This story begins with Buken and Joyce and a party of children. Three years ago, I was participating in a hit-and-run community project as the culmination of a leadership program, the Taifa Teule Leadership Experience. Our class (an assortment of about 20 Kenyans) executed a Face Lift project for Sifa Primary School based in Gatina, Kawangware Kenya. This is where I met Buken, Joyce, and their awesome party of small Kenyans. While the project was about painting some classrooms and fixing desks, among other simple activities, Buken and Co were present to not only participate but also showcase an art program they have been running (they performed a skit on drugs and substance abuse and the effects on family and society, especially children).
I recall chatting Joyce and Buken up, inquiring about their group and what they do. Buken explained that Maisha Yangu, their organization, focuses on equipping children with skills that encourage them to explore their talents and express themselves. Joyce added that they also offer life skills and guidance to the young ones. I thought to myself, ‘this is an amazing initiative and I want to know more.’ In this period I had only dipped my toes in the waters of doing community projects. (This was my first). Like many others who feel inspired and motivated by such encounters, I exchanged contacts with Buken and ‘ghosted’ for a few months. But at least we kept in touch. Which led to our second significant encounter.
In 2020, I paid Buken and Co a visit. This time , they carried out their activities from a different location. Mti Moja, Muslim area – still in Kawangware. Here, I found Maisha Yangu executing an Agricultural program. Somehow, somewhere in the congested neighborhoods of Kawangware, they had found a significant piece of land to try out urban farming. And it was flourishing. Several kids were learning how to utilize small spaces for farming simple crops. The garden was productive. During my visit, there was mature sukuma wiki, spinach, some traditional crops, and a few more setups being installed. A significant difference I noted at this point was that Maisha Yangu had found a location to base their activities. In between the garden and a haggard timber house/room the Agenda was ‘agending’ somehow. In my conversation with Joyce and Buken, I gathered that while there was some foundation to the core mission of the organization, lack of resources was the greatest hurdle. This is because even the space they occupied at the given time was borrowed and that came with undue pressure and some harsh treatment from the ‘benevolent’ donors.
In my third significant interaction with Maisha Yangu, I found the organization set up in a double-room rented space in an apartment just opposite the previous place where the farming activities were taking place. Upon asking, Buken and Joyce explained to me that the previous host started asking for rent for use of the space. While this was understandable, it was unsustainable because the organization is not for profit and does not have any funding.
So what was the focus now in between six walls on the third floor of some building? (Other resources available then; two benches, several seats, one table, two desks, a few utensils, and four volunteers— Buken, Merline, Joyce & Fred) The focus remained the same – to transform the community by empowering young ones to express themselves through art and education. At this point, the consistency, simplicity and sincerity of the mission drew me in. I practically yearned to be part of this mission. Wouldn’t you?
First hand, I have seen Maisha Yangu Organization striving for growth. 2021 came with tremendous milestones. The organization was able to find a means of expanding the organization space to include a large hall (two combined rooms) for a study and kitchen space. By far, the hallmark of it all is the community library that was installed in late 2021. The organization, through crowdfunding and two partnerships, managed to set up a library that has 1000+ books (ranging from primary to high school and general knowledge), six computers, and 1 printer. This has seen the number of kids willing to take part in the organization’s programs increase from a daily attendance of 10 to 40+ on some days. The organization has seen a few young children transition from primary to high school and others from high school to university within that short period. There has been a significant behavioral change over this period in most if not all of the beneficiaries. These young human beings are amazing— life-giving.
As I write this, the organization; is led by the Co-founders, Buken and Merline (Chair and Vice), and a committee of seven, has a website, running programs, and active partnerships. Maisha Yangu Organization is now visible, respected, appreciated, and approachable in Mti Moja. This has grown into a community. The vision is clearer now more than ever. The road is still long ahead of us. There is still much we need to successfully achieve our mission. But for now, we (yes yes! I started volunteering in 2020) count our blessings for how far Maisha Yangu Organization has come.
I believe the world needs such localized developments and solutions from ordinary people like Buken, Joyce, and you and I. I believe it is all possible. It is a privilege to be part of this community transformation process.
Maybe you could join us!
Written by Emmanuel Marumbu Misiati
Admin Maisha Yangu Organization
Professional Trainer and Facilitator
To find out more about Maisha Yangu Organization, reach me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org