The Difference One Determined Man Can Make

en de
A report and letter about a journey to an impressive permaculture project in the slums of Kitale, Kenya
My dear friends,

I am full of impressions of my first days in Kenya. It seems as if ages have passed since I arrived in Nairobi four days ago. I met Ulrike R. already in Amsterdam, since then we’ve been traveling together. The journey is under a lucky star, everything works perfectly. The bus trip to Kitale was unexpectedly beautiful!


I’ve rarely seen such a bombastic landscape in my life. Volcanoes, bright green, exotic trees and wild creeks. This is how the Goddess must have imagined paradise to be. At the same time the other side: destruction, garbage, sewer in the streams from which humans and animals drink, deforestation and reforestation with monoculture. Always and everywhere in this country, masses of people, walking, standing, lying and sitting, sleeping, talking and working. On the streets they sell snacks to travelers, while others sit on the roadside and break building stones to earn a few coins to survive. Almost all people here are communication talents, and it’s easy to get amiable contacts. I remember well the corpulent women in Nairobi, who spoke about the strokes of fate her family had suffered in the war in southern Sudan, refugee camps, death, disease … and speaking about all these terrible things she moves her face like a clown in all directions, sometimes she looks like a madwoman, but says very deep things, and you want to kiss her, hug, laugh, cry, run away in horror, all at once. The creativity and vitality, is definitely a treasure in this country and helps to cope with the pain.

Kitale. Great joy to see Philip! Today we were with him on the road – four people on two motorbike taxis, which means three on each bike including the driver. (As we had to change hotels, we partially even had a suitcase or backpack in between us additionally.) “Pule, pule,” Philip says to the drivers certainly a hundred times: “Slowly, slowly.” Besides the bicycle taxis are those motorbikes the most common means of transport, in the rainy season however one must change to Matatos (taxi vans) or go on foot, what most do anyway. We are the only white people on the streets. And so, one often hears the cry of “Musu” – pale faces.
One can hardly imagine the poverty, especially in Philips’ living environment and neighbourhoods – but not the creativity and cohesion of the people either. Huts made of mud and tin. Lanes in which the wastewater flows. Everything is brown and gray from the soot and dirt that arises when making charcoal and bricks – one of the few ways to earn some money.


On the ground are all sorts of goods offered for sale. In between, sewers, from where sheep, chickens, geese or lean beef drink. At every step we are followed by ragged children. Enthusiastically, they receive a handshake and then run away screaming or giggling. (Ulrike has a wonderful way to make contact with all human beings, to greet them, open up a conversation, whether it be the night guard in hotels, the drivers or the children in the slums.)

And then – in the midst of the narrowness, the stench and the filth – a piece of green paradise – Philips garden. Here a little miracle has come true. Sunflowers shine, between soy, cabbage, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cassava, Lablab and “Irish potatoes” – that is our normal potatoes and flowers. Everything properly marked with signs. The fence is only for the animals, nothing is locked because of the people. Despite all the poverty, nothing is stolen. Philip is so much a part of the whole, that nobody would take away or destroy anything here. The neighbours would not tolerate it. Even his center with computers and all valuables stays always open. (The laptop alone is worth a teacher’s annual salary.) Even the children are very precise to borrow only one crayon at a time and bring it back again with care. (All those thousands of high-security-protected homes, hotels and supermarkets in Nairobi can only dream of such a security concept: Safety through community.)

In the OTEPIC center (a large room that Philip was provided by a neighbour for free), there is a large mural showing the vision of a sustainable Kitale. “Now that Leila is here, we must paint a Water Retention Landscape on it as well,” says Philip to a young man, the artist. A shelf with five and a half books that everyone can borrow seems to be their sanctuary – in the midst a copy of Dieter Duhm’s “The Sacred Matrix” and the “Tamera” book. A photo wall shows pictures from OTEPIC actions and two large photos of Sabine Lichenfels (co-founder of Tamera) and Barbara Kovats (focalizer of the Solarvillage in Tamera, who invited Philip to Portugal). Tamera is present here. The room soon fills with children and young men. They are the kind of gang, you’d run away if you would meet them somewhere at night. But they are all members of Philips organization, they form the music, dance and theater group of the center. You can give them a topic like AIDS or reforestation and they turn around and develop a piece of it and perform it. (I hope we will see it later.) Ulrike and I still have two avocados and a little bag of chips in our pockets; it is clear that it is about sharing. We cut the avocados into small pieces, and soon more than half a dozen children and youths are chewing together with us, and wonder of wonders, we are all well-fed. The miraculous multiplication of the loaves, Jesus in the slum.


Philip has accommodated us in a resort. We live in beautiful simple apartments, but compared to the slums it is an untold wealth – silence, nature … something like a fairy tale world.
Today I have seen many things, which I was quite afraid of before my journey – streets with thousands of black people, terrible poverty, people living in the dirt, and our friend Philip, who grew up here, in the middle of it, day after day after day. But I also saw the Sacred Matrix, touching, intact human structures – small children, helping even smaller ones – the careful and prudent manner how the food is shared. What a difference one determined man can make! This is how Philip was raised, too. He was like one of those children in front of us – and has acquired the knowledge and energy to help building a model. One can hardly imagine the pressure – from family, neighbours and friends who did not understand that he did not spend the money he brought back from the U.S. and Europe for himself and would not drive a nice car, but instead bought land and remained one of them. I did not know before how much he is part of the slums and the poverty – and at the same time he is part of a possible solution.
By the way, Philip bought a second, slightly larger property with the money he received a year ago from Lush (this international company producing and selling natural cosmetics which are not tested on animals.) The land is already fully covered with plants and they have already built a traditional African mud house with thatched roof. Philip dreams to host the Global Campus one day in this garden. He calls it “Amani” garden, which means peace garden.
Philip told us to return from his visit in Tamera was this time not as bitter as it had been before. This is because he had taken the advice by Monika Alleweldt from Tamera into account and immediately invited all his friends and told them his most important experiences. In this way it was easier for him to integrate the two worlds.
Tomorrow we will go to a place that could be bought for building a Water Retention Landscape. I will soon write to some people a few extra details, in order to find out in which way to assist best. Before, we want to take a few hours off together with Philip and talk about his plans in detail.

In the meantime all the best and see you soon
Leila Dregger


2 thoughts on “The Difference One Determined Man Can Make

  1. Why aren’t there more gardens like this one, everywhere in Africa? How can every family have a garden of its own? Why is help form Europe needed to accomplish this?

    • Hello Michael, we agree: there should be many more gardens like this everywhere in Africa and all over our planet! How can that be achieved? The answer to this question leads us into almost all areas of life and eventually turns the world upside down. We recognize the global war on food. That’s the point where Europeans and Africans and all who want to take a stand for life have to cooperate.

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