The ‘Journal’ teams up with Trocaire to encourage local support for its Lenten campaign

This year’s Trócaire Lenten campaign focuses on the plight of people Kenya, namely, a rural area called Tharaka Nithi in the lowlands of Mount Kenya. David O’Hare from Trócaire’s Belfast office was recently in the area and reports here on his visit.

This year’s Trócaire Lenten campaign focuses on the plight of people Kenya, namely, a rural area called Tharaka Nithi in the lowlands of Mount Kenya. David O’Hare from Trócaire’s Belfast office was recently in the area and reports here on his visit.

I met Teresina Karimi on a blistering hot day in Kamatanka village. Teresina is married to Julius, a farmer, and they have five children. Unfortunately I didn’t meet Julius as he wasn’t there. He is seldom there because he has had to move 100 miles away from his family to try to find work. For a family with next to nothing this might as well be the other side of the world. He only gets home for a couple of days every three months or so.

When Teresina and Julius were children, the rain fell and the land was green. Today their home, just two hours from Nairobi, is a different place. The security that once came with farming life has vanished. These farmers rely on the rains to nourish their crops. Climate change has meant longer dry seasons and droughts or intense rainfall that can wash away seeds and damage crops. Year after year harvests are failing and farmers can no longer plan when to sow.

Julius and Teresina have looked on as the effects of climate change dried up their two acres of farmland. Their soil became lifeless and their crops became parched and limp. Moving away was the only possible way Julius could put the last two of their five children through school. In Teresina’s village, everyone relies on farming. It is a sad irony that men like Julius have had to leave their families to work on other farms far away that have flowing irrigation schemes, the very lifeblood they themselves cannot afford.

‘Life is really hard especially without Julius,’ Teresina told me. ‘He sends back what he can but it still isn’t enough to keep the family. The choice I have is to work my land in the hope of getting something from the harvest which isn’t guaranteed, or go out and get casual labour so I can earn even a small amount. I am trying to juggle the two. I work three days on my farm and then try to get casual work the rest of the week.’

I asked Teresina what type of casual work she did and how much it paid. ‘It is usually working in the fields of farmers who have irrigation or scooping sand from the riverbed for use in construction. It is very hard work. I get paid 200 Schillings (£1.35) for working from 8am to 4pm – eight hours,’ she says.

I notice that Teresina seems to have a problem with one of her eyes. She tells me that she has an untreatable eye condition. She says she can still work – however, bending over to harvest or collect sand makes it more painful. ‘It is like someone putting chilli in your eye, but what can I do – I have to work to get money and feed my children,’ she says.

Teresina says the family faces hunger particularly between August and November. They skip meals and Teresina often goes without so she can feed the children. I ask her how she feels as a mother when her kids go hungry. Trócaire is working alongside families like Teresina and Julius’ in their struggle against the effects of climate change. This year, in partnership with the Diocese of Meru, we hope to develop an irrigation system for farmers, including Teresina and Julius, struggling to water their crops and grow food. The donations from Derry and throughout Northern Ireland during Lent that are matched by the UK government will help fund this work. This will allow the community to cope with drier seasons and continue to farm their land and provide for their families.

The only thing that will reunite Teresina and Julius for good is water. ‘I would like to see irrigation on my land. If I had irrigation, I could plant more crops and have good harvests,’ says Teresina. Maybe then Julius could come home and they could farm together again on the land on which they met.

For more on Trócaire’s campaign log on to www.trocaire.org/lent or call 0800 912 1200. Donations to the campaign in Northern Ireland will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.