Jan 9, 2017  By Kenneth Kiplang'at Chepkwony  Category: Blueprint Negev,

My Arava Story: A Kenyan agriculture student's 'extraordinary' new life

We're taking time to focus on the beauty of the Arava, Israel's southern desert. Residents of the Central Arava face many challenges, including the harsh climate, large distance between communities, and lack of accessibility to resources available in urban centers. JNF has partnered with the Central Arava Regional Council as part of our Blueprint Negev campaign to make the Negev habitable to the next generation of Israel's residents. 

Here, a personal narrative from a Kenyan student at the Arava International Center for Agriculture and Training (AICAT). He details the surprises and pleasures of his new life in Israel's south.

By Kenneth Kiplang'at Chepkwony

I recently graduated from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in Kenya, and I'm currently pursuing a postgraduate diploma at the Arava International Center for Agriculture and Training. I came to Israel in August 2016 as one of the beneficiaries of an internship program that has seen the admission of 100 Kenyan students at AICAT. The objective is to expose individuals like me to the sophisticated agricultural technologies attached to the Arava. I hail from an agricultural family that relies solely on natural rainfall. Sadly, such traditional approaches have hindered local communities from growing food sufficiently. This inspired me to apply to AICAT. I have a deep desire to apply the knowledge I will amass in the Arava to influence my country folk positively.

Learning about the new climate in nature. 
Life in the Arava has been extraordinary, and my experiences have challenged the expectations I had about this country. I learned about Israel at a young age. As a boy, I was intrigued by world news and encountered newspaper coverage of terrorist attacks in Israel. Consequently, I grew up knowing Israel to be a "war zone," and this mentality followed me through adulthood. Most of my close relatives were a bit wary about my trip to Israel. However, I can confidently say I have proven everyone wrong, including myself. 

In the many months spent here, I have met amazing people. It is in the Arava that I discovered the power of an indomitable spirit, the assertive will to face and conquer trials. The "Israeli rhythm" regarding the execution of daily tasks is definitely something I will take back home. Every minute in the Arava counts as a learning opportunity, especially the advanced agriculture that has allowed farmers in this region to beat all odds.

Nevertheless, every life experience has a flip side. Among the challenges I have faced during my stay is the need to adapt to a new physical environment. Back at home, I was raised in a tropical climate characterized by a lack of seasons. In the Southern Negev, I have been exposed to both heat and cold in significantly high measure. An additional setback is the language barrier. Most consumer products are entirely labeled in Hebrew -- I have carried home detergents that I mistook for food. However, this problem has opened avenues of further socialization. I am frequently forced to make new friends while shopping to help me avoid such mishaps.

More on the Arava
The magic that is life in the Arava desert: One family's story

Photography is a new interest I developed in the Arava. A better part of my adult life was spent in Nairobi, which did not accord me the chance to interact with nature fully. I was absorbed in the city life's routines of paying bills and pursuing goals. My arrival in Israel was a break from the norm. First, this is the first time that I have stepped out of the borders of my country. Various things I have encountered in the desert have satisfied my previous curiosity about the outside world. This has been an opportunity to expose my senses to elements of nature, and the Arava has proved to be such a captivating stimulant. My newfound hobby, photography, allows me to share the rich blessings I have acquired in the Arava with my family, friends, and the rest of the world.

The Arava has been such a blessing to me. It has provided a temporary home, a comfortable one. This desert is brimming with natural beauty partly because much of its terrain remains untouched. The fact that farmers have created a food basket, right in the middle of a desert, indicates the complex nature of human intellectual sophistication -- this is a real challenge to all nations across the world.

I will take very many things back home. First, I have adopted a new hobby that can be instrumental in influencing positive global change. The technical training I am receiving in the Arava will also mold me into an asset of value to Kenya within the spheres of food safety and security. Additionally, I am undergoing a personal transformation that will shape my character to befit that of a responsible member of society, compatriot, and respectable family figure. May God bless the people of the Arava, and protect the noble State of Israel.

One of Kenneth's amazing photographs, posted on his Instagram page.