Keeping Our Promise in Kuria
As board chairman, I’ve had the privilege of being involved with Nuru International from the very beginning. However, it wasn’t until August 2011 that I was able to see Nuru’s impact first-hand. My trip to Kenya was nothing short of amazing. I’d like to share my thoughts and reflections.
Upon arriving in Kenya, my first impression was one of sadness and despair. Thousands of people living in substandard housing with contaminated water at risk for malaria, diarrhea and malnourishment. Kids can’t read and spend hours collecting the very water that might kill them. Crops that are brown and wilted that produce barely enough to survive. Merchants selling whatever they can find to have enough to survive another day. Locals teetering on the edge of an economic cliff without reserves to cushion if illness comes or the rain fails to fall. The problem is enormous and leaves one with a sense of helplessness and frustration. It also can lead to a sense of guilt for what we have in the West. Those feelings of guilt and helplessness won’t change Kenya’s future.
For Nuru members in Kuria, facing the giant of extreme poverty doesn’t produce a desire to throw in the towel, but ignites a passion to roll up of our collective sleeves and join the struggle. Kuria is filled with people who are poor because of circumstances beyond their control. If only given the knowledge and tools to rise up, many will thrive. Most Kurians want a better future, but can’t get any momentum. They are dry kindling without a flame; Nuru is the flame that can ignite them.
Nuru is in the business of providing practical tools and leadership training to create opportunity. When I think about the architects, engineers and foremen of projects like St. Peter’s Basilica, the Empire state building and the Hoover Dam, I’m certain they must have been overwhelmed with the task set before them as they began their journeys. They were forced to start with small attainable goals and persevere, all the while imagining the magnificent structures that they were constructing. I’m certain that all involved were elated when these modern wonders of the world were finally completed. The joy before us at Nuru is seeing not great edifices and engineering marvels, but communities thriving independently without Western aid; that will be more stunning and magnificent than any building made by human hands. Nuru is seeing a foundation laid in Kuria. The walls are beginning to rise.
In three short years, Nuru is making a significant impact. Nuru has gained the trust and respect of many locals, which was no small task. One of the local farmers commented that he trusted Nuru “because Nuru keeps its promises.” He stated that the community trusts Nuru despite early skepticism, some vocal opponents and years of broken promises by those in power and many aid dollars that was ineffectively spent. They see larger maize. They are saving money. Their water is cleaner. Health education is spreading. They are lifting themselves up – not taking handouts – and they can see a brighter future. Smiles abound as they think about the future.
Because of Nuru, farmers produce more maize than just enough to survive. Because of Nuru, fewer children will suffer from diarrhea and malaria. Because of Nuru, farmers are saving money for a better future. Because of Nuru, more children have a safe, comfortable place to learn. Because of Nuru, a dairy farm is being designed that will provide much desired and much needed milk. Because of Nuru, less people are drinking dirty water. Because of Nuru, more latrines are in use. Because of Nuru, brave Kurians are being called leaders for the first time and believing it. Because of Nuru, impact can and will be measured with rigor and transparency.
To impact thousands of Kenyans in such a short time is promising. To have the tools in place to measure the impact is incredible.
Nuru’s model, passionate leadership and results-driven goals have attracted talented, passionate team members to join the fight and mentor Kenyans to be self-sufficient. Nuru’s expat team is comprised of brilliant, energetic, independent individuals who all share a passion for those stuck in poverty. They are humbly integrating into the community and building trust. The result is a synergy between friends. It’s not the Americans teaching the Kenyans….it’s friends working side-by-side to solve problems. When everyone is serving one another, everyone wins. No one is superior. No one is dominant. Everyone is finding a place to contribute. While it’s exciting to see the expat staff train the Kenyan staff in the Nuru model, leadership and problem solving, it’s most exciting is seeing Kenyan staff train other Kenyans. The protégés have become the mentors. This is way sustainability happens.
The challenge is enormous, the naysayers are vocal, the work is hard, but the alternative to quit is unacceptable. Too much has been invested. Too many friends have been made. Too many generous people have donated. Too many Kenyans believe. Lives are at stake. Glimpses of a sustainable future are seen.
Nuru will continue to creatively seek and implement programs to assist our brothers and sisters who struggle with extreme poverty. From them, we will learn what determination and resolve is. We will listen to their struggles and needs and guide them to solve problems.
As the board chairman, much of my view of Nuru International is from the outside. We maintain a fiduciary responsibility, review the CEO’s performance, analyze budgets, approve resolutions, interview high-level staff and ensure that the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted. As rewarding and critical as that work is, it pales in comparison to being on the ground and witnessing the impact firsthand. Seeing towering maize brimming with ears brings approval of the agriculture budget to life. Seeing Nuru tee-shirt clad health workers teaching hand washing and malaria prevention drives home the need for funding the health care program. Hearing that women, who had never used construction tools, are building latrines for their homes makes the water & sanitation budget more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. Drawing grasshoppers with twelve ten-year-olds reminds me that every penny in the education budget is worth it. Having the Kenyan staff lead the board in a team-building exercise makes the leadership training budget shine. Having chai with Chairman Philip Mohochi and hearing his calm, steady description of watching Nuru blossom motivates me to spread the word more fervently. Watching my good friend Jake Harriman, who achieved the pinnacle of military and academic success in the U.S., humbly serve the Kenyan people is nothing short of inspiring.
I am more encouraged than ever after visiting Kuria. Nuru’s future is in good hands.