“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made, and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
These are the inspiring words of Nelson Mandela, and this statement holds true to what I discovered while volunteering as part of the ICS-VSO (International Citizen Service – Voluntary Service Overseas) scheme in Machakos, Kenya. I saw the zest and generosity of enthusiastic young people – the generation of the future – working together to make a difference. I realised the possibility and potential young people have in today’s society.
In Machakos I was working with inspiring and motivated young Kenyans who wanted to volunteer in order to give something back to their community and to positively affect the lives of their neighbours. In addition to their own work and education responsibilities, the youths formed groups to tackle social and development issues in the community. They organised town clean ups, arranged petitions and joined youth political groups. Rallying together, they worked with the county government to make a positive change in the community. Their energy, motivation and initiative inspired me. Despite all the challenges they are dedicated to making a real difference.
The perception that developing countries rely on Western intervention to develop and overcome difficulties can be a patronising one. However, from my experiences in Machakos it is the British who can learn from the Kenyan example of community, camaraderie and youth volunteering. As young people we are blessed with unlimited energy and ideas. Why therefore do we wait for the government to take action? We have a voice and skills so we should use them to make the changes we want to see.
In Machakos we organised a Community Action Day focused on drug abuse and youth empowerment – the aim was to mobilise and provide opportunities for the children and young adults in the area. We were largely successful. However, I now want to mobilise the youth at home to volunteer and give something back to our community and our world. There are so many volunteering opportunities for young people – from Red Cross youth groups to National and International Citizen Service to simply forming a group with friends and fighting for something you feel strongly about. The slogan of VSO is: ‘Challenge yourself to change your world.’ How different would the world be if we all did just that?
Fenella graduated from the University of St Andrews in June 2014. She recently completed a three-month volunteering placement in Machakos, Kenya with ICS-VSO. As part of her assignment, she was encouraged to act at home, and this article is her way of doing so. She is quick to point out, though, that, “the main drive for me to write this article is not to complete the Action at Home, rather I was inspired by the young people in Machakos and their commitment to volunteering.”