Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Blooming with enthusiasm by Harriet Lamb

Ever been shopping in Asda, picked up a bunch of beautiful Fairtrade roses and wondered where they came from? Well there’s a good chance that they were grown at Valentine Roses, just an hour or so outside Nairobi, depending on the state of the traffic jams. The Joint Body members who show me around are the most enthusiastic that I have ever met in my long Fairtrade life! The Vice Chair, Florence Onyango, says she loves her job: ‘Working with flowers is everything to me’. Everyone agrees that ‘Having a job in Kenya is a privilege’. The workers here, she says, were all scared during the volcanic ash week when no flowers could be sold.

When we go over to their new tree nursery, the unbelievably tall and lanky gardener Stephen enthuses about the 30,000 saplings under his care: ‘Advertise our work’, he calls. Then the Joint Body member who leads the tree sub-committee comes shooting over to share his vision of greening the plantation. As we leave, there’s no mistaking his house - it is hidden in a forest of beautifully tended trees and flowers! ‘He cannot stop decorating everything’, laughs Florence. His neighbour got a loan from a revolving fund run by the Joint Body; he bought one cow and sold the milk – now he has three cows and is employing someone to help.

We pass workers clustered around getting big bottles of gas. The Joint Body sells them at cost price (1,690 Kenyan shillings as opposed to 2,000 in the shops) on a hire purchase basis which the workers pay back in three instalments, interest free. As we leave, the gateman turns out to have a 16 year old son, Dominic, at secondary school now thanks to an educational bursary from the premium. He is planning to be a chemist.

But for the young Chairman, it is the capacity building that is their most important achievement – the way people have grown, learnt new things, learnt to think in new ways: ‘I wouldn’t have dared to do this before’. So they are planning much more training next year. The smiley Vice-Chair has also surprised herself. She would never put herself in the front light before she says. Now she is positively blooming with calm self-confidence.

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