The Roots of a Movement

In July 2013 Thom Walker, a carpenter from Brighton traveled to Ndanai, a small town in western Kenya. This is the amazing story of what happened in 2 weeks.

Having gone to Kenya to teach carpentry, Thom was invited to Ndanai with the water providing charity Dig Deep and was introduced to Naya Mondo, a Dig Deep benefactor and chairman on their US board, on the way. After being given a tour of the college by chairman Justus and the head Benson, Naya told them about a government fund in Kenya offered to help set up youth enterprise. Seeing great but unrealized potential in the workshops and grounds of the college Thom then helped Benson write a proposal to set the college up as an enterprise to generate funds, give the students real world experience and to supply the community with some of the necessities such as school desks, beds and uniforms, rain water harvesting and fabric bags to help reduce the extensive litter problem of the town.SONY DSC

 Thom found that what most of the students really wanted was a tidy environment and to plant trees.

SONY DSCThrough questionnaires and interviews, Thom found that what most of the students really wanted was a tidy environment and to plant trees. And so that was what they did. Gathering the whole college together, they started theenterprise right away – it would start by all working together to create the environment they all wanted. In half an hour they had cleared all the litter, rubble and fire pits used to burn plastic, having learnt for the first time about about the dangers of burning plastic.


SONY DSCThe following day Thom was invited to the college board meeting with Justus and Benson, the town chief, the head of the whole counties colleges and 8 other community leaders, to present the ideas behind the proposal. After being given resounding support from the board Thom then bought 75 tree and plant saplings from the local tree nursery and the college held a tree planting ceremony with the board members, teachers and students. In the days that followed, a further 300 were planted.


SONY DSCThe football team tidied the whole pitch in 5 minutes because all the kids who were watching got involved without being asked.          

Inspired by the enthusiasm and excitement of the students Thom then went to see the football team Nadanai Blue Stars, who were training at their pitch on the local junior school grounds. Having played with them the previous night Justus had suggested it would be a good idea to talk with the team about the environmental action that had started at the college. As positive role models they might be able to help grow the ideas of working together to create a tidy environment to the wider community.  Immediately engaged in the idea,  they tidied the whole pitch and surrounding area in 5 minutes because the local kids who were watching them train got involved of their own volition. With smiles on their faces the team were then invited to plant trees around the grounds to make it a beautiful home pitch for the other teams in the county league to come to and to help spread the ideas through the league.

The event was named Roots Movement as the English translation of Ndanai is root – a grass roots movement laying down the roots for community collaboration, environmental action and literally planting tree roots.

DiggingWith the football team Thom had the idea to hold a community event the following weekend to have a town tidy up and to plant trees.  And from that things really grew. The town took ownership of organizing it with the football team, the college teachers and students, Justus and Benson, the health officer and town chairman all taking active roles. They created huge banners for the event and put them at the side of the road, they booked musicians and dancers and ordered a tractor pulling a big trailer to carry the rubbish they collected from the town.

SONY DSCSONY DSCThe English translation of Ndanai is root so they named the event Roots Movement. It’s a grass roots movement laying down the roots for environmental action and literally planting tree roots.  The clothing department at the college made fabric bags and Thom designed a logo which the students sprayed on to the bags with stencils Thom made. The local girls school made posters to put around town and 250 school kids dug 750 holes for the trees to be planted. The town was alive with activity.

In 1 and a half hours around 250 people cleared the entire town of it’s extensive litter problem, including the main street, the town square, the side streets and the surrounding fields. In jubilation they broke into song as they made their victory march to the football pitch to plant 750 trees.

Happy handTrailerSONY DSC

On the day of the event around 250 people came together to tidy the town. In 1 and a half hours 3 tractor trailers had been filled with refuse from the town. The community were working with smiles on their faces with the musicians banging their instruments to draw attention to the events as more and more people started to help. When the town had been cleared they all gathered together for a victory march through town to the football pitch to plant trees, and broke into a chorus of ‘We are so happy now, we are full of happiness’ sung in their local dialect.

SONY DSCDSC04557At the football pitch 750 trees were planted by everyone involved in the event. Speeches and entertainment from the musicians wrapped up the days events with the emphasis being made that this wasn’t just a one off event, it was a movement – their movement to continue and grow from the roots they had planted that day.



Ndanai before the Roots Movement event…




…and after the event.