No one goes for a rescue mission in earthquake struck Haiti and expects to land on a smooth runway. There are reasons why some lands in this country are referred to as ‘marginalized or isolated’. It is because accessing and navigating through these lands is quite a task. Daunting. It takes risks, it requires resources and it takes sacrifice. It requires courage and a willingness to commit and stick to the cause until the mission is accomplished.
Mfangano Island is one such Isolated/Marginalized land and there are no exceptions to the rules – risk, sacrifice, resources and commitment.
The 18 members, guests and friends of the Rotaract Club of Nairobi East did indeed, subconsciously, understand this and it is thanks to them that 408 pupils at Misori Primary School on Mfangano Island have their precious feet safely tucked in brand new pairs of shoes courtesy of the Rotaract Club of Edmonton Center, Canada.
Getting to Mfangano island is no mean fit and is certainly not for the faint hearted. The journey from Nairobi to Mbita is long and tiring and when your car breaks down quarter way your journey, the most reasonable thing to do is turn back and either plan for another trip or ship the consignment to the children. Not so for members of RCNE. They braved the biting chill of Narok nights and left for Mbita at around midnight, a time when the 1st lot of volunteers had just arrived in Mbita after a challenging ride through the rough terrain that had been occasioned by road diversions as the highway from Homabay town was still under construction.
Our gracious and hospitable hosts did give us a grand reception with a banquet fit for a king and we had all our needs catered to from freshening up to laying our heads to rest and having the morning entourage get transport to the lake shore. Well, the second lot did finally get to experience the hospitality afforded to us by Owele’s family and in no time, we all made it to the lake shores of Mbita for what was to become the boat ride of our lives! NOTE: While the second group had stayed awake all night and had the option of giving their worn out bodies some rest while the first group headed for the island, they chose to forego their sweet slumber and joined the rest of us.
It is on this trip that we somewhat got to experience what it truly means to serve communities, the true essence of it. While we hardly ever talk about it, serving communities ideally means being empathetic rather than sympathetic. Serving communities as a result of sympathy means giving hand outs to feel good about ourselves. In this case, the rotaractors and their friends would have simply shipped the shoe consignment to Mbita and signed it off, ‘with love from RCNE and RCT Edmonton Center’.
But true service is what we experienced from 10th – 12th February 2012. Serving communities empathetically means going into these communities, living their lives as they live even though it’s for a day or so. It means eating the food they eat; transversing the terrain they transverse; drinking the water they drink; navigating the waters they do and most importantly appreciating their struggles and determination to make it despite their hardships. And so, despite the transport hurdles, the long and tiring journey, the rough terrain and troubled waters to say the least, the Rotaract Club of Nairobi East members together with their guests made it to the school and distributed the shoes and made it back in time for the ferry back to the more civilized and “unisolated” town of Kisumu.
Among the Ashanti of Ghana and other Western African countries, human sacrifice was offered at festivals to bring good fortune and to pacify the gods. Ideally, a virgin would be most suited for the gods of the sea. Going back to Biblical times, a lamb without blemish would be offered as the best and most acceptable sacrifice to God.
According to yours truly, Mr. President qp, one is not supposed to marvel at the greatness of the sea (and in our case, L. Victoria). If you do so, the waters come back to punish and teach you a lesson!
Well, many lessons we did learn and those of us who feigned braveness still had the car and the office being swayed by the brave waves of the sea days after that 1 and a half hour boat ride of our life. Talk about products of an over active imagination.
There is nothing as troubling as when you and your “bravery” remain cool, calm and collected after reassurance by the frequent passenger that it is normal for the engine to fail once or twice amid raging waves only to look at the captain and meet a face that tells you, ‘this is bad, real bad’. His face was dressed with fear symbolic of danger somewhat trying to say, ‘this is not normal, nothing like this has ever happened’. Four or so times, some aboard confessed to having died and resurrected but we did make it alive.
To go with the president’s theory, we were indeed punished for marveling at the greatness of the sea and we were lucky enough to escape the ultimate punishment as the waves had mercy on us and understood we needed to get home safe so that we could make it back again to the island and bring more glad tidings for the children.
To go with my early 19th century theory, addiction to Africa Journal documentaries and an over-active imagination, I think the gods of L. Victoria smelt fresh blood perhaps a virgin in the entourage. Now, her offering would have been a great relief for the people of Mfangano. The gods would have been pacified and good fortune would have befallen the land. Not so! And it also came to pass that none among us was found without blemish. Good luck to us, bad luck to them.
FRIENDS TO LAST
While we, for a day or so experienced what it takes to live in Mbita and Mfangano, we didn’t really comprehend what it means to go through such hardships as an individual living in these isolated lands.
The experience was more fun and adventurous than dangerous and traumatizing because we had our friends with us. We knew we were in this together and it that bond of lasting friendships that gave us the courage to go on; to commit our resources; to take the risks and accomplish the noble mission we had set out to and that had taken us away from our comforts and the luxuries of the city to these isolated lands.
We appreciate the struggles of the children of Mfangano and more so, we appreciate the fact that our lasting friendships will enable us to do so much more for the people of Mfangano and other isolated lands across the globe. Already, one Romano Njeru has vowed to work hard so that next time he takes a flight to Kisumu International Airport and he will have a yatch/speed boat waiting for him at K’Otieno to take him to Mfangano!!!
I must say I met two truly amazing and remarkable people. Linda and Ken made the whole experience worthwhile and we hope they will soon be inducted into the Rotaract family in one of their favored clubs. Wonderful people they are.
Truly Great friendships inspire Truly Great works. Great friendships spur and are a catalyst for great sacrifices. And so, if you so yearn for greatness, then you must endeavor to forge Truly Great friendships.
Be a truly great friend and inspire truly great works and sacrifices in those you forge friendships with.
And forge friendships with truly great friends so that they inspire truly great works and sacrifices in you.
To the people of Mbita and Mfangano,
To the members, friends and guests of the Rotaract Club of Nairobi East