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Irish man teams up with Kenyans to give "trade without aid"

What is it like founding an organisation that offers trade without aid in Kenya? Corkonian James Hennessy, who founded Development Pamoja, tells us.

Image: A group of locals on one of their farms in 2011

AN IRISH MAN is trying to help people in an area of Kenya to become more self-sufficient through a programme of practical development which he has designed.

Cork native James Hennessy is the founder of Development Pamoja, a not-for-profit, non-denominational community organisation that offers trade without aid in an area of Kenya.

Having studied in UCC, Hennessy went to volunteer in an orphanage in Russia. From there, he began to work as a volunteer with an NGO in Africa in 2007.

After leaving this organisation, he met three people who shared the same ideas as him on aid in the developing world.

He founded Development Pamoja, and together they now all work in offering micro finance loans to locals and trying to improve the farming techniques used in the local area.

Here, Hennessy (left in the photo below) gives us an insight into what it is like running an organisation like Development Pamoja.

Planting tomato plants on their demonstration farm

When and why did you make the decision to start your own community organisation?

I had worked in Kenya for two years before starting my own group. In that time I got to work with various organisations and got to understand the whole NGO industry in Kenya a bit better.

I also met some very good people and together with three of them, David Okinja, Mary Waruguru and Gideon Masai we started Development Pamoja in 2009.

These three people shared the same ideas as I do and are still with me.

Our main aim is to empower people, not simply to provide food when food is scarce.

Can you tell us about Development Pamoja and the work it does?

The aim of the group is to raise the standard of living for those we work with. We do this through providing access to micro finance loans where we charge zero percent interest. We work in rural areas where it is hard for people to access credit and even if they can interest rates in Kenya are as high as 20 per cent, meaning people cannot get loans.

We also wish to improve the farming techniques that local people use. The area we work in is classed as semi arid. It experiences long dry periods punctuated by severe rain, however very few people harvest the rain water to use it during the dry season.

We have purchased three acres of land and set up a demonstration farm whereby we harvest rain water and have installed drip irrigation systems to ensure the water we have is used efficiently. The farm is designed to firstly provide employment in the area and secondly to educate people on how they can use their own farms more efficiently.

Our main aim is to empower people, not simply to provide food when food is scarce. If you look at a country like Israel it is as dry if not drier than Kenya, yet you never hear of famine in Israel, this is due to good farming practices. Our aim is for people to adopt similar practices to ensure they not only provide for themselves and their families but also have surplus produce to sell to increase their standard of living.

One of the greenhouses, which contains tomato plants

What other work do you do?

We also do various other projects in the community. We work with the National AIDS Control Council in Kenya to educate people on the dangers of HIV/AIDS and the best practices to ensure that the spread of HIV/AIDS in the area is controlled.

We work with the Ministry of Health to carry out public health initiatives such as deworming children. We work with various groups in the area, such as women’s groups and football teams to assist them in achieving their own specific aims.

For instance in 2011 we purchased water tanks for a group of 13 women as they wanted to harvest rain water to ensure that they have clean drinking water. We purchased the tanks and over the course of a year they paid us back a percentage of the money for the initial outlay on the tanks.

All the major projects we do are cost sharing with the communities we work with as we believe that if we give people something for free, they won’t appreciate it. At present we are also trying to start a programme for mentally and physically disabled people who are treated as outcasts in Kenyan society.

What is the area Pamoja Development is based in like?

The area we work with is called Mogotio, and is made up of a number of small villages scattered over a surface area of about seventy kilometers. Mogotio is on the equator in the Rift Valley province.

So much money in the aid industry in Kenya is wasted on pointless activities that have no impact in the community. We as a group feel that any activity we instigate needs to have a positive impact and if it doesn’t then we need to learn from our mistakes.

What is the ethos of the organisation?

The reason I was drawn to working with Okinja, Mary and Gideon was that they shared most of the same sentiments that I hold regarding the aid industry, mainly which is that too much money goes towards unnecessary activities.

For instance every December 1st the town of Nakuru where I live holds events to mark World AIDS Day. Numerous community organisations and NGOS come together to celebrate the occasion and a lot of money is invested in the celebration, and a lot of that money is simply wasted on things such as providing refreshments to invited guests and giving t-shirts to people who attend the events.

Meanwhile you have people living just 20 miles away who can’t get to the provincial hospital to avail of life saving anti retroviral drugs because they are too sick to get out of bed and do not have the bus fare to reach the hospital.

So much money in the aid industry in Kenya is wasted on pointless activities that have no impact in the community. We as a group feel that any activity we instigate needs to have a positive impact and if it doesn’t, then we need to learn from our mistakes.

If we give a €300 loan to a lady today, in six months when she pays us back that money can be given to someone else and it is helping to build a local economy.

What does the slogan ‘trade without aid’ mean?

We use the slogan trade without aid because we want to ensure that if people donate to us it goes to improving the standard of living of those we assist.

Kenya does not need as much aid as it currently receives, it needs foreign direct investment, the people living in rural areas need access to credit, and they need to be informed of better farming practices. While we do programmes that centre around social responsibility our main aim is to build a local economy, that’s why we use the phrase trade without aid.

We provide loans to people, we don’t charge interest but we expect the money to be paid back. The reason we do this is we feel that it teaches people responsibility and better financial management.

You find in urban slum areas in the big towns and cities in Kenya, people are so dependent on aid; it is a form of social welfare. There is no incentive for people to get up and work for themselves if one aid organisation will pay for their children to go to school, and then another organisation will provide them with food relief.

Such an attitude is detrimental to Kenya’s economy as no money is being generated. If we give a €300 loan to a lady today, in six months when she pays us back that money can be given to someone else and it is helping to build a local economy.

How is the demonstration farm used?

We’ve started a demonstration farm because where we work most people are farmers, in fact Kenya is still mainly agrarian with 75 per cent people still living in rural areas.

Kenya’s population is increasing at a rapid pace and you have a lot of people leaving the land to look for work in urban areas like Nairobi. If the trend continues then Kenya will have a food crisis.

We feel that with the farm we have instigated we can help solve this problem. For instance right now we are growing tomatoes in greenhouses. In the area we work in there are very few people growing tomatoes, meaning the tomatoes in the area are transported from different parts of Kenya, driving the price of the produce up.

If we sell our tomatoes locally it has two positive impacts. Firstly the people who work with us on our farm receive an income and secondly it drives the price down for locals buying the produce meaning that they have more disposable income to spend on things such as health and education.

Again we feel that this is in line with our ethos of trade, not aid. In the next few years we would hope that more people in the area will practice the techniques that we have initiated, that they will begin to harvest rain water during the long and short rains and will be in a position to build greenhouses to increase production.

Where we work you see many organisations providing food aid to simply stop people from going hungry because the land in the area is used inefficiently.

We would hope that in years to come, and it will not happen overnight,  that the area will not just have enough food to supply the local market but will be in a position to sell surplus food to urban areas where the population is ever increasing.

How is Development Pamoja funded?

The group is mainly funded by individual donations. Last year we were fortunate to receive funding from Electric AID in Ireland which provided us with a grant to start our demonstration farm.

We also received funding this year from the National AIDS Control Council in Kenya.

When we started in 2009 we worked with a girl from America called Caitrin Kelly who to this day funds our micro finance program, but the bulk of the money comes from private donations and fundraising events.

My aunt raises money for us from going to car boot sales around Cork, people have also organized other fundraising activities such as table quizzes.

In fact on 26 August there is a fundraising event for Development Pamoja. Rachel Gordon, my aunt, and Eleanor Knowles, who has fundraised for us in the past have organised a family fun day in the grounds of Nemo Rangers GAA club in Turners Cross, Cork city, from 2 – 6pm.

Without the support of family, friends and the people of Ireland the organisation wouldn’t exist.

In an ideal world in the future we would cease to exist because those we assist would no longer need our help.

How do you find living and working in Kenya?

I’ve been living in Kenya for over four years now so am very settled here. The people here are very friendly. I’m able to speak Swahili now which makes it easier to interact with people and they are always happy to see that you can speak their language.

The biggest difference with Ireland would be the things you take for granted at home, running clean water, constant electricity supply, things like that. Here you get used to going without electricity, interrupted water supply or not having instant internet access.

But at the same time it can feel very familiar. Kenyans love football so provided you like one of Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal (thankfully I don’t) you can watch practically every football match all year round.

Once you live here for a prolonged period of time it begins to feel like a second home and things such as 20 people been squashed into a bus that is meant to fit 14 people become part of your day rather than an inconvenience.

What plans do you have for the future with Development Pamoja?

Well,  in an ideal world in the future we would cease to exist because those we assist would no longer need our help. But we are not naïve enough to believe that we can solve all the problems of those we work with. We are still a very small organisation.

What we would hope though is to see those we help live more comfortably. To see them enjoy the benefits taken for granted in other parts of the world. We would like to see all families to be in a position to educate their children, to live healthy and long lives and to be able to avail of comforts such as electricity, clean water etc.

We hope to do that by empowering them with skills that will increase their incomes and to provide them with access to credit. In the future we would like to be able to reach more people in the communities we work in and become an example to the people of Mogotio on how hard work can provide the rewards to enable you to live a prosperous life.

If people want to donate, how can they?

We have a bank account in Ireland. The details for this are on our website www.developmentpamoja.org The website and our facebook page include information on all our programs if people would like to see what we do in greater detail. People can also contact us on developmentpamoja@gmail.com

Irish man teams up with Kenyans to give "trade without aid"
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