By Tim Shenk
Feb. 6, 2009, AKRON, Pa. - Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is sponsoring the distribution of 26 tons of corn flour to nearly 4,000 people in a drought-stricken area of southern Rift Valley Province, Kenya.
Kenya is in the midst of a famine, and its government is appealing for aid. In a recent statement, Kenya's president said that about 10 million people need food assistance because of shortages caused by drought, global economic problems and political violence in the country's breadbasket region.
MCC provided $10,000 to a Kenyan partner organization, Maasai Integrated Development Initiatives (MIDI), to purchase the flour and distribute it in Kajiado district. Most of the recipients herd livestock and are members of the Maasai tribe.
In exchange for food, some residents of Kajiado are participating in community work projects organized by MIDI, including fencing fields, constructing roads, digging trenches for water pipes and building barriers to prevent erosion.
Martha and Ron Ratzlaff, MCC representatives in Nairobi, Kenya, visited Kajiado in early February and helped distribute food in several locations. The Ratzlaffs are from Calgary, Alberta.
In the community of Ilgaarooj, a crowd gathered beside a Presbyterian church and offered a prayer of thanksgiving before the food distribution, the Ratzlaffs wrote in an e-mail.
Eighty-four people, most of whom were women, then received bags of corn flour, beans and cooking fat to carry home to their families. Some had walked 20 kilometers, or about 12 miles, to the distribution site, the Ratzlaffs wrote.
"All were truly grateful," they wrote. "We had similar experiences at all of the food distribution points and arrived back in Nairobi thankful for what MCC and their donors (were) able to contribute to the lives of these Maasai. ... We heard 'God bless you' repeatedly and indeed we are thankful to God."
In addition to relief work, MCC supports projects that help rural Kenyan communities conserve water and increase agricultural production. In particular, MCC has helped two Kenyan organizations build hundreds of "sand dams" since the mid-1990s. These concrete dams store water in the sandy beds of seasonal streams and provide rural communities with a source of water throughout the year, even in times of drought.
Information on MCC's water work is available online at mcc.org/water.
Tim Shenk is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.