PHOTOS: 4 Kenyans who serve for the love of the community
A lot of people give for the wrong reasons – for recognition, to advance personal agendas or to make them feel good about themselves. This week, we look talk to four individuals who serve the community around them with no reward expected.
Sylvia Gaita, 30, is part of A Million Reasons Foundation. The foundation donates underwear and sanitary pads to girls in Mombasa county to keep them in school.
We all have that singular experience that changes the way we look at the world. For 30-year-old Sylvia, it was meeting an 11-year-old girl in a school in Kilifi who had sold pads and underwear that had been donated to her so that she could stay in school and study without worrying about her period. Sylvia wasn’t happy; why was this young girl throwing away a chance to get an education?
“She told me, “Naelewa elimu ni muhimu, lakini wewe unaangalia maisha ya mbele. Mimi nashughuilikia maisha ya sasa (I know education is important, but while you are thinking about my future, I am thinking about my here and now),” Sylvia remembers. It struck Sylvia how, unlike this little girl, she was privileged to have the luxury of worrying about the future. Thus was born her resolve to fight for women born into poverty.
Sylvia finally had a chance to do something about it when a friend, John Kiarie, proposed that they start the foundation. “He was working around Kilifi and he saw how girls dropped out of school in upper primary because they didn’t have sanitary towels or even underwear. That is how A Million Reasons was born,” she recalls.
Today, the foundation has 3,200 girls under its wings in primary schools around Kilifi. Sylvia, who works as a public relations consultant, has been tasked with rallying people for donations.
“We take pads and panties, not cash. We (also) do regular tours of the schools (during which we do) mentorship. I feel good when the girls look at me and see that also they can have a life outside the home, that they can also have careers.”
The girls call her Furaha because for them, her presence represents a chance at happiness. She doesn’t intend to disappoint them. But the fight, she says, is far from over. “I can get them panties and pads, and help keep them in school, but I know that it isn’t over. I can’t solve all their problems, but keeping them in school is a good start.”
Wanjiru Kinuri, 33, works with disabled children at Ubuntu Therapy and Resource Centre in Maai Mahiu
Wanjiru Kinuri grew up watching her grandmother lovingly and tirelessly take care of her special needs daughter (Wanjiru’s aunt). This is what inspired her to do what she does today, and where she got her passion for working with children with special needs. She doesn’t have children of her own yet but she loves being around children.
“Working with children with special needs is the only thing I wanted to do when I graduated from high school,” Wanjiru, a trained special needs educator, says.
Caring for these children entails therapy and structured learning. She spends her days teaching them to use their limbs, and stimulating their brains. However, as much as she enjoys that, Wanjiru is most passionate about advocacy for special needs issues. She enjoys going out to the community around them to get the people to understand these children better.
“What breaks my heart the most is having parents who are struggling with acceptance of their little ones. A lot of them do,” she says. She feels that it is her duty to help them get to that point where they accept their children as they are.
“I help parents love their children by getting them to see that every family has problems; it is just that the challenges they have to deal with are different and maybe more physically visible,” she says.
While she has made some progress with regard to acceptance with the people around her, there is the constant struggle against the stigma. “There are still those families in the rural areas who lock up their disabled children out of shame and the myths out there,” she says. An ideal world for her is where there is inclusion, and where parents learn to love the children that they are blessed with no matter the scope of their abilities.
Sammy Ondimu Ngare, 37, is the founder of Askari ni Mwanadamu initiative
“I know that on my way here, people on the street were looking at me and thinking, ‘That cop could be looking for someone to arrest so that he can get a bribe’,” Sammy tells me when we sit down to chat.
Sammy is a police man. The negative perception that the public has of policemen and women unnerves him. Changing this perception is his agenda. “I like to think of myself as the cop with a difference. I do not take bribes. I have never taken a bribe,” he says.
When he was still new in the police force, he set out to spread this positivity through his music because he thought it would be the most efficient way to help him spread his message of positivity. Then, in 2011, while shooting a video for his song Habella in a city slum, he met two little children aged eight and nine who had never set foot in a classroom.
“I am a father. I have three children of my own. I just couldn’t walk away,” he says. “I knew I needed to get involved in the lives of the women and children I was meeting.”
He set up The Maxfactor Centre in Rongai where he looks after children orphaned by HIV and living with HIV. There has been good progress for the centre. “I have three children in primary school and three in secondary schools,” he says proudly.
Sammy has partnered with the Kenya Film and Classification Board, through which he tours schools to talk to youth about crime. He also serves food to street families. “A lot of youth committing crime on the streets are children from street families. I reach out to them and talk to them about crime. Once a year, I share lunch with groups of street families.” What vision does he have for the world? “An ideal world for me would be where there is no gap between the rich and the poor,” he says.
Mariam Mell’Osiime Mpaata is a women and youth mentor in Mombasa.
Mariam stumbled into mentorship. One minute she was a housewife looking for a platform for her son to spend his energy and the next, she was director of Junior Stars, a junior football club in Mombasa.
It was through this club that she met vulnerable girls who she took under her wing.
Then, three years ago, she met Jemima Kasari. When they first met, Jemima Kasari was 14 years old who was part of her mentorship programme.
It was after one of these mentorships sessions that Mariam received a call from Jemima’s mother. “Her mother told me that she was in the ICU with a raptured appendix and that her medical bill had risen to Sh2 million,” Mariam recalls.
That was a year ago. Mariam went to Jemima in hospital and has now taken her in like a daughter. Mariam makes sure to talk to Jemima every day and when she is not running the football club, she spends her time raising funds for her Jemima’s treatment.
“At first, Jemima had a colostomy bag but she underwent a successful surgery last year and is now much better. She has even resumed school,” Mariam says.
While Mariam has been to raise some funds, there is still a Sh2 million bill that needs to be paid before this family can move on with their lives. For her 39th birthday on the 18th of this month, Mariam is hosting a party at Jemima’s house where instead of birthday gifts, friends will contribute money to cater for Jemima’s bill.
“I believe that there is good in the society. It’s just that those who want to help often do not know how to do that,” she says.