I served in Kenya from 1989 to 1991 as a small business advisor in a small village named Sochoi,
five miles outside Lessos, Kenya.
I learned so many things from Peace Corps and Kenyans, especially the Nandi people (with whom I lived).
These lessons have guided me every day since leaving Sochoi.
- From Peace Corps, I learned to "leave behind a process, not a product." Succinctly said, it's more
important -- and more difficult -- to empower people than power up a building, generator or well.
I have been witness to the transformational power of empowering people.
I know the power this heeding lesson. I helped 16 illiterate Nandi women start a corn mill. Using tools
from the United Nations, these women did a feasibility study, business plan and obtained seed capital.
Two years after returning to the US, they wrote me to say that business was booming so much that
they had to open another store. Although it seemed to take forever, this project succeeded because we
followed an empowering process.
On another development project, I failed miserably. I wanted more for the school at which I taught and
lived. Wanting school books and adequate, clean water for the students, I went around a less than
ethical headmaster and board to pursue these goals. I was able to get donated books and funds for
a small library. I could never get funds for a rain catchment system. Two years after my return,
most of the books were gone and water was still a problem.
- An event with a group of Nandi business owners taught me the most about myself and all people.
I had walked over six miles through tea fields and forest to a village with no roads on the edge of the
Nandi Escarpment (overlooking the great Rift Valley). After everyone arrived and I did a short lesson
(speaking in Swahili) on how to keep a cash book, hands flew up in the air. Their questions rivaled
questions asked by MBA students. In the give and take of that Saturday afternoon on a mountain
1.5 miles high on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Rift Valley, I realized that I was connecting with
people of another culture in their language and educating them in a skill I had. At that moment, I
realized that I was using every gift God gave me all at once, connecting with other people regardless
of background or education, and realizing that I could do just about anything. I had been empowered.
Since leaving Sochoi nearly 20 years ago, I have sought to share the lessons I've learned from Peace Corps,
Kenya and Nandis. I am grateful to have had that experience.
Click here for a map of Lessos, my school (Sigilai Youth Polytechnic) and the women's group posho mill
(Songoliet Kergei Moi Women's Group Posho Mill). I also put the paths I walked daily to get to them. It is
best to see the maps in satellite view.
I remain committed to empowering others and completing the third goal of Peace Corps: promote a better
understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.