The past couple weeks have been important weeks for me. It just so happens that November 2018 is one of my busiest months and I have felt more than a little overwhelmed in the past few days than most days – so much so that it has been difficult to function, to get things done.
Being that there has been so much on my plate, it was therefore counterintuitive that I should take time away from my desk. My task list calls for doubling down on the job, long hours and focused pushing of detail. But I did take some time away from the office and it has been very consequential for me.
The week before last, I used my time to go to different parts of the country and simply meet with people. I had the chance to join CDC Kenya and PEPFAR who were going around Kenya with my favorite photographer, Nicholas Oreyo taking some amazing photos of some amazing people. Their exhibition project is called Champions of Change, through which they recognised some ordinary people doing extraordinary things to fight Gender Based Violence (GBV).
Watiri Breaking Down Doors
I met with a lady called Watiri. Together with 5 others, she goes door to door in Kawangware and talks to people about Gender Based Violence and how they can live without it. She works with her community to mobilise women and men to find and root out people who are violent against their wives and children and husbands. Where there is a child that needs rescuing, Watiri and her ” Sasa team” are not above kicking doors in to get at them.
I met 19 year old Margaret. She graduated from high school last year and has a thriving poultry farm with about 30 large chickens. She started her kitchen farm in May, and she has grown it from strength to strength. She also has a small stall that she opens in the evening to sell vegetables from her mum’s farm. At the weekend, Margaret spends time playing with kids, 10-14 years old, mentoring them to work hard in school, talking to them about sexuality and violence and finding reports of when they have been hurt or violated. She escalates those cases to a local organisation so that they get help.
I met two young men who drive boda boda (motor-bike taxis) in Kisumu county. They work as advocates against Gender Based Violence and are a force to reckon with in the area. Working with local organisations and the police, Carlos and Bernard conduct investigations into acts of violence such as rape and give information to the police for action. The thing is, as boda boda people, they can go anywhere and people are not suspicious of them. When they find the perpetrators, the two trained paralegals make citizen arrests with the help of other boda boda drivers.
I think the most remarkable story I heard was that of Lucy Kelly. The bubbly 19 year old is a former street child. Born in the streets in Isiolo to a mother she does not know, Lucy hang out with older kids who protected them. They moved wherever they wanted, whenever they chose and they ate from bins and the charity of passers by. In the early part of her life, she moved with a crew of older kids from Isiolo to Meru and to Nanyuki. In Nanyuki, she and another young child were abandoned by the larger group while they were sleeping in an alley way.
Lucy and her friend cried for a while and then decided to follow a kindly old man who sold porridge in the town (and who used to feed them what remained). They followed him all the way home much to his chagrin and then slept on the doorstep. Eventually, the next morning he took them in “and that was the first time I ever took a shower and slept in a bed.”
Later, the kindly old man, who had 7 children of his own, organised for Lucy to go work for someone as a house girl. “I really had no idea how to wash a house,” she laughs heartily. “What I did, when I was told to wash the house was to pour so much water that I flooded the house and then beat the water with a cloth. I could not explain why it was not getting clean!”
Lucy worked as a house girl for a string of employers until one day in Thika she decided she would not work any more unless she went to school. So 11-ish year old Lucy went to a nearby school and informed them (she was not requesting) that she would be joining that school and could they tell her what she needed to bring. That school did not cooperate so Lucy went to the next school on her list and there, she met a teacher who agreed to take her on.
Today, Lucy has completed her Standard 8 and now hopes to join secondary school. While she was in school, as an older pupil, she became a student counsellor on matters life, sex and taking school seriously.
“I really wanted them to know where I have come from and why they should take the privilege of having homes and parents seriously.”
Lucy Kelly, 19 years old
What struck me the most is Lucy’s face when I asked her what she wants to achieve in life. She beamed a huge smile, looked up to heaven and said, “Naona Mwangaza mkubwa kwa maisha yangu (I see a bright light in my future). I will be a biiiig lawyer who will protect children – myself, I will. Not delegate that work!”
All of these stories (and several others) have greatly re-energised me. I have always been stimulated by the idea of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make their life and that of others better. It is in meeting these people that I am strengthened to deal with my overwhelming weeks. In emulating them, I feel rather less overwhelmed.
In meeting these people, I am reminded of my own mission as a person. I was made to find ways to help give real power back to individuals so that they can make life better. Part of that is becoming aware of them and recognising them. By simply breathing the same air as them, I am strengthened.
I hope you are too.
Pictures: by Nicholas Oreyo for CDC.