I had the pleasure and the privilege of volunteering with the WOW (world of work) program at Edwina Gately House in Kitale, Kenya. The program is led by Tim Flynn and a local team including Dalmas, Rahema, Mariam, Dennis, Collins, Collins, (yes two) Godfrey and Doreen. The six-month project is dedicated to empowering street youths between the ages of 18-24 that focuses on teaching life skills, providing education and housing, and promoting overall wellbeing.

I joined the team for WOW 5 in early June 2023 (that being the fifth group to take part in the program). When I arrived, the group were in their fourth month of the program. The routine and relationships had long been established and each member of the program had their role within the grounds of Edwina Gately House. On my first day I joined the group for a local lunch of ugali, sukuma and omena, prepared by the group. I anticipated a difficulty with the language barrier but their high standard of English was far more impressive than my attempts at speaking Swahili. Sharing the lunch with the group on the first day was probably the best initiation into WOW 5. From that point on, a foundation of mutual respect was formed and their warmness and openness from the group was truly infectious.

The structure of the day was clearly laid out. The WOWzers, as Tim affectionately calls the group, would arrive at 8.30am, wash their clothes and assume their roles for their morning tasks. The morning tasks included feeding the animals (dogs and rabbits), tending to the vegetable garden, cleaning the grounds and preparing breakfast and lunch. Doreen and and Godfrey would lead the group counselling sessions and life skills session after breakfast. These sessions were an integral part of the program. They provided a safe space for the group to have an open conversation about both challenges and successes in their lives. Doreen would also provide one to one sessions for any members that required any additional support. These sessions covered a range of essential topics, from financial literacy to health awareness, aimed at equipping these young adults with the tools they needed to navigate life’s challenges.

As a teacher of Irish, I was unsure what skills I could bring to the table but Tim was keen to introduce some fun afternoon activities. With that, I took some board games, chess sets and badminton rackets with me. We started an afternoon session with board games, introducing various games and guidance on how to play them. The eagerness and enthusiasm of the group to learn something new was incredible to watch. Over the course of the month, nearly all members of the group became really invested in playing chess. It was very impressive to see how quickly they picked it up and how their tactics and strategy improved on a daily basis. Tim invited the Kitale chess club in to discuss tactics and how to improve their game and they kindly donated more chess sets to the program.

Of the 20 members of the group, only 4 graduated from school therefore many lost out on learning opportunities over the years due to their home life and personal circumstances. Some of the games introduced aimed at improving their mathematical skills while others aimed at developing their reasoning skills. Another afternoon activity that I focused on was developing the computer literacy skills and organisational skills. Most of the males in the group had some computer experience, however, 3 out of the 4 girls in the group had no computer literacy skills at all. They were absolutely delighted to take part in computer classes and again, extremely eager to develop their skill set.

The support that the WOW team provides to this young group is exceptional. They offer emergency accommodation on the grounds of Edwina Gately House for any member that may have health issues. During my time there, they housed a young pregnant woman until they could find suitable accommodation for her.

Housing the group was another critical aspect of their work. By them time I had arrived, nearly all of the WOWzers were housed. The team ensure that members have a safe, stable environment, which often is their first experience of a secure home. This stability allows them to focus on their personal growth and education. Educational initiatives are tailored to individual needs, ranging from basic literacy to vocational training. By the end of the 6-month program, the WOW team aim to have all members housed, training in a field that suits the individual or earning an income.

Tim and the local team leading these efforts are truly admirable. Their understanding of the community’s needs, combined with their dedication and empathy, make all the difference. They are not just leaders; they are mentors, friends, and sometimes even parental figures to these youths.

My time in Kitale was amazing and it taught me about resilience, hope, and the power of community. The progress made by these young adults, from uncertain futures to paths filled with possibilities, is a testament to the impact of this initiative. Their stories of hardship turned into narratives of hope are inspiring and I believe that each of the groups have gained an invaluable experience I like have.

Ursula is an Irish teacher at Gonzaga College who volunteered in our Jesuit teacher overseas programme last year. If you are a Jesuit school teacher who is interested in volunteering contact, Joe: [email protected]