|By Kennedy Karanja|
On March 12, 2022, I got the opportunity to visit CARA Girls’ Rescue Centre in Ngong Town, Kajiado County. The Centre rescues and empowers disadvantaged women and children, especially young mothers. It takes in teenage mothers and girls who have been forced into early marriages, giving them a safe space for holistic development and an opportunity to acquire an education. With the help of well-wishers and external donors, the Centre sends the girls to school, as well as nurture, nourish and provide upkeep for their children.
CARA Girls’ Rescue Centre was founded in 2014 by Irish Christian missionaries. It works hand in hand with the government through The Children Office of Kajiado North Sub-County to identify children who are vulnerable to harmful traditional gender practices, abuse and mistreatment, or who are subjected to neglect and abject poverty. The Centre seeks to give the children a safe and healthy environment, free from hunger and the shackles of poverty, and then reintegrates them back into their own communities. The Centre runs several projects to realise their objectives, including: the provision of vocational training, health promotion, provision of education, gender equality advocacy, economic empowerment and sustainable development.
The most interesting thing about CARA Rescue Centre is its financial sustainability. The Centre boasts of myriad agricultural production activities, such as dairy and fish farming. They also cultivate cereals and legumes on their farm and have a chicken coop that generates additional revenue through selling eggs.
Fun and Impact
Given that I was free on this particular Saturday, I thought there was no better way to spend the day than register for the excursion to CARA Girls’ Rescue Centre. All the COP members who had signed up for the activity met at Strathmore University’s Phase 1 parking lot at 8 a.m., dressed in weekend attire and jovial spirits. Before we departed at 8.30 a.m., we said a communal prayer, “to have a safe journey, to make an impact on the children’s lives, and to have fun”. The air was full of excitement when we hit Langata Road, and when we turned right towards Ngong Road, the positive energy had hit a crescendo. On arrival, we all left our mobile phones in the University bus before disembarking. Given that mobile phones are a pernicious temptation to disconnect from reality, it was a prudent move in order to deeply and authentically connect.
We presented our gifts and donations as we exchanged greetings with the Rescue Centre’s officials, who were very welcoming. They led us to the library for introductions and debriefing. The COP volunteers introduced themselves by name, course, and institution. The girls in CARA introduced themselves by name, class/form, and institution. They seemed excited to see us and eager to interact with us over the course of the day. The Centre’s administrators advised us not to pry into their personal backgrounds – such as asking them the circumstances under which they joined the Centre. This was because prying might have reopened past wounds and trigger them to re-experience the trauma that they were trying to heal from.
Babysitting, gardening, cleaning, cooking
The plan for the day was to do some collective tasks, and then afterwards female volunteers would offer mentoring services to the girls as the male volunteers gave a hand in the kitchen. For the collective responsibilities, we were batched into several groups – babysitting, gardening, cleaning, and cooking. I chose cleaning duties – we washed the classrooms that were annexed from the main building. The babysitting crew played with the children in the playroom, or the swings in the outdoor playground. The gardening team rolled their sleeves and cleared the weeds from the Centre’s farm. The cooking squad prepared lunch, which included chapatis.
This event was a God-given chance to socialise and make friends – both from COP and CARA. I met a young boy, barely 10 years old, named Kariuki, who is a budding entrepreneur. He has a thriving business of rearing and selling rabbits. He taught me the power of exponential returns and the compounding of value. He bought a male and female rabbit at Kshs. 300 each with his meagre savings, and in a span of half a year, the rabbit had birthed six kittens, each with a sale value of Kshs. 2,000. !
The happiest lot
Of the many groups of people that I have interacted with in my life, the COP family is the happiest lot. There was so much camaraderie, solidarity and fun as we did our chores. We were in cheerful spirits and there was no limit to our laughter.We taunted our friend, Pavel, a self-confessed Chef Gordon Ramsey, for overcooking a chapati; and he took it in good humour and even posed for the cameras severally while holding his burnt culinary creation (with some sense of pride).
As a final gesture, we partook in a photo opportunity with the CARA Girls’ Rescue Centre girls and their children – those adorable and beautiful babies! We had built a rapport and an emotional bond with them as we worked and talked, and we hoped to record these memories for posterity.
We got our phones back when we boarded the University bus for the homebound trip. Strange enough, the experience of the day had cured some of us of the digital addiction. We talked about the day’s activities, laughed, and enjoyed each other’s presence.
After a long and productive activity, we decided to wind down at Siwaka Plaza, next to the University campus, after we arrived at school. We shared our recollections of our first COP activities over tea, mandazi and chapati, during an informal post-COP-activity meeting called Gumzo. As we shared our experiences on that round table, it became clear to me that the main reason why COP volunteers have been consistent in the spirit of community service is because they had a positive and transformative first COP activity.
We were grateful for the sense of community, which made COP activities fun and engaging. We did not take for granted the support of the school administration in overseeing the logistics involved and lunch. Most importantly, the COP activities could not be successful were it not for the warmth and the hospitable reception we received in the places that we visited.
I was glad to join the family of COP volunteers who had such a fantastic first-time experience participating in a COP activity. I knew from the depths of my heart that from that day onwards, service to society had become a way of life.