“Business is like a man rowing a boat upstream. He has no choice; he must go ahead or he will go back.”
Poverty in Kenya has a bright future unless we row the boat upstream. The tragedy in Kenya is that we all are rowing the boat downstream; a free flow that needs no effort but I submit to you that nothing has ever been achieved effortlessly. We must face choices like I was faced with one when I was only five years.
At the age of five, I watched as my little ten-month-old sister starved to death on the lap of my mother. My mother panicked and I ran into the streets scavenging for whatever I could find to keep my soul breathing. I was faced with two choices; either starve or row my boat upstream. I chose the latter and today I am ending poverty in Kenya with one tool, Issue Leadership.
Allow me to breakdown 12 tools of issue leadership but first how did I arrive at them?
In 1992, just ten years of age, I came home from school and looked at my mother hidden behind the bed curtains, sick and dying. She looked at me and said, “You are my hope.” Her words reverberated on my eardrums like a massive earthquake of enlightenment. I realized I was in poverty to rescue my mother and my community. That day onward, I became an issue leader on poverty.
An issue leader is and needs these twelve things starting with a vision.
To end poverty, a leader must envision it first. The clearest manifestation of poor leadership is poverty. To end poverty in Kenya one must envision the end of poverty besides being a vision bearer. The other eleven tools are encapsulated in the vision. An issue leader is a resource and an educator. He solves problems and seeks justice for his community. In addition, he creates opportunity for others and leads during crisis. He possesses a rare ability to develop others in his community. On the other hand, an issue leader mobilizes resources for his community by connecting the community to the outside world. Above all he is a peacemaker.
To end poverty in Kenya, World Bank needs to identify and develop these community issue leaders. How? Engage in community conversations and as the issues emerge so are the issue leaders.
To achieve this concept, we must flip the Maslow theory of needs and start at the transcendent need; to find ourselves’ getting lost in the service of others.
Between 1992 and 2012, so much happened; my mother died of breast cancer, I travelled the whole world talking about poverty and returned home to nurture more leaders; standing in the gap for others. In April 2013, I was invited to Washington D.C to speak at a G8 conference and here I was, standing before world leaders being a voice of the poor, an issue leader.
The last few months I have been working on a daycare project to learn about how children are raised. I felt it was overwhelming and could be an impossible task to try re-socialize parents in informal settlements to be more responsive to their little ones.
Now, I have this strong echo of confidence that it is possible for the whole community to be able to take care of under-fives after watching a cat love and nurturing instincts on ducklings.
The question I had after watching this video is, if human beings are the most adaptive creatures on the planet, and if ducklings can ‘breastfeed’ what can stop us from raising a thriving generation of children from responsive parenting?
Age is no excuse; meet the eight-year-old boy who traveled abroad to share his business skills with Maasai Women.
Gaia is playful. He can also be quiet but wait until he gets into his element and the entrepreneurs in the boy kicks in.
We were in this village working with women who were making beads and other Maasai ornamental necklaces and bangles to sell for their daughters to go to school.
Gaia walked around observing the process of bead making. One woman in the group made Gaia a bangle and tied it around his wrist. Gaia was impressed but in a minute, he noticed a problem, he could not remove the bangle from his wrist. It was permanent. He crawled back to the woman and said, “I have an idea!”
All of a sudden we were all alert to hear Gaia’s idea. It was about the design of the bangles the women were making. He explained that the bangles the women were making had a problem; it was not easy to put on and remove. He suggested they make one with a hook. Within minutes, the same woman who had made him the first one, had innovated according to Gaia’s design.
The new Bangle had a hook Gaia could hook and unhook easily. Immediately Gaia ordered 50 pieces of the new design he planned to go sell back in Canada and share 20% of his profits with the women.
Impressed with his innovative mind, I invited Gaia to come visit the slum and share some lessons with his age-mates who think you have to be older and with money to be an entrepreneur.
Gaia drew a mind map of Kibera and the business opportunities the kids in the slum could turn into money.
Despite the language barrier Gaia was able to make the children understand that if you don’t have the capital, at least have a product that has value.
Gaia started helping his parents who are entrepreneurs when he was little. He learned from observing and investing his time to learn from his parents. He helped enough times to earn some income from them and used the money start his first online business.
Both the women in the village and the kids in the slum have fond memories of Gaia. Age and language barrier did not stop the eight-year-old boy from volunteering.
It doesn’t matter whether you volunteer for a week or for a year, one encounter may change a life like Silvia Covelli did to five-year-old Njoki.
Coming from Colombia, Silvia arrived in the sleepy town of Watamu wondering whether she would be useful at all. One morning on her way to her volunteer project, she was feeling unused, and almost felt it was a complete waste of time and plane ticket to come to Kenya.
Silvia felt she should have used her vacation days with her daughter. As she digested these thoughts, she saw a sign on the road that advertised ‘God Our Father’ children home. She decided to go ask what she could do. Upon her arrival at this compound, she noticed a young girl with a frail hand. Silvia asked around about her condition but no one at the orphanage knew what her problem was.
The director of the orphanage simply said that Njoki, the five-year-old girl, was rescued like that. It’s probably the reason why she was abandoned, he explained.
Silvia took the initiative to take the little gilr to a doctor in town and get a scan done.
It turned out that the little girl’s frailty was a result of a neurological problem at birth. The good news was that the condition could be reversed with physiotherapy.
After some scans, the doctor recommended a few sessions of physiotherapy and then advised Silvia to use simple exercises on the little girl and within a year or so, Njoki will be able to use her hand like any other child.
It was good news for everyone.
Today, Njoki’s hand is no longer folded up, she is able to pick things with it. The physiotherapy stimulated brain response and now the little girl is as normal as any other girl.
At the end of the two Weeks Silvia, who is not even a physiotherapist, flew out of Kenya with a fulfilled heart. She had changed a life.
Whether you travel for fun, safari or out of curiosity, getting involved is a great way of learning about GLOBAL ISSUES.
Volunteering one’s time to travel abroad seems insignificant but it goes a long way in learning these global issues surrounding HUMANITY.
It is Benjamin Franklin who said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”. Volunteering is involvement and that is why most of the people who volunteer abroad come out of the experience with one message, ‘My life will never be the same again. I am going home a different person.’
The last three years have been intense for me. I have met people from around the world. I have hosted these global citizens and engaged them in social project that I aim to inspire their consciousness to live a better lifestyle, to live a cause, to become social justice advocates, to inspire a just and responsible society.
On her last day in Kenya, the little girl Njoki spent her whole day holding Silvia’s hand. A lifetime bond had been created. This encounter had changed not only Njoki and Silvia’s life but the people at the orphanage who now enjoy watching Njoki use her left hand like any other normal child.
There are three reasons why you must volunteer at least once in your lifetime: it changes you, it changes the people you meet and it makes the world a better place.
With a book to scribble on, she sat on a plastic chair in a mud-walled-earthen-floor-room-turned-daycare. Her thoughts seemingly in another planet, she was gazing at the teacher who was teaching fourth-grade content to babies who otherwise learn by play, song and more play. The look on her face was telling; it was one of a bleak future. This mis-nurturing is the genesis of injustice evident in the cycle of poverty among generations of children born in the slums.
Early Childhood is the hay days of human development, progress and legacy. Fascinating neuroscience has shown how environment affects brain development and the future of the human.
In the slums of Kenya, children are raised as free-range chicken. Early at the crack of dawn, parents leave their children at doorsteps and off they go to look for work. The children roam the slum like scavenger-birds looking for food. In a polluted environment toxic with foul smell and words, sex pests and physical dangers, the little ones live another day by sheer luck.
These children raise themselves; they know no love, no parental affection, no protection, no guidance and no warm and welcoming home environment. They grow knowing that life is about struggles and numbness. It’s a generation of denied childhood.
For Nelson Mandela to come to the conclusion that, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”, he must have seen the decay in society and its future impact on the human life.
What can we do to inspire a just and responsible society? There can only be one way; the way of responsive parenting.
We need to prepare the nest before the arrival of the buddle of joy. We need to secure the first five years with responsive parenting. A great way to do this is to use the six senses, yes the six. Beyond hearing, touching, smelling, tasting and seeing, parenting is about instincts.
For a child who hears, touches, smells, tastes and sees the society through the caregiver, he can only rely on the instincts of the caregiver to adapt to the society.
Let us give our under five a deserving heritage. The future of the human race is in the brain of the child under-five years.
In the village of Ntashat, over the hills of Ngong where the Maasai inhabit, Samantha Corfield is getting ready to dress up in traditional Maasai attire. She’s had her breakfast under the acacia tree right beside the cowshed. The acacia tree is home to tens of the superb starling birds. The birds are whistling as they hover around their nests. One nest is green. It’s recently woven signifying a new life for one superb starling. I am keen to ask samantha if there is a “green nest” in her life since coming to Kenya.
“I am starting to realize more and more that there is a huge difference between what we want and what we need”.
On her first week Samantha visited Jamiii Children Home, a Centre for abandoned children. She was hit hard to realize that some of the rescued kids did not go to school because of lack of school uniform.
“Seeing that there are these children desperately wanting to go to school and the only thing that is stopping them is having a school uniform hit me hard”, says Samantha.
She could not believe that a pair of school uniform could stand in the way of a child’s future. Samantha explained that in the western culture kids are always complaining about going to school; “they don’t want to go to school.”
“Here the kids are just so desperate, they want to get an education and it is just sad that fifty dollars for uniform can stop their chances of having an education and a better life. It’s really sad” Samantha sighs in sorrow.
A qualified secondary English and Drama teacher from Australia, Sam, as we fondly call her, has taught English for the last three years in different countries including Singapore and the United States. She currently runs a program with girls to help them build self-esteem and confidence and will be in Kenya for six weeks to teach English in rural schools.
The sad story of the four boys; Nixon, Sidney Dan and Njoroge moved Samantha to donate two hundred dollars towards their education. This enabled the boys to sit for their end-term examinations. The four boys are happy to catch up with their peers although it is the last week of the school term.
Away from the overwhelming needs Sam has come across, back in the village of Ntashat, over the hills of Ngong, life is so relaxing and nice.
The memories are nostalgic and infectious as Samantha leisurely relives them: “It was actually kind of really nice sitting around the Manyatta at night… and we have no electricity… so we just have like a candle going… and the rain is like hitting the roof… it’s really loud and we are sitting around talking… it was just really relaxing and nice.”
It has been raining the whole weekend and the roads are really bad. On our way out of the village Sam is forced to cross a river. She does it with the resilience of a determined woman. Life in the village is an experience that will stay with Sam for a while.
“Coming here, people are just so happy with so little. It just makes you kind of reassess what is important in life.”
The cultural immersion programme that we offer expose our volunteers to the diversity our world offers and the experiences are always life changing.
Samantha came to volunteer in Kenya through the Institute of Field Research and Expedition (IFRE). It is the most affordable volunteer program abroad. Samantha leaves Ntashat village with a new perspective and a new name. Her Maasai name is Naserian which means “Peace”.
After Kenya, Samantha is going to Tanzania and volunteer in our program there before tightening her boots for the adventure of a lifetime; climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro!
Look out for Samantha’s volunteer experience video that will be out soon.
I am always amazed at how justice is simple, so simple to a fault. Amazingly its simplicity has made it so complex all over the world. From a religious standpoint, justice is doing unto others what one oughts to oneself.
Simple things like saying “I am sorry” when you realize you’ve hurt someone else, is justice that heals. Imagine the millions of people suffering today because of the deficiency of “I am sorry?!”
If I am to present Social Justice Advocates Africa (SJAAFRICA) in its simplest, I would say SJAAFRICA is you and me standing in the gap and saying “I am sorry” in the many ways possible to a hurting society. Our mission is to heal the world, heal the souls of children and their generations.
We advocate for and empower grassroot organizations standing in the gap for others. You too can do it.
I have a dream that one day we’ll wake up to a society that says “I care” through their daily lifestyle.
Let us work together and inspire a just and responsible society.
Cité Soleil in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince may be the most dangerous place on earth by United Nations rankings but Kibera slum in Kenya’s capital Nairobi is by far the most dangerous place to live your dream.
Today the Ghosts of Kibera Slum came for their dues and four bodies lay dead in a mid-morning gunfire exchange between youthful criminals and the police.
What is disheartening is that an innocent man and a woman fell victims to stray bullets.
The woman and a middle-aged man lost their lives when they got trapped in the scene of death after the police and the armed gangs started trading bullets. In the ensuing exchange, the policed killed two young men believed to live a gangsta lifestyle.
According to eyewitness, the woman was trying shoes at the street market while the man was at his daily business premise.
In Kibera young men have become easy targets of police killings. It is actually taken that life expectancy for Kibera youths is 25 years. It is sheer luck to cross that age alive.
One young man summarizes it this way: “We do not run to the scene of crime, we are the scene.”
Crime in the slum is a daily occurrence and gunshot sounds are part of the lullabies for infants.
Asked what could be the problem, the youth themselves claim that the high unemployment rate among them is the root cause.
Last year I lived in Kibera for 120 days starting April 1 and I came out alive by the skin of my teeth. Daytime gun robbery is a dress rehearsal.
My question always is, is there someone out there willing to rescue a life out of Kibera before another bullet silences their dreams and hopes?
It is possible to trade guns with skills among the youths for a just and responsible society.
The help you give to someone else may seem insignificant to you but it could be a matter of life and death to them. This is what a 22-year-old bank clerk from Munich Germany experienced on her volunteer work in a slum in Kenya.
When Christina Lehner arrived in Nairobi Kenya, she had no idea she was about to rescue a woman who had been refused by doctors and send back to the slum to die.
All Christina, a 22-year-old from Munich, hoped to do was to meet great people, experience a new culture, help a bit and maybe give love. She did much more; she gave life!
Christina arrived in Kenya On January 7 ready to volunteer in any way but never imagined she would lift a woman out of her death bed back to life.
I placed Christina with Living Positive Kenya (LPK) a non-government organization (NGO) that seeks to improve the physical and psychological health of women and children infected and affected by HIV/AIDs and living in the slums. The program is designed to teach women to become self-sufficient and to empower them economically with skills.
Christina immediately took charge of Noreka who was bedridden after defaulting on her HIV medication and discharged from the hospital for dead. Noreka had despaired and only waited her death every passing day.
Through the home care program of LPK, Christina faithfully visited the Mathare slum and Noreka’s house to take care of her. Some of the things she had to do for this woman who was in an advanced stage of the disease cannot be described. The many days of neglected care caused her body to stiffen and her bones take a dying posture.
As days went by, Noreka started responding back to life. She could move her limbs. It encouraged Christina and she kept nursing Noreka with the hope that one day she would rise from that bed and walk on her own.
Christina’s faith in action worked: she dedicated her six weeks, giving daily homecare to Noreka; washing her, her clothes, feeding her and helping her take her HIV medication as required. Noreka is now back to life and she is learning to walk again.
“You have made me feel like a human being again”, said Noreka when saying goodbye to Christiana who left Kenya back to Munich German where she works as a bank clerk.
Christina’s volunteer work has impacted a life. Noreka would have died and left her four children orphaned. But with the love of Christina, she is back on her feet again and will be around for her four children.
Once Noleka is fully recovered, she will join the women empowerment program at Living Positive Kenya and learn a skill to earn her daily bread for her family.
The help you may give to another person may seem insignificant to you but it could be a matter of life and death to that person.
In the Biblical Story of Jacob’s family, Yusuf had a dream. He was a favorite son of his father but his 11 brothers except Benjamin betrayed him and sold him off to the Egyptians. In a twist of fate, Yusuf comes from prison to become the Prime Minister of Egypt and his God-given dream and leadership talent saves the whole world from a seven-year famine. That may be the Yusuf of Israel but he’s not that different from the Yusuf of Kitengela and his unusually talented son. Parents, when it comes to the future of your children, the back stops with you.
He was nine when he drew a giraffe though he had never seen one. This caught the attention of his class teacher. The class teacher took the drawing to the school head teacher. The school head realized that Yusuf Karanja was not an average child; he had a God-given talent of drawing things. He gave Yusuf five drawing books and a pencil to nurture his talent. He also sent for the boy’s father to discuss about his son’s exceptional talent.
His father never showed up. The teachers always asked YUSUF to draw them, something he did to everyone’s amazement. At ten, Yusuf’s family moved from Pumwani to Ngong.
At Ngong, no teacher ever took interest in his talent. It was the end of a dream but a lesson on parenting and family.
He was the next Michelangelo who never became but his son is the next master architect who will become. Ten-year-old Ismail Mbugua is a budding architect and he is building apartments in Kitengela where a construction boom has pitched tent.
Ismail Mbugua is named after his grandfather and so he has been nicknamed Babu. He is a normal child when you meet him. He is always with his toy racecar raising dust in their half-an-acre compound in Kitengela, Kisaju area. He is the second born in a family of four and lives with his father Yusuf Karanja and mother Fatuma Njoki. He loves soccer, he’s a Chelsea fun and Didier Drogba is his role model. His dream is to play professional soccer and become a star like his role model. But Babu as his father calls him, has a God-given talent; he is an architect.
“He started by making cars; he always dismantled toys and assembled them again, that was when he was 9. When he turned 10, his interests shifted to building houses”, says Yusuf, the boy’s father whose talent was cremated forty years ago.
At Pumwani primary school, Yusuf had the support of his teachers but when the family moved to Ngong, the teachers there were different.
“In the new school, no teacher took interest of my talent and that was the end of a dream”, says Yusuf who is now a painter.
In the Kisaju area where his family settled, he gets small jobs of painting houses or fencing plots. Kisaju area of Kitengela has seen a construction boom lately. But Yusuf is determined to see his son develop his talent unlike him.
“I will not do what my father did; ignore my talent.”
As I talk to the father, Ismail, the boy, is unaware of the possibilities ahead of him. He is climbing trees, flipping and jumping off them just like any normal child. It concerns his father that the local schools falls short of his son’s ability.
“We do not have talent-based schools here”, the father says.
Ismail attends Kilakir Academy but the father sees no hope in the current curriculum.
“The schools should have something for kids like Babu.”
At class three, Ismail says his favorite subject is mathematics.
“My class teacher is called Nancy and I love Mathematics”, says the shy child prodigy.
His father says that Babu used to play soccer all the time and used wires to dismantle and assemble toy cars. But when Yusuf started to build the family house, Babu took interest.
His father wishes Babu would get a school that can meet his needs where he is part-time in school and part-time nurturing his talent.
“Our education system is all about books, there is no chance to develop any skills for children like Ismail. There should be skill-oriented lessons on mechanics, electrical wiring, construction, sports but many schools do not have such arrangements”, argues a bitter Yusuf.
These skills are introduced too late when the child has already lost interest, says Yusuf, the boy’s father.
Ismail’s current project is a three-storey apartment building. He started the construction last Monday of December 2012 and in four weeks; the building is 70% complete. He should have been given the vice-president’s palatial home to build. The former vice president, Moody Arthur Awori would have enjoyed this house that took forever to complete.
Babu’s apartment building is made of real sand, concrete and cement. His father has been nurturing his son’s talent by providing him with the necessary materials he needs.
“I make sure I provide everything he needs like water, sand and cement. I also let him use my tools to do his construction. When cement is over, I go buy a new cement bag and put it in the house. We have water here”, explains the father.
His father has also bought him drawing books.
“We sit down with him and I show him how to design a house.”
Fatuma Njoki, the boy’s mother is proud of her son.
“Sometimes, I have to get him off his project when the sun is too hot.”
When Ismail starts working, he gets absorbed to such an extend that you can’t get him off the construction site. His mother has to force him to take a break.
“He constructs something, if he doesn’t like it, he dismantles it, picks his drawing book, designs it afresh and starts again until he is satisfied”, says Fatuma, the mother of four.
The family wishes their son would get the right school so that his talent can be nurtured.
“As a father I feel my son is missing something. I am giving him the best I can right now but I don’t want him to end up like me”, the father says.
Yusuf Karanja ended up doing house painting, erecting perimeter walls and once in a while, whenever he is called, do some roof work and electrical wiring on houses around Kisaju.
“I am proud of what I am doing for a living but I could have been better. That’s is why I am supporting my son actualize his God-given ability.”
I encourage my son to have a positive attitude towards the construction jobs, says Yusuf.
“I explain to him that construction work pays well as it is a booming industry right now.”
Kisaju in particular, the bungalow appetite is well articulated from the genius pieces of architecture that dot the area. Perhaps, this is the inspiration that drives the 10-year-old Ismail Mbugua, the kid architect whose talent needs a mentor. Like clay, he can be shaped at his tender age. His father is trying all he can as a parent.
“The success of a man is not cars or buildings, it is his family.”
In a recent story, I watched a video of a boy who had used discarded electronics to come up with a radio. He wants to be a DJ. He was lucky to be spotted by a PhD student in Massachussett Institute of Technology. He secured him a visa to Boston and the boy had an opportunity of his lifetime. But there are many kids who never get discovered and their talents sink into oblivion.
For parents, I have four indicators I gleaned from one Harvard Business Review podcast that I think you can use as a guide to look out as talent traits in your children. The four traits are: Experimenting, Networking, Questioning and Observing.
One group of exceptionally talented children ask unusual questions like, “mom, where do children come from” but not-so-bright parents answer their children “the supermarket!”
Other types of prodigy kids experiment like Ismail. He is experimenting by breaking apart toys and building them back. Most parents reprimand their children when they dismantle that new toy that cost the parent a leg and an arm.
For some kids, they are the neighborhood Kofi Annan’s. They are notorious in getting other kids to their house to the chagrin of the parent. Frowning on your child’s ability to make friends is discouraging them from learning networking skills that form the DNA of innovators.
The other trait among innovative kids is the observer skill. There are kids who are keen on a process, adapt it and start doing things their unique way.
Once bitten twice shy and Yusuf is not going down the path his father took and killed his son’s dream.
At this point, I leave Kisaju thinking of Eleanor Roosevelt words “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The father’s dream is to see his son’s architectural talent nurtured and not neglected like his own talent was.
The cry in the desert has been heard and I hope parents will get to know their children with the four innovator’s DNA.