Home to the only tropical rainforest in Kenya, Kakamega County is a draw for travellers seeking off-the-beaten-track adventures.
But beyond brilliant birdwatching, hiking and rock-climbing, the region is also home to the Nasio Trust. This trailblazing charity has been helping vulnerable children and empowering communities in western Kenya for twenty years.
Alongside longterm education and health projects, Nasio has also responded swiftly to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Back in 2000, 79-year-old Irene Mudenyo heard a baby’s cry on the breeze. Nothing unusual – women often worked in the cane fields with their babies swaddled to their backs. But when she heard it the next day, and recalled hearing it during the night, Irene knew something wasn’t right. After investigating, she found a baby boy beneath a tree and named him Moses.
Unable to find his parents, Irene nursed Moses back to health and placed him in the care of a missionary orphanage. But this didn’t sit well with her. She believed Moses would be better off in a family environment. The Nasio Trust was born when Irene and her daughters set-up Noah’s Ark Day Care Centre.
“Our deepest wish is for the people we support to get to a point where they no longer need our support.”
The Nasio Trust is now headed by Irene’s inspirational daughter, Nancy Hunt. Nasio manages several projects that provide a family-centric upbringing for over 400 vulnerable children. Many of these children have been orphaned by the HIV pandemic.
Nasio’s overarching mission is to “change lives for good. We’re empowering communities in western Kenya to break the cycle of poverty by providing education, improving health and developing commerce through our sustainable income generating projects”.
Nasio now runs two purpose-built day care centres that provide pre-school lessons, meals and medicine.
It also educates young people in Mumias and the surrounding area about HIV, contraception and drugs.
Beyond supporting children and teenagers, Nasio is also committed to self-sufficiency and removing reliance on aid. To that end, it provides seed capital to local businesses.
Nasio also funded and built a medical centre that delivers life-saving access to treatment in remote communities.
As Covid-19 took hold globally, the Nasio Trust was concerned that their communities' rural location and living circumstances put them at great risk.
For one thing, “social distancing is incredibly hard when nine people spanning three or four generations often occupy a single mud hut.”
What’s more, “there are none of the financial safeguards for people in lockdown equivalent to those in developed countries.Quite simply, if you and your family want to eat in Kenya, you need to go out and work. And work, in the main, is manual industry that cannot be undertaken from home.”
In addition, “many households have little or no access to transmitted media”. This means that “lack of access to information becomes the largest threat to people’s wellbeing.The Kenyan authorities are imposing severe penalties for breaking lockdown, in some cases on people who didn’t even know they were locked down.”
If these challenges weren’t enough, the area also suffered a natural disaster. Extensive flooding struck at the height of lock-down.
With that in mind, Nasio’s response to the pandemic has been remarkable - decisive, with direct positive impact.
Thanks to fundraising efforts, Nasio raised £40,000 as the pandemic broke. This was partly due to supporters who completed thirty-one half-marathons in thirty-one days, and the toddler who climbed the height of Mount Snowden on his staircase. The funds were deployed into the Mumias area within ninety days.
“We began a massive door-to-door information-sharing campaign about what the virus was, what symptoms to be aware of, and the importance of social distancing and good hygiene in keeping safe.”
This operation armed over 46,000 people with vital information about how to minimise their chances of contracting and spreading the virus.
With many unable to work, Nasio has also expanded its programme to ensure local children have at least one hot meal a day. In addition, this programme now also offers a safe place to read and revise while schools are closed.
“We’ve distributed nearly 2500 individual items of PPE and nearly 6000 sanitation supplies including soap. Also the creation of ingenious 'Tippy-Taps' allow those in remote areas and slums easy access to hand washing facilities.”
Nasio is clear that “this new threat takes precedence over many of the other issues we’ve sought to address. One of the wonderful things about being a smaller charity with such incredible supporters is that we can adapt very quickly to change.”
This nimbleness is proving vital in the current climate. As a result, Nasio is “proud and happy” to “support some wonderful examples of self-sufficiency in the midst of adversity”.
Positive highlights include "Lucas the trainee plumber working tirelessly on the creation of 'Tippy-Taps', and a whole neighbourhood banding together to help a grandmother rebuild her house after flood water destabilised it.”
Looking ahead, Nasio will “continue to do all we can to keep the communities we work with on track to break the cycle of poverty that prevents them reaching their full potential.”
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Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her