“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fear!” This wonderful
message from Nelson Mandela I found on the wall of the YMCA Kenya
Vocational Training Centre in the Shauri Moyo Branch in Nairobi. This
is the lenses I have decided to use as I watch the Kenya YMCA during
my visit here.
The gate leading to the Kingdom of Heaven is narrow. Jared Musima, the National General Secretary, is demonstrating that Bible passage in the photo below. Jared’s choices are built on hopes. He started his career in the YMCA movement in Kenya as a full time volunteer after University. He has had no other job than the YMCA. So high were his hopes and so deep was his motivation that he went on for seven years with full time volunteering. That meant seven years with no pay. Yesterday I came to Thika Branch, Thika is the Industrial city of Kenya with a million inhabitants. I saw the little office Jared used for seven years, and I am still impressed. I am impressed with a man who has a CV full of servant leadership positions. A life built on hopes, not on fear.
Kenya YMCA under Jared’s leadership has shown no fear in choosing to embrace Youth Empowerment fully. Kenya YMCA is vibrant with young energy, with young leadership and with Change Agents. The language of Youth Empowerment is working. Here is Empowerment, Space, Change, Transformation, Voice for Youth, Employment Training, Skills Development, Vocational Training. I love it. In Thika we are being welcomed by the Branch Manager, the local General Secretary, Lillian, in fluent Norwegian. Lillian showed no fear in choosing to go to Norway for a full year as a YMCA volunteer, and showed no fear in returning to a job as local General Secretary. She has a fine leadership style, and communicates with the young members of Thika YMCA as naturally as with family.
The Vocational Training is a great way of empowering young people. In the Kibera Branch I see classes for tailors, in Shauri Moyo Branch I see classes for electricians, plumbers, car mechanics, hairdressers and beauty workers, IT specialists, tailors and hospitality workers. Young people are on waiting lists to enter the courses, and the success is nearly total – all the students are getting into sensible work, either as employees or as self employed business operators. They get lots of entrepreneurial training as well. The vocational Training of Kenya YMCA is a reflection of hope.
No lack of courage for young people climbing to new heights in their career development!
The skills training is focused on the job market out there, and is often geared at very practical levels. The skills are needed and jobs are waiting. It is a real success story. I also see the first contours of a new picture – a picture of the future YMCA where we do not think as donors and givers, thinking that these schools and training centres need our gifts of US 5000 a year. That keeps them on survival level. What is needed is a focus on investment. If we invest US 50 – 100 000 in one of these centres,one time, it will be able to educate the double number of young people and scale up both quality of provision and number of students. Scaled up to a certain break even level, many of these small institutions will become self sustained and even able to help start new centres.
This may be a surprising snapshot of a lunch break at the YMCA. But that is what this is. A lunch break at the Kenya YMCA College of Agriculture and Technology, not far away from Banana Hill. 200 students are learning about farming and Animal Health and Production, Food Processing, Automotive Engineering, Biogas Technology and Pig Rearing, Dairy & Poultry Rearing just to mention some of the many courses taught at this YMCA College.
It is the most well maintained and well managed farm I have ever visited, and beautifully located in the so called White Highlands of Kenya they produce vegetables of high quality and have a large tea production with good profit. Bananas and other fruits and even a fish pond and a facility for biogas production from fertiliser are located on the property.
If you enlarge the list above, you will see a full record of the certified courses the YMCA College is offering to the 200 students.
Talking to the Headmaster of the College, here to the right of Jared Musima, his main problem at the college is lack of funds to expand the volume of the farm, both in farmland, in animal production and in numbers of students. Again there is a long waiting list for the students, and when employers come to him to ask for students for employment, he has to turn them away – all his students are already catered for – jobs are waiting for them!
The young lady to the left here is the manager of the farm, and is doing a terrific job! Again I see the new picture – not of mild donors and givers from the YMCA, but a sensible system of social investors who will see the potential and future impact of a scaled up College. As it is now, the College breaks even and pays all its own cost. The land was given to the YMCA by some of the colonialists who left Kenya at independence and saw the YMCA as a solid organisation to give their land to. That investment in the future created a self sustained institution that is changing the lives of young people in the thousands. It reminds me of the Tanzania YMCA, when I visited their YMCA farm school. The land was given to the YMCA by the first President of their country, the first President after independence. In Tanzania also this farmland has made a self sustained YMCA in the country. There is a large lesson to be learnt here.
I saw lots of hope being reflected in the sports activities in Thika, South C YMCA Branch, Kibera, Shauri Moyo and in the Central Branch in Nairobi. Youth Empowerment par excellence!
And as I visited the slum districts in Nairobi, again the liberating oasis of a YMCA centre in the middle of it. Like I have seen in so many other cities of the world, Freetown in Sierra Leone, New Delhi in India, Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Valparaiso in Chile, Sao Paolo in Brazil. The school at the Kibera Branch reflects no fear of the challenges from the slum, but reflects hopes, tons of hopes. See these wonderful kids below, kids in excellent education in the middle of huge poverty.
When we left the class room, the students ran out the back door and prepared a concert for us in the school yard. I shook hands with all of them and thanked them for making my day. Youth Empowerment, Change in action, Space – Transformation – Impact.
There are so many more aspects of Kenya YMCA I could have highlighted. The way Kenya is a partner for World YMCA in the development of the Property Project – I shall write more about that soon. Or the way Kenya organises Career Events where young people are meeting with opportunities from corporate business and government employers.
Let me just say goodbye to my friends in Kenya YMCA with a photo of high voltage Youth Empowerment energy from Thika Branch of the YMCA. I leave Kenya with Inspiration and Learning and lots of food for thought.
May my choices reflect my hopes, not my fears!