When interns Dani and Jasmine arrived at their internship site in SOTENI Village of Hope Mbakalo, they first completed a Community Asset Map. This is a common participatory development tool that involves taking inventory of a community’s assets. It is considered more positive and productive to start with what is right, rather than what is wrong. This empowers a community to build off of its strengths, rather than feeling overwhelmed by its problems.
One asset identified by the community was the greenhouse. The greenhouse is located next to the town dispensary / SOTENI offices. It is clearly not operational. It was in such a state of disrepair, that I immediately took notice of it when Cale and I visited Mbakalo. Dani explained to us that the likely abandoned structure was a community asset. “Are they growing anything in there?” I asked. Dani admitted that she had not looked inside yet, so we wandered over to peek in. Obviously, no. “Do you suppose they ever grew anything in here? Where did it come from? Did SOTENI build it?” I wondered. But, we had no idea. Since it was time for Cale and I to be heading back to Mumias, we left the greenhouse a mystery.
Several weeks later, I received a text message from Dani, “I learned the story behind the greenhouse.” And so, I eagerly awaited Dani’s upcoming trip to Mumias to learn the mystery behind the greenhouse (oh so Nancy Drew).
The Greenhouse: An International Development Parable
APHIA Plus is a USAID-funded umbrella program present throughout Kenya run by a consortium of organizations. It seems to incorporate a wide range of programming. I say seems because an ongoing joke for our SOTENI Mbakalo interns is that no one really knows what APHIA Plus does. Dani’s internship project is supposed to be with the APHIA Plus programs in Mbakalo, and she was having a hard time figuring out what APHIA Plus was and what it did. When we met with the SOTENI International executive director, she too was unclear on the program and welcomed any information Dani was able to gather.
Apparently, several years ago, APHIA Plus decided all the villages it operated in needed greenhouses to grow tomatoes. And so, APHIA Plus went out and built greenhouses. However, as far as Dani could determine, that was the end of it. The people of Mbakalo did not know how to farm in a greenhouse and the correct type of tomato seeds were not available in Mbakalo. The greenhouse was never used. The plastic sheeting used to create the greenhouse began to disintegrate and break off. Later, children came and pulled more of the sheeting down, leaving the greenhouse in its current state of disrepair.
So, despite the greenhouse having never been used and currently being entirely unusable, the community considers it an asset. I also assume that APHIA Plus counted it among its output indicators: Number of greenhouses built? At least one in Mbakalo.
And that is the story of the Mbakalo greenhouse.