Reflections on Rotary Family Health Day

Reflections by Rtn. Mike Eldon on the Rotary Family Health Day – April 30, 2011

 I'm with the Bluestone football team in Cura village, as they are about to kick off against their opponents, the feared squad of Real Madrid. To qualify for the tournament in which they are to take part each player has had to be tested for his HIV status, as part of the Rotary Family Health Day. I ask one of the players if he would have gone for testing had it not been for this event. "No," he answers, entirely unsurprisingly. "Feel good that you have?" Of course he does.

 

The young unemployed man is typical of so many in this community. In the absence of job opportunities in rural Cura he has no way of using his time productively. So guess what, he uses it unproductively, hanging around the village, taking alcohol and drugs to help him pass away the idle days and finding illegitimate means of financing his habits. In the process, millions like him all around the country have cut themselves off from the mainstream of society. Or rather, society has allowed them to become alienated. It has allowed them to sink into angry hopelessness, easy prey to anti-social temptations.

The recently arrived Anglican vicar, Edwin Kinyanjui, has been tickling the young men of Cura into coming to church on Sundays. "The way we were worshiping was really boring to these young people," he confesses. "They want to hear lively music, they want to sing and dance," he says, and so he has transformed one of the services to offer just that – as a result of which more and more have for the first time been seeing the inside of a church.

Before, there was very little contact with these alienated boys. They lived a separate life, separate from their parents and separate from the community at large. Now someone was reaching out to them, unthreateningly and unpatronizingly. And today, Rotary is tickling them back into society too. They have come in good numbers, enticed by the challenge of an enjoyable soccer competition and the offer of a trophy for the winning team.

 

Rotary had also brought together a team of AIDS counselors, professional nurses from the nearby Wangigi government health facility, to counsel those who had volunteered to be tested, and throughout the day they patiently took their clients through the sensitive conversations that preceded the tests. Meanwhile in the village clinic nurse Margaret Mungai dispensed doses of Vitamin A (to boost immunities), and deworming tablets. Insecticide treated bed nets and sanitary pads were also made available, together with advice on other health issues.

This initiative, in which Rotary Clubs around Kenya and Uganda – and all around the world – are participating, is supported by Rotary's global AIDS initiative, Rotarians for Fighting AIDS (RFFA), whose funding comes from a variety of sources, on this occasion Coca Cola. The prime target of RFFA is precisely the kind of young people we saw in Cura. RFFA goes further than worrying about AIDS testing, or helping with the care of AIDS orphans. RFFA's bigger goal is to prevent AIDS among youth, including through programmes that see them find useful and healthy ways of spending their lives.

Which brings us back to Reverend Edwin. So OK, he's getting the angry restless young men of Cura to attend his church. What next? In his previous parish he managed to get small sums of money with which to launch a merry-go-round loan system, and he wants to replicate that here. One step at a time, says this patient but determined man – a successful farmer in his own right. "Don't let the opportunities that come your way pass you by," he tells his flock... and he doesn't just sit back and pray that such opportunities will simply materialize out of thin air. The process of upliftment requires an enabler, a champion, someone who is there on the ground, day after day. And who better than a pastor to fulfill such a role?

So on to the next question: how many pastors take such roles upon themselves? How many around them, from their superiors to the communities in which they minister, to the broader society, see them as this potentially extraordinary resource for promoting development? As perhaps with representatives of the Provincial Administration (the Assistant Chief for Cura formed part of the Health Day team), to a large extent everyone is allowed to find their own level, with wide variations between best practice... and worst.

Nest question: to the extent that priests do see themselves as agents of development, what support is available to enable them to make the most of their potential? What encouragement comes from the churches (and mosques) for them to engage in the social and economic upliftment of their area? Are they helped to understand what development is all about, and how one moves from stagnation to lift off? Do they have the skills to network with other stakeholders so as to synergize joint efforts – including inter-faith and inter-ethnic ones?

In Cura, a community of 6,000 people, Rotarians have partnered with the community and its leaders to improve education and health, and to introduce revenue generating activities that move the people beyond subsistence farming to generating surpluses, all of which has allowed them to increase their standard and quality of life.

In a previous column I urged more Kenyans to adopt a village and to support its development, and I do so again now, fresh from my latest visit to Cura. Not just to expand a church, or to build a new one (the commonest initiative), but also to enrich the lives of the community in other ways, complementary to the enhancement of their spiritual wellbeing. Above all, to worry about all those unemployed young men, our source of great despair... our unfulfilled potential.

meldon@symphony.co.ke

Miringu Kiarie