Seeing Africa Through New Eyes – My Trip to St.Martin’s Kenya
I arrived in Nairobi on September 16th with an open mind and a hope that I could help and advise the organisations, schools and people I was about to meet in any way possible. Little did I know that I would learn so much from this experience myself and how much it would lift a veil on both the issues facing people across Africa, and the myriad of ways that I can support – sometimes the smallest actions can have such a profound impact.
Salesforce and Salesforce.org have been supporting St.Martin’s School in Kenya for many years and I too have become involved in these programs as a student sponsor and also in other programs supported by Salesforce.org and Salesforce volunteers, like Camara, Sanergy and the Karibu Centre.
Over the past year, my colleague and friend, Elena Rossi, Strategic Programs Manager at Salesforce.org, had been encouraging me to visit Africa to see these programs first hand, and this was a great opportunity to finally make that trip.
The volunteering team was made up of an eclectic mix of Senior Salesforce Executives, and Executives and Leaders from our Sales, Employee Success, Business Development and Sales Engineering teams. Salesforce.org’s VP of EMEA Programs, Charlotte Finn, Elena and some of our extended Ohana family members also came to support the volunteers; better understand how we can grow our programs in Africa to make an important impact to those most in need.
One Hearty Meal – St. Martin’s Saturday Feeding Program
On day two we met with Alfred, the Accountant and Admin lead at St.Martin’s School and got our first insight into the complex challenges that Africa faces. Salesforce and Salesforce.org has been supporting St.Martins with running costs for the school since 2003 and over the years helped provide two computer labs via nonprofit organisation Camara. Salesforce employees also sponsor nearly 100 children in the school, covering the total cost of their education.
St.Martin’s is run by Catholics nuns, the Sisters of the Assumption, who manage the school under the rigours of Christian values but also of those of sports, music and technology.
After meeting the nuns we helped them with the Saturday Feeding Program that feeds 1500-2000 children every week.
It was quite the culture shock for all of us to see these starving kids in ragged clothing, carrying babies on their backs and patiently queuing 100’s deep for nearly two hours to get a meal.
Sanj and I took turns manning the spoon handout station, during which we got spontaneous high fives from the kids. They each got a banana, milk, rice and stew with potatoes and beans – a filling and nutritious meal, and for many, one of the only full meals that week.
One of the nuns, Sister Felister Kizia told me that many of the children’s parents go missing at the weekends because of alcohol and drug addictions and how the kids are often forced to fend for themselves. This is what prompted the nuns to start the Saturday Feeding Program roughly a year ago. The program costs the school USD 1,500 a week and they rely solely on sponsors to support this.
We all found Saturday difficult to process and were left asking ourselves – “why is the world such a hard place and so unequal?” These kids have nothing and little hope for a better life. Absent parents, raising young children in large single rooms with up to eight other children who often have to seek out food and bring in incomes any way they can; searching through garbage and some even forced into child prostitution. We learned that many of the girls get pregnant as soon as they reach puberty.
Inspirational Sister Margaret, and Reaching 100% HIV Negative
On Sunday we met the secondary students at St.Martin’s who held a two hour mass for us. This moving celebration was a vibrant homage to the nuns and to us, the visiting guests.
After the mass we heard from Sister Margaret who shared the great work she does in fighting the Aids pandemic. She lifted us all with her story and explained how The Global Fund and organisations like (RED) are making antiviral drugs affordable. She also told us about her focus on sex education, which means that 100% of the babies in her program are HIV negative – an incredible statistic.
It was so powerful to hear about this impact on the ground, particularly because of how deeply this movement is embedded across Salesforce via our partnership with (RED).
Meeting Our Sponsored Students
On Monday we got the opportunity to meet with our sponsored
students. I met Peter and Prudence in the primary school and Elizabeth in the secondary school. I look forward to helping to support their education over the coming years and keep them in close contact with my own daughters Rosin and Brianna in Ireland.
We also met some graduates of St.Martins – Kule who is now a Public Prosecutor, Rose who works in IT, Lillian who is now a banker and Mary who is a University Researcher in HIV. These four women were the first graduates of St.Martins – since then 1,300 more have graduated. All four were sponsored through secondary school and university by Salesforce employees.
Reflecting on a Life Changing Trip
On Thursday we departed for Dublin and reflected on an emotional and personally impactful trip. We got to meet inspiring people who are overcoming huge disadvantages and rising from the slums to get jobs as professionals with help from the many NGO’s in the area and support from Salesforce.org and Salesforce.
It has opened my eyes to how lucky we all are in Europe and I leave with a steely resolve to help build a brighter future for these proud and friendly Kenyan people. Until next time St.Martins…