It’s late November and Rani, 39, an Indian farmer and entrepreneur, has arrived in Kakamega, a town in Western Kenya. It’s the first time she’s ever been abroad.
Beside her is Godavari, a friend and colleague, who like Rani, trains other women about climate change and community resilience.
Rani and Godavari are members of Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), an NGO based in India which seeks to empower women through leadership and entrepreneurial training.
They’ve flown from India to meet delegates of a similar women-led organisation, Shibuye Community Health Workers, who are based in Western Kenya.
Rani and Godavari are part of an exchange between the two organisations. Their collaboration aims to expand women-led innovations that enhance climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Both groups are members of the Huairou Commission, a global coalition that empowers grassroots women leaders around the world.
Peer learning through exchange visits is an important element of the Commission’s work, bringing together women’s groups from varying contexts and realities under common purpose.
As they approached Kakamega by taxi from Kisumu airport, Rani and Godavari passed thick forests and lush jungle landscapes, and they noticed the abundance of water.
They came from Maharashtra, a region of India that has seen record-breaking droughts in recent years. And the climate was only one of many differences the visitors noticed.
“Since this was my first time abroad, I was very curious about the people, travel and food,” said Rani.
Despite the many differences, the Huairou Commission believes organisations like SSP and Shibuye can learn from one another.
Both face the common aim of increasing female leadership and decision-making for climate adaptation, and that’s what this visit was all about. Rani and Godavari travelled thousands of miles to learn from Shibuye’s practices and share their own knowledge in person.
During the exchange visit, Shibuye gave SSP practical demonstrations on soil and land management and agricultural conservation.
In India there’s a lack of land lease guidelines at a community level, so Shibuye members shared how they have communicated with the government to strengthen Kenya’s land management practices.
The Indian team also learned about Shibuye’s women-led farmer field schools, which have fostered environmentally friendly farming practices, while also empowering women to build economic independence.
Rani and Godavari were particularly interested in Shibuye’s two field days of practical training on Kenya’s organic farming methods.
These included sack gardening, collective group farming, and agroforestry, which SSP hope to incorporate in their resilience training sessions back home.
“People adapting to climate change are often moving into uncharted territory – there’s no guidebook, really,” said Heather McGray, Director of the Climate Justice Resilience Fund.
“Our fund supports learning exchanges like the Huairou Commission’s because they provide a tangible way for people to trade tips and refresh their thinking. But building solidarity is probably the most powerful part. People often tell me how glad they are when they learn they’re not alone.“
It’s now February, three months have passed since the exchange visit, and Rani and Godavari look back on their experience.
“Although the communities were poor and the infrastructure was in a bad shape, the presence of strong women leadership was very strong and that made me very happy,” said Godavari.
“I was very fortunate to see the Kakamega Forest National Reserve and particularly how local people are committed to protecting the resources and the environment” she added.
But it wasn’t all work; the delegates enjoyed the social aspect of the exchange visit too.
“Kenyans are great people, very kind in nature,” said Rani. “I loved the women leaders and enjoyed dancing and singing with the community. The women leaders have now become my friends.”