Yesterday I spent the day in Gatanga where I did my Peace Corps service from 2003-2005. It’s not the first time I’ve been back – I traveled to Kenya in the winter of 2008 and again in the summer of 2009 and visited Gatanga both times. The main focus of each visit is to spend time with Sebastian Maina Wambugu, founder and program manager of Youth Action for Rural Development (YARD), a community based organization that does a range of grassroots community development work ranging from training on sustainable agriculture to supporting AIDS orphans to providing computer training to youth. Each time I leave impressed by how much progress YARD has made, without losing its focus on grassroots community development (more on this in a future post).
It was a whirlwind tour – since I only had a few hours it made for a lot of short visits with friends I spent many many hours back then. By a somewhat amazing coincidence the Peace Corps that followed me at YARD, Johnny Finity, was visiting at the same time. For him it had been even longer since being back in Gatanga – 7 years! He started something called the GoBe Foundation, which aims to help young pursue their passions, and improve their storytelling ability to help them communicate their passions to those who can help support them. He had just finished spending a month in Gatanga running a program for 40 Kenyan teens.
Of course Sebastian, his wife Esther, and their children are more than colleagues - they're close friends, so my visit was mostly a social one. One thing I’m always struck by when visiting is how critical the social component of community development work is. I often felt like I spent an incredible amount of what seemed like wasted time drinking chai, chatting with farmers, waiting around for people to show up for meetings. When I visit now of course socializing is all that I do.
|Sebastian, Esther, their daughters (Big) Nancy and (Small) Nancy, me, and Johnny.|
But the reality is that socializing is how you build trust, and without trust you can’t communicate important information to members of the community, nor get information from them. You could argue that information sharing is the most critical part of development work.
|The Nancys horsing around with their dad|
|YARD's new office - a big step up!|
|YARD's weekly work schedule|
|A few old friends from the community.|
|A stroll down memory lane with Mama John, one of the community leaders. She had some pictures of the going away party she and a few other community members threw me when I was about to leave.|
|A new addition to the YARD portfolio - a small community food bank. Farmers sell their grain here, and reserve a portion for the most needy|
|A selfie with Grace, a long time dedicated YARD staffer now concentrating on AIDS counseling. She's living in the apartment I lived in when I lived there.|
|A sample of the beautiful Gatanga landscape. It's on the foothills of the Aberdares, a highly underrated, under-visited part of Kenya.|
|She's actually a sweet little girl, I promise...|