I worked in Kenya and Rwanda from 2002 to 2008. In Kenya, I took part in training, conferences and workshops with the The Kenya Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists. I worked for Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) in Kawangware slums, and had a private practice.
In addition to my private practice, as volunteer counsellor, I worked for five years at two NGO’s based in the Kenyan Kawangware slums. The project was focused on Orphans, and/or Vulnerable Children, who either had no parents (deceased due to HIV), or a single parent remaining, usually their mother, living in direst poverty. Schooling had been neglected as the children needed to work as labourers, or beggars, to obtain food for the family.
Articles by African philosophers talk about children finding their identity within the communal ‘We’ in African society, compared to the Western philosophy of developing into a distinctive ‘I’, as a person. My concern was how would these youths find their identity when their community was gone ? From a small group of eight youths who attended the centre one afternoon a week, mainly to receive dry bread and Chai, rather than group counselling, the numbers quickly swelled to 34 youths attending twice weekly. They were thirsty for knowledge of the group counselling.
The group were taught a Life Skills programme devised and implemented by myself, about them and their ‘Self’ . They also learnt crafts and creative handwork to sell for self-funding towards payment to complete their schooling, tertiary or vocational training. As a group they expressed a desire to become educated in order to earn money for themselves and their dependant families.
I started fund-raising for the youngest members of the group to get to boarding school because they had somewhere consistent to live safely whilst being educated. In time the elder youths got places in colleges, or vocational training. They all contributed money from making and selling items, but more importantly during the time they spent together making things, they got to know each other and become their own mini-community, in which they could form their own identity.
In Rwanda, in addition to working with two EAP providers, two Embassies, doing HIV/Aids Care and Counselling, delivering a Stress Management Workshop one of the largest NGO’s in Africa, I also worked with a Child-headed Household group. This was one of many such groups of children orphaned during the Genocide. I delivered the same Kenyan programme which was received well.
I am still in contact with the Kenyan group 12 years later, and am proud that they are employed and looking after others in their community. Everyone had achieved an education, or a means to make a living. My request to them was to ‘play it forward’ was embraced. They feel themselves to ‘be somewhere’ in their lives. They have burst through the glass ceiling of their slum existence, no longer victims of their circumstances but active creators of their better futures.