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MY APOLOGY: AN OPEN LETTER TO KIJABE BONFIRE PARTICIPANTS WHO WENT HOME WITH TAMPERED SPIRITS

Dear Fellow Rotaractors, guests and friends,

Greetings and hoping you got home well and are now back to your daily engagements.

First of all, thank you very much for showing up in large numbers and putting up a spirited fight against climate change and reduced your carbon footprint on the planet. Planting 2000 + trees is no mean feat!

On Saturday night, I had a dark, gloomy cloud hanging over my head. I had a compound-full of about 100 rotaractors who were just from an intensive tree planting exercise where they had planted over 2000 tree seedlings which I have no doubt will sprout into a majestic forest like the one we were to later on the following day take a walk through on our way to catch a bus to Nairobi. The other rotaractors present had also earlier on visited the Kenyatta National Hospital Children’s Cancer Ward from whence they headed to Kijabe for the overnight fellowship with fellow rotaractors and friends. The evening started off well with the few extra hands that were available trying to make the work load move faster so that we could have everything ready by 10 p.m. in the night when the evening program of swallowship and fellowship was meant to start. I must say, with all the chaos in the evening, everything on the program was scrapped off and those present were left to entertain themselves. Kijabe is an extremely cold place and the setting of the rain did not help our initial plan at all. The plan was to have an overnight bonfire and NOT a CAMP!

After all the hassle of Saturday night, Sunday morning came and a few rotaractors decided to cut the program short and took off. Some had other important matters to attend to while others were a bit disgruntled by the happenings of the previous night and the biting morning chill that was unbearable to most of the people even those who were left behind to continue with the program. Sunday morning was a great success with those left behind holding a joint clubs assembly and thereafter entertained themselves with song and dance and a few other activities which kept them going up until 11.30 a.m. Many thanks to Rotaractors Douglas of Nairobi East and Oscar of Westlands for providing the music.

It is this spirit of the rotaractors present who were now 60 in number, a drastic reduction from the over 100 we had the previous night and early morning, that lifted the dark gloomy cloud that was lingering over my head. I joined in the song and dance and enjoyed the forest walk and for a moment, my worst fears had been erased. I counted or rather tried to convince myself that the event did succeed.

This morning, I got into the office and immediately opened my facebook account and got a notification: I had a post on Kijabe Bonfire Wall! I checked it out and there it was, my worst fears had been confirmed. While I tried to convince myself the event was a success because the group that remained behind had a great time, I had completely forgotten that there were other people who had left very early in the morning with a different view of the event all together. Most, were not happy and I had in fact even tried to start a conversation with some and didn’t manage to get them to talk.

The post in whole read:

“This event didn’t live up to the hype! I still don’t understand why we took more than 4hours to get to Norman’s home after tree planting. Then, i thought the event was supposed to cost 540bob (as per the information below). How then did most Rotaracters (sic) end up paying more than 540bob? What was the 5soc meant to cover? The food was horrible and we ate at 11pm (the ugali i guess tasted more like boarding school porridge)! Then, if you guyz expected more than 50 guests and if each came in sleeping bags and tents, considering the location…(do the math)! This event was poorly planned and very disappointing. It greatly damaged my previous glossy picture of Rotaract”

For the past few months if not a year, I have been struggling to get feedback from people on what they wanted and what they liked or not about our events and guests and to date, the response has been zero! Despite confirming my fears of an event turned disastrous and bringing back the dark, gloomy cloud, I was glad after a while that someone took the time to express their opinion. I must say I was initially very angry at the nasty comments but as always I took them in and thought hard about what really took place on Saturday.

It is for this reason then I must apologize to one and all who went out of their way and made it for the event. I know you could be anywhere else in Kenya or the world but you chose to be with us for a whole weekend. I do not take that for granted. I understand time, family and other personal matters are of great essence.

1. MY APOLOGIES FOR NOT HEEDING ADVICE AND TAKING ON BOARD MORE THAN WE COULD HANDLE
On 15th March 2011, 178 rotaractors gathered at the Laico Regency for a joint quiz night. It was at this gathering that we announced our intention to visit Kijabe, interested parties were to RSVP by 3rd April 2011. On 3rd April 2011, only 5 participants had paid up for the event. 5 was not a feasible number to work with and we decided to extent the deadline to 13th April 2011 at 1759hrs as final preparations for the events were to start at 1800hrs. By 13th April 2011 morning, only 11 individuals had paid up for the event. As strict as I was going to be on this event regarding deadlines, I could not take 11 people to Kijabe. However, by evening, 85 people had paid up and I got calls and text messages with interested parties requesting to pay the following day and others on the d-day. I noted down the names and all in all, we hit the 120 mark! Initially, we had budgeted for 100 people but I was of the opinion we could do an extra 20 despite being advised by 3 of my committee members to close the list at 100! Many questioned whether we had the capacity to handle over 100 people. I was confident we could!

I apologize to one and all who wanted to have enough space to rest after the hard toil at the tree planting exercise but was not able to because of the excess capacity.

I apologize to my organizing committee for putting on you the burden of handling more than you had anticipated and were willing to. Especially to Norman Kuria, our host who between Saturday 6 a.m. and Sunday 11.30 a.m. had only sat down for 10 minutes.

MY REASON FOR TAKING 120 PEOPLE TO KIJABE
While the final decision to close the list at 11 people who had paid up by the set deadline rested in me, I went ahead and opened the list to 120! This came across to many people as bad judgement. What was I thinking?Not to defend myself but I was thinking but in this case maybe one way. I could take 11 people and we would each plant one or two trees and have a great night at Norman’s home just as the 12 of us had had 2 weeks ago at Crayfish Camp. We would come back a happy lot. NO! I was not going to take 11 people. When 120 people expressed interest, I thought we could plant a forest. And a forest we did plant. 2000 trees were planted and the management of the Kijabe Environmental Volunteers says that is the most any group has ever visited and planted in less than a day! They had set for us a target of 1500 which they knew we would not manage but we outdid ourselves and far surpassed the target.

For me, it was a choice between having 11 people, 22 trees and a fun-filled night and having 120 people, a forest of 2000 trees and a night of bonding where people would endure the night chill and talk over a bonfire and forgo their night sleep for a night. I chose to have a forest. I apologize for taking advantage of you to achieve my end!

For me, I thought we could forgo our luxuries for a night, get out of our comfort zones and leave behind a legacy. That forest of 2000 + trees is a legacy that we left behind and it shall live on for our children to remember us by. For me, the sleep forgone, the chill endured and the bad and horrible food it is claimed could be forgotten in a day or to and compensated for back home.

I chose to leave behind a legacy! And that we did, ask me again in 20 years or less! Your forgone sleep and eating horrible food was not in vain.

The second reason for taking 120 people to Kijabe was basically to start preparing for the District Conference coming up in Kenya next year. We need as many rotaractors as possible to attend this conference and as part of the PR team, I thought we need more events to create a platform to market and mobilize rotaractors to attend the conference. One might question why we didn’t opt for a one-day event. Well, there is need for rotaractors to have more time to get to know each other, exchange ideas, share information, build networks, tap into each others resources and bond more. We want a united rotaract front that will be able to have a greater impact in the coming years. Two are better than one. In this instance, 120 rotaractors and guests from 9 different rotaract clubs are better than 29 rotaractors from 1 Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central.

The third reason for taking 120 people to Kijabe was for purposes of growth and learning. As a leader and as rotaract, responsibilities await us. What does it take to organize the annual Rotary Sunshine Rally? What does it take to organize the Sleeping Children Around the World Bed Kit Distribution Project and so many other Rotary projects? Will Rotarians run these projects forever? What is next after we leave Rotaract? Do you wake up one day and all over a sudden you can host 3000 children at the Sunshine Rally? How do you get there?

Well, after organizing so many successful small events, projects, meetings in our own clubs, I thought it was time to take it to the next level one step at a time. You can only know the challenges ahead if you start leaning now. You can only get to save a million by starting to save a shilling, then fifty shillings, then 100 and unto the thousands. If you stick to your usual shilling, you will take a million days, weeks, months or years to get to your million depending on the frequency of your saving. Just to borrow from the Chinese, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a step. We can only manage to organize bigger events if we start with one then two and so on and so forth. Organizing Joint Quiz Night and Kijabe was not merely for the sake of it. We have learnt great lessons from both events, we know the challenges and we know what to do about this next time round. For me, I have grown wiser and I have learnt and am ready for the next challenge. I am definitely not shying away. Things can only get better.

2. I APOLOGIZE FOR THE LONG WALK AFTER THE TREE PLANTING
A few years ago, my brother and I set out on a journey. He was 13 years and I was 10 years, just young children with a very sharp memory. For those of you conversant with Kenya’s towns, we walked from the interiors of Kakamega district to Yala and eventually to Busia. The distance was approximately 80 kilometers. This took us about 12 hours, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. We did not get swollen feet and we got to our destination safely. Others say it is our dead father’s spirit that carried us home and others say it is our guardian angels. Whichever it is we got to our destination. I am not excusing myself from taking responsibility for making people take that long to get to their destination. Our purposes for the two walks were totally different but ther is one lesson we can borrow from my brother and I and our experience a few years ago. I don’t live with my brother but he remains close at heart because that experience that was shared just between the 2 of us grew the bond of brotherhood that exists between us. Out of experiences beyond our control, we get to bond with each other and even make great friends. Given our earlier logistics, if we were to have a perfect response to the 4 hour crisis, it would only be for 11 people and not for 120! I will liken it to the experience of being stuck in an elevator together for 4 hours! No elevator manufacturer makes one for it to hold commuters hostage for hours but elevators do get stuck and people do get out of them. Would you rather remember how long you got stuck in the elevator or how much you enjoyed the company of the person you were stuck in it together and actually forgot you were stuck in the first place. When I remember the long walk with my brother, I don’t remember how hungry, scared and tired I was. I remember my brother and I am glad we trekked 12 hours to get to where we are today!

3. I APOLOGIZE FOR THE HORRIBLE FOOD, HIGH SCHOOL PORRIDGE, “POOR PLANNING” AND DISAPPOINTMENT
I apologize that the food was not up to everyone’s taste, people’s expectations were thwarted and everything else that went wrong. I always see God in the rain and my miracles have always happened in the rain. This time however, I may not have been so lucky. After praying everyday from Monday through Friday for the rain not to pour on Saturday night, it went ahead and did so. Perhaps God was angry with me for not wanting to meet Him at our usual meeting place. I apologize my only plan for the rain was praying that it doesn’t actually rain. I, however, thank God that there was enough room for everyone to sit and not get rained on. I thank all present for sharing the little space that was available.

I apologize that I did not live up to your expectations.

4. I DO NOT APOLOGIZE FOR YOU EATING AT 11.00 P.M.
With all humility, allow me not to apologize for your eating at 11 p.m. On Saturday morning, I woke up at 5.00 p.m. went to the office on Langata Road (from Jogoo Road) and made it back into town by 7.30 a.m. The meeting time indicated on the program was 8.00 a.m. The first group of individuals to arrive at the meeting point came in at 8.30 a.m. The entourage left Nairobi at 9.45 a.m. If the program started 1 hour 45 minutes late and all offenders were excused, why the fuss with eating late? That I will not apologize.

5. MY APOLOGY TO THE ROTARY ROTARACT FAMILY WHOSE IMAGE FOR A FEW HOURS WAS TAINTED
The Rotary Movement was founded some 106 years ago and to date, rotarians and rotaractors have been leaders in impacting society. Trillions of dollars have been poured into community development projects, millions of lives have been changed, millions of young children have gotten an education and tens of thousands of young people have gotten employed out of Rotary/rotaract initiatives. Should 12 hours of disappointment erase what has been achieved over 106 years? Rotary/Rotaract legacy must live on and I apologize to the founders of Rotary for tainting the glossy image that has taken so many years to build. My sincere apologies.

6. LESSONS LEARNT
The weekend event was a great learning experience. Personally, I learnt a lot from both the group that took off early morning and those that were left behind. I believe others also learnt and should take time to reflect and learn from it. I take all the blame but lets all take the lessons and learn from them.

I. First of all, for those who decided to take off early morning, it is always prudent to take time to thank the owners of the homestead that accommodated you. The owners are not Rotaractors and had generously offered us the space to use it. Were they at any fault for the mishaps that took place? I don’t think so.

II. I have the habit of getting into people’s kitchen whenever I am invited into a home. Just to help where they might need help. Either clearing the sink, cutting vegetables or whatever else needs an extra hand to do. How many of us made an effort to lend a helping hand? Your host may be the best cook in the world, the most organized individual you have ever met but an extra hand does go a long way and believe it or not, we would have had our food ready by 8 p.m. if more individuals did help with the firewood, lighting fire etc and we did ask for help but there was no willingness.

If you see something is going wrong, don’t just sit around and whine about it. Get up do something about it.

III. Even perfect marriages do get troubled from time to time. What makes them perfect is not that they don’t encounter huddles. It is that they stick together through it all and the burden is shared by the two. Similarly, friends stick together to the very end. Rotaractors stick together through thick and thin. That spirit of Rotaract was greatly insulted on Saturday morning. Only a few individuals had excused themselves from the program. The program was to end on Sunday 10th April 2011 at 4.00 p.m. Many thanks to one and all who remained behind to successfully conclude the program and at that to interestingly conclude the program.

IV. Many thanks to all and one who made the event a great success. I believe it was 100% successful and that is because we left a mark in Kijabe our children will tell of it. Thanks to MK for the poetry sessions in the forest. Thanks to the best ever Crisis Response Team comprising of Sylvia Mutua, Caroline Njoki, Eve Ochiel, Norman Kuria, Quentin Papu, Gideon Macharia, and Huma Kaoga Kaseu. Many thanks to the team on Saturday for all the help. Michael Waiyaki, Wangari Mwaniki, Dickson Otaba, Chris Otera, Carolynne Njihia, Martin Mugo, Gatei Waweru, Nicholas Njeru, Anne Wangeci, Njoki. all the ladies from Rotaract UoN, Kuria’s cousin and all who I may not have mentioned but were part of the team. Many thanks to Kuria’s family for hosting us, to Kijabe Environmental Volunteers for providing the seedlings and making our journey towards leaving a legacy successful.

My apologies again for those that were disappointed.

Yours in Rotaract,

Irinah Katherina Wandera

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0 replies
  1. Sylvia Mutua
    Sylvia Mutua says:

    I think we all learnt a lot from the Kijabe event. I as one of those who was part of the organizing committee believe we did well despite the hiccups. As irinah has earlier commented it is the legacy that matters and not one night of not being warm and comfortable. Yes, we could have done better and i for one has learnt from the mistakes made. However, what all in attendance should have remembered is the spirit of Rotary and the Four way test that is supposed to be part of our lives wherever we go. Apologies for those who left dissatisfied and next time, i assure you it will be better. Many thanks to all who helped in one way or the other be it in Nairobi, at KENVO or at Kuria’s home. Special thanks to Kuria’s family for hosting us. Very few people in this day and age would welcome such a large group of young energetic individuals to their home. However at the end of the day we planted 2000 trees, hiked and made new friends. That in itself is an achievement.

    Reply
    • SM
      SM says:

      Hi Sylvia,
      Your apology has come across as the most genuine and heartfelt. I feel that you are sincerely sorry that the event didn’t go well as planned, that there is no satire nor indignation coated on your words.

      Having organized many events before, I know how bad things can get, how Murphy’s law plays itself out like a scene from a horror film, how embarrassing and humiliating the situation becomes. I’ve also learnt, like you have, that accepting and admitting to faults instead of getting angry at those who point out the mistakes can only better you as an organizer.

      Everything has its good (as usual Rotarians are always fun! Can’t wait for Uganda 🙂 and bad, and hiding your face behind a cloak of arrogance by choosing to see only the good will only blind one from the truth, like some of your colleagues have chosen to do. Kudos again!

      Reply
  2. Norman Kuria
    Norman Kuria says:

    Irina, this is so moving. Please bear in mind that the we were together in this. I also take up the blame. I was the host after all. This aint the last time that we are organizing stuff. For me, it was a lesson that I learned and I believe that if the whole experience didnt kill me, it can only serve to strengthen me.

    Reply
  3. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Irinah,
    I didn’t show up for the tree planting exercise but i visited the kids at KNH – very fulfilling. I actually concur with the complainant quoted above. This apology i must say was long overdue. I didn’t survive the whole night, left with my disgruntled crew after dinner. One thing though, it appears as if your apology above is not genuine – kinda like you are politely and indirectly blasting the guyz that were not happy with how the event turned out. Thanks anyway for the effort, it goes a long way!

    Reply
    • rcnckenya
      rcnckenya says:

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks. Everything I do, I do out of good will and it has never been my intention, it is not and never will be to disappoint or hurt anyone. What I shared above is my thought process during the whole thing. That is how I was thinking. Perhaps the mistake I made was thinking that everyone would think like me and I also thought that everyone had the ability to get out of their comfort zones and enjoy a worthwhile experience, my apologies. If I had the authority, I would turn things around and live up to everyone’s expectations but that I don’t have and we all know it is impossible to do so. No one sets out on a journey to fail, I certainly did not and I hope not to again. Hope things will be better next time. Many kind Regards.

      Reply
  4. Grace
    Grace says:

    Wow! What can I say? I got quoted? Thanks anyway for this. Now i understand where you are coming from 🙂 Sorry if it came out a bit mean but that’s me, I call a Spade a Spade – no hard feelings! Thank you for the effort, the experience was worthwhile, I got to do a lot for Mother Earth and that for me is an achievement I shall forever cherish. Norman, kindly accept my apologies and those of my friends for leaving in a huff, u were a gracious host though we didn’t get to know you. Thanks Irinah and crew for giving us an opportunity to take part in this event- I networked with awesome people. I shall endeavour to continue supporting Rotaract 🙂

    Reply
  5. Nicholas
    Nicholas says:

    Am baffled at the back and forth. We had a programme, we improvised when things went off track, and am not sure we owe an apology those who left in a huff…in such circumstances, “Service Above Self” must be demonstrated above our varied interests.
    Perhaps my issue would be to the clubs that attended: i felt there was no responsiveness/initiative to chip in, offer service, be of help in some way other than chilling for the few to cook and scramble for roasted meat.
    I was also disappointed to see litter all over the compound…Rotaractors we can do better, we just planted trees the previous morning!
    Lots of lessons: my suggestion is that we assign clubs specific duties next time we have such an event. I would also propose equitable representation across the Rotaract Clubs; limit dominance of any one club in terms of numbers. That way, order can be better achieved.

    Long Live Rotaract!!!

    Reply
  6. Michael Nganga
    Michael Nganga says:

    Thank you all for the feedback. Both the +ve & -ve feedback it is very important what you do with it, it’s even of greater importance in the future.
    As president and representative of RCNC I truly apologize for all that went wrong.

    The truth is we can never be the same just like our thumb prints. I may not have attended but as president am answerable to complaints to my club.

    Thank you to all who came & showed the Rotaract spirit in the joint activities we have had in the past few months & also last year. Indeed this moments will not be forgotten easily. Remember mai mahiu, quiz night 🙂 this is what Rotaract is all about. We will have ups and downs it just how life is.

    For tree planting that was a milestone, for those who have journeyed with RCNC for the past 4 years you are well aware now we are almost at 10,000 trees. This we will do with this Saturdays tree planting with KQ. We have shaped history and am more than happy to have been part of this wonderful team that helped plant 2000 trees. You all dont know how much I wanted to be there other than the situation that caught us unaware that saturday morning. Too loose a loved one in their sleep. I would have traded a wet and cold night just so as not to experience the tears we shed that day & are still sheding. So life is actually unfolding what happened cannot be taken back.
    Anyone remember Mau forest ? Such fresh memories is what I have to say the least for how my journey in Rotaract has been.

    Team spirit and oneness is what I hope to build in my year as District Conference Chair.
    Rotaracts future is always at stake as we havent created bonds nor accommodated each other to help where we can. We merely think at times its whose best or which club is what. This mentallity if it doesnt end we shall remain as what Rotarians have always thought of us as dependants. We shall not progress. The youth have ran away from responsibilities. Mark my words, the heat I have received from Rotary has made me want to leave and leave for good. Yet I see theres much greater good to be done with the little I have to offer that God has bestowed upon me Look at what we did with Mai mahiu many saw it as a major project that we cudnt do look at how far we went. Will someone tell me it wasnt worth it? Well its all in you how you choose to make of you time in Rotaract.

    The True test of Unity will be the District Conference 2011-2012 where we are required to fundraise and organise our conference to be held at KICC.
    WE HAVE TO WORK AS ONE.

    Many occurrences such as this are not to break you but build you. The challenges are just begining. Rotaract for me is family and all my friends or most of them are there

    To realize immortality & selflessness in service above self is to rid oneself of their own personal ego to compromise for another even for just a moment in a simple act of kindness.

    I SALUTE YOU the crisis team
    Irinah, Norman, Sylvia Mutua, Caroline Njoki, Eve Ochiel, Norman Kuria, Quentin Papu, Gideon Macharia, Gatei Waweru, Wangari Mwaniki, Dickson and Huma Kaoga Kaseu.

    I salute you the and you and you Rotaractor, guest and friends of Rotaract.

    THE JOURNEY HAS JUST BEGUN

    Reply
  7. Faith
    Faith says:

    Dear All,

    I happened to receive a stray text on Sunday evening from an exhausted Irinah but I had no idea that so much had happened this day.

    Sometimes nature tests growth by introducing problems, and this seems to have been the case. You’ve aired your views on things that were done well and those that could have been done better. The bigger test is how we will move forward from here.

    My challenge would be;

    1. To keep in mind that Rotaract is a leadership and team work class..

    It is alright that Irinah and your team faced these challenges, you now know better. The group that was greatly disappointed, many apologies, but step up next time to make things better as you were part of the team.

    2. To be accountable..

    We need to account for time, for money and for the resources we have. Even where it seems unnecessary, issue a report or give an explanation to benefit all stakeholders.

    I have learnt alot from this as well.

    Many regards,

    Faith
    ADRR- Central
    2010-2011

    Reply
  8. KritiK
    KritiK says:

    ……Now this what we call progress, you hate it, you say it….you feel apologetic you say sorry, big question what are you and me going to do after this……….

    For any event coming after this what shall be the strategy or plan???
    Is Tree planting with KQ different, going to be different or result in to this?
    Please don’t answer this question, live the answers!!!!

    Reply
  9. Felicia
    Felicia says:

    Don’t sweat it. If u have 1 person who thinks it was a great adventure (& u have 60), u don’t have to worry. You should be applauded actually & I applaud u. Don’t stop hosting events Cox of this small thing.

    Reply
  10. Agnetta Nyalita
    Agnetta Nyalita says:

    Hi Irinah,

    Big ups for this. Coordinating over 100 young people is really an achievement. Personally, i am not a Rotaract member but been following on the unfolding events.

    Congratulations and keep up the spirit. You are a great leader with a committed team!!!!!!! God bless.

    Reply
  11. GM
    GM says:

    I missed the event, but frankly, this could all have been fun to me, this is what is called Adventure and i dont think anything really needs apologies!!! I will be there next time…

    Reply
    • rcnckenya
      rcnckenya says:

      Karibu sana, we are doing it next with the Rotaract Club of Nairobi East on 4th June and 5th June then we head Coast on July 8th till 10th. You are most welcomed!

      Reply

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