I volunteer with the PaaMoja Initiative in the community of Mathare because of the enormous impact it has had on my life – the least I can do is return the favour.
After completing a ‘field studies in Africa’ program, I decided to stay in Kenya for an additional three months before going back to finish my final semester at school. Similar to many undergraduates, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life – I had studied biology, economics, and everything in between and still hadn’t found my passion. I landed an internship at an organization in Nairobi to pass the time. The internship proved to be moderately dysfunctional, and I decided to look for something new to do. Shortly after that, I met Tito, PaaMoja’s founder and facilitator, and began attending meetings with a youth group in Mathare.
It didn’t take long for me to feel inspired in Mathare. With Tito’s unlimited devotion and thoughtful leadership, and the stories which flowed from the lips of everyone he introduced me to – how could I not? Though had spent six months in East Africa, Mathare still felt foreign to me, but that did not last for long. Members of the youth group guided me through their community – showing me the house where they grew up, the man who sold them maize, the room that used to be their school. I began tagging along at the group’s weekly activities and by the time I left Kenya to return home, I knew I would maintain this relationship.
At home, my parents, their friends… and pretty much the whole neighbourhood asked me about a million and one questions about what it was like in ‘Africa’, so I decided the most effective approach would be sit them all down, serve them some drinks, show them some pictures, and tell them everything. That’s exactly what I did. And after sharing my stories and so many of the stories that had been shared with me, my parents, their friends… and pretty much the whole neighbourhood started to send in donations.
Since then, Tito and I have worked closely to draft budgets, outline programs, and dream big. One of the original projects I worked on with PaaMoja is Adole Chat! program. Adole Chat!’s adolescent health curriculum quickly evolved to include topics of interest suggested by the students and facilitators within PaaMoja; it now includes components on group communication, self-esteem, and financial education. As PaaMoja grew, so did I. I now work in global public health, and while based in New York City, I frequently travel to Africa. Though it took a while, I finally found my passion – with the help of many along the way.