Tuesday July 24, 2007
Sometimes the routine of work here can lull one into a false sense of confidence and complacency. Now that the Kakamega project is well under way, most of the major challenges of the startup have been met and solved. Daniel and I have now begun the actual execution phase of the operation we have set up here. Once that initial excitement of the startup process that comes from having a thousand factors to consider and even more obstacles to overcome in a new environment – the rush of trying to make the seemingly impossible possible – and you begin the actual execution phase, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture as you are forced to dive down into the weeds of detail. Every once in a while, though, something happens that brings that big picture quickly back into crystal clear focus…

One day, Daniel and I were in the middle of a three hour base education session with the farmers at the local church where we hold most of our meetings. Base education is a crucial, yet excruciatingly boring phase of the program where we teach the farmers the basics of the One Acre Fund program. One of the reasons it is so boring is because of my own ignorance. You see, the base education lessons are taught to the farmers in Kiswahili. I go over the lesson with Daniel beforehand to ensure that he relays all the crucial information to the farmers during the lesson, and then I sit there and pay attention to Daniel as he teaches – understanding approximately 2 or 3 words that he says during those three hours. Let me tell you, it’s a real hoot for me.

Earlier that morning, one of our farmers (Grace) stopped into the church as Daniel and I were preparing the lesson to inform us that she had to miss the training that morning. Her husband had fallen sick, and she had to go home and take care of him. We excused here from the training and then forgot about it.

Later that day, as I was biting the inside of my lip to stay awake listening to Daniel review the information from the lesson for a second time that morning with the farmers, I heard a loud sound directly outside the church door. It was the sound of metal scraping. I looked up at the door annoyed. It seemed like we were constantly getting annoying interruptions that took the farmer’s attention away from Daniel. As I looked through the open church door, an old man slowly drug a large metal bar tied to a rope loudly across the church door threshold and out into the field in front of the church. The old man’s shoulders were hunched over as he drug the bar slowly across the field toward a large tree in front of the church. All the farmers were watching now, and they had grown oddly quiet. When the old man reached the tree, he threw the rope up over a branch, hoisted the metal bar into the air, and then secured the rope to the trunk of the tree with a knot leaving the metal bar suspended from the branch. The old man then picked up a smaller metal bar and swung it like a baseball bat at the suspended bar. It created a sound like a low, ominous bell. The old man “rang the bell” four times and then walked slowly across the field back the way he had come from.

You could have heard a pin drop in the church. “What in the world is going on?” I wondered. I looked over at Daniel, and he shrugged his shoulders. I looked at one of the leaders in the farmer group, Frederick, (who spoke English relatively well), and I asked him what was happening. He looked at me with growing sorrow in his face. “Grace’s husband has just passed on,” he said. “They must have lost him some time this morning. The old man out there is her husband’s closest friend. It is his duty to sound the bell to let everyone else from this church aware of his passing. I better go,” he said. “Grace will need some help with the funeral preparations.”

Thus I was shocked back into awareness of the struggle for survival and the fight against poverty going on daily all around me. Grace’s husband had died without any medical care. There was no emergency room for him – no doctor or even nurse to diagnose what would have probably been a very treatable condition – not even any morphine to ease his pain in his final hours with his wife. People die here all the time, unfortunately. Unnecessary deaths that would make headlines in the western world and cause great outcries against its governments and public institutions go unnoticed here as if they were routine facts of life. I was awakened out of my complacent stupor, and my sense of purpose was renewed that day.

Thursday July 26, 2007
Part of our job in this initial phase of the project in Kakamega is to conduct a baseline survey with each of our member farmers. These surveys are crucial to measuring the success or failure of the project. They are the key in trying to determine whether or not our work is having any real, positive impact in the farmers’ lives. It is called a “baseline” survey because the first survey we conduct with them is to establish the living conditions of the farmer’s family prior to his or her participation in the program. Follow-up surveys are then conducted every six months to measure the progress in the improvement in the living conditions of the farmer’s family.

One area noted on the survey is the construction of the farmer’s house. As the farmer’s income increases, he or she can improve the house by gradually replacing elements of the house with better, more expensive construction materials. I thought it would be helpful to describe some of the predominant construction techniques here for houses among the farmers to help you understand the kind of living conditions these farmers raise their families in.

The basic skeleton of the house is constructed from (more or less) straight
branches of trees that the farmer cuts down using a panga (machete). Next, the walls are constructed using a mixture of water and clay – or murram. The farmer fills the skeleton walls with the mud and lets the mud dry for around 3 weeks. Finally, he coats the walls with a layer of fresh cow dung to make them somewhat waterproof…yes, cow dung. When it dries, it actually does help keep the rain out and prevents the mud walls from rapid deterioration. However, this process needs to be repeated every year because the rains will effectively reduce the walls to nothing but the wooden skeleton otherwise. The roof consists of layers of grass overlaying the wooden skeleton of the roof. This setup is surprisingly water tight and keeps the family relatively dry in all but the worst storms. The roof needs to be re-thatched every one or two years, though. The floors in the house are simply hard-packed earth coated with the same layer of cow dung to create a more solid, water-resistant surface.

Friday July 27, 2007
So, at night, I’ve been trying to work on the progress of my own venture, Nuru International. I thought I would give a quick update on the progress. The experience and knowledge I am gaining here this summer has been invaluable in helping me push Nuru forward. The process of starting up a corporation is fraught with many, many legalities and details which I did not really anticipate. Nuru will require substantial funding for its first two years of operation. Although I am confident that raising that kind of capital is very possible, I can’t really begin until I get a “stamp of approval” from the IRS – the 501(c)(3) stamp. In order to acquire this stamp, you have to incorporate (which involves creating Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws) and file for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). I don’t want to bore you any more with those details (I’m boring myself right now), but the point is that in forming a nonprofit venture, there are a lot of “t’s” to cross and “i’s” to dot – which are very, very easy for a guy like me to miss. Fortunately for me, Kevin McCann (the Father of a great friend of mine in Carlsbad, Chris McCann), an attorney with a lot of nonprofit startup experience in California, has been providing me with counsel on how to navigate all this legal crap. Thanks to Kevin, Nuru International should be a corporation by the end of the summer with my application for 501(c)(3) status about one month into processing.

We’re also making some great progress on the recruiting front. I’ve been networking here in Africa, and John Hancox has been laboring back in the States to fill out our roster of talented people we need to make this thing happen. I have also been refining the business model to make it more tangible and sustainable and will be finalizing these changes in the business plan in the fall.

It’s really exciting seeing this work finally taking shape after all these years. I feel very blessed by God to have such a peace in my heart right now for the direction I am heading in my life. I feel like, after all these years, and several unexpected turns, I’m finally getting around to doing the thing I was made to do…it’s a pretty sweet place to be.