Kenya: Looking to the Future
By Jessica Harbert : The benefit of donating and volunteering time and an individual’s personal knowledge and skill, sharing that with those on the other side of the world, is invaluable. Giving opportunity where there would otherwise be none or very little and working with those less fortunate and financially stable to teach intrinsic life and leadership skills that will help shape their future and potential to better serve themselves and their community is a small part in helping better the world. This situation will only benefit both individuals, both parts of the equation, learning just as much from those in foreign cultures as they learn from those from Western cultures. A new perspective is given to daily lives and that will continue now a part of who those individuals are. Giving just what is possible, scrounging and saving money to travel, donating one’s time and then having the realization that by doing so, a single person’s life just might have touched someone else’s life forever. What a concept. Imagine if every single person in the world could do that once a year, what a difference it would make, even once in a lifetime. There is more to this world than the day-to-day, than the routine and it’s amazing once one can take the time to do some semblance of an individual’s part in that, helping out for the greater good.
After successfully executing the KITS program abroad, it seems as though anything is possible with the future of the program. And the benefit of the KITS program has been seen firsthand by both the leaders and participants, with hope for continual gain lay in place by the program. Realistically, many logistical details present themselves when working to coordinate such a program and must be taken into consideration when looking at the future of KITS abroad.
Kids in the Spotlight (KITS) is a local program taking place for the past 24 years on Gabriola Island, British Columbia. The program has been working toward traveling abroad, and this past April a group of 11 self-funded individuals from all over North America took the program to Kit Mikayi, Kenya, with the help of Kenyan-based organization Partners in Community Transformation (PiCT). The eight-day program works with primary and secondary students, children ranging in ages from 3 to 23, and was facilitated at Kit Mikayi Secondary School in Western Kenya. The KITS program, founded by Denise Goldbeck who coordinated the trip to Kenya, works with children teaching leadership, personal growth and development and interpersonal relationships, and the group collectively works together, utilizing leadership skills and facilitating personal learning through organizing and executing the production of a creative and original take on a musical production.
Building Community and Bridging Cultures for a Better Future
With several people involved in the planning and completion of the KITS program, there were varying hopes for the potential of the pilot KITS program and what it could do for the future of both the Kit Mikayi community and the KITS program itself.
“PiCT’s had one clear hope bringing KITS to Kit Mikayi, and this was to see a start of a long leadership training that will see children of varying ages and cultures coming together to share experiences,” Patrick Mbullo, PiCT Program Coordinator, Secretary and Co-Founder, said. “We hoped that the interns were coming to teach leadership skills to Kenyan youth, we hoped the schools involved will recognize their potential in life as opposed to what they are used to, we hoped that they teachers will be involved and learn necessary skills needed in their daily routine and we hoped that the community will embrace the entire program and allow their children to participate.”
Despite the many cultural differences, the underlying initial phase of the program very similarly represented the program in Canada, especially looking at the struggles typically faced when working in a group with a large age range.
“Considering the logistical difficulties we faced mounting the KITS program, we were very successful,” Goldbeck said. “The pilot program saw us working with the traditional KITS age range (3-22) when we ran into issues such as I first faced when I began KITS in Canada 30 years ago. Younger children felt rejected and mistreated by older children. Older children and youth thought that being with a group of children was a waste of time.”
And with those similarities came familiar results. Although the kids of Kit Mikayi come from less fortunate economic status and have potentially faced many hardships in their lives already, they still adapted and benefited in ways comparable to those in Canada. To know that despite any variable of differences, all children are quite similar was remarkable to see pan out in the pilot KITS program.
“Children, especially those who experience trauma or adversity, may self-protectively reject smaller children who represent the most vulnerable parts of themselves, or they may treat them too firmly because they are afraid of what might happen to the youngsters,” Goldbeck said “I was amazed that within one week we were able to teach the compassion and self-compassion required to view vulnerable youngsters with more warmth. Also it was important to teach practicing leadership skills with a group of youngsters means those skills will be in place from the bottom up.”
The ultimate challenge of a program like KITS is incorporating the perspective of everyone involved, and using those perceptions to assess the final product. If asked during the eight-day program, many leaders involved may have been unsure as to the accomplishments of their daily activities. But in hindsight, the success of the program is undeniable.
“Though my answer may be subjective, coming from my own evaluation, KITS program has revolutionized how children think about their future including studies, how they behave with their peers and juniors, how teachers relate with their students and how the community, that is the parents, can participate in bringing change to the lives of their children,” Mbullo said.
Reality of the Future
The undeniable reality of the KITS program’s future is based primarily on funding.
“I hope that we return with ample funding,” Goldbeck said. “I think we can do more in the future than we accomplished this time. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully understand another culture, but I think I can learn more so that what I may have to offer will be useful and well-received. I think the young people from North America are the future of the program and they were much more readily able to embrace another culture. I loved watching them come alive and grow in the face of the challenges. The liveliness and energy they expressed shows to me that there is a future for KITS Kenya.”
With these learning benefits and growth apparent, it becomes even more obvious that personal funding cannot be the main source for such a program. It will benefit all involved for outside funding to help alleviate the financial burden of an already emotionally and mentally taxing experience.
“For there to be a future KITS in Kenya, I would have to find funding,” Goldbeck said. “I personally paid for the stage, sound system, and many other expenses the program incurred. The program personally cost $8,500.00 I am not wealthy and have two children to educate. Right now it looks like I may lose my car and my husband and I will go back to being a one car family. We have had to abandon our vacation plans for August. These sacrifices are small however when we consider what the people in Kit Mikayi live with every day. I believe we helped and reached as many children and youth as possible and that we made a difference in their lives. I believe that the youth learned how to bond as a group to accomplish a single meaningful purpose. I believe that several older young people learned how to lead a group to accomplish a goal. The youth want to improve their country. They want to build a solid economy. They want justice and equality for their country. Their goals are wholesome and speak volumes toward a better Kenya. My goal is to use the pilot program to show potential funding bodies what could be accomplished. Then our family’s sacrifices will not be in vain.”
Maintaining Established Relationships
Despite the age of technology and cell phones, there are still many challenges keeping in touch. With limited internet access and a substantial time difference, continuing to build relationships with the students at Kit Mikayi will present challenges after the pilot KITS program. A significant part of follow up after the KITS program is continuing to communicate with the individuals who truly showed great potential and a desire for greater personal learning.
“I am still working on a way to keep meaningful contact with the youth we met in Kit Mikayi,” Goldbeck said. “There are some individuals who impressed me so profoundly with their intelligence, abilities and social awareness that I will remember them forever. If I could afford it, I would support them to study forthwith.”
Hope for other ventures abroad
Understanding how the KITS program can morph to other cultures is a key part of successfully taking the KITS program abroad elsewhere and hopefully continuing to see the benefit it brings to other communities.
“I think that the program can work in a range of settings,” Edelen said. “It would, perhaps, be of use to sponsor the program in a more centrally located urban area with day trips and shorter trip to the outlying areas. It would be less physically demanding to have basic amenities for the youth leadership group, that said, the program works in all settings. But, if the location s has more housing and support resources available, more time and attention could be given to the program and the participants. I think that a residential school with a stage facility would be ideal for a KITS program abroad.”
With a pilot KITS program completed, Goldbeck looks to the future of the program she has founded and continues to develop. Her hopes for the future are not limited to Kit Mikayi, Kenya and taking the KITS program elsewhere will only help to continue bettering the program in Canada and its potential for future ventures abroad looking to spread the benefit and message it has inherently found a place for in enhancing any community.
“I would like to continue to pursue international outlets for this program which teaches children and youth so much about leadership, their own development and identities,” Denise said. “In particular I would like to go to Capetown where there are some schools that have been identified as a good fit for the program. I am also interested in going to Singapore.”
With many open doors ahead, the KITS program will continue this summer on Gabriola Island as it has for many years, but with a new take brought from the other side of the world based on the eight days spent in Kenya. Who truly knows what the future holds for this program, but to say the least the journey will continue and the it is far from over.
For more information, check out the organization’s Web sites.
Kids in the Spotlight: kidsinthespotlight.ca
Partners in Community Transformation: transformation-kenya.org
The Haven: haven.ca
NOTE: Jessica Harbert, the author, traveled with KITS to Kit Mikayi, Kenya. This article is a part of a series of three, detailing the group’s experience and the program’s achievements and future plans.