Emmetsburg Man Embraces Kenya Mission
For an Emmetsburg man, the countdown has begun for a pair of nine-hour flights and a two-hour bus trip at the end of this month.
Andrew Williams is counting the days until he boards a plane with co-workers from the 28 plants operated by POET?Biorefining to participate in a philanthropic mission that is aptly titled, “Seeds of Change.”
“The actual Seeds of Change began back in 2013 when Jeff and Tammie Broin and their daughters went to Kenya, with a goal of helping a girls’ boarding school, the Travelers Oasis Centre. While there, the Broin family assisted in the construction of a greenhouse that the school could use to grow produce that could be sold to assist the operations of the school, which is approximately two hours south of Nairobi.
That first step was called, Mission Greenhouse. The second year, a mission trip titled Mission Greenfields brought Kenyan farmers the opportunity to learn new farming techniques, increase the yields and introduce new hybrid seeds, to help them grow more food for their people,”?Williams said.
Broin opened the mission trips to all employees of Broin facilities across the country, allowing the employees to participate in the mission with yearly trips to Kenya.
“I first heard about this mission in 2015 and it sounded like something I?wanted to do and see, so I went,” Williams explained. “I found out that it is really important to me. I told my wife that I am going every year from now on.”
In the 2014 trip, POET volunteers dug footings by hand for a three-story masonry dormitory for the boarding school, which is home to 240 girls, most of whom live in abject poverty.
“This area of Kenya is so impoverished,”?Williams recalled. “If these girls don’t get an education, they end up having to work the streets for money, because the average income for a family is so little. They know education is everything, and their willingness to learn is huge. They want an education and not to starve.”
The 2015 mission trip saw Williams and his fellow volunteers paint the interior of the completed dormitory and prepare it for occupancy by the students.
While the work on the boarding school is a work in progress, other aspects of Seeds of Change are ongoing.
Mission Breathe addresses a common problem in developing countries; finding a way to efficiently cook food. Through the use of ethanol powered cookstoves, the traditional charcoal fueled fire is gradually being replaced, which also provides a major health benefit as well.
“Last year, while we were at the school, we went into the kitchen where they prepared the meals for the girls,” Andrew said. “It was a concrete platform arrangement with a space for an open flame, and all they used was charcoal they make themselves. The walls and the ceiling in this kitchen were just black with soot.”
Quickly, the POET?volunteers took to shovels and began digging footings for a new kitchen and dining space, with the new facility to be equipped with the ethanol fueled cookstoves of Mission Breathe.
In his two previous mission trips, Williams became friends with a pair of girls at the school, and it’s that association that has had a profound effect on him.
“So many of these girls are orphans, daughters of single parents with 10 to 12 people living in a one-room hut,” Williams said. “We get a chance to visit some of the girls’ families at their homes, and to see how they live, well, it’s hard to put into words how it’s changed me. I know that I?look at things in life a lot differently now.”
While the work at the boarding school continues with each successive mission trip, the efforts for the other aspects of the Broin family’s mission also continue to grow and prosper. Mission Greenfield continues to benefit farmers, according to Williams.
“Working with the farmers towards a path of sustainability is the goal of Mission Greenfield,”?Andrew noted. “And, we want to continue to work like this in other areas of need there in Kenya.”
Since the construction of the initial greenhouse, others have been built at the boarding school and grow quantities of produce, which are sold in markets. Local women are hired by the school’s owners to work in the greenhouse, rather than having the students do the work.
“The school owner explained that he does that so that the girls can learn, that is their job,” Andrew said. “He hires the women and pays them so that they can support their families. Some of the girls do get hired to work at the school once they graduate.”
To prepare for a mission trip, Williams and other POET?employees have learned to scour thrift stores for pants and jeans to wear in Kenya, and when the trip is done, the clothing is left to be donated to families.
“A lot of us fill suitcases with school supplies, toiletries, things that we take for granted that mean so much to those girls,” Andrew said. “I also noticed tha the laborers who help build the buildings all are barefooted, so last year, I?took a pair of my steel toed safety boots along and when I left, I gave them to one of the workers. I’m going to do that again this year.”
As the next mission trip leaves May 25 and will return on June 5, Andrew will be the only representative from the Emmetsburg POET plant to participate this year.
“For me it’s about connecting with these girls, showing them that somebody cares, and building relationships,” Williams said.