Saint Martins - My First Volunteer Visit
I work on the EMEA Salesforce web team back in Dublin. Back in June 2017 I got the chance to travel to Saint Martin’s This was to be a first for me on a lot of levels - first trip not only to Saint Martins, but also to Kenya and Africa itself!
We had a packed agenda for the week - from training key staff, working with Camara on the new computer lab they installed, and also working closely with our photographer Stephen Kiernan from Atomic who was joining us for the week to document the visit.
Many others may have written about the famous school bus journey to the school in Kibagare, through pot-holed roads and chaotic Nairobi traffic - lets just say you have to experience it in person. Alfred was driver, guide, school accountant, administrator and it was super to finally meet him in person as we had worked on this very website in the proceeding months, which our web team in Dublin designed and build out.
Driving through the suburbs of Nairobi one is struck by the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty that can sit alongside each with gated house and shacks erected side by side of the main road. However the real eye opening moment was arriving into the Kibagare slum itself for the first time, I can only describe the scene as we passed through the gate of the slum entrance as utterly shocking. It is hard to put into words the abject living conditions and poverty that abounds every which way look behind these locked gates. A gated slum was hard to fathom bedside the manicured gardens of the houses that juxtapose on the roadside leading down towards the slum itself.
Kibagare is small slum by any standards, and by all accounts not the worst, but it is deeply shocking and moving to come face to face with such abject poverty and living conditions. Mid-point through the slum is Saint Martin’s school, and as the bus passes through the gates the contrast of either side of the school entrance is striking.
As soon as we pass through the entrance to Saint Martins a great sea of children rush across the school yard to great us. The smiles and sense of happiness on these little faces remains etched in your mind long after you have left - the real sense of hope and happiness.
Through out the week we worked in several sub teams with sport, computer labs and I was helping train some of the STM team on the website blog and STM Salesforce App. The week passed with a blink of the eye and one can not be humbled by the sense of purpose that the Sister’s bring to this school and the community. A true beacon of light that shines bright and well beyond even the slum of Kibagare.
One evening out we were able to meet and catchup with some of the graduates of Saint Martins - all inspiring young women who have through the power of education transformed their lives and careers - young women like Kule who is featured on this website. Her story is truly inspiring and it was privilege to meet these inspiring young women in person, each who had escaped the clutches of poverty to build successful careers in law, banking and tech. That is the real power of Saint Martins - the real power to change transform lives of its students.
On our last day we managed to venture out into the slum itself with Luke, a local community worker from the school. Moving between the shacks and alleys, each no bigger than an average small room back home - which provided the kitchen for cooking, sleeping and living room all in one. We visited and were generously welcomed into of number of these homes. The dank, dark condition with some nearly all these shacks using tiny charcoal fire for light and heat.
As we made our way back through the narrow alleys of the slum towards the school there is moment of silent reflection as we start the process to pack and leave the slum and St Martins one last time, and prepare for the journey home.
The final task on the last day of each trip is the Feeding Program that takes place every Saturday morning. I had heard much of the scale and numbers involved here, with some 1,500 or 2,000 children sweeping through the school to receive what in some instances may be the only proper meal they may get all week. Children and youngest siblings charge through the school gates and line up with order and patience as the vast vats of food are readied. On our watch I think some 1400+ were fed in a few frantic short hours. As the first children are fed, the next batch come through the canteen, and the next and the next. Not one scrap of food is left wasted and many bring old plastic bags to bring some of the scraps home.
Leaving Saint Martin's was an emotional experience to not only reflect on the week we had just experienced but also to strengthen our resolve to what ways we can further help and promote the vital work of the sisters and the school from afar.
This was a deeply personal journey whose experience and images will stay with me. I had worked some years back in UNICEF and thought I had seen and encountered every form of human poverty and indeed much much worse across other parts of the globe, but seeing the school and Kibagare up so close and personal was also a deeply humbling experience. However, it was also one that reinforce the concept of hope and a renewed inspiration to make a change, even small changes, that allow the school to continue to transform the lives of the children and community of Kibagare itself. So in many ways this was not the end of journey, but rather just a beginning..