This post was written in the early hours of the morning by the Director of Operations for Five Talents after a flight back from Kenya.
Although it has only been five days since I left London, as I sit in a coffee shop reflecting on my experience and watching the dawn over Blackfriars Bridge, I already know that this trip has crystallised why I am prepared to pour every ounce of my effort into the work that we do.
I knew Kitui was remote. I knew that the area of Kenya suffered from all sorts of social issues, including FGM. I knew there was no water or electricity and that the people were living a hand-to-mouth existence. What’s more, I work alongside people who have worked in these areas for years, who have explained why we do what we do. But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced personally.
On the fourth day, we travelled for three hours across very challenging terrain. An uncomfortable trip, but a pathetic one in comparison to the journeys the people we met had made, the majority of whom had walked for the same length of time in searing heat to meet us. And it was they who thanked us for coming to meet them.
I felt a complete fraud.
That single day is the most humbling I have ever experienced in my 60 years on this planet. I know it will never be challenged. I will see the same again – I am sure of that, sadly – but the first encounter is always the most powerful. It has made me determined to be there in the Kitui district when they open their Community Bank. It may take a few years but they will get there!
One man stood up and said something, in Kikamba, that had his peers and our programme team in stitches. He said that they didn’t know how to do much other than scrape a living through growing crops, rearing animals, and stealing! They wanted an alternative way of living. They knew they without the means to take their produce to market, they were being ripped off by middle men. They also knew that if they had access to water and power life would change dramatically.
Agnes, one of the group’s trustees, spoke passionately about how she wanted to empower the women and, in some ways, more importantly, the young girls so that they had a choice. Currently, they must look after the house, fetch the water and tend the herd. If it’s too much for the mother then the older children take on some of the tasks. The group had managed to save 150,000 Ksh and, as a result of this diligence, the first cycle of Five Talents ‘loans’ were to be delivered soon in the shape of solar panels. That would be a start, albeit a small one, but from there other incremental improvements would happen. As we travelled on, our programme team spoke about how they planned to put in a large water tank next to the church that would collect the rainwater – of which there was sufficient as Kitui is high up in the mountains.
My gut reaction was to find some money to help buy a water tank for a family. However, it felt like that was putting a single sandbag beside a river bank to stop the impending flash flood. I also know that for every “Kitui” there is another waiting – either in Kenya or somewhere else in the world. The enormity of the task we are pledged to eradicate is daunting but somehow it has steeled me. I feel more driven than ever – and I was pretty driven before; just ask any one of the hundreds of individuals I have met with since joining Five Talents!