Good Work News, September 2005, By Sarah Anderson
When Aggrey Omondi visited Waterloo Region in 2002, he got to know The Working Centre as a volunteer and friend. He was intrigued by the informal nature of the community meal at St. John’s Kitchen, volunteers fixing bikes and computers, and the support individuals were given in their job searches. The relationship has continued in small ways since Aggrey returned to his work as founder and director of the ugunja Community Resource Centre (UCRC) in Kenya. Earlier this year, an opportunity came up that brought renewed energy to developing this friendship.
UCRC works within the village of ugunja, located near the northeast corner of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya, responding to community interest in issues such as sustainable agriculture, women’s empowerment, education and ways of integrating new technology that is publicly available. Examples of UCRC’s initiatives include their response to community members’ desire to embrace sustainable agricultural practices to increase the amount of fresh produce grown for the community. UCRC also trains peer health workers to talk with community members about HIV/AIDS, which remains an unacknowledged disease, though it has severely impacted the ugunja community.
In acting as a community resource, UCRC shares in the spirit of The Working Centre’s Community Tools approach: putting productive tools – such as bikes, organic growing techniques, and computers – into the hands of the community.
In May of this year, The Working Centre was asked by UCRC and Canadian Crossroads International (CCI) to participate in an official partnership that was established between the two centres. The formalized relationship brings funding and coordination through CCI. This will mean a series of volunteer exchanges between the organizations to share skills and perspectives in community building.
The partnership also creates the interesting challenge of keeping The Working Centre’s relationship to UCRC meaningful. The Working Centre concerns itself with creating reciprocal relationships with others. As Ken Westhues describes in “Building Relationships Where People are Real”:
“reciprocity describes an ongoing relationship in which the parties talk and listen to one another in turn, each responding to the other so that what actually happens is genuinely new, beyond what anybody could have decided in advance.”
As the two volunteers leaving The Working Centre in October to spend 5 months at UCRC, Julian and I have become personally interested in the dynamics of this relationship. Though oceans divide the organizations, it is the personal connections created and nurtured that will bring newness to the relationship. We hope that the upcoming exchange of volunteers will help to build on the reciprocity that existed in the relationship Aggrey began with The Working Centre three years ago.
In preparation for our volunteer internships, Aggrey identified a couple of areas where UCRC will benefit from our skills and experience. Julian will be using his graphic design, technical and communication skills to provide training to the UCRC staff that will increase their capacity to do fundraising. At present UCRC is almost entirely run by youth who, despite their education, are faced with little opportunity for work in their community. They volunteer their energy and skills to UCRC and hope that eventually some of them will be able to earn a living from their important contributions.
My role will be connected to the creation and development of Independent Learning Resource Centres within rurally isolated villages near ugunja. UCRC has been involved in an extensive project to support these organizations in developing their own models for responding to community needs. I am looking forward to learning from this participatory community development process, while contributing my own skills and insight.
When we return, we will be using our internship experience to support The Working Centre in its efforts to generate support for UCRC within the local K-W community. In listening to Aggrey, it has become clear that by developing a local Friends of ugunja network, there will be ways to contribute significantly to the efforts of UCRC.