A Shared Insight from a VMM International Volunteer in the Field
Joseph Masika Mutunga is a long-term volunteer with the Volunteer Mission Movement. His role, as Management Mentor, is supporting community organisations to strengthen their internal systems at governance, operational and management levels, in order to achieve optimum efficiency and sustainability. In the following narrative, Joseph recounts his meeting with a member of KAP (Kitale Community Advancement Programme), one of VMM International’s partner organizations, and notes the immense joys and trials faced by community workers in Western Kenya. Here is what he learned:
A Day in the Life of a Community Worker
I sat with a gentleman, Mr. Andrew Mbita, one morning. It was not clear to me what we would speak about but I knew that I wanted to hear his perspective about the work he does; whether it is as difficult as I imagined, or not. I had a sense that I was interrupting his day, and indeed I was.
He is a busy man, always pacing up and down, meeting with one person after another. Our introduction is quite hectic, though you cannot blame him. A community worker wears many hats, is always multi-tasking, responding to evolving needs, writing reports and planning for upcoming activities. He portrays an energy level that baffles the many who know that he also rides his motorbike 50 kilometres to work each day, and back!
The Goal Behind the Work of the KAP Community Programme
KAP is an NGO working in several counties in Western Kenya, and particularly within Trans-Nzoia County. A community education and counselling programme, KAP aims to mitigate the impact of societal breakdown by preventing and managing violence, trauma, abuse and addiction behaviours, which create the circumstances that can lead to increased risk of HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation. The programme achieves this by empowering people from the ‘grassroots community’ level, including the youth, to fight these problems in their own, and others’, lives by giving participants the necessary knowledge and skills to do so, and by encouraging the nurturing of a concerned and helping, human heart.
The Impact of Community Work
Andrew is a very calm and soft spoken individual. He speaks slowly and is fluent in both English and Kiswahili. His purposefulness, deep knowledge and experience in community work is obvious as you interact with him. He narrates with joy the impact of KAP’s work in the communities served. “There is this gentleman we trained and supported on his journey from alcohol addiction. Would you believe it, that he is recovering well from addiction and is now a respected village elder?” he says with delight.
In another case, referring to a project carried out in Namanjalala, Trans-Nzoia, he points out his glee in seeing the KAP-trained volunteers reaching out to their respective communities and in turn, reducing social stigmas and improving self-awareness.
Unemployment: One Among Many Challenges to Community Work
Last year, I accompanied Andrew and other colleagues to an area close to the border with Uganda as part of a strategic planning process. It was during such visits that I got to appreciate the geographical spread, cultural diversity and economic inequality of our county. I was born in Trans-Nzoia and have spent a considerable amount of my life here; generally interacting with well-to-do farmers and business people living considerably comfortable lives. It is against this background that I was shocked at the socio-economic struggles of members of the same county merely an hour’s drive away. According to Trans-Nzoia’s Development Plan: 17.6% of its skilled population is unemployed while a further 25.2% is economically inactive, leading to immense pressure on socio-economic fronts. This is the daily reality that Andrew and his colleagues face as they traverse the county.
Threats: Come with the Territory
With the sensitive nature of his work, part of which involves helping community members to overcome the trauma of past violence, Andrew too has faced hostility. It is a classic case of being threatened by the same people he seeks to help. For instance, Andrew narrated a case where a beneficiary of a KAP-run peace project was labelled a ‘deserter’ by an illegal separatist group: “The group also targeted me, thinking that I was his friend and had influenced him in his decisions. Well, it was my responsibility to support him, but the decision to change or not had been his. For a while, I lived fearing that my life was in danger,” he said meditatively. In another case, a perpetrator of child abuse, and those shielding the perpetrator, sent threats to him in regards to his safety, if he were to proceed to give evidence to the police.
Scarce Resources and Personal Sacrifice
Another common challenge for community workers is where communities are finding it difficult to meet their financial needs, which cannot be left unattended, yet which often do not directly relate to Andrew’s work. “What would you do, Bwana Masika?” he pauses staring at me and waiting for an answer. I shrug my shoulders and stare back at him blankly. “You cannot leave and just go,” he shakes his head and continues, realising that I am not about to give him an answer. “You end up using your personal resources, which are not plentiful, to support the resolution of the issue. It is not easy. The people look up to some of us and it would be an insult to just walk away. It happens not once or twice, but many times.”
The Reward and Incentive to Persevere in Community Work
The work is hard, the hours are long and the commitment required, great. For Andrew and other community workers the soul-searching dilemma to move on or to stay-put and persevere against such challenges, stems from the encouragement derived from the real, positive changes which can be observed as a result of the continued efforts of KAP and other community organisations.
“In Sokomoko and Yuya,” Andrew explains, “where we carried out a project on addiction, assessments show that addiction levels have gone down considerably since the inception of the project. In fact, one of the project’s participants is recovering well and has been made a village elder. Such results are a great encouragement to all of us in community work. There is more to encourage us than to discourage us.” He concludes with a smile as we shake hands and return to building the county in our unique ways. I cannot help but salute Andrew, his colleagues at KAP and community workers all over Trans-Nzoia. Their reward is immeasurable.
By Joseph Masika Mutunga
Joseph is a long-term volunteer with VMM International at Kitale Community Advancement Programme (KAP). Kenyan born, he is a Management Mentor and has been so since January 2018. An ever-positive and passionate man, Joseph plays a huge part in the VMM International family.