Karagita. A sprawling slum of over 800,000 just on the outskirts of Naviasha. 2 ½ years ago I had an opportunity to see how the selection process works when the potential youth are brought together to meet for the first time and each were asked to tell their story. Florence (our social worker) was embarking on establishing herself as a mother figure and was able to coax them into putting their story into words. I’ve said that day was a very difficult day as each story told seemed to be worse than the others. Keeping your composure was paramount and each one there struggled. The difficulty was finding yourself face to face with what you have been told about poverty, exclusion and hopelessness – knowing you were powerless in that moment to do anything about it. Sure, you told yourself, Panua can make a difference. But how long before it would be able to rescue them?
Today I heard them tell us what they had accomplished over the last 2 ½ years. I remembered seeing these same young people, unable to look up when they spoke, barely audible in their speech, some not looking very healthy and not acting in any way as part of a group of like-minded young people. Although I recognized them from before, these were not the same people. Clean, well dressed, polite and looking intently at each and every one of us there. There were some who had taken part in hospitality training. For example, they were now capable of getting a job as a waitress. They could approach someone, stand tall, take an order and speak clearly. Not major accomplishments in our world for most people, but light years away from where they were.
There were boys and a girl training as an auto mechanic. They love Toyotas as the majority of cars here are some version of Toyota. They got excited when one of the pastors asked about their favorite football (soccer) team and since he is a big fan he got some heated discussions going about Real Madrid, Manchester United, and other teams I know nothing about! Several of the youth got a goat or a sheep as their start-up for the business and we got to take turns helping to present them. I am not a goat wrangler by any stretch but I gave it my best shot. I learned later that shortly after they got the one of the goats home it had given birth, so she now has two. Pastor Miller declared a BOGO.
Clearly some were pure entrepreneurs and were doing very well. A tomato seller wants to expand beyond selling tomatos and make tomato sauce so nothing goes to waste. Lilly has a café and is mentoring other youth in running the café. She’s off and running. She has made enough money to include a small TV on the wall to entertain her customers. She will impact her community beyond what any of us had ever dreamed for her.
So back now to how it felt 2 ½ years ago to hear their stories and feeling helpless about getting immediate help. One thing I’ve noticed here is time is not the same for them here as it is for us. While the need was great, the process to solve that need was in place and was implemented and our part in writing letters is an integral part of that process. Today we hand-delivered letters you have written and the reaction was tremendous. They shared with each other, giggled together as they shared and the excitement was obvious. Time has played a part in the process of change for these young people. You could tell the journey is not over for them by a long shot, but the pressing need is no longer hanging in the air.