October 31, 2015

August 2015 - New projects and developments

What happened since my last visit


 The Gaketha Group was selected to be part of an agricultural training program financed by the government. They were shown how to grow soy and climbing beans under a variety of conditions: with and without compost or with fertilizer. The experiment and the results were recorded and later evaluated and compared with the records of other goups. The group members were encouraged to apply their new skills in their own shambas.

the women with the agricultural trainer
planting beans and keeping records

The Kiini workshop is well equipped but rather underutilized. Reverend Nkanya has been trying to get orders from institutions and individuals but there is stiff competition. He found a talented young man who comes to build furniture when the workshop gets orders. 

This year, the MKICDO board members discovered that there is demand for high-quality upholstery. A bank manager from Chuka came to visit the workshop and asked for a special sofa set. She had seen one in Nairobi but did not want to have it transported all the way to her home. Instead, arrangements were made to have the Nairobi specialists build a sofa set at our workshop. First, one man came and built the wooden skeletons. Next, two women came and sewed the fabrics on rented sewing machines. An upholsterer cut the foam rubber pieces and gave the final touches to the furniture. The results were rather impressive: a beautiful modern sofa set.

a sofa skeleton
The fabrics were provided by the customer.
almost done

Planning a new vocational training institute

The MKICDO board members in Kenya and H-G Klaphake and I in Germany have been discussing and evaluating the slow progress at our Kiini workshop. We decided to take a new approach to establish an institute where vocational training is provided to the youths of the area and where training of trainers and promotors takes place.
We asked the Tharaka-Nithi County Government to assist us. They were in favour of our plans and signalized that they were ready to support us. 
H-Georg wrote a project proposal for an Institute of Advanced Vocational Training in Appropriate Energy-efficient Technologies and Renewable Energies and sent it to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

frequent board meetings and long hours of work and discussions

When I visited Mugo in August we went to Karinga ga nkoru, a small market about 1.2 km from our Kiini workshop. The County Government had allocated several pieces of land for us to choose from. We agreed that a plot on the edge of the market would be suitable to build training workshops, a school and offices. A dining/social hall, kitchen and accomodation would be built on a plot in the center of Karinga. These two plots were given to MKICDO by the County Government and the transaction was confirmed in a document. The government is also going to employ the staff of the training institute and give additional financial assistance.

view from the main road - left: the plot for the training institute; right: the road to Karinga ga nkoru
downhill view: the plot borders the main road
Karinga market - Here we want to build the dining hall
During my stay, Mugo, the county economic advisor, Munene Mputhia, and I were very busy running up and down to get the land evaluated and official documents written and signed. These documents were crucial for our project proposal to be approved by the German BMZ. 
In addition, we visted influential people to inform them about our project plans and lobby for support. Their reactions were positive and they promised to assist us. An elderly farmer who practiced permaculture and had built and run a coffee wet mill in his haydays offered us the use of his land for agricultural demonstrations.

The briquet-making project


Our German organisation Lernen-Helfen-Leben e.V. has focused on the construction of gasifier/pyrolysis stoves during the past 3 years. These stoves perform very well when pellets or briquets made from plant waste are used. In my discussions with MKICDO board members we came to the conclusion that making briquets for sale could be a viable income-generating project for the Kiini workshop. It would also be in line with our plans to build gasifier stoves at the new institute and train promotors to market them.
Mugo found a young entrepreneur who already had some experiences in setting up such projects. We met and came up with a basic outline for a medium-scale business. The briquets will be made of sawdust and coffee husks. Sawdust is readily available from carpentry workshops. The husks are a waste product at coffee dry mills and are sold very cheaply. We went to a nearby coffee cooperative and made arrangements to be given priority once we need these raw materials.

Talking about gasifier stoves with Levis Bundi. This giz book has a wealth of information on stove types and pellet and briquet presses.

The dry coffee beans are dehusked and graded.

Coffee grown in the Mount Kenya region is delicious!

A visit to Kedovo e.V. in Nyeri

In May I met a young Kenyan woman who lives in Germany and has founded an organisation to help coffee farmers in her home area Nyeri on the western slopes of Mount Kenya. Muthoni, together with her brothers at home, imports coffee and sells it to roasters in Germany, at a supermarket in her town Kaltenkirchen and in her online shop (http://www.chaniacoffee.de/). As a result, the farmers get higher prices for their coffee. Part of Muthoni´s profit is used to assist her home community.
Our coffee-growing board members and a representative of the Kiini Coffee Growers Co-op were interested in joining Muthoni´s activities. So we visited her family to get first-hand information about their projects. We got a very friendly reception and our coffee farmers got some eye-opening information about fair trade.

in the coffee shamba
Our hosts show us their canvas bag biogas system.

visitors and hosts

Other activities and impressions - a potpourri

Some of the Gaketha goup women are happily displaying their donated rain jackets. - Thank you to all those who donated!
An employee of the County Ministry for Youths and Sports receives some of the donated footballs.
The kids test one of the balls.
Gorgeous! - The two improved dairy goats both got kids while I was there.
Our stately billy goat is back after a successful mission in another project.
Mugo is getting a new grain store built.
Mugo´s son Murangiri is now living in the compound with his wife and son. He is working as a teacher like his dad but also very interested in farming. - He shows me a banana circle.
They planted a variety of vegetables in their kitchen garden.
Mugo´s daughter Nkatha (left) applies the skills she learned during a two-year course at a beauty college. She will graduate in November and is hoping to be self-employed.
Gakii tests the Lightoven III panel cooker that I brought from Germany. Unfortunately it was a bit too cloudy and her birthday cake did not get done.
We visit the bank manager who got the new sofa set for her home.
Very comfortable! - She is impressed with the good job done at our workshop and promises to advertise our services. She is also the head of the local Women´s Guild and ready to work together with us.
One day off - Munene takes us through the Mt. Kenya forest up to the park.
At the Forest Lodge you can rent self-contained cottages. I spent one night here after climbing Mt.Kenya -    in 1986 !!!

The view is fantastic but Mt.Kenya hides in the clouds most of the day.

The latest news


The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has accepted our proposal. Within a project period of 3 years, they will assist us with a grant to build and develop the new training institute. However, we still have to contribute a large share ourselves. This is a heavy burden for us.
Therefore we would appreciate any kind of support and be grateful for your donation.

You may send your donation to the Kenya account of our German organisation

 “Lernen-Helfen-Leben e.V.”, Volksbank Vechta,

IBAN: DE48 2806 4179 0135 875811,   BIC: GENO DE F1 VEC

or you can donate on

Thank you in the name of all MKICDO officials and members!

December 21, 2014

My Kenya visit 14th July to 20th August 2014

 In July it was my turn again to visit Kenya. The first week of my stay I spent at Margaret Owino´s place in Nairobi. I needed some time to check on materials for the Kiini workshop. Brother Karl assisted me to get a second-hand off-road motorbike which I was going to donate to the project. 

The second week I took a bus to Bungoma in Northwest Kenya to visit Salim Mayeki  Shaban, the founder of African Christians Organization Network (ACON).

Since 2004, the organization has been focusing their work on how to reduce deforestation while improving soils for local farmers in the area.  One solution they have found is the use of bio-char — a charcoal meant to be added to soils which can improve soil nutrient retention and water holding capacity as well as sequester carbon. To produce bio-char, they build pyrolysis stoves (pyrolysis is the heating of a feedstock with little or no oxygen). These stoves can burn a variety of plant residues and produce bio-char which can either be added to the soil or used for cooking on charcoal stoves. Salim also adds chicken droppings and urine to the bio-char to make a fortified organic fertilizer. He has successfully trained many farmers in his area.
Salim (left) at his outdoor metal workshop

inner and outer part of a pyrolysis stove

The stove is made with simple hand tools.
The stove top (right) is put on as soon as the fuel is burning.

Salim fills the fortified organic fertilizer in bags for sale.

visit to a woman farmer with one of Salim´s field workers

The maize does well with the biochar fertilizer
The kids are excited to see visitors.

In order to reduce the use of firewood from forests, Salim and his team are using the invasive Water Hyacinth which is choking Lake Victoria. They remove large amounts of this material and sun-dry it on the shores of the lake. Then they transport it to the place where it is cut, mashed and pressed into briquettes which can be used as a cooking fuel.

I bought four pyrolysis stoves for the Kiini workshop, to give to friends and to take home to Germany.

making briquettes with a simple wooden press
the invasive water hyacinth

At the end of July I travelled to Gaketha. Mugo had arranged for free professional training in table banking and the members of the Gaketha Group had learned to keep their savings records accountably.
The women were encouraged by the government and promised financial support to start a horticultural project with drip irrigation. But up to now they are still waiting for the money. The activities in the tree nursery had been put on halt. The women did not receive the due money for the last two big orders of tree seedlings and were left frustrated and without funds. There was good news, however, about the fireless basket cookers: members of the Gaketha group are regularly sent to train women of other groups. MKICDO donates the required materials to get production started. With the money earned from the sale of the basket cookers, replacement materials can be bought from the Kiini center.

table banking with the new trainer (right)

On my first visit to the training center at Kiini I found the workshop well equipped with machines and tools and materials for carpentry and metal work in the store. Some of the workers were making metal window frames and door which had been ordered by a parish for a new school building. Most of the workers who had been trained by H-Georg Klaphake were there. But they are only being called when there are orders because the center cannot afford to employ them fulltime. Only a store keeper and a watchman are on the payroll right now.
Several Lazola box cookers had been given out on loan, for testing and for promotion purpose to board members, workers and a school. Some had been sold or partly donated to individuals and women´s groups. There were still a number of finished and unfinished Lazolas in the store.  During his visit in February, H-Georg had done a follow-up training after he had rejected cooker lids which had been made using the wrong type of wood for the frames. 

welding metal window frames

planing wood for customers

the new circular saw

sample school desks

shaping table legs in the lathe for a customer

We had to replace the cover of the tunnel dryer.

The accountant is busy keeping the books for MKICDO.

During our first board meeting the members gave me detailed information about their latest activities. Since the activities within the organization had increased and the structure had become rather complex, they had decided to form three subcommittees that are answerable to the board:

-          the NGO field operations subcommittee

-          the training institute subcommittee         

-          the company subcommittee.

The board had realized the need to register a company that can make a profit with their activities. An NGO is not allowed to make profit. But a company can apply for tenders and get orders for the workshop. The generated income can be used to keep up MKICDO´s field operations and the workshop. (We registered the company in Nairobi shortly before I left for Germany.)
At our board meeting I met a new board member. Mr. Munene Mputhia is the county economic advisor working with the governor of Tharaka Nithi County. We are hoping for mutual support for our organization and the county government. 
After the board meeting I demonstrated the pyrolysis cooker I had brought from Bungoma. The board members and the workers were very interested in the technology. Mr. Kirui, the metal worker and chairman of the jua kali association, wanted to make one and Rev. Nkanya wanted to get information on how to make briquettes from agricultural waste.

the biochar cooker in action
the `harvest´: charcoal

On August 1st, we went to get “our” motorbike which had been transported to Chuka. Everybody was excited and Mugo and some of his friends were eager to go for a test ride. (I was no exception.) This bike would make Mugo´s life so much easier. It would allow him to drive to Kiini after school to do some work or visit projects without having to rely on public transport.

very suitable for the rough terrain and the steep slopes of Mt.Kenya

The following day we accompanied Anna Gatea on a visit to the Amani Home in Meru.  At this center, Dr. Karambu Ringera  -  the founder of  International Peace Initiatives –  is taking care of orphans, HIV-positive women and other disadvantaged people. She showed us some of her agricultural projects and Anna gave a permaculture demonstration to a group of women. Afterwards she showed them how to make Chili and Artemisia ointment. We decided to work together with Dr. Ringera in the future and keep exchanging ideas. She became a member of MKICDO.

Anna Gatea giving a permaculture demonstration

natural medicine

During my stay we visited several groups that I had already met in previous years. With our board member Ivonne Riungu we went to meet two of her groups. 
The Kairuthi Women Group was still trying to raise enough money to connect the shops they had built to the electricity grid. They had encountered a set-back because almost half of the cereals they stored were eaten by weevils – even though they had treated them with insecticides!
a lunch party

The group Twelve Sisters had been trained by a woman from the Gaketha Group how to make fireless basket cookers. They had already sold 50 of them.

The women have become experts.

At the homestead of our board member Rev. Nkanya we met his Kaweru Group and one other group from the area. The women told me that their baked bananas and banana crisps were in high demand at church meetings and other functions and had become a reliable fundraiser for the group. Needless to say that they were offering them this afternoon. I had also brought something that was new to them: Sweet-Sour Banana Pith Pickles. We cut the core of a banana stem into small pieces and boiled them for three minutes in a blend of vinegar, cane sugar, garlic and mixed spices. Then we allowed it to cool down. Everybody was amused about the idea of turning a part of the banana plant that is traditionally fed to animals into food for human consumption. But everybody tested it and I got the impression that they really meant it when they said it tasted “nice”. 
The Kaweru group had been given the two big tunnel dryers that H-Georg had built during the last course in February. They had tested them and were satisfied with their performance. We were shown samples of dried leaf vegetables and cassava. The visiting group also ordered a tunnel dryer after they had seen the good results.

"nouvelle cuisine"

dried leaf vegetables - much more familiar

The Dongori Group lives near Anna Gatea´s place. She took me there and they told us about their plans to market products from their dairy goat project. The women had not yet heard about fuel-efficient stoves and basket cookers. Anna not only demonstrated these useful household items but also showed them how to prepare a tasty dish with the inner parts of a pumpkin that are usually thrown away. She talked about the health benefits of eating roasted pumpkin seeds and drinking lemongrass tea. In the afternoon, Mugo joined us and addressed the group. He offered them to use the billy goat of the Gaketha group for their dairy goat project.
Anna talking about the advantages of using a basket cooker

Nothing should be wasted!

In the middle of August, Mugo, Rev.Nkanya, two Gaketha women and I drove to Isiolo to meet a group of local women at the compound of the Meli Sacco Cooperative. We had rented a van and stuffed 5 Lazola Box Cookers, 2 basket cookers and materials and baskets for the demonstration. The local women eagerly participated in the training while the Lazola was set up to cook Ugali with the sun.

getting ready for the trip to Isiolo

setting up a Lazola solar cooker
learning a new skill

In the afternoon we left the women behind for a few hours and drove to the Lewa Conservancy, a well-known wildlife reserve south of Isiolo. Sue Roberts, the owner of Sirikoi Lodge, had invited us to show her the solar cooker. When we arrived she called her workers to watch Mugo´s demonstration. Everybody was impressed with the technology and Sue bought the Lazola and the basket cooker we had brought.

Mugo explains...
...and everybody shows great interest.

In the evening we drove back to Isiolo to get the women. Mugo had made arrangements with the cooperative. We left the remaining solar cookers with them to be sold on commission.

One day we visited Hon. Samuel Mbae Ragwa, the governor of Tharaka Nithi County. He had already been at the Kiini workshop and noticed that it was much better equipped than the polytechnic training centres in the county. Therefore he suggested that the Kiini centre should offer upgrading training for those who had successfully completed courses at a polytechnic. He said he would even favour `training of trainers´ - if possible by experts from abroad – and assured us that the county government would give us full support for such activities. Some days later we had a detailed discussion about possible fields of cooperation with the county economic advisor Mr. Mputhia when we followed his invitation to his rural home. (He even ordered metal doors and windows for his new house from the Kiini workshop.) We shall keep these ideas in mind when we work out our future plans.

our plans and hopes for the future

At our final board meeting we reflected on what had been accomplished by MKICDO so far and what we wanted to concentrate on in the future.

Promotion of appropriate technologies like fuel-efficient stoves and fireless basket cookers has been successful and will be carried on. Teaching women´s groups about health and medicinal herbs and plants is well integrated in these activities.

Marketing solar cookers and dryers is rather time consuming and expensive and picking up only slowly. As many women do not have the money to buy a Lazola box cooker, we are planning to add simple affordable solar cookers to our product range so women can get to know the advantages of cooking with the sun. We are also planning to offer a wider variety of solar dryers, fuel-efficient stoves and pyrolysis stoves.

Building and equipping a workshop as a foundation for a training centre has been a great success. But – with the exception of H-G Klaphake´s courses – the training has not yet taken off. The board members are planning to consult and employ a person with experience in administration of an organization like ours. All activities need to be analysed and restructured. Marketing of products and generating income that will support MKICDO and make the organization and the training centre self-sufficient need to be in our focus. However, all board members and members of MKICDO in general are ready to give their time and energy as they are dedicated to make our projects a success.

some of the board members at our last meeting - and me wearing their farewell gift

There is a lot of work left to be done and MKICDO still needs some financial assistance. We would gratefully appreciate your support.

You may send your donation to the Kenya account of our German organisation

 “Lernen-Helfen-Leben e.V.”, Volksbank Vechta,

IBAN: DE48 2806 4179 0135 875811,   BIC: GENO DE F1 VEC

or you can donate on