Yesterday afternoon, Alice, Aby and I met up with some people from the Rotary Club in Kisumu…
Tuesday 7th July
It was another busy day today, we met in town before heading over to see an old friend of our very own Dennis Mitchell, Sat Jobanputra at his beautiful home in Kisumu town centre. He moved into this house when it was built in 1937. He told me how the city had changed dramatically in the proceeding years. Kisumu sprang into existence in 1901 when the British completed the Mombassa – Nairobi – Kisumu railway, built to link the Indian Ocean to Africa’s biggest water body, Lake Victoria. The Lake is the origin of the great River Nile and Kisumu is on its coast. Mr. Jobanputra was born here and told me that during his lifetime the population has risen tenfold from 50,000 to 500,000. He has watched it spread outwards as more and more people arrive here from the surrounding rural areas in search of work. What they find is a difficult life, over 50% of the people live in slums or shanty towns, some of the poorest in Africa. Although the city centre, at the moment, is coping with the volume of vehicles here, it is surely only a matter of time before it becomes as gridlocked as Nairobi (or London!).
Mr. Jobanputra, now retired, used to be an active member of the Rotary Club in Kisumu. We wanted to know what the Rotary Club had done here in response to the Post Election Violence in late 2007. He took us to meet an American couple Dan and Patty Schmelzer at their home in Kisumu town centre. Dan and Patty are heavily involved with the Rotary Club here and were instrumental in the Rotary relief project that was launched in the wake of the post election violence. The relief project is ongoing and utilises the US $20,000 fund they accumulated from around 20 different organisations, of which Global Footsteps was one. Dan reported to us what they have achieved. They spent the money in three key areas. 1. Emergency food relief, 2. Provision of medical services, 3. A peace initiative.
Four local volunteers went into the slum areas to uncover individuals and families who were badly effected and were on the brink of starvation. They helped around 1,200 people to stave off hunger.
Two medical camps were set up in the rural areas to help people needing basic treatment for illnesses and injuries. On top of this they funded life saving operations for people who were very badly injured during the violence.
A headline grabbing and very effective initiative was set up by Rotary to promote peace in the city. They wanted to spread a message of peace and settled on an innovative way of doing it. Rather than spending money on billboards they decided to approach the local ‘boda boda’ bike taxis. A boda boda is a push bike with a seat on the back for a passenger who pays around 30 pence to travel a distance of around 2-3 kms in the city centre. Rotary decided that they would make t-shirts with the slogan ‘Peace begins with me’ and they distributed them gradually to 1000 boda boda cyclists who wore them as they travelled around town carrying passengers. This made the cyclists themselves committed to the peace movement and their enthusiasm rubbed off on the other residents of the city. Rotary gave the cyclists small financial incentives to keep wearing the t-shirts which facilitated the good will between them.
As an extension to the boda boda peace initiative Rotary helped the wives of the cyclists to set up businesses. They did this through a micro-finance initiative as a Small Micro Enterprise Programme (SMEP). This has been very successful and continues to grow as women take out and pay back loans of increasing size to grow their businesses from side of the road shacks to down town shops.
Rotary has spent $10,000 of the $20,000 originally donated, the focus has now shifted to sustainable long term development. Through the SMEP they are helping environmentally and socially sound businesses to start up and grow.
Dan has promised to send us an interim report, when he does I will ask permission from him to publish it on our main website.
Dan and Patty also run Capstone Ministries Child and Family Restoration Outreach in Kisumu, please visit their website: http://www.capstoneministries.org/