Community is a word that seems to get thrown around and attached to other words to make certain things seem more worthwhile or grounded (think community action, community service, community organizer); and yet, the word by itself is important. No one can survive on this planet without a community: it’s where we celebrate our joys, recover after losses, find opportunities, share resources… it’s in this communal space that we can find avenues for individual and social change.
At Global Education Fund Kenya we’ve been spending time building the community with our students. For instance, it’s funny how small things build bonds between people, like the way GEF alumni call each other GEFA (as in “jeff-a”) members or how a hilarious handshake that was made up at one of the schools last year has turned into the official GEF handshake. On top of this, the students have been meeting at the GEF Kenya office once a month for ongoing discussions about gender, sexual and reproductive health. It’s also an opportunity to share with and support one another, talk about school/life and, of course, practice the official handshake.
Recently, we embarked on a full day of community building with the students. Escaping from the dusty Eastlands, the students spent the day at a beautifully green and lush retreat centre in Karen. In the morning they had a discussion about community: What’s the point? How do we nurture it? How do we use it? How do we maintain and grow it? The conversation was facilitated by the ever so hilarious and yet poignant George, a youth facilitator from the Eastlands area, who also participates in the monthly discussions. While my Kiswahili is bad and my Sheng nonexistant, I nonetheless followed along and laughed in unison with the students as George would illustrate particularly funny points being made in the conversation.
After the conversation, the students participated in community building activities such as a putting together mock businesses and the guiding their blindfolded friends across a field where they were to place glasses of water in specific buckets. This activity ended up being more than community building and communication, as it quickly turned into a comedy routine with students yelling out directions to their blindfolded friends, then rolling on the ground in exasperation and laughter at the outcome. It was a great day.
I once had a rather serious dinner conversation with a group of people about community. We all were asked to write down a list of communities we felt we belonged to and from there the conversation erupted. There wasn’t really a conclusion to this dinner talk but a general thinking that without community life would be rather dull and difficult. For the students that GEF supports, a strong, positive and supportive community is the way for them to build confidence and assertiveness in their academics and as teenagers figuring themselves out.
By expanding the community, as GEF continues to do, this is the way for students to access new opportunities, new experiences and more areas from where to learn.