Having our Sanaa Project meetings with the New Dawn students every day at 4:30 means we have our mornings free. Our first week was so full of running errands, organizing plans and adjusting to Kenyan life, that it never occurred to us that there would come a single moment when we had no plans until today. The Tongoi household headed off to work – some people went to the preschool in Huruma, some to talk to the high school students at New Dawn, and Darcy and I were left to catch up on emails, buy new supplies, and figure out how we can best take advantage of our free time.
We had decided early on that we wanted to be as active as possible during our time here. Staying with Sammy Tongoi and his parents has been excellent motivation. Aside from Irene’s complete commitment to the Huruma community through the New Dawn Education Center, the New Dawn Clinic, and a church nearby, her son Sammy and friend Alex Choi have been hard at work on their project, Africa Redefined (check out their site! www.africaredefined.com). So far their work here has revolved around a group of young men from Huruma who, despite some having graduated from high school and others being trained in practical professions, have been unable to find sustainable work and worry about never making it out of Huruma Village. Sammy and Alex have been coordinating group meetings, helping the men organize themselves into a formal committee, and giving them the encouragement they need to keep working and hoping.
The other day, while we waited for 4:30 to arrive, we went with Sammy and Alex to photograph and film the election of the committee officials and the drafting of their constitution. The meeting started off quietly. A young graduate of New Dawn Education Center named Jimmy stood in the center of a circle of thirty-five men and told them why they were there – to come together and start taking action not just to change Huruma, but to be rid of it altogether. The village of Huruma is built on government land and can never become a permanent community. The residents see no reason to beautify it, to built more stable houses, or to create a job market there with work stalls and shops – they realize that they can be kicked out of their homes at any moment. The handful of Huruma residents who came out to this meeting to take initiative and change their lives and the lives of their loved ones have the shared dream of seeing Huruma disappear forever. Their constitution did not state this mission, or any other mission. It focused on the practical and the immediately necessary. It demanded that all members be represented and respected. It required that those in attendance be sober for each meeting and that the actions of elected official be monitored carefully to avoid corruption. Jimmy was elected chairman, two other New Dawn graduates were elected secretary and treasurer, and two friends volunteered to be joint disciplinarians. Membership fees were agreed upon – 100 Kenyan Shillings each, about $1.15 – and Darcy took photos of each member to be used for their identification cards. At the end of the meeting a group title was selected: “United Balozi Group”, ‘balozi’ being Swahili for ‘ambassadors’. Finally, Jimmy asked the group if they “unanimously endorsed this constitution”. When all agreed, we parted ways.
Over those two hours, Darcy and I had watched the men transform into vocal and enthusiastic participants in a project that we, Africa Redefined, and the members themselves believe can make a difference. We hope to spend as much of our free time as possible being actively involved in projects such as these. The people of Huruma are so full of hope that what they seem to need most is a push in the right direction and inspiring words to reinforce their optimism, which Darcy and I are more than happy to give.