Where bees feed orphaned and vulnerable children

John Kariuki sealing the honey that is later sold to feed vulnerable children. Photo Joyce Chimbi
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Life has not been easy for Rachel Wafula* (not her real name), a Standard Seven pupil at Makonge Primary School in Lugari Constituency, Kakamega County, or even for her younger sister who is in Standard Four.

Many are the nights when the two have slept on an empty stomach because their mother could only afford even one meal a day.

“We used to sleep on the floor near the fire so that we could keep warm because we did not have a mattress or blankets. Our house was built with mud and it was almost falling apart,” says Wafula. She adds: “We had stopped going to school and my younger sister was always sick.”

Wafula’s younger sister is HIV positive as is their mother and grandparents.

Stigma and neglect

“People had deserted us because they said we had been cursed and everyone in this homestead dies from AIDS,” says Alice Nasimiyu, the girls’ mother.

A single mother of three, Nasimiyu has faced many challenges as a person living with HIV in trying to make ends meet.

“My parents used to help me care for the children while I worked as a house girl in Nairobi but when they died, I felt like I had reached the end,” she says.

Their experiences mirror that of many in Chevaywa, Kakamega County who are afflicted by HIV, AIDS and poverty. These circumstances have consequently made it impossible for them to boost their immunity, suppress viral load (or amount of HIV in their body), a factor that sees most of them succumbing to the disease too soon.

In Chevaywa Village, a significant number of children have been significantly affected by HIV, AIDS and poverty. Some are orphaned living with guardians who are at times sickly themselves, while others are children being raised by parents who are sickly.

At other times, the children are sickly themselves and without proper nutrition at the brink of succumbing to AIDS.

But as a result of a local solution to a local problem, orphaned and vulnerable children in 3,000 households have been brought back to their feet by bees.

Touched and disturbed by the level of poverty as well as HIV and AIDS prevalence in this community where he was born and raised, John Kariuki begun to assess the needs of his people in 2009.

Working with other community members, they have been looking for local and sustainable solutions.

“When you are faced with a challenge, you begin by solving it with what you have. We have bees that have been driven away from Kakamega forest and this is what we are capitalising on,” he explains.

Kariuki has been trying to ensure that the community can sustain itself “since donors will not help us solve our problems forever. Communities must look within themselves and find solutions to the problems affecting them”.

“Our assessment in 2009-2010 showed us that 3,000 households needed urgent support because they could not afford three meals per day and their children were not going to school,” explains Kariuki who is a volunteer at the Nucleus Children’s Trust.

“This is the centre for the prevention of child abuse and neglect which is what happens when children are orphaned. They are driven out of their homes, land and the little property they have is taken away,” he expounds.

But supporting these children required money which led Kariuki to mobilize volunteers to support the beekeeping project that is currently supporting 250 orphaned children in various secondary schools.

“We have professors in the community, government officials and many other professionals who pledge two hours per week where they come to work at the beekeeping project as a way of giving back,” he says.

Turning challenges into opportunity

Kakamega is a high density County and the high population has led to the depletion of Kakamega Forest which is driving out the bees.

Kariuki, with the support of the community decided to turn this challenge into an opportunity and ultimately the lifeline for many children like Nasimiyu’s daughters who are afflicted by disease and poverty.

“We realised that we had one acre of land where we could keep the bees. Honey is a profitable business and all the money we make will go back to supporting children in homes that are most affected,” explains Kariuki.

One beehive can raise about KSh30,000 and in 2012, the chosen households worked closely in the beekeeping venture to raise about KSh137,500 and the money has continued to increase.

“When we selected the families to benefit from the project we were looking for families facing extreme poverty,” he says.

Even then families were not all homogenous. Some could afford three meals per day but could not keep their children in school. Others could afford the meals but had nothing left that could be used to begin an income generating activity that can be used to pull the family out of poverty.

The project was tailored to address all these needs and currently, all the families are educating their children while also making money through side projects such as poultry keeping and farming.

“Money from the beekeeping activity supports community projects and helps build safety nets for children at risk of abuse and neglect,” he says.

Since 2013, Nucleus Trust has been involved in supporting 70 cases of defilement alone. So far, 35 of them have been concluded.

Sustaining a case in court costs money in terms of transport and it also affects household budgets when a breadwinner has to be in court for hearings while they should be engaged in economic ventures.

“That is how we come in, we ensure that a child will not sleep hungry just because their parent or guardian had to be in court pursuing justice,” he says.

At the Nucleus Trust, the one acre of land has 75 beehives at the moment but they aim at having 100.

The Trust is currently raising approximately KSh280, 000 per year since there are three honey harvesting seasons.

Sustainable development

Kariuki says the demand for pure and natural is much higher than the supply.

“We are now working with the communities to help them set up at least ten beehives per family. This will ensure that other families living below the poverty line can afford three meals per day and be able to sustain themselves economically,” he says.

This is in addition to having ten banana plants per household. “These days the children can have a healthy breakfast for we roast or boil the banana to eat with tea,” says Nasimiyu.

Up until recently, she had 40 chicken but sold some of them to buy a cow which is expected to deliver a calf soon and provide milk that can be used in the home and the surplus sold.

“While previously I struggled to give my children just one meal per day, today I can afford to give them a very balanced diet because I still have some chicken and we sell one egg at KSh15,” she says.

More benefits that have boosted the community and served as a beacon of hope is the fact that children educated through beekeeping are finding their way to institutions of higher learning. There are currently 15 students in various universities across the country from Chevaywa.

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