After a series of life skills training sessions in Bitonge, Bungoma County, I dared a one-hour walk to the border villages of Sirisia Sub-County, to check on the footprints of My Village project Volunteers.
Church gathers locals in their ages. It is a hallowed crowd, one of the very few that allows elders to mingle with young people. Otherwise, the latter should always remain quiet in the presence of the former. At least according to some native Bukusu community members.
On this quiet Sunday morning, devoted believers congregate at St. Lenah’s Anglican Church in Sirisia, just over four kilometres away from the Kenya-Uganda border. I realize that the cultural divide plays out even in the sanctuary, albeit subtly. A young volunteer confessed that he would not raise his hand to speak out as a church leader made a call for donations. He cannot speak, but he can respond to the requests made only through his mother.
The young volunteer is torn between tradition and transition. He is one among many who have been trained to catalyse change within their villages, courtesy of My village project. The project is implemented through a consortium convened by the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network. My Village has been working with volunteers to activate and nurture community agency, engaging the youth, parents, and community members in promoting and improving foundational learning and life skills.
Back to the church service, the lay reader, christened Mwalimu, looks around for a Kiswahili Bible. When a worshipper offers his, Mwalimu reads a verse and returns the good book to the owner. His counterpart is smarter. He reads the scriptures from his phone. The sermon is centred on wisdom as a critical weapon against evil.
I keep wondering if the congregation would embrace literacy with similar dedication and own volunteerism as a creed.
The preacher has to project his voice above the noise of heavy-laden tracks crossing the border. He must also endure the noise from children playing around the church, their naughty abuses and petty quarrels, breaking through the brick walls to tickle congregants in unholy giggles. In fact, one volunteer who is also a young mother has had to prematurely leave the service to tend her baby.
I see all these as opportunities for the volunteers to help in teaching and containing the children in some Sunday school structure. Many acknowledge the children’s innocent disruptions, but who will save the situation?
However, the village in this volunteer’s village has put him at crossroads, even in church, where liberty should be found. The lay reader announced an upcoming youth event that needed church members to donate maize for meals. It is harvest season and shouting out, “One sack of maize as my contribution,” should not be a pain in this part of Kenya, I think. Surprisingly, everyone goes quiet as if none wants to partake of the ensuing blessings.
I am a visitor in this church. Therefore, I cannot poke the two volunteers who also went mum. I should keep cool like a true Anglican does in such gatherings. At last, an old lady got up and pledged two tins of maize. Finally!
“How will two tins of maize quench youthful hunger?” I probe the volunteer as we walk to the nearby shopping centre.
“Ah, there will be enough food, don’t worry. People will give it only that we can not speak our pledges before the elders. I, too, plan to give two more tins of maize, but I will have to send my mother to church with my contribution. It is the norm here. Young people must honour age.” He explains.
“Perhaps My Village should rope in some elderly voices to the caravan of volunteers, especially in contexts where traditions reign supreme,” I thought.
Volunteerism is an extension of patriotism both in spirit and impact. The honour is now on _My Village_ volunteers to spread their gospel of transformation even to their senior neighbours. Until the village in this village yields to volunteerism even when offered by young people, the community may lag far behind its potential.
 Mwalimu – Teacher