There are many in Kingston who might call themselves ‘starving students’ but most of the time the phrase is an exaggeration; not so in Nakuru, Kenya, where far too many citizens suffer from all too literal starvation. Fortunately, Nakuru is also home to individuals who are trying their best to change that situation. Haley Kawaja, a Queen’s student, is one of their number and this past holiday season she spearheaded a campaign to organize food hampers to 20 homes located throughout Nakuru — ensuring that about 600 people had and enjoyed their Christmas dinner.
Haley arrived in Kenya in May 2012, planning to volunteer for three months with the NGO Reach Out To Humanity (ROTH) as an HIV/AIDS educator. Having been offered the position of Program Coordinator, she decided to defer her studies and remain in Kenya for the year. But the goodwill does not end with Haley’s decision: in the weeks leading up to Christmas, far-away friends and family members spontaneously sent donations, asking her to use the money to benefit Nakuru’s citizens. It was then that Haley came up with the idea for a fundraising campaign.
“I started sending out a few emails to ask people to donate so that as many people as possible who needed or deserved something special this Christmas could get it,” she recalls. She says she hoped at least 10 people would sponsor food hampers; in the end, 82 individuals came forward.
The highpoint of Haley’s project came at six in the evening on Christmas Eve when she and other aid workers parked their vehicle in the middle of a Kenyan slum and handed out the last 22 bags of food.
“There was a massive crowd – lots of families and children, but no one was fighting over the bags, everyone was just excited and happy and taking whatever they were offered.” Later, as the truck was driving away, ” the whole community started to run after us laughing and waving, cheering at us and yelling thank you. The quicker kids caught up with the truck and jumped on to the back, riding with us until the edge of the slum. It was one of the best moments of my life, and definitely the highlight of the project.”
Hunger continues to affect the lives of many Kenyans, not just those who live in Nakuru’s slums. Even though agriculture is one of the largest sectors of Kenya’s economy, persistent high unemployment (40% of the adult population were without work in 2008) means that many in the cities cannot afford to feed themselves or their families, even if food is available. This problem, which organizations like ROTH are trying to solve, is a relatively new one. In their book, Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman explain that the UN agency devoted to ending hunger, the World Food Program (WFP), “traditionally fed those in rural areas who didn’t have access to food because of crop failures.” More recently, however, the WFP must also feed “swelling numbers of urban residents unable to afford the food available.” Hunger, far from being only a problem when famine occurs, in reality represents a relentless and omnipresent challenge to Africa’s citizens and NGO’s alike.
If you are interested in learning more about Reach Out To Humanity (ROTH) and its projects, you can either check the website (www.reachouttohumanity.org) or email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who hope to travel and volunteer overseas themselves, Haley has this advice: “It’s really important to find an organization that works closely with the community to ensure the projects and services being provided are what the community has requested and approved.”