Wednesday, 17 October 2012

"Phoebe, when I grow up and get a good job I want you to know I will pay you 10 percent for everthing you have paid for me."

"Dossi, that is so very kind and thoughtful, but I don't ever want you to do that. What you can do for me is work hard, get a good job and then listen when I teach you about saving and helping your family and others."

"Oh, well, that's very nice then."

He never ceases to put a smile on my face  as I watch him becoming a young man.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

"A Handout or a Handup"

“ I think what people want if you ask the poor—if given a choice between a handout or a hand up that helps them really to have a sense of dignity and independence, to be able to put food on their table by themselves through their own effort—they all want to be able to do that. You know, that is, that is a part of the human aspiration, and I think we need to find ways of doing that; and it’s enterprise that can really help people do that.”

I haven't had much contact with Dossi since he went back to school, it is more difficult as the teachers are not so forthcoming, but I wholly blame myself. Sometimes life happens and it has been a week, two weeks, a month since we have spoken and the guilt becomes palpable. We used to speak every Thursday at four o'clock, when my good friend- and Dossi's teacher- Abdul would sneak into the dorms for us to talk on his mobile (The Sisters of that centre did not appreciate my relationship with Dossi and often tried to hinder my contact with him as I became more aware of what their agenda was.) So following this drought of communication you can imagine my joy when I received a call from Mami (Dossi's Aunt, Lily.) Hearing their voices instantly transports me back to Kenya and I feel a little bit of home running through my veins. Sometimes I think there is a part of me that retrains contact for selfish reasons. If I can block it from my head then I forget the constant sadness I carry with me that I am not there with them.

It is always a humbling experience when I talk with Lily. I respect her on a level to that of my own Parents and in every way she her as a doting Aunt. You see, whilst the children have this ingrained notion that because I am white and Western I have unlimited funds at my disposal, Mami has a respect and understanding of what I have to do to make all of this possible. All she ever asks of me is to pray for them, and lovingly to "come back to Kenya soon as we are missing you so much". I hear her soft yet sadly strained voice  ring in my mind as I type those words and they clasp at my heart for a second. 

This is a woman that has was born into poverty and has known little else. As previously discussed her tenacious nature and want for a better has led her through many trades to support her family, Her  constant and courageous attempts to give them what they have never had is inspiring. Whilst her waning health makes that near to impossible now, it is a blessing so many have been touched by her in their lives and help the family with the things they need to survive. Her health however does not impede on her dreams. There have been many afternoons as her and I have sat cooking dinner over their charcoal burner. The steam and smoke circling up and around the small, concrete room in an attempt to escape the dark, oppressive walls only to find sanctuary from the clothed front "door". She will sit, telling me of her dreams and how she could use her skills to create small businesses to help fund the family. These jobs would have little effect on their quality of life, perhaps a few less days a month of hunger, however there is spoken pride in the fact that she could provide it for herself. 


I often sit, observe, listen: acknowledge others around me and the average Western child's attitude to life so often saddens and perplexes me. I refer to this as the "McDonalds generation"- I want it, I want it now and I do not want to have to do anything to receive it. When did consumer items become a right, not a privilege? Why does a five year old need an Ipad? Why do we expect the newest edition of an item, when we received the last only a few months ago? And most significantly why do we assume the right of certain things, with the attitude that we should do nothing for it? Our society breeds and enforces indulgence and lethargy. So many have lost the pride of a days hard work and whilst I am skeptical to say it, if offered the choice of a "handout or handup" to gain something for themselves, most would grab the handout and run. 


I see a determination and fervour in many of the older boys from the centre, the ones that were there before it got inundated with loving, but inexperienced volunteers. They have a want to create their own future, to shoulder the pride that comes with sustaining your own life. I understand this because I do the same. After University the simpler- and some may say cleverer option- would have been to move home, but I wanted to continue to build a life for myself as an autonomous adult. But just as these boys at point in their lives need someone to give them a handup, so do I. But the key is here, as so rightly spoken in the Kim Tan quote above, the principle difference between "up' and "out". 


And so this scattered journey somehow brings be back to Mami. She has never once asked for a handout, in fact I could not even say she has asked for a handup. She simply wants to include me in her dreams and, if I get to a point where I can support them more thoroughly, I want to be a part of them. What I dream for them is larger than what Mami's mind will let her thoughts wander to. Having done much research into her ideas of seam-stressing and owning a small convenience stand, I came to realise whilst this might help it would not support them to the point where all the children are fed, clothed and schooled everyday. After much deliberation with my Kenyan friends it became clear that, were I to find a way to buy them a Matatu, they would be able to afford to, well simply, live. In an African perspective "live" provides the sanctuary of a couple of rooms, with electricity and communal running water, food on the table, and the black cloud that poverty holds firmly above their heads, abolished. But, most importantly, all five children would be able to be in full time education. 

It costs roughly £10,000 to buy a new matatu and kit it out to a standard where they would receive most business (in Kenya the matatu's with lights, good sound systems and pictures will always be the first chosen by the hoards of traveller's at the pick up points.) Mami could employ the men to run the matatu, all she has to do is give and collect the keys at the end of every day. Most importantly it would generate enough income to keep itself on the road (allowing for the cover of overheads), to upkeep a comfortable standard of living and most importantly to save and invest in a future for the whole Mlamba family.

It is, at best, a pipe dream at this moment in time, however it is something that continues to simmer on the stove of my thoughts. To come back to the Kim Tan quote at the beginning, it simply sparked within me the greatest gratitude and respect towards my Kenyan family. They remain loyal to the essence of hard work and pushing to better their own lives, whilst continually proving me the support and recognition I so gratefully receive. Whilst they would willing except a hand to conquer these hurdles they in no way expect to be carried over them and in that so many of us could learn a beautiful lesson.