My time volunteering
On 30 May 2004, I departed for Malawi as a Management Advisor to support the Tovwirane HIV/AIDS Organisation in Mzimba in the northern part of Malawi. My predecessor Steve Gichuki also from Kenya who was a VSO volunteer had done a tremendous job in the organisation. He transformed the organisation from a CBO to an NGO, acquired for them a 4WD motor vehicle, 2 motor bikes and fundraised to a tune of Malawian Kwacha (MK) 26 Million from USAID.
Because of this phenomenal growth, local NGOs lacked capacity in technical expertise to manage the programmes and finances. The biggest challenge was putting in place the new management structure since the organisation had grown so fast and the current management structure then could not handle the workload of Programmes and Financial Management. Tovwirane started as a PLWAs support group before it grew into a mighty organization that helped to prevent, mitigate and provide care for orphans infected or affected by HIV and AIDS. During that time, in early 2000s, Malawi was among other SADC countries that was greatly affected by this scourge. I considered Malawi to be my launching pad to my greatness. Of significant focal point was and is still my boss, Mrs. Helen Munthali, a mother of 11 children took me as one of her sons and life in Malawi was very fulfilling.
It was during that time I decided to go back to Kenya and marry a girl of my choice and go with her to Malawi. It’s in Malawi where we got our first son Edwin Kinyua in 2006. My family and I are still in constant communication with Mama Mbanasi and her family. My trip to Malawi was the most fulfilling and refreshing and formed a strong foundation in my career development.
During my farewell party Mrs Munthali in her remarks said, ‘Johnson Kinyua and his wife arrived here as a VSO Management Advisor to assist Tovwirane to develop its capacity and management of its operations. At that time, Tovwirane was struggling in area of management and staff and Tovwirane thought it wise to seek the intervention of VSO to grant them an expert to assist Tovwirane. Ladies and gentlemen, I can assure you that it was not a mistake the VSO gave us Johnson Kinyua, infact it was a timely decision’.
The impact of my placement
Before the end of my two-year term, I had put in place a new management structure, proper documentation of programme activities, initiated new more Income Generating Activities (IGAs), developed an organisational website and newsletter and fundraised more!
Tovwirane amassed experience regarding sexual education in schools, clubs and churches; Peer education and outreach in communities; Behaviour-change communication through mass media, One on One and focus group discussions. Social marketing of free condoms; Community dialogue on HIV/AIDS and Reproductive health issues; Safe Motherhood through community PMTCT activities; Efforts to make providers of reproductive health services more youth-friendly; Coordinating referral network activities and advocacy by influential community leaders to support ASRH programs. As a result PLWAs, orphans and home based care programmes were declared as some of the best models in preventing, mitigating and care in the whole of Malawi.
Because of the foundation that was laid technically and financially, Tovwirane expanded its programs to include sexual reproductive health program targeting youths, adolescents, men and women with an aim (among others) of providing access to appropriate education and information on sexual health and access to appropriate health needs. Program activities included family life and sexual education in schools, clubs and churches; peer education and outreach in communities; behaviour-change communication through mass media, One on One and focus group discussions; social marketing of free condoms; community dialogue on HIV/AIDS and reproductive health issues; safe Motherhood through community PMTCT activities; efforts to make providers of reproductive health services more youth-friendly; coordinating referral network activities; advocacy by social service institutions and influential community leaders to support ASRH programs.
In light of such dedicated efforts, Tovwirane is now well-known throughout Mzimba Boma and Malawi as a whole and many people understand that Tovwirane organisation is on hand to provide advice, care and support in regards to sexual and reproductive issues. The programs have been celebrated in the media a number of times and we are confident that their work is contributing towards tackling the HIV epidemic and other pervasive social problems linked to this issue including gender equality.
My unforgettable moments
I have fond memories of Malawi, specifically, of Tovwirane in Mzimba Boma, Northern Malawi. It’s the place where I established myself in leadership and career, thanks to the motherly support of my boss Hellen Munthali (Or Mama Mbanasi as we fondly called her). On arrival to Malawi, our host Helen Munthali (Mama Mbanasi) received us and took care of us as her children. On February 2, 2006 we got our first born boy who was born at St. John’s Hospital in Mzuzu, Northern City of Malawi. We named him Edwin Kinyua Ireri. In Malawi they fondly nicknamed him ‘Jere'
Mama Mbanasi walked with us, step-by-step in our newly family adventure. She was our mother there, a friend and a counselor and still remains our family friend till date. When the first born son was threatening to come out of the womb, she always made us to laugh with her signature slogan “Johnson Mwatamangira” meaning you did it so soon! “Johnson Mwatamangira” became a rallying laughter call to remind me to be careful, gentle and patient to Mary.
After our assignment in Malawi was done, we came back to Kenya on 28 May 2006 when our son was only three months old, we traversed Malawi and Tanzania by road to Kenya, in three days, through Malawi’s Karonga border, Tanzania’s Mbeya, DaresSalaam and Arusha town and finally to Nairobi through Lunga Lunga border.
The two trainings (PfC and WRV) I took prior to my departure formed a basis for my MBA Strategic Management research project titled “The Impact of Strategic Training and Development Programmes on Performance: The Case of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) Jitolee East Africa” November 2009 which is in the UoN erepository. https://erepository.uonbi.ac.ke
The impact my placement has had on me
After I came back to Kenya, I kept my communications with VSO Jitolee and they kept on sending us opportunities for work in Kenya and across the world for those who had not gotten a job upon return to Kenya. An advert was sent to all Returned Volunteers (RVs) about the opportunity of heading a local start up national volunteering agency by the name NAVNET (National Volunteer Network) Kenya. I applied and I was called for an interview among other applicants. The results came out and I was the winner of the position.
In June 2007, I joined NAVNET as the first Executive Director. NAVNET was founded by VSO Returned Volunteers (RVs). The founding Chairman George Awalla spotted my potential during the interview and recruited me as the first Executive Director of Navnet Kenya and mentored me for three years in leadership and management position .
In NAVNET I linked VSO Returned Volunteers for jobs, trainings and consultancies with local NGOs, private companies and Government ministries. For universities students and fresh graduates, I linked them to community based organisations (CBOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for volunteering opportunities. My office was based at Hazina Towers, 11th floor. One of the success stories of NAVNET graduate volunteering programme was Agneta Nyalita who joined us as a graduate volunteer and by the time I was leaving the organisation, she was already a Programmes Assistant of the organisation. She is now an Advisor to Prof. Kivutha Kibwana, the Governor of Makueni on matters of Youths and Diaspora Affairs. The other other is Joy…..who works with National Museums of Kenya as Biodiversity Conservationist. These are just a few examples of impact of an idea whose time has come.
It was while at NAVNET that I was involved in the founding of Volunteer Involving Organizations (VIO) Network, a national network of volunteer organizations in Kenya. I joined hands with other volunteer organizations such as VSO Jitolee, United Nations Volunteers (UNV), Kenya Red Cross Society, AMREF Ungana Trust, Hope Worldwide, Ufadhili Trust and Progressive Volunteers among others and to found the Volunteer Involving Organizations (VIO) Network in 2007 which has been very instrumental in formulation of the Volunteerism Policy in Kenya and in organizing International Volunteers Day (IVD) every December 5 since 2008.