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Inside Kenya’s Sauri Millennium Village: a Beacon of Progress in Integrated Development

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Blog reposted from The Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture

NAIROBI, KENYA (Feb. 20, 2013) — Last month, Julie Borlaug, granddaughter of famed agronomist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, rubbed elbows with the world’s foremost global development leaders at the opening ceremony of Columbia University’s Global Center for Africa in Nairobi.

Among the world leaders Borlaug met at the Africa Center’s opening were the president of Kenya, the prime minister of Ethiopia and world renowned economist Jeff Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Still, a room full of world leaders is not what Borlaug remembers most about her first trip to Kenya. The image that remains etched in her memory is that of young girl in a village several miles away, walking five miles to a natural spring, carrying four empty water canisters to fill with drinking water, though she could only carry home two full ones.

From left to right: Borlaug Institute Associate Director for External Affairs, Julie Borlaug; world-renowned economist and Director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, Dr. Jeffrey D. Sachs; Borlaug Institute Associate Director for Program Implementation, Dr. Linda Cleboski and Borlaug Institute Interim Director, Dr. Elsa Murano pose for a photo Monday at the official opening of Columbia Global Centers' Center for Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.

“The woman who was showing us around the village said, ‘she’ll leave these two here but no one will steal them because everyone knows how important these are,’” Borlaug said. “‘So she’ll come back in an hour or two, however long it takes her to walk home, to get the other two.’ They probably do that three times a day.”

The girl was a resident of the Sauri Millennium Village, one of 15 such regions across the African continent set up under the Millennium Villages Project, led by Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Each Millennium Village is comprised of several previously existing villages that cooperate to address the root causes of extreme poverty in overlapping areas like agriculture, health and education, the MVP’s website states.

A group of development experts from The Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture visited the Sauri Millenium Village as part of the trip that included the Global Center opening ceremony in Nairobi, which houses Kenya’s regional MVP headquarters.

The Sauri Millennium Village is comprised of 11 smaller villages and extends about 50 square miles. Water in the village comes from tapped, unfiltered natural springs, to where residents walk about 5 miles on average, several times daily, to fill canisters for drinking.

A young girl in Kenya's Sauri Millennium Village has walked roughly five miles to a tapped natural spring to collect drinking water.

Among the many basic amenities now afforded to the people of the Sauri Millennium Village are schoolhouses that provide education to the children there. Borlaug recounted her time at one of the schoolhouses.

“There are over 60 kids who live there full time because they’re either orphaned by HIV or AIDS — they called them vulnerables – their situations were so bad at home that they needed to stay there,” Borlaug said.

Some of the children at the Sauri Village, through a club similar to 4H in Texas, organized an initiative to transform two classrooms into dormitories for children at risk.

“What’s interesting is that there are triple bunk beds and the kids all put themselves to sleep; they all go to sleep,” Borlaug said, comparing their habits to those of children in the United States. “The only person who stays there is the principal; she sleeps on a mattress in her office.

“That was amazing,” she said. “The kids were well behaved. And what they go through to get (to school) every day. Any of them can walk 5 miles to come to school, meaning they get up at 4:30 in the morning to come to school.”

Children contribute to the chores that sustain the Sauri Village school.

“There’s a garden for vegetables that they help with so they can introduce vegetables into the diet. There were chickens, there were rabbits, goats,” Borlaug said.

The Borlaug Institute group, which included Interim Director Dr. Elsa Murano, Associate Director for Program Implementation Dr. Linda Cleboski and former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Eric Bost, later traveled to a dairy in the Sauri Village where yogurt was being made. The Millennium Village also included farms for a variety of crops and livestock; a tilapia farm is on site. A basic medical facility and pharmacy have also been established there.

“We saw their labor and delivery room, which was an upgrade that they’d just received from the U.S. Ambassador (to Kenya) where the women could shower after giving birth,” Borlaug said.

A student who lives at one of the schools in the Kenya's Sauri Millennium Village walks through a makeshift dormitory of bunk beds.

The Sauri Millenium Village was the first of 15 such areas established across the African continent.

“In a village that was younger, we might not have seen as much integration in the community of all these different components,” Cleboski said, pointing to the village’s success.

“The population of the one school’s we went to more than doubled from the time the program started,” she said.

She pointed out that a major reason for the village’s success has been continued participation from the residents there. Parents of school children, for example, contribute maize and beans from their personal harvests so that their children will have food to eat while at school.

“If you had almost nothing and someone came and showed you how to have something, you’re going to keep doing it as long as you can,” Cleboski said.

Julie Borlaug shares some of the photos on her cell phone with the school children of Kenya's Sauri Millennium Village.

Murano called the village a prime example of integrated development. She discussed how the various aspects of development had come together to create an environment whose people were fed by what they produced and kept healthy by new access to medical treatment and care.

She also said the beginnings of a viable market system had taken root as farmers were cultivating produce to sell.

“It was very elementary but certainly making for a thriving community where people were buying and selling in a market — almost like a flea market — clothing and household items,” she said. “… It was not people sitting idly by but going about their business being active and productive.”

Murano said her expectations were that of a small, manufactured village, as opposed to one where “they had placed these facilities in an already existing community.”

“It was incorporated into a community that existed, making that community better,” she said.

Borlaug related her experience at the Millennium Village to “The Last Hunger Season,” a book about four families of farmers in western Kenya who were helped by a non-government organization to gradually rise from subsistence farming.

“When we got into western Kenya, out of Nairobi (a developed city) I saw the reality of that,” she said. “The first thing I thought of was ‘how am I living in the same world at the same time as these people are?’ It’s just mind blowing to think of how we have what we have and they have nothing.”

Still, she said, the people in the village seemed un-phased by their plight.

“Their lives are hard,” she said. “But they’re kind; they’re optimistic; they’re hard-working; they’re disciplined. It was just amazing to me.”

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