This morning was the first time the team got to “sleep in” before meeting with the local government administrators. It is customary to meet with the chief of the community, especially since we were going to be working in his jurisdiction. Heading out to the chief’s office at 9 am, everyone had the opportunity to greet Chief Victor and share a bit about themselves. In addition to meeting the chief, we were able to meet the head of the local police station, who put our minds at ease by letting us know that we were very well guarded and safe in the area where we were staying. After discussing some of the goals we would be working on during our trip, the team took the opportunity to extend an invitation to the annual Invictus community barbeque we would be hosting on Saturday.
While waiting for our next meeting, we had the pleasure of getting to tour the local health center/clinic located just down the road. The health center is run by the government, so all services provided are free to the community. The clinic offers care for most illnesses, as well as preventative education and supplies. There are rooms specific to childbirth, cancer, malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis treatment. There are also men’s, women’s, and pediatric wards for overnight care. Despite being woefully understaffed, the nurses and doctors do everything they can for their patients. The government only provides funding for the bare minimum, which hardly covers the needs of the area. One nurse, one lab technician, one administrator, and one doctor serve an entire community of families. The nurse told us that they often run out of medication and vaccinations. Despite all of these obstacles, the staff makes sure that every patient receives personal attention and comprehensive care.
Our next meeting that afternoon was to be held at the site of the Hawagaya Bridge. We walked for almost two hours in the unforgiving African sun. However, the discomfort from walking in the heat was eased by our interactions with the local community kids we kept running into. The sheer joy and excitement that they showed when they saw the Muzungus walking by their homes was priceless. The children’s voices rang through the community. “How are you?” and “I am fine!” being the most common phrases exchanged, the result of a British school curriculum and limited interaction with the outside world.
Upon our arrival at Hawagaya Bridge, we were able to see just how damaged the current bridge structure was. Mike pointed out that last year the bridge was horizontal with a partially damaged railing, which was not the case this year. The current structure had most of the foundational wood detached from the rest of the bridge. Not to mention, it was completely tilted to one side. All in all, the current bridge structure seemed very dangerous to walk on.
As the members of Hawagaya and Ugolwe, the two communities connected by the bridge, began to arrive for the much anticipated assembly, they brought with them some sugarcane for us to try. Splitting the top up with a machete, each of us we were handed a piece to chew on. We sat down in the shade for a meeting which would further elaborate on the goals and expectations outlined in the committee meeting the day before.
Once all formalities and introductions were completed, the discussions began. The most difficult idea to get around was the expectation the community had of the Invictus team—essentially, expectation of having a steel bridge built for them simply because they asked for one. In the past, when the community needed a new bridge, all they had to do was ask the Muzungu and one would be built for them. When the community needed a well, they would once again ask the Muzungu and receive what they asked for. Naturally, the community’s dependency and reliance on the outside world as well as their expectations would eventually form and entitlement would soon follow.
So how were we to move forward? Does the Invictus team do all the work for Hawagaya and Ugolwe and build them the bridge they need and have asked for, or do we push for a partnership and request they commit with their personal contribution of skills, abilities, and resources necessary to complete this project? From the perspective of the helping organization, the first option would be fairly easy and would actually give most volunteer organizations a huge sense of accomplishment, as most humanitarian work represented through any feel-good, physical hands-on project usually does. The second option may prove extremely difficult, exhausting, and even painful, perhaps not even bearing any fruit for several days, weeks, months or years, leaving the team without any feel-good hands-on projects – God forbid that the community actually build the bridge by themselves after the Invictus team leaves Kenya! The question we must ask ourselves is what change will result with an outcome where the community no longer looks to outsiders for solutions to their own issues, but rather looks to its own members to identify the skills, abilities, and resources they already have available.
Needless to say, The Invictus Initiative went with the second option, as it usually does. Backing up our message of sustainable and responsible development with the promise of working alongside the community to help empower them with everything they need to start and finish the bridge building project, Mike finished outlining the position of the Invictus team with the final statement of “this is not our bridge, it’s your bridge.” Emotions ran high, community members started acting real, and a glimmer of hope and progress was on the horizon. The meeting ended with an agreement that the community would sort out their in-house issues, making sure all parties were represented through the committee they had established, and that they would discuss and agree upon the realistic contribution of labor, financial, and material resources that they would bring to the project. We would plan on meeting again to continue our discussions later in the week.
It seemed like it was about to start raining, so we took Piki Pikis back to the house. We got home right when the children at the school across the street were coming out of school. They were excited to see us and ran over to say hello. Much to their delight, Somer had brought with her some bubbles and she opened Pandora’s box when she started blowing them over the kids. This went on for over half an hour as the kid’s excitement alerted their peers, and in no time we were outside the gate playing with over 30 children and taking lots of pictures. Many of the school children had never seen bubbles before, so this was a new experience for them, which was obvious from their joyful laughter and delight as they jumped up into the air in an attempt to catch the bubbles in their hands.
After saying goodbye to the kids, we headed back in to the guest house and were greeted by the usual nice smell coming from the kitchen as we passed Sarah and Jane preparing dinner for us. After another successful day interacting with the community, we were all ready to enjoy a relaxing dinner together and recount our experiences from earlier in the day.