Maman Kichochi Makuu is a 35-year-old Congolese mother of seven children. She had been earning a meager income from a fishing business, but increased costs and the seasonality of fishing forced her out of business. Then she had no income. She no longer could pay school fees, and her children were expelled.
Kichochi knew that lack of education would destroy her children’s hope of ever escaping from the dire poverty that had consumed her life.
“I had to do something to enable [my children] to go to school again,” Kichochi said.
Food for the Hungry (FH) began working in Kichochi’s community in 2008. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had been devastated by years of a brutal war that killed 5.4 million people, mostly from disease and starvation. When aid groups arrived, they began giving out supplies and food to help the people survive.
Once the relief stage passed, FH formed care groups to teach people about health, nutrition and agricultural methods that would improve their ability to earn a sustained income throughout the year. People at first resisted because they were used to handouts, but FH persisted.
“When FH started its health and nutrition activities in our village, we did not give much credit to it,” Kichochi said. She paid little attention to teachings about the link between healthy children and kitchen gardens … until the loss of her fishing business forced her children out of school.
The next time the FH/DRC Health Promoter taught about kitchen gardens in the monthly care group meeting, Kichochi listened carefully. She was excited to learn that FH would provide seeds.
“I decided to start [farming],” said Kichochi. But then heavy rains flooded Kichochi’s 18-acre farm and destroyed all her cabbages and tomatoes. “I thought I had been bewitched because my farm had looked so beautiful,” she said.
FH encouraged her to try again. This time, she was able to harvest a large container of tomatoes. “After selling it, I earned $19,” said Kichochi. “It was much more than enough to pay the school fees for three of my children.”
Kichochi’s harvests and income continued to grow, and her kitchen garden has blossomed into a 25-acre farm. The crops provide enough income for the nutritional and educational needs for all of her children. And Kichochi is now the mother leader of her care group, a volunteer position that allows her to teach what she has learned to other mothers in her community.