Learning at The Working Centre

Good Work News, March 2006, By Charles Ogada

This article by Charles is written to those he works with at UCRC. The partnership between UCRC and TWC is evolving around learning and sharing small practical projects that build community and relieve poverty. Charles returned to Kenya in mid February, but not before many people gathered to wish him well.We will miss his knowledge and broad understanding of the factors of poverty. More on the partnership in the next issue of Good Work News.

On November 11th, 2005, I arrived in Kitchener Waterloo at a local NGO known as The Working Centre (TWC). The organization started humbly as is said “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a step” and as such the organization began with the simple thinking of giving the community an opportunity to create and get employment. The organization has grown up gradually and organically with the people at heart, incorporating different programs as the need arises. Currently this organization is a major source of support to the community helping hundreds of people access employment, access affordable housing, access at least a meal for the day, help the incoming immigrants learn English and helping them find jobs.

When talking to the director, Joe Mancini, he simply stated that the aim is to provide “tools for living” especially to those who are at the lower status in the community (the resource poor).

It is at the middle of this challenge that I am working, sharing my experiences and learning. During my first month there has been more learning than contributing to the development of this organization. I have really tried to apply some tools of PRA, staying with the community, learning why they act in a certain manner and together move with the community to create change.

Computer Refurbishing

TWC has a computer recycling project, where the community donates used computers. The computer recycling coordinator assesses each computer and enters the information in a database.

This information helps in building up new computers, breaking others which are beyond repairs and recycling the usable parts. This work is done completely by volunteers who come in a couple of days a week. The recycled computers are sold cheaply to the community, especially low income earners.

I have mainly participated in breaking apart the computers for recycling and selecting the re-usable parts for storage. In doing so, I contribute my labour and in return I learn some basic hardware maintenance. I was interested in this project because of it’s objectives of giving people access to technology through providing alternative and affordable means. At the UCRC computer lab, the challenge is the cost of maintaining the computer lab where high maintenance costs leave computers unusable. I have been developing links between computer recycling and the UCRC computer lab exploring how to establish an internet based clinic and sharing software, exchanging computer parts and how to strengthen UCRC computer maintenance.

Recycle Cycles

Bicycles are not only affordable means of transport; they are environmentally friendly, remit no carbon that contributes to global warming and promotes healthy living. Despite all the noted advantages, many people do not have a love for bicycle use. At TWC, there is a strong belief that bicycles are appropriate and fits well in the society.

Recycle Cycles promotes the use of bicycle transport in the community as opposed to over reliance on cars which is not only beyond reach by the poor but also is destructive to our environment. The community members are given an opportunity to come and learn about cycling and how to maintain the bicycles. Recycle Cycles gets bicycle donations from the community and like computer recycling, the bicycle donations are always not in good condition. The program coordinator thereby works with volunteers to build the bicycles back to condition by which they can be used. Once the bicycles have been mended, they are sold at a low cost or in exchange with other activities i.e. volunteering at the bike shop.

Volunteers come to offer their services fixing bikes and there are bicycle clinic days where people can come in with his/her bicycle to learn how to repair it.

I started working at this unit learning how we can extend the same concept to UCRC. Bicycles are a major transport in Ugunja but not much focus is ever given to supporting bicycles.

St John’s Kitchen

It is hard to acknowledge and believe that in a developed economy like Canada, some people hardly find love, food and space for self fulfilment. This city is faced with many challenges ranging from lack of employment among many people, influx of immigrants, increased number of street families and people with mental disabilities. These people find it hard to access meals, love from business minded community and access to medical care.

St. John’s community Kitchen provides meals and a sense of belonging. The Kitchen provides an opportunity for people to volunteer, get information and forge linkages with numerous projects. Many activities are integrated in this kitchen from health care, social support to counselling that leads to transformation of life and characters.

I have been working with staff in the Kitchen to contribute my time and labour to support the manual work required. I have also been spending time with people who come for the services, to learn and understand the circumstances in which they live.

The big question occurring in my mind is, “how can we transfer such an activity to Ugunja and help the many families who go hungry always, the children headed household and the elderly?”. I take this opportunity to appreciate the sober thinking that led to initiation of this Kitchen. This has been challenging especially working with the people who have been ejected from their families due to various pressures such as drug addiction, war in their countries of origin, mental disability and economic instability.

What strikes me and motivates me about this unit is how the beneficiaries take up leadership and ensuring order. They also offer to contribute their time, energy and participate in the process of preparing the meals and clearing the facilities. Sometimes they organize for entertainments activities such as choir, piano playing and they really enjoy and feel free from the stresses they face.

Job Search Counselling

Community development involves a lot of counselling work that aims at walking people from situation of crisis to comfort. TWC reaches out by providing people with an opportunity to come and meet dedicated and experienced counsellors. The counsellors help members of the community to get jobs by working together in developing resumes, set job expectations, linkages and referrals to possible employment opportunities. People from all walks of life drop at TWC for these services, the counsellors’ support them towards attaining self actualization, the counsellors too feel motivated and enjoy giving out the services.

To enhance the quality of work and improve on skills, the counsellors have developed a tool that guides the process and ensures harmony at TWC. Counsellors have a weekly meeting at which they share experiences, receive updates from colleagues and spare some moments to improve on their skills learning together.

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