At the Academy of Culinary Nutrition, our staff and students are always looking for ways to give back to the community. One of the primary ways we are able to do this is through From Scratch Cooking, our annual e-cookbook for charity. This digital cookbook is special because 100% of the proceeds are given to non-profit organizations to help support their incredible work. One of our 2018 graduates, Katherine Boggs, was so inspired by Thrive, our main charity recipient, that she took her entire family to Africa in January 2020 to volunteer on the ground!
We spoke with Katherine about her volunteer experience, what it meant to her, and how we can all help give back.
Why did you want to go to Africa to work with Thrive?
Front row, from left: Linda Bolton, Founder of Thrive, Meghan Telpner, Founder of Academy of Culinary Nutrition, Katherine Boggs, Culinary Nutrition Expert
Back row: Dale Bolton, Founder of Thrive
When I was 11, my family and I moved to Kenya and I lived there for 10 years. I spent the first three years at a school in the south of Nairobi (playing sports on the fields with the occasional warthog as a spectator!) and afterward went to boarding school in England. I went back to Kenya every Christmas, Easter and summer holiday and considered it my home.
Ever since I left, I have wanted to go back and to take my husband and kids. Africa gets under your skin in a way I can’t properly describe, but it’s something to do with the friendly Kenyan people, the sun, the red earth, and the wide-open savannahs.
I first came to know about Thrive when I learned they had an internship for a holistic nutritionist. That is my background so I was immediately drawn to the role but due to family commitments, I just couldn’t make it work. I was really taken by the work Thrive was doing – focusing on teaching people how to grow health, not just giving handouts.
When the Academy of Culinary Nutrition did a fundraiser for Thrive with the From Scratch Cooking Cookbook, I felt this was a sign. I contacted Dale and Linda Bolton, the co-founders, and started helping out with the nutrition curriculum for the training centre in Kitale and developing recipes that the Eden Guesthouse could make using vegetables picked straight from their garden. Dale thought it would be a great idea for me to visit the centre in Kitale to see all the different projects Thrive runs. This invitation set a whole trip in motion – my parents, siblings and their families came with us for the first two weeks. They then returned to England and my family continued up north.
How did you help when you were there? What activities and work did you participate in?
We had 5 days to get involved and it was jam-packed! This is what we did:
Opening of Training Centre
I did a presentation for the students of the one-month training program (I actually loved this even though I was terrified at first!). We also met the woman my community is sponsoring to take the course. We had raised enough money to send her to the residential course and to go home afterward with tools and seeds to start her own garden, so it was wonderful to meet her in person.
Organic Garden Visit
We learned about gardening techniques, mulching, combining plants so they maximize the soil nutrient, crop rotation, permaculture, and how local herbs are used for local diseases such as artemisia for malaria.
School and Community visits
We made smoothies as a way to demonstrate how good greens can taste and gave a presentation on nutrition. We had collected soccer balls from the kids’ soccer club at home (Clarkson Soccer Club) and stationery from our community, which we were able to donate to the school kids. The balls were a huge hit! We also visited the local garden projects that Thrive had initiated by teaching the community leaders. It was great to see how proud they were that they were able to grow food on land that previously had been a wasteland.
Visit to a Women’s Prison
Again, we took smoothies to show them how to use the greens they are growing in the prison gardens. The women were so welcoming – smiling, laughing, and singing welcome songs for us. They all agreed that the smoothies were ‘tamu’ (tasty in Swahili). My next fundraiser I think will be to buy them a Vitamix so they can replicate the smoothies!
Visit to a Men’s Prison
We made a brief stop here as we were not allowed in, but were able to donate rugby balls and uniforms (donated by Crusaders Rugby Club, Oakville) so that the prison guards can play against the Training School team!
I participated in a talk show on a local radio station informing listeners about Thrive’s work as well as trends in the West regarding nutrition and health.
Visit to a Local Primary School
Thrive has initiatives with several local schools to have Life Gardens so the kids can learn. We donated soccer uniforms and more balls, and my kids and husband got to join in a friendly soccer game with the school kids.
Teaching Thrive Staff to Cook
I spent time helping Rose, one of Thrive’s cooks, learn new recipes (and she taught me too!) and prepare lunches and dinners every night. I taught Rachel, Thrive’s Guesthouse Manager, how to meal prep and plan.
Visit to Market in Kitale
We visited an open-air market that was packed full of stalls selling fruit, vegetables, legumes, etc. The kids learned how to barter for the best price – it’s how business is done.
Katherine, far right, at the women’s prison
What were the people in the Thrive communities like?
Happy is one word! Definitely proud of the accomplishments they have made with their gardens. They were so eager to show us their projects because they had invested so much of their time into making them successful.
What was the most memorable or rewarding part of the experience?
It was all inspiring but getting up in front of a large group of people and being able to impart my knowledge was such a great feeling. I usually shy away from public speaking but talking to students who were thirsty to learn was a great environment to start in.
What was the most challenging part of the experience?
Leaving! I felt I had only skimmed the surface in what I had to offer in terms of sharing my knowledge. The people I encountered – from Rose in the kitchen to Ambrose running the training centre – were all so enthusiastic; it was infectious.
What was the most surprising part of the experience?
From a purely personal perspective, it was how my kids and husband got so involved in everything. They knew how important this experience was to me and they fully embraced it. In particular, they took charge of making the smoothies for the visit to the women’s prison while I was teaching at the centre. They picked the greens from the garden and then overcame the challenge of a power cut mid-way through ‘Vitamixing’ to ensure we had enough for all the women to have a taste!
What was it like going there as a family? What did your kids and husband learn?
My kids are aged 14, 12 and 10 and, although well-traveled, had not yet done a trip where they gave something back to the country they were visiting. On this trip, they saw things that were hard such as poverty, the slums (especially Kibera slum in Nairobi), and gangs of kids on the streets who were homeless, begging for enough money to buy glue to sniff so they could get high. We also visited a community where a lot of the kids were orphans being looked after by their relatives. I know they learned how lucky they are to be living in Canada.
My husband really enjoyed learning about the gardening techniques from Stephen, the head gardener at the training centre. He was so proud and passionate about how he’d turned a bare patch of land into a thriving garden. It has inspired him to start our own.
What do you most want people to know about what is going on in the communities Thrive helps?
Thrive is not just giving out food – which is very short term. They are teaching people how to ‘grow health’. This is a long-term solution that empowers people to take control of their lives. They are able to feed themselves, their families, and communities and also have a source of income, which is vital. Thrive invests in local talent to run the training centre and manage the community projects so Kenyans (and the other countries where Thrive has a presence) are directly benefitting.
Why do you think it’s important for us here in North America (or other parts of the world) to support the work Thrive is doing?
We take it for granted that we can go to the shops and get what we need, but in countries like Kenya, growing food is really effected by climate, the political environment, and access to viable land. Just before we went, there were torrential floods that lasted for months that washed valuable soil and nutrients away as well as roads and houses. If people have the knowledge of how to grow food they will be much more successful in ensuring they are healthy. By supporting Thrive, that education can be passed down from one community leader to another so that all communities benefit.
How You Can Help Thrive
- Purchase a copy of From Scratch Cooking
- Volunteer directly with Thrive – contact the organization for more information about opportunities