how God can change lives."
Emmanuel readily shares his story and how his family’s lives have been marked by poverty and loss, but, more importantly, how they’ve been redeemed. You can tell that he is eager for a solution, and that he wants to be a change agent for his community and his country.
Hunger and malnutrition cost the Rwandan economy $820 million in lost productivity every year. Hunger cost Emmanuel three years of his life without attending school. His family couldn’t afford food, let alone school fees. He once spent three entire days without food, which still haunts him. When he wasn’t in school, he was isolated and lonely. Two years ago, Africa New Life matched him with a sponsor and he moved into the Umucyo Home on campus, which allowed him to attend school and eat regularly for the first time in years.
Emmanuel now has a best friend and roommate, Dan, whom he studies with every night. He went on a class field trip to Akagera National Park and saw an elephant, which was the highlight of his young life so far. His life is filling up with the kinds of things that kids should be doing – studying, playing, growing – and he’s no longer alone.
Emmanuel now fasts regularly as a discipline; it reminds him of his life without food and how far he’s come. Even though he was behind several grades, he recently tested as fourth best in the eastern province on the national exam. He works hard in school to help himself and his family attain a food-secure future.
Emmanuel has become an advocate for himself, his family and his community through opportunities at his Africa New Life school. His education, which includes both spiritual and physical sustenance, has allowed him to grow into a young man who can dream, and that’s something worth cheering. To Emmanuel, food is a future.
The interview at David's house was particularly special because I decided to start sponsoring him right then and there. Besides just wanting to relieve some of Fain's burden and worry about her son not being in school, I could not leave until David's curiosity and energy was assured to find an outlet in formal education. Traveling to visit nonprofits, as I have for years, you can get cynical about your ability to play a role in it without making an ass of yourself. You don't even want to offer to help lest you play into stereotypes about being a savior, having answers and all that. But the bottom line was that David needs to be in school. And a few days later, HE STARTED GOING TO SCHOOL. We now write letters back and forth and I'm so thrilled I get to keep up with him.
We had such a happy time at the house playing with David, chasing his goats and meeting his mother. It was sobering to walk by his father's grave on the way back to the car. Photos by Esther Havens.
David’s lion-like face is shaded as he plays beneath the banana trees around his house, keeping an eye on the goats grazing nearby. He pulls at the grass as he repeats English phrases like “Hello” and giggles to himself at the sound. Like David in the Bible, he is a solitary shepherd guarding his charge. His mom Fain watches from their house nearby. David is her faithful little helper. “David is hard working,” she says. “When he’s not in school, David does most of the work taking care of the goats. I rely on him.”
David faces outsized responsibilities for a seven year old. His father died of AIDS in November, leaving Fain with five children to feed and raise. His two younger siblings have been sent to live with relatives since money and food is scarce. His older brother spent so much time caring for their father that he dropped out of school. Neither David nor his sister have a sponsor; they are in school only when they can afford the school fees.
Fain tries to find agricultural work, and she cares for goats with the promise of one day getting to keep a kid. Right now, she has five kilograms of cassava flour and four kilograms of beans left in her house -- the only food she can count on for the future. This will last about five days if they eat once a day.
David’s story illustrates the fragility of food security. Many households are one illness, one lost job or one day away from hunger. It is estimated that 220,000 Rwandan children have lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS. But David’s story, at least, is being rewritten; he got a sponsor through Africa New Life. He will get a uniform and go to school regularly. He will be tested for HIV and given medical insurance. His sponsor bought his family food, which means they can count on food for five days and one month. For David and his family, food is transformation.
I am not intimidated easily, but Eugene intimidated the hell out of me. And that was before I knew that he was a soldier who liberated Rwanda after the genocide. As we sat down for our first interview at ACT, I would ask an inane questions like “What is your degree called?” and he would answer, deadpan, “A diploma.” Yikes. I better arranged my line of questioning and we ended up having a conversation in our second interview about marriage and love and respect that took me totally by surprise. You can never tell how things will work out, but I guess you can always prepare with intelligent questions. Photo by Esther Havens.
In the Africa College of Theology study room, Eugene looks like a professor bent over a book. Between his quiet demeanor and reading glasses, you wouldn’t guess that in his 51 years he has been a soldier, a farmer and a pastor. Born a Rwandan refugee in Uganda, he joined the Ugandan army in 1987 and went to Rwanda as a freedom fighter in 1990. He fought for four years, through the horror of the genocide, until the war ended in the summer of 1994. Of his life in the military, he says only, “I had to do so. I had to liberate my country.” It was a painful time; he lost friends, brothers. After Rwanda was freed, he had to adapt to civilian life and put himself and his community back together. He met his wife when he noticed her in a refugee camp, immediately knowing she was the one for him. They married and had three children. Things rebuilt slowly, and he is proud of his participation in taking back his country, making it safe for his family and others like him.
He became a Christian nine years ago when he was invited to a church overnight. There, he felt a conviction in his heart to follow God. Since becoming a Christian, he has let go of pride and temper that marked his life without Christ. His military friends tell him that he is becoming a failure – a pastor and a family man. He tells them that it would be better if they would become failures like him.
Already a lieutenant in the army, a businessman and a father, Eugene was 45 when he heard the call to be a pastor. Already a member of Africa New Life Church, he talked to Pastor Charles about his desire. He began his ministry with an evangelism course in Uganda. Using mainly movies like The Jesus Film and Passion of the Christ, he traveled to Congo, Uganda and Kenya and preached the gospel. He got a scholarship to study theology in South Africa, but the opportunity fell through. He wanted to increase his understanding of theology and be equipped, but opportunity was scarce. His prayers were answered when ACT opened a year ago. Pastor Charles encouraged him to enroll, and he was offered a scholarship through the church that made it possible for him to attend.
During the day, he tends his banana trees, maize, cassava plants and cows on his farm in Kigali. At night, he takes classes on missions, planning a church and counseling. He learned the most from the marriage class. Even though he has been married 19 years, he took his marriage for granted, not realizing that marriage takes work. “For us Africans, it’s not easy for men to tell wives I love you,” he says. “I try to train my tongue to speak that word. It’s no longer a struggle. I tell my kids I love you every day. My two year-old daughter can grow with that word.” He even counsels other married couples now.
When he graduates with a Diploma of Theology in December 2014, he hopes to reach people who haven’t heard the Good News. Whether that is traveling to nearby countries again or setting up a church here in Rwanda, he would like to help train and teach young people to share the gospel. In his roles as father, army lieutenant and marriage counselor, Eugene is a servant leader. It is evident that the Lord has continually softened his heart until he believes that he finds strength not in military power but in Jesus. Until he daily tells his two year-old daughter that he loves her. Eugene is a man transformed by the word of God. He has served his country and his family, but now he lives in service to God.
Moses has one of those are-you-kidding-me stories that’s really fun to relay. I interviewed him in English at ACT and then he had to hurry off to class. Photo by Esther Havens.
When Moses was in his last year studying art and design at Kyambogo University in Uganda, his future was stolen. He had his school fees in cash so that he could make his payment for his last semester and secure entry to the final exams. Just before he was scheduled to graduate, someone stole the cash from his room and he found himself facing the prospect of no graduation and no future. A friend took him to a witch doctor to divine who stole his school fees, a common temptation in a culture that utilizes witch doctors to heal, curse and satisfy evil spirits. That night after the witch doctor, he lay in bed and prayed to God, begging forgiveness. He asked God to help him do three things. He needed to sit for his last exam, pay his school fees and get his transcript. When he went to the registrar, somehow his name was on the list of students cleared to take the exam. He took the exam and passed, got his transcript, graduated and began to follow God.
Moses grew up Rwandan in Kampala, Uganda – his parents were born there, too. Growing up as a refugee, he found life and school difficult. He had to be wise to stay out of fights and got used to being called names. Though Moses didn’t grow up with him, his father desired that he commit himself to Islam; that side of his family was Muslim. There were many conflicting cultures and ideologies in his life, but God had great things in store for Moses, as a woman once prophesied to him.
He found his first church in Uganda through a television advertisement that told of a conference featuring a drama about Samson and Delilah. This spoke to him as a young man and an artist, so he went to that conference and found like-minded community. He went to Rwanda in 2003 on a mission to plant churches – a mission home, essentially. He also wanted to see if it was safe and possible to move his life there and he returned there to live shortly after. In 2009, he went to a worship service at New Life Bible Church and later got a job at the Africa New Life school in Kayonza as the computer technician. He loved his two years helping kids learn computers. He came back to Kigali when he was promoted to IT assistant at Africa New Life Ministries. When he heard that ACT was starting, he knew it was an answer to his prayers to finally plant churches in Rwanda and he enrolled. Moses says, “ACT is an answer to many people – servants of God that have a desire to be equipped.”
He loves the environment and camaraderie of men and women all studying together at ACT. Many of his classmates are already in ministry, some are more spiritually mature and they all learn from each other’s experiences and faith journeys. They are the future of the church in Rwanda. “God is doing a great work through the church of transforming broken lives and communities, into life that is modeled together again out of the broken pieces,” he says. “The church is involving itself in citizens that had broken lives, that had no help, kids on the streets, but the church has gone ahead and intervened through acts of compassion, through education.” He likes that he can be a part of how God is moving and that there is also a practical application through ANLM to meet the needs of the people around him. He is also grateful for the resources of the 20,000-volume library filled with books like Systematic Theology and different translations of the Bible. He is currently reading a book about missionaries in China for his mission class.
Moses, now 35, lives alone in Kigali, works for ANLM during the day and takes classes on the same campus at night. His mother still lives in Uganda and his father passed away. ACT is his family and his home. When he graduates, he hopes to evangelize in prisons. He wants to share God’s love with those who are outcasts of society. Rwandan prisons are filled with genocidaires, the men and women who killed people like him 20 years ago. Forgiveness and mercy know no bounds in Rwanda. As a man who was once faced with no future, Moses is acutely aware of God’s faithfulness. He is ready to share the story of how God redeemed his life with those who are living without hope, and ACT has given him the tools to do so.
When I was finished with Antonio’s interview at the Supply Hope warehouse where he works, he thanked me for asking him questions and said that he had never been asked to tell his story before. It was a very emotional interview and I was so honored that he shared with me. This job is truly changing his life and his son’s life. Supply Hope provides work that people can be proud of because it is within their own community. Too often, nonprofits focus on creating jobs that focus on making Americans the customer instead of encouraging people to serve their own communities. Photo by Esther Havens.
Every morning as the sun rises, Antonio, 27, boards a bus in his hometown of Crucero bound for Managua. An hour later, he arrives at the Mercado Fresco office and heads to the clean, bright yellow warehouse in the back. Pulling on his boots and gloves, he sets to work. As the warehouse manager, he is responsible for precisely weighing and slicing each order of cheese and preparing all the food before it goes out for delivery. He packs the oil in individual plastic bags. He organizes cream and three flavors of yogurt in the fridges. His work is solitary, but it makes him happy and proud. Growing up outside Managua, Antonio never knew his father. Though his mother left his father when his alcoholism became too much, Antonio didn’t escape the alcoholism and violent tempers of his uncles that they lived with. He started school at the age of 11 because of his family’s lack of resources. He dropped out of school to work in construction and later in agriculture, both common informal jobs in Nicaragua. Once he became a father, his life took on a new motivation.
He wants to work so that his son, Axel Antonio, will have a better life than he did. He says he will never leave his son, never do to his son what his father did to him. In a country in which men are increasingly not in their children’s lives, Antonio is a disrupter. He is interrupting the cycle of alcoholism and abandonment in his family and taking responsibility for his life and his son’s life. With a salaried job that he can depend on at Mercado Fresco (Supply Hope), he hopes to save enough money to buy his own home and move out of his childhood home that is a negative environment. He wants his own private, personal space for him and his son to develop their identities and character away from his family. This might explain why he loves his work in the Mercado Fresco office; it’s his own space that he gets to control. Antonio most appreciates the environment of Mercado Fresco, which he says is positive and united. The office staff help each other and encourage openness and honesty, something he says he formerly lacked and wasn’t reinforced at his other jobs. Antonio is proud of his work, and he should also be proud of himself for being a different kind of man and father to his son.