This week the African Executive interacted with two youths, Zamblan and Samantary who are volunteers with the Salvation Army. The youths are out to help the community fight poverty and sustain itself.
Q. Tell us about yourselves.
A. We are volunteers of Salvation Army. People refer to us as “counselors” but we prefer being called “facilitators”.
Zamblan: I am based in Western Kenya but at times am in Nairobi. It all depends with where I am needed.
Samantary: I am based in Nairobi, Dandora.
Q. Which programs does Salvation Army run?
A. The Psycho-Social Support (PSS) program, which was started in 2003, supports the orphans who lost their parents due to HIV/Aids and widows too while the HIV/Aids facilitation program, which began in 1995, supports those living with the virus.
Q. What motivated you towards joining these programs?
A. Basically it was the need to serve. After high school we heard about the programs and decided to join.
Q. Is it limited to members of the Salvation Army only?
A. No. Anyone from any religion can join. There is no discrimination whatsoever.
Q. How do you go about your work?
Zamblan: We deal with both children and adults. We encourage people to utilize what they have. Since we have land we ask children what they think they can do, if for example one says he thinks he can grow maize then we offer a portion of our land where he can farm. Then we monitor what he does and if he does not meet the objectives then we question him and assist where necessary. We also organize activities such as soccer and drama competitions to keep the children busy. Here they interact and get to learn from each other. The adults grow vegetables, aloe vera and weave baskets.
Samantary: In Dandora we have self sponsored projects that are three months old. We make shoes, energy saving charcoal, tie and dye fabrics, bake doughnuts and keep poultry. We then sell the products and share the profits we make. At the end of it all everyone benefits.
Q. Who are the participants in these projects?
A. Shoe making and poultry keeping is done by the youths while tie and dye, charcoal making and baking of doughnuts is done by widows.
Q. What other skills do you impart in communities?
A. We teach them about hygiene, record keeping and how to relate with people.
Q. Do you think children should remain in children homes?
A. Absolutely not. They need to be brought up in a family environment in order to fit in the society.
Q. Where do get your funds from?
A.We have organizations that sponsor targeted projects, such as the Coca Cola company and World Vision. The Churches and individuals also have an input in the day to day programs.
Q. As volunteers, how do you survive?
Zamblan: Sometime we are paid by organizations that hire us to train their staff and facilitate their programs. To avoid the dependency syndrome, I operate a salon, butchery and I do farm. I plant cabbages and sell. I have a bakery which I set up to meet the needs of my family. I take care of my siblings and so I have left the bakery to the family.
Samantary: I own land in which I have planted kales (sukuma wiki) for sale.
Q. Who is in charge of these projects because you people are always on the move?
A. We basically leave them in the hands of family members, but monitor the progress.
Q. Doesn’t this affect the progress of these businesses?
A. It does. At times the business does not make profits as there is no close monitoring. However, we try to balance the two though it is not easy.
Q. What challenges do you face when dealing with the community?
A. Several, the biggest challenge is that of money. The community expects donated money to be shared among them instead of being used to initiate projects. When we refuse to oblige we are accused of squandering the money.
Most community members sit back and wait for volunteers to solve their problems. Getting to learn what is going on the community is not easy. One has to dig for information. We encourage communities to learn to solve their own problems without relying so much on volunteers.
Our own leaders on the other hand create obstacles for volunteers. They don’t motivate us. When we initiate a project with a small group, the end result is that the entire community benefits. That is our joy.
Q. What is the future of this country?
A. I look forward to a time when employers will start giving opportunities to people depending on their abilities. Some employers offer jobs to people based on papers, people who have not interacted with the community hence do not know what problems the community is facing. They make wrong judgments about the community and start offering solutions to problems that do not even exist.
It is sad to see how people segregate themselves. There are those who do not know what kind of life other people live. They do not know the problems others face and they think life is a bed of roses. It is the high time we appreciated each other and worked together for development.
Q. So far what have you learnt?
Zamblan: I have realized I can do so much for people. When I was in high school I did not think that one day I would own a business. I have now realized I am capable of achieving my dreams. Thanks to the Salvation Army.
Samantary: I have learnt that in life one has to be patient. It is not easy dealing with these people for they want to see changes so fast, yet goals are gradually realized.
Q. What do you think is the role of volunteering in development?
A. Volunteers play a vital role. For example in our case we teach the participants some basic lessons such as hygiene, record keeping among others. Some children do not even know what killed their parents. We assist them learn more about the disease and how they can prevent themselves from contracting the virus. Some adults too do not know what killed their spouses. We cannot develop with a sick community, a community that does not even know what is ailing them. How then will they learn if we don’t take the initiative?
Q. Any word for fellow youths out there
A. We all have a role to play in life and we have to realize that.
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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