The grateful smiles, the offers of eternal friendship, and those overwhelming emotions are things that every volunteer comes to know. But, this time, I was blessed merely be being the courier of someone else’s goodwill.
Visiting the car wash
I walked down the road to the edge of the slum, where I knew there was a car wash founded and funded by international volunteers. I was keen to see what difference it was making to the lives of those now employed there.
The car wash was established in 2012 by an Australian volunteer who had the idea of creating a workplace for young ex-criminals, in the hope of giving them a fresh start. She provided a water tank and the necessary equipment for the project. They began cleaning cars, providing community showers, and running a garbage collection service.
The young men involved have such heartbreaking stories. Coming from Kibera, where 15 child families in tiny houses are common, many were forced to leave home at only 11-years-old. Just to survive, to get the food and water they needed to live, they turned to theft. Frequently they would be carrying weapons, and the police shoot to kill if they catch such criminals. Many of the men had had friends shot dead whilst still children.
During my visit to Kenya in 2013 a fellow volunteer, Cathy Owens, paid a visit to the project. She discovered that someone had broken into their store and stolen all of the equipment, leaving them unable to work. Even their advertising sign had been stolen from the roadside and chopped up for firewood. It seemed like a sad end to the project, but Cathy had other ideas. She recruited some more volunteer assistance and set off across Nairobi to find replacements. She bought a giant hand cart, rakes, shovels, a pressure washer, and a new sign (metal this time so it couldn’t become firewood!). All of this was transported back to Kibera in, and on top of, a series of matatus. Quite an undertaking!
All the effort was definitely worth it, as Cathy gave these young men another chance to build better lives through honest work.
Back to the present…
Knowing how much time and effort had gone into establishing the project, I was dismayed to discover that the men were not working. Unfortunately, their pressure washer had broken and left them unable to continue.
I wasn’t in a position to help myself but knew how much the project had meant to Cathy. So I contacted her to explain the situation. She immediately agreed to forward the 5000 shillings necessary for the repair, which I immediately handed to the leader of the group. When I returned later that day, the pressure washer was fixed and seven cars had already been washed. They were back in business!
The power of humanity
The thanks, the gratitude, and the emotion I got was awesome. I feel so lucky to have been in the right place at the right time, and to have been able to contact Cathy in Australia. Of course, all that positivity and that gratitude really belongs to her. I rather stole it simply by being physically there. It proved to me that networks of volunteers, even those spanning continents, can do things that a single volunteer could never achieve. All the amazing people I have met on my travels; those names and numbers and Facebook friends; all those connections; they mean that the good work doesn’t have to stop when you depart.
So, thank you to Cathy for allowing me to tell this part of her story, and for being awesome enough to care about people she hasn’t seen since 2013. From this experience, I not only got the great feelings from seeing the difference made to valuable lives, but also got a renewed sense of the generosity and love that exists in what, all too often, seems like a cruel and violent world.