Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jeannine on her project in Kenya in 2009

After a few days sleeping in airports and countless bus journeys down sandy, rock filled roads (the term road is used loosely here) we finally arrived at our village, only to be met by the most amazing singing and dancing from the village elders as they welcomed us from all corners of the globe. We were shown the mud houses where we would stay, the place from which we should draw water and the showers which consisted of a bowl of water (if the well was not dry), some banana leaves and an empty sack!

When night fell, the sky was breath taking. It was as though I could see every individual star as it twinkled in the pitch black sky. When night falls in a place with no electricity, the stars look like diamonds, and you should really not forget your torch. Unfortunately I had, and would spend the next two weeks stumbling around in blackness gaining lots of bruises.

After boiled yams and sugary tea for breakfast we began our first day at work. We were working with the locals to build a dam. The rains in Kenya have failed for the last two years and people are desperate. Everyone is crying for water, with no water there are no crops, no crops means no food, without food there is no life. When the rains eventually came (which they didn’t this year either) we were building a dam to collect the rain water for the villagers. We dug all morning, tools were scarce, the local kids dug with their bare hands, making leaf baskets to use as buckets, the strength of five year olds putting me to shame!

Afternoons were put aside for house visits. Every afternoon after lunch we visited the local people to hear about their lives and their problems. The people were so open with us, often sharing things with us that broke our hearts. The lack of water seemed to be effecting every area of peoples’ lives. A common question was how far did I have to go to get water in my country. It was incredibly humbling to explain that I had things called taps inside my house, that not only delivered water, but hot water too. I was ashamed to say that I was not 100% sure where it came from. In a life of plenty most things are taken fore granted.

What did I learn from this experience? it is difficult to say. I learnt how to carry 70 litres of water in a day. I learnt how to hide a swollen hungry belly. I learnt about corruption, beatings, greed and apathy. I learnt the helplessness of aid agencies who try to help. I learnt to choose between using water to wash or drink – there is no choice. I learnt that I have more than I will ever need, that the abundance in my life is a result of being born in the affluent West. I learnt how to be joyful with what I have. On no other project have I been so integrated into the community and laughed, cried, and fully lived among the locals. Mostly my experience reinforced that what is needed education. What is needed is for people to get alongside the people in communities like this and work through their problems with them. Aid agencies can throw all the money they want at Africa, most of it won’t reach the people who need it. We need to empower individuals, support and education them to make the changes they know their country needs. And what am I going to do about it? Next summer I am taking 20 sixth form students out to Africa to get alongside the youth there, to encourage, to support, to inspire the next generation to do whatever it is they decide their countries needs.

Jeannine, Kenya 2009

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