Amesbury for Africa is a unique partnership between a rural town in Massachusetts and a Kenyan farming village near Lake Victoria in East Africa. The overall purpose of our partnership is to exchange visitors between our two communities. Through these visits we develop friendship, trust and a history of working together to make better lives for our two peoples. The secrets to our success are shared history, networking, flexibility, and a long time horizon. Together these build long-term sustainability. The year 2016 marks our 29th year of working and sharing together.
In 1987, Dr. S. Mark Bean , with the help of Sister Cities International, joined Amesbury, Massachusetts (population 12,000) with Esabalu, a village of 8500 in Western Kenya. The organization that Dr. Bean founded, Amesbury for Africa, has helped make possible a wide range of positive changes in the lives of the villagers in Esabalu. At the same time, the lives of many in Amesbury have been transformed by their experiences working with the people of Esabalu.
As of 2012, more than 17 citizen exchange groups have traveled to Esabalu from Amesbury. They stay in homes in the village where they learn about family life and make new friends. They visit projects such as zero-grazed dairy cows, market gardens, and piped drinking water from deep boreholes. The Amesbury visitors bring back ideas for new projects and then help their new friends find the resources to realize those ideas.
By all accounts the Amesbury-Esabalu sister city relationship has been a great success. Visits build friendships. Friendships build trust. Trust leads to cooperation on small projects. Successful small projects empower both communities.
The citizens involved with Amesbury for Africa and their partner organization, the Esabalu Health Group (ESHG), have made excellent and extensive use of the resources and expertise of local and national governments, universities and colleges, and various NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) in the U.S. and Kenya.
In 1990, for example, Tom Amakoye of the ESHG, submitted a proposal to Technoserve, Inc. in Nairobi. This proposal asked Heifer Project International, a U.S.-based NGO, to provide 15 pregnant heifers (cows). These animals and their offspring led to a successful dairy industry in Esabalu,
In another project, the Esabalu Health Group networked with a local NGO called Christian Health Association of Kenya (CHAK). Twelve women from Esabalu received training as community based health workers and a health survey of the village was carried out. The health group now has its own facility. In January 2008 the group opened the Bailey/Whaley Health Center.
Amesbury for Africa has also shown flexibility in dealing with problems that have come up in certain areas. Take agriculture as an example.
The original idea for the program was that of a farm credit loan program in which each farmer would pay back the cost of his inputs by selling some of the extra maize generated by increased productivity. It seems, however, that there was a strong cultural bias among the villagers against using maize as a cash crop. In the eyes of the villagers, maize is food for the family and is a hedge against famine – not a commodity for sale. Also, the small size of the farm plots and the unpredictability of harvest made the original plan untenable.
In response to these problems, more “sustainable” agricultural efforts were needed. Two farmers from Kenya came to Amesbury for a summer to learn low external input organic agriculture. Zero grazed heifers were introduced with Heifer International as a partner. Milk, tree products (firewood, timber and fodder) and organic vegetables are valuable ‘cash crops’ that can be sold for income in the market. The manure from zero-grazed animals can fertilize the soil and increase vegetable yields creating a ‘win-win’ situation for farmers who do both.
Perhaps the most important factor in the success of the Amesbury-Esabalu sister city relationship has been that Amesbury for Africa and the Esabalu Health Group share a genuine partnership which is focused on the long-term goal of helping the people of Esabalu become self-sufficient in their basic needs.
The word is “empowering” people, rather than making them dependent on aid. The Esabalu Health Group, for example, has been providing most of the ideas and energy to make health care services available to the people of Esabalu. Two nurses from Amesbury made visits over a 15 year period to guide and assist the women in the Health Group. But the lion’s share of the effort in developing health services for their families and neighbors came from the Esabalu women themselves.
Amesbury for Africa and the NGOs with which we work generally require the participants to give something in return. Farmers who receive a gift of a heifer (cow) must build a zero-grazing unit for the animal. And they are required to give the first female offspring to another unrelated villager. In this way, dairy animals are disseminated to all local farmers with sufficient land resources to support dairy cows. Similarly, village women bank their meager savings in a WORTH women’s group which then gives out “micro-loans” to members of the group to finance small businesses and improve family income. All the capital is raised by the women themselves, avoiding dependence on outside dollars. Encouraging ‘sweat equity’ and participant ‘buy-in’ are effective ways of insuring long-term success.