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An ag-minded Kenyan grad returns to the U.S. and a garden of friends

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Wanambisi Edward Wesakania

Soon after Wanambisi Edward Wesakania (’04, ’06) graduated from Western, he said goodbye to his friends in Whatcom and Skagit counties to move back to rural Kenya and put his environmental science degrees to work.

But Wesakania’s friends didn’t forget him.

Wesakania began fulfilling his dreams of teaching Kenyans about organic gardening and sustainability, starting a library with 4,000 books donated from Washington state friends and running an early childhood education and feeding program for orphaned children.

Then much to his surprise, Wesakania’s application was approved to immigrate to the U.S. with his wife, Lucy, and six children.

He wanted to move to the U.S. to provide the best educational opportunities for his children, he says, but was reluctant to leave behind the community programs he had worked so hard to establish.

“I think it was the hardest moment of my life,” Wesakania said, “making that decision to stay or leave.”

Then violence broke out over the country’s contested presidential election in late 2007. Wesakania’s neighbor was killed in his own home in a case of mistaken identity, a terrifying ordeal that solidified their decision to leave.

“My youngest son was asking, ‘When are we moving away from here?’ ” Wesakania remembers. “He had never heard gunshots before.”

So Wesakania’s friends in Whatcom and Skagit counties sprung into action, collecting money and frequent flier miles to help the large family make the trip to Washington state. Wesakania had developed a wide circle of friends during his studies at Skagit Valley College and at WWU’s Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies and Huxley College of the Environment.

Friends – and their friends, church groups and co-workers – raised $12,000 to pay for the visas, medical exams and other expenses for the families, and 650,000 air miles for the tickets.

The family now lives in Stanwood with a close friend while they re-establish themselves here. Wesakania works part-time as a research assistant at Washington State University Extension in Mount Vernon.

He hopes to continue his sustainable gardening work in the U.S. while his older brother oversees the Eco-Garden Kenya project in Africa.

Meanwhile, his children, now ranging in age from 5 to 22, are enrolled in local schools, and Lucy is working toward her GED.

When Wesakania first came to Washington state seven years ago, he got help from his whole village to scrape together the air fare to come, he says. He calls the community effort in the U.S. to bring the rest of his family here “a miracle.”

“I believe it was meant to be for me to be here with my kids,” he says.

Learn more about Eco-Garden: Wanambisi@yahoo.com