Breaking Barriers bears fruit in Kenya
Banana plants provide food and income
At the age of 15, Lydia has already experienced a lifetime of ups and downs. Orphaned at a young age and sent to live with her grandmother, Lydia initially had limited opportunities to secure her future.
While her parents had owned a small piece of land, her community’s culture does not recognize inheritance of property (especially of land) by girls and so the land — upon her parents’ death — was left under the care of Lydia’s paternal uncle. With little to no income or food, Lydia and her grandmother faced an uncertain future.
Lydia is just one of the millions of extremely vulnerable children, many orphaned by AIDS, in the world struggling to survive under difficult circumstances. Plan is one of the leading organizations focused on responding to this challenge by working through families and communities to strengthen traditional safety nets provided by extended families and relatives.
Helping the most vulnerable children
The Breaking Barriers project, for instance, began in 2006 in Rangala, Kenya with the strategic objective to expand education, psychosocial support and home-based care for the population of most vulnerable children and their families. For the purpose of sustainability and economic empowerment, most projects target adults, but also include children.
Funded by USAID through Plan USA, Breaking Barriers is a US$8,000,000 program being implemented over four years in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.
The key interventions of the project include:
- School feeding program
- Provision of school uniforms
- Provision of clothing/blankets
- Nutritional support to children
- Provision of health support
- Livelihood support
- Provision of child counseling
- Child to child participation in HIV prevention activities through clubs and theater
- Basic agricultural training
- Training for home based care providers
One of the key activities for sustainability of this project (initially implemented in 11 primary schools, but now expanded to 25) is a banana growing project. As the banana fruit can be eaten and the sucker (a vertical shoot with roots that develop from the base of the banana stem) can be sold for propagation, the project provides food and income to children and their families.
A surprise for Lydia
Lydia’s life took a turn for the better when she was selected by her school to participate in the Breaking Barriers banana growing project.
At first Lydia hesitated — happy to have been chosen, she had no land on which to plant the banana trees. But a surprise awaited her. Her uncle’s wife (her guardian) who had been trained in banana husbandry and child counseling (and who had planted bananas on her own land) made a life-altering decision to assist her niece. She would grant Lydia the use of some of the land her parents had left behind to enable her to plant banana plants.
Today, the fruit provided by Lydia’s banana plants provides a reliable source of food for her and her grandmother and the income generated from the sale of the fruit and suckers will support Lydia’s secondary education.
Best practices and long-term expectations
Initially, the Rangala Breaking Barriers project provided six schools in December 2006 with a total of 120 banana plants and 48 children in January 2007 with a total of 90 plants. By October 2007, the schools had passed on suckers to 10 other schools, and the children had passed on the suckers to 64 other households with vulnerable children.
The process of “passing on” is ongoing in schools and homes. What’s more, in addition to passing on, the initial beneficiaries have also been replanting some of the suckers in their farms. At least 20 home-based care providers, together with people living positively with AIDS, have also been trained in agriculture and supported with banana suckers, which they are also passing on to their counterparts.
One banana regimen costs approximately between Kshs 850 & - 1,000 (US$ 12.50 - US$ 14.75) while a banana sucker costs between Kshs 100 - 250 (US$ 1.50 - US$ 3.75). As one banana plant can fruit at least four times in a year, a minimum of 10 banana plants in a home can enable a parent or guardian to educate a child in secondary school and beyond while simultaneously having enough food for the family. Schools, on the other hand, can generate at least Kshs 100,000 (US$ 1,485.00) in a year from the banana fruits and further support access to education to vulnerable children.
Lydia’s story is just one example of the success the Breaking Barriers program is having in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. Trainings have included psychosocial support, child counseling, basic agriculture, theater and home-based care. The feeding program, however, which is the main intervention for support of vulnerable children, has shown measurable accomplishments:
- Increased enrollment of vulnerable children in schools
- Decline in chronic absenteeism in schools
- Improved academic performance and a high concentration of vulnerable children in class
- Children have developed a love for school (education)
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