July Harambee 2014: a time to reflect

04 August 2014

As Ned Dwyer gave us his reflections on getting ready for July Harambee back on the 11th, it seems entirely appropriate that he should contribute a blog looking back on the past three weeks as they draw to a close. Our thanks to him and the whole team for all they have done. Now, and for the last time during this Harambee, it’s Ned’s turn…

As the vehicle bounces along the unpaved road past the primary school in the village of Farmers, I stretch my neck to look over the hedge and I’m pleased to see a new latrine block. When I visited in 2011 to help kick-start the healthy schools initiative in the school, it had very poor latrines and no hand-washing facilities. This time I know that hygiene standards have improved and that the incidence of illness due to poor hand-washing practices has been reduced.

We’re nearing the end of our three-week volunteering period – a good time, perhaps, to reflect on the lows and highs of the trip. A definite low was when I carried out a pre-smokeless stove installation survey in a house where a mother walked, with her three-month old baby, ten hours a day, three days a week, to collect firewood, which she then carried home on her back, with her child on her front. However, knowing that her smokeless stove would reduce firewood consumption – and hence her hours walking – by at least half, was some consolation.

A high was the celebration at the end of the week-long life skills course when each attendee received a certificate of graduation. The event was marked with much singing, hand-clapping, speeches and real gratitude for our contribution – a truly humbling experience.

But as we pack to leave I also reflect on what we have really contributed to the people of Londiani. Yes, you can count the number of stoves built, the number of life skills graduates and the number of healthy schools programmes initiated. Yet I feel that our real contribution is more intangible.

We have borne witness to the difficult lives of the people. We have shown solidarity with those less well off materially than ourselves. We have been privileged to be welcomed into people’s homes, given chai, sent home with bags of potatoes, offered rabbits – all as signs of gratitude from the people to whom we have offered our hand in support to help them develop better lives for themselves.

And as we leave we know that the work goes on. The Friends of Londiani Kenya staff will continue the projects, more volunteers will come and Friends of Londiani Ireland will continue to strive to raise the necessary funds – from Irish Aid, from fundraising events, from volunteers, and through sales of craft items, among others.
All of us are aware that there is no quick fix to poverty and under-development; it is a process that takes years, if not generations. But we also know that with the assistance of Friends of Londiani at least some small rural communities can achieve so much more: healthier lives with less typhoid, less malaria, less bronchitis; empowerment of women as female circumcision is eradicated and girls are able to look after their personal hygiene without taking time off from school; and the generation of new sources of income with the development of a hiking trail and associated services.
I board the plane in Nairobi with the knowledge that I’ve been privileged to be part of something special, however briefly. It will remain in my heart and my head forever.