Farmers Helping Farmers volunteers go to Kenya to monitor cookhouse project

Sally Cole
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Village Feast planning committee members Ilse Peters-Ching, left, and Jolyne Sharkey show photos of the cookhouses taken during their visit to Kenya this  past winter. Partnering with Farmers Helping Farmers, the Village Feast is looking forward to raising more money for Kenya at this year’s event. It's set for July 6 at the Eastern Kings Sportsplex Field, Souris.

The Village Feast serves more than 1,000 dinners in an afternoon and is a community collaboration that raises not only money for the local food bank and school cookhouses in Kenya, but also supports P.E.I. companies through purchasing local supplies for the dinner.
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After organizing the Village Feast for the past six years, Jolyne Sharkey and Ilse Peters-Ching wanted to see how the money they had helped raise for Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) was being spent.

“We knew that the funds had been earmarked to build school cookhouses in Kenya. But we wanted to see the cookhouses firsthand and the people who were using them,” says Sharkey, a Fortune resident.

So, this past January, these committee members flew to Kenya on their own funds to check out the work that had been done. They travelled with a delegation from FHF.

But nothing could of prepared them for what she saw after they landed.

“At the first stop we got out of the van and I saw these kids with smiles on their faces coming out (of the cookhouse) with these huge plates of food, I burst into tears. I was so proud to be part of something like the Village Feast,” says Sharkey.

And it just kept getting better.

Over the course of their three-week stay, they officially opened three new cookhouses in the communities of Machui and Ruuju that had been built with the funds raised from the Village Feast fundraisers. They also visited five others they had contributed to that were already up and running.

“Compared with what was there before, these cookhouses are palaces. They have the most modern of kitchens with all the amenities. There have wood-burning stoves, with exhaust hoods, stainless steel cookers and running water,” says Peters-Ching, who is from Kingsboro.

Made of concrete, these buildings have a secure storage room — where rats can’t get in — so the food remains safe.

Besides the superior construction, Sharkey was impressed to learn that hundreds of people are fed out of each kitchen each day. She also got to see others who weren’t as fortunate.

“We went to schools that didn’t have cookhouses and the children had to walk an hour home (for lunch) and often didn’t come back afterwards. So eating out of the cookhouses that we helped to build helps further their education enormously.”

Seeing the fine work done by FHF also inspired her travel mate.

“It was incredibly motivating. It validated everything we did. It also motivated us even more to keep raising funds for the project,” says Peters-Ching, adding that the seventh annual Village Feast will take place July 6 at the Eastern Kings Sportsplex Field, Main Street, Souris, 3-6 p.m.

Keeping with the tradition of the feast, the three-course dinner includes lobster or steak, seafood chowder and dessert. Half of the proceeds go to FHF in Kenya. The other half stays within Souris where it goes to the food bank and the Coats for Kids program. As well, the Lend A Hand Family Centre gets $2,000 a year to give classes to people on how to cook low-cost meals.

As Sharkey helps to organize this year’s celebratory event, the cookhouses are never far from her mind.

“Our focus this year, besides raising money for another cookhouse, is to raise money to hire gardeners so they will be able to grow all the kale, onions and cabbage that go into the stew for the children.”

She also wants to help FHF raise funds for screen nets that go over the crops to keep birds out, as well as water irrigation systems.

At the FHF office, Teresa Mellish is thrilled with the support received from Village Feast committee members.

“Their help means that over 1,500 school children get fed a noon meal every day, which may be their only meal of the day. This means that children stay in school, especially girls. One of the greatest joys in my life is to be at the school at lunch time and see the children have lunch. This is the impact that the Village Feast has on their lives.”

It’s been a terrific partnership, says Sharkey.

“We work really hard each year to make the Village Feast a success. We give the money to Farmers Helping Farmers. And they do a ton of work, more than we ever realized.”

Organizations: Coats for Kids, Village Feast committee

Geographic location: Kenya, Machui

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