My time volunteering
I lived in Wote Town which is the capital of Makueni county, South Eastern Kenya. It is 3-4 hours
from Nairobi and 1-2 hours from Machakos. The town is semi-rural, it has a large urban central
business district (CBD) with two large supermarkets and a bus station area. The wider community
lives in sparse rural dwellings with agri-business being the main source of employment. Makueni
county is 8,008.9 km squared in size and has a population of 885,000 people. The residents here are
part of the Kamba ethnic group and speak the local dialect which is Kamba: this is distinct from
Swahili and is the language spoken by the residents, alongside Swahili and English. This part of the county is
made up of many small settlements which are accessible via a Matatu, the areas we interacted most
with on my placement are Kiteei, Kiangini and Kathonzweni.
The biggest issue in Makueni county is the high levels of youth unemployment and the limited
engagement in key industries like agri-business. My role in the community was to engage with the
youth aged from 18-35 and to help alter youth attitudes, provide business skills and to help increase
their resilience to common problems. I worked in partnership with the local NGO Anglican
Development Service Eastern (ADSE), which works on issues such as water management, sanitation
services and sustainable livelihoods. As a team we focused on the water and sanitation aspect, with
an emphasis on going into schools and giving talks on good hygiene practices. My team helped
progress and establish the Makueni Youth Development Programme, which was a culmination of
efforts from cycle 1 and our own ambitions. This looked to tackle issues such as a lack of resilience in
the youth business community and provide mentorship from those who have succeeded in the
creation of effective local businesses.
The impact of my placement
To tackle the big problem of youth unemployment and limited resilience, we set up the Makueni
Youth Development Programme (MYDP). This initiative builds on the work of cycle 1, but with
increased efficiency and a greater focus on sustainability. The programme aims to teach different
youth groups key business skills from successful leaders in the community by setting up a network of
role models in all the different sub counties. This programme is an extension of VSO's work and aims
to reach the places volunteers are unable to access. It also aims to teach the youth skills from those
who have been successful in the local community: as volunteers we have limited skills and
knowledge on Makueni based issues. This way we can get people who live here to provide practical
solutions to common problems. The programme also aims to connect different groups together, so
that they can share ideas and maybe establish business links with similar groups.
To tackle the issue of water management, sanitation, and sustainable livelihoods in our placement
we made a water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programme. As part of this, we delivered an
interactive session in 4 primary schools, covering the SDGs, WASH, and basic sanitation and hygiene
practices. The schools we visited were those who had benefited from some assistance from ADSE.
They were often located in the interior and due to their isolated status, we found language barriers
to be a big issue. To combat this, we made the sessions highly interactive decreasing the amount of
speaking and replacing it with fun activities like quizzes, demonstrations, and Q&A sessions with
teachers and students. Unfortunately, during the second month of our cycle it was the school
holidays, therefore we were unable to strengthen the links we had built with these primary schools
through subsequent visits. However, whilst the schools were closed we set up a menstrual hygiene
project: through 3 sessions, we were able to educate 850 teenage girls on menstrual health,
covering the biology, what is normal, practical advice, hygiene tips and demonstrations on how to
use sanitary products.
My unforgettable moments
My memorable story was when my team (ADS-E) and I went to Kithuungo and Munyuuka area in Mbooni Sub-county, in a girl empowerment forum. We gave a talk on menstrual health and were also lucky enough to interact with the girls. I felt motivated, given a chance to pass my wisdom and knowledge to young girls who are full of life. Most people don’t talk about menstrual health and issues that affect the girl child in general and that affects the general health of the community. It opened my eyes in understanding that education and awareness on key issues affecting us is very important and should be a continuous process. We also had sessions on defilement, broad explanation on sexual defilement act, early pregnancy and marriages which face young kids in our societies. I was moved by the forum in that, it is our responsibility as grown-ups to offer necessary information that the young kids need whether they ask for it or not. It lets them know that there are concerned people out there and that they also matter. The girls were very interactive, it made me feel some form of connection
The impact my placement has had on me
I just completed the university, have pursued Environmental Studies and majored in community development. I started volunteering in January 2018 and was eager to begin my career with a much bigger organisation that will expose me and my abilities beyond my local community level and knowledge. For a long time, I have been interested in being involved in projects that contribute to changing the poor state of our communities, empowering other people and making a difference, resulting to changing the world for better. My parents, my sibling and my lecturers played big role by always keeping me motivated, which I’ll forever be grateful.
My ICS journey has clarified on the focus I want to take in my career. I have also discovered some of the abilities I didn’t know I possess such as public speaking and being able to motivate others. In my placement, the Anglican Development Service-Eastern (ADS-E), I have been involved in sessions where I had the opportunity to give talks on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in primary schools. We began a menstrual hygiene project whereby we did a few surveys to identify the needs of girls in Makueni Community, the perceptions that are and also the understanding the boys have on the topic. This projects made positive impact to the primary actors in that we received feedback from the teachers and the team leaders that the kids were practising that they learnt from the sessions conducted, which was motivating. I was not sure that the WASH sector could be part of my career but after working with ADS-E, I discovered that community development is a broad sector, what matters is the approach you take.
I was also involved in the Girl Child Empowerment Forum Programme which opened my mind to the challenges girls face in the community and that the change starts with me. I gave a talk on menstrual health which I felt is always a necessity in as much as people don’t like talking about it. Menstrual health has been ignored and girls left to figure it out for themselves, those who are lucky would get it from schools. At the beginning of my session, the girls were scared, not interactive and that shows hoe neglected menstrual health is in our communities. Personally, this topic should be talked about openly, education how the human body works should be continuous. That children reaching puberty should already know what’s going to happen to their bodies. This gives them the information they need and makes them as comfortable as they should be with these discussions. That menstruation is a natural and wonderful part of being a woman. Thus is a line I would be interested to take in future and empower more girls to be self-sustaining.
Ultimately, I learnt that the journey of empowerment happens on both sides. For the 3-months experience, all I can say is, always be humbled and open up to the ideas that no matter how much you know or how far you’ve gone in life. You will always learn a thing or two about the resourcefulness of people. That in life, development and empowerment is a two-way learning relationship.