Nurturing Change in the Heart of Sirisia, Kenya
Agatha Kimani, Zizi Afrique Foundation
After a series of life skills training sessions in Bitonge, Bungoma County, I dared myself to take a one-hour walk to the border villages of Sirisia Sub-County, to check on the footprints of (office 1), My village project Volunteers.
On this quiet Sunday morning, devoted believers congregate at St. Lenah’s Anglican Church in Sirisia, just over four kilometers away from the Kenya-Uganda border. The church attracts locals of all ages. It is a hallowed crowd, one of the very few that allows elders to mingle with young people. Under normal circumstances, the latter always remains quiet in the presence of the former, at least according to some native Bukusu community members.
I realize that the cultural divide plays out even in the sanctuary, albeit subtly. A young volunteer confessed that he could not raise his hand to speak out as a church leader made a call for donations. He said that he cannot speak, but he can respond to the requests made only through his mother. This young volunteer is torn between tradition and transition. He is one among many who have been trained to catalyze change within their villages, courtesy of the My village project. The project is implemented through a consortium convened by the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network. My Village has been working with volunteers to activate and nurture community agency, engaging the youth, parents, and community members in promoting and improving foundational learning and life skills.
Back to the church service, the lay reader, christened Mwalimu, looks around for a Kiswahili Bible. When a worshipper offers his, Mwalimu reads a verse and returns the good book to the owner. His counterpart is smarter. He reads the scriptures from his phone. The sermon is centered on wisdom as a critical weapon against evil. I keep wondering if the congregation would embrace literacy with similar dedication and own volunteerism as a creed.
The preacher must project his voice above the noise of heavy-laden trucks crossing the border. He must also endure the noise from children playing around the church, their naughty abuses, and petty quarrels, breaking through the brick walls to tickle congregants in unholy giggles. In fact, one volunteer who is also a young mother must prematurely leave the service to tend to her baby. I see all these as opportunities for the volunteers to help with teaching and containing the children in some Sunday school structure. Many acknowledge the children’s innocent disruptions, but who will save the situation?
However, the village in this volunteer’s village has put him at a crossroads, even in church, where liberty should be found. The lay reader announced an upcoming youth event that needed church members to donate maize for meals. It is the harvesting season and shouting out, “One sack of maize as my contribution,” should not be a pain in this part of Kenya, I think. Surprisingly, everyone goes quiet as if no one wants to partake in the ensuing blessings.
I am a visitor to this church. Therefore, I cannot poke the two volunteers who also went mum. I should keep cool like a true Anglican does in such gatherings. At last, an old lady got up and pledged two tins of maize. Finally! “How will two tins of maize quench youthful hunger?” I probe the volunteer as we walk to the nearby shopping center. There will be enough food, don’t worry. People will give, it is only that we cannot voice our pledges before the elders. I, too, plan to give two more tins of maize, but I will have to send my mother to church with my contribution. It is the norm here. Young people must honor age.” He explains. “Perhaps My Village should rope in some elderly voices to the caravan of volunteers, especially in contexts where traditions reign supreme,” I thought.
Volunteerism is an extension of patriotism both in spirit and impact. The honor is now on _My Village_ volunteers to spread their gospel of transformation even to their senior neighbors. Until the village in this village yields to volunteerism even when offered by young people, the community will lag far behind its potential.