Friday, August 1, 2008

Maua (Flowers) Primary School - I Got an Education

Earlier this week Craig took a few of the Care of Creation staff down to Naivasha to visit a farmer that we are working with doing test plots of Farming God’s Way. We had also been given the names and contacts of two primary schools that seemed active in green activity and keen to do more.

First some background: Naivasha is nestled at the bottom of the Great Rift Valley. The town is situated next to Lake Naivasha. The lake has several nice camping areas, country clubs or other tourist type hot spots, including the long-famous Elsamere Foundation. (Anyone remember Born Free? Joy Adamson?) The geology of the area is very different from where I live now and even what I think of as East African soil, which is a deep red. There is a dormant volcano down that way, Mt Longonot* so the earth in the area is sort of a dusty ash, very porous, almost sandy kind of soil.

In addition to the rustic tourist attractions, there is industry that feeds off this lake. Mainly huge commercial greenhouse producing flowers for export to Europe. Francis was probably the most well informed of our group but for the benefit of us all he decided to ask a number of questions about the parents of the children attending Maua Primary.

In the process I learned that some times during the year the flower factory workers start their shifts at 7:AM and work until midnight or even as late as 3:AM. This is during rush seasons like Valentines and Christmas. There are 26 pay scales in the company our “teacher” is working for. The largest percentage of employees work in the bottom five levels of the scale. This particular company pays the equivalent of $67 per month for starting level. A person can make up to $132 per month at level five. Some areas in the company have bonuses. For example the packers are above those first five. They get paid a base amount but can earn 14 cents for every 100 stems they pack over their quota.

Maua Primary has over 700 students. That is down from the nearly 1000 they had before the tribal clashes early this year. The government provides a whapping twelve teachers for those 700 (or 1000) students. The flower company pays salaries for another twelve. The company also provides unlimited water to the school and subsidizes a school lunch program. These improvements are only recent.

I haven’t yet mentioned the chemical pesticide waste that gets slogged back into Lake Naivasha. Again, it’s not as bad as it used to be. But still we drove over some culverts with green slurry slowing moving down towards the lake. At least workers are given special protective clothing now that is left at the factory; no more children inhaling it off daddy’s clothes when he gets home. And some factories post no entry signs for X hours on green houses they spray with the pesticides.

As Francis asked and our new friend enlightened us, I began to think of all the bunches of flowers I bought when I lived in Nairobi in the 90’s. I’m quite certain the working standards are much better now than they were then. I could buy a bunch of 20 roses for $3-$6 back then. Since they were so cheap, I did it often. As I listened and learned, I felt increasing horror over what was being done to Lake Naivasha, and the people who live there and work in the flower farms. Yes, they are making a living, but at what price?

At this point I could not bring myself to ever pay for a bunch of flowers again. I feel certain the US is too far away to be contributing to this particular exploitation. These are the roses of England and the tulips of Holland. But I bet there are the same kinds of things happening in South or Central America for the Valentines flowers or poinsettia plants we all enjoy in the US. And it’s also so sad and maddening to think of such a beautiful, happy thing as flowers being such a horrible bane to someone’s existence. So far my solution is – grow your own. Which is easy for me to say from the land of perpetual summer.

*I have climbed to the rim of Longonot and walked part way around the rim at the top looking into the dormant mouth. If you looked closely you could see small points in the crater that steamed a bit. The inside vegetation was mostly a low scrubby brush, whereas the climb up had been a dusty, sandy hike. This adventure took place in my former life here in Kenya.


Anonymous said...

I love your blog. I cannot imagine 12 teachers (or even 24) for 700 or a 1000 students.

I think your ministry in Kenya is wonderful.

Grace Lee said...

That is a very sad story about the workers and the flowers. I am glad you are learning about this.

Anonymous said...

Your comments on the flower farms were more "balanced" than what you normally read. Well done. Naivasha is my home, lived here for quite some time. You get tired of reading all this biased stuff on the farms.

So many from the West come to Naivasha and compare the situation they find with what they would expect in the West. They never take the time to discover why so many come to Naivasha looking for work in the first place, never compare the working conditions on the farms with those others experience in businesses in town. That would really be telling!So thanks for being fair. And if you do buy some flowers in the future, remember that by doing so you're also helping Kenyans.

chris makoduor said...

am an old boy of maua primary school.i left the school in 1997,at the time there was a total population of 2000 pupils and some of us used to learn in shifts for lack of sufficient classrooms especialy the lower primary pupils-class 1to parents worked at the flower farm until then,it was all fun!