‘Yeye ni fala kidogo.’ was one of the first sentences I learned in Swahili from my new friend and colleague Chegeh since I came to Kenya exactly a week ago. Chege’s cool and always gets it right, so it must be true. That mzungu girl is a little crazy.
Well, maybe I am, but there has been no single second I would regret ditching a chilled seaside holidays for finally getting to test-drive what has always been my big dream – working in community development right in field in an developing country. So here I am, sitting in my very basic room somewhere on the outskirts of Nairobi, listening to lively Swahili (or perhaps Kikuyu) chatter of women doing laundry, noisy kids playing with old tires and Kenyan beats underlying it all. This is Africa.
So what exactly am I doing here?
For five weeks in July and August I am a proud volunteer at Fountain Youth Initiative in Githurai, about 20 km away from Nairobi. Fountain is a small local organization founded by Josephat, a former banker who gave up his comfy job 4 years ago and decided to empower and nurture fellow young people and women in his community. Joined by Lillian and later by Emma, and supported by two teachers, a bunch of interns from nearby university and motivated international volunteers, this small team is certainly strong, devoted and most importantly delivering big times on their mission.
From Monday to Friday, I am coming to the office with the team and working on an overhaul of the Inuka Micro-start project. Inuka is a microfinance project ran by Lillian for the past 2 years. It has a huge success rate, real impact in the community and on top of that contributes to smooth running of the 7 other projects Fountain operates.
It also has a massive potential to grow and to serve and empower even more people (especially women) in Githurai. What we need are proper guidelines for other people in the organization to step in and help Lillian, once the project grows bigger, as this will no longer be a one (wo)man show. We will also need systematic detailed record keeping and monitoring system adjusted for larger client base.
With Lillian’s wealth of knowledge and ability to answer any of my questions, this is what I am working on every day. I might not have the microfinance experience, but ‘organized’ is my second name (I should ask Chegeh for the Swahili version) and looking at things with fresh (amateur) eyes has so far proven quite useful.
If I am not storming my brain over spreadsheets, guidelines and contracts, or strolling around Githurai with Lillian visiting ‘our’ micro-businesses and collecting loan instalments, I am also helping Emma distributing sanitary pads and providing mentorship to vulnerable girls in several local schools.
When time allows I hang out with Chegeh and the chicks. Wait. What does that have to do with community development? Well, Fountain Youth is certainly not lacking entrepreneurial spirit. One of the organization’s sources of income is a small chicken business! It reminds me of home.
Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more and live loud!