Team Member Volunteer Chronicles: Kenya #5


Thanks to Lisa Slater from contributing this blog post.

Overcoming Obstacles.

We have had an incredible experience, here in Maai Mahiu.  So far, we have met people with enormous generosity of heart who live on virtually nothing; we have met elderly women who take care of HIV orphans; we have hiked a volcano; we have visited a coffee plantation and learned where some of Allegro’s Café UBUNTU coffee comes from; we have visited a tea plantation and Kenya’s major cheese producer; but most important of all, we have spent deeply impressionable time with our hosts and the community of Comfort the Children International.

However, the work that we came here for, the grand opening of Café UBUNTU, has taken up most of our time. We are responsible for completing the impressive work of prior Whole Foods Market volunteer teams while also creating walkways, planting flowers, trees and bushes, building a berm, interviewing prospective hires, training, creating an opening day plan, and making sure that opening day is a reflection of what Jeremiah, the CTC’s dynamic director, wants for the community.

We are a group of disparate ages, from different parts of North America (although for some reason 5 of us are from Colorado!), with different world views, backgrounds and experiences. What we have in common, though, is our commitment to the Whole Foods Market mission.  We came to Kenya keen on being of service to others, seeing the café through to completion, and living in a totally different environment. Our dedication is unwavering and our focus is fierce. We are a determined group of strong-minded individuals.

So it should come as no surprise that there have been spirited but respectful interactions. Opinions differ; people sometimes feel constrained by our surroundings, and occasionally chafe at having to respect the dictates of the local culture. It is all part of group travel and living in a place that is totally foreign. Learning how to make group decisions, to engage the spirit and the creativity of everyone is a balancing act that requires everyone’s full time commitment and participation.  Delays and setbacks, different timing expectations occasionally led to consternation.

It took a while to understand that the pace of things here is very different from at home: Plan B often turns into Plan C and D for lack of things we take for granted, like chalkboard pens for the menu board, or wood for the café counters. On the other hand, these challenges have led to a better understanding of each other, and Kenyan culture. They have generated creative solutions, and a visit to Limuru that was unexpectedly fun and interesting, allowing us to expose ourselves, however briefly, to the life of another town. And, the café’s temporary opening celebration tables are so nice they will make great community tables when the counters finally arrive.

Café UBUNTU will be ready to celebrate with 250 invited guests.  We will be serving outstanding African coffee, with beans grown an hour away from the café, grilled goat in chapatis and maybe even ugali, the local dish of corn, similar to polenta. It will be an exciting day for the community and CTC International. The very minor setbacks, glitches, and u-turns are like the speed bumps that make up so much of Kenya’s roads: they forced us to slow down, pay attention, look around, engage, and then move on.  They also made us stop and take note of how minor our concerns are compared to those of the people we have met.

For the clients of the CTC, the tremendous challenges of daily living are huge, varied and persistent. They struggle to feed, clothe and educate their children; they live in housing that is cramped with no running water in “neighborhoods” that offer only the most basic of amenities.  There are no parks, only dusty stretches of land, dotted with scrub bush, some trees, and small streams for washing clothes. There are no sidewalks, no supermarkets, no stores with shiny windows and pretty clothes.

Goats, chickens and the occasional donkey roam the same areas behind single storied, one window, rough stone housing, where barefoot children, in ragged clothes play with toys made from bicycle tires. Their health is imperiled as much by their living and environmental conditions as by their cultural traditions.  Without CTC International they would have little or no resource for improving their lives.

It has been the visits with the Malaika kids and moms, the Maasai women and grandmothers of the GAPAA group that make us truly understand what struggle means, and how overcoming obstacles by working together can create a community of ubuntu: I am because we are.