In the heart of Turkana
I am going to take a trip down memory lane, of my recent trip to Kokuselei (“Koku”), a village in the heart of Turkana, where I volunteered for my Service Based Learning with the missionaries of the Missionary Community of Saint Paul the Apostle (MCSPA). My hope though, is that by the end of reading this article, you will get a glimpse into the generous, self-giving, happy, resilient, and hopeful people that I had the privilege of meeting. And like I did, you will come to the conclusion that what they need is not a miracle or a saviour. Rather, just like everyone else, with intentional guidance and support from all of us, they too can achieve their wildest dreams.
During my first weekend in Koku, we went on a hike to Nakuleu Hill. I was excited because I had heard of the magnificent views that could be seen from the top, but I was also hesitant because I knew how unfit I was. With two layers of sunscreen to shield me from the 38-degree sun, a bottle full of ice cold water and my favourite pair of running shoes, myself and a team of volunteers, alongside local children and teens, set out to climb Nakuleu Hill. As would be expected, halfway to the base of the hill, I was exhausted, sweating profusely and breathing as if I had just completed a 42km marathon. Just as I contemplated quitting, a 10-year-old boy joined me. He had no shoes (and the ground was littered with thorns and rocks), no water, and only spoke Turkana. On multiple occasions, I tried to gesture that he should hurry along as the rest were getting further and further away, but he would not budge. When I stopped to catch my breath, he sat on a rock and waited patiently. When my hair got stuck on a tree, we pulled it apart strand by strand. When we started the ascent up the hill, and the loose stones would cause me to lose balance, he would walk a few steps ahead of me and point out rocks I could step on. All the while, he would try and teach me names of trees, stones and other objects around us in his language.
We eventually made it to the top, and the views were magnificent. I remember taking a pause and thinking, while I am the one here to volunteer and ‘help’, there’s so much more I have to learn from this experience. And boy, did I learn! The following week during my first week teaching at the local primary school, I met my little friend and learned that he was in grade 1, his first year ever in a school. He had previously been a shepherd, herding animals in order to earn income for his family.
On two weekends, myself, alongside other volunteers at the mission organised mentoring sessions with the girls and young women of the area to offer words of encouragement and inspiration. During these sessions, we would give the girls a chance to ask us questions and also have open discussions among one another on topics such as Relationships, Education and Career ventures. As we introduced ourselves , they mentioned their aspirations of being teachers, police women and scientists, all with an aim of creating a better community for future generations. They expressed the challenges they faced, including balancing housework, societal pressure to get married early and still excelling in their studies. One of the girls present was 16 years old, had never attended school, and was married off last year to a man who abandoned her when she miscarried their child. Despite all these, she had the biggest smile on her face when she came to talk to me about her love for making jewellery and her wish to one day attend school. No complaints, no self-pity, simply a group of girls, who, at every step of the way, are faced with hurdles that most of us believe would cripple us. Yet, time and again, they defy expectations, pick themselves up and soldier on.
On the 15th of February, I attended the celebration of Fr. Paco, the founder of the MCSPA, who began the community in 1987. This was a time when Turkana had no roads, no pumped water, lacked health and nutrition centres and was a forgotten part of the country. And yet, he came all the way from Spain and gave all that he had to be at service to the people of Turkana. And through his exemplary example, he influenced missionaries from all over the world to join him in the mission of feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty and healing the sick.
The missionaries have laid out a blueprint for what is needed to create a thriving community in Turkana and the best way to go about it, and the people have shown that they have the ambition and compassion to transform their community. The burden then is on us to care enough to sacrifice our time, energy and resources to accompany them up this hill called life, and at the end of it all, I think you will discover that you learned and gave a lot more than you had to give.
I highly recommend Turkana for anyone considering going for a volunteering experience, including doing their SBL. Every day, you will embark on an adventure that you will never forget. Some of these volunteering activities include: teaching in the primary school, attending mobile clinics where you measure the height and weight of children, delivering donations to outstations, washing and playing with children in the nutrition centre, and cooking and cleaning in the mission centre. Beyond this, there are fun activities you will have a chance to experience as well, from swimming and fishing in Lake Turkana, visiting the historical site where a homo erectus fossil was discovered, swimming in a dam, baking cookies and bread, dancing in the Church and even going on a hike 😉.
This article was written by Maria Gitau, Informatics and Computer Science, Graduating #ClassOf2023.
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