Thursday, June 28, 2012

Progress Made: A Board Member Returns to Kibera

by Amy Auguston

As Vice President of the Uweza Board of Directors, I receive nearly daily updates on our programs and beneficiaries on the ground. I’ve also spent two stints volunteering in Kibera with Uweza. So I generally feel well acquainted with the excellent work that Uweza is doing.

Coming to Kibera again this time, nonetheless, has been an enlightening, revitalizing experience.   I have spent the last week and a half in Kibera visiting and working with Uweza's projects. I’m in awe of the progress we’ve made, the community we’re helping to invigorate, and the beneficiaries empowered and nurtured by Uweza’s programs. Seeing the impact firsthand has been exhilarating, humbling, and emotional.

Soon after my arrival, I made my first visit to the Uweza Community Center, which was purchased in May 2012. Managing Director Jen and I had been trudging through the familiar streets of Kibera, crowded, dusty, and sometimes frenetic. Coming into the gates of the center was like entering an oasis of quiet and serenity. The walls are brightly painted and decorated, the premises are sparkling clean, and there are friendly faces to greet each visitor.

The center allows a safe, positive atmosphere for children and young adults to express themselves. Thomas, the journalism teacher and a well-known radio reporter in his own right, leads more than 30 youths in lessons and exercises in writing, researching, interviewing, and photography. You can read some of the students’ work here on the Uweza blog. 

Teacher Thomas, left, and journalism club members view their photos in the Uweza office
Wanderer, an established painter and a Kibera native, teaches students about identifying and mixing colors, and how to paint the landscapes of their mother country. The walls of the art room are resplendent with color wheels and paintings of the art class.

Uweza art class student paints her color wheel
I’ve also visited the soccer fields where nearly one hundred children play, learning teamwork and discipline under the dedicated tutelage of their coaches. The girls’ team, led by coach Joyce, is especially inspiring. The girls learn about how to strengthen and take care of their bodies, during the tumultuous time of adolescence and young adulthood. 

Uweza girls team at training
Another program, after school tuition, provides extra school instruction in the afternoon, to further help the students to succeed academically. The children also receive nourishing uji (porridge) to help them continue to study. The older boys at tuition told me that the Uweza Community Center allows them a safe place to read and study, and to stay away from bad influences like drugs and alcohol. “It saves us from walking up and down the streets. Here we can focus and study,” said one high school tuition student.

The highlight of my trip so far might be meeting the two girls (ages 8 and 14) who I sponsor through Uweza. Over the past years I’ve seen their pictures, read their letters, and gotten updates about them from Uweza staff on the ground. Meeting them and their families in person was emotional. The girls seemed shy and overwhelmed, and I felt much the same way. It’s an incredible experience to know that you have helped someone that you have never met, that you have made a huge difference with so little. Sponsoring them has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I hope that I can sponsor another child through Uweza soon.

Amy, center, with sponsored student Cynthia, right, and her cousins
While I’m here, I’m also gathering feedback from our program beneficiaries and their parents, through focus groups and one-on-one interviews, to learn more about what is good in the programs and what we can improve. Stay tuned on the blog for more information and highlights of the feedback received.

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